HC Deb 05 May 1842 vol 63 cc192-5
Captain Pechell,

previous to moving for the returns of which he had given notice, relative to the number of persons committed to prison for offences in union workhouses, presented a petition from a man named William Smith, of Wilmington, stating that the depositions set forth in a pamphlet by Mr. Brooker, were correct documents and referred to the case of the petitioner. Such practices as those described in the petition were not likely to bring the Gilbert unions under the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act. Neither would the neighbouring town of Brighton think it desirable if such was the treatment the poor were to receive. The hon. Member for Sussex having stated that the charge made by Mr. Brooker was a libel, and he knowing Mr. Brooker to be a very respectable gentleman, had now, for the satisfaction of the House, presented a petition from the man who had suffered, and who therein stated his willingness to prove his allegations upon oath. He knew none of the parties except Mr. Brooker; but if the right hon. Baronet would institute an inquiry, which he ought to do, the parties were ready to give evidence as to the management of these union workhouses.

The Speaker

intimated to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the petition was informal, as it related to matter spoken by an hon. Member of that House in the debates of the House. It must therefore be withdrawn.

Captain Pechell

said, of course, if the petition was informal, he must bow to the decision of the Chair, and withdraw it. As the petition came from an agricultural labourer, who was ignorant of the forms of the House, he hoped that the error would be regarded with leniency by the House. He should not have presented the petition, but that it was intended to support certain statements which had been termed libels, and had not the Member for East Sussex been in his place. He now begged to move for the following returns:— A return of the number, names, and ages of all persons committed to any prison in England or Wales for any offence in an union workhouse established under the provisions of the Poor-law Amendment Act; stating the nature of the offence, the period of punishment, the name of the union, and the number for each union, and for each year, from the 25th day of March, 1835, to the 25th day of March, 1842, with the population of each union, according to the last census. Similar return for offences in workhouses of parishes and unions governed by guardians, vestrymen, or parish-officers, under local acts and 22 George 3rd., c. 83, known as Gilbert's Act, or not included in any Poor-law union. A complaint had been made at the quarter sessions lately held at Lewes, of the crowded state of the House of Correction which was intended to accommodate 1300020persons, whereas there were 200 confined in it. Since October last the committals exceeded by sixty-three the number during the corresponding period last year, and the increase was entirely owing to cases of running away from workhouses. Between October the 1st, 1841, and April, 1842, seventy-two able-bodied men had been committed; and a magistrate while on the bench observed, that he saw six men from the Cuckfield union-house committed at one time. These facts would afford a good introduction for the motion the right hon. Baronet intended to make for leave to bring in a new bill to continue the powers of the Poor-law Commissioners. If the right hon. Baronet intended to bring all the parishes now under local acts and the Gilbert unions under the operation of his new bill, he ought to show that the management of these Poor-law workhouses was better than the others. He would show that the Gilbert unions and the parishes under local acts were considerably better managed; people did never run away from them, with the exception of an idle boy occasionally, nor was it found necessary to send any of the people to prison. But seventy-eight able-bodied men from one union alone in Sussex had been committed. It appeared that there were upwards of 100 unions not yet subjected to the prohibitory order; so much for the uniformity of the law. It appeared that there were in the Gilbert unions 182,475 persons, and 191 parishes; and the towns under local acts comprised a population of 1,282,652; so that altogether there were 1,455,127 persons altogether exempt from the control of the Poor-law Commissioners. That was a very large proportion of the population, although the right hon. Baronet seemed to make light of it. He hoped the right hon. Baronet, before he proceeded with his bill, would show that the management of these parishes was such as to call for legislative interference to bring them un- der the control of the Poor-law Commissioners.

Mr. Darby

thought, that when persons were attacked in terms which accused them of being guilty of "moral and constructive murder," it was nothing more than fair that they should have notice that such serious charges were to be publicly alleged against them. He had stated that to the hon. and gallant Member before. He knew that Mr. Brooker's statements had been totally denied by the guardians, and he thought it unfortunate that the hon. and gallant Member should mix up cases like this with the general question of the Poor-law Bill. He did not object to the hon. and gallant Member's inquiries, but he objected to the hon. and gallant Gentleman bringing forward charges against parties without giving due notice of his motion. The individual whose complaint the hon. and gallant member had brought under the notice of the House when in the workhouse was attacked with illness—medicine was ordered, but he refused to take it. When he left the workhouse he expressed himself satisfied with the treatment which he had experienced. When asked to complain to Mr. Brooker, he refused to do so. The hon. and gallant Member had said that an insufficient supply of food had been allowed; this the guardians positively denied. No order was given, as the hon. and gallant Member stated, to lessen the supply of food. The allegation was perfectly untrue. He asked for a full and searching inquiry. The hon. and gallant Member had no right to bring forward, on the authority of the author of the pamphlet, so serious a charge as that of constructive murder. It was an extraordinary fact that no complaint was made to the board until Smith placed himself in communication with Mr. Brooker after he left the workhouse.

Captain Pechell

said, that the author of the pamphlet was prepared to submit to any investigation. It was his wish that the Poor Law Commissioners should send a commissioner for the purpose of investigating the matter. He did not think the statements in the pamphlet more libellous than those which had appeared in the Westminster Review respecting the right hon. Baronet the Paymaster of the Forces and the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Sussex. In that review it was stated that the former Gentleman had ceased his opposition to the Poor Law Bill and that the hon. Member for East Sussex had ceased carping on the subject.

Returns ordered.