HC Deb 01 March 1838 vol 41 cc327-9
Mr. Blackstone

rose to move for a return of the number of union workhouses in England and Wales, used for the reception of parochial poor, since the passing of the new Poor-law Bill, specifying the parishes in which they are severally situate, and the number of parochial poor received into each; also the return of deaths which had taken place in each of such houses, specifying their ages and the causes of their decease. His object in moving for this return was, to direct the attention of the House to the mode of visiting workhouses, and to the dietary allowed in them. He was satisfied that the diet allowed in them was not sufficient for the support of an able-bodied labourer. During the severity of the winter, many labouring men who were unable to obtain employment, were compelled to take refuge in the union workhouses, but the diet was of such a low nature that they would be so much reduced that they would be unable to perform severe work when they came out of those places. This he knew to have been the case from what had occurred at Wallingford. Poor men had been driven into the workhouses from no fault of their own, and they there had only a sufficiency of food to maintain animal life. He was convinced that the low diet allowed in the workhouses, was likely to have the most prejudicial effect, as poor persons would rather plunder the property of their neighbours than be sent to the workhouses; as they knew that if they were sent to prison for theft they would have a better diet than in the workhouse. He was satisfied that the low dietary allowed in those places had already had the effect of increasing the amount of crime, as the returns at the assizes and the quarter sessions would show. He thought that the guardians of the poor should, under certain circumstances, have the power of increasing or altering the diet in the workhouses, as it was impossible that the commissioners could form so accurate a judgment in any case as those who were connected with the union. He trusted that before the end of the Session some hon. Gentleman would bring forward some short bill to allow the guardians of the poor to increase the diet in the workhouses in certain cases, provided in the mean time the Government did not take the matter up.

Mr. Hume

would suggest to the hon. Member the propriety of making his return more comprehensive, as from the returns moved for, he would not be able to arrive at any conclusions. He would recommend him to add to his motion a return of the number of persons admitted at different periods into the workhouse, the periods of their continuing there, and also the number that had gone out in different periods.

Colonel Sibthorp

wished to direct the attention of the House and of the noble Lord for the Home Department to a case that had appeared in the newspapers, which was a lamentable instance of the pernicious working of the Poor-law Act. He alluded to the case of Hannah Brown, a girl of the age of fifteen, who had been tried within the last few days at the Old Bailey for stealing a pair of boots. When called upon for her defence, she stated that she stole the boots to sell them to procure money to buy bread, as her mother and brothers and sisters were starving, as they had been refused relief by the Poor-law officers. The judge stated that he had directed inquiries to be made into the circumstances of the case, and found the statement of the girl to be true; and he sentenced her to only two days' imprisonment, and animadverted in strong terms on the cruelty of the guardians of the poor. He wished to know whether this statement were true or not; and if it were, he trusted that such facts would never occur again, and that the unfortunate poor would not be placed in such a situation as to compel them to steal to obtain the means of existence.

Lord John Russell

should be glad if some time were given before the return was moved for, to see whether the information required could be readily obtained. He was not quite certain whether such' returns could be given, and therefore hoped the hon. Member would postpone his motion for a few days. For his own part he had no objection to give any of the information that was required; but he thought, if what was now asked for was given, that other returns would be requisite to elucidate them; for instance, the time when the several workhouses were opened for the reception of the poor, the different periods when the death of the inmates occurred, and the causes of their deaths, arranged under different headings.

Motion postponed.