HC Deb 05 April 1841 vol 57 cc877-83

On the order of the day for the further consideration of the report on the Poor-law Amendment Bill.

Lord Eliot

said, that the clauses he had suggested having been assented to by the noble Lord opposite, he wished to ask whether the noble Lord himself would embody them in the bill.

Lord John Rusell

said, he thought they would more appropriately form the subject of a separate bill, and in that form he should have no objection to propose them.

Mr. Wakley

said, he desired to take this opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the dietary tables for the poor in the city of London. If he neglected to avail himself of that opportunity, one so convenient might not again present itself. They all knew that the object of the Poor-law Amendment Act was to make provision for the destitute, and to take proper care of the funds of those who contributed to the payment of the rates. These objects, it was quite clear, could not be effected without some test of destitution. The bill also professed to introduce a system of uniformity throughout the whole of England and Wales. It was well known to hon. Members that considerable inequality prevailed as to the mode of administering relief, and that the regulations of the commissioners had in some unions been considerably relaxed. Amongst the advocates of the measure it was rumoured that the bill had ceased to be unpopular; they alleged that its unpopularity was rapidly declining. In that House on Friday they had heard unqualified statements, to the effect that its unpopularity had ceased altogether. When inquiry was made as to whether or not relief had been withheld from able bodied poor, the reply was, that no such order had been issued by the commissioners. From that and other causes it did happen that the bill was not so unpopular in the city as it was in most parts of the country, and it was therefore that they had not heard so much lately of the nature of the diet supplied to the poor. In most parts of the country it was well known that water gruel formed the chief article of diet. Now, he wished to know whether the country gentlemen would sanction one system of diet for their own unions, and quite another for the parishes in the metropolis. One thing was quite clear, that the allowances to the poor in the city of London were quite different from those which they received in other parts of England and Wales; and he should not for a moment hesitate to say, that if the House did their duty, they would have the Poor-law Commissioners at their bar to render an account of their conduct in this respect. He hoped that the hon. Member for Lambeth would turn his attention to the subject of diet. He was a warm advocate of the measure, though he hoped that Lambeth would not be affected by it. Neither that hon. Member nor any other Member of that House could shut his eyes to the fact that in many places water-gruel formed the chief article of diet. At Kensington the auditor refused the extra allowances granted by the guardians, and they were under the necessity of defraying the charge out of their own pockets. On the various grounds which, upon that and upon other occasions, he had stated, he did hope that the attention of hon. Members would be directed to this subject. It was disgraceful and disgusting that the poor agricultural labourer, after a long life of toil, should be cast into a dungeon, and placed upon worse than a gaol allowance, although his previous circumstances never had been such as to enable him to make any savings; and that the London mechanic, who frequently earned from 30s. to 40s. a-week, out of which he might have laid aside some surplus, should in his period of destitution be supplied with a diet comparatively good. In London the men received on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, seven ounces of bread, one pint of milk porridge for breakfast, seven ounces of cooked meat, three-quarters of a pound of vegetables, and one pint of beer for dinner. Beer, as they well knew, was altogether withheld in country parishes. For supper, in London, they were allowed seven ounces of bread, one ounce and a half of cheese, and a second pint of beer. The women received five ounces of bread and a pint of tea. Such was the diet supplied in a place where there existed no order for withholding out-of-door relief. Now, in the country, the poor were all but starved. In London the women received six ounces of cooked meat, three-quarters of a pound of vegetables, one pint of beer; and for supper, five ounces of bread, one ounce and a half of cheese, and a second pint of beer. On Saturday the London paupers received fourteen ounces of suet pudding, and, as he had already stated, the adult males and females all received a pint of beer at dinner, and the same at supper. Did he state this for the purpose of making any complaint that the diet in London was too good? Quite the contrary. He thought it only just and equitable that the poor should be fed in this manner; but how was it that the poor in the country were not equally well treated? The noble Lord perhaps could not explain the matter, but the Poor-law commissioners might, and he held that they ought to be called to the bar of the House for that purpose. Then, as to cases of sickness, the practice in London was, that the patient should be allowed wine or whatever other necessaries the medical attendant might direct. How different from that was the state of things at Uxbridge, as appeared from the statement of Mr. Rayner. If the practice of the London unions were just and proper, how could the practice of the country unions be defended? Roast beef and plum pudding were given at Christmas, roast veal or roast pork at Easter and Whitsuntide, and on ordinary occasions the diet which he had already detailed. With justice done in London, would the people of the country submit to injustice out of London? The two systems could not both be right. The poor agricultural labourer had no chance in the country. While the London mechanic possessed all the advantages of superior intelligence, of trade unions and combinations, they could protect themselves, and were not exposed to the same vicissitudes as the agricultural labourer. This was a serious question, and ought not to be shirked by the House, and if by the House, it ought not to be neglected by the country. He did not charge the commissioners with dishonesty—he did not say that they were afraid to ill-treat the larger and more influential population of London, but one thing was evident that a wide difference prevailed between the dietary of London and the dietaries of the country, and he held that the causes of the difference ought to be explained. It had been stated invariably, and the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department had urged it continually, that the object of the law was to make labourers independent. That certainly was an excellent object; but how did the commissioners propose to carry it out in country places? They found the labourers there working at wages that barely kept them from starvation; and they said to themselves, "We must take care, in framing our regulations, that we don't incite the labourers to enter the workhouses, and they must, therefore, be made one degree, and no more, above starvation point." But how, he should like to know, would wages ever be raised if such a system as that were pursued? Suppose, for example, a working man in the country were offered 6s. a week wages, and were told, "If you don't take that, you must go into the workhouse, and then you will have food worth only 2s. 6d. or 3s. per week." Of course he would prefer taking the wages of 6s. per week. But offer that dietary to the poor in the workhouse, and then he would admit, with the noble Lord, that the Poor-law would raise wages, because the poor man would in such case prefer going into the workhouse to accepting low wages out of it. He trusted the noble Lord would see the utility of causing the dietary tables to which he had referred to be more generally used, and that his having read extracts from them in that House would have the effect of their being compared with the dietary taken throughout the country, and, if the discrepancies that existed between them could not be reconciled, that the Poor-law commissioners would be ordered to attend at the bar of that House to state why it was, that such dietary tables had been framed for the city of London, and totally different ones for the poor in the country. He had another dietary table in his pocket in reference to the children who were farmed at Norwood, which was equally as good as the one he had before referred to but he would not detain the House by making any further observations respecting it.

