23 MARCH 1844, Page 1


THE leading event in English politics has been, a House of Com- Mons defeat of the strong Conservative Government, by a Con- tiervative, in the name of philanthropy ! The Factory Bill was ruder discussion in Committee. As framed by Ministers, it pro- posed to limit the daily labour of "young persons "-persons more than thirteen years old but under eighteen, and females of any age, to a period of twelve hours: Lord ASHLEY moved an amendment its the interpretation-clause, which tended to contract the hours of daily labour from twelve to ten; and, after a long and animated debate of two nights, that amendment was carried on Monday, by a majority of 9. Further discussion of the details was deferred until last night; and possibly our Postscript may tell the reader that the decision of the House has been reversed; for an oppor- tlinity of revising that decision was to be furnished by the 8th clause, in which Lord ASHLEY would have to move another amendment, to render it consistent with the earlier part of the bill. The division exhibited a fusion of parLies.; Conservatives supporting. Lord AsaLey against Ministers; Liberals voting both- with and against them. There was, however, more party-voting than on the face of it appeared. Lord ASHLEY, of course, was in earnest ; and that earnestness, gave weight to his inartificial array of un- ffigested evidence :1Jord HOWICK and a few others took an indepen- dent view of the question : bdt the rest were moved more or less by. party. Ministers maintained a defensive and negative position ; seeking to evade a troublesome acquiescence and to soften a'self- damaging resistance, and thus laboriously huntinn. up excuses, good or bad, for inaction. While some of the Ex-Ministers sup- ported their rivals-which a little disguised any party assault- Lord JOHN RUSSELL and others who when in office were no great encouragers of ten-hours bills, now came out with a little popu- larity-hunting patronage of the Ashley-Oastler scheme. Lord ASHLEY was undoubtedly indebted to party fur a portion of his success; and, per contra, he did good service to his new Whig allies, by helping to get up the " Ministerial defeat." The discussion turned upon the actual state of the factory popu- lation: and it possesses a vital interest, whatever the result of the ultimate division. Lord ASHLEY dressed up as strong a case as he could, of hardship and degradation, after the manner of his mines and collieries exposure. He alleges that the extended use of machinery has entailed a great addition of toil on the work- people engaged with it, while wages haie fallen ;.that the factory- population is increasing' at a fearfuVrittio;* threatening a vast in- crease of all the ills 'endured by the clasi ; that they suffer in health frOM ,the deleterious effects of excessive toil, accidents arising from badlyeguarded machinery or their own exhaustion, and from low diet; that the congregation' of the sexes, and other circumstances; are destructive to morality ; that preference given to female and juvenile labour reverses the order of society, making the parent dependent on the child for subsistence, the husband on the wife, so destroying domestic subordination ; that the women are brutalized by such means, and by the sense of injustice; that the physical strength of the, population is deteriorated, to the probable detri- ment of our defensive arms; and that in neglecting to remedy these glaring evils, we defy the example set by Russia, Prussia, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Lord ASHLEY presented so striking a case of 'ceaseless toil, misery, degradation, and despair, that sensi- tive Menibers were panicstricken " Something must be done!". they cried; and they rushed with him into the Lobby. Not a few Whigs followed, chuckling, to swell the Anti-Ministerial

