Sunday, 30 November 2008

Further social reform

Asylums and the insane

Ashley also played a significant role in raising the question of conditions in asylums and madhouses and the treatment of their inmates[1]. In 1842, he had secured legislation that empowered the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy to carry out a detailed inspection of all institutions that housed the insane. In 1844, the Commissioners’ report was completed. On the basis of its evidence, Ashley brought forward two bills to reform the administrative machinery concerning the care of lunatics. The general effect of the legislation was to reconstruct the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy by granting them wider powers of inspection, licensing and reporting. It proved a milestone on the road away from the earlier notorious practices of Bedlam and towards modern ideas of mental health services.

Railways

Between 1841 and 1846, railway mileage doubled from 1,696 to 3,036 miles, the number of passengers rose from 24 to 44 million and goods receipts rise from £1.56 million to £2.84 million. The dramatic expansion and its associated ‘railway manias’ threatened to bring chaos to the financial markets as investors feverishly sought to profit from railway shares. This growth came at a cost and there were growing concerns about passenger safety with railway companies providing few safety precautions. In 1841, there were 65 accidents resulting in 41 passenger deaths and 92 injuries plus an additional 60 accidents among railway employees resulting in 28 deaths and 36 injuries. These statistics raised important questions about the wisdom of an unregulated railway system.

Regulation of railways[2] went to the heart of the government’s strong commitment to the principles of laissez-faire. It raised two important questions. First, under what circumstances was it justifiable for government to intervene in the operation of the free market? Secondly, if intervention was justifiable, what degree of regulation was necessary to protect the public without inhibiting the economic development of the railways? Peel, for example, believed that railway companies would tend to become negligent once relieved of their responsibilities by government and that the public could be trusted to take care of themselves.

William Gladstone, as Vice President and after 1843 President of the Board of Trade adopted a more interventionist position. The result was two pieces of legislation. In February 1842, Gladstone brought in a bill that made the existing inspection of railway lines prior to their opening to the public more effective. Other provisions required railway companies to report all accidents on their lines and improve some safety procedures, In 1844, the ministry introduced the most famous of all Railway Acts designed specifically to improve the safety and convenience of third-class passengers. Gladstone proposed that railway companies that derived a third or more of their revenue from passengers (and most companies did) were to run at least one train daily with a fare of no more than 1d per mile, that it should stop at every station and run at a speed of no less than 12 miles per hour. Thus began the so-called ‘parliamentary trains’. Further legislation ensured a higher standard of comfort and safety for passengers by licensing the Board of Trade to approve the construction of railway carriages.

The government was less successful in regulating the entrepreneurial aspect of railway development. The 1844 Railway Act had also contained provision for the regulation of boards of management of railway companies. Furthermore, Gladstone proposed regulating railway companies in the same wat as the Bank of England was regulation, that is, by review. If, at the end of fifteen years, the annual divisible profit on the paid-up share capital of any company equalled 10 per cent, the government would have the option of revising the fare and charges of that company. Another provision would have allowed the government the option of purchasing any new railway line, whatever the profits.

If these provisions had passed, they would have represented a significant extension of the principle of state intervention in the operation of the railway network. It is unclear what Gladstone’s justification for this was and the proposals seem to have been personal rather than governmental. In the event, many of Gladstone’s Cabinet colleagues disagreed with him and pressure from thirty railway companies on Peel resulted in twenty clauses being deleted from the bill. Gladstone assured the Commons, in a decidedly apologetic speech on 22nd July 1844, that there had been no intention on the part of the government to become managers of the railway. Rather the intention of the bill had been to reserve the right of the legislature to act on behalf of the general public.

Gladstone’s retreat could not hide the fact that the government had caved in to pressure from the railway interest[3]. The influence of the railway interest is further illustrated by the fate of the Railway Board, established in August 1844. Presided over by Lord Dalhousie, Vice-President of the Board of Trade since Gladstone’s promotion in 1843, its role was to speed the passage of railway bills through Parliament. Instead of each railway line being sanctioned by both houses of Parliament, the Railway Board would receive applications and make recommendations as to which line should be passed, postponed or rejected. By the beginning of 1845, there were already major objections to the Board and criticisms that it was assuming too much authority. There was no defence of the Board by ministers and when Peel withdrew his support, its fate was sealed. The collapse of the Railway Board, in many respects, characterises the government’s railway policy: essentially it was an opportunity lost. It was not until the 1860s and 1870s that there was any attempt by government to exert effective control over the railways.

Assessing social policies

Where does Peel’s government fit in the context of the debate about the growth of government in the first half of the nineteenth century? In broad terms, historians have identified two schools of thought: the theorists and the empiricists.  The theorists claim that the impetus for state intervention derived from Jeremy Bentham and his disciples. They argue that Bentham laid the philosophical foundations for intervention in his principle of ‘utility’. Benthamite publicists publicised his theory and Benthamite civil servants exercise their influence over government to enact utilitarian reforms.  The empiricists deny the importance of theory and argue that, for the most part, government responded to the pressure of events. This, they maintain, accounts for Britain’s erratic and piecemeal reformism.

Peel’s government cannot be regarded as Benthamite in character or that his ministers had marked Benthamite sympathies. However, Peel’s government relied on the investigative powers of Benthamite officials. The Royal Commission on children’s employment contained at least one well-known Benthamite reformer, Southwood Smith as well as Leonard Horner, the factory inspector who was Benthamite in sympathy. Horner’s advice was also sought by Graham during the drafting of the 1843 Factory Bill though Horner actually advised a cautious policy rather than a further extension of governmental intervention. Indeed, it was Ashley, certainly no Benthamite, who urged greater intervention in the factory system.

The empiricist model is perhaps the better guide to the Peel ministry. Peel and his ministers were not social reformers acting on a rational plan for government intervention. They were conscious of the need to balance interests (economic, religious or political) and had no intention of tipping the balance in favour of any single interests. Their approach was cautious and often reactive, being nudged forward by one interest and deflected by another. The problem was that Peel’s executive view of government required administrative solutions to social problems whereas, in reality, those problems needed a resolution that defined the relationship between areas where it was justifiable for the state to intervene and where responsibility should lie with the individual. This, and opposition within his own party, limited the extent to which Peel’s government was capable of innovative solutions to social problems.


[1] On the question of madness and the insane, Roy Porter Mind-Forg’d Manacles, Athlone Press, 1987 is perhaps the best introduction to developments between 1660 and the early 1830s. Andrew Scull The Most Solitary Affliction: Madness and Society in Britain 1700-1900, Yale University Press, 1993, Andrew Scull, Charlotte MacKenzie and Nicholas Hervey Masters of Bedlam: the transformation of the Mad-Doctoring Trade, Princeton, 1996, Leonard D. Smith ‘Cure, Comfort and Safe Custody’: Public Lunatic Asylums in Early-Nineteenth Century England, Leicester University Press, 1999 and Peter Bartlett The Poor Law of Lunacy, Leicester University Press, 1999 provide greater focus and analysis of the nineteenth century.

[2] On this issue see Henry Parris Government and the Railways in Nineteenth-Century Britain, London, 1958.

[3] On this issue see P. S. Bagwell ‘The railway interest: its organisation and influence, 1839-1914’, Journal of Transport History, volume 7, (1965), pages 65-86.

Further Social Reform

Asylums and the insane

Ashley also played a significant role in raising the question of conditions in asylums and madhouses and the treatment of their inmates[1]. In 1842, he had secured legislation that empowered the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy to carry out a detailed inspection of all institutions that housed the insane. In 1844, the Commissioners’ report was completed. On the basis of its evidence, Ashley brought forward two bills to reform the administrative machinery concerning the care of lunatics. The general effect of the legislation was to reconstruct the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy by granting them wider powers of inspection, licensing and reporting. It proved a milestone on the road away from the earlier notorious practices of Bedlam and towards modern ideas of mental health services.

Railways

Between 1841 and 1846, railway mileage doubled from 1,696 to 3,036 miles, the number of passengers rose from 24 to 44 million and goods receipts rise from £1.56 million to £2.84 million. The dramatic expansion and its associated ‘railway manias’ threatened to bring chaos to the financial markets as investors feverishly sought to profit from railway shares. This growth came at a cost and there were growing concerns about passenger safety with railway companies providing few safety precautions. In 1841, there were 65 accidents resulting in 41 passenger deaths and 92 injuries plus an additional 60 accidents among railway employees resulting in 28 deaths and 36 injuries. These statistics raised important questions about the wisdom of an unregulated railway system.

Regulation of railways[2] went to the heart of the government’s strong commitment to the principles of laissez-faire. It raised two important questions. First, under what circumstances was it justifiable for government to intervene in the operation of the free market? Secondly, if intervention was justifiable, what degree of regulation was necessary to protect the public without inhibiting the economic development of the railways? Peel, for example, believed that railway companies would tend to become negligent once relieved of their responsibilities by government and that the public could be trusted to take care of themselves.

