AMONG the parliamentary debates of the session, perhaps the most important, from the point of view of economic history, was that over the introduction of the first great Factory Act.
On 10th February, Sir Robert Peel presented a petition from the cotton spinners of Manchester. "The petitioners," he said, "had come to him most unexpectedly, but he felt that they were entitled to his peculiar attention. They were aware that the attainment of the object of their petition must be attended with a reduction of their wages; but, anxious for health and in order to enjoy some of the comforts of life, they were willing to submit to that sacrifice. He had had a communication with some of these poor men this morning; and he declared he could not hear their statement, or witness their appearance which confirmed that statement, without shedding tears. . . . In rooms badly ventilated and much over-heated, they were compelled to work 14 or 15 hours a day. Young persons might endure such labour; but, after men had attained a certain age, it became intolerable. Premature old age, accompanied by incurable disease, was, indeed, too often the consequence of such labour in such places. . . . He had himself been long concerned in the cotton trade; and, from a strong conviction of its necessity, he had brought in a Bill for the purpose of regulating the work of apprentices; but, since that Bill passed into law, masters declined to take apprentices, and employed the children of paupers without any limitation. Hence the law was evaded and rendered ineffective for the object which it had in view -- that object was the prevention of inhumanity; and he hoped that it was not inconsistent with our constitution to legislate for the protection of children as well as grown persons against the
Petition of cotton spinners.