HC Deb 04 February 1846 vol 83 cc454-8

said, that it was now nearly eight years since he placed before the notice of the House the case of a labouring man in the Eastbourne Union, in Sussex, who had been brought to death's door by the system of labour to which the paupers were subjected in that workhouse. At the time, he was met by very unjust and very severe observations on the part of those who chose to defend the system of crushing bones in the various workhouses. Every year since that time he had endeavoured to press the matter on the attention of Government; and at length, he was happy to say, the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had entered into the feelings of those who had brought that monstrous abuse, the practice of bone-crushing, before the House. The House was well aware, that during the last two Sessions the right hon. Baronet did state, on several occasions, that he highly disapproved of that practice, either by way of punishment or as a mode of useful employment. The Poor Law Commissioners, however, appeared to have thwarted the intentions of the Secretary of State; and, notwithstanding the fact that much pains were taken to promulgate the expression of his opinion regarding the practice, still every means was used to continue it throughout the country. Last Session, he moved for a Return of the number of Union Workhouses in which the paupers were employed in the abominable system of crushing or pounding bones, and describing by name the chairman and vice-chairman of every Union where the practice existed. From that Return, it appeared that there were nearly two hundred workhouses in which that intolerable nuisance and cruelty were encouraged. The Unions, in fact, set the Secretary of State at defiance, and the Poor Law Commissioners seemed to encourage them. At last came the gross case in the Andover Union, when the right hon. Baronet expressed himself in the most proper and feeling manner in respect to it, and subsequently instituted an inquiry into the case, and directed an assistant Poor Law Commissioner to investigate the charges against the authorities at Andover. He should be very glad if the report of that inquiry were furnished to the House. However, they were given to understand, through the public sources of information, that an order had been issued by the Commissioners for the purpose of putting an end to the practice of crushing and grinding bones in the workhouses; and it was also rumoured that several boards of guardians who had been most prominent in defence of the system, had since remonstrated with the Poor Law Commissioners, and had made such representations as had caused them to suspend the execution of the order in question. That suspension was requested upon the principle that the various boards had a large stock of bones still on hand, which they wished to get rid of, as he supposed, on the same plan as that by which they were to abolish the sliding scale. He hoped, however, that the right hon. Baronet would follow up his noble exertions, and expose those persons who continued to encourage the practice, and made every effort to evade the rules and regulations which he had laid down for them. The persons to whom he alluded brought arguments on both sides to defend the practice; they brought doctors forward to favour their views, who stated, that as the bones were ground in a different room from that in which the paupers were employed, the mill, in fact, being worked by a crank, that, for all the paupers could tell, it might be corn—free-trade corn, he hoped—which they were grinding; but it had been shown to the House that it was necessary that some of the paupers should be employed in selecting and paring the bones, as well as in regulating the mills; and with regard to them, at least, it was not true that they were not liable to all the stench and misery attendant on the practice. In the Committee on the Gilbert Union, full evidence had been given of the effects of that practice on the health of the paupers; and it was proved that the fetidness of the air of those mills was such, that it caused the greatest pain to those near them, as well as a strong desire to leave such a horrible scene. He was only anxious that the right hon. Baronet should be able to state before the House that he was determined to put an end to the practice. It was true he (Sir J. Graham) had already assured the House that he wished to do so, but at the same time expressed a doubt whether the Poor Law Commissioners had sufficient power to prevent the board of guardians from employing the paupers as they thought fit. It was also said, that crushed bones were required to enable the landlords to compete with guano. He (Captain Pechell), therefore, had asked the right hon. Baronet to legislate upon the subject; and the House was now informed that, in some of those Unions, a suspended order had been issued, abolishing the practice, which was to come into operation on the 1st of April next. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would suspend the suspending order, and make those boards get rid of their accumulated stock of bones in some other way than by sacrificing the health of the paupers. There must, undoubtedly, be some men engaged in chopping and selecting the bones; and although the number of persons so employed might be reduced, still it was absolutely necessary that the filthy practice should be abolished; and he hoped that the right hon. Baronet would speedily complete the humane work he had undertaken, and put an end to it throughout the country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded by moving for a copy of any letter and general rule issued by the Poor Law Commissioners, relative to the employment of paupers in pounding, grinding, or otherwise breaking bones, or in preparing bone dust; to which he begged leave to add, any copy of letter from any board of guardians remonstrating against the general rule, and requesting a suspension of the new order.


