HC Deb 17 July 1866 vol 184 cc939-41

said, he wished to ask the President of the Poor Law Board, Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce during the present Session any measure for improving the sick wards in the Metropolitan workhouses; and further, how it has happened that Mr. Farnall and others whose duty it has been to inspect these workhouses have not made known the lamentable condition of these sick wards until attention was directed to the subject by non-official persons?


In reply, Sir, to the questions of the hon. Gentleman I beg to state, in the first place, that Her Majesty's Government do not intend to propose during the present Session any legislative measure on the subject. I should think I was extremely rash if, during the very short time that I have had access to the official information of the Poor Law Board, I should undertake to introduce a measure of such importance at a time when the House could not possibly give it sufficient attention. I quite admit the present evil condition of these workhouse infirmaries throughout London, and of course the subject will receive my earliest attention. But if I had taken steps to introduce any great measure on the subject it could not have dealt with the present evils. With these evils I propose, in the first instance, to deal under the powers, which I believe sufficient in the main, now possessed by the Poor Law Board, but which I believe have not always been, from the difficulties connected with them, enforced. I trust with the assistance of the Boards of Guardians and the medical officers we shall not be obliged to ask the Legislature to confer powers which have not hitherto been demanded, and that it will not be necessary to exercise the existing powers under seal to compel the Guardians to the proper discharge of their duties. It may be necessary that I should ask the House to give me one power intended to be conferred by the original Poor Law Act, and which was included in a Bill prepared by my predecessor. The 25th clause of that Act was framed with a view to compel the alteration and enlargement of workhouses when required, but it was never once put into force in consequence of a proviso at the end of the clause to the effect that no parish should be charged with a larger sum than £50. Consequently, where several parishes were combined, one parish was enabled to put an end to the proposed alteration. To correct that defect I will ask the House to enable me to go to a certain extent of the annual amount of the rates of the union, with the view of enforcing such alterations as may be necessary. As to the powers at present possessed by the Poor Law Board, it has the right to require sufficient accommodation for the poor, to regulate the numbers to be accommodated in the workhouses, to prescribe how many beds should be in a room, and what amount of space should be afforded for each bed. If the asylums of the poor should be filled up to the highest point, it is then necessary for the Guardians to find additional accommodation elsewhere or to give relief to the persons for whom they have not accommodation out of doors upon a scale appropriate to the sufferings of these poor people. It is in the power of the Poor Law Board to take care that there is efficient and sufficient medical superintendence, and that the salaries of the medical officers should be fixed at a proper sum. It is also in the power of the Poor Law Board to secure that there is sufficient nursing by providing that there should be a suitable number of nurses, and also that proper salaries should be given to them. I say I think these powers have not been put in full force, and I think I ought not to ask the House to legislate for temporary remedies until I have tried them. I trust that the House will allow me a little time, now that I am wading through a vast mass of information, for I can assure hon. Gentlemen that I am as desirous as the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) or any other man to apply a speedy remedy. I came to this office without anything in the past to fetter my conduct. I do not wish to make any reflection on the past. I look forward simply to the future, and my endeavour shall be to bring the sick wards in the metropolitan workhouses into a proper condition. In the next Session of Parliament, I shall be prepared to state what course I may think proper to recommend with respect to any new legislation on the whole subject. The other question of the hon. Member relates to what is past. I thought it right when the hon. Member wrote to me to lay the question which he put, and which at that time referred to Mr. Farnall alone, but now takes in others also, before Mr. Farnall, and he has sent me a paper which, with the permission of the House, I will read. The paper is as follows:— As regards the proceedings of Mr. Farnall in reference to the metropolitan workhouses he desires to refer to the many reports which he has made from time to time to the Poor Law Board and to the entries in the visitors' books of those places which will be fully laid before the House if the Motion of Sir John Simeon be assented to. This refers to a notice of Motion by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, and, if the Motion be assented to, it will then be seen how far Mr. Farnall has discharged his duties as official inspector. The paper goes on to say— His observations, recommendations, and advice will then appear, and it will be seen how far be has discharged his duty as the Metropolitan Inspector. In that Return will appear what steps have been taken by other Poor Law Inspectors who had temporary charge of the district (while Mr. Farnall was in Lancashire), as well as by the Lunacy Commissioners, who are required by law to inspect and report upon the state of the pauper lunatics in workhouses. I think I have now answered the questions which the hon. Member has asked me. I can only add that my desire is, for the sake of the House and the public, that every information with respect to the abuses which have occurred should be laid before the House and the country; and I trust that for the future the House will extend to me its confidence, which I hope to deserve by endeavouring at least to remedy these evils.