HC Deb 03 May 1847 vol 92 cc306-12

MR. FIELDEN moved the Third Reading of the Factories Bill.


rose to move, that the Bill be read a third time that day six months, and in doing so, said that it would no doubt be agreeable to the House to hear that it was not his intention to make two speeches on his present Motion, and on the clause of which he had given notice, to limit the operation of tie Bill for three years. He would not now enter into the general discussion, so much as confine his observations to the benefits of that clause. The present Bill was an experiment. Every word used, every argument advanced, showed that it was only an experiment. Its advocates showed their own want of confidence in it. They had no consistent definite set of principles upon which they could support what was really a penal Act against the industry of the country. He proposed to relieve them from their difficulties by limiting the operation of the Act to three years. He had named three years, because a shorter period might be affected by peculiar and temporary seasons of unusual prosperity or depression. Three years, too, was a good period, because in that time the steed would know its rider—the people would get acquainted with the tax which they were about to impose upon them. The people themselves would be glad of the limitation to three years, for they were not at all confident of the success of the measure, and wanted a given period to ascertain its effects. The House had showed the greatest vacillation upon the measure, and having thrown the Bill out two years ago, was it decent that the present Parliament, as one of its last Acts, should now enact for a permanency? If the measure were successful—and he was not so bigoted as to suppose that it could not be successful—who would not be willing to continue at at the expiration of the allotted time? If the measure were passed as a permanent one, he—if a Member of the new Parliament—would open the question every year; and if he were not a Member of the ensuing Parliament, no doubt other Members would be found to maintain a perpetual agitation in that House on the subject. Would it not be desirable to prevent such an agitation, as no doubt they would prevent it if the Bill were only enacted for three years? Besides, so important a measure ought not to pass without the support of a united Cabinet. The present Government was divided with regard it; and this fact was quite sufficient of itself to justify the House in refusing to enact a permanent Act so deeply affecting the welfare of the manufacturing interests of the country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the Bill be read a third time that day six months.


supported the Bill. He had heard no new argument from the hon. Member who had last spoken, which was sufficient to induce him to oppose the measure, looking at it, as he did, as a measure calculated to be productive of very great advantage. It appeared to him, that the hon. Member who had just sat down knew little of the working of the factory system in the north of England; but he had resided in those districts, and he had witnessed the evils to which this Bill would be applied. If they considered the immense steam power which was capable of being applied to manufactures; and the great competition which existed amongst producers, they would see that over-production was often the result of that steam power and great competition; and the consequence of over-production was to deprive, to a certain extent, the labourers of employment. Such was the effect of overproduction on the amount of labour, that the hon. Members would find, by a calculation of the work performed in the factories from 1837 to 1847, that the adult labourers in those factories had not, on an average, worked ten hours a day. The effect of the factory labour, as at present carried out, was to deteriorate the race of persons so employed, and render them weak and diminutive. He would vote for the third reading of the Bill.