William Gladstone, as Vice President and after 1843 President of the Board of Trade adopted a more interventionist position. The result was two pieces of legislation. In February 1842, Gladstone brought in a bill that made the existing inspection of railway lines prior to their opening to the public more effective. Other provisions required railway companies to report all accidents on their lines and improve some safety procedures, In 1844, the ministry introduced the most famous of all Railway Acts designed specifically to improve the safety and convenience of third-class passengers. Gladstone proposed that railway companies that derived a third or more of their revenue from passengers (and most companies did) were to run at least one train daily with a fare of no more than 1d per mile, that it should stop at every station and run at a speed of no less than 12 miles per hour. Thus began the so-called ‘parliamentary trains’. Further legislation ensured a higher standard of comfort and safety for passengers by licensing the Board of Trade to approve the construction of railway carriages.

The government was less successful in regulating the entrepreneurial aspect of railway development. The 1844 Railway Act had also contained provision for the regulation of boards of management of railway companies. Furthermore, Gladstone proposed regulating railway companies in the same wat as the Bank of England was regulation, that is, by review. If, at the end of fifteen years, the annual divisible profit on the paid-up share capital of any company equalled 10 per cent, the government would have the option of revising the fare and charges of that company. Another provision would have allowed the government the option of purchasing any new railway line, whatever the profits.

If these provisions had passed, they would have represented a significant extension of the principle of state intervention in the operation of the railway network. It is unclear what Gladstone’s justification for this was and the proposals seem to have been personal rather than governmental. In the event, many of Gladstone’s Cabinet colleagues disagreed with him and pressure from thirty railway companies on Peel resulted in twenty clauses being deleted from the bill. Gladstone assured the Commons, in a decidedly apologetic speech on 22nd July 1844, that there had been no intention on the part of the government to become managers of the railway. Rather the intention of the bill had been to reserve the right of the legislature to act on behalf of the general public.

Gladstone’s retreat could not hide the fact that the government had caved in to pressure from the railway interest[3]. The influence of the railway interest is further illustrated by the fate of the Railway Board, established in August 1844. Presided over by Lord Dalhousie, Vice-President of the Board of Trade since Gladstone’s promotion in 1843, its role was to speed the passage of railway bills through Parliament. Instead of each railway line being sanctioned by both houses of Parliament, the Railway Board would receive applications and make recommendations as to which line should be passed, postponed or rejected. By the beginning of 1845, there were already major objections to the Board and criticisms that it was assuming too much authority. There was no defence of the Board by ministers and when Peel withdrew his support, its fate was sealed. The collapse of the Railway Board, in many respects, characterises the government’s railway policy: essentially it was an opportunity lost. It was not until the 1860s and 1870s that there was any attempt by government to exert effective control over the railways.

Assessing social policies

Where does Peel’s government fit in the context of the debate about the growth of government in the first half of the nineteenth century? In broad terms, historians have identified two schools of thought: the theorists and the empiricists. The theorists claim that the impetus for state intervention derived from Jeremy Bentham and his disciples. They argue that Bentham laid the philosophical foundations for intervention in his principle of ‘utility’. Benthamite publicists publicised his theory and Benthamite civil servants exercise their influence over government to enact utilitarian reforms. The empiricists deny the importance of theory and argue that, for the most part, government responded to the pressure of events. This, they maintain, accounts for Britain’s erratic and piecemeal reformism.

Peel’s government cannot be regarded as Benthamite in character or that his ministers had marked Benthamite sympathies. However, Peel’s government relied on the investigative powers of Benthamite officials. The Royal Commission on children’s employment contained at least one well-known Benthamite reformer, Southwood Smith as well as Leonard Horner, the factory inspector who was Benthamite in sympathy. Horner’s advice was also sought by Graham during the drafting of the 1843 Factory Bill though Horner actually advised a cautious policy rather than a further extension of governmental intervention. Indeed, it was Ashley, certainly no Benthamite, who urged greater intervention in the factory system.

The empiricist model is perhaps the better guide to the Peel ministry. Peel and his ministers were not social reformers acting on a rational plan for government intervention. They were conscious of the need to balance interests (economic, religious or political) and had no intention of tipping the balance in favour of any single interests. Their approach was cautious and often reactive, being nudged forward by one interest and deflected by another. The problem was that Peel’s executive view of government required administrative solutions to social problems whereas, in reality, those problems needed a resolution that defined the relationship between areas where it was justifiable for the state to intervene and where responsibility should lie with the individual. This, and opposition within his own party, limited the extent to which Peel’s government was capable of innovative solutions to social problems.


[1] On the question of madness and the insane, Roy Porter Mind-Forg’d Manacles, Athlone Press, 1987 is perhaps the best introduction to developments between 1660 and the early 1830s. Andrew Scull The Most Solitary Affliction: Madness and Society in Britain 1700-1900, Yale University Press, 1993, Andrew Scull, Charlotte MacKenzie and Nicholas Hervey Masters of Bedlam: the transformation of the Mad-Doctoring Trade, Princeton, 1996, Leonard D. Smith ‘Cure, Comfort and Safe Custody’: Public Lunatic Asylums in Early-Nineteenth Century England, Leicester University Press, 1999 and Peter Bartlett The Poor Law of Lunacy, Leicester University Press, 1999 provide greater focus and analysis of the nineteenth century.

[2] On this issue see Henry Parris Government and the Railways in Nineteenth-Century Britain, London, 1958.

[3] On this issue see P. S. Bagwell ‘The railway interest: its organisation and influence, 1839-1914’, Journal of Transport History, volume 7, (1965), pages 65-86.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Factory reform and the 'condition of England' question 1843-46

The 1843 Factory Bill and the 1844 Factory Act

There was an obvious difference between Ashley’s proposals in social legislation and the government’s own initiatives. For Ashley, it was a crusade; the government was far more concerned with the promotion of social and political order. This can clearly be seen in the government’s own factory proposals in 1843. Peel and Graham agreed on the importance of improving educational provision for the working population and making the educational clauses of the 1833 Factory Act effective. Graham believed in the importance of education as a means of social control and emphasised the moral content of schooling. He was convinced that the riots in the autumn and winter of 1842 were the result of declining religious attendance. It was necessary, he told Parliament to ‘rescue the rising generation in the manufacturing districts from the state of practical infidelity… [only if] the education of the rising youth should be the peculiar care of the Government’ could the moral tone of the nation be elevated.

For the state to sponsor religious training in factory schools meant, to some degree favouring the Church of England. Graham anticipated opposition and took exceptional care in drafting the educational clauses of the proposed bill. He consulted two of his factory inspectors: Leonard Horner, who he believed had some influence with the Nonconformists, and Robert Saunders, who had the confidence of the Bishop of London. He also drew on the educational expertise of James Kay-Shuttleworth. The bill was presented to Parliament in March 1843 restricting children aged 8-13 to 6½ hours’ work with three hours’ daily education in improved schools largely controlled by the Church of England.  

He could not have imagined the depth of opposition to this proposal. Fear and prejudice came together in the massive and unusually united campaign by nonconformist groups coordinated by an extra-parliamentary pressure group, the United Conference, stressing the virtues of ‘voluntaryism‘ and professing concerns about the ‘Romanising’ effects of the Oxford Movement. Within two months, it had organised a petition to Parliament containing over two million signatures. Graham’s proposal for state assistance in the education of factory children was thought by Nonconformists and Roman Catholics to favour the Church of England unfairly. In June 1843, the education clauses were withdrawn. In its failure to make the Church of England responsible for the education of England’s manufacturing districts, Peel witnessed the fading of Anglican hopes to reassert its claim as the effective church of the whole state.

Opposition to the educational clauses had delayed the bill as a whole but the government was committed to proceeding with the remainder of the bill. However, the government decided not to proceed further in the 1843 session and it was not until the following February that Graham submitted the truncated Factory Bill. It proposed reducing daily working hours for factory children (8-13 years of age) from 9 to 6½ hours.  It increased their required hours in school from 2 to 3 hours daily. In effect, children became ‘half-timers’, working for only half a day and spending a proportionately greater amount of time in school.  The hours of adult females were limited to 12 hour. This meant that they could work the same amount of time as young persons (13-18 years of age). This represented an important development as previous factory legislation had only limited the hours of work of children and young persons. By its application to textile mills, the new proposal extended considerably the precedent for the regulation of adult female labour set in the 1842 Mines Act.  Dangerous machinery was to be fenced in.  It was permissible for factories to operate for 15 hours a day.

Richard Oastler mounted a major campaign in the spring of 1844 but he was unable to graft a ‘10 hour clause’ on to the revised factory bill. However, Ashley moved an amendment to reduce the twelve hour limitation for women and young persons to ten hours daily. The introduction of the Ten Hour Movement into the factory debate precipitated the most serious crisis in the life of the government to that time. The debate on the ten hour amendment developed over the next two months and forced the government into a series of difficult manoeuvres. Initially, Peel and Graham argued against Ashley on economic grounds. Peel was prepared to pass legislation preventing exploitation of children and women but he argued adult males were free agents and the law should not interfere with market forces. Even so, he doubted whether employers would pay a twelve hour rate for ten hours, work. Graham warned the Commons that the reduction of two hours’ work might damage British industry by reducing productivity, thus lowering profits and ultimately wages. Not all members of the House were convinced by this argument. Secondly, there was an important political motivation in supporting Ashley. The agricultural interest, upset of Peel’s liberalised tariff policy and angered by the activities of the Anti-Corn Law League saw an easy opportunity for revenge against manufacturers. This mixture of motives accounts for the surprising victory on 18th March in committee of Ashley’s amendment by 179 to 170. However, four days later, when the specific clause of the Ten Hours’ Bill was presented, the vote went against Ashley.

