HC Deb 12 February 1844 vol 72 cc514-6
Mr. Ferrand

put the following question to the right hon. Baronet:—That as Lord Chief Justice Denman has declared it to be the unanimous opinion of the Judges of the Court of Queen's Bench, "that there are some cases in which it is necessary to break in upon the Act of Parliament, and upon that which may have existed from all time;" and has also declared, that "it is the mother who is the proper party to have the custody of all her children under seven years of age, and that it is not for the benefit of the mother, but for the protection of the children;" and that he thinks that "the judges ought to crush the first attempt to depart from that principle, and that it is of the highest importance that it should be considered the undoubted law of the land,"—whether the Government intend to insert a clause in the New Poor Law Bill, for the purpose of prohibiting the separation of mother and child, if they should become the inmates of a workhouse?

Sir J. Graham

said, the hon. Member had placed the question in such a manner, as to remove all doubts as to the character of the explanation it required. The hon. Gentleman had apparently exercised the utmost care and caution in framing the question, but, undoubtedly, he had been led into a serious mistake somehow. The hon. Member's question referred to matters of fact, which did not exist, and to a dictum of Lord Chief Justice Den-man's, which had never been pronounced. First, he would deal with matters of fact. By a general ordinance, which had received the force of a legal enactment, when the noble Lord opposite filled the office of Home Secretary, it is provided, throughout England and Wales, that no child under the age of seven years should be separated from its mother in the workhouse. He spoke in the presence of the noble Lord, who was then in office when this general order was issued—namely, that children under the age of seven years, were to be placed in the same ward as their mothers, and that parents and children should have access to each other at reasonable hours. To put aside the possibility of doubt as to the construction of the term "reasonable hours," the Poor Law Commissioners had defined it, "that reasonable hours was to be held to be, that, so long as the mother was suckling, she was to have access to her child when wanted; and that the child at no period should be placed beyond the mother's reach." He would now deal with the alleged dictum of the Lord Chief Justice. The hon. Gentleman believed that the dictum of the Lord Chief Justice was as he had stated it to be in his motion; but, so far from this being the dictum of Lord Chief Justice Denman, it is precisely the reverse. From one of the Judges, and from the law reports, he had his authority for what he now stated. He would read from the Law Journal report what was really the dictum of Lord Chief Justice Denman. Lord Denman said, cases had arisen, where, in order to give effect to an Act of Parliament, it was necessary to break in upon an established principle. The dictum, therefore, of the Lord Chief Justice, was precisely the contrary of that quoted by the hon. Member. He hoped the answer he had given would be satisfactory.