HC Deb 13 May 1835 vol 27 cc1052-4
Mr. Walter

said, he had to present a Petition from several persons of highly respectable character, and thoroughly acquainted with the subject on which they addressed the House, in Newbury and its vicinity, praying for the repeal of the New Poor Law Bill. He said, that having opposed that Bill in every stage, he should on the present occasion only state the opinions of his constituents respecting its operation. The petitioners lamented that the late Parliament, instead of endeavouring to raise the condition of the labouring population, should have devised the means of depressing them, and depriving them of their property, with the professed view of reducing the poor-rate, which rate, however had only increased with the increase of taxation generally; and they confirmed their statement by a variety of tables and estimates. They complained of the expense of building workhouses. He believed they were justified by experience in the view which they took of that subject. This grand project of the Commissioners, which they were now trying to introduce wherever they could venture, was an old project revived, but which had also been very justly exploded on account of the immorality as well as oppression and expense which generally attended it. Sir Frederick Eden had pointed out numerous instances of this in his valuable work. On the subject of separating a man from his wife, and children from their parents, the hon. Member observed, that it had been lately asserted in another place, by a high legal authority, that no such violation of the laws of nature and of God were ever even contemplated. It had been asserted by the eminent authority in question, that "no one ever entertained the intention, or indulged a dream or imagination, of such a thing—there had been no talk of separating husband from wife, or parent from child. Undoubtedly, hospitals would be established in the new union workhouses, and the sound would not be shut up with the sick, as heretofore: this was all the separation that could be contemplated. But no child of an age to require nurture or parental care would be separated from its parent—no husband and wife be parted. The idea of such a proceeding, he would venture to say, had never entered any man's imagination during his waking moments and he very much doubted if any one had ever dreamt of such a thing." Now, notwithstanding the minuteness of this disavowal, which should seem to proceed from the most exact information, the hon. Member said it was so directly the reverse of the fact, that had it not been for the circumstantiality of the expressions, he could hardly believe they had ever been used. In addition to the totally opposite account from the inhabitants of Stoke Poges, of which they had already heard, he would take the liberty of reading to the House the statement of one of the Gentlemen whose signature was attached to the present petition, Mr. Edward Gray. Mr. Gray informed him, that on Friday, the 19th of March, E. Gullson and R. Hall, esqrs., two of the New Poor Law Assistant Commissioners, attended at Newbury, for the purpose of explaining the manner in which it was their intention to put into execution the rules and regulations made under the provisions of the new Act. After having explained their intentions, they wished their hearers to ask them any questions and they would be ready to give answers to the best of their knowledge. Whereupon Mr. Gray put to them the following questions, and the answers affixed to Mr. Gullson's name were the words elicited from him in reply thereto:—

"Mr. Gray.—Pray, Sir, allow me to ask whether an able-bodied labourer, wanting only temporary relief, is obliged to go into the workhouse?

"Mr. Gullson.—Yes, certainly.

"Mr. Gray.—And his wife and children?

"Mr. Gullson—Yes.

"Mr. Gray.—When there, are the husband and wife to be separated, and the children from both?

"Mr. Gullson.—Yes, most assuredly." Mr. Gray had added, which should have some weight with the House, that such rule was in contravention of the laws both of God and man,—of the law of God, as exemplified in various texts of scripture; and of the law of man, as it was completely in opposition to the form used in the solemnization of matrimony. The hon. Member concluded by expressing his hope that the facts he had stated would first induce the distinguished person to whom he had referred to reconsider his previous assertions; and next, that they would have a powerful effect in inducing the House to reconsider the new Poor Law Bill.

Major Beauclerk

said, he was sorry he did not see the learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) in his place, as it was his intention to again put that question to him to-night which the learned Gentleman had last evening declined to answer, without consideration, as to whether this power was conferred by and exercised under the Poor Law. The statement which he had now heard, and indeed the intelligence which he had received upon the subject from various quarters, had made him come to a determination, if the Hon. Gentleman who had presented this Petition should not do so, and the Attorney General declared that such was the provisions of the Bill, either to introduce a declaratory measure, or to move that the clause in question be altogether expunged from the act, considering it derogatory to the character of the House, and productive of harsh oppression to the poor. He was one of a small minority in that House who, when the Bill was passing through it, endeavoured, but unsuccessfully, to have the doubtful clause omitted from it. He afterwards heard that the House of Lords had expunged the clause, and he was happy to learn that that was the case. He was now, however, told that it was not so, and indeed he had learned with astonishment, that on all sides throughout the country this power was attempted to be exercised over the people of England. He, as an Englishman, must protest against it. He would never agree that so arbitrary and so unjust a power should be exercised towards the lower classes in this country. This was no party, no Whig or Tory, Question. It was Sir Robert Inglis that moved the Amendment last Session, for which he (Major Beauclerk) voted, for omitting this power in the Bill. The power of dividing an honest man from his wife and children was one that should not be intrusted to any man or set of men. He trusted that the House would reconsider this Act, and would expunge this clause from it.

Petition laid on the Table.

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