§ Mr. Littleton
said, it was a great satisfaction to him, after the disappointment, occasioned by the dissolution of Parliament, of the numerous class of the population for whose benefit he desired to introduce a measure against the Truck-system, and after the rapid extension given to that system, that he had thus early an opportunity of introducing a measure for putting an end to it. At the same time, he much regretted that a subject so materially affecting the capital, the industry, and the trade of the country had not fallen into better and abler hands. It might happen that some Gentlemen who lived in the remote and more agricultural districts of the country were not acquainted with the bearings of the system, so as to form an opinion of its evil tendency. But, at the same time, the subject was so notorious—its effects had been so frequently discussed—its abuses were so flagrant, and its dangers were so imminent, that he trusted such Gentlemen would defer somewhat to the judgment of those who, by living in the districts where the system was in operation had more competent means of forming an opinion on the subject. The facts that he intended to quote would not be confined to any particular district, but were the result of a pretty extensive acquaintance with the system in every part of this island—he said, of this Island, because he did not intend to include the kingdom of Ireland within his Bill, as, unfortunately, its manufactures were not extensive enough to have given rise to the introduction of this system. Though, for the last 400 years, there had been something of this system existing among the population of this country, yet it was only during the last 130 years that it had assumed that character which had gradually led to the mischief which they now saw. But he begged, in the first place, to call the attention of the House to what was the nature of this system. It was the payment of labour in goods or provisions instead of money; and the mode in which it was carried on by the manufacturers was, to setup a large shop or store, containing all sorts of necessaries for their workmen; so that, instead of paying them money for their wages, tickets were given to these 1134 shops, or, in other instances, periodical visits to them were allowed to the mechanic or his wife, and they chose those things that they most stood in need of. Under these circumstances, money was very seldom paid, or, rather, never at all, in point of fact; for though parties sometimes, to evade the law, gave the money to their workmen, yet, before they quitted the premises, it was all received back again. The shops of which he had spoken were generally kept by some relative or servant of the master, put in for that purpose; or when the tradesman did not resort to such measures on his own account, he made an arrangement with the retailer, who agreed to allow him a discount. But the more needy the manufacturer, the greater his advantage, under this system; for he was enabled to stock his shop for three months, and then pay for that stock with a bill at another three months; so that, instead of paying his workmen ready money, he was obtaining a six months' credit. He did not mean to assert that there was a regular contract among the masters; but it was always an understood thing, that a man discharged for objecting to this system should not be taken in by any other employer. And, indeed, this seemed almost naturally to follow; for, when it was once known that a man had lost his employment by objecting to this mode of payment, it was not likely that another master, who paid in exactly the same way, would give him. employment. He admitted, that amongst the smaller manufacturers there were some exceptions, but they were the persons who generally practised the truck-system. He admitted, at the same time, that some among the larger manufacturers also practised it. They were obliged to do it for their own protection, and the system was rapidly spreading. Notwithstanding the warning which had been given last Session, many new practitioners had entered into it. He would not go into any details on the system, as he had before entered so largely into the subject, but he might remark, that generally, the truck-masters charged their men from fifteen to twenty per cent more than the market prices, and he had known them charge so much as 100 per cent. The truck-masters, in order to keep their men dependent, would not allow them to keep pigs, and he had heard of a case in which the workmen had been obliged to put away 1135 these animals before they could get work. He had heard from a Magistrate [" Name, name;" by Mr. Hume]—he hoped that his character was sufficient to satisfy the House that he would not impose any untrue statement on it.
had no doubt of the hon. Member's word, but the name of the Magistrate might throw a light on his statement.
§ Mr. Littleton
He was satisfied that the hon. Member would not desire him to name his author, but he could assure the House of the correctness of the statements. The hon. Member then detailed a variety of instances of hardship suffered by workmen from truck-masters. Such as one man receiving a cheque for 10s., and his wife carrying it to the master, who would only give her 9s. 9d. worth of flour, and refused her 3d. to buy yeast to bake that flour into bread. [The hon. Member restated also most of the cases he had stated last year, and quoted a tract containing similar illustrations of the truck-system, at great length.] The consequences of this system were so bad, that the workmen were obliged to pay their rents, and rates, and other dues, in commodities. They received no money, and were obliged to pay in truck. But in addition to the many abuses he had mentioned last year, there was one which had lately grown up, and was the consequence of the Beer bill, which had been passed last Session. Many masters took out licenses under that bill, and they paid their men to a certain extent in beer. Of course, the beer they supplied them with was not of the best quality, and, in fact, it was very often more like ditch-water than beer. The masters had thus a motive to make their men drunken, and if the Legislature had any regard to the morality of the working classes, they would put an end at least to this part of the system. If no steps were taken, drunkenness among the working classes would undoubtedly increase. The hon. Member, as a further illustration of the system, quoted a speech delivered at Paisley about ten days before, in which it was stated, that a young woman who had earned 20s. was obliged to take two shawls for which she could only obtain 10s. To show its effect in decreasing trade, he referred to the market-tolls at Bilston, which in 1825 amounted to 343l., and in the last year to only 182l. In fact, a vast deal of the misery now existing 1136 among the people might be traced to the prevalence of the truck-system. The masters who did not yet practise it—who continued to pay their workmen in money —would be driven into it if they were not protected, as it was impossible that they could compete against those truck-masters who paid twenty-five percent less for labour than they paid. The large masters were determined, if they received no protection from the Legislature also to adopt this system. They prayed the Legislature to protect them; they desired to avoid being driven into this disgraceful and dishonourable practice; but they could not sit still and see their capital melt away; and if their fair and honest exertions were not protected, they must act on the same plan as their neighbours. It was too bad that only those men could be successful who continually violated the law. It would be said, perhaps, that these great masters might leave the trade, but that was not so easy; they had large quantities of fixed capital, of buildings and machinery, which they could not dispose of—which they were obliged to keep going, and which they could neither stop nor dispose of without great injury. The Legislature ought not to suffer such men to be ruined for the advantage of others, who both injured the workmen and violated the law. It affected another class most seriously, and that was the shopkeepers. As had been said by a friend of his, this system cut down the shop-keepers as with a two-edged sword. It cut off their natural customers, it so impoverished the poor, that they had nothing to lay out with them, and they (the shop-keepers) at the same time had additional rates to pay to support the men whom the truck-masters had reduced to poverty. The shop-keepers were in many places seriously injured by the truck-system. It did not, however, seem very advantageous to the truck-masters, or rather, they were a description of persons whom no advantages could make prosper; and of twenty in one place, eighteen or nineteen had become bankrupts. The land-owners were also much injured by this system. The population were, in seasons of activity, drawn into the manufacturing towns, and when that season was past, they were returned to the country, and became a burthen in their own parishes to the landowner. The system engendered low prices and a superabundance of labourers, 1137 and injured in every way the unfortunate workmen. The hon. Member then referred to the manner in which the law had grown up to its present state. The first Act on the subject was passed in the 4th of Edward 4th, in 1465. That was a period of civil war; battles were fought in the country, and society was disorganised. The City of London was then inundated with foreign manufactures, and there were not less than 15,000 foreigners in London. The natives were in a manner driven away, and the truck-system was introduced by the foreigners. To repress this grievance the law was passed. It was a sharp, stringent law, and imposed heavy penalties on the master, equal to treble the amount of the wages of the men. The law continued unaltered till the reign of Elizabeth, when two Acts were passed of a local nature; but for 138 years little was heard of truck. The law continued so till the reign of Anne, when it was relaxed, and by the 1st of George 1st the penalties were lowered to 20s. The result of this was, that great distress ensued in several districts, disturbances followed, and a large part of the country was convulsed. The Parliament for three years—in 1725, 1726, and 1727—was employed in examining into the state of the country, and one of the results was, that a bill was passed to regulate the payment of wages, and repress the truck-system. The truck-masters, however, interfered with this enactment, and got inserted in it a clause, that the workmen should receive part of the penalty; and the consequence was, that this Act of Parliament was null, and of no effect. By the 22nd of George 2nd the law was again relaxed, and the payment of the wages of workmen in goods allowed. The consequence of this was, that great distress again ensued, whole districts were the prey of the truck-system, riots again broke out, and the Government was obliged to draw a cordon of troops round the manufacturing districts of the West of England. The following year the Act was wholly repealed. The only Act, he believed, subsequent to that time was the 1st of George 4th, which he had brought in, and in which he adopted the language of the Statute of Elizabeth; but for want of power, that Statute was not effectual. Such was the present state of the law, and he would proceed to point out what he meant to do by the Bill he proposed to introduce. He proposed, then, 1138 first, to prohibit the indirect practice of paying wages by goods, or making contract for that purpose. He would give the Magistrates a power to get a direct proof of the practice, and would enable the workmen to recover their wages by a summary process. He would submit their case also to Jurors, as better qualified than Magistrates, to give a correct decision; and allowing the labourers to appeal to a Jury would give publicity to bad cases. He meant, also, to take from truck-masters the power of recovering anything they might advance on credit to their workmen. The compelling the masters to pay wages in money would operate to make them pay periodically, and at short periods. He also proposed to make the Bill of a stringent nature, for it would be idle to attempt to make it effectual without imposing very heavy penalties. To remove one objection, he would enable the Privy Council, on application being made to it by the Magistrates of any district, to suspend the operation of the Act in that district. Such were the objects he contemplated by his present Bill, which did not differ much from the bill he had introduced last Session. He knew that the hon. member for Middlesex would oppose the Bill, and he should beg leave to anticipate some of his arguments. He knew that that hon. Member would say, that the truck-master was driven to this system by Corn-laws and heavy taxation; but he would tell that hon. Member, that any possible reduction which could be made in taxation, or any abolition of monopoly, or the total repeal of the Corn-laws, would not relieve the distress of the people. The truck-system was the cause of the distress, and that would not be touched by any one of these measures. The hon. Member would say, leave it to competition—that competition would cure the evil. He admitted that competition was great, but he did not think that any success or any defeat could make the truck-masters give up the system. In 1824 and 1825, when trade was brisk, when all the manufacturers were in a most prosperous state, he had not heard that one of the truck-masters had given up his plan. He stated that fact as an answer to many of the statements of the hon. member for Middlesex. With respect to injuring the truck-masters by his measure, it would not, most probably, be passed before June, and he meant that it should not come into opera- 1139 tion till three months after it was passed, so that the truck-master would have till September to make new arrangements. The people wished for this Bill as a protection—the great capitalists demanded it as the means of preventing them from engaging in the same business. The hon. member for Middlesex meant, he believed, to move for a committee, with a view to have all the laws referred to it which related to the subject. He could only repeat, that all classes with whom he had had any communication demanded some measure of protection to save them from ruin. If the practice were good, why not make it universal? Surely that which was good at Paisley must be good at Glasgow, and that which was good at Bolton could not be injurious at Manchester. Unless the House wished to see the system become universal—unless it was prepared to see money banished from the manufacturing districts—unless it wished that all the workmen in the kingdom should be paid their wages in goods of an uncertain nature —-unless the House desired to see all these things, it would take measures to put a stop to the truck-system, and it would second him in his efforts to pass this Bill. The hon. Member then referred to a passage in the works of Adam Smith, which agreed with his view of this question, and observed, that his lamented friend, Mr. Huskisson, had extracted it, with the intention, if Providence had spared his life, of reading it in that House, in support of the Motion which he had then the honour to make, for bringing in a Bill to put an end to the truck-system. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to Consolidate and Amend the Laws relating to the Payment of Wages in Goods.
