HC Deb 14 April 1842 vol 62 cc493-6
Captain Pechell

moved for a return of the Poor-law unions, distinguishing the county of each to which no order has been issued by the commissioners prohibiting out-door relief to able-bodied paupers. In consequence of the silence of Government with respect to the period at which they proposed introducing the Poor-law amendment Bill, and to their intentions as to those place where the Poor-laws were administered under local acts and Gilbert unions, he was desirous of obtaining the returns for which he had moved, in order to show that uniformity of practice had not prevailed in the Poor-law unions. It appeared, that in many unions no order had, been issued prohibiting outdoor reliefs, and therefore there was an end to the assertion, that the laws had been fully; carried out in, those districts, and it was, singular, that there was scarcely an union in Cumberland where the prohibitory order was in force. The Poor-law commissioners had done all in their power to induce the guardians in parishes incorporated under the Gilbert Act voluntarily to dissolve their unions; and it appeared to be the intention of Government to provide in the new, bill for the repeal of that Act. He though, therefore, that the House ought to be put in possession of all possible information on this subject. When he last addressed the House on this question, he had endeavoured to show, that the administration of the Poor-laws in parishes incorporated under the Gilbert Act, as well as in towns possessing local acts, had been extremely efficient; and he thought, that before the Government ventured to propose measures for the dissolution of the Gilbert unions, and for bringing them under the power of the Poor-law Commissioners, some good and valid reasons should be shown for such a change. When this question was formerly before the House, he bad referred to certain transactions that had taken place in the county of Sussex, and had created a great sensation in that part of the country, and which were not likely to induce parishes in which the administration of Poor-laws was conducted under the Gilbert Act to place themselves under the authority of the Poor-law Commissioners. He made his statement on the authority of Mr. Brooker, a gentleman well known in the county of Sussex, and who was now a candidate for the representation of Brighton. An hon. Member (Mr. Darby) said, that he ought to have ascertained the truth of Mr. Brooker's assertions; but, as he gave the House his authority, he thought such a course was unnecessary. The case to which he alluded was that of a man named Smith, 'who had been employed by the guardians of the Eastbourne union in breaking bones for the purpose of making manure; and he might here observe, that he would, on a future occasion, call for an account of the nature and produce of this system. The man Smith had, owing to the unhealthy character of the employment, been reduced to the last stage of illness; and the following was his own evidence on the subject:— Whenever there have been any bones, I have been constantly placed in the bone-house. The bone-house is seven or eight feet wide, by fourteen feet long. There was a dreadful smell, when the bones were broken. If I had stopped longer in the bone-house I should not have come out alive. My illness has, no doubt, arisen from it. Mr. Brooker, in consequence, accused the guardians of the Eastbourne Union of rendering themselves open to the charge of moral and constructive murder; and called upon the guardians, if they thought his imputations libellous, to give him an opportunity of meeting them in a court of justice. Mr. Brooker had instructed him to say, that he was quite prepared to support the assertions contained in his pamphlet, and that if it was deemed desirable to ascertain the truth of the charges he had made against the guardians, he was ready to meet such an investigation. Mr. Brooker said, that the accusation brought against him by an hon. Member of this House, of having grossly libelled the guardians of Eastbourne, was most unjust and uncalled for, as he had distinctly challenged the guardians to afford him an opportunity of proving the truth of the charges he had advanced. Mr. Brooker stated, that he did not wish to retract any of the assertions contained in his pamphlet; and he added— I now renew my charge of moral and constructive murder against the Eastbourne guardians, expressing his readiness to prove the accusations he had made. Mr. Brooker had addressed a letter to him, dated April 12, in which he stated, that he had just learned that the Poor-law Commissioners had transmitted an order to the guardians of the Eastbourne union, directing that an increased quantity of meat should be allowed to the paupers; and he was happy to think, that his allusion to this case might have led in some measure to the issuing of such an order. He considered, it was necessary that some investigation should be instituted in the Eastbourne case: for, with such instances before them, the inhabitants of parishes under the Gilbert Act would not be very willing to surrender their affairs into the hands of the Poor-law Commissioners. He hoped, that if the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Graham) made any observations on this subject, he would state at what period it was the intention of Government to introduce the Poor-law Amendment Bill. He was aware that considerable time must elapse before the Income-tax and the tariff passed through that House; but, as many hon. Members had given promises to their constituents to support very extensive and important improvements in the Poor-law, he thought it was desirable those hon. Gentlemen should have an early opportunity of redeeming their pledges.

Mr. Curteis

said, that he had recently travelled by coach with the chairman of the Eastbourne board of guardians; and in the course of a conversation respecting the statements made by the ho and gallant Member on a former occasion, the chairman authorised him to say, that the board of guardians were most desirous that a searching inquiry should be instituted into their proceedings. He did not wish to be understood as giving any opinion on the pamphlet of Mr. Brooker; but he thought it was but fair to the guardians that a full investigation should be instituted into their proceedings generally, and especially into the case of W. Smith.

Sir J. Graham

said, it was not his intention to oppose the motion of the hon. and gallant Member, nor would he go into the subject of the unfortunate quarrel which had been brought under the notice of the House. With respect to the question put to him by the hon. and gallant Member, he begged to say, that it was his intention to ask for leave to introduce a bill for continuing the Poor-law commission, with certain amendments, and, as he thought, improvements; but he could not, at the present moment, name the precise time at which he would bring forward the measure. He would, as speedily as he was able, give the gallant Member a more specific answer. He begged to suggest, as an addition to the motion of the hon. and gallant Member, that returns be also made of those unions to which orders have been issued by the commissioners prohibiting outdoor relief to able bodied paupers,

Captain Pechell

said, that he was very well satisfied with what the right hon. Baronet had just stated. He wished at the same time to observe, that he had made no charge whatever against these Poor-law guardians, but had only made the statement as he had heard it Mr. Brooker had placed the pamphlet he had referred to in his hands, and it appeared to him that if those practices did exist which were complained of, an inquiry should be instituted for the purpose of testing the truth of the whole matter. He had no doubt, that if an inquiry had been instituted, satisfaction would be afforded to all parties who felt themselves aggrieved.

Motion as amended, agreed to.