HL Deb 25 February 1889 vol 333 cc231-6

, in rising to ask the Secretary of State for India whether his statement at Oldham on January 25th, that a Factory Act would soon be introduced in India, was correctly reported, said: My Lords, on the 5th of November last the Manchester Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution by a majority of 10–38 to 28—recommending that the British Factory Acts, so far as they related to women and children, should be extended to British India. The seconder of this resolution, Mr. Stuttard, said, in a letter to the Manchester CourierSurely it will be better for the physical welfare of the Hindoo to remain in agricultural employment and give us plenty of cotton, rather than be attracted to the ranks of mill operatives. The members of the Chamber of Commerce who had had Indian experience opposed the resolution, while those who supported it showed that they knew little of the conditions under which the Bombay mills are worked. Although that resolution was proposed on the grounds of humanity to the Bombay operatives, it is only doing justice to Manchester men and to the Manchester Press to say that the mask of humanity was soon dropped, and the motive of a wish to check rival competition put forward. If, however, the Indian Government concede the Manchester request for the introduction of the British Factory Acts into India, it will lay itself open to the charge of hypocrisy for taking thought of humanity at Bombay, whence no complaints have arisen, while neglecting the calls of humanity in the Assam tea-plantations, and not interfering to prevent the great mortality of the Bengal coolies on their journey to Assam, nor taking care that the coolie hospitals in Assam should be efficient, and neglecting a duty which the Colonial Office performed for the Indian emigrants to the West India Islands and to British Guiana. The vote of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce was met at Bombay on the 19th of December by a meeting of the Millowners' Association. It was stated at that meeting that while in Lancashire 65 per cent. of the hands were women, the work done by those women was done in Bombay by adult men. The Bombay operatives had two days in the week, and holidays of from one to six months every one or two years to go home to their villages. The women stayed away from the mill for four or five days every month, putting substitutes in their places. The hands left their work four or five times a-day from 10 to 15 minutes, besides half an hour for dinner. It was also shown that to do the same amount of work three and a third more hands were employed in Bombay than in Lancashire; and as no gas was used in the Bombay mills the hours of labour were restricted to daylight. The longest days were of 13 hours 13 minutes, and the shortest of 11 hours. The Times of India of November 30, 1888, writing on that subject, said— We have a limitation already of the hours of female and child labour, and, as Mr. Bythell pointed out, 'there are four times as many persons in an Indian mill to turn out the same quantity of work as was turned out in a Lancashire mill.' The hours are long here, no doubt; but the natives of this country love to dawdle over their work. The old Bombay members of the Manchester Chamber understood the position exactly; and though they, too, are interested in the supremacy of Manchester, they were too honest to conceal the truth. We have to thank this honest minority for so clearly exposing the motive behind this ingenuous attempt to 'lift the poor people of India.' I may remind your Lordships that the Times of India is not a journal representing the natives of India, but it is a newspaper which attends chiefly to the views of the Anglo-Indian community in that country. Now, my Lords, I would point out to you the inconsistency of a Chamber of Commerce which professes free-trade opinions asking for protection for one British industry alone while all are suffering, and that not against the foreigner, but against our Indian fellow-subjects. What is to be thought of the inconsistency of the noble Viscount for encouraging such hopes, if he did encourage them, while it is notorious that Members of the Conservative Party, desirous of standing well with their Leaders, are compelled to make their private opinions as to unrestricted imports subservient to Party purposes? Is the noble Viscount prepared on all ocasions to support the resolutions passed by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce? Is he aware that last November that Chamber passed a fair-trade resolution by a majority of 73 to 13, and though at a poll of the members, suggested by a portion of the directors, that vote was, naturally enough under all the circumstances, reversed, no fewer than 383 out of 1,004 circulars were not replied to. It is therefore certain that these 38c were not very zealous free-traders, and the two parties may be equally balanced in that Chamber of Commerce. There is another reason why the noble Viscount should not have shown at Oldham any sympathy for the Manchester vote for a British Factory Act in India; that is, that his doing so was in disaccord with the first speech delivered by Lord Lansdowne after he landed in India, in which he said that he would do his utmost to encourage native industries that came in aid of agriculture, which could not provide sufficient employment for the people of India. What reason was there for informing the people of Oldham of the Secretary of State's thoughts and intentions. Was it done to catch votes? Was it an electioneering speech? Will the noble Viscount say "No," but that he spoke as a Lancashire man, finding himself in his own county and among friends? In that case the noble Viscount should remember that when he