§ Mr. Wilson Patten
seconded the Motion. He was satisfied, that some measure of this kind was absolutely necessary for the protection of the workmen, though he did not think it necessary, after the able statement of his hon. friend, to follow that up by any remarks of his own.
, in rising to offer his decided opposition to the hon. member for Staffordshire's Bill, at that the earliest opportunity, was willing to bear testimony to the purity of the motives with which the hon. Member brought it forward. If the House would hear him for a short time, he hoped to be able to give a sufficient answer to all the arguments which his hon. friend had 1140 advanced in support of the Motion; and to prove that the distress, of which they had heard so much, and which he certainly did not feel disposed to underrate, was due to anything rather than to the system which this Bill was intended to do away with. He must declare for himself, that he was as warm a friend to the working classes as his hon. friend, and he would admit, that labourers were sometimes imposed on by truck-masters. His opposition to the hon. Member's proposition was twofold. In the first place, he deprecated it as contrary to the soundest principle of political science, which forbad the unnecessary, and, as he would show in the present instance, mischievous interference of Parliament, in matters which had better be left to be adjusted by the competition of capitalists and labourers, and the common sense of the mutual interests of workman and employer; and in the next place, without impugning the veracity of the hon. Member himself, he knew that the statements on which the hon. Member founded his motion were ex parte, got up, in a manner, for the occasion; and, what was most important, were in the very teeth of the results of very accurate and extensive inquiries made by himself and others. It was absurd to impute to the truck-system any material portion of the distress of the working classes, and it was erroneous to speak of that system as cruel and oppressive to the workman. He placed every reliance on the good sense and intelligence of the working classes, as the best judges of their own interests: and he knew that they would be unanimous in their demand for some change in the law if the present system operated as the hon. Member alleged. His hon. friend had in a manner prejudged the question, by the great number of opprobrious epithets, such as cruel, unjust, wicked, &c., which he had applied to the system. That was not right, nor did he think that masters who paid their men honestly in goods instead of money, as many of the truck-masters did, deserved to be so stigmatized. Parliament should stand aloof from vulgar prejudices, like those entertained by many well-intentioned but imperfectly informed persons, concerning the truck-system, and be guided by reason and dispassionate opinion alone, when legislating between workmen and their employers. If it did so, he was sure it would withhold its sanction from the hon. Member's proposition. He must say, 1141 that the language which had been used in Parliament, did not correspond with that dispassionate view which Parliament ought to take; and that language was well calculated to produce much dissatisfaction, and might even lead to much mischief. What he wanted was inquiry, and he contended, that it was not fit for that House to legislate on such an important subject without inquiry. His hon. friend had referred to the times of the Plantagenets, and gone back full 400 years, in order to show the increasing evils of the system; but his hon. friend would also find, during the same period, a multitude of laws to stop the practice of forestalling and regrating, which the ignorance of the time set down as a grievous evil, and an offence which ought to be punished. No laws, however, which the Legislature of the time had been able to devise, could stop the practice; and no laws which the Legislature could devise now would put an end to the system of barter between the masters and the workmen, if it suited their convenience to adopt it; and as to the distress among the workmen, of which they had been told it was the cause, he was confident he should be able to prove that, the distress no more followed the working of the truck-system than the high price of provisions was to be taken formerly a consequence of the system of forestalling and regrating. In his opinion, the workmen and the masters should be left to themselves, and to the bargains which their wants or wishes allowed them to enter into, just in the same manner as trade was now left unshackled by the laws against forestalling. The Legislature, by its interference, would merely add to the evils which it intended to cure; and he trusted, therefore, that no such measures as those contemplated by his hon. friend would receive the assent of the House, until a Committee of Inquiry had established their necessity. That inquiry he demanded from the House, and he was confident, if it was granted him, that he should be able to disprove nearly the whole of the statements on which his hon. friend supported his motion for leave to bring in the Bill. The hon. Member said, that this Bill was required by all the great capitalists. He did not believe it to be so. He knew many great capitalists who did not require a bill of this kind, or who had expressed no opinion about it; but this he knew well, that without the truck-system, it would be impossible for 1142 many small capitalists to carry on their business. It was solely by the profits— the small profits, which they received from this method of payment, that the small capitalists were able to go on; and he was convinced, that if the Bill were passed, three parts of them would be compelled to abandon their trades, and to throw the workmen out of employment. If the rule which the hon. Member wished to apply were good for one trade, why was it not good for another? The hon. member for Staffordshire had excepted from the operation of his Bill, several branches of industry — he had excepted all domestic and agricultural servants, all miners, all persons working in iron-ore, rock-salt, and stone digging. Now, he would ask those Gentlemen who supported the principles of free trade in that House, so far at least as regarded the doctrine of non-interference between master and seller, how they could bring themselves to place only one part of the community, and some trades, under the operation of this Bill? It was well known that in Scotland the labourers were often paid partly in money, and partly in articles, the produce of the farm on which they worked. Some of them had an allowance of meal, some an allowance of so many pounds of meat, some even a house. He put it to the good sense of Parliament to consider how they could interfere with i one class of labourers in one part of the country, and not interfere with another class in another part of the country, who were paid in the same manner in point of principle. On what principle would they allow a master cabinet-maker to tommy his men, and prevent an iron-master from doing so too? He wished them to explain this inconsistency, or rather, he ought to say, this absurdity, if they could. He was convinced that the masters recurred to this truck-system from the pressure of distress, and from a desire to make the profits of the retail system available in carrying on their wholesale dealings. If that were the case, why ought the House to interfere between the master-manufacturer and his men? Another reason for adopting the truck-system was, that the master-manufacturer was often obliged, by the situation of his works, to establish a store near them, from discovering that his men could not otherwise be supplied with the necessary articles of life without paying an extravagant price for them. In a petition which he had presented that night upon this sub- 1143 ject, the petitioners stated, that at Rualan, where the British Iron Company had established a manufactory, a store had been established on the works, by which they had been enabled to make their wages go much further in the purchase of provisions than they had gone before its establishment. A similar case had occurred within his own knowledge in the neighbourhood of Lanark, where a factory was established, which kept 1,800 or 1,900 persons in continual employment. The last time he passed through that town, he had inquired how these parties were supplied with the necessary provisions of life. The master and foreman of the works, and many of the men, assured him in reply, that if it had not been for a store established on the premises, all the men must have been discharged, from the impossibility of procuring, at a reasonable rate, the supplies necessary for existence. The mills, of which he was speaking, were at the distance of a mile and a half from the town of Lanark, on the banks of a river, and near a hamlet which contained only a few houses to accommodate the workmen. After the mills were built, it was found upon trial that retail shops for candles, groceries, meal, and provisions, could not be supported in that hamlet, unless they charged prices for the articles in which they dealt far above their intrinsic value, and consequently, far above the ability of the workmen to purchase. The consequence was, that a store was established, where any thing might be purchased, from a bottle of wine to a pint of beer, from a silk gown to a dish-clout, from an article of comparative luxury to an article of the most necessary domestic purposes. The price charged for the different commodities sold at this store was not greater, but less, than the price charged at the retail shops in Lanark. He was informed, moreover, by two respectable persons who resided in the neighbourhood, that they found the articles sold there of such superior quality, that instead of sending to Lanark for what they wanted, as they had been accustomed to do, they now sent to this store for them. Between 600 and 700 families, amounting to nearly 2000 persons, derived their subsistence from the employment which they derived from this factory. When an individual was first engaged at it, his wages were fixed at 16s. or 20s. a week, as the case might be. There was no com- 1144 pulsory clause in his engagement binding him to deal at the store; but the day on which he was engaged, he took from the clerk of the works, if he was so inclined, a credit upon the store up to a certain amount of his wages. If his wages were 16s. a week, he took at the commencement of his engagement a credit for 8s. or 12s. a week, and afterwards, as he became known, he was allowed to take a credit for the whole amount. This credit he gave to the storekeeper, who entered his name in his books, and gave him in return a book to check his accounts. He took away with him such articles as he wanted, and no others were sent to him, unless the check-book was returned to the storekeeper to have their amount regularly entered. He had seen these books, and they were kept with a regularity worthy of imitation in higher quarters. He had also seen the books of the store, and therefore could speak with some degree of certainty as to its profits. What did the House suppose they were? He had seen the bills sent in for the different articles sold there. He had seen that every article purchased for them was of the best quality, and purchased at the wholesale price, and from that he had ascertained, that the profits on their sale never exceeded ten per cent. Out of these profits four schools were maintained, for the benefit of the children of the persons employed on the establishment. There was an infant school for the youngest children, and other schools, rising one above the other, in regular succession, until the last, where children were instructed in reading, writing, and accounts, until they reached the age of twelve years, the age at which they were taken into this manufactory. There was also a school for girls, in which they were taught every thing that could be useful to them as housewives and mistresses of families. Now, if the House were to pass the present Bill, and to allow the powers of it to be extended to Scotland, they would do irreparable injury to this excellent and well-conducted establishment. He therefore called upon the House, before it consented to legislate upon this subject, to ascertain the real facts of the case, and to see whether the evil which they were going to inflict by the new law, would not be greater than the evil occasioned, or said to be occasioned, by the old law. But, said his hon. friend, the evils of this system are gene- 1145 rally felt throughout the whole country. On that point he was completely at issue with his hon. friend. Look at Glasgow, it was a large manufacturing town, and one of those places in which his hon. friend had stated that there had been a great abuse of this system. The last time that he was at Glasgow he determined to institute some inquiries into that subject. It so happened that on the very first evening of his arrival at Glasgow he was in company with a gentleman very well known in that House, Mr. Kirkman Finlay. That gentleman employs 700 or 800 workmen; and when he questioned him regarding the existence of the truck-system at Glasgow, he (Mr. K. Finlay) told him that he had never heard of its existence in that place or its neighbourhood. He was told, however, that it certainly did exist at Mr. Dunlop's Colliery, which was a few miles from Glasgow, and Mr. Finlay's surprise on receiving that information was excessive. And yet there were not less than 35,000 or 40,000 workmen employed at Glasgow. What followed? A person was sent from Bolton to get up a petition at Glasgow against this system—a public meeting of the operatives was called; but, in consequence of the representations which he and others made to them, no petition was sent. He did not mean to deny that there were evils in the present system, but they were evils of a nature that could not be remedied by legislative enactments. Why, then, should they add another penal Statute to the thirteen or fourteen penal Statutes which already had been passed to repress their growth? He hoped that the noble Lord who now filled the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer would never consent to pass this Bill without instituting an inquiry as to its necessity. His hon. friend had stated, that all the capitalists of the country were opposed to this system. On this point he was afraid that his hon. friend was guilty of some unintentional exaggeration. He had himself conversed on this subject with many capitalists, and if his hon. friend wished to know how their opinions tended, he had only to inquire of Bolton and Watt. Had they petitioned against the system? He could mention many other capitalists who entertained the same notions as himself on this question, but he deemed it unnecessary, as the opinion of such men as Bolton and Watt was sufficient, he thought, 1146 to make hon. Members pause before they legislated in direct contradiction to it. He admitted, however, that there were capitalists who were influenced by different sentiments