would trespass for a short period on the impatience which the House felt for a decision on a question which had been so fully discussed already. He was anxious not to give a silent vote on this question, when it came as it did before them for a final decision; and he would assure the House that it was no agreeable task to him to express an opinion at variance with the opinions conscientiously entertained by many of those with whom he had been in the habit of co-operating, and for whom he had an unfeigned respect, he might mention especially the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He had carefully considered the subject, which was one of very great importance; and the most careful consideration had not caused him to change the opinion which he had before expressed. He looked upon this measure as a perilous experiment, which was not calculated to produce the results which those who supported it anticipated; and he feared that it would also prove a disappointment to the working classes, for whose benefit the measure had been introduced. He was afraid, that so far from introducing harmony and good feeling into the relations of the labourers and the employers, it would be found productive of discord and controversy, and consequently would be productive of injury to the manufacturing interests. It had been proposed to try the operation of the measure for three years; but he (Mr. Labouchere) did not think it was of a nature to admit of being tried as an experiment—he thought it would, if carried into effect, work insidiously, and by the time the public mind was awakened to its results the mischief would be found to be irreparably done. If the House reflected on the manner in which the Bill would work, they would find that it was not at once the evil would affect the producer. Its first effect might be to raise the price of manufactured goods, and thus to give a certain stimulus to those employed, and cause additional capital to be employed in those branches until the void suddenly caused was filled up, which it assuredly would be, and then our manufacturers would have to contend with foreign manufacturers who had no such restrictions as to hours of labour. What was the object of the Bill? To render it impossible that our adult population in the factories should be employed more than ten hours a day. That was not on the face of the Bill, but it was quite evident that such would be the effect of the measure if carried; and he would do the justice to its supporters of saying, they did not deny that such would be the effect of the Bill. The subject had been frequently discussed during the debate, as to whether this Bill was a question of principle or degree. For his part, he could not regard it as a question of principle, for he had frequently sanctioned by his vote an interference with factory labour, when it could be done in a safe and liberal manner, and was calculated to confer benefit. The question now before them was of a different nature; there was no doubt that the manufacturers of America and Germany could employ their operatives for twelve hours a day; and the House was now to consider the effect of declaring that our manufacturing operatives were to work no more than ten hours—a rule which, if applied generally to our manufacturing industry, he thought could not fail to be prejudicial. An hon. Friend of his gave notice of a Motion some time ago, that he would move that Ireland be exempted from its operation in case the measure passed into a law. Having necessarily given a good deal of attention to the condition of the people of Ireland, he must say that he thought that there were peculiar arguments against the measure as applicable to that country. No one could look at the condition of the people of Ireland, without seeing that hours of labour pushed beyond a degree that was easily endurable, was not the worst evil that could befall a labouring population. His attention had been recently called to the condition of the handloom weavers in the province of Ulster; and this was the account which he had received from a clergyman, of the state of things in his own parish:— This parish is an agricultural parish, containing a population of 7,313 souls, five and a half miles long by about three broad, a great part of the land of which is of a boggy nature. Its population has been hitherto supported by weaving, carried on in their own houses. The weaver, at present, can only raise, by weaving a web of sixty yards, from 2s. 6d. to 4s. 6d., which employs him nearly a whole week in preparation, while, at present prices, such wages will not support the mere weaver without a family. Even with these wages, I can state it as a fact, having come under my own immediate observation, that weavers are sitting up three nights per week, in order, by any means, to provide food for their families. There is scarcely a family in the parish, in which there is not some one or more members of the family sitting up nightly. I have seen them, in returning to my own home, after visiting the sick, at two A.M., working as busily as in the day time. Would hon. Gentlemen deny that it would be the greatest blessing to this part of the country, if a factory mill were established there, which would employ the poor people, even if they were obliged to work twelve hours a day? Parliament could regulate the hours of labour in factories; but if by its legislation it drove the poor people to work in places where its interference would not reach, and where the hours of labour could not be regulated, they would surely do no act of humanity by interfering. Any Gentlemen who had looked into the factory reports, would see that children who had been shut out of the factories, were sent to fustian-cutting or pinmaking, and other employments much more laborious than working in a factory; and there was great danger, lest by further interference Parliament might increase the evil which it had already occasioned. The question came to this: did hon. Gentlemen mean to enlarge the sphere of interference? He had never received a clear answer to that question. There was one other point on which he wished to say a few words, and that was the question of eleven hours as against ten. He was decidedly opposed to further interference, whether by restricting the time of working to eleven hours or ten; but he could not say that he was equally opposed to the two propositions. He happened to be absent from the House at the time when the question was put, or he certainly should have voted for eleven hours, instead of ten hours. He knew that some Gentlemen voted for ten hours instead of eleven hours, under the impression that the experiment would sooner fail; but he confessed he thought the course savoured more of passion than of reason. If the experiment must be made, as from the votes to which the House had come, he feared it must, he should wish it to be made in the mildest manner.


being largely engaged in the woollen manufacture, was in a condition to state what the probable effects of the measure would be. The number of persons engaged in factories was 650,000, and the wages which they earned amounted to 12,000,000l. annually; and if the House determined that the factory people should only work ten hours instead of twelve, 2,000,000l. would be abstracted every year from the pockets of the factory labourers. He particularly wished to impress on the House the dangerous character of the measure as affecting the small manufacturer. The only way in which the manufacturers could make up for the loss of manual labour, was by introducing improvements in machinery; and the small capitalist and manufacturer would not be able to afford such improvements.


was sorry that so much impatience was shown to decide a question of so much importance. The dinner hour was not quite come yet, and, therefore, he hoped that hon. Members would listen to a brief discussion of the question. If he considered that this measure would improve the condition of the labouring population, he should certainly vote for it; but he was satisfied that if carried out, it would injure the condition of the working classes. He would remind the country Gentlemen, that if labourers were thrown out of employment, the land must support them. Nothing was more delicate to be dealt with than money—money could move, but land could not. He should support the Amendment.

The House divided on the question, that the word "now" stand part of the Question:—Ayes 151; Noes 88: Majority 63.

