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Shaftesbury's Speech to amend the Ten Hour Bill:1844

In 1833 the first effective Factory Act was passed but was the subject of a great deal of controversy. Consequently, factory reformers pressed for further legislation. In February 1844 Peel's government introduced a new Bill but at the Committee stage, Shaftesbury introduced an amendment calling for children to be restricted to working ten hours per day. The government then introduced an almost identical Bill so Shaftesbury again moved for a ten hours amendment. This is part of his speech to the House of Commons.

House of Commons May 10, 1844

On moving 'That the Clause (And be it Enacted, That from and after the 1st day of October in the present year, no young person shall be employed in any Factory more than eleven hours in any one day, or more than sixty-four hours in any one week; and that from and after the 1st day of October, 1847, no young person shall be employed in any Factory more than ten hours in any one day, or more than fifty-eight hours in any one week; and that any person who shall be convicted of employing a young person for any longer time than is in and by this Clause permitted, shall for every such offence be adjudged to pay a penalty of not less than £-, and not more than £-) be now read a second time.'

It may seem to be almost superfluous, after three distinct declarations of this House (and in a single session), to appeal again, by rhetoric or argument, to your feelings or understanding. We determined only seven weeks ago, three times, actually, that the period of labour should be less than twelve hours; and twice, virtually, that it should not exceed ten. The world at large believed that a middle term would be offered; but her Majesty's Ministers have refused concession - they have invited, nay, more, have compelled us to revive the debate, and now summon the House of Commons to revoke its decision . . ..

Sir, I cannot but be aware that enough has been said on the physical and social condition of the people - one way or the other, the minds of all are fully made up; and it is, indeed, unnecessary to say more, as all, even the hottest of my opponents, admit that a reduction of the hours of labour, could it be effected without injury to the workmen and manufacturers, would be highly desirable. The only objection, then, in the minds of many honourable and thinking men, is the danger to the people themselves; and I find myself in the condition of being summoned to refute the charge that I, who propose the scheme, am far more inhuman than those who resist it . .

Now, after all that has been written and said on the subject, I can discover no more than four arguments urged by our opponents against this measure - all of which are comprised in the Manchester Petition lately presented to this House.

1st. That the passing of a ten hours' bill would cause a diminution of produce.

2nd. That there would take place a reduction, in the same proportion, of the value of the fixed capital employed in the trade.

3rd. That a diminution of wages would ensue, to the great injury of the workmen.

4th. A rise of price, and consequent peril of foreign competition.

Even supposing that these assertions be separately, they cannot bc collectively, true; it is very fair to place before us a variety of possible contingencies, but it must not be urged that we are threatened by a combination of them. Any one event may occur; but such an occurrence prevents, in one case at least, the full accomplishment of the other . . ..

Now, Sir, I have long been regarded as a monomaniac on these subjects, as a man of peculiar opinions, one having a fixed idea, but without support, or even countenance, in my wild opinions - yet is it not the fact that the reduction of the hours of labour is a question maintained and desired by many great manufacturers in the cotton trade? I may quote in this House the members for Oldham, Salford, Ashton, and Blackburn - I will just indicate a few without its walls, firm friends of the measure; Mr Kay, of Bury; Mr William Walker, of Bury, perhaps the largest consumer of cotton in that district; Mr Hamer, of the same place, a partner in the firm of the late Sir Robert Peel; Mr Cooper, of Preston; Mr Tysoe, of Salford; and Mr Kenworthy of Blackburn. I set great store by the opinions of this gentleman last named, because he has passed through all the gradations of the business, and has by his own talent and integrity raised himself from the condition of an operative to the station of a master. I may add, too, the name of Mr Hargreaves, of Accrington - no inconsiderable person in Lancashire - who feels so strongly on this subject, that he attended a public meeting in support of the question, and moved a resolution himself.

Speeches of the Earl of Shaftesbury (1868), pp. 116-27


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