HC Deb 16 August 1838 vol 44 cc1323-6
Sir C. Douglas

, in rising to move, pursuant to notice, "that each assistant Poor-law Commissioner do forthwith prepare a report to the board at Somerset-house, as to how far he may be of opinion, that the regulations now in force for refusing out of door relief in money to the able-bodied, and for the separation of man and wife in the workhouses after sixty years of age each, should or should not be modified, stating the reasons for whichever view he may take," said, that in the course which he had pursued on the subject of the Poor-law he was anxious, it should not be thought, he had intended in any way to mislead the public, and he must say, he deeply regretted, that nothing had been done on the subject. It was one on which he was quite convinced political heats and party feelings ought to have no place, and he had refused to accede to the motion brought forward by the hon. Member for Oldham in the early part of the Session, and thereby shown, that he acquiesced generally in the principles of the Poor-law Amendment Act. But, he must add, that he did think Government might have been able, had they taken up the subject early in the Session, when there was a full attendance of Members, to have passed such a measure, for the modification of the powers of the commissioners in those particulars to which his motion referred—viz., out-door relief to the able-bodied, and the separation of the sexes, as would have given general satisfaction throughout the country. At present, however, he had risen to call attention to the subject, chiefly for the purpose of showing, that there were Members—he believed, a number of Members—in that house who were earnestly desirous of giving a careful and deliberate consideration to these questions. With reference to the notice on the subject which he had placed on the books some time ago, he had felt, that it would be improper for him to make that motion until after the Poor-law committee should have terminated their labours, and made their final report (which had only just been done); he had made his notice contingent upon that event. He was anxious that there should be no misapprehension on this point. With respect to the delay which had taken place in presenting the final report of the Poor-law committee, that delay was justified, in his opinion, by the circumstances to which it was attributable. He thought, that the recess would be well employed by every Member of the House in digesting the report of the Committee, and in consulting with their constituents and ascertaining their feeling. He should certainly feel it his duty to press the subject on the notice of the House on an early day in next Session; but in the mean time, it was his earnest hope, that her Majesty's Government would see the necessity of directing their attention to the wishes of the people expressed as they had been in almost innumerable petitions on this subject. Once for all, he would say, that his object was, to tender the Poor-law more consonant to the wishes of the poor themselves, and though he thought, that it was by the Government, that the country had a right to expect, that a matter of so much importance should be brought under consideration, still if no one more able were found, he should persist in pressing the subject.

Mr. Freshfield

said, that the Poor-law committee, great as had been their labours felt no regret in reference to those labours. They complained of nothing. Four days in every week, and five or six hours each day, they had devoted to their duties; but the time they had given to the inquiry, extended as it was, was no more than necessary in order to render the proceedings satisfactory to the public generally, as well as to those who had evidence to produce on the subject, both on the one side and on the other. And he must add, that whatever desire hon. Members might generally feel to show humanity and benevolence towards the poor in their ad- dresses in the House on this question, of which the importance to the public was so well known, there could be nowhere more strong feelings of this kind than were manifested in the committee. He had gone into that committee with very strong prepossessions on the subject, but he found in a short time that the great feeling was in favour of carrying the Act into operation with humanity and attention to the wishes of the poor.

Mr. Briscoe

moved as an Amendment for a return of the number of married couples confined in workhouses in England and Wales, stating the number in each workhouse and the age and state of health of the parties. A great deal of misconception had got abroad as to the number of married persons in the workhouses, and it was not generally known that the boards of guardians had very extensive powers of giving out-door relief to married couples above the age of 60. With a view of ascertaining something of what was the state of the case in Surrey, he had found that in the union of Croydon, consisting of Croydon parish, with a population of 12,000, and twelve adjacent parishes, there were only two married couples in the workhouse, and in each case the parties being blind and totally helpless, received every care, had a nurse to attend upon them, and every thing else which could be done to alleviate their sad condition. He hoped there would be no objection to the returns as, if they were made, the House would be put in possession of very important documents with respect to the extent of the evils of separation, which were so much complained of.

The motions were put separately and both negatived.

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod summoned the House to attend Her Majesty in the House of Lords. The House accordingly went, and after some time returned, when the Speaker, sitting at the Table, read her Majesty's speech and then the Members separated.