There was now some room for compromise around eleven hours and some of Ashley’s supporters signalled that they were prepared to accept this. However, Peel made it clear that he was unwilling to accept any compromise and on 25th March Graham announced the government’s intention of bringing forward a new bill after the Easter recess in which the twelve hour restriction would be maintained arguing for the dangers of legislative interference in the free market for labour. However, Graham advanced a new argument: should a ten hour amendment pass, then he would seek ‘a private station’; in other words the government would resign. This brought the Conservative dissidents to heel and when Ashley’s amendment came to the Commons it was heavily defeated by 297 to 159.

This may seem a rather extreme way of getting the Factory Bill through. Even Peel admitted that in practice there were only a few mills in which workers had a twelve hour day. So, why not accept a compromise? However, both Peel and Graham believed that cabinet government and executive action were the only effect way to carry out the growing mass of public business. Peel expected his party to support legislation; it was a matter of confidence.

Factory reform 1845

Ashley returned to factory reform the following year. The Royal Commission on the employment of children had investigated abuses not only in mines and collieries but in numerous other unregulated industries. Ashley was determined to extend government regulation over these exempted industries and concentrated on calico printing. Since it was a textile industry, he thought that the restrictions on work contained in the 1844 Factory Act could be extended with relative ease. His proposal to limit the hours of children and women in calico printing was introduced to the Commons In February 1845 and initially attracted some support from the government. The result on this occasion was a compromise. The government agreed with those parts of Ashley’s bill that provided education for children under thirteen, prohibited the employment of children under eight and prohibited night work for children and women. However, it did not agree with restrictions on the hours of children between eight and thirteen years old arguing that the employment of children in calico printing was more necessary than in other industries. With Ashley’s acceptance of the government’s position, an effective compromise was reached and the measure passed into law.

Aftermath

There was considerable disappointment in the textile towns with the failure to implement the ten hour day in 1844. A series of conferences sought to maintain unity by reviving the Ten Hours Bill in Parliament, and after a wide winter campaign Ashley Cooper moved for leave to introduce it in January 1846. However, the debate over industrial conditions was now overshadowed by the nation-wide controversy over the Corn Laws. Ashley felt morally obliged to resign his seat and John Fielden took his place as parliamentary leader but lost his seat in May. As another campaign was mounted in the autumn a gathering industrial recession weakened the case for opposition. Final Whig attempts to compromise on 11 hours were defeated and Fielden triumphed in May 1847 with the Ten Hours Act receiving the royal assent in June.

Factory reform and the 'condition of England' question 1843-46

The 1843 Factory Bill and the 1844 Factory Act

There was an obvious difference between Ashley’s proposals in social legislation and the government’s own initiatives. For Ashley, it was a crusade; the government was far more concerned with the promotion of social and political order. This can clearly be seen in the government’s own factory proposals in 1843. Peel and Graham agreed on the importance of improving educational provision for the working population and making the educational clauses of the 1833 Factory Act effective. Graham believed in the importance of education as a means of social control and emphasised the moral content of schooling. He was convinced that the riots in the autumn and winter of 1842 were the result of declining religious attendance. It was necessary, he told Parliament to ‘rescue the rising generation in the manufacturing districts from the state of practical infidelity… [only if] the education of the rising youth should be the peculiar care of the Government’ could the moral tone of the nation be elevated.

For the state to sponsor religious training in factory schools meant, to some degree favouring the Church of England. Graham anticipated opposition and took exceptional care in drafting the educational clauses of the proposed bill. He consulted two of his factory inspectors: Leonard Horner, who he believed had some influence with the Nonconformists, and Robert Saunders, who had the confidence of the Bishop of London. He also drew on the educational expertise of James Kay-Shuttleworth. The bill was presented to Parliament in March 1843 restricting children aged 8-13 to 6½ hours’ work with three hours’ daily education in improved schools largely controlled by the Church of England.

He could not have imagined the depth of opposition to this proposal. Fear and prejudice came together in the massive and unusually united campaign by nonconformist groups coordinated by an extra-parliamentary pressure group, the United Conference, stressing the virtues of ‘voluntaryism‘ and professing concerns about the ‘Romanising’ effects of the Oxford Movement. Within two months, it had organised a petition to Parliament containing over two million signatures. Graham’s proposal for state assistance in the education of factory children was thought by Nonconformists and Roman Catholics to favour the Church of England unfairly. In June 1843, the education clauses were withdrawn. In its failure to make the Church of England responsible for the education of England’s manufacturing districts, Peel witnessed the fading of Anglican hopes to reassert its claim as the effective church of the whole state.

Opposition to the educational clauses had delayed the bill as a whole but the government was committed to proceeding with the remainder of the bill. However, the government decided not to proceed further in the 1843 session and it was not until the following February that Graham submitted the truncated Factory Bill. It proposed reducing daily working hours for factory children (8-13 years of age) from 9 to 6½ hours. It increased their required hours in school from 2 to 3 hours daily. In effect, children became ‘half-timers’, working for only half a day and spending a proportionately greater amount of time in school. The hours of adult females were limited to 12 hour. This meant that they could work the same amount of time as young persons (13-18 years of age). This represented an important development as previous factory legislation had only limited the hours of work of children and young persons. By its application to textile mills, the new proposal extended considerably the precedent for the regulation of adult female labour set in the 1842 Mines Act. Dangerous machinery was to be fenced in. It was permissible for factories to operate for 15 hours a day.

Richard Oastler mounted a major campaign in the spring of 1844 but he was unable to graft a ‘10 hour clause’ on to the revised factory bill. However, Ashley moved an amendment to reduce the twelve hour limitation for women and young persons to ten hours daily. The introduction of the Ten Hour Movement into the factory debate precipitated the most serious crisis in the life of the government to that time. The debate on the ten hour amendment developed over the next two months and forced the government into a series of difficult manoeuvres. Initially, Peel and Graham argued against Ashley on economic grounds. Peel was prepared to pass legislation preventing exploitation of children and women but he argued adult males were free agents and the law should not interfere with market forces. Even so, he doubted whether employers would pay a twelve hour rate for ten hours, work. Graham warned the Commons that the reduction of two hours’ work might damage British industry by reducing productivity, thus lowering profits and ultimately wages. Not all members of the House were convinced by this argument. Secondly, there was an important political motivation in supporting Ashley. The agricultural interest, upset of Peel’s liberalised tariff policy and angered by the activities of the Anti-Corn Law League saw an easy opportunity for revenge against manufacturers. This mixture of motives accounts for the surprising victory on 18th March in committee of Ashley’s amendment by 179 to 170. However, four days later, when the specific clause of the Ten Hours’ Bill was presented, the vote went against Ashley.

There was now some room for compromise around eleven hours and some of Ashley’s supporters signalled that they were prepared to accept this. However, Peel made it clear that he was unwilling to accept any compromise and on 25th March Graham announced the government’s intention of bringing forward a new bill after the Easter recess in which the twelve hour restriction would be maintained arguing for the dangers of legislative interference in the free market for labour. However, Graham advanced a new argument: should a ten hour amendment pass, then he would seek ‘a private station’; in other words the government would resign. This brought the Conservative dissidents to heel and when Ashley’s amendment came to the Commons it was heavily defeated by 297 to 159.

This may seem a rather extreme way of getting the Factory Bill through. Even Peel admitted that in practice there were only a few mills in which workers had a twelve hour day. So, why not accept a compromise? However, both Peel and Graham believed that cabinet government and executive action were the only effect way to carry out the growing mass of public business. Peel expected his party to support legislation; it was a matter of confidence.

Factory reform 1845

Ashley returned to factory reform the following year. The Royal Commission on the employment of children had investigated abuses not only in mines and collieries but in numerous other unregulated industries. Ashley was determined to extend government regulation over these exempted industries and concentrated on calico printing. Since it was a textile industry, he thought that the restrictions on work contained in the 1844 Factory Act could be extended with relative ease. His proposal to limit the hours of children and women in calico printing was introduced to the Commons In February 1845 and initially attracted some support from the government. The result on this occasion was a compromise. The government agreed with those parts of Ashley’s bill that provided education for children under thirteen, prohibited the employment of children under eight and prohibited night work for children and women. However, it did not agree with restrictions on the hours of children between eight and thirteen years old arguing that the employment of children in calico printing was more necessary than in other industries. With Ashley’s acceptance of the government’s position, an effective compromise was reached and the measure passed into law.

