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4-239 (Text)

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addressee author,male,Parkes, Henry,76
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Clark, 1975
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I desire to be very distinctly understood on the character and principles of a piece of legislation of this kind. I hold that the duty of the legislature is to take every precaution which wisdom and humanity can dictate to preserve the health, to protect the lives of, and afford the amplest security to men working in coal-mines.  I recognise the exceptional danger of the avocation, and this bill was introduced with the twofold object of giving all fair guarantee to men possessed of capital in their investments, and at the same time of preserving the rights and the health of the persons employed in the coal-mines. The principle of eight hours was introduced in the peculiar way which I have named. Now, with regard to the apportionment of time in the lives of men who labour, I cannot be suspected of being an enemy to the eight hours system, for I was the first man of any position whatever in this country who advocated eight hours as a day's labour.  I say here what I have said many a time and often, that civilisation itself would lose its charm and its value to me if it, as it went on, did not lighten the burden of those who labour, if it did not lighten the burden of the masses of humanity. I trust the time will come when, in the progress of enlightenment, the necessity for toil will be greatly reduced. I can see no satisfactory object in the ordinary course of moral development if that does not come about. But I distinguished very broadly between eight hours being sufficient for a man to labour and Parliament presuming to say how many hours he shall labour. The economic question of how long a man shall labour in the twenty-four hours disappears from my mind when you conjure up some power of Parliament, which I deny exists, to fix the hours of a man's labour. If that creature, endowed with divine capacity, a human being, who we are told on the highest authority was created in the image of God himself, has any right in the whole world, it is the right to dispose of his own life so long as he injures no other human being. I deny that any human institution such as Parliament has the moral power to limit the time he thinks well to labour. It seems to me that the question of what is a sufficient period for toil disappears altogether, and another question arises whether Parliament has the right to say to a man, "You shall labour eight hours, but no longer"? If it has that right it has the right to say, "You shall labour eighteen hours." The question is not whether eight hours or ten hours shall be a day's labour, but whether Parliament has the right to say to a human creature - a creature endowed with the divine capacity for reason - "You shall work for a given number of hours." If you once establish that, you establish not the eight hours system, but the right of Parliament to fix ten hours, twelve hours, fourteen hours, or any number of hours as a day's labour. It is because I feel that is an act of tyranny - which I deny that any Parliament in the world has the moral right to carry - that I am opposed to legislation to fix the hours of labour. Nor is it wanted. The working-classes of this country are sufficiently strong to make good - indeed they have made good - their will to work eight hours without asking Parliament to prostitute itself, to exercise the power which in all moral justice it does not possess, to say how many hours a man endowed with reason, infused with that divine element called life, is to labour.  The true freedom of a man is to dispose of his time and of this life as best consults his own convenience, and to violate that freedom is an act of tyranny - a parliament may do it, but a parliament has often done most wicked and abominable things, and it cannot do this thing without violating the laws of God, which made man absolutely free to do the best he can for himself. Hence, then, while I would go with the workers - that is, with the masses of my fellow human creatures - to lighten their burden to the utmost of my power by all moral means, and while I contend that moral means are sufficient, I deny the right of any parliament under the sun to fix the hours of labour. Now, I come to this bill. On my sick bed, when I could not leave it, I remonstrated with my colleague at what was then done, and I told him the other evening that we could not go beyond what had been done. I explained to him that it was quite justifiable to limit the hours of labour, to prevent injury to growing youth. I agree to that entirely.
Mr. J. D. FITZGERALD: Interfering with liberty again!
Sir HENRY PARKES: Unless I can have a fair hearing, I cannot proceed with my remarks. My voice is not so strong as formerly; my strength is not so great as it was even two years ago, and I do not like senseless interruptions. I am trying to state, as clearly as I can, what my views really are. I entirely concur in limiting the hours of labour in the case of growing youth. It is necessary to prevent injury, to their health. The community has an interest in, the sound growth of the rising generation. It is desirable that every child should become a healthy and strong man or woman, and for the sake of society, as well as of individuals, the principle of the English Factories Act is perfectly justified. I go further than that: I am willing to limit the hours of labour for adults who have to work in an atmosphere inimical to health. I entirely concur in that; but I draw the widest possible distinction between that and statutory regulation as to how a hale, ordinary man should dispose of his time under the ordinary circumstances of society.
These principles live for ever, and one of those principles is the inalienable freedom of every human being, who is brought into this world, and any one who makes an assault upon this individual freedom, whether he knows it or not, is in his heart and soul in all essential respects as great a tyrant as the Emperor Nero. Tyranny is an arbitrary interference with your fellow-men - the compelling your fellow-men to do a thing which their honest reason and just judgment tells them they ought not to do; and whether it is in the guise of a trades-union or the edict of an autocrat - Say the autocrat of all the Russians - it is tyranny just the same in all its elements.  And freedom is the power uninterfered with by anybody, untouched by anybody, protected by honest laws for every man born into a free state, to do what he thinks best for his own individual advancement and the advancement of his fellows.