HC Deb 15 July 1856 vol 143 cc934-5

said, he rose to move— That this House will resolve itself into a Committee to consider the propriety of granting sums in aid of any reformatories for penitent females at present existing, or that may hereafter be established. The question in connection with which he begged to submit the present Motion to the House was one of great importance, and of which he could not but express his regret that it had not been brought before Parliament at an earlier period. In order to entile his Motion to some chance of success he had taken the trouble of making inquiries of the various reformatories throughout the kingdom, and he found that those institutions were altogether supported by the munificent donations of private individuals, but he was sorry to add that the funds thus raised were utterly inadequate to the requirements of the class for whose benefit they were destined. He thought it was the duty of a Christian Legislature to come forward under such circumstances, and to meet so great a social want. Institutions and hospitals for the reception of the sufferers from almost every form of human infirmity were well and fairly supported, but he feared that the very nature of the establishments to which he desired to call attention prevented the pure and virtuous from taking any active share in their support. From the very peculiar nature of the subject the generality of people appeared afraid to enter into it. It was an ascertained fact that in this metropolis alone there were 20,000 unfortunate women, whose lives were a cause of disease and demoralisation to others, a curse to themselves, and a pest to society; and the number in provincial towns was, no doubt, equally large in proportion. Thousands of those unfortunate creatures, he found, made unavailing application for admission to reformatories, which were unable to receive them on account of the want of funds, and they thus were forced to the alternative of continuing a course of life which they had endeavoured to abandon. Could the expenditure of a few thousands on the part of the Legislature be questioned when it was known that for the want of it those outcasts of society were yearly dying by thousands, ignored, unnoticed, and unknown? It was a fact established by hospital returns, and confirmed by the experience of medical men, that the average duration of life amongst the unfortunate class to which he referred was from five to seven years. Assuming it to be seven years, they would have a mortality in London alone amounting to 3,000 per annum, and throughout the country to something like 20,000 or 30,000. In London there were but eighteen reformatories; in the provinces, about twenty—a number, even supposing them to be well supported—a supposition which was at variance with facts—utterly inadequate to the numbers he had quoted. During the year 1855, no less than 2,598 applications for admission into the institutions of London had been refused on account of want of funds. Such a state of things was frightful to contemplate, and ought, if possible, to be put an end to. There was one institution in London, the London Society, for the protection of women, in which the girls were under fifteen years of age, and which, under the name of a school, received a grant from the State, and why should not women of a more advanced age receive similar assistance to enable them to return to the paths of virtue? To prove that the general opinion entertained as to the utter depravity of these unfortunate women was an erroneous one, he might mention that in the existing institutions a considerable amount of the expenses connected with them was defrayed by the labour of the inmates; and it was his intention, if the House agreed to his Motion, to move a Resolution the effect of which would be that reformatory institutions already in existence, or which might hereafter be established, should have a right to claim from the State for their support a sum equal to that which was raised by voluntary efforts. If, at that late period of the Session, he did not succeed in carrying his Motion he would, at least, have the satisfaction of knowing that he was the first to moot a question which must recommend itself to the benevolence of all. He could only say that he intended to bring the subject before the House again and again, until he succeeded in making a favourable impression.


said, that the Motion must come with a recommendation from the Crown. It was therefore out of order, and could not be proceeded with.