Mr. Wilbraham Booth
, pursuant to notice, moved, That a Committee be appointed to examine and state the Account of Parish Apprentices bound within the Bills of Mortality, and report the same to the House.
Sir Samuel Romilly
expressed his regret, that a Bill, on this subject had not been prepared at an earlier period of the session, and commented with much feeling on the deplorable state of many of those orphans, and the abuses, which prevailed from the maladministration of the existing laws. There was no subject which had a more powerful claim on the interference of the House, nor any in which that interference was likely to be productive of more good. There were several abuses which it was in his power to enumerate, but he should confine himself to a few of the most prominent ones. It was the practice of some of the parishes to bind a great number of apprentices at the distance of 2 or 300 miles from town, where they were deprived of all hope of ever seeing their parents again, or if "they attempted it, were in danger of being taken up as vagrants in some of the parishes through which they might travel. This was to be lamented, for every thing good in human character arose from the cultivation of that natural affection which subsisted between parents and children, and other amicable feelings of this kind. The consequences resulting from binding such a number of apprentices to one person, were very bad. He knew a recent instance of a man in Manchester, who had become a bankrupt, and no less than 200 parish apprentices bound to him, were, on his failure, marched oft" in a body to the workhouse. He was sorry to learn that there were so many objections urged against the Bill in contemplation, and he hoped the subject would be fully and maturely discussed. Among other evils attendant on the present disposal of parish 518 apprentices, the crime of murder committed by the masters was not unfrequent, and he was in possession of some instances, which would fill the House with horror. In 1787, an unfortunate girl had been murdered by her master, by inclosing her in a heated oven: and several others, which he felt surprised had never produced the legislative interference of the House. Those poor children looked to the House for that protection which they could not meet elsewhere, and though it was too late in the present session for the Committee to effect any thing, he trusted the subject would be fully investigated.
§ Sir J. C. Hippisley
heartily concurred with his hon. and learned friend, in the necessity which existed for the interference of the House, and knew of several instances similar to those which he mentioned.
Sir R. Peel
said, that this subject had engaged much of his attention some years ago, and he had introduced some measures into the House relative to it. The abuses complained of were not confined to large establishments, as stated by the hon. and learned gentleman, where, on the contrary, it was the interest of the masters to derive benefit from the labour of the apprentices, rather than to destroy them, as they received them without a premium. Nor could he agree with him in what he slated about the evil of the apprentices being torn from their parents, for in fact, they had no parents who owned them, but they were thrown on the parish. If the number of apprentices in the large manufactories was limited, it would be productive of considerable injury to individuals, and the country at large.
§ Mr. Wortley
stated, that if cotton manufacturers were prevented from taking a number of those apprentices, the price of labour would be raised, and great inconvenience experienced.
§ Mr. Davies Giddy
said, that he did not differ much in the main question from his hon. and learned friend, but thought, that a system of too minute legislation had gone abroad lately, and denied that a few instances summed up, and dwelt upon, were sufficient to prove that the abuses complained of were so great as represented; for his part, in his experience as a magistrate, he knew more instances of the bad conduct of apprentices than of masters, who were urged on by their profligate relatives, whom his hon. and learned 519 friend wished they should see more frequently.
§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
contended for the necessity of some regulation to ameliorate their condition. In his own experience, as a magistrate, he had known many instances of the inconveniences they suffered under the existing regulations.
§ Mr. Wilbraham Bootle
said, that as he had been given to understand that extraordinary opposition would be given to the Bill he proposed to bring in, by the different Vestries, he had thought it better to move for a Committee, and deter the Bill till next session, instead of bringing it forward now, when it might be thrown out, and a second one would come with a bad grace after the rejection of the first.
§ The motion was then put and carried.