HC Deb 08 August 1848 vol 100 cc1215-22

On the question that the House resolve itself into a Committee,


had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Buller) would have thought it necessary to explain the details of the measure which they were now called upon to consider in Committee. It was of course impossible to deny that, with reference to the objects of the Bill, some very important regulations were necessary. It was necessary that a competent education should be given to a very large class of the community. With reference to this matter, there had been presented to the House some time since a petition from the Ashton union, in which the petitioners assumed, he believed upon good grounds, that by the recent legislation on this subject the parochial burdens had been increased. They stated that the children in work-houses were better educated than the children of the labouring classes and those of mechanics, who were brought up out of the workhouses; that they were kept at school till the age of 16, when they were too old to learn any useful art. The petitioners complained that parents and children were separated; that widows and orphans were never allowed to meet; and that there were other grievous faults in the system. According to the present Bill it was provided that the educational district should extend to distances of fifteen miles; this was a penal exile, by means of which the poor children were separated from their friends and connexions. It was objection-able, as tending to centralisation, and to the increase of Government patronage. Further, they must all agree that religious instruction was essential to the poor; but by the proposed system religious freedom could not exist. The poor-rates were at present excessively burdened, and he regretted to observe that this was the third instance in which it was attempted to fasten great charges upon those rates. Those additional charges were for the purpose of defraying expenses which had no necessary connexion with the relief of the poor. The highways were, to some extent, charged upon those rates, and so were vagrants. Hon. Members could not have forgotten that in the year 1844 an Act was passed enabling the Poor Law Commissioners to establish district schools; but since this it was to be observed that a great change had taken place in the condition of the people, as well in towns as in the rural districts. A great change had been effected in the condition of those who were employed in the cultivation of the soil by the unrestricted admission of foreign corn. The Government laid it down as a principle that the necessaries of life must be procured at the lowest possible rate of payment; upon what principle of justice, then, were they prepared to lay on an additional charge in the shape of poor rates? He knew that many hon. Members might urge that the expense now proposed was only a matter of small amount, but he did not take that view of the subject. Under the provisions of the Bill now before them, the Poor Law Commissioners possessed authority to appoint school districts, which gave them the means of exercising a great extension of power; and over the expenses which they incurred there was no control; no owner or ratepayer could object to any purchase that the Commissioners might make, or to any lease that they might take. In his opinion there was nothing more calculated than that was to render the whole Commission odious to all the people, who naturally viewed with great alarm any addition to the poor-rates.


