Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury - Factory Reform

Factory Reform

In March 1833 Ashley introduced the Ten Hours Act 1833 into the Commons, which provided that children working in the cotton and woollen industries must be aged nine or above; no person under the age of eighteen was to work more than ten hours a day or eight hours on a Saturday; and no one under twenty-five was to work nights. However the Whig government, by a majority of 145, amended this to substitute "thirteen" in place of "eighteen" and the Act as it passed ensured that no child under thirteen worked more than nine hours, insisted they should go to school, and appointed inspectors to enforce the law.

In June 1836 another Ten Hours Bill was introduced into the Commons and although Ashley considered this Bill ill-timed, he supported it. In July one member of the Lancashire committees set up to support the Bill wrote that: "If there was one man in England more devoted to the interests of the factory people than another, it was Lord Ashley. They might always rely on him as a ready, steadfast and willing friend". In July 1837 he accused the government of ignoring the breaches of the 1833 Act and moved the resolution that the House regretted the regulation of the working hours of children had been found to be unsatisfactory. It was lost by fifteen votes.

In 1842 Ashley wrote twice to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, to urge the government to support a new Factory Act. Peel wrote in reply that he would not support one and Ashley wrote to the Short Time Committees of Chesire, Lancashire and Yorkshire who desired a Ten hours Act:

Though painfully disappointed, I am not disheartened, nor am I at a loss either what course to take, or what advice to give. I shall preserver unto my last hour, and so must you; we must exhaust every legitimate means that the Constitution afford, in petitions to Parliament, in public meetings, and in friendly conferences with your employers; but you must infringe no law, and offend no proprieties; we must all work together as sensible men, who will one day give an account of their motives and actions; if this course is approved, no consideration shall detach me from your cause; if not, you must elect another advocate. I know that, in resolving on this step, I exclude myself altogether from the tenure of office; I rejoice in the sacrifice, happy to devote the remainder of my days, be they many or be they few, as God in His wisdom shall determine, to an effort, however laborious, to ameliorate your moral and social condition.

In March 1844 Ashley moved an amendment to a Factory Bill limiting the working hours of adolescents to ten hours after Sir James Graham had introduced a Bill aiming to limit their working hours to twelve hours. Ashley's amendment was passed by eight votes, the first time the Commons had approved of the Ten Hour principle. However in a later vote his amendment was defeated by seven votes and the Bill was withdrawn. Later that month Graham introduced another Bill which again would limit the employment of adolescents to twelve hours. Ashley supported this Bill except that he wanted ten hours not twelve as the limit. In May he moved an amendment to limit the hours worked to ten hours but this was lost by 138 votes.

In 1846 whilst he was out of Parliament, Ashley strongly supported John Fielden's Ten Hours Bill, which was lost by ten votes. In January 1847 Fielden reintroduced his Bill and it finally passed through Parliament to become the Ten Hours Act.

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