Lord J. Russell

would have had no objection to enter into the discussion of this subject on an occasion more fitting than the present, but he certainly did object to enter into the discussion with the hon. Member when it was his intention to postpone the bill until after Easter. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Cambridge, had suggested, that he should put the bill in the form in which he should wish to propose it to the consideration of the House, but, on reflecting on that course, and after consulting with the Speaker, it appeared, to him that after the House had gone through certain clauses and adopted certain amendments in them, he could not now well place those clauses in any other form than that which the committee had already adopted. At the expense, therefore, of the appearance of the bill, he must leave it as it was at present gone through in the committee, with regard both to the clauses up to that point which the committee had reached, as well as the amendments in the latter part of the bill which he had considered it advisable to introduce, and of which he had given notice. The House would then go on at that part at which they had left off, and they might afterwards consider those points in which he proposed to amend the former clauses of the bill. He should, therefore, propose to adjourn the committal of the bill until the 3rd of May.

Mr. Goulburn

said, if the course he had suggested were contrary to the forms of the House, he did not wish to urge it, but if it had been conformable to them, it might have proved of great convenience to hon. Members.

Colonel Sibthorp

wished to know whether there was any objection to lay before the House, after the recess, the return for which he had moved so far back as the 26th of February, 1841, relative to the number of inquests of paupers for seven years preceding the passing of the New Poor-law Act, and also for the seven years during which the act had been in operation.

Mr. F. Maule

said, that as far as he was concerned in getting that return, he had done all that lay in his power, and had informed the coroners throughout the country, that the House had addressed her Majesty requesting such information. But it was not in his power to compel such returns, and from very few of the coroners had he received any direct return at all, whilst from many others he had understood it was almost impossible to make it out. In one instance, the coroner said, that in order to make out the return, he must go through between 4,000 and 5,000 depositions. With respect to the metropolis, it would be almost impossible to furnish it, and as far as the hon. Member for Finsbury was concerned, he had received no answer at all, but the hon. Member would be able to state the reason of that for himself. As the coroners furnished the returns, they should be laid before the House, but if they could not be made out, the hon. and gallant Member might, perhaps, frame his motion in a more practicable form.

Mr. Wakley

said, he had received a number of communications from coroners in different parts of England, in reference to this return, and they informed him that they found it next to impossible to make it out. If the hon. and gallant Member had any specific or direct object in view, probably he would prepare his motion in a different form so as to meet that object, and then probably he would ask for a return of special cases. In many offices, there were no records left from which it could be made out; so that when a coroner had lately come into office he had no means of furnishing a return of the cases taken before his predecessor.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, under these circumstances, he would at some future day propose a motion to meet the object he had in view in a more practicable form.

House went into Committee pro formâ.

The amendments proposed by Lord J. Russell were agreed to.

The House resumed.—The report to be further considered on Monday, May 3.