Aftermath

There was considerable disappointment in the textile towns with the failure to implement the ten hour day in 1844. A series of conferences sought to maintain unity by reviving the Ten Hours Bill in Parliament, and after a wide winter campaign Ashley Cooper moved for leave to introduce it in January 1846. However, the debate over industrial conditions was now overshadowed by the nation-wide controversy over the Corn Laws. Ashley felt morally obliged to resign his seat and John Fielden took his place as parliamentary leader but lost his seat in May. As another campaign was mounted in the autumn a gathering industrial recession weakened the case for opposition. Final Whig attempts to compromise on 11 hours were defeated and Fielden triumphed in May 1847 with the Ten Hours Act receiving the royal assent in June.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Factory reform and the ‘condition of England’ question 1841-1842

More serious conflict over social legislation occurred between the government and a small group of socially concerned Conservative MPs. These Tory ‘paternalists’ commanded a certain respect for their devout Anglicanism and deeply held conservatism. Motivated by a strong humanitarianism, they were more willing than many of their colleagues to extend the role of the state where there was a clear social injustice. Most important was Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Ashley (later 7th Earl of Shaftesbury[1]) whose reputation for sincerity and moral integrity gave his opinions an unusual influence in Parliament. Ashley’s independence and persistence on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged often created a dilemma for the government. The government feared that too much government regulation would inhibit entrepreneurial activity but it could not allow profit at the expense of public health and safety. It was on the question of factory reform[2] that problems first arose.

The redefining of the factory question was part of the shaping of the Victorian state and the accommodation of interests within it. The 1830s saw the development of responses to reform and vigorous resistance to them, at both popular and ruling-class levels. However, the 1840s saw modifications to this approach through its incorporation into a broader consensus that shaped the agenda of the ‘condition of England’ question. This had several dimensions.  First, the writing of the new public agenda owed something to expert knowledge and the role of the factory inspectorate. Initially the inspectors had been inclined to defer to the expertise of leading employers but the pressure of public agitation led them to take a more independent line.  Secondly, popular protest and the desire to contain unrest pushed inspectors, parliament and elite public opinion to take a firmer line on enforcement. In 1840, Leonard Horner, a leading inspector, presented the benefits of factory regulation in terms of moral order and economic efficiency appealing to the longer-term rational interests of employers and workers and emphasised the role of state inspectors in monitoring this process.  Finally, the issue became one, not of introducing new legislation, but fulfilling the intention of existing law by taking action to remedy defects in the 1833 Act. The key issue was enforcement, especially the vexed questions of age certification and the rights of entry to factories. Opposition to legislation was not solely in the interests of employers but of workers as well. Reducing child labour led to reductions in family budgets leading to much working class opposition. Adult labour had been left unaltered by the 1833 Act.

Oastler and the Ten Hour movement in the 1830s had projected a vision in which the regulation of the factory and the protection of labour generally was the key to remedying social distress. The factory question in the 1840s can be seen through the language of negotiation within a growing consensus in favour of further regulation: the prosperity of trade and the welfare of the nation were increasingly seen as two sides of the same coin. Two particular emphases worked to incorporate social criticism about the distress, moral degeneration and Chartist threat and the awareness of working class conditions, into a liberal vision of a rationalised factory system. The development of state regulation and the associated public debate tended to project a series of distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ factories and of the need to improve the ‘bad’. The agenda of the ‘condition of England’ extended into mines and child and female labour generally, the weavers, outwork and sweated trades and urban conditions. As a result the factory lost its centrality as a focus of social concern. The issue became a more general one of working conditions across the economy.

Public opinion saw social problems as separate and the evils of the factory as by no means the worst, though possibly the most readily remediable form of social distress. Education and a morally improved working force became the key. The debate continued to embody distinctive workers’ perspectives, though these were perhaps less challenging than in the 1830s. Ten-hour legislation insisted on the minimal protection of labour, including adult men’s labour. This was constructed as a moral imperative and a necessary limitation of the sphere of political economy. The eventual introduction of a fairly effective Ten Hours Act could be seen as a logical development within this framework.

Peel’s attitude

Peel remained steady in his opposition to the Ten Hour movement right up to the passage of the 1847 Factory Act. He had adopted the argument of political economists that wages would fall under a ten-hour day and the cost of production would increase with consequences for rising prices.  This was not a doctrinaire approach but one grounded in a genuine concern for the welfare of workers.  Peel was, however, prepared to accept intervention to control working conditions when convinced that the moral case was overwhelming.  He opposed Ashley over ten-hour legislation because he believed that the moral case was weaker than the economic one. But he was prepared to accept the moral arguments implicit in the Mines Act 1842.

The Mines Act 1842

Working conditions in collieries were dangerous and children and women played an important part in mining coal. In 1840 a Royal Commission was established to investigate the working conditions of children in coalmines and manufactories. Its findings were horrific with children as young as five or six working as ‘trappers’ [operating doors to enable air-coursing]. There were also many comments about the poor health of the mining community. Artists were employed to go underground and make sketches of workers. These appeared in the Commissioners’ Report published in 1842. They were graphic and immediate and public opinion was shocked.

The Mines Act 1842 was not a piece of government legislation and support was hardly enthusiastic. Although he admitted that some intervention was justifiable, Graham expressed reservations about its over-extension. Despite this, ministers were unwilling to defeat the proposals and contented itself by allowing amendments. The Lords lowered from 13 to 10 the age below which boys would be excluded from mines and Ashley reluctantly accepted it. Most ministers, with the exception of Gladstone supported the amended bill, though tepidly. Some help was given in drafting the legislation but the initiative lay with Lord Ashley. The Act made the employment of women underground illegal. It said boys under 10 could no longer work underground but parish apprentices between 10 and 18 could continue to work in mines

There were no clauses relating to hours of work and inspection could only take place on the basis of checking the ‘condition of the workers’. Many women were annoyed that they could no longer earn much needed money. In 1850, a further Act widened the authority of colliery inspectors; they could now check the condition of machines.

The issue of social reform was, in Peel’s mind, linked to successful economic conditions. These would enable economic growth, create new jobs and so stimulate consumption. Peel was sceptical of the value of direct government intervention in solving social problems. Free market answers were more effective. He recognised that government could not abdicate all responsibility in the ‘social question’ but, like many contemporaries, believed that its role should be severely limited and definitely cost-effective. . However, the publication of reports from committees originally set up by the Whigs in the late 1830s and extra-parliamentary pressure from radical politicians and Tory paternalists sceptical of the gains of industrial capitalism could not be ignored.


[1] Geoffrey Finlayson The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury 1801-1885, Methuen, 1981 is a detailed biography that contains much on factory conditions.

[2] For a short summary of the issues see J.T. Ward ‘The Factory Movement’ in J.T. Ward (ed.) Popular Movements 1830-1850, Macmillan, 1970, pages 78-94. The shortest introduction to factory reform is Ursula Henriques The Early Factory Acts and their Enforcement, The Historical Association, 1971. J.T. Ward  The Factory Movement 1830-1850, Macmillan, 1962 is the most detailed study though it has, in part, been superseded by R. Gray The Factory Question and Industrial England 1830-1860, CUP, 1996. C. Driver Tory Radical: A Life of Richard Oastler, OUP, 1946 and A. Weaver John Fielden and the Politics of Popular Radicalism 1832-1847, OUP, 1987 are useful biographies which go beyond factory reform.  J.T. Ward (ed.) The Factory System, two volumes, David & Charles, 1970 contains primary material.

Factory reform and the ‘condition of England’ question 1841-1842

More serious conflict over social legislation occurred between the government and a small group of socially concerned Conservative MPs. These Tory ‘paternalists’ commanded a certain respect for their devout Anglicanism and deeply held conservatism. Motivated by a strong humanitarianism, they were more willing than many of their colleagues to extend the role of the state where there was a clear social injustice. Most important was Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Ashley (later 7th Earl of Shaftesbury[1]) whose reputation for sincerity and moral integrity gave his opinions an unusual influence in Parliament. Ashley’s independence and persistence on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged often created a dilemma for the government. The government feared that too much government regulation would inhibit entrepreneurial activity but it could not allow profit at the expense of public health and safety. It was on the question of factory reform[2] that problems first arose.

The redefining of the factory question was part of the shaping of the Victorian state and the accommodation of interests within it. The 1830s saw the development of responses to reform and vigorous resistance to them, at both popular and ruling-class levels. However, the 1840s saw modifications to this approach through its incorporation into a broader consensus that shaped the agenda of the ‘condition of England’ question. This had several dimensions. First, the writing of the new public agenda owed something to expert knowledge and the role of the factory inspectorate. Initially the inspectors had been inclined to defer to the expertise of leading employers but the pressure of public agitation led them to take a more independent line. Secondly, popular protest and the desire to contain unrest pushed inspectors, parliament and elite public opinion to take a firmer line on enforcement. In 1840, Leonard Horner, a leading inspector, presented the benefits of factory regulation in terms of moral order and economic efficiency appealing to the longer-term rational interests of employers and workers and emphasised the role of state inspectors in monitoring this process. Finally, the issue became one, not of introducing new legislation, but fulfilling the intention of existing law by taking action to remedy defects in the 1833 Act. The key issue was enforcement, especially the vexed questions of age certification and the rights of entry to factories. Opposition to legislation was not solely in the interests of employers but of workers as well. Reducing child labour led to reductions in family budgets leading to much working class opposition. Adult labour had been left unaltered by the 1833 Act.

