Tuesday, 24 July 2012

24th July 1812: The Framework-knitters Bill is rejected by the House of Lords

 On Friday 24th July 1812, after more than 5 months of extensive lobbying by Gravenor Henson and the United Committee of Framework-knitters, the Framework-knitters Bill was roundly rejected by the House of Lords in one afternoon:
The Earl of Lauderdale, in adverting to this Bill, contended that it was founded upon most mischievous principles of legislation. A part of the Bill went to interfere in the bargains made between the master manufacturer and his workmen, upon a principle which could not fail to produce the most mischievous consequences; and he could not help observing, with relation to this point, that the idea of some persons, that a minimum of wages would be beneficial to the workmen employed, was the most mistaken notion that had ever been conceived, for the inevitable consequence of the minimum must be, that in the case of the slackness of work, the masters would discharge their workmen altogether, rather than employ them at the minimum wages. The other part of the Bill was equally mischievous; it went to prohibit an article of manufacture, on the alleged ground of it not being a good article, although that article was in great demand, not only in the interior, but also for exportation. He could not conceive a more monstrous principle of legislation. What would the people of Nottingham say, if an act were to be passed to prohibit the manufacture of worsted and thread stockings, upon the supposition that all persons would wear silk stockings; and yet this was precisely the principle on which the present Bill proceeded: an article of low price was to be prohibited, in order to give place to an article of high price, instead of allowing the only just and proper principle to operate, namely, for the demand to regulate the supply. He trusted that no similar legislative measure would again be attempted to be introduced, and that this Bill would be unanimously rejected. His lordship concluded by moving, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

The Earl of Liverpool entirely concurred with the noble lord, although he was satisfied of the goodness of the motives which actuated the very respectable individual who introduced this Bill in the other House, and the well-intentioned, though certainly most mistaken views of those whose instance it was introduced. He, however, thought there could not be a more mischievous principle of legislation than that on which this Bill rested. It had been well said in a foreign country, when it was asked what should be done to make manufactures and commerce prosper? the answer was, laisser faire; and it was undoubtably true, that the less commerce and manufactures were meddled with by legislation the more they were likely to prosper. Were they once to entangle themselves in the principle which this Bill sought to establish, he knew not where they were to stop until the commerce and manufactures of the country were utterly ruined. It was to machinery that we owed our superiority in commerce and manufactures amongst the nations of the world.

Lord Holland entirely agreed in the sentiments uttered by the noble earl and his noble friend, and also in doing justice to the excellence of the motives of those by whom this Bill had been introduced and promoted. The principle, however, of the Bill was a most mistaken and mischievous one. Accident had carried him to countries where machinery had once been used, and manufactures prosperously carried on, but which had been wholly destroyed by the meddling policy of legislation, those employed in them reduced to the utmost distress, and the country devastated. These circumstances, he trusted, would be a warning to the legislature of this country, against introducing so dangerous a principle of legislation as that upon which the present Bill was founded.

Viscount Sidmouth also entirely concurred in these sentiments. The Bill had been introduced in the other House from the purest motives, but he felt himself compelled, by his public duty, to give his direct negative to the principle which it sought to establish, which he conceived to be most mischievous in its tendency and consequences; and he trusted in God, that no such principle would be again attempted to be introduced in any Bill brought up to that House.

The consideration the Bill was accordingly deferred for three months.

This is from Parliamentary Debates, vol.23 (pp.1248-1250).

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