§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. LOWE
said, the Bill was originally introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), and was intended to remedy the grievances of the coalwhippers of London, who were enslaved by the publicans in whose houses they were hired. The Act had had the desired effect. Those men were no longer hired in public-houses, 1729 but from a central office established for that purpose. It had, however, been represented by the coal trade of the north and by the shipowners that the Bill was no longer necessary, and the Government was willing to discharge the order for the second reading upon an undertaking being entered into—which had been privately done, and which he hoped would be renewed by the representatives of the coal trade and shipowners in that House—that they would establish an office for the engagement of coalwhippers which they would support, and that they would not hire men from nor pay them wages in any public-house, and that if those terms were broken in letter or in spirit they (the coal and shipowners) would not offer opposition to the renewal of the Act in the next Session. Upon these terms the Government being fully satisfied as to the honour and good intentions of those gentlemen, and being convinced that the undertaking would be fully carried out, thought that the matter was better in their hands than those of any public Board, and, therefore, was quite willing that the order for the second reading of the Bill be discharged.
§ MR. FENWICK
said, he begged to express his gratification at the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. Had the Bill been persisted in he would have been prepared to prove that greater evils had been caused by the Bill than any it had remedied. He was, however, quite willing to abide by the conditions of the right hon. Gentleman, and if those conditions should be broken he would not offer any opposition to the re-introduction of the Bill.
§ MR. INGHAM
said, he could inform the House that the sentiments expressed by the last speaker were shared in by all the coal-owners. They thought that the Act had now become superfluous, and measures had been taken by which the coalwhippers would not be subject to the impositions of the publicans. The agreement had been signed by the coal-owners of the Tyne and the Wear.
said, he had heard the statement of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Fenwick), that if the Bill was persevered with, he was prepared to show that much greater evils had arisen under it than those which it was intended to remedy, with great regret. Now what were the evils which the Bill was intended to remedy? Why that a body of 2,000 or 2,500 labourers, representing a population 1730 of something like 12,000 souls were reduced by the system with which their trade was conducted to a state of squalid poverty, and almost hopeless demoralisation. Special circumstances alone had justified the introduction of the Bill, but its moral objects had been completely achieved, and he was altogether at a loss to know what were the evils to which the hon. Gentleman referred as having counterbalanced those great results. He considered that a peculiar responsibility in regard to the Bill rested upon him since he had originally introduced the measure under the administration of Sir Robert Peel. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe) had stated, that the Government, after full consideration, had arrived at the conclusion that the time had come when the renewal of the measure was unnecessary, and looking at the circumstances of the case he (Mr. Gladstone) was indisposed to dispute that conclusion. He would admit that the Bill was not intended to introduce into our law a permanent exception with respect to a particular class of labourers; and if the necessity out of which it sprung had ceased to exist, it was time that the Bill should cease to exist also. On that matter the Government were in a high, though not the highest, sense the proper and peculiar judges; for there was no power in that House with respect to a class of men, who were little in the public eye, which could possibly maintain or be responsible for the maintenance or operation of such a law except the Government. It followed that the judgment to which they might arrive ought to be all but conclusive as to the propriety of supporting the renewal of such a measure, and he felt sure that his right hon. Friend and the noble Lord at the head of the Government were fully conscious of the weight of the responsibility that rested upon them with respect to the condition of this class of labourers. If the time had really come, and they were right in their judgment, undoubtedly the House would give way to it. The House had, however, he apprehended, but very imperfect means at its command of forming an opinion on the subject. It must be led to act in the main on their recommendation, and in proportion to the imperfection of the means of judging given to the House would obviously be the responsibility under which his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade placed himself by the conclusion to which he had arrived. Placing, then, the 1731 fullest confidence in the assurances given by his right hon. Friend and by the hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the House, and the hon. Member for Sunderland, he for one thought it to be his duty to accept these assurances in the spirit in which they had been made. There was no class of labourers who had more claim on the consideration of that House than the