said, he was not by any means disposed to offer any opposition to the Return for which the hon. and gallant Officer had just moved. It was quite true that from a very early period his opinions quite concurred with those of the hon. and gallant Officer, and that he considered the particular mode of employment under consideration as inexpedient, because it was of a degrading nature, and had more of a penal character than became the operations of a workhouse. Until the Andover case was brought under the cognizance of the House, he certainly entertained the opinion that the Poor Law Commissioners had no power to force the boards of guardians to alter the practice; but, owing to that case, he had directed his attention more earnestly and particularly to that subject, and the result of that investigation was, that he found that the Poor Law Commissoners had the power to interfere by the issue of a general order. He had therefore pressed upon the Commissioners the expediency of issuing such an order, and already, in pursuance of his request, that order, which was on the Table of the House, had been issued. The hon. and gallant Officer was correct in stating that the occupation had unfortunately become very general in the workhouses throughout England, for it appeared that it had been adopted in upwards of 150 out of about 500 Unions. Out of that large number, he thought about nine Unions had applied for the suspension of the order for a short time, in order to adapt the machinery of their mills to other uses, and in each case of such application he had called for a general detail of all the circumstances whereupon it was grounded. On considering the circumstances, he had in nine cases consented to suspend the operation of the order for three months from the 1st of January last. He was perfectly willing to present the Papers for which the hon. and gallant Officer had moved; and he thought that the fact of there being only nine cases out of 150 wherein the suspension of the order was required, showed a great alteration in the mode of workhouse employment. After the 1st of April bone-crushing would no longer be legal, and he hoped that the hon. and gallant Member would be satisfied with that assurance and the explanation he had given him.


said, that as he intended to bring forward a Motion on the subject of the Andover case, he would not then trouble the House; but he wished to ask the right hon. Baronet if the Andover Union was included among those which had remonstrated against the order. [Sir J. GRAHAM could not give a positive answer to the hon. Member.] He wished to state that the inquiry which had been instituted into the conduct of the authorities of Andover workhouse was not considered by the public as a satisfactory investigation into the facts of the case. There were no mills at Andover, and consequently the smell was much more nauseous to those engaged in crushing and pounding them. When the assistant Poor Law Commissioner went down, he waited on Mr. Munday, who first brought the subject before the authorities, and took his examination and that of a man in his employment, who had been in the workhouse during the preceding winter; but on leaving he said he could not specify the day on which he would make his examination in detail. No public notice of any sort had been given to the guardians, and where ten paupers had been examined on the investigation, only one had given evidence before the Assistant Commissioner. The inquiry had been neither fall nor satisfactory.


asked if there would be any objection on the part of Government to produce the letters of Mr. Chadwick, and the remonstrances which, it was said, Mr. Parker had used on the occasion; and stated that he intended to move an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member for Andover, for the purpose of extending the inquiry which he proposed to institute.


replied, that he could not answer the question of the hon. Member, as he had not given him (Sir J. Graham) any notice of his intention to put it.


remarked, that it was believed there was a difference of opinion at Somerset House as to the power of the Commissioners to interfere with the boards of guardians, and in that belief he concurred. It was said that Mr. Chadwick thought the Commissioners had the power, and Mr. Lewis and his colleagues were of an opposite opinion. He was sure the right hon. Baronet had been informed that no power did exist to control the proceedings of the boards as to the employment of the paupers. The acquiescence of the Secretary of State to produce the Papers for which he had moved, gave him very great satisfaction; and he hoped he would consent to add to them a return of all the bones on hand in the various workhouses, the quantity purchased, and the time at which the purchase had been made; for it might appear that at the time when they were bought, the Tariff had been passed, under which a reduction of the duty on bones had been made.

Motion agreed to.

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