The Combination Acts of 1799-1800, dating from William Pitt’s government and the French Wars, were repealed in 1824 by the government following prompting by MPs Joseph Hume and Sir Francis Burdett, as well as pressure from outside the Commons by Francis Place, a trade union leader. The laws had been seen as ineffective and their implementation was lastluster.
The Combination Acts had:
- Made interfering with trade and commerce illegal
- Prevented groups of workers or tradesmen demanding better wages collectively
- Prevented the formation of societies or groupings with the goal of political reform.
- Set the punishment for breaking the act as three months in jail
While the combination acts had established legal definitions which allowed quicker processing, combinations were by default illegal prior to the act. The main affect had been to move trials to before a JP rather than requiring waiting for an Assize.
The Combination Laws were largely unused because the punishment allowed by them was not a harsh as under other laws which the same acts could be prosecuted under, which allowed the sentence of a seven year transportation.
Even before their repeal their impact had been further muted by Lord Liverpool’s government
Nevertheless the effect of the repeal was to allow trade unions which had previously had an semi-underground and clandestine existence to become open, legal organisations. This played a role in the increase in strikes which took place shortly afterwards.
In 1825 a new Act was passed in response to this which set limits on trade union activity. This was joined by the passing of a 1825 Factory Act, similar to other previous acts in its small scope and reliance on local government enactment.
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