and feelings. He knew who they were, and had paid some attention to their locality, and he had discovered that they were anxious to put down the small master-manufacturers in their neighbourhood, who endeavoured to increase the capital of their wholesale business by the profits which they derived from this retail trade. What would be the consequence, if these large capitalists succeeded? — a monopoly of employment; they would have but few individuals carrying on business; labour would, of course, become more abundant; and the great bulk of the workmen of the country would be placed at the mercy of a few wealthy individuals. He, therefore, thought that it was an object of great importance not to let the House proceed hastily in the course now proposed to it. The step which it was called upon to take was of essential consequence, and it ought to deliberate maturely before it determined to take it. His hon. friend had not made the case quite clear as to what the law now was upon this subject. Many Gentlemen would suppose, from what his hon. friend had said of the tommy system, that no legislative care had hitherto been extended to it. But this was by no means the case. He rested that assertion on a knowledge of what had been done as to the Combination-laws. He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he had attended to the provisions of the Act for repealing the Combination-laws. That Act had two objects in view, and though they were both useful, his hon. friend had brought up two friends, as staunch as men could be, to give their opinion against the policy and propriety of passing it. One of those two objects was, to provide that no person, be he master or be he man, should he punished for demanding any rate of wages which he thought proper as a remuneration for his labour. The other was, to repeal that part of the law which held, that if three parties determined not to take the rate of wages given to their fellow workmen by their masters, they should be held guilty of a conspiracy. The injustice of such a Statute was so palpable, that he might have obtained the repeal of that part of the law at once, if he had moved for it; but instead of pur- 1147 suing that course, he had merely asked for a committee of inquiry. That committee was granted — an inquiry was instituted, and after an examination, continued for fifty days, into the operation of the Combination-laws, the bill for the repeal came out of the committee with an unanimous recommendation, that it should forthwith be passed into a law; and pass it did, with less trouble than any bill ever did which, like it, swept off fifty or sixty penal Acts at one fell swoop. That bill did away with the absurd and monstrous clause regarding conspiracy, and provided that both masters and men, if they did not employ threats or violence —of which the employment is punishable at common-law—should be at liberty to demand and make what bargains they pleased, both with respect to the time and amount of their labour, and the wages to be paid for it. Now, the Bill of his learned friend would entirely alter this enactment; and therefore he once more implored the House to pause, and not proceed hastily to abrogate a law, which it had only passed after long and repeated consultations. He was induced to make this prayer to the House, because he wished the workmen of this country to remain in their present situation. He believed that by so doing the House would do much to increase their moral worth and value. If he could satisfy any body of men that they were not mere children, but could make bargains for themselves,—if he could inspire them with a sense of their own independence, by making; them feel that they were no longer hampered by Acts of Parliament in the employment of their time, and skill, and industry,— if he could raise the standard by which they were accustomed to estimate themselves, and thus exalt them in the scale of intellectual creatures, he was convinced that he should not only confer a great benefit upon them, but also upon the country in general. He asked the House whether it was prepared to reforge the fetters upon labour, which, much to its credit, it had broke some years ago? The Bill of his hon. friend reformed those fetters by the restrictions which it placed on all future payments for labour. His hon. friend said, that there were no means of enforcing payments for contracts at present. Had his hon. friend forgotten the Act of the 1st of George 4th, passed expressly to enforce contracts? Was it not 1148 provided by that Act, that if a contract were made between a master-manufacturer and his workman for work to be performed, and if the work were to be paid for in meal, malt, or any other article, either party might, on the failure of performance by the other, go to a Magistrate and insist on the terms of the contract being obeyed? When there was an Act to that effect, was it not too much to say, that there was no means of enforcing payment of a contract against the master-manufacturers? and was it not absurd to introduce a Bill like the present as an amendment on that Act? He could not help telling the workmen— and he did it with great respect to them, for though they were oppressed formerly they now were free—he could not help telling the workmen, that as the law stood at present the masters were oppressed, and not they. The masters could not make, at present, such bargains as they pleased, but the men could. They were liable to informations if they paid their men in provisions entirely; and in a small town, near Stockport, sixteen informations had been filed against them for acts which they had committed, with the kindest and most charitable intentions to their workmen. He would just give the House a notion of the generality of those informations. A workman had gone to a master-manufacturer and had requested work to prevent his family from starving. The master in reply had told him, that he had no occasion for further hands in his factory, but that, rather than see him and his family starve, he would, if he chose to attend at his work for a certain number of hours in the day, give him a certain quantity of provisions. The workman had gladly accepted this proposal, had performed his work, and had received the promised remuneration. A committee of workmen were sitting in the town, and, on hearing of the circumstance, laid an information against the master-manufacturer; and made the workman, whom he had employed from charitable motives, an unwilling witness against him. The case was heard before Magistrates. The master-manufacturer stated the reason why he had employed the man; the man acknowledged the statement to be correct; admitted that the contract had been fairly performed on both sides, and declared, that it was much against his will that he had been brought forward to support the information. The Magistrates felt the hardship 1149 of the case, but said, that under the existing law they had no alternative left but to fine the master-manufacturer 10l. for the charity which he had displayed to his unfortunate workman. He (Mr. Hume) contended, that it was a great evil, that if a master gave to any of his workmen a gallon of meal, a sack of potatoes, or a few pounds of meat, he should be liable to a fine of 10l. if it were given in part payment of wages. It was a still greater evil, that if this was done a second time, a heavier fine was inflicted. It would be a still greater evil, if the Bill of his hon. friend were passed into law,—for a third commission of this offence would subject the offender to transportation. Was the Chancellor of the Exchequer prepared to give his consent to such a clause? He sincerely hoped not. Again, by his hon. friend's Bill, when an information was lodged against any master, his books were to be laid before the Magistrates as evidence against him. To attempt to do such a thing by legislation, by machinery of this kind, violating, as it did, the privacy which ought to be respected in every mercantile concern, was not only absurd but abominable. [Mr. Littleton informed the hon. Member that he had expunged that part of the Bill.] He confessed that already too much rancour was felt by the men against their masters, and too great a desire to interfere with their contracts with their workmen. Committees were sitting in various towns, for the express purpose of levying fines upon the masters. Would his hon. friend give those committees additional powers of doing mischief? He asked his hon. friend whether, in his communication with the magistracy, he had not often learnt that informations, in which they had no power of mitigating the penalty, were lodged against individuals, whose only offence was their charity? He was unwilling to let the feelings of the House be roused improperly, by exaggerated statements of the evils of the truck-system. Many of those evils arose from the present state of trade, over which no one could exercise any control. The error was, to suppose that the truck-system had occasioned the distress, and not the distress the truck-system. That was exactly the point of dispute between himself and his hon. friend, and therefore it was, that he desired to have an inquiry. He was not aware whether he had made his principles clearly understood, but he 1150 felt their correctness himself, and wished to make it felt by others. At the time he proposed the repeal of the Combination-laws, he was told by the masters that he was actuated by a desire to obtain popularity. Was he hunting popularity now? No; he was acting at present, as he did formerly, upon principle. He told the workmen that they were in error, and that their masters were oppressed. They felt the distress, but did not know its origin. His hon. friend, the member for Callington, would tell them, that it was the currency, and would recommend an alteration of it as a nostrum for its remedy. He himself might think it was the Corn-laws, and might recommend' the repeal of them as his nostrum. Other Gentlemen might find out other causes, and recommend other nostrums; but no nostrum could be more injurious than one which was applied under complete ignorance, both as to the cause and to the cure of the present distress. He contended, that this measure was equally injurious to the master and the men, and called upon the Vice-President of the Board of Trade to explain how the commerce of the country could be promoted by putting fetters on industry which would eat into its very bones. His hon. friend had said, that the Bill would not come into operation till October next; if that were the case, there was plenty of time for inquiry, and why not grant it? If he could get time during the recess, he would go down to Bolton himself, meet the 20,000 petitioners, and argue this question dispassionately with them. Yes, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would grant him a committee, he would pledge himself to go down to Bolton, and there argue the question. He knew the good sense of the working classes of this country; the Government was mistaken if it supposed that the manufacturing classes of the country were not, in intelligence, far before it. Yes, the higher classes had been receding for years in information, and during all that time the lower classes had been going forward,—for, to use a common phrase, the schoolmaster had been, indeed, abroad. He would take a committee of sixty manufacturers from Glasgow,—a place with which he was better acquainted than with any part of England,—and he could go into the other House of Parliament, and take a committee of sixty Peers, and he would stake his life that the sixty manu- 1151 facturers would be found the most sensible by far upon subjects like the present. They might look a long while among the manufacturers before they found one who would talk so much nonsense as a noble Lord talked the other night on that never-to-be-forgotten statement about the distress of the country, particularly with regard to machinery. All, however, that he now asked was, an inquiry. His hon. friend had said, that he wished for more than this, which was true. He did wish for more, but he did not ask for more on the present occasion. If he had the power, he most assuredly would erase from the Statute-book every individual Act which interfered between masters and their men, and leave both to that protection and to those remedies, which the common-law would afford them. His hon. friend had stated it as matter of inconvenience, that if his (Mr. Hume's) views were carried into effect, they must repeal the Hawkers and Pedlars Act; but ought they not to repeal that Act? Was not that Act a disgrace to the age in which we lived? There was much talk now about bringing justice home to every man's door,—which, no doubt, would be a great blessing; but why, in the name of common sense, should they refuse to allow the means of purchasing food and clothing to be brought home to the door of every poor man, who could not afford to go to a distant market? He would have the freest possible communication in commercial affairs, and it was a shame that there should be any tax, either on men or vehicles, by which produce was conveyed from one place to another. He never saw a cart or a stage-coach without thinking so. The less they legislated on matters between master and servant, or on matters of a commercial nature, the better it would be for all parties. The parties who were concerned, the parties who were interested, were of all persons the best qualified to make bargains; and upon this obvious truth he rested the whole of this case. It was from not attending to this fact, it was from shutting our eyes to the truth, that where commercial transactions were left free they always flowed in the best channel, that many of our present difficulties had arisen. The Parliament had in a manner tied the legs of the country, and now it complained because it found that the country was standing still. Among other persons who were at the bottom of this outcry against 1152 the truck-system were the retail dealers, and he could very well understand why. It was the interest of retail dealers to get the labourers into their debt. He had seen this at Glasgow, where, because the dealers knew that they could attach the men's wages in the hands of their masters, they were always ready to encourage the labourers to run into debt. What, he would ask, was the difference between this and the system complained of? There was none; for in neither case did any money come into the labourer's pocket. Upon these grounds he called upon the Ministers to have this subject fully and fairly investigated, and, therefore, to support him in the following Motion, which he begged to move as an Amendment to the proposition of his hon. friend. It was this:—" That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire what have been the operation and effect of the Acts prohibiting the payment of wages in goods, or otherwise than in money, and to report the evidence that may be brought before them, as well as their opinion as to the propriety of repealing or amending the said Acts, or of bringing in a new Act on the subject."