Oastler and the Ten Hour movement in the 1830s had projected a vision in which the regulation of the factory and the protection of labour generally was the key to remedying social distress. The factory question in the 1840s can be seen through the language of negotiation within a growing consensus in favour of further regulation: the prosperity of trade and the welfare of the nation were increasingly seen as two sides of the same coin. Two particular emphases worked to incorporate social criticism about the distress, moral degeneration and Chartist threat and the awareness of working class conditions, into a liberal vision of a rationalised factory system. The development of state regulation and the associated public debate tended to project a series of distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ factories and of the need to improve the ‘bad’. The agenda of the ‘condition of England’ extended into mines and child and female labour generally, the weavers, outwork and sweated trades and urban conditions. As a result the factory lost its centrality as a focus of social concern. The issue became a more general one of working conditions across the economy.

Public opinion saw social problems as separate and the evils of the factory as by no means the worst, though possibly the most readily remediable form of social distress. Education and a morally improved working force became the key. The debate continued to embody distinctive workers’ perspectives, though these were perhaps less challenging than in the 1830s. Ten-hour legislation insisted on the minimal protection of labour, including adult men’s labour. This was constructed as a moral imperative and a necessary limitation of the sphere of political economy. The eventual introduction of a fairly effective Ten Hours Act could be seen as a logical development within this framework.

Peel’s attitude

Peel remained steady in his opposition to the Ten Hour movement right up to the passage of the 1847 Factory Act. He had adopted the argument of political economists that wages would fall under a ten-hour day and the cost of production would increase with consequences for rising prices. This was not a doctrinaire approach but one grounded in a genuine concern for the welfare of workers. Peel was, however, prepared to accept intervention to control working conditions when convinced that the moral case was overwhelming. He opposed Ashley over ten-hour legislation because he believed that the moral case was weaker than the economic one. But he was prepared to accept the moral arguments implicit in the Mines Act 1842.

The Mines Act 1842

Working conditions in collieries were dangerous and children and women played an important part in mining coal. In 1840 a Royal Commission was established to investigate the working conditions of children in coalmines and manufactories. Its findings were horrific with children as young as five or six working as ‘trappers’ [operating doors to enable air-coursing]. There were also many comments about the poor health of the mining community. Artists were employed to go underground and make sketches of workers. These appeared in the Commissioners’ Report published in 1842. They were graphic and immediate and public opinion was shocked.

The Mines Act 1842 was not a piece of government legislation and support was hardly enthusiastic. Although he admitted that some intervention was justifiable, Graham expressed reservations about its over-extension. Despite this, ministers were unwilling to defeat the proposals and contented itself by allowing amendments. The Lords lowered from 13 to 10 the age below which boys would be excluded from mines and Ashley reluctantly accepted it. Most ministers, with the exception of Gladstone supported the amended bill, though tepidly. Some help was given in drafting the legislation but the initiative lay with Lord Ashley. The Act made the employment of women underground illegal. It said boys under 10 could no longer work underground but parish apprentices between 10 and 18 could continue to work in mines

There were no clauses relating to hours of work and inspection could only take place on the basis of checking the ‘condition of the workers’. Many women were annoyed that they could no longer earn much needed money. In 1850, a further Act widened the authority of colliery inspectors; they could now check the condition of machines.

The issue of social reform was, in Peel’s mind, linked to successful economic conditions. These would enable economic growth, create new jobs and so stimulate consumption. Peel was sceptical of the value of direct government intervention in solving social problems. Free market answers were more effective. He recognised that government could not abdicate all responsibility in the ‘social question’ but, like many contemporaries, believed that its role should be severely limited and definitely cost-effective. . However, the publication of reports from committees originally set up by the Whigs in the late 1830s and extra-parliamentary pressure from radical politicians and Tory paternalists sceptical of the gains of industrial capitalism could not be ignored.


[1] Geoffrey Finlayson The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury 1801-1885, Methuen, 1981 is a detailed biography that contains much on factory conditions.

[2] For a short summary of the issues see J.T. Ward ‘The Factory Movement’ in J.T. Ward (ed.) Popular Movements 1830-1850, Macmillan, 1970, pages 78-94. The shortest introduction to factory reform is Ursula Henriques The Early Factory Acts and their Enforcement, The Historical Association, 1971. J.T. Ward The Factory Movement 1830-1850, Macmillan, 1962 is the most detailed study though it has, in part, been superseded by R. Gray The Factory Question and Industrial England 1830-1860, CUP, 1996. C. Driver Tory Radical: A Life of Richard Oastler, OUP, 1946 and A. Weaver John Fielden and the Politics of Popular Radicalism 1832-1847, OUP, 1987 are useful biographies which go beyond factory reform. J.T. Ward (ed.) The Factory System, two volumes, David & Charles, 1970 contains primary material.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Social policy: the Poor Law

In contrast to the government’s fiscal policy, its social policy affecting the poor, the insane, factory and other workers and railway passengers was remarkably cautious. The ministry’s social legislation sought to tidy up the loose administrative ends of existing programmes rather than to advance new ones. Had it not been for the initiatives of Lord Ashley, the record of social legislation during the Peel administration would probably have been less than it was. In spite of its fundamentally cautious approach, the ministry encountered far more opposition for its social legislation than to its fiscal policy. This opposition was due to the controversial nature of the issues involved and partly to the growing disenchantment of some Conservative back-benchers with their leadership.

Poor Law policy exemplified the cautious approach of Peel’s government. There was general agreement in the cabinet that the new Poor Law[1] was a success. Since 1834, it had had the desired effect of implementing a more efficient system of poor relief and lowering poor rates. However, the law was unpopular in the countryside and was an issue in the 1841 election. Some Conservative MPs were pledged to a revision of the new system and in this they were joined by a group of like-minded radicals.

William Busfield Ferrand[2], the Conservative MP for Knaresborough was the most prominent of the anti-Poor Law MPs. He and his supporters objected to the new Poor Law on three general grounds. First, they claimed that to place the administration of the Poor Laws under a centralised body was an infringement of local rights. Secondly, they claimed that the Poor Law Commission lacked specific knowledge of local conditions and tended to adopt an inflexible approach to the problems of poor relief. Thirdly, they charged that the new Poor Law oppressed the poor, was inhumane and even unchristian. Practices such as discontinuing outdoor relief, separation of families, arbitrary punishment and bad food were cited as evidence. While there were some abuses under the new system, Ferrand was certainly overstating his case.

The government defended the new Poor Law with some rigour from Ferrand’s graphic attacks. It argued that the Poor Law Commission only guided policy to ensure certain standards of uniformity and that local management of poor relief was guaranteed by the system of elected Poor Law Guardians. This did not mean rigidity: Sir James Graham stated that it was a ‘plastic system’ that was capable of responding to local needs and conditions. In practice, he argued, however desirable the workhouse test was, ‘it would be cruel in the extreme if [it] was to be made the universal rule’. In fact, in 1841 of the 345,000 people in receipt of relief, only 65,467 were relieved in the workhouse. The government won the debate and the Poor Law Commission was extended for a further five years.

The only other Poor Law legislation of important was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1844. It enacted a new law of bastardy, regulated more clearly the relations between pauper apprentices and their masters, altered the mode of voting for Guardians and their qualifications for office and sponsored district pauper schools. Sporadic anti-Poor Law opposition continued through the life of the government but it never weakened ministerial determination to maintain the new Poor Law system.


[1] D. Fraser (ed.) The New Poor Law in the Nineteenth Century, Macmillan, 1976 is a collection of excellent essays on the operation of the system. M.E. Rose  The  Relief  of Poverty 1834-1914, Macmillan, 2nd ed., 1985 and P. Wood Poverty and the Workhouse in Victorian England, Alan Sutton, 1991 are the  most useful books on the introduction and operation of the ‘new’ poor  law.

[2] John Ward W.B. Ferrand ‘The Working Man’s Friend’ 1809-1889, Tuckwell Press, 2002, especially pages 29-40.

Social Policy: The Poor Laws

In contrast to the government’s fiscal policy, its social policy affecting the poor, the insane, factory and other workers and railway passengers was remarkably cautious. The ministry’s social legislation sought to tidy up the loose administrative ends of existing programmes rather than to advance new ones. Had it not been for the initiatives of Lord Ashley, the record of social legislation during the Peel administration would probably have been less than it was. In spite of its fundamentally cautious approach, the ministry encountered far more opposition for its social legislation than to its fiscal policy. This opposition was due to the controversial nature of the issues involved and partly to the growing disenchantment of some Conservative back-benchers with their leadership.