was much obliged to his hon. Friend for affording him that opportunity of explaining the principle and some of the details of the measure which he then proposed to bring under the notice of the House. It seemed to him that his hon. Friend laboured under some misapprehension as to the precise nature of the Bill, and he should gladly set him right regarding those points upon which he seemed to have received incorrect information. He hoped, in the first place, that the House would do him the justice to believe that, at the present period of the Session, he should not have ventured to bring forward any proposition having for its object the imposition of a new charge upon the country, By the Bill then before them the weight of the poor-rates would not in any degree be increased; and his belief was, that the effect of the Bill, so far from augmenting those burdens, would have a tendency to diminish them, by leading to an economical and wise expenditure. Antecedent to the Act which was passed in 1844, the children of the poor were taken into the workhouse, and therefore remained no longer under the care of their parents. Nothing, then, could be more obvious than that it became the duty of the Government or the Legislature to see that children so circumstanced were not brought up in utter ignorance; and it was most fitting that decent and sufficient education should be provided for them. Those children were thus removed from ordinary influences—from the ordinary industrial teaching, from the example and influence of a home; and the Legislature was therefore bound to take care that the children suffered as little as possible from the evil which those causes were calculated to generate. It was the duty of Parliament to see that the system of workhouse education did not result in keeping up a constant supply of paupers. Under the existing system too many of those brought up in the workhouse were marked by a tendency to regard the workhouse as their natural and proper home—the free life of the country was not associated in their minds with any feelings of enjoyment or independence. They had been accustomed to the workhouse from their earliest infancy, and they never had known anything better; they were accustomed to the confinement of the work-house, and when they became adults there was nothing to deter them from entering it. As the law previously stood, the unions were bound to provide for those schools masters and mistresses, and the expense of those teachers was defrayed out of the rates. In the year 1844 the evils to which he referred had already struck the mind of Parliament very forcibly. They then determined that it might be necessary to incur a larger expense for the purpose of providing masters and mistresses; that expense was for the first time undertaken by the country, and has since been defrayed out of the Consolidated Fund: and it was deemed a more economical plan than had hitherto been adopted to have a common workhouse for the children of several unions—in other words, to form a district workhouse or place of instruction for the children of the poor, with a master and mistress for each. Now, though he should be entitled to form such districts, he had no power to go any further. The machinery was quite voluntary on the part of the union. He could not compel any union to carry a plan of that nature into effect, nor could he impose on them a single farthing in the shape of rates, neither could he cause the expenditure of any funds. Further, he did not propose by the Bill then before the House to extend in any respect his own powers; for the whole expenditure under the Bill was to be carried on by the guardians. The guardians were to be chosen by the ratepayers, and thus, in effect, the expenditure would be in the hands of those who contributed the funds. In the first instance it had been determined that no part of any union should be of greater extent than fifteen miles; the effect of that arrangement was to limit the operation of the Bill to the metropolis, where alone there were unions sufficiently populous to permit such an arrangement; secondly, the expense of the building was not to exceed one-fifth of the whole annual expenditure of the district in the way of poor-rates; the third limitation was that the consent of the parents became necessary. To the present Bill there was certainly no objection on the score of expense, for he did not possess the power of forcing the guardians to incur any expense whatever. With regard to the removal of children from under parochial care, he begged to remind the House that many of them had no parents, or were deserted by their parents. In the first place, there were 10,000 of those children illegitimate; 5,000 of them belonged to parents who were not in the workhouse, a certain proportion to widows who were in the work-house, and a certain other proportion to those who were—some to widowers in and some to widowers out of the workhouse, some who had lost one parent, and some who had lost both; some whose fathers, and some whose mothers, were labouring under mental or bodily disease. 4,502 were the children of ablebodied parents who were in the workhouse, and the total number of children to whom this system of education was applied amounted to 51,237. Of that number there certainly were not above 11,000 who ought to be with their parents. In the Rotherham union the place of education had not been found sufficient; they wished to make an addition to the work-house for that purpose, but they found it would be much less expensive that two or three unions should be formed into one district for the purposes of education, than that they should have separate schools in each union, or even that they should limit the district to fifteen miles. This evil was felt in Rotherham; but it was also felt in other unions throughout different parts of Hampshire, Berkshire, and other unions. The evil of overcrowding the workhouses was found to be an evil of the most serious magnitude, and deeply prejudicial to the morals of the poor. He saw no reason why the supposed interests or feelings of the parishes should stand in the way of a general arrangement so obviously useful as that which was then proposed. He hoped it would not be supposed that, in this matter, he in any degree disregarded the feelings of the people in introducing a measure of this nature; he hoped, also, he should receive credit for being persuaded that the welfare of the children themselves ought to be the paramount consideration. That many of them were kept away from their parents must prove not only no loss, but a very great gain, for the great mass of the parents of such children were themselves confirmed paupers. Besides that, in all the workhouses it was felt to be a great difficulty to prevent communication between the children and the worst class of paupers. This was felt to be particularly the case with respect to the class of ablebodied women, whose example was in every respect the worst that could be presented to young persons. Even if they were sent amongst those women merely for the purpose of acquiring some knowledge of domestic matters, such as cleaning a house or washing linen, that might be corrupting and contaminating. He had not long since received a letter from a clergyman at Penzance, describing the state of that union. It was, he believed, the least pauperised union south of the Trent, the rates being only 10d. in the pound; but the fate of the girls brought up in the union workhouse was most deplorable. They were kept in tolerably good order till they reached the age of 16, when they were sent in amongst the women; and the account then given of them and their conduct was most distressing. In Falmouth, where the state of the people was generally much less satisfactory, and where the rates were 2s. 3d. in the pound, the condition of the children, however, was much more satisfactory, simply from the circumstance of their being all brought up in a school apart from the workhouse. He had a letter from a Quaker lady, descriptive of the state of the girls in that school. While retained in the school, they were docile, cleanly, of neat habits, and perfectly honest; the mistress under whose care they were educated confided in them, leaving them free access to places where money was kept. Many of them went out as servants, and acquired good characters; but those who went into the workhouse were often irrecoverably corrupted. He might refer to two instances where this system of education worked well, and with respect to which every hon. Member had an opportunity of judging for himself of its good effects. He alluded to Mr. Aubin's school at Norwood, and the school where the children of the Lambeth union were kept. When they talked of education, they sometimes thought too much of the learning that could be put into the heads of children out of books of ordinary instruction; but he thought that the great thing, after all, was, to teach them the elements of those kinds of industry which they might exercise in after life. When they had but a small school, consisting, perhaps, of only fourteen children, it was impossible, on account of the expense and other reasons, to establish such a system; but in such schools as the one at Norwood, where large numbers of children were assembled, they could be classified; some boys might be taught tailoring, some bootmaking, or various other occupations, and on the coast it would be possible to bring some up as sailors; and in one or two instances the latter species of instruction had been afforded. Having explained the objects of the Bill, he trusted that the House would now allow it to be considered in Committee.