§ Mr. Sadler
said, that it was his intention to have given a silent vote in favour of the motion of the hon. member for Staffordshire; but after having heard what had fallen from the hon. Member who had just sat down, he thought it his duty to trouble the House with a few observations., in reply to that hon. Gentleman; and his apology for so doing would be, that circumstances had rendered him in some measure acquainted with the evils of which the hon. Member professed himself ignorant. It was somewhat strange that the hon. Member should appeal to Glasgow, where, he acknowledged, the system was not in existence, confessing himself wholly ignorant of its effect where it was in full operation, and still doubt or deny all that had been asserted by those who had long witnessed and deplored the evil, and the representations of scores of thousands of petitioners who were its victims, and who were earnestly imploring the House for redress. The hon. Member had talked of proceeding to Bolton; he wished he would take that course. In the mean time, his ignorance of the nature and extent of the evil was no substantial reason why those who were well acquainted with it, who knew how much misery it inflicted, how wide it had already extended, and that the 1153 infection was still spreading, should be prevented from proceeding as became them, namely, in attempting to apply, and instantly, a remedy for so great a grievance. That class of the petitioners whom it was the more immediate object of the Bill to relieve, it was acknowledged on all hands were deeply injured by this system; it deprived them of their fair earnings; varied, at the pleasure of their employers, their wages—in short, it diminished their comforts and degraded their condition. Yet the hon. member for Middlesex had called their meetings for the purpose of obtaining redress, and their numerous petitions to this House, raising a clamour. He would tell him, that any class of society would raise what he called a clamour were they similarly dealt with; namely, if they were defrauded of their honest gains, and after having laboured hard and long, were deprived, under a variety of harassing pretexts, of their due remuneration. But it was somewhat singular to hear the hon. Member talk of the clamour that had been raised, and the ignorance that was to be enlightened on the subject, when he had, almost in the very same breath, assured the House of the supreme intelligence of the very class he had thus stigmatised. But it had been well observed by the hon. Member who had introduced the measure, that the evil deeply affected other classes of society than those who were the principal sufferers, and whom it was the first object of the Bill to relieve. Among them were the tradesmen and retail dealers in the towns where the system prevailed, and whom the honourable member for Middlesex had therefore described as being at the bottom of the outcry, as he called it. It was most evident, that this class were deeply injured, and had a just cause of complaint. The very heavy assessments and taxes, parochial and public, to which their situation rendered them liable, and the unfair competition to which they were therefore subjected, to say nothing of the interest they had at stake, fully justified this numerous and important class of society in having joined with those still more deeply injured, and delivered their remonstrances on this occasion, from the imputation of clamour now cast upon them. While the employers themselves had very generally petitioned the House on the occasion, nay, many of those who had been compelled to adopt, as a matter of necessity, a practice which they greatly 1154 object to, were among its most strenuous opponents; as it was clear that those who, while availing themselves of it, were still governed by feelings of honour and humanity, had no chance of competing with those who pursued the same system with more eagerness and less honesty. Thus was it that almost every class was injured by this disgraceful practice wherever it prevailed; and hence that general remonstrance against its continuance which the hon. Member denounced as clamour. But the hon. Member had appealed to the antiquity of the system, which, in his opinion, was a most suspicious argument as applied to the subject. It was true, that 400 years ago the system of barter and truck was pursued—in the then state of things it was impossible that it should have been otherwise; but as society advanced, the practice was still discouraged, and it was too much to state, that we were not to attempt to annihilate a system which was found to be a nuisance even in the earlier times, and which much impeded and long delayed national improvement, but which, in the present state of things, amounted to an intolerable grievance. The hon. Member, however, had appealed to general principles on this occasion. But nothing was more obvious than that abstract principles, dry and barren generalities as they had been called, when applied practically, were often found to be wholly inapplicable, and not unfrequently, indeed, deeply injurious. He thought that the hon. member for Middlesex would find it difficult to apply any known principle which could justify the grievance in question, least of all that of free-trade. In the present state of things, the supply of labour being great, and the demand for it unhappily otherwise, it was obvious that the master and the workman did not meet upon equal terms; the latter was in the power of the former, and the idea of making a bargain regarding wages, on the same footing, was a farce. The freedom was all on one side—a freedom not only to bring down the wages of labour to the lowest possible scale consistent with the scantiest means of subsistence, and not unfrequently below that; but again to diminish at pleasure the value of those very wages, inadequate as they might be, leaving to the industrious man an alternative indeed, that of a total loss of employment, which consigned him at once to misery and pauperism. And was it thus that the principle of free trade 1155 was to be applied? He had been supposed to have been somewhat hostile to the general application of that principle under existing circumstances; but in all he had advanced upon the subject, he had never carried his hostility to it so far as to identify it with a system which practically placed the workman in the power of his employer, giving the freedom of oppression without hope and without redress. But the view the hon. Member took was a fallacious application of his own principles. He had spoken much and long upon the circulating medium of the country; he was strenuously in favour of the regulation which compelled the public to discharge in gold a debt which had been contracted in their name in paper; the consequences were sufficiently known and felt, especially as respected the lower and industrious classes. But it appeared to the hon. Member to be right upon "principle." He therefore interdicted that contracts should be any longer made or satisfied in a paper medium, at least below a certain amount: he thought it right upon principle that every 20l. for instance, that should be paid to the public creditor, no matter the difficulty and distress it involved, should be no longer discharged in the medium in which it was contracted. But the hon. Member varied his principle when he applied it to the lower and labouring classes; their 20s., the hard-earned product of a week's, or a fortnight's labour, was not to be secured to them in the precious metals; no, nor yet in paper, but in twenty pounds, it might be, of rancid bacon; in short, in any commodity, of any quality, and at any price, which the employer might choose to render him. How did this comport with the hon. Member's notions as to the currency? He thought that it was unnecessary to protect that which was paid to the poor, though we were to run the risk of ruining the empire, in securing, reforming, and raising, the value of that which was demanded by the capitalists of the country. The hon. Member had said something about the necessity of allowing the master and workman to fix upon the wages to be given and received. But the principle he defended necessarily unfixed them. The standard of value, of which so much had been said, is in this case the standard which the former pleased to use for the occasion; and the consequences were obvious, verified by the allegations of tens of thousands, whose 1156 wrongs had been made known to the House by the petitions which loaded its Table. But the hon. Member had attempted, though most unsuccessfully, to reconcile his views upon this subject with the interests of the lower classes, in stating that if the truck-system were abolished, 50,000 or 100,000 persons would probably be thrown out of employment. Employment followed demand; and how could the hon. Member suppose that demand for any manufactured article was created here, or in any of the continental markets, by the circumstance that the wages of the labour of those who fabricated the articles demanded were thus disgracefully paid, that is, in adulterated flour, decayed bacon, or any other commodity, save money?—The idea was ridiculous. But the hon. Member seemed to think, that the system supplied the employer wish capital and credit; here again he was as much in error, for if he could obtain goods upon credit, he could borrow money also wherewith to pay his workmen. Did he attempt to satisfy any other of the demands upon him in the same manner as those of his workmen.— demands often to a much heavier amount? This idea was also too absurd to entertain. He would leave, however, the principle of the hon. Member, and its application, to himself, and advert in conclusion to that of the law of this country, which had ever regarded the wages of labour with peculiar favour, and indeed, given the claims they created, a preference over all other and ordinary demands. Indeed, every institution, sacred or civil, as far as he knew, had thus regarded them. The pittance which laborious poverty earns, is its only wealth, its sole capital, and it deeply behoved the House to protect and guard it from the grasp of rapaciousness, and the attempts, however, disguised and palliated, of practical oppression. But it had been said, that the law, if passed would be evaded; let it be so. Most of our laws are partially evaded; and amongst them many which nevertheless are, on the whole, generally operative and highly beneficial; let this be one of them. Even if the nuisance which has accumulated so greatly, cannot be wholly abated, let an attempt at least be made, which the principles of justice and humanity equally demand. At least place on the Statute-book the strongest inhibition of this nefarious practice, subject the offender to adequate penalties, and if he still 1157 evade the law, brand him with the stigma of breaking the laws of his country, with those of justice and humanity. He hardly thought it necessary to notice the assertion, that the labourer might refuse to receive his wages in the commodities delivered to him. That was true; but then, in that case, it was clear, if he demanded money instead, it would from such employers be the last he would receive. He would give an instance. It was not a peculiar, but, unhappily, a common case, in which it appeared that a workman had forced upon him for his week's wages a certain weight of cheese scarcely fit for use, and which he had to sell to the very employer from whom he received it, and at his own terms, namely, little more than one-half the price he had been compelled to pay for it. Why should any one be compelled to suffer such a diminution of the recompense of his hard labour; and why should the master, who had already made one profit upon his labour, be empowered to turn round upon him and make another and a still more profitable bargain with him, exacting an unjust and usurious gain upon the very wages of his labour? He repeated, that the evil was one of great magnitude, and that no time ought to be lost in dealing with it as it deserved. It was the first and most important duty of the Legislature to protect the poor, inasmuch as the rich are in a great measure able to protect themselves; but he was compelled to confess, that its chief care and labour had been latterly devoted to give security to capital, and facilities to the accumulation of wealth. "If (concluded the hon. Member) the measure should fail in producing all the good the benevolent purpose of it anticipates, still it cannot fail of accomplishing much in convincing the suffering people that this House commiserates the distresses, and is anxious to redress the injuries, of the poor. It will, therefore greatly soothe their irritation, if it should not wholly relieve their sufferings. It will, together with other measures which may be adopted, hold out a prospect, at least, that their condition will be, at length, improved; and open upon them that ray of hope which may brighten into future prosperity and happiness. In the mean time, whether in relation to the nature of the injury complained of. the multitude of those seeking redress, or the period in which their complaints are uttered, it be- 1158 comes the House to proceed with this measure, and without delay."
