HC Deb 10 July 1868 vol 193 cc1020-4

rose to call attention to the deficiency of Workhouse dietaries in Ireland, and to move That, in the opinion of this House, the Poor Law Commissioners of Ireland should establish a minimum scale of dietary for the Paupers in the Union Workhouses not less than that now in existence in the Irish County Gaols, and which was recommended by the Commission appointed to report on the County Prison Dietaries, "as necessary for the preservation of the health of the prisoners." A year ago he brought under the notice of the noble Earl the Chief Secretary for Ireland the deficiency of the gaol dietaries in Ireland. The noble Earl gave an assurance that the subject would be inquired into, and soon after a Commission was issued for the purpose consisting of three gentlemen most eminent in their profession. They recommended that the dietary should be increased by a supper of six ounces of bread and half a pint of milk. The county prison dietary now consisted of 28 ounces of solid food n day, or 196 ounces per week. He would take the Woterford Union as an illustration of the workhouse dietary, as it was quite as good there as almost anywhere else. The able men had about 170 ounces of solid food in the week, or 26 ounces less than the prisoners confined for terms beyond a month, so that the latter got more in seven days than the paupers got in eight days. In Clonmel and other unions the condition of the pauper was even worse. Some unions gave a supper; but, although that was an improvement, still, with very few exceptions, there was no actual increase in the quantity of food, as the supper was usually made up of reductions from the breakfast and dinner. When three competent gentlemen had laid down a certain amount of food as essential to keep county prisoners in health, the same rule ought to be applied to the paupers. Except for the seclusion the condition of the prisoner was better than that of the workhouse pauper. He had a better bed, a nicer sleeping apartment, a pleasant temperature kept up, and not harder work to do, on the whole, than the pauper. As the Gaol Commissioners had recommended in the event of the same hard labour being introduced in the Irish county prisons as existed in England, that meat should be added to the dietary, it was as impolitic as it was unjust to place the person compelled, as was often the case, to enter a workhouse for no fault of his own, in a worse position as regarded the necessaries of life than the prisoner expiating a crime; indeed, it offered a direct incentive to the violation of the law. Besides, as a matter of economy, it was better for the ratepayers to maintain the able-bodied pauper in a state of health that would enable him to gain a livelihood outside. A Return, ordered at the instance of Mr. Cogan, showed some curious facts with regard to workhouse dietaries. There were 164 unions. In 91, there were only 2 meals; in 73, there were 3 meals given. Forty excluded the old and infirm from the third meal. Three unions excluded women only from the third meal, and three more refused a supper to infants. The exclusion of the old and infirm was most inhuman; far better instead of killing them by inches would it be to do as was done in India with old people—put them on a raft and send them off to sea. Humanity, independent of everything else, required that the State should see that those whom it undertook to protect should have their health and strength maintained at a fair standard. From the success which attended his appeal to the Chief Secretary on behalf of prisoners, he had every hope that with his characteristic humanity he would take measures to have the poor people obliged to resort to the sad alternative of entering a poorhouse placed in at least as good a position as those who did not merit the same sympathy.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Poor Law Commissioners of Ireland should establish a minimum scale of dietary for the Paupers in the Union Workhouses not less than that now in existence in the Irish County Gaols, and which was recommended by the Commission appointed to report on the County Prison Dietaries, 'as necessary for the preservation of the health of the prisoners,'"—(Mr. Blake,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left oat stand part of the Question."


said, that the question raised by the hon. Member was one of considerable importance; but he thought the Motion was based on a misapprehension as to the scale of diet recommended by the Commissioners who inquired last year into the question of the dietary in county gaols. They recommended four classes of diet, proportioned to terms of imprisonment, for those who were respectively imprisoned one week, one month, three months, and more than three months; and the reason was that those undergoing the longer terms of imprisonment evidently required the more generous diet, particularly if their imprisonment was accompanied with hard labour. The scale for one-week prisoners was precisely the same as the minimum workhouse scale. The hon. Member did not say with what particular class of gaol diet he wished workhouse diet to be assimilated, but it was to be presumed he would say the one-month scale, which was somewhat more generous than workhouse diet and was accompanied by some advantages, three meals a day being allowed. In no single instance did the Commissioners, who inquired minutely into the diet of many workhouses, say that it was insufficient to maintain the health and strength of the paupers; but, in instituting a comparison between workhouse and gaol dietaries, they remark that whereas many of the paupers admitted into unions had been accustomed to a life of deprivation, many of the persons sent to prison had been used to liberal fare, and were, therefore, less capable of submitting to a very low diet; and they were inclined to the opinion that prisoners did require a higher scale of dietary than paupers. The average stay of the individual pauper in the Irish workhouse was seventy-one days, and that of the able-bodied pauper was much shorter, being a month or less, and on the principle of the Commissioners, the able-bodied paupers would have pretty nearly the same scale of diet as was recommended for the first-class prisoners who were confined for the shortest time. The question was a difficult one, and ought to be left to be decided very much by local circumstances and local knowledge, and it would not be wise in the Poor Law Commission to exercise their powers indiscriminately in forcing Guardians to increase the diet, particularly as it had been proved by the researches of Sir John Forbes in 1852, that the dietary in Irish workhouses, paradoxical as it might seem, was more nutritious and palatable than that in the English workhouses in consequence of the greater quantity of milk allowed. If an attempt was made to enforce a certain scale on the Guardians, the price and quality of the provisions