thought they were now debating as important a measure as Parliament could be called on to discuss. He agreed in a great deal of what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of the lucid exposition he had made. He, however, thought that the right hon. Gentleman had failed in showing—although the measure was described as a permissive one—that the country was not going to incur an enormous expense on account of it; and, though he gave the right hon. Gentleman credit for the kind and charitable feeling which had induced him to propose the measure, the right hon. Gentleman had failed to convince him that the mode of carrying out the object was desirable. The main object was to remove the children from evil influences; and if the removal from those workhouses of the ablebodied women's ward could be effected, the principal object in view would he accomplished, and at one-twentieth of the cost likely to be incurred by the proposed scheme. All these inconveniences might be avoided by providing for the class of women adverted to some asylums throughout the country, where, instead of corrupting others, they might have a chance of reforming themselves; and some of them who were anxious to amend their lives might with advantage be sent out to our colonies. However, he hailed the present measure with satisfaction for one reason, inasmuch as it showed that the authorities of the Poor Law Commission were alive to the evil arising from the presence in the workhouses of the class of women he had adverted to.


thought that the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Baronet must have convinced everybody that they were now dealing with a much larger subject than at first blush might have been supposed. He conceived that what had fallen from the two hon. Gentlemen constituted a most complete condemnation of the workhouse system, which had brought about such a state of things that it was said that no young person could be in the workhouse without a certainty of being ruined. Would, then, the proposed measure remedy that great evil? The right hon. Gentleman might refer to the school at Norwood, and say that that was a large school, and that there the system worked well; but there, it must be recollected, the children were not placed at a distance from their friends; they were not removed, as they might perhaps be under the proposed system, as far as thirty or forty miles from their friends. Such an arrangement might be all very well in a limited district of fifteen miles; but if the right hon. Gentleman amalgamated with other unions districts where Dissent prevailed, how would he deal with that state of things? The right hon. Gentleman said that at present in the workhouses the parents were separated from the children; but it must be remembered that in case of illness the mother had access to her children directly. This arrangement would be entirely got rid of under the proposed system. What was to be done if a person went into the workhouse casually, for a month or so, with four or five children? Were those four or five children to be carried forty or fifty miles off to a district school? or for these contingencies was it intended to continue the expenses of a schoolmaster in the workhouse? The more the measure was examined, the more difficulty would be found in dealing with it at that period of the Session; and he therefore hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consent to postpone it till the commencement of another Session, when there would be time to consider deliberately a subject of this magnitude.


had hoped that the principle of the Bill would have received the assent of the House, and that the details of the measure would now have been considered in Committee. The expense expected to be incurred under this Bill excited alarm; but surely the House must be aware of the great expense at present incurred by providing for the separate classification of small bodies of children all over the country, which expense would be lessened by their assembling together in larger numbers. With regard to the religious instruction of children in the schools to be established under this Bill, reference was made in the Bill to the provisions of the former Poor Law Act; and he did not think it necessary to introduce any new provisions on the subject. It was provided under the present law that chaplains of the Established Church should be appointed to workhouses, with the consent of the bishops of the respective dioceses in which such workhouses were situated; and it was enacted, with respect to Dissenters, that no rules or regulations of the Commissioners should oblige any inmate of the work-houses or schools to attend any religious service to which he entertained an objection; and that no child should be taught any creed which was objected to by his parents or next of kin.

Committee postponed.