§ Mr. George Robinson
said, that he felt it his duty, regardless of the misrepresentation to which he might subject himself, to state his opinion upon this important topic. He had not heard any one contend that it was better that the labourer should be paid in goods than in money. If they were called upon at once to decide whether the labourer should be paid in goods, or in money, there could be no difference of opinion. But that was not the question before the House. Two propositions had been submitted to it. The one for leave to bring in a Bill at once to abolish the evil complained of: the other for the appointment of a Select Committee, to inquire and report their opinion on the circumstances of the case. Such being the alternative; the latter proposition was decidedly that which should receive his support. He believed the truck-system was very prejudicial to the labourers and to the retail dealers throughout the country. Last year he was not aware that it existed in the city which he had the honour to represent. He had since found that it did so exist, and that there was a strong feeling against it; and he had been emphatically called upon by his constituents to assist in its abolition. Under these circumstances, he rose, not to oppose the Bill moved for by the hon. member for Staffordshire, but merely to call the attention of the House to the calm and dispassionate consideration of which of the two propositions before them was entitled to the preference. Let not the House deceive itself by supposing, that to put an end to the truck-system would be to put an end to the existing evils in the country. The truck-system was rather the effect than the cause of those evils. Those evils, as the hon. member for Middlesex had justly observed, arose out of a complication of causes. If he thought that the Bill moved for by the hon. member for Staffordshire would immediately produce the effect of paying the labouring classes in money, and thereby producing a better position of things, no man would more cordially and willingly support the measure. Indeed, he did not by any means now oppose the bringing in of the Bill. If the House determined to allow the hon. Member to bring it in, he (Mr. Robinson) would not only not oppose its progress, but would 1159 give his humble assistance in rendering it as perfect an instrument as possible for carrying into effect the benevolent views of its author. But what he was particularly anxious to impress upon the House was, that the evils under which the manufacturing districts were at present suffering, were not to be remedied by any one act of Legislation. If the Bill should be carried, it would have the effect of producing a diminution of the demand for labour, and it was from the want of that demand that so much misery now existed. It would have, he was also afraid, a most injurious effect, it would promote disputes and endless litigation, and quarrels between masters and their workmen. He admitted that the man who was obliged to take bad goods, or goods which he did not want, must do it under the operation of some power of compulsion; but, on the other hand, what compulsion was it that obliged him to take those goods except that of the want of employment, which existed independently of this system? He feared that this Bill would not remove that cause. The subject was one of the greatest difficulty—and the only course that remained for them to pursue was, to adopt a calm and temperate inquiry, and though that inquiry might require time, they ought to devote that time to so important a subject. He should, therefore, support Mr. Hume's Amendment for a Select Committee of Inquiry; but if the House should agree to the measure proposed by Mr. Littleton, and after the discussion they had had on this subject, should be of opinion that it might be adopted without a Committee of Inquiry, he would then do his best to perfect the details of the measure.
Mr. Hyde Villiers
was glad that this discussion had taken place, and was glad that so many hon. Members attended it, for he believed it would go far to quiet the irritation among the labouring classes when they found that this subject, so immediately relating to them had been so much and so carefully canvassed by that House. He had most attentively read the reports that had been made by the committees on the Combination-laws respecting the state and condition of masters and men. Those reports undoubtedly contained much very valuable information, but still they were not sufficient for him, or for any of those hon. Members who, like him, had no personal experience in these mat- 1160 ters, to make up their minds on this most important subject. Even from the arguments of those who supported the measure introduced by the hon. member for Staffordshire, he could not find any such high degree of information upon the details of the subject, as to afford any good reason for rejecting the amendment of the hon. member for Middlesex: he really did not think they had made a sufficiently clear case for granting the Motion without a Committee of Inquiry. He begged the House to recollect that this was a most important measure—that it must have an undefined effect on the great interests of the country—and that, if they legislated without inquiry, they might find that they had involved themselves in considerable difficulties. Every one agreed, that in common cases no persons should pretend to prescribe a remedy for any evil with the nature of which he was not thoroughly acquainted. Yet, in this instance, so far were all men from having agreed upon the nature of the evil to be remedied, that no two men held the same opinions upon it. Some supposed that the whole system was forced upon the men by the power of the masters; others doubted that fact, and believed it was a system adopted for the convenience of both. Now it seemed to him most probable that the latter opinion was correct. If one agreed to pay, and the other to receive, wages in goods, there could be no injustice in such an agreement; and this Bill was not required for such a case; if an agreement was made for money, and after the work had been performed, the master insisted on paying in truck, there would be a manifest injustice in such a case; and if this Bill was meant to provide against that injustice, then it became a bill for the better securing the performance of contracts. The House ought surely to know what was the subject, and the exact nature of the measure; but without inquiry it was impossible for the House to be informed on the subject. He believed that the truck-system was founded on the mutual and voluntary consent of the master and workmen, for otherwise, he could not understand how it was that the system had been so long and so extensively adopted. Even the hon. Member who introduced the bill admitted that it had existed in times when distress was not generally or severely felt, and that admission was sufficient to show that its adoption had been 1161 a matter of preference. That it was adopted for the advantage of both parties, was proved by the fact that the men who (since the repeal of the Combination-laws) might legally combine for any purpose of their own, and who had, in fact, combined upon several other questions, had never once thought of entering into a combination on the subject of this system. It appeared to him that this measure was not one of mere regulation of contracts, but that it involved the immensely-important principle of regulating the rate of wages; and he must repeat, that any principle of so great and extended an operation ought not to be adopted without inquiry. He thought it would be a strong measure for any one to propose that that House should say to the masters throughout the country, "You shall not give less than a certain rate of wages," and to the labourers, "You shall not receive less than a certain rate of wages;" and perhaps there were few, if any, who would be found to propose such a measure; but he must say, that, in principle, a bill which said to the masters "You shall not pay," and to the workmen "You shall not receive wages in truck," differed little from a measure of the sort to which he had alluded. No one in that House would like to be told that he must keep his servants on board wages? yet a declaration similar in principle was made by this bill to every master in the kingdom. He did not mean to deny that there had been cases of gross occasional abuse under this system; but no man of judgment would say, that a system ought to be abolished because there were cases of abuse under it; nor did any man at present know, with any degree of certainty, whether the abuses under the system had been of great extent or not. He must say one word with respect to the petitions on this subject. How was it that when so many individuals, and so many classes of individuals, must feel a deep interest in the continuance of the truck-system, no petitions had been presented in its favour, though so many had been laid on the table against it? That wa3 one of the matters into which he wished to inquire. He supposed that it would be asserted by some hon. gentleman that the truck-system enabled the masters to effect a greater reduction of wages than they would be able to effect if the labourer was paid in money. It might be said, too, that this was the 1162 cause of the great number of the opponents of the present system, for that the labourer would be more sensibly made to feel the reduction in the scale of the comforts of life, and that he would naturally struggle against his own degradation. That opinion might be well founded, but he could not venture to legislate on mere speculative opinion; he therefore required a Committee of Inquiry, without which he should not be satisfied to proceed. It was found, he believed, that though the system worked well in some places, it might have a contrary tendency in others; but how was the House to know that without inquiry—or how could they ascertain whether the evils of the system were such as to call on them to get rid of it—or that, if they did get rid of it, they might not introduce a greater evil in its place? He called, therefore, for an inquiry into the moral and physical condition of those who were under the influence of this system. There were, upon the present question, distinct issues on matters of fact, that could only be well tried before a Select Committee of that House. He had two distinct objects of inquiry, on which he wished for the best information. The first was, whether the system now existing was spontaneously adopted by the mutual consent of both masters and men, or whether it had been forced upon the latter by the pressure of distress? The second, whether the advantages of the system were not greater than anything they could hope to obtain in attempting to suppress it? and to these two points might be added a third; namely, in what manner the change from the present system was to be best effected, if the making of that change should be found to be matter of necessity? With respect to the motives of the hon. Member who introduced the measure, there could be no doubt that they were of the best and most honourable kind; and the ability with which he supported his proposition was worthy of his zeal for the object he had in view. With these feelings towards the hon. Member, he need hardly say, that if he felt himself possessed of full information upon the subject, and if that information induced him to think that the truck-system ought to be abolished, he would most willingly give his support to the present bill. But he was so impressed with the importance of the measure, that even if it had originated with the Govern- 1163 ment, and had been brought forward as a cabinet measure, after inquiry by them, he felt he could not consent to adopt it without an inquiry by a committee of that House. Having; said thus much, he should have sat down had it not been for the remarks which had fallen last night from a right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) opposite. That right hon. baronet had warned the House to take care how it allowed the state of the manufacturing labourers to fall into the same condition as the agriculturist in the southern agricultural counties. He admitted the propriety of the warning, but after paying, as he was bound to do, much attention to the subject, he had come to the conclusion that the explanation which the right hon. Baronet had given of the causes of the distress was quite incorrect. When such different opinions prevailed as to a fact which might be supposed to he near the surface, he thought the House ought to be very cautious in its proceeding. On this part of the subject he wished to make one observation: he believed that many of the evils now felt by the people arose from the imperfect legislation of that House on matters of general interest. When any particular evil existed, individuals were allowed to bring in measures which they believed to be likely to prove remedies to those evils, but which, being introduced without sufficient previous inquiry, and being intended to meet a particular contingency, often produced an injurious effect on the general interests of the country. There was not a Session passed in which they had not some meddling with the Poor-laws. The present Session had scarcely commenced when five new laws were introduced. The consequence of this was, that they were worse off than if they had no laws at all. When were they to put an end to that species of petty and vexatious legislation? He thought the present was particularly a case in which they ought not to indulge their private or individual feelings, but allow the thing fairly to go to a committee.
