HC Deb 08 June 1815 vol 31 cc0-690
Mr. Rose

, in pursuance of his motion, rose to call the attention of the House to the mendicity of the metropolis. He believed as accurate information had been obtained on that subject as it would well admit of. A Mr. Martin, a respectable gentleman in this neighbourhood, and well known to many members of this House, had, with the greatest industry, compiled an account of the numbers and description of people in a medicant state in the metropolis and its vicinity, an account which he was ready to submit to the House. According to this account there were, on the whole, somewhat more than 15,000 persons in the metropolis and its immediate neighbourhood who subsisted by begging. They were divided in this manner. The persons who had settlements in the metropolis or neighbourhood, amounted to 6,690; of this number 4,150 were children, and 2,540 adults. There were besides 2,604 persons who had settlements in different parts of the country, that is in England; of these 1,374 were adults, and 1,230 children. Of the persons who had no settlements in this kingdom there were 5,310 Irish, of whom 3,273 were children, and 2,037 adults. The Scotch amounted to 504, of whom 309 were children, and 195 adults. The persons who had no settlements in any of these kingdoms, amounted to 177. The result gave nearly 6,000 adults, and 9,000 children. They were not all of them beggars, but some were artificers who earned as much as 40s. a week when in health, but who, from not being members of any friendly society, were left unprovided for when unable at any time to work. Allowing for the maintenance of these people, sixpence a day for such as were adults, and threepence a day for the children—the whole would amount to 100,000l. a year. But he was persuaded that the gains of these people were actually much greater; and the result of his inquiry was, that he would state the sums of money received very low if he allowed 3s. a day to each. He knew, however, to an absolute certainty, that many of them received considerably more than this; but 3s. a day would make somewhat about 328,000l. a year, supposing only the adults to receive it, and putting the children out of the question. The inconvenience to the public was notorious, not only from being incommoded by these persons in the streets (which was the least part of the evil), but from their having no regular means of subsistence, it was clear that the children must be brought up in habits of idleness, vice, and misery. Their system of education was most pernicious. This class of persons never sent their children to school; for the children were instruments in their hands to obtain relief by importunity. That schools were of the utmost advantage to the children of the poor, there could be no doubt; there were even instances of these children actually reforming their parents: he was acquainted with several instances of this description. There were many schools about the metropolis on a very extensive scale—the school for the children of Soldiers—the Royal Naval Asylum: there was one in Westminster for not less than one thousand children, which owed its existence chiefly to the Speaker, in conjunction with the late master of Westminster-school. Such schools were deserving of every degree of encouragement. A good deal of attention had also been paid to the situation of the poor of the capital and its neighbourhood. There was the association with which Mr. Martin was connected:—a number of gentlemen were authorized to deliver tickets to those people whom they might find begging; they carried their tickets to Mr. Martin's house, who made inquiry into their character, and if he found they were persons deserving of relief, they obtained assistance from him. In addition to this, there was an establishment which was called The Stranger's Friend, not generally known, but which was admirably conducted. The persons themselves went about town, and informed themselves as to the situation of various paupers, whose modesty would not allow them to beg in the common way, and gave them relief. There was another institution, called The Refuge for the Destitute, which was better known than the former. There was also another lately established, called The Irish Benevolent Society. His intention was to propose to the House to appoint a committee to consider the State of Mendicity in the Metropolis. If this should be agreed to, he would, in the first place propose, that the committee should endeavour to ascertain the fact of the extent of the evil. It was at least deserving of attention to try if some means could not be devised for remedying it. When the wisest and best of men had failed, it would be presumptuous to suppose that complete success could be expected; but still he thought something might be done. Nearly 7,000 of these people had settlements in or near the metropolis. The law of the country had provided a remedy for that. With respect to those who had settlements in the country, the same thing might be done with them. The next class was those who belonged to Scotland and Ireland; those from Scotland were few in number, and might be sent back to that country. But with respect to Ireland the difficulty was much greater, as they were more numerous, and in Ireland there were no poor-rates. In Scotland there were means of relief for the poor; and though there were no poor-rates generally in that country, yet the law was on that subject precisely the same as in England. Of the foreigners, many of them might be sent home to their own countries. There were often to be seen seamen begging with one arm only, or one leg. Knowing the false imputation which they brought on the country, he had often spoken to such persons, who admitted that they received a pension of 8l. a year. These were the most importunate of all beggars. After alluding to Edinburgh and Hamburgh, where mendicity was prevented, the right hon. gentleman concluded with moving, "That a committee be appointed to inquire into the state of Mendicity in the Metropolis and its immediate neighbourhood, and to report the same, together with their observations thereupon, to the House."

Mr. Hammersley

thought that an establishment on the same plan as the House of Industry in Dublin might be serviceable in this country, as it would give an opportunity at once to refer all mendicants to a certain place.

Sir M. W. Ridley

approved of Mr. Martin's plan. Of the tickets given to paupers, four out of five were never brought to the office, as the mendicants dreaded the inquiries which would be made. If that institution were more known and further extended, he thought it would materially tend to check and lessen the number of beggars. He alluded to the soldiers who pretended to have been blinded by the ophthalmia in Egypt, and who exposed themselves in a disgusting manner in the streets.

Mr. Peel

was doubtful whether it would be politic to extend an establishment like the House of Industry in Dublin to this country. It cost 50,000l. a year, and relief was given to every person that applied, because there were no poor-rates: but if he was to judge of its efficacy from the state of mendicity in Dublin, his opinion would be far from favourable, as there was no city in which mendicity prevailed to such a degree as in the Irish capital.

Sir J. Newport

preferred the plan of work-houses like those in existence at Cork, and other places, in which a previous examination took place before paupers were admitted. To extend an establishment in which no inquiry was allowed, would merely extend beggary.

Mr. Lockhart

thought that if mendicants were prevented from begging, many of them would resort to more dangerous practices. They would spread into the country, would avoid well-regulated towns, and we should hear of their devastations in places where the police was less active, or not so well conducted. He doubted whether all charitable institutions had not a tendency to create the evil which they were intended to relieve.

Mr. Rose

said, it was desirable that the respective parishes should take care of their own poor. Nobody was more averse than himself to remove any person while he could maintain himself; and he had first introduced a law to that effect.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to detain the House but a very few moments; but he could not help bearing testimony to the assiduity and diligence of the gentleman who had principally conducted the plan of the mendicity inquiry, first under the auspices of lord Pelham, and subsequently under those of lord Sid mouth. He would not entertain too sanguine hopes of an entire remedy being provided for the evil; but be that as it might, he thought it a subject highly deserving of such consideration, as was doe to the benevolence of the individual who had conducted it, and that the mass of information which he knew to have been already collected, would be of great use to the committee which should be appointed to consider the subject.

After a few further observations from sir John Sebright, Mr. Alderman Atkins, and sir Charles Monck, the motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed accordingly.