HC Deb 03 July 1895 vol 35 cc132-4

This Bill, as amended (by the Standing Committee) was considered.

SIR ALFRED HICKMAN (Wolverhampton, W.) moved the following new clause:— Part six of the third Schedule of the principal Act shall be read iron and iron tube mills. By this section, he said, boys over 14 years of age were permitted to work in iron mills at night, and the same permission was reserved in the present Bill. But in iron-tube mills, where the conditions of labour were exactly the same, they were not so permitted. This class of mills was omitted from the enumeration of the Act of 1878, and it was that omission that the Amendment intended to supply. The work was light and was carried on under healthy conditions, and was also well paid for; but the reason why these mills were not included in the Act of 1878 was that at that time work was not usually carried on in them at night. Since then foreign competition had entered into the trade, and, under stress of circumstances, the mills had been obliged to take to night work and to carry on the work continuously while the furnaces were hot. In 1878 the trade could stand the waste of fuel in keeping up the furnaces at night, but at the present time the conditions of the trade had been altogether altered through foreign competition. The result was that boys were practically excluded from the work because it was impossible to find men who would work at night in order that the boys might be employed during the day. This work, therefore, was prohibited to boys, because the existing regulations meant that when a lad had finished his education at fourteen he had either to find work in other trades or to spend two years in comparative idleness before he could find employment in this local industry where boys were required. In fact, this had been found to be a great inconvenience in the trade, and it was an inconvenience that would be at once removed by the adoption of the Amendment. Iron tube making was one of the chief industries of the South Staffordshire district, and Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall, and Wednesbury were all largely interested in the trade, and he appealed to the late Home Secretary, in whose charge the Bill remained, to accept the Amendment because it would make the Bill popular in those districts and would nowhere meet with opposition. It might be said that the Amendment should have been introduced in the Standing Committee. He did raise the question there, but it came before the Committee with other new clauses at the end of a long sitting, on the last day on which the Committee sat, and when half the Members had gone. Under those circumstances he did not think it worth while to press the matter to a Division in the Committee. This could not be described as a reactionary proposal, as it only proposed to remove a restriction which did not apply to similar trades in the districts he had mentioned.

MR. H. H. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)

hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press this new clause, because it opened up a question about which there was very much dispute. Since the passing of the Act of 1878 there had been four trades in which the exceptional privilege of allowing boys to work at night had existed, but these particular mills not being included among the privileged trades had remained under a disability. He might point out, however, that the Secretary of State had power, if special circumstances required, to permit night work being performed by boys. No doubt there was some force in what the hon. Gentleman had said as to the convenience of the arrangements he proposed, but on the other hand those arrangements were regarded with great disfavour and suspicion by many people, so much so that the clause might be regarded as a highly contentious one. A large number of clauses were withdrawn during the last stage of the Committee, clauses proposing to modify the Bill in other directions, but they were withdrawn he might point out on the understanding that there should be a general self-denying ordinance, it being felt that any further additions would render the Bill a more controversial one than it already was. Under those circumstances, and without disputing that the hon. Gentleman might have good and plausible arguments to advance in support of his clause, he would appeal to him to withdraw it until later on, perhaps in the next Session of Parliament, when it would be necessary to supplement the Bill in certain particulars, and to consolidate the law on the subject.


said, he had a great deal of sympathy with the object of his hon. Friend, and knowing something of the circumstances of the trade in question, thought the present arrangements in it were rather inconsistent—that was that facilities which had been given to iron mills should also be given to the iron tube mills. But the circumstances were exceptional. He agreed with what had fallen from the late Home Secretary—and he wished to take the opportunity of conveying a tribute to the most admirable and courteous way in which he conducted the Bill in the Grand Committee—in thinking that there was a sort of general arrangement that they should accept the Bill as it stood as a compromise without attempting to extend it. Under those circumstances he hoped his hon. Friend would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5:—