Mr. D. Gilbert
said, that viewing all the circumstances of the case, he thought the Bill, with proper modifications (for he would not pledge himself to approve of the whole of its provisions) ought to receive his support. Some provisions ought to be introduced with respect to the mining districts, which were peculiarly 1164 situated. Every person who knew any thing of mining must be aware, that workmen engaged in the mines could not be hired in the ordinary manner that labourers were. He thought, however, that no manager, or captain of a mine, should be allowed to keep a shop; because, though he might say to the workman, "You are free to deal where you please," still, if the individual did not deal with him, he would have the power of discharging him, on any pretence, from the mine.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he was undoubtedly at first more inclined to support the Amendment than the bill. But, having heard the Gentlemen who came forward, and described the state of the country, their observations had materially altered his opinion, and he could not help viewing the proposition of the hon. member for Middlesex as one of an extremely doubtful character. They were now placed in this situation, that they must either repeal all the laws relating to the truck-system, or they must, render them perfectly efficient. Such was the alternative presented to them, and it was for the House to decide as to which course was the more eligible. A good deal had been said as to the character of the bill that was intended to be brought in, by Gentlemen who were not acquainted with its provisions. He, however, had seen the bill, which they had not, and therefore he could speak of it with confidence. Those Gentlemen appeared to be arguing with reference to a bill which was formerly before Parliament, whereas, the present bill, though its object was the same, proposed to obtain that object by different means. In one point, this bill possessed a very great advantage over the bill of last year. This bill provided for the repeal of all the former Acts; and all the regulations with respect to the payment of wages in truck, contained in it, were clearly and specifically expressed. Some provisions of a harsh nature with respect to that point, which were in the measure of last year, were excluded from this. Therefore the arguments used were not, in fact, applicable to the bill then before the House. The question now under discussion was, whether, before Gentlemen saw this measure, they would insist on having an inquiry, and afterwards decide whether the bill should be adopted under all the circumstances which might be brought to light. He confessed that he disapproved 1165 of that course. The hon. member for Middlesex, in his very able and eloquent speech, inveighed against any interference with the wages of labour. That argument, in the truth of which he entirely concurred, was advanced by the hon. Member in a most unanswerable manner. But then the foundation of that argument was, that the transaction between the master and the labourer was free. Now the fact, on the contrary, was, that it was not free. The labourer, under this system, got in debt to his master, and he was no longer a free agent, and that master could force him to the adoption of that or any other practice which he pleased. The hon. Member said, that the labourer might get in debt with money as well as with goods. That was true, but not to the full extent which the hon. Member had asserted. The right hon. Baronet opposite last night pointed out how exceedingly important it was to prevent the manufacturing population from imbibing those feelings which at present showed themselves in many of the agricultural districts. In that sentiment he entirely concurred; and, when he found the manufacturing districts petitioning, day after day, for the abolition of this system, he thought that it would be unwise and imprudent to refuse their request, or to postpone this bill until a committee of inquiry had finished its labours. "When his right hon. friend near him, and other hon. Gentlemen, who were advocates for free trade, admitted the necessity of adopting a measure of this kind, it must be at once inferred, that an overwhelming cause led them to take that course. He had seen the measure, and would support its principle, but he did not pledge himself to approve of all its details. There were some districts to which, perhaps, it would not be applicable, and where it was necessary to proceed on another principle. When, however, the bill went into a committee, and was altered and amended, he thought that it ought to be adopted by the House.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he meant to support the bill of the hon. member for Staffordshire; but in no stage of it would he consent to a Committee of Inquiry. The bill was, perhaps, opposed to the rigid rules of political economy. The rules of that science had reference to the production of wealth in a nation, but he must inquire what effect the application of them, in a given case, was likely to have on the 1166 morals of a country. Now, if it were shown to him that the application of those rules added to the stock of wealth, but tended, at the same time, to the destruction of morals amongst the people, he certainly, to preserve those morals pure, would overlook and throw aside the principles of political economy. They had established, amongst the greatest improvements in science, a standard of money, by which the value of different commodities was to be obtained, Now, the only commodity over which the poor man had any command was his labour. That being the case, then, he had a right to inquire, whether, in giving up that labour, the bargain made with the poor man was a free, just, and equitable one. Supposing that the transaction was not a fair one on the part of the master, he would ask, where was the poor man's remedy? If the poor man were to be paid in money, then it was easy for the Magistrate to decide, if a complaint were made to him. If the poor man had stipulated for 2s. and got only 1s. 6d., it was evident that the Magistrate could grant redress. But if the labourer agreed to take a certain quantity of goods for his debt, in that case he had no legal remedy by which he could recover the price of his labour, because it then became a question of quality, and not merely of quantity. If the quality be deteriorated, and the quantity was not curtailed, there was no mode by which the poor man could legally enforce justice. On these few, simple, and tangible grounds, he should vote for the bill of the hon. member for Staffordshire. He was favourable to the payment of wages in money, because it encouraged feelings of sobriety and independence. He wished the poor man to have an opportunity of laying by a little money for old age, as a portion for a daughter, or a provision for his widow. This could not be done where the truck-system prevailed, and men were paid, not in money, but with bad butter, or bad cheese, which they were obliged to sell at a ruinous loss.
§ Mr. H. Gurney
said, that he was one of those who had opposed the former bill, and from all he had since heard, it appeared to him, that if ever there was a bill which should have been sent for consideration to a Select Committee, this was one. There was a great difference of opinion, not only on the facts, but on the principles of the measure, and it was very 1167 desirable that the subject should be fully investigated. If the noble Lord opposite, however, took the bill under his protection, he had only to say, that he hoped the bill would receive that examination from the Government which he conceived it ought to receive from a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Attwood
commenced by observing, that he agreed with those who conceived, that great ills had arisen from the application of partial remedies and inefficient legislative enactments. He deprecated the measure about to be introduced, because it partook of that character. The House was, in fact, again about to legislate without referring to the real circumstance, in which the evil to be remedied originated, and without adequate knowledge of the causes of the calamities, against the recurrence of which it was sought to provide. It was with pain he addressed the House on the subject, but he was satisfied, after considering all the statements, distressing as they were of his hon. friend the member for Staffordshire, and great as he admitted the evils thus described to be, that the proposed measure was not a proper remedy. If the hon. member for Staffordshire (Mr. Littleton) should be able to suppress the truck-system by his Bill— an object which he did not think the Bill would accomplish—the effect would only be, to involve those whom he wished to serve in greater calamities than those they suffered under the system he desired to abrogate. The hon. Member had referred to numerous details, showing the degree in which workmen, paid their wages by truck, suffered from the operation of that system. The House could not be better occupied than in examining into details, however minute, which explained the condition of large bodies of the people, at a time like the present; and particularly when the House was about to legislate with a view of providing a remedy for urgent and severe distress. It appeared from the details thus brought before the House, that the labourer in many instances only received a nominal reward. That he took in payment for his labour an article for 8d. which was worth only 4d., for 6d. which was worth but 3d. This was a most important fact, but the question to which it gave rise was, why is it? Why did the labourer submit to so delusive a system? Why did he not leave the master who defrauded him, and seek for one who 1168 would pay his wages in goods at their fair value, or in money? This question brought the whole subject at once under consideration. It was clear that there was a surplus of labour; that trade was depressed, and that the sufferings of these workmen had their origin in the ruinous condition of the manufacture in which they were engaged. The wrong they suffered from an abuse of the truck-system was an evidence of their distress, but was not the cause of it; nor would their sufferings be removed by any measure, short of one which should restore the general prosperity of their trade. To make out his case completely, the hon. member for Staffordshire ought to have gone further; he ought to have learnt what was the condition of other bodies of workmen, where the truck-system does not prevail; and have shewn whether it was better than the deplorable state of workmen paid by truck. This task he (Mr. Attwood) would discharge. He would refer to the condition of labourers in the same branch of manufacture as that which the member for Staffordshire had chiefly cited, the iron manufacture; but amongst whom payment by truck did not prevail. On the 18th of March last, a petition was presented to the House from the ironmasters of Merthyr Tidvil, in the county of Glamorgan. That petition stated, that those who signed it employed about 7,500 effective workmen; a population, therefore, of perhaps 30,000 or 40,000 souls were dependant on their industry; and the petitioners asserted, that these workmen were paid entirely in money. Within about a week of the delivery of this petition, another was presented from the inhabitants of the town of Merthyr Tidvil, a town containing, he believed, about 30,000 inhabitants, composed almost wholly of labourers in the adjacent iron works, and of persons dependant on the iron manufacture. It is there affirmed that the inhabitants suffer "grievous oppression and misery—that they have been gradually sinking deeper and deeper in distress and misery, until at last the greatest part of the population are now resigning themselves to hopelessness and despair; and that there are thousands of families in that town, who are the very pictures of distress and famine." If the truck-system were to be charged with the sufferings of the Staffordshire labourers, what was it then which exposed to famine the Merthyr Tidvil workmen? But it 1169 might perhaps be said, that though truck did not exist amongst these men, yet its existence in the same trade, and in the same neighbourhood also, was capable of having affected these labourers in an indirect manner, if not directly. It could do so in one way only, the employers of these men, surrounded by truck on all sides, might by its aid unduly lower money wages. Whether that were the fact or not would be seen by referring again to the first petition; that of the iron masters themselves. There it appeared that the employers were as greatly distressed as their workmen. "The price at which iron sells," say the masters, "is so low that it does not reimburse us even the amount of the miserable wages we pay for labour; leaving nothing for royalties—royalties being in the iron-trade the cost of the raw material; nothing for the raw material, nothing for capital, and nothing for bad debts." Here then lay the true difficulty with which the House must grapple, if they desired that their endeavours to relieve the labourers should not be mistaken and useless. Low prices they must abolish, and not the truck-system. Raise the prices of the productions of labour to a remunerative level, and then the labourer would be fed. Was distress amongst the labouring population, confined to any particular trade or district? Universally it prevailed, and everywhere from the same cause. Was it not the want of a remunerative price which plunged the agricultural labourer and the farmer in one common ruin; and was felt alike on all productive industry; but whilst the want of remunerative prices for the productions of industry was spreading ruin over the country, how had that House itself been employed? In passing acts to raise the value of money. But laws which raise the value of money, are laws which lower the prices of productions; laws to produce precisely the evils under which the nation suffers. The last Act of this description was the Act of 1826, which abolished a paper, and substituted a good money, abolished a money of a lesser, and substituted one of a higher value. It is from that period, let the House observe, that the petitioners date their calamities, the hon. member for Staffordshire himself asserted a corresponding fact. In 1824, and in 1825, said he, there was no distress in the iron-trade; the masters were prosperous, and the workmen all 1170 employed at good wages. And what say the petitioners of Merthyr Tidvil. "It is for the last four years say they, that we have been gradually sinking deeper and deeper in distress," cause and effect then were plainly before them. They had their own measures to deal with: the money system established by themselves, and not the truck-system resorted to by the traders, must be revised, if they desired to save the