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lunations, while interposing (though most inefficiently at present) the arm of the State to protect the general public against imposture, the shareholders against the consequences of involuntary ignorance, and creditors against the fraud or accidents from which their own vigilance can only imperfectly defend them.
(3) Closely akin to the principles of legislation recently assumed in the case of public Companies, are those which have been progressively elaborated for the case of railway construction and management. Soon after the first infection of what is now historically known as the railway mania, and before many of the innumerable projects had actually been brought into working order, Sir Robert Peel's Government interposed, in 1844, and introduced the Railway Act of that year, upon which all the later Parliamentary policy in this respect has been founded. The part of the Act, indeed, which provided that if within a certain fixed time the profits of any railway were found permanently to exceed ten per cent., the Lords of the Treasury might, on guaranteeing for a time ten per cent, profit, reduce fares in the interest of the public, and which secured to Government the option of purchasing, under certain circumstances, and by an Act of Parliament to be obtained for the purpose, railways yet to be constructed, has been rendered abortive, partly through the sanguine expectations of that day not being fulfilled, and partly through the policy of Government interference with locomotive enterprises being a matter of unsettled controversy. But the real importance of the Act of 1844 was that it expressed or inaugurated the constitutional position, that the poorest and most dependent citizen has a claim not only to have his vested rights of free
and cheap locomotion along the Queen's highroads, or such substitutes for them as the Legislature may from t ime to time introduce, protected by Parliament, but to share, in some proportionate though perhaps indefinite measure, in the advantages of cheapness, rapidity, ease, and safety which the progress of invention and the support of Parliament combined enable railway companies to achieve. The supervision of the Board of Trade, provided for by the Act of 1844, and since supplemented by the facile judicial mechanism of the Railway Commission, of itself emphasizes the direct and continuous concern of the State in railway management. The provisions contained in the original Act, and in later amending Acts, for cheap Parliamentary trains with third-class carriages covered from the weather, and stopping at convenient places, and for the limitation of the amount of third-class fares, quite as much as the legislative provision for the conveyance of the mails and of military and police forces at certain charges, and for the construction of electric telegraphs under fixed conditions, establish that railway administration is becoming more and more, in fact if not in name, a department of the State, the conduct of which is distributed between State officials and a certain number of private persons, who voluntarily submit themselves to the conditions imposed by law, for the recompense of being admitted to enjoy the speculative advantages of the enterprise. The later policy of Parliament in taking to itself, in the hands of the Government of the day, the entire management of the electric telegraph communication, is a development of the same principle which some persons would note as a hazardous decline towards centralisation. But in truth, the constitutional mean
ing of the principle involved in all these cases is, that in the great rush of modern inventions and speculative enterprise, the ambition and avarice of special classes of society are likely to have, especially at the outset of a novel enterprise, enormous advantages when brought into competition with the silent and obscure claims of the more dependent classes of the community generally. In such cases the only existing and the only competent friend of the over-ridden weak, and of the neglected poor, is the State, as personated at the time by Parliament. By their laboriously devised and, it may truly be said, laboriously worked machinery of Select Committees, both Houses of Parliament show that they are true to their function of protecting those who cannot protect themselves, not only on the occasion of new railway schemes being propounded, but on any allegation being made of grievances inflicted by existing railway companies. The task engaged in by these Committees was at one time so ponderous as to threaten to absorb the bulk of the time at the disposal of members ; and in spite of the disproportionate amount of representation which the Directorate of railways still secures in the House of Commons, it is to the credit of that House that its responsibilities towards the public in respect of checking, supervising, and controlling new and old companies, are unflinchingly recognised.
(4) The principle of Government interference on behalf of dependent classes of the community, and in the case of industrial enterprises of a constantly increasing magnitude and public importance, is further illustrated by the history of factory legislation, from the Bills and Acts of 1843-45, to Mr. Cross's Consolidation and Amending Act relating to 'factories and workshops' in 1878. The policy of factory legislation, and of the analogous legislation as applied to workshops, and to some extent to agricultural labour, has contemplated several objects, distinct from one another, and of very different degrees of public utility. The original aims of this legislation seem to have been two; that of getting rid of the brutality which attended the employment of women and children in industrial occupations believed to be unsuited for them, as exhibited in the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842; and that of providing for the religious and moral education of the young, as exhibited in Lord Ashley's motion, on the 28th of February, 1843, for an address to the Queen in reference to the subject. But as the policy of protecting women and children became more familiar, and its superficial benefits more conspicuous, Parliament has not taken its stand at the point at which brutality and total educational neglect commence, but has repeatedly endeavoured so to supervise the labour of operatives, especially of women, as to substitute a rigid rule for the flexible arrangements of private contract, thereby driving women away from what in the multitude of cases might be harmless and economically advantageous fields of labour, with the remoter consequence of thinning the labour market, raising prices, and expelling a variety of manufactures to other countries. The subject, of course, is not without its perplexities, and appeals, on the face of it, to a short-sighted and superficial philanthropy. It is thus that Miss Martineau1 characterises the political shortcomings, while explaining the immediate objects, of the system of factory laws.
Miss Martineau on Factory Legislation. 133
'As for the factory legislation, it is almost as me1 lancholy to witness the efforts made to cure the evils 'of our over-wrought competitive system as to con'template the evils themselves. First, we have allowed 'our operative population to grow up, in less ignorance 'than some other classes, it is true, hut with a wholly 'insufficient knowledge of their own condition and lia'hilities. They have overcrowded the labour-market, 'so as to be compelled to work harder, not than other 'classes of labourers who earn smaller wages, but than 'is good for anybody to' labour; and then we try to 'mend the matter by forbidding them to sell more 'than a given amount of their labour. It is not thus 'that the excessive competition which is the cause of * the mischief can be reduced; and the true friends of 'the working freeman felt that he lost nothing, while 'he retained his liberty, by the failure of Lord Ashley's 'ten-hour measures of 1844.'
Though of late years growing scruples have been felt, and represented in Parliament in speeches and petitions, about the policy of pressing forward the factory-law system, especially as directed to the restriction of women and of children a little below the limiting age, the latest legislation on the subject seems to show that no practical change is yet contemplated; and the whole of this class of legislation proves that Parliament still claims a constitutional competence to revert, if need were, to as disastrous an interference with private industry and trade as that of which the legislation of the early Edwards was a flagrant and hortatory instance.
(5) The policy and constitutional attitude of Parliament affects the social economy of the country in no