Poor Law policy exemplified the cautious approach of Peel’s government. There was general agreement in the cabinet that the new Poor Law[1] was a success. Since 1834, it had had the desired effect of implementing a more efficient system of poor relief and lowering poor rates. However, the law was unpopular in the countryside and was an issue in the 1841 election. Some Conservative MPs were pledged to a revision of the new system and in this they were joined by a group of like-minded radicals.

William Busfield Ferrand[2], the Conservative MP for Knaresborough was the most prominent of the anti-Poor Law MPs. He and his supporters objected to the new Poor Law on three general grounds. First, they claimed that to place the administration of the Poor Laws under a centralised body was an infringement of local rights. Secondly, they claimed that the Poor Law Commission lacked specific knowledge of local conditions and tended to adopt an inflexible approach to the problems of poor relief. Thirdly, they charged that the new Poor Law oppressed the poor, was inhumane and even unchristian. Practices such as discontinuing outdoor relief, separation of families, arbitrary punishment and bad food were cited as evidence. While there were some abuses under the new system, Ferrand was certainly overstating his case.

The government defended the new Poor Law with some rigour from Ferrand’s graphic attacks. It argued that the Poor Law Commission only guided policy to ensure certain standards of uniformity and that local management of poor relief was guaranteed by the system of elected Poor Law Guardians. This did not mean rigidity: Sir James Graham stated that it was a ‘plastic system’ that was capable of responding to local needs and conditions. In practice, he argued, however desirable the workhouse test was, ‘it would be cruel in the extreme if [it] was to be made the universal rule’. In fact, in 1841 of the 345,000 people in receipt of relief, only 65,467 were relieved in the workhouse. The government won the debate and the Poor Law Commission was extended for a further five years.

The only other Poor Law legislation of important was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1844. It enacted a new law of bastardy, regulated more clearly the relations between pauper apprentices and their masters, altered the mode of voting for Guardians and their qualifications for office and sponsored district pauper schools. Sporadic anti-Poor Law opposition continued through the life of the government but it never weakened ministerial determination to maintain the new Poor Law system.


[1] D. Fraser (ed.) The New Poor Law in the Nineteenth Century, Macmillan, 1976 is a collection of excellent essays on the operation of the system. M.E. Rose The Relief of Poverty 1834-1914, Macmillan, 2nd ed., 1985 and P. Wood Poverty and the Workhouse in Victorian England, Alan Sutton, 1991 are the most useful books on the introduction and operation of the ‘new’ poor law.

[2] John Ward W.B. Ferrand ‘The Working Man’s Friend’ 1809-1889, Tuckwell Press, 2002, especially pages 29-40.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Peel and Church reform

Peel looked to the Established Church[1] to fulfil its national mission by developing Christian values among the urban masses. In that sense, he looked beyond simply economic solutions to the ‘condition of England’ question. There was growing concern for the spiritual life of the urban population during the 1830s and 1840s and there was clearly an urgent need for the church to extend its physical presence in towns and cities. Progress in this field was hampered by the growing power and assertiveness of the different Nonconformist churches who had adapted to the geographical shift of population away from rural areas with greater speed than the Established Church. In addition, Nonconformity remained concerned about the privileged position of the Church of England and this limited the room for manoeuvre by politicians. Some Conservative MPs were still demanding that public funds should be used for building new churches. Grants for this purpose had been given in 1818 and 1824 but Peel recognised this was no longer a viable political option as it would generate further damaging sectarian conflict. This was evident in Nonconformist antipathy towards the education clauses of Graham’s 1843 Factory Bill.

A Populous Parishes Act was passed in 1843 empowering the Ecclesiastical Commission to create new parishes and provide the necessary stipends (payment for the vicar or curate) out of Church funds but it was clear to Peel that the cost of building new churches would have to be covered by the more efficient use of the Church’s existing resources and charitable contributions. An impressive fund-raising campaign resulted in £25 million being spent on building and restoration work between 1840 and 1876 but this did little to stem the numerical slide of the Church of England in urban and increasingly rural areas. The 1851 Religious Census showed that the Church of England could no longer claim to be the ‘national’ church. It remained strongest in the counties round London and in eastern England, but in some northern and western areas and in Wales chapel-goers were in the majority[2].


[1] For the development of religion in the Victorian period see Owen Chadwick The Victorian Church, two volumes, 1970, 1972 for the standard reading with A. D. Gilbert Religion and Society in Industrial England, Longman, 1976 for a different interpretation. G. Kitson Clark Churchmen and the Condition of England, London, 1973 is an important study of the ‘social’ role of the church. K. S. Inglis Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England, Routledge, 1963 remains perhaps the best study.

[2] On the issue of working class ‘indifference’ and antagonism towards the churches see H. McLeod Religion and the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Britain, Macmillan, 1984 for a brief bibliographical study.   On the position of the Church of England see B. I. Coleman The  Church of England in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: A Social Geography,  The Historical Association, 1980 and ‘Religion in the Victorian City’, History Today, August, 1980.

Peel and Church Reform

Peel looked to the Established Church[1] to fulfil its national mission by developing Christian values among the urban masses. In that sense, he looked beyond simply economic solutions to the ‘condition of England’ question. There was growing concern for the spiritual life of the urban population during the 1830s and 1840s and there was clearly an urgent need for the church to extend its physical presence in towns and cities. Progress in this field was hampered by the growing power and assertiveness of the different Nonconformist churches who had adapted to the geographical shift of population away from rural areas with greater speed than the Established Church. In addition, Nonconformity remained concerned about the privileged position of the Church of England and this limited the room for manoeuvre by politicians. Some Conservative MPs were still demanding that public funds should be used for building new churches. Grants for this purpose had been given in 1818 and 1824 but Peel recognised this was no longer a viable political option as it would generate further damaging sectarian conflict. This was evident in Nonconformist antipathy towards the education clauses of Graham’s 1843 Factory Bill.

A Populous Parishes Act was passed in 1843 empowering the Ecclesiastical Commission to create new parishes and provide the necessary stipends (payment for the vicar or curate) out of Church funds but it was clear to Peel that the cost of building new churches would have to be covered by the more efficient use of the Church’s existing resources and charitable contributions. An impressive fund-raising campaign resulted in £25 million being spent on building and restoration work between 1840 and 1876 but this did little to stem the numerical slide of the Church of England in urban and increasingly rural areas. The 1851 Religious Census showed that the Church of England could no longer claim to be the ‘national’ church. It remained strongest in the counties round London and in eastern England, but in some northern and western areas and in Wales chapel-goers were in the majority[2].


[1] For the development of religion in the Victorian period see Owen Chadwick The Victorian Church, two volumes, 1970, 1972 for the standard reading with A. D. Gilbert Religion and Society in Industrial England, Longman, 1976 for a different interpretation. G. Kitson Clark Churchmen and the Condition of England, London, 1973 is an important study of the ‘social’ role of the church. K. S. Inglis Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England, Routledge, 1963 remains perhaps the best study.

[2] On the issue of working class ‘indifference’ and antagonism towards the churches see H. McLeod Religion and the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Britain, Macmillan, 1984 for a brief bibliographical study. On the position of the Church of England see B. I. Coleman The Church of England in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: A Social Geography, The Historical Association, 1980 and ‘Religion in the Victorian City’, History Today, August, 1980.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Politics and fiscal policy 1837-1846: Peel and budgetary policy 1843-1846

Having established the momentum for tariff reform and tax redistribution in 1842, Peel sought to capitalise on it in subsequent budgets. The 1842 budget did not produce instant results in terms of reviving trade and reducing unemployment. The major disturbances in the manufacturing areas of northern England occurred after the budget and although a good harvest may have helped, the economy remained in a sluggish state through most of 1843. This made further budgetary reductions impossible in 1843 other than the Canada Corn Act that extended the policy established the previous year. Trade revived from 1843 and the boost of reduced duties to consumption soon outran the lower tariff return on each item. In 1844, there was a strong recovery in the economy because of further good harvests and a boom in railway investment and government finance moved into the red by the end of the year.

In the 1844 budget, Peel slashed excise duties on flint glass and vinegar as well as customs duties on coffee and currants. Later in the session, the government took on the sugar duties. These supplied a third of all customs revenues but were protected by the powerful West Indies lobby in the Commons and Peel had to fight hard to reduce them. Opposition from Philip Miles, the sugar interest’s chief parliamentary spokesman jeopardised the government’s proposal to reduce substantially the differential between colonial and foreign sugar. Peel forced the plan through with a threat to resign and managed to reduce the differential still further in 1845.

Further changes took place in 1845. In February, Peel introduced his 1845 budget reporting an estimated budget surplus of £3.6 million, enough to allow the government to dispense with income tax.  However, he proposed that income tax be renewed for a further three years so that the budget surplus could be used to introduce further cuts in indirect taxation. Peel argued that this would promote even greater economic prosperity. All surviving duties on exports were abolished of which coal was the most important. Of the 813 items liable for customs duties, 430 yielding small amounts of revenue disappeared.  Duty on raw cotton was abolished at a cost to the Exchequer of £680,000.  Duties on colonial sugar from the West Indies and foreign sugar were both reduced, sacrificing £1.3 million of revenue.  Excise duties on glass (worth £642,000) and the auction duty (£300,000) were abandoned.