perishing labourer. But the money system, said the noble Lord at the head of the Exchequer, must remain untouched. Errors had been committed. The great and fearful system as it now stands must be perpetual, whatever be the consequences, and under no circumstances must that system be again considered or revised. Let it then be so. But he would tell the noble Lord, that so acting, there remained one other course, which, rugged though it was, and dangerous, he would yet find himself compelled to travel. If he would take no measures for raising the prices of productions, he would be driven to take measures for reducing the cost of production. He must lessen the taxes. Not on any scale such as he dreamed of; not on any scale adapted with reference to the necessities of the Government; but adapted to the necessities of the people. Taxes must be reduced to such an extent as, in the language of the petition he had quoted before, would effectually relieve the people from their grievous misery and oppression. To reconcile such an effectual reduction of the taxes with the security of public faith, and the preservation of existing establishments, was the task which the noble Lord had prepared for himself; but he could tell the noble Lord; that if, abstaining from such reduction, he should be able to succeed long in wringing the present amount of annual taxation from the country, in money and in prices of the present value, the productive industry of the country would give way, and would sink under the burthen thus imposed. The system of paying wages by truck, as adopted in the iron-districts, and the abuse of that system, had been, in fact, mainly in consequence of the laws for changing the currency. He would endeavour to explain the operation. Money had been rendered by law, less in quantity, and higher in value. No man now denied that. Then of necessity followed a general fall of prices, and a 1171 general reduction of wages. But what was the process by which alone wages could be reduced? By no other means could wages be reduced, but by an alteration effected in the proportion between the demand for labour and its supply— by an over supply of labour. The same principle governed wages in the iron-trade, and in all other branches of industry. He recollected the answer given by a farmer to a committee of that House. Having stated that if prices fell wages must fall; and being asked, "Are the wages of labour easily reduced?" his answer was, "No. It is a very difficult thing to get down the wages of labour. The only way is, for the master, where he employed five men, to employ only four: let him discharge one out of five, and he would soon pull down the wages of the workmen." Thus it was that a general reduction of the wages of labour, enforced by whatever means, legislative or otherwise, was attended with consequences more dangerous, calamitous, and extensive, than perhaps any other evil to which a great manufacturing, commercial, and agricultural people could be subjected. Want of employment, an excess of labour, a redundant population, general and universal distress, crime and misery, were necessary concomitants. The track-system had been, in fact, resorted to in the iron-trade, as a means of escaping from calamities, as an alleviation of difficulties, which the Legislature, by changes in the value of money, had imposed. The manufacturer had been placed under the necessity of reducing the wages of his men; but the wages of labour were governed by the demand for labour. The manufacturer of iron was unable to reduce his demand for labour, without first suspending his works and machinery, and that was ruin to the manufacturer. As long as the workman saw the usual revolutions of the wheels, heard the blast of the furnace, and the stroke on the anvil, he knew that his labour was as usual required. So circumstanced, he would submit to no reduction in the price of labour, whatever might be the necessities of his employer. Wages could not be reduced, therefore, till work should be suspended. Surplus labour would then be thrown on the market, and wages would fall. But the master-manufacturer would not abandon his works, whilst able to carry them on on any terms. That had been asserted by his hon. friend the member for Stafford- 1172 shire; and he was glad to hear from such a quarter that avowal. That hon. Gentleman, or at least the school whose doctrines he espoused, had hitherto maintained an opposite opinion. The House had been repeatedly told by them, that traders ought not to be believed, when they represented that they carried on their operations with loss. It was contrary to the very nature of trade, said the political economists, for traders so to act. With that assertion the House had been called on to repel the complaints of the ship-owners, ship-builders, of silk-manufacturers, of the iron-masters, and of men engaged in other branches of distinctive industry. Now, however, it was admitted, that the iron-trade at least had long been carried on with loss. The truth was, that men whose capital was embarked in an unprofitable manufacture, were generally unable to abandon that manufacture, without abandoning also all they possessed of value—their fortune, and the advantages of their experience. So situated, they would proceed, in the hope of rendering that ruin doubtful, which, by not proceeding, would be made certain; they would cling to the last remains of a capital which they could not withdraw, until bankruptcy, the greatest calamity, as it had been truly called by Adam Smith, to which a trader could be subject, closed their exertions. But as long as the usual number of works continued in operation, wages would not fall. High wages and low prices effected a rapid exhaustion of capital. Those manufacturers whose capital was the slenderest would be first ruined. Their works suspended, their labourers thrown out of employment, then pressed down the market of labour, and so wages would fall. Such had been the precise process which, twice repeated in recent experience, (and for the accuracy of its description he appealed to hon. friends of his who sat near, engaged in that branch of trade) had adjusted the wages of labour to a reduced price of iron; reduced by legislative changes then, as now, in the value of money. Numerous bankruptcies amongst the manufacturers had preceded the fall of wages. But the last reduction in the price of iron, the fall which commenced four years since, had not been accompanied by bankruptcies, and yet wages had been reduced. This was owing to the truck-system, which afforded a mitigated form of lowering the 1173 remuneration of labour. Reduced remuneration was in that shape more readily submitted to by the workman; but chiefly it was, that by payment in goods the manufacturer supplied the exhaustion of his capital. The hon. member for Staffordshire had himself, in other words, asserted that fact, when he said that the goods which the truck-master paid for wages were purchased by him at a credit of three or six months; that is, the truck-master was not called on to pay for the goods, till three months or six months after he had disbursed them in wages to his men. Wages were paid weekly; the payment day arrives; you require that, payment shall be made to the workman in gold money. But suppose the case of a manufacturer who is unable longer to procure gold money. The 1l. note, which he could have more easily procured, a previous Act of the Legislature has abolished. The banker will not advance gold on terms so facile, either as to credit or price, as those on which he would have advanced paper. The trader would be at once ruined, if the truck-system did not come to his aid. By purchasing goods, and paying goods as wages, he postpones for sis months any demand on himself. His capital was wasting, but his credit remained, and by this device he found the means of struggling a little longer with ruin. Such were the real facts of the case, and the passing of this Act would be a statute of bankruptcy, against not a small proportion of traders in different branches of manufacture, now contending with difficulties which that House itself had imposed. In paper, had the House said, you shall not pay. Gold the trader found it out of his power to procure; and now the House was called on to inflict on him the penalty of bankruptcy, as a punishment for his inability. But why, it might be asked, if such be the situation of any considerable body of traders, is not their case stated in petitions. Traders were a body not prone to proclaim their sufferings; but it was not the less certain that the House, by passing this Bill, would drive a numerous class of traders to hopeless bankruptcy. He knew well the condition of many of those persons; and knew also, that he, whilst he was advocating their cause, was inflicting a deep wound on their feelings; and he told the House they had no right to crush men so circumstanced. In conclusion, he again re- 1174 peated, in reference to the assertion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the sufferings of the labourers would receive no alleviation from any such expedients as the abolishing the truck-system. The want of a remunerative price for productions it was which involved the labourer and his employer in common difficulties, throughout all branches of industry. If, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they refused all relief by measures which might establish higher prices, no other course was open, but to lower the cost of the productions of industry, by an effectual and great reduction of taxation.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, that, even if he agreed with the hon. Member who just sat down, that the mode of paying wages by the truck-system had been introduced as a substitute for paper money, that would be an additional argument in his mind for supporting the present measure. Until the House decided that another system of currency should be established, they ought, to adhere to that which existed. Bad as the paper system was, it was better than a currency of cheese and butter, and other matters of that description. He agreed with those Members who said, that the truck-system was an indirect mode of diminishing wages; but he went further, for he said, it was an unjust and undue mode of diminishing wages. In giving his support to this measure, he considered he was violating no principle. The principle which he always advocated was, that they should confer the greatest possible benefit on the people for whom they had to legislate. With regard to the principles of political economy, he advocated them because they served as a fixed line to guide him, but he had never asserted that they were to approach that line under all circumstances, and at all times. He owned ho. was not so sanguine as some of his hon. friends as to the benefits to be expected from this measure. It was a difficult subject, but, after all the consideration he could give it, he believed, the measure would be beneficial to the great mass of the manufacturing population. It had been said, in the course of the Debate, that the truck-system had grown up because it was pleasing to the labourers. That might have been the case, in the first instance, but subsequently, no doubt, the practice had been greatly abused. No one could doubt that, under the system as it now existed, it was out of 1175 the power of the labouring man to secure the performance of the contract into which he proposed to enter, and might think he had concluded. When he was told that it was better to leave the labourer in perfect freedom to enter into what contract he pleased, he adopted the principle; but he asked, whether the labourer had perfect freedom and power to enforce the contract? The poor labourer was bound, by the law of settlement, by the difficulty of removal, by the ties of kindred and affection—and, above all, he was bound by the combination amongst the masters. Then, what was the inconvenience that would result from this measure? they would enable the labourer to avoid exchanging his labour for a deceptive commodity. He could then exchange it for that which was exchangeable for every thing he required. The bill secured to him what was of value, and what he knew the value of. Its tendency, therefore, was, in that point of view, to preserve the labourer from the consequences of his own imprudence and ignorance. Such a principle of legislation, he contended, was not unjust. The hon. member for Middlesex objected to the details of a bill not actually before the House, and of which he could know nothing. He objected, that the bill would destroy the advantage arising from competition, and would give a monopoly to the large manufacturers; it would prevent, too, the hon. Member thought, the masters from selling cheaper to their workmen than retail dealers, as they now did in many instances. That objection, however, fell to the ground. The bill did not prevent the master from keeping a shop, and selling to the labourers for money, but prevented him from paying their labour in goods, without first paying for it in money. Another objection was, that the bill would be attended with inconvenience where the truck-system did not prevail. Now, the fact was, that the bill would not be called into operation unless the evil it was intended to remedy was felt by the Magistrate. There was no use in going through the details of a bill which had not yet been introduced; but he was anxious to state, that he gave his support to the measure, because he felt that it was calculated to prevent fraud, and protect the poor and ignorant.
The Attorney General
said, that representing a very populous and manufacturing town, he was desirous of saying a few 1176 words on. this subject, especially as a petition had been presented from the town which he represented, signed by 8,000 workmen, and upwards of 100 masters, against the system. It was a remarkable fact, that all the parties concerned in the traffic were favourable to this bill, and he, therefore, thought, that they ought to grant it to them, although he must confess that he did not feel sure of the soundness of the principle on which it was proposed. At the same time he must observe, that he had so much confidence in the spread of knowledge among the manufacturers and artizans of those districts, as not to be afraid of the refusal of this measure causing any rising or disturbance among them. But when he found all parties thus anxious to have the measure conceded to them, he would confess that he had not the courage to set up his own individual opinion against the demand of all those who were most interested in the subject. He had no doubt of the justice of the proposition, that both masters and men should be at liberty to regulate their own concerns, and perhaps it was for this very reason that the measure ought to be granted, since it was an Act which both parties concurred in asking for. [" Question."]
