HC Deb 19 March 1811 vol 19 cc422-3
Sir James Graham

having moved the second reading of the Bill for the relief and regulation of the Poor of the parish of Spilsby, and other parishes and places in the parts of Lindsey, in the county of Lincoln,

Sir Samuel Romilly

said, that however singular the clauses to be found in Bills of the nature of the present frequently were, there were clauses in the present Bill so unusual, as to call in a particular manner for the attention of the House. This Bill enabled the governor and master of the Spilsby Poor-house to punish at pleasure the poor under their charge, by solitary confinement, and other most severe punishments, for no reason but their having misbehaved themselves. He then proceeded to read a clause of the Bill, by which, if the poor should be guilty of profane cursing and swearing, disorderly behaviour, or riot and drunkenness, or neglecting or refusing to perform their work, they were to be punished with solitary confinement, abatement of diet, or the stocks, at the discretion of the governor. But this is not the only singular clause. The Bill also empowered the punishing for damaging the house or fences, as for a felony, or petty larceny. And what was unexampled in this country, the directors were to have a power of letting out the poor to any person, who, for his 9d. a day, might be disposed to extract profit from the feeble limbs and worn-out bodies of these unfortunate persons, somewhat in the same manner as job-negroes were let out in the colonies. What was yet more extraordinary, they were empowered to contract with all the other parishes of the county of Lincoln, the second most extensive county in England, for their, poor, who were to be compelled to go into this House of Industry, and be let out and punished in the same manner; so that the Spilsby House of Industry was to be a great mart for the pauper slaves of the county of Lincoln. Now, having seen the severity of this Act, he wished the House to look at its lenity; for, if severe to the paupers, to others it was lenity itself. Should the governor, clerk, or any other officer, purloin the work tools, or any of the chattels of the house, a crime which was felony by law, the punishment was to be only a fine of three times the amount, or a short confinement. Now, what was the remedy provided by the Bill against any abuse of power? Should any person be wrongfully confined in solitary confinement for a mouth, or a longer period, (and what a severe punishment solitary confinement must, for such a period, be to a person of an uncultivated mind, it was not necessary to remind the Home,) if the poor person so wronged could be fortunate enough to find an attorney in the place willing to undertake his cause, it was in his power to bring an action against such governor, &c.; but the period within which this action could be brought was limited to one month after the offence.

Sir James Graham

declared that he did not know such clauses were in the Bill, or he certainly would not have moved the second reading. He did not believe the hon. members for Boston and for Derby, who had taken charge of the Bill, and in whose absence he moved, were acquainted with what had been stated by the hon. and learned gent. He should, therefore, in order to give the parties an opportunity to consider this extraordinary Bill, move, That it be read a second time that day se'nnight.—Which was agreed to.