Peel predicted that in three years’ time government revenue from remaining indirect taxes would be so high that he could dispense with income tax. Further reductions followed and when Peel fell in 1846, Britain was almost a free-trading country.  Peel succeeded in establishing the budget as the most effective instrument of his government’s domestic policy. Much of its success was directly due to Peel. Few could match his mastery of financial detail or his imagination in making fresh approaches to perplexing problems. Despite the undoubtedly favourable impression made on Parliament and the country at large by Peel’s budgets, there remained the insistent and nagging back-bench opposition to Peel’s reduction of agricultural protection. Peel’s unrivalled financial skills were never translated into the political arts and he was unwilling to take the time to smooth over his differences with the protectionists. It was a mistake that was to cost him dear in 1846.

Three further measures complemented the government’s budgetary policy: the reduction of the National Debt, the Joint Stock Companies Regulation Act and the Bank Charter Act, all passed in 1844.  Early in the 1844 session, Goulburn opened an attack on the National Debt[1] by proposing a reduction of 3½ per cent consols[2] to 3¼. The immediate gain to the revenue would be £625,000 annually. There was no parliamentary opposition to the scheme and very little among stockbrokers. Upon a conversion of £250 million of stock, only £247,000 was paid off to ‘dissentients’ (as Goulburn called them). It was a very smooth operation and contributed to the government’s reputation as one that shaped the Victorian budgetary tradition of reducing the National Debt and extending free trade.  A similarly easy passage was also accorded the Joint Stock Companies Regulation Act. Since the repeal of the Bubble Act in 1825, joint stock companies had been freed from stringent government regulation. The result was a rapid increase in investment as promoters pressed on clients’ projects of all kinds. However, there were problems caused by the collapse of under-funded companies and the failure of unrealised schemes that caused financial ruin for many individuals. To protect the public from unscrupulous companies, Gladstone, at the Board of Trade brought forward a plan for regulating joint stock companies. It established a Registrar of Companies and all partnerships with more than 25 members and freely transferable shares were required to register. Company directors had to present fully audited balance sheets periodically to the Registrar. These and other regulatory provisions helped protect the public against speculative excesses and created a more responsible climate for company development. This legislation is widely regarded as representing an epoch in the history of English company law. In addition, bankruptcy courts were established.

Bank Charter Act 1844

The baking world was plagued with instability throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1825, 73 banks suspended payments and around 50 collapsed completely. This accelerated the move towards joint stock banking. This made banking safer in that joint stock banks had more partners and were therefore able to accumulate more capital. Despite banking reform in 1833, there were further banking crises in 1836 and 1839. In 1836, the stock market crashed leaving debts unpaid and in 1839 the poor harvest meant that gold was needed to pay for imports of foreign capital. The drain on the reserves was considerable.

The Bank Act of 1819 (also known as Peel’s Act, for his role in its passage) had imposed upon the Bank of England the duty of honouring its notes in gold if asked to do so: the so-called ‘Gold Standard’. In normal times, the bank’s customers did not wish to exchange their notes for gold, and in 1819 Peel had believed that the bank could be trusted to decide how many more notes it would be prudent to put into circulation than it had gold to back. On several occasions, when speculation was rife and sound management was called for, the bank had still been increasing its note issue when prices were rising and gold had already begun to leave the country.

The Bank of England paid too little attention to the state of the foreign exchanges, and the English country banks, which had about one-quarter of the circulation, paid none. The result was that the collapse, when it came, and the consequent business failures and distress were all the greater. Here was another factor bearing upon the condition of England question. Between 1826 and 1844, over-issue by provincial banks had caused the failure of 100 banks or about a quarter of all private or joint-stock bans to issue their own notes. Even this situation did not convince all of the need for change. The so-called ‘banking school’ believed that the volume of currency issued should be left to the bankers to decide and opposed any attempt by government to restrict the quantity of paper money issued. By the 1840s, an alternative view, the ‘currency school’ had gained ground. It believed that the function of a bank was less the transaction of business than the maintenance of a sufficient reserve on behalf of the nation to enable it to meet its liabilities to other countries. If there were too many notes issued, there would be periodic crises of the type seen in 1836 and 1839. Currency advocates believed that note issue ought to be far more closely tied to bullion reserves than the banking school was willing to allow and that the government should decide on the size of the note issue.

As a committed supporter of the currency school, Peel determined to end the discretion allowed to the bank emphasising their larger economic responsibilities. If gold was leaving the country, notes must be withdrawn from circulation until prices fell, British goods became attractive to foreign buyers, and gold returned to the country again to pay for them. The bank’s charter had been renewed in 1833. But there was a break clause, and Peel waited until he could move in and place note issue under statutory control. The result was the Bank Charter Act 1844 which aimed to establish a more stable foundation for the English banking system by preventing the excessive supply of paper money. The Act defined the position of the Bank of England in the British economy very carefully.

There were to be no new banks of issue. Existing country bank (207 private banks and 72 joint-stock banks) issues were frozen at their present levels and no bank that gave up issuing its own notes would ever be allowed to resume.  Note issue would imperceptibly become concentrated in the hands of the Bank of England. This led, by the end of the century, to a Bank of England monopoly. By 1901, there were only 33 private banks and 27 joint-stock banks left and by 1918, with the emergence of the Big Five joint-stock bans, there were few survivors of the country banking era, though the last country notes did not disappear until 1921. The bank itself was to be separated into a banking department and an issue department, the first free, the second regulated.  After August 1844, the Bank’s ability to issue promissory notes in place of cash was confirmed up to £14 million (the minimum amount needed if the business of the country was to continue) had to be backed by bullion reserves (the credit of the British government). Beyond that amount notes were only to be issued when there was gold in hand to back them, and the figures were to be published every week.

The act had interesting overtones. It was a vindication of the right of the state to interfere with powerful interests, and, in a period when other monopolies were being swept aside, it established a new one. It has been criticised in detail for paying too little attention to other negotiable instruments such as cheques and bills of exchange and to the bank’s role as lender of last resort, but it was an excellent demonstration of Peel’s command of an abstruse subject. The act initially applied to England and Wales but was followed in 1845 by comparable measures for Scotland and Ireland. It did help to reduce the severity of crises and lasted until 1914. Peel considered the Bank Charter Act 1844 as one of his most important achievements.

Assessing Peel’s fiscal policies

Peel recognised the contribution made by the non-agrarian sectors of the economy and endeavoured to stimulate manufacturing and trade and so improve the material well-being of many working people. Britain could not go back to being an agrarian nation and Peel expected the newly revolutionised sectors of the industrial economy to soon outstrip farming. Significantly, Peel does not seem to have envisaged an indefinite expansion of the industrial sector. Parallel to this was his commitment to preserving the political rule of the aristocracy that depended for its economic and political strength on agriculture. This suggests that Peel did not understand that industrial expansion was destined to finally subjugate the agrarian classes. For Peel, his fiscal policies were simply designed to restore prosperity to the existing manufacturing sector and as a result promote social stability and tranquillity. They were, in part therefore simply a way of resolving the current economic and political problems: short-term rather than visionary.

In many respects, Peel had an essentially ‘static vision’ of the economy, a self-regulating machine. This contrasts with the ‘growth-oriented’ perspective associated with individuals such as Richard Cobden. The Bank Charter Act 1844 illustrates this point. Had the measure operated as Peel intended, its effect would have been deflationary since it restricted the scope of banks to finance economic growth and diversification by placing a limit on the issue of currency over £14 million. That this did not occur is down to new gold discoveries from the late 1840s (much of which found its way into the Bank of England’s reserves, enabling note supply to increase) and the development of alternative forms of ‘money’ such as cheques and bills of exchange. It was these, not Peel’s policies that fostered expansionary economic conditions in the 1850s and 1860s.


[1] The national debt is the total amount of debt the government has on its book. Most of the national debt is in the form of government issued bonds

[2] Consols (consolidated annuities) are British government bonds, most commonly used in the 19th and early 20th century, when they constituted the major part of the British national debt.

Politics and fiscal policy 1837-1846: Peel and budgetary policy 1843-1846

Having established the momentum for tariff reform and tax redistribution in 1842, Peel sought to capitalise on it in subsequent budgets. The 1842 budget did not produce instant results in terms of reviving trade and reducing unemployment. The major disturbances in the manufacturing areas of northern England occurred after the budget and although a good harvest may have helped, the economy remained in a sluggish state through most of 1843. This made further budgetary reductions impossible in 1843 other than the Canada Corn Act that extended the policy established the previous year. Trade revived from 1843 and the boost of reduced duties to consumption soon outran the lower tariff return on each item. In 1844, there was a strong recovery in the economy because of further good harvests and a boom in railway investment and government finance moved into the red by the end of the year.

