§ Mr. Cobbett
presented Petitions from High Wycombe, and another place for the repeal of the Poor Law Bill. Referring to the statement contained in one of those petitions, he said that it 1026 was true that the landed aristocracy of England had made encroachments on the rights of the people, and that he should be glad that, by an act of Parliament, the rights of the people should be restored to them, rather than by their own act, but if not by an act of Parliament, he wished to see them regain those rights by their own act. The hon. Member then presented a petition from the inhabitants of Hounslow, praying for a repeal of the Poor Law Amendment. Act. The petitioners set forth several instances of barbarous and cruel treatment of poor persons under the operations of this Bill, and adverted to the results of several coroner's inquests in the neighbourhood of London held upon the bodies of infants, and in which it had been determined that child murder had been the consequence of that measure. The hon. Member then adverted to the situation of a parish in Sussex, and censured the conduct of the Duke of Richmond who had induced a parish of Sussex to expend 2,000l. upon additions to the poor-house, one of the avowed objects being to put an end to the horrible system of bastardy. The noble Duke seemed to forget that he was himself sprung from a bastard, and that he was only noble because he had sprung from a bastard.
§ The Speaker
was understood to say that such observations were not consistent with the decorum usually observed in debate.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, if he had trespassed upon decorum, he hoped that this was a case where it might be excused. If he had so offended in any matter relating to himself, the insult would have been unpardonable. Reverting to the Poor Law Act, he charged the House with having adopted its monstrous provisions without inquiry or consideration. He had also petitions of the same kind from Yarmouth; but notwithstanding the circumstances were pressing, he feared he should not be able to bring forward the motion, of which he had given notice for the day after to-morrow.
§ Major Beauclerk
wished to repeat a question he had before put to the hon. and learned Attorney-General. A question had arisen as to the power of the guardians of the poor, to separate in their workhouses the husband from the wife, and when he had before alleged that such power was given by the Poor Law Act, he had been contradicted by the hon. and learned Member for Bath. He now wished 1027 to know from his Majesty's Attorney General whether or not such power was conferred by the provisions of the act?
§ The Attorney-General
said it was impossible for him to give a correct answer to such a question without notice.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that he, in common with every man in the House, most deeply deplored such occurrences as had taken place under the operation of the Poor Law Act, but as the hon. Member for Oldham had given notice of a day on which he would submit a motion with reference to the repeal of that measure, it was scarcely fair to prejudge, and condemn it on the incidental presentation of a petition. He (Mr. Hume) was as anxious as any man that the suffering portion of the poorer classes of the community should be relieved, and it was with that view that he had supported that Bill. He must repeat his dissent from prejudging a measure without discussion, but he would venture to state (from what had already been submitted to him) that proof would be afforded to the House, that the operation of the Bill wherever its provisions had been carried into effect had been beneficial; he therefore did hope, for the present at least, that neither the hon. Member for Oldham, nor any other person, would call it a barbarous Bill.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
inquired whether it was the intention of the hon. Member for Oldham, to bring forward the Question of the repeal of the Poor Law Act? If the hon. Member did mean to do so, and fairly to take the opinion of the House upon it, he ought to refrain from any observations in deterioration of the measure on the presentation of a petition, an occasion upon which it was impossible the opinion of the House could be fairly taken on such a subject. He must say, it was not quite decorous so to treat an important Question, but he should not have troubled the House with any observation, except to guard against the possibility of his silence, and that of the Government, being construed into an acquiescence in the charge which had been made against the measure.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, that he had given notice of his intention to move for the repeal of the Poor Law Bill for Thursday next. He should, however, defer it until the Government had some chance of being more firmly settled than they were at present, and he therefore now gave notice 1028 that on Thursday, the 2nd of July, he should move for the repeal of the "cursed" Poor Law Act.