§ Mr. Tennant
complained, that the rule which the bill of the hon. member for Staffordshire required them to lay down was not that of allowing men to make the best bargains for themselves; on the contrary, its principle was, to put men in a state of destitution, and so take it out of their power to form any contract at all. If this interference between the master and the labourer was suffered, he did not know what might be the consequence. The thing of which he chiefly complained was, that this measure was unphilosophical and unstatesmanlike; for its object was beyond the power of man to accomplish. It was a bill which would most certainly be evaded; because the higher rights of self-protection would always interfere with any law they might pass. The noble Lord had stated as a reason for passing this law, that the parties were not free; but how could this be any argument for making them less free? which would, he contended, be the result of the proposed enactment. Another reason that 1177 the noble Lord had given for supporting the bill was, that he was afraid to oppose it; but he must say, that he never had expected to hear intimidation made use of as an argument in that House; and still less had he thought that the noble Lord would be the person to make use of such an argument. With respect to the other arguments that had been used in favour of the measure, they appeared to him to be equally unsatisfactory; and he would venture to say, that no eminent writer on political economy could be found who should say that this Act was in conformity with the principles of that science; and he therefore hoped that the House would, at least, think it necessary to institute a very particular inquiry into the question before it proceeded to legislate upon it.
§ Mr. D. Whittle Harvey
.— The hon. Member who has just sat down appears surprised, notwithstanding the number and variety of the arguments which have been pressed into this night's Debate, that no one has attended to what he said last night, or ventured to grapple with his challenge to shew what is philosophical legislation. I do not consider it inconsistent with sound philosophy to introduce from time to time, those measures which may become necessary, and which have for their object the guardianship of the rights of the labouring community from the oppression of the master; and if one proposition be more characteristic of that than another, it is this now before us. All who have opposed this measure call for inquiry, as if they were in doubt as to the object of the complaint. Do they propose to examine before the committee a greater number of witnesses than there have been petitions presented this night? Have we not had one petition signed by 17,000 persons; a second by 10,000; a third by 9,000; all complaining of a specific grievance? What they complain of is nothing ambiguous, nothing undefined, nothing but what is characteristic of the misery they endure. They state, that for their labour they cannot get their due reward in that standard of value which is convertible into the necessaries of life. It is said, that if they do not take lumps of fetid bacon, or that miserable stuff called beer, but in reality dish-water, at 6d. a pot, their masters will not employ them. But do we expect that these benevolent masters would give them even this, unless it was for their own 1178 advantage? As long as it is advantageous for them to employ the labourer, they will be induced to do so by the obligation of self-interest, always endeavouring to pay in that commodity which costs the least. It is in evidence, and would the examination before the committee be of a nature to controvert it, that the industrious mechanic cannot obtain the pecuniary reward of his labour, but receives in exchange those commodities which are of no use to him, and which he is obliged to travel many long and weary miles to huxter away, at a loss of more than fifty per cent on its nominal value, besides the loss of his time, consumed in the process, and which time is the poor man's stock in trade. The hon. member for Boroughbridge (Mr. Attwood), has pressed into the service of this Debate that ready recruit, which is always at his command in his frequent conflicts in this House— I mean the currency. That is the point to which all his arguments tend; and it cannot be denied, that not a bill is introduced on which, somehow or other, he does not bring it to bear. But this apparent deviation from the matter immediately before the House thus arises. The Motion before the House in reality involves the condition of the country; and the Amendment, in point of fact, is for an inquiry into the state of the nation; and hence it is, that every Gentleman feels himself at liberty to advance his peculiar views as the cause of, and the remedy for, our distress. But let us reason as long as we may, with or without Committees of Inquiry, it must all come to this—that the country is over-borne with unequal taxation, and that it is utterly impossible that our various affairs can be carried on with the restricted monetary means now at our disposal. It is, therefore, incumbent on this House, as speedily as possible, not only to take into consideration the actual amount of taxation, which must, under all circumstances, be great and oppressive, but the mode of equalizing it. I cannot agree with those hon. Members who would postpone the consideration of the question until this House be radically reformed— the time for which, I trust, is not far distant. I do not consider this House so imperfect in its composition and feelings as to be incompetent to entertain this subject; and after the earnest, honest, and straightforward assurances of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I not only hope 1179 for the absolute repeal of four or five millions of taxes, but for nine or ten millions of those which bear almost exclusively on the industrious labour of the country; and for this latter portion, that he will find a substitute in a well-ordered and impartially-regulated property-tax. An hon. Gentleman near me, the member for Wootton Bassett,—of whose speech it is impossible to speak too highly,—opposes this bill, and indeed evades it, by supporting a committee, because, he says, the payment of labour in truck is one of those necessary evils by which fraud is artfully concealed from the poor—it acting as a subtle contrivance for plundering the labourer of twenty-five or thirty per cent of his wages. Against that odious doctrine I must enter my protest; for whatever wages a man can earn ought to be paid to him in money which he can convert to such purposes as his necessities—for I fear I cannot speak of his comforts—require; and whatever controls that power, is an act of injustice. Other considerations present themselves to my mind, but the hour of the night prevents me from saying more than that I give the bill to compel the payment of wages in money my cordial support.
said, that the hon. German opposite (Mr. Harvey) had not pointed out in what way the measure before the House would remedy the evil complained of. One of the members of Government had said, he was afraid to refuse legislating in compliance with the wishes expressed in the petitions, while the other two of his colleagues who had spoken, approved of the measure, without stating how they expected the alleged remedy to operate. Much had been said of the theories of political economists—but he, for one, would say, that its motto was "Nullius in verba"—he would say, too, of political economy, what had been said of legislation, that it was a science which had the happiness of mankind for its object, and experience for its guide.
Sir Francis Burdett
said, that in the present Debate he stood in the extraordinary predicament of one who agreed with what had been said by the Gentlemen, both for and against the present measure. He might use the words of Sir Roger de Coverley, that "much might be said on both sides." But above all, he agreed with what had fallen from the hon. member for Boroughbridge, although he knew 1180 that there were some persons—aye, and some Members of that House—who would put him in a straight-waistcoat for so saying. It was his opinion, that the changes which had taken place in the currency were the great causes of the derangement of the relations of all classes of society. If the evils thus occasioned were not remedied in time, they would go on increasing, and ultimately produce difficulties under which the country must sink. In that opinion he was confirmed more and more every day. In all classes, with agriculturists, and merchants, and manufacturers, he found the one universal complaint to be, that they could not obtain prices which would enable them to pay the taxes. Such being his conviction, he should not act fairly towards the hon. member for Boroughbridge, if he did not state his entire acquiescence in the opinion of that hon. Gentleman, however unpopular that opinion might be. He. knew that it was unpopular with many hon. Members of that House, who believed that the change of the currency was an unwise measure at the time when it was effected but who thought that now it was better, and likely to be attended with less calamity, to persevere than to attempt to retrace their steps. They might be right, but he could not think so. If they would reconsider the whole measure, and its consequences, they would find it the source of all the evils which at present afflicted society; from all which he believed the country would recover, if the error of that change were even now repaired. He thought that he heard from the hon. member for Colchester one sentence, in which he especially concurred. It was to the effect—that, in the present state of the currency, the present amount of taxes and other burthens could not be endured. He entirely approved of the principle of the system proposed by the hon. member for Staffordshire; and surely, if the labouring part of the population merited the high eulogium passed upon them by the hon. member for Middlesex, they were competent to judge of that measure, in which their interests were immediately affected, and of which their experience enabled them to judge. He could not approve of the sentiment expressed by that hon. Member who had said, that when his own reason had been convinced, he would not yield to the mistaken notions of others. On a question like the present, he considered it both ex- 1181 pedient and just to yield to the feelings of the persons interested, unless some serious evil was likely to result from such acquiescence. But hon. Members had talked of the necessity for inquiry, before the House should take any steps upon the subject. Now, to talk of inquiry in the House of Commons, concerning any complaint of the people, was to tell them that it was intended to give them no relief, but to baffle their expectations by delay. He, for one, would be willing to inquire to the bottom into every subject connected with the state of the country; but the measure before the House raised no occasion for inquiry, as it was plain that it could do no evil, and that it might be, at least, a palliative for evils which were acknowledged to exist, and for which those who suffered them considered it a remedy. In that case, they were more capable, by reason of their experience and intimacy with the subject, to form a just opinion than the most scientific political economist. He was as much impressed as any man with the value of political economy; and he was himself, perhaps, too much a theorist; but he knew that the soundest theory might be applied in a manner calculated to produce effects the most opposite to its natural results. Such, he believed, to have been the case with respect to the currency; and he believed, that if one great man, of whom the House and the country had been deprived, were now amongst them—he meant the late Mr. Ricardo—the characteristic candour of that lamented Gentleman would lead him to acknowledge, that he, with many other hon. Members, including himself, had been in error. He wished, however, to see the principles of political economy fully put into practice in respect to the intercourse of this country with other nations. He was sure that the removal of all restrictions upon British commerce with neighbouring States, especially with France, would promote the prosperity of both. With respect to the object of the hon. Gentleman's bill, he would only add, that the bill would not make any compulsory arrangements between the employers and the labourers. It would only enable the latter to obtain payment for their labour in money, if they did not choose to accept it in goods.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham
said, that he would by no means refuse his assent to a measure which would tend to alleviate distress 1182 where distress existed. In the part of the country with which he was most acquainted he saw no indications of distress greater than he had always before known to prevail. The people around him, as far as he had opportunity of observing, wore, at least, the appearance of content. He knew, however, that the people disliked the truck-system very much; he believed it to he very injurious, and therefore he would support the measure.
§ Mr. Littleton
said, that as the Members seemed impatient, he would not detain them by making the observations in reply which he should otherwise have considered it his duty to make. He would remind the House that the question which he had submitted was, whether they would give him leave to bring in a bill on the subject which had that evening occasioned so much discussion? Of that bill, the object would be little more than to render effectual the laws which already existed. His hon. friend (if the member for Bridport would allow him to use the term) had called on the member for Colchester to explain in what manner the bill would put down the abuses complained of. Now, it was too much to ask of any hon. member to explain how a bill would operate, of which he yet knew none of the provisions.
§ The House divided. The numbers were— For the Motion 167; Against it 27; Majority 140.