'ority. •

ut Ministers and manufacturers had something to say on the other side. -Machinery, they argue, increases by an inherent power-the constant. pressure of ingenuity and unemployed capital seekinginvesttne-nt=which nothing can arrest : its increase is in- evitable ; but no fresh impulse to it need be feared, because no im- pulse is necelisary. Then, as' to the condition of the factory-people, it is not so very bad: it is not worse than that of all populatione collected together in large towns-witness the London dressmakers.. the Spitalfieldu weavers, and other Metropolitan disgraces : as compared with working-agriculturists, th3 factory-people have higher wages, better food, more comforts, a better chance of rising in life. This is all true. The morals of the factory-districts are bad enough, but not worse than the morals of any part of London where- vice borrows new horrors from squalidity; and the extreme cases, those violations of nature that are said to distinguish a certain kind' of cottage-life in Dorsetahire and other agricultural counties, are not seen. The level of morals is low enough : boys and girls be- come married men and women in their teens, with no refined expe- riences ; children are neglected ; decencies are not nicely observed: still, nature does assert her sway, and in the very midst of seething vice you will 'often discover, uncorrupted, touching examples of female virtue, of conjugal tenderness, and parental devotion. Nor- is the diet so low as the scanty meal of the agricultural labourer: it is perhaps ill-assorted-too coarse and gross ; and digestion does- not always wait on appetite. As to wages, the artisan is affluent • compared with the labourer. . And you may often encounter in the-- highest municipal offices, even bearing titles conferred by Royalty— in the Senate itself, making laws-living examples of the opportu- nity that may await the workman to raise himself in society : what- Mayor, what Member of Parliament, ever held the plough or reap-- ing-hook ? Bad as the health may be compared with the best rural- state, it is not so very bad: the hot acrid atmosphere of the factory- is confined to the dressing-room, the worst dust to the blowing-- room; both departments employing comparatively few people.. There is nothing grievous, or even very laborious, in the principal' departments, of carding, spinning, and weaving, except the pro- tracted duration of the work. As to mental culture, the fac- tory-districts have it hollow : their mechanics' institutions, their demand for light literature, their very abundance of fluent and clever " mob-orators," attest the fact : there may be much that is morbid, but there is mental culture of some kind. And as to the example of other countries, it is said, although those countries may restrict labour, their restriction allows more protracted toil than we practise. The premises thus denied, the conclusions are combated. It is' argded, that the proposed alteration will impede commerce, but be ineffectual for its purpose ; or if effectual; injurious to those whom. it firofesses to benefit. The question ii undoubtedly perplexing: Certain evils are palpable, undeniable, most lamentable : looking only at them, an increasing party exclaim, " Something • must be done!" and hence Lord ASHLEY'S augmented forces. Another party, newly awakening to existence, takes a broader view of the exigency ; recognizes the duty of the State to cultivate the Welfare' of all rather than to study only the dogmas of political economy; abjures the laissez-faire doctrine ; and wishes to make the " some-' thing" not merely pleasant and suited to the passiOnate appeals of distress, but effectual for all classes and for more than the day. But what to do is the puzzle. Lord Howica is the first to pro mulgate in Parliament the idea of conventions for mutual counsel. of masters and workmen, or something of the sort-boards of regu- lation : that is an untried field in which to seek a controlling power over the factory-system. Sir ROBERT PEEL and the POlitical eco nomists are for nonintervention ; an3 very cogent reasons have they. But, unluckily, the Minister and his-fellow-legislators have interfered-in the Mines and Collieries Bill, and more notably in the Corn-laws and such measures. They have excluded woment from one sort of labour. They have restricted the supply of food. What breach of principle would it be, after that, to curtail factory- labour for a fraction of time ?

It is a more fatal objection to Lord AsHLEfs measure, that it is ludicrously partial. Whole classes of workers it cannot touch. It cannot touch hand-loom weavers; who toil all day at hotne, at a far harder work than power-loom weaving, to earn far less wages.. It cannot touch Sheffield metal-workers. It leaves unredeemed: the irksome slavery of the domestic servant, called to mind by the Premier. Abridge the labour of milliners and dressmakers and you starve them. It does not touch, directly, the labour Of adults in factories. But it is an argument against the bill, taking it in flank, that indirectly it does touch the work of adults ; for if you stop the work of the juvenile hands, the older hands must stand still : if the young spinner be idle, the old dresser must wait for work. It.will therefore arrest the whole process of manufActuring- curtail time generally to ten hours-diminish manufactured pro- ducts by one-sixth-augment prices, lower wages, and Heaven knows what. This is all pretty clear as a statement of figures; but is it proved ? Might not the number of factories be increased by one-sixth ? Might not the unemployed and untrammeled adult be substituted for the juvenile labour that has displaded it ? That would at least abolish the 'great grievance-cry of working-class meetings, that the women earn the money while the men ," stay at home and cook." It is calculated,- indeed, that the curtailment of time will destroy profits ; because, say the calculators, the profits are made "in the last two hours" of the twelve,—a distribution of so many hours' work to replace cost, and so 'many to profit; more fantastic than sound.