coalwhippers. Their good conduct at a time of crisis to all interests had been the subject of eulogy in that House, and he was quite sure that would be liberally conceded to them which in justice was no more than their due. What he meant was this. The first announcement of his right hon. Friend's intention had been made that night, and he understood his conclusion had only been arrived at in the course of that very day. He thought, therefore, that it would be desirable both that they should give some notice to the persons immediately interested in the Bill of the course the Government intended to take, and likewise that they should take measures for placing on record the considerations which had induced the Government to adopt that course. The proceedings in both respects were plain. The declarations made in the House were perfectly satisfactory to him and were justly regarded as of the best authority; but out of doors they had not the convenience and certainty which attached to a document. He believed he was correct in saying that a written document, signed by persons whose names were a perfect guarantee of its validity, had been presented to the Board of Trade on the subject; but he believed that there was one point in which that document was less full than it was desirable that it should be, and having been signed by parties a portion of whom were absent from London, he thought there would be great inconvenience in attempting to refer afresh to the whole of those parties. If he were rightly informed however, the gentlemen who were now in London upon the business, or who sat in that House, were abundantly authorised to represent the wishes and intentions of the parties who had signed the document, and to declare and assure the Government that those wishes and intentions came fully up to the measure of what had been declared that night by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe), and by Gentlemen who, answering to his appeal, had addressed the House. Those Gentlemen were, therefore, in a condition to supply anything that 1732 might happen to be wanting in fulness in the document presented to the Board of Trade. He would venture to propose, then, that either his right hon. Friend should lay upon the table of the House, or that he (Mr. Gladstone) or some hon. Member should be allowed to move to-morrow for the production of the important assurances which had been conveyed in writing on the part of the owners of coal and of shipowners in the coal trade, and which had led his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade to the conclusion at which he had arrived. It would be obviously improper to proceed to discharge the order for the second reading of the Bill that night; but, with the view of contributing to the harmonious settlement of the question, and showing that very meritorious class of labourers that the House took a serious view of the question, and was not disposed to deal with it in an off-handed manner, he would move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day fortnight.
§ Amendment proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon Friday the 4th day of July next."
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he willingly admitted the evils of the old system, and that the present law had, to a certain extent, corrected them; but whilst suppressing one set of evils, he regretted to say that the artificial system now in operation had created others in their stead. It had taught a body of labourers who were second to none in physical power or good conduct, to relinquish that which was the birthright of the British labourer—namely, self-reliance. Again, it was no small evil to have thrown upon an important branch of trade, exposed to severe competition, the sole cost of maintaining an artificial system of this description. Lastly, the system had failed to ensure that regular employment which every man in all other branches of labour enjoyed when left to seek employment in a market that was open to the world. While enumerating those evils, however, he granted that they were not to be compared for one moment to the moral evils which the Act had suppressed. But those moral evils having ceased to exist, and the Bill having perfectly accomplished its object, by rescuing the men from the state of degradation into which they had been permitted to fall, there was now, he considered, no necessity for sanctioning the continuance of a law 1733 which went to perpetuate a Trades Union, with all the evils which combinations of that kind necessarily produced.
§ MR. LOWE
said, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) had made two propositions—one, that the document presented to the Board of Trade should, for the satisfaction of the coalwhippers, be laid upon the table of the House; the other, that the second reading of the Bill should be adjourned for a fortnight. For his (Mr. Lowe's) own satisfaction neither of these measures was necessary. He was perfectly content with the assurances he bad received from hon. Gentlemen who had spoken that night, and he was satisfied that no document of any kind would bind them more firmly than the honourable understanding that had been come to upon the subject. He thought that there was no occasion to adjourn the debate for a fortnight; but he had no objection to do so if the House desired. It would be on the understanding, however, that no alteration would be made in the Bill in the meantime.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading deferred till Friday, 4th July.
§ The House adjourned at half after One o'clock.