HC Deb 02 May 1837 vol 38 cc455-8
Mr. Fielden

having presented a great number of petitions, praying for a total repeal of the Poor-law Amendment Act: proceeded to remark upon the extreme unpopularity of the New Poor-law in the manufacturing districts. In one of these petitions the petitioners stated their determination to resist the enforcement of this law amongst them.

The Speaker

requested the hon. Member to read that part of the petition in which this determination to resist the law was declared.

Mr. Fielden

said, that the petition was from Bury, and he would read the whole petition, as he thought it only fair that the House should be in possession of the allegations on which the petitioners grounded their determination [Cries of Chair]. If the House would not allow him to read the petition at length, he should decline reading it at all. The hon. Member then proceeded to read the petition, which alleged that, from the reports of coroners' inquests and other authentic sources, they had ascertained that, in numerous instances, persons had met their deaths owing to the rigorous imprisonment and spare diet enforced by the regulations of the Poor-law Commissioners. That besides these indirect means of shortening life, persons, in certain cases, had died in consequence of being denied shelter; that the petitioners looked upon the separation of husband and wife, and parent and child, which was enforced in workhouses under the new was with great abhorrence; that the petitioners protested against the Bill, and stated their belief that it was calculated to lead to a despotism no less despicable in its instruments than cruel in its execution; and they humbly represent to the House that its introduction into the manufacturing districts was looked on with great alarm, as likely to lead to continual disputes and expensive litigation.

Sir Robert Inglis

submitted that the hon. Member was out of order in the course he was pursuing.

Mr. Wakley

thought, that the hon. Member was strictly in order as he was only reading an extract from the petition in question.

Mr. Fielden

then proceeded to read as follows "Your petitioners have seen with scorn and disgust the same disregard to moral principle evinced in the low cunning and deceit with which the Commission under the pretence of having no object in view, but to carry into effect the Act for the Registration of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, have attempted to foist the new Poor-law on those manufacturing districts in which there exists a general conviction that its enforcement will be destructive of the peace of society, and of the security of life and property. Your petitioners, convinced of the illegality, as well as the moral turpitude of the proceedings of these Commissioners, and denying the right of executive officers to issue rules and regulations inconsistent with the law of the land, have determined not to pay the slightest regard either to their orders, or of any officers under their control." For his part he admired and approved of this determination of the petitioners, and he hoped they would be successful in their disobedience. He moved that the petitions be referred to the Committee on the Poor-laws.

Mr. Wynn

said, that it was quite contrary to the rules of the House that a petition should be received which set forth that the petitioners would resist the rules of Commissioners appointed by Act of Parliament.

Sir James Graham

suggested, that the petition be read by the clerk at the table.

This having been done,

Mr. Wynn

suggested, that the hon. Member should withdraw the petition, and endeavour to have the part in question altered.

Mr. Fielden

was proceeding to address the House, when

Mr. A. Trevor

rose to order. It was not right that the hon. Member should proceed to take up the time of the House.

Major Beauclerk

said, that this was a point of very great importance to the country. He heard everywhere the question—why do you put an extinguisher on the petitions of the public? A quarter of an hour could not be mis-spent in the discussion of petitions.

Mr. Warburton

rose to order. If the hon. Gentleman was allowed to proceed it would break through a very convenient rule.

Mr. Harvey

remarked, this was the petition of parties who had no representatives in that House.

The Speaker

said, this was a very important question, and one which ought to be decided either in one way or the other. He would state what was the practice of the House. There were many Members of that House who were aware of the former practice, from having had, like himself, for nearly thirty years, a seat there. When he first entered the House, and for some time after, no one was allowed to read a petition, or to do more than state its prayer. The practice of addressing the House on the presentation of petitions had arisen subsequently, and after many expedients had been tried, none of which met the approbation of the House. He had, when he was placed in the Chair, reverted to the ancient practice, in accordance with what he deemed his duty to the House and to the public. This was the third Session in which, with the concurrence, as he thought, of the House generally, he had endeavoured to enforce the rule; and he could assure the House he felt himself placed in a very difficult situation when any such circumstances as the present arose. He very much wished that the House would come to some decision on this point, by which he might in future be guided. He would only add, that he had endeavoured to do his duty to the House and to the public in enforcing this rule; and he would say it had been the means of saving a very great deal of time to the House, and saving the time of the House was doing justice to the country.

Mr. T. Duncombe

begged to move, that the hon. Member for Oldham be heard in support of these petitions. This would bring the matter directly before the House.

The gallery was cleared for a division, but none took place, and the hon. Member for Oldham brought up the petitions.

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