became Secretary of State for India he became the guardian and trustee of the interests of the people of India—their only guardian, and ought to think of them before thinking of Lancashire. The noble Viscount, at Oldham, indulged in prophecy as to the boldness of any man who would propose to re-impose the cotton duties in India. Certainly to do so at Oldham would require extraordinary boldness. But can the noble Viscount be sure that he will not be obliged himself to propose this in India? Through the repeal of these duties the salt tax has been increased and cannot be further increased, and the opium revenue is diminishing. The noble Viscount referred in his speech to the heart burnings caused by the repeal of the cotton duties. Was my noble Friend reminded of those by a gentleman who supported him on the platform, the Member for Oldham, and is my noble Friend aware what that gentleman formerly thought and wrote on the subject of sacrificing the interests of India to Manchester? Mr. J. M. Maclean, who now represents Oldham in the other House, when formerly an editor of the Bombay Gazette, wrote an article in that paper of February 28, 1876, in which he said— 'Give Manchester what she wants or go'—that is, what Lord Salisbury demanded of the Viceroy. What can he more scandalous, to avail ourselves of Lord Salisbury's own words, than for an English Minister deliberately to sell India to Manchester? Yet this is what the Secretary of State proposes to do. In return for the support given by Lancashire to the Conservatives at the last Election, and with an eye to future favours of the same kind, Lord Salisbury intends to deprive India of a revenue of three-quarters of a million sterling a year, to make a present of it, in the first instance at all events, to the English manufacturer of cotton goods. We trust there is sufficient political virtue left in England to expose and stigmatize this disgraceful transaction. My Lords, I now beg leave to ask the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India the Question which stands in my name.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has asked me whether my statement at Oldham on the 25th of January, that a Factory Act would soon be introduced in India, was correctly reported, and why I made that statement, and why, if I was going to make that statement, I did not make it from my place in Parliament. The noble Lord does not ask me whether I made the statement, but assumes that I did so. My answer is that I never made the statement at all, and, therefore, the statement was not correctly reported. What I did state was this. The Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories, Mr. Redgrave, which was published towards the end of 1887, contained the result of an investigation by Mr. Jones upon the working of the Factory Act of 1880 in India. As the Report of Mr. Jones was thought worthy of being embodied in his Report by the Chief Inspector of Factories in England, I thought it was well to call the attention of the Viceroy to it, and to ask him to make the necessary inquiries as to whether the factory legislation in India did require amendment or whether it did not. Those inquiries are in course of being made, and no answer has as yet been sent to me from Bombay, where the greater number of factories are. Until I receive the Report that has been asked for it is impossible for me to form any opinion as to whether it is necessary that a Factory Act should be introduced or not. I have no objection now to repeat what I did say at Oldham, which was that it makes no difference to me, as regarded factory labour, what is said by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce or by people in Bom- bay, because the protection of one industry against another has nothing whatever to do with the reasons for which Factory Acts are passed. As I understand, the whole basis of a Factory Act is that it is absolutely necessary for the protection of the health and the lives of women and children employed in particular industries. This is the only foundation upon which Factory Acts rest. They have nothing to do with the protection of one industry against another, or one class against another, or one country against another. Therefore, whenever it becomes my duty to consider whether there ought or not to be an amendment of the law in India, such consideration will be based upon that principle alone. The noble Lord further asked whether steps had been taken to see that the coolies of Assam and Bengal were properly treated. Some time ago an Act was passed in connection with that subject, and the question was raised whether the Coolie Act should be amended when Lord Hartington was Secretary of State, and his Lordship thought that its operation should be tested for two or three years longer. At the end of that period I had to consider whether I would amend the law or give it a further trial. I found that great improvement had been effected by the Act, and I, therefore, determined to give it another trial and extend it for two or three years. The result has been that very great precautions have been taken under the Act, and I received a despatch from the Viceroy last month saying that very considerable improvement has taken place in the position of the coolies. If the noble Lord will move for a copy of that despatch I should be glad to lay it on the Table. As regards death rates, they vary considerably in different parts of India. Some of the tea gardens are particularly unhealthy, but those are being narrowly watched. I think the last average death rate recorded was 36 per thousand, which is a little above the ordinary death rate among Indian populations. I think I have answered all the Questions of the noble Lord, and I trust I have done so to his satisfaction.