The Marquess of Londonderry
was satisfied that the House must feel great sympathy at hearing the statement just made by his noble and learned Friend. He had received a letter that morning from Sunderland, complaining of great distress existing in that neighbourhood, but this distress would be greatly increased if measures which he understood were in contemplation were carried into effect. He trusted, therefore, when these measures came before the House, that he should have the assistance of his noble and learned Friend, in endeavouring to persuade the House not to legislate on this most important subject, by passing measures which must add to the distress already existing. The petition was from a large body of coal owners of Bradford, in Yorkshire, praying the House not to press legislation on a subject of such immense importance as mines and collieries, and when not sufficient time had been given to examine the voluminous reports on the Table. He objected most strongly to a measure which was before another place, which, if it passed in its present form, would entirely prevent the working of many of the most important coal mines in the country. The petitioners stated, that it appeared by the bill that it was intended to prevent children under ten years of age working in mines; they thought this was making much too great a limitation, and they prayed that the age of eight years might be substituted. They also prayed that the passing of the bill might be delayed for six months; and they stated that if it were at once carried into effect it would dissolve all engagements which now existed between themselves and their workmen. If the bill alluded to should come up from another place he should take the sense of the House on all the clauses except that relating to the exclusion of females from working in mines. He above all should oppose that clause which empowered the Secretary of State to appoint inspectors of mines.
§ Lord Hatherton
had a petition to pre- 784 sent to their Lordships upon the same subject as that referred to by the noble Marquess. It was from a number of gentlemen, delegates from the persons assembled at a public meeting of individuals interested in mining in South Staffordshire and the surrounding districts. It was not a petition against the bill which would shortly come under their Lordships' notice, but it adverted to the imputations contained in the report of the commissioners, and to the measure founded upon that report. He believed that the' interests involved in this question were of a most serious nature, and that very little was known of the real facts of the case. The petitioners complained of the hasty manner in which the bill now before the other House of Parliament had been carried through its early stages, and stated that it was only very recently that they had heard of it. Some delegates had been sent to London, who had returned on that day for the purpose of holding a general meeting of the trade. The mode of conducting the business of mines in Staffordshire was entirely different from that of the north, and in the mines in the former district there were no less than seventy boys employed to every 100 men. The number of the inhabitants of the coal districts of the midland counties was nearly 600,000, and of these tens of thousands were employed as colliers. The commissioners in describing these people stated that they were well fed, clothed, and educated, and the life of the collier of this district was the very best amongst those of the labouring classes of this country. The day labourers almost invariably endeavoured to procure their sons to be employed as colliers, but there were never any colliers who would submit to the degradation of their sons being day labourers. He did not intend to ask their Lordships for any opinion on this bill at present, but he had said enough, he thought to show their Lordships the great importance of a careful and deliberate inquiry into the whole question. He was far from saying that the regulation of these mines, and especially in reference to the employment of boys, was not a fit subject for some statutory enactment, but when the bill came on for discussion he should draw their Lordships attention to the importance of due caution, in reference to the particular part of the country to which he had alluded.
begged to ask the noble Lord, whether women were employed in 785 the mines in the district to which he had alluded?
§ Lord Hatherton
expressed his obligation to the noble Lord for having reminded him of part of the subject to which he had forgotten to refer. These gentlemen were decidedly of opinion that the employment of females in mines was unnecessary; that it had an immoral and injurious tendency; and that it ought not to be permitted; and a petition had been entrusted to him, which he should hereafter present to their Lordships, praying that this part of the measure might pass into a law.
The Marquess of Londonderry
said, that he found that the petition which he had mentioned to their Lordships could not be received, as it was not in accordance with the rules of the House. He concurred in every sentiment expressed by the noble Lord who had just sat down; but he believed that the general subject was one in which the Government had no right to exercise any influence. He was most anxious, however, that this case should be considered on its merits—upon the report of the commissioners, and upon the counter statements which would be proved to the House before the bill came on for discussion.