List of the AYES.
Ackers, J. Hildyard, T. B. T.
Acland, Sir T. D. Hill, Lord E.
Acland, T. D. Hindley, C.
Adderley, C. B. Hodgson, F.
Ainsworth, P. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Antrobus, E. Howard, P. H.
Armstrong, Sir A. Hudson, G.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Humphery, Ald.
Ingestre, Visct.
Ashley, hon. H. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Austen, Col. Johnson, Gen.
Baillie, W. Kemble, H.
Bankes, G. Kerrison, Sir E.
Bateson, T. Lambton, H.
Bennet, P. Law, hon. C. E.
Bernal, R. Lawless, hon. C.
Blackburne, J. I. Lawson, A.
Boldero, H. G. Lennox, Lord G. H. G.
Brisco, M. Lopes, Sir R.
Broadley, H. Lowther, hon. Col.
Broadwood, H. Mackinnon, W. A.
Buck, L. W. Macnamara, Maj.
Bulkeley, Sir R. B. W. M'Carthy, A.
Buller, E. Manners, Lord J.
Byng, rt. hon. G. S. March, Earl of
Cabbell, B. B. Masterman, J.
Christopher, R. A. Monahan, J. H.
Clayton, R. R. Morgan, O.
Clive, Visct. Morris, D.
Collett, J. Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Colville, C. R. Mundy, E. M.
Courtenay, Lord Muntz, G. F.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Napier, Sir C.
Crawford, W. S. Neeld, J.
Curteis, H. B. Newport, Visct.
Davies, D. A. S. O'Brien, A. S.
Denison, W. J. O'Brien, C.
Denison, E. B. Packe, C. W.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C. T. Paget, Col.
Disraeli, B. Palmer, R.
Dodd, G. Palmer, G.
Douglas, Sir H. Perfect, R.
Duncombe, hon. O. Plumptre, J. P.
Duncombe, T. Plumridge, Capt.
Dundas, Adm. Polhill, F.
Du Pre, C. G. Prime, R.
Entwisle, W. Pusey, P.
Evans, Sir De L. Rashleigh, W.
Ewart, W. Rice, E. R.
Ferrand, W. B. Rich, H.
Floyer, J. Richards, R.
French, F. Rolleston, Col.
Fuller, A. E. Round, J.
Gaskell, J. M. Russell, Lord J.
Gladstone, Capt. Russell, J. D. W.
Godson, R. Rutherfurd, rt. hon. A.
Gore, W. O. Seymer, H. K.
Gore, W. R. O. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Granger, T. C. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Sheridan, R. B.
Grimsditch, T. Shirley, E. J.
Grogan, E. Sibthorp, Col.
Halford, Sir H. Smith, A.
Hall, Col. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Halsey, T. P. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Harcourt, G. G. Spooner, R.
Hardy, J. Stanley, hon. W. O.
Harris, hon. Capt. Stanton, Sir G. T.
Hatton, Capt. V. Strickland, Sir G.
Heathcote, G. J. Tollemache, J.
Henley, J. W. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Tufnell, H. Walker, R.
Turner, E. Williams, W.
Turnor, C. Yorke, H. R.
Vane, Lord H.
Vyvyan, Sir R. R. Brotherton, J.
Wakley, T. Fielden, J.
List of the NOES.
Aldam, W. Hutt, W.
Baine, W. Jones, Capt.
Barclay, D. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Baring, H. B. Langston, J. H.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Legh, G. C.
Baring, rt. hon. W. B. Lincoln, Earl of
Barrington, Visct. Loch, J.
Barron, Sir H. W. Lockhart, A. E.
Bell, M. M'Taggart, Sir J.
Botfield, B. Marshall, W.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Marsland, H.
Bowles, Adm. Martin, J.
Brown, W. Mildmay, H. St. J.
Bruce, C. L. C. Moffatt, G.
Busfeild, W. Morpeth, Visct.
Callaghan, D. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Ogle, S. C. H.
Clay, Sir W. Ord, W.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Parker, J.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Patten, J. W.
Dalrymple, Capt. Pattison, J.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Denison, J. E. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Dickinson, F. H. Phillips, M.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Price, Sir R.
Dugdale, W. S. Protheroe, E. D.
Duncan, Visct. Seymour, Lord
Duncan, G. Somerset, Lord G.
Egerton, W. T. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Escott, B. Stanton, W. H.
Evans, W. Strutt, rt. hon. E.
Feilden, Sir W. Tancred, H. W.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Thesiger, Sir F.
Forster, M. Thornely, T.
Gill, T. Villiers, hon. C.
Gisborne, T. Wall, C. B.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Ward, H. G.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Winnington, Sir T. E.
Greene, T. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Hamilton, Lord C. Wood, Col. T.
Hanmer, Sir J. Wrightson, W. B.
Hawes, B. Young, J.
Heneage, G. H. W.
Heron, Sir R. TELLERS.
Houldsworth, T. Leader, J. T.
Hume, J. Trelawny, J. S.

Bill read a third time.


then moved the addition of a clause, providing that the Act should only be in force for three years; but at the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, withdrew the clause.

Bill passed.