Partial the measure must• be, however; touching only. one of the most obvious among the thousand ills of society, but leaving un- touched, perhaps aggravating, all the rest, many of them worse to endure. It is, like all empirical and topical remedies, pregnant with embarrassment and danger to all that is not immediately in the sight and thought of the empiric. If carried, no one can say how it will fail, how it will exceed its duty. But it may not be carried at all.

The question of Free Trade has been mooted in an interesting shape, by Mr. RICARDO ; who moved a resolution to prevent Go- vernment from making import-duties the subject of diplomatic bargain, instead of freeing our import-trade at once. Do not, says Mr. RICARDO, let as tie our policy to the commercial intelligence and advancement of other nations, undertaking or threatening not to go further, faster, or better than they ; but let us go forward, and they must follow. He showed how completely the attempts to establish a common commercial policy by treaty have failed. There may be answers that might be made to his arguments ; but of all inapposite and trifling replies, Mr. GLADSTONE'S was the most barefaced ever uttered by a respectable statesman. Take two examples. Let us, he said, stick to our successless plan of commercial negotiations, because in former times, under totally different circumstances, two advantageous treaties were concluded ; and, some day, another might be compassed! The terms offered by Brazil, he explained, were not rejected because the proposed duties were absolutely high, but because they were meant to rear up a protective system ! So said a supporter of the Corn-laws and of the Sugar-duties! Something, no doubt, might be said about Brazil ; but that was not the thing to say. The great feature cf the debate was Lord Bowica's speech ; a plain, lucid, coherent assertion of absolute Free-trade principles. There is no smack of the adulterated Whig-Budget-trade in it. As in respect of Irish Church matters he advanced the standard of Liberal opinion, so has be done in this case. If Lord Howlett only had the boldness to do what he has the sagacity and courage to see and say, be might be Premier tomorrow : but so imperfect is his will, that he retreats even from seeking a vote in his favour. At all events, his speech will be an awkward standard of comparison for other states- men who may try to filch a little repute by paltering with Free Trade. The debate was broken off by "counting out" the House. In the same way was lurched Mr. EWART'S resolution for repeal of those import-duties which press on manufactures, on the inter- obange of commerce between nations, on the consumption of the people, or encourage smuggling : an interesting subject, but Mr. EWART might almost have expected the House to be sick of politi- cal economy. Lord Chancellor LYNDHURST has introduced his Ecclesiastical Courts Bill ; a shadow of what it was last year. Its main features are, that it consolidates the Arches and Prerogative Courts in each of the two archiepiscopal provinces, abolishes the Courts of Peculiars, and remodels the Diocesan Courts. It does not abolish the Diocesan Courts, which almost all the high authorities recommend ; and it leaves the Church Courts a very absurd jurisdiction in matters of civil rights and property. The failure of this measure has become a sessional habit with Law Ministers. The reason is well known. There are two sets of country lawyers, the Liberal lawyers and the Tory lawyers : the members of each of those two numerous bodies are personally acquainted with each other, and often friendly on purely professional matters : both sets are keen electioneering agi- tators, and each must be conciliated by the leaders of its own party depending upon Parliamentary support : thus it is that the country lawyers prove too strong for Whig and Conservative Governments, and compel Lord LYNDHURST to parade his abortive botching as a measure of reform.