In the 1844 budget, Peel slashed excise duties on flint glass and vinegar as well as customs duties on coffee and currants. Later in the session, the government took on the sugar duties. These supplied a third of all customs revenues but were protected by the powerful West Indies lobby in the Commons and Peel had to fight hard to reduce them. Opposition from Philip Miles, the sugar interest’s chief parliamentary spokesman jeopardised the government’s proposal to reduce substantially the differential between colonial and foreign sugar. Peel forced the plan through with a threat to resign and managed to reduce the differential still further in 1845.

Further changes took place in 1845. In February, Peel introduced his 1845 budget reporting an estimated budget surplus of £3.6 million, enough to allow the government to dispense with income tax. However, he proposed that income tax be renewed for a further three years so that the budget surplus could be used to introduce further cuts in indirect taxation. Peel argued that this would promote even greater economic prosperity. All surviving duties on exports were abolished of which coal was the most important. Of the 813 items liable for customs duties, 430 yielding small amounts of revenue disappeared. Duty on raw cotton was abolished at a cost to the Exchequer of £680,000. Duties on colonial sugar from the West Indies and foreign sugar were both reduced, sacrificing £1.3 million of revenue. Excise duties on glass (worth £642,000) and the auction duty (£300,000) were abandoned.

Peel predicted that in three years’ time government revenue from remaining indirect taxes would be so high that he could dispense with income tax. Further reductions followed and when Peel fell in 1846, Britain was almost a free-trading country. Peel succeeded in establishing the budget as the most effective instrument of his government’s domestic policy. Much of its success was directly due to Peel. Few could match his mastery of financial detail or his imagination in making fresh approaches to perplexing problems. Despite the undoubtedly favourable impression made on Parliament and the country at large by Peel’s budgets, there remained the insistent and nagging back-bench opposition to Peel’s reduction of agricultural protection. Peel’s unrivalled financial skills were never translated into the political arts and he was unwilling to take the time to smooth over his differences with the protectionists. It was a mistake that was to cost him dear in 1846.

Three further measures complemented the government’s budgetary policy: the reduction of the National Debt, the Joint Stock Companies Regulation Act and the Bank Charter Act, all passed in 1844. Early in the 1844 session, Goulburn opened an attack on the National Debt[1] by proposing a reduction of 3½ per cent consols[2] to 3¼. The immediate gain to the revenue would be £625,000 annually. There was no parliamentary opposition to the scheme and very little among stockbrokers. Upon a conversion of £250 million of stock, only £247,000 was paid off to ‘dissentients’ (as Goulburn called them). It was a very smooth operation and contributed to the government’s reputation as one that shaped the Victorian budgetary tradition of reducing the National Debt and extending free trade. A similarly easy passage was also accorded the Joint Stock Companies Regulation Act. Since the repeal of the Bubble Act in 1825, joint stock companies had been freed from stringent government regulation. The result was a rapid increase in investment as promoters pressed on clients’ projects of all kinds. However, there were problems caused by the collapse of under-funded companies and the failure of unrealised schemes that caused financial ruin for many individuals. To protect the public from unscrupulous companies, Gladstone, at the Board of Trade brought forward a plan for regulating joint stock companies. It established a Registrar of Companies and all partnerships with more than 25 members and freely transferable shares were required to register. Company directors had to present fully audited balance sheets periodically to the Registrar. These and other regulatory provisions helped protect the public against speculative excesses and created a more responsible climate for company development. This legislation is widely regarded as representing an epoch in the history of English company law. In addition, bankruptcy courts were established.

Bank Charter Act 1844

The baking world was plagued with instability throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1825, 73 banks suspended payments and around 50 collapsed completely. This accelerated the move towards joint stock banking. This made banking safer in that joint stock banks had more partners and were therefore able to accumulate more capital. Despite banking reform in 1833, there were further banking crises in 1836 and 1839. In 1836, the stock market crashed leaving debts unpaid and in 1839 the poor harvest meant that gold was needed to pay for imports of foreign capital. The drain on the reserves was considerable.

The Bank Act of 1819 (also known as Peel’s Act, for his role in its passage) had imposed upon the Bank of England the duty of honouring its notes in gold if asked to do so: the so-called ‘Gold Standard’. In normal times, the bank’s customers did not wish to exchange their notes for gold, and in 1819 Peel had believed that the bank could be trusted to decide how many more notes it would be prudent to put into circulation than it had gold to back. On several occasions, when speculation was rife and sound management was called for, the bank had still been increasing its note issue when prices were rising and gold had already begun to leave the country.

The Bank of England paid too little attention to the state of the foreign exchanges, and the English country banks, which had about one-quarter of the circulation, paid none. The result was that the collapse, when it came, and the consequent business failures and distress were all the greater. Here was another factor bearing upon the condition of England question. Between 1826 and 1844, over-issue by provincial banks had caused the failure of 100 banks or about a quarter of all private or joint-stock bans to issue their own notes. Even this situation did not convince all of the need for change. The so-called ‘banking school’ believed that the volume of currency issued should be left to the bankers to decide and opposed any attempt by government to restrict the quantity of paper money issued. By the 1840s, an alternative view, the ‘currency school’ had gained ground. It believed that the function of a bank was less the transaction of business than the maintenance of a sufficient reserve on behalf of the nation to enable it to meet its liabilities to other countries. If there were too many notes issued, there would be periodic crises of the type seen in 1836 and 1839. Currency advocates believed that note issue ought to be far more closely tied to bullion reserves than the banking school was willing to allow and that the government should decide on the size of the note issue.

As a committed supporter of the currency school, Peel determined to end the discretion allowed to the bank emphasising their larger economic responsibilities. If gold was leaving the country, notes must be withdrawn from circulation until prices fell, British goods became attractive to foreign buyers, and gold returned to the country again to pay for them. The bank’s charter had been renewed in 1833. But there was a break clause, and Peel waited until he could move in and place note issue under statutory control. The result was the Bank Charter Act 1844 which aimed to establish a more stable foundation for the English banking system by preventing the excessive supply of paper money. The Act defined the position of the Bank of England in the British economy very carefully.

There were to be no new banks of issue. Existing country bank (207 private banks and 72 joint-stock banks) issues were frozen at their present levels and no bank that gave up issuing its own notes would ever be allowed to resume. Note issue would imperceptibly become concentrated in the hands of the Bank of England. This led, by the end of the century, to a Bank of England monopoly. By 1901, there were only 33 private banks and 27 joint-stock banks left and by 1918, with the emergence of the Big Five joint-stock bans, there were few survivors of the country banking era, though the last country notes did not disappear until 1921. The bank itself was to be separated into a banking department and an issue department, the first free, the second regulated. After August 1844, the Bank’s ability to issue promissory notes in place of cash was confirmed up to £14 million (the minimum amount needed if the business of the country was to continue) had to be backed by bullion reserves (the credit of the British government). Beyond that amount notes were only to be issued when there was gold in hand to back them, and the figures were to be published every week.

The act had interesting overtones. It was a vindication of the right of the state to interfere with powerful interests, and, in a period when other monopolies were being swept aside, it established a new one. It has been criticised in detail for paying too little attention to other negotiable instruments such as cheques and bills of exchange and to the bank’s role as lender of last resort, but it was an excellent demonstration of Peel’s command of an abstruse subject. The act initially applied to England and Wales but was followed in 1845 by comparable measures for Scotland and Ireland. It did help to reduce the severity of crises and lasted until 1914. Peel considered the Bank Charter Act 1844 as one of his most important achievements.

Assessing Peel’s fiscal policies

Peel recognised the contribution made by the non-agrarian sectors of the economy and endeavoured to stimulate manufacturing and trade and so improve the material well-being of many working people. Britain could not go back to being an agrarian nation and Peel expected the newly revolutionised sectors of the industrial economy to soon outstrip farming. Significantly, Peel does not seem to have envisaged an indefinite expansion of the industrial sector. Parallel to this was his commitment to preserving the political rule of the aristocracy that depended for its economic and political strength on agriculture. This suggests that Peel did not understand that industrial expansion was destined to finally subjugate the agrarian classes. For Peel, his fiscal policies were simply designed to restore prosperity to the existing manufacturing sector and as a result promote social stability and tranquillity. They were, in part therefore simply a way of resolving the current economic and political problems: short-term rather than visionary.

In many respects, Peel had an essentially ‘static vision’ of the economy, a self-regulating machine. This contrasts with the ‘growth-oriented’ perspective associated with individuals such as Richard Cobden. The Bank Charter Act 1844 illustrates this point. Had the measure operated as Peel intended, its effect would have been deflationary since it restricted the scope of banks to finance economic growth and diversification by placing a limit on the issue of currency over £14 million. That this did not occur is down to new gold discoveries from the late 1840s (much of which found its way into the Bank of England’s reserves, enabling note supply to increase) and the development of alternative forms of ‘money’ such as cheques and bills of exchange. It was these, not Peel’s policies that fostered expansionary economic conditions in the 1850s and 1860s.


[1] The national debt is the total amount of debt the government has on its book. Most of the national debt is in the form of government issued bonds

[2] Consols (consolidated annuities) are British government bonds, most commonly used in the 19th and early 20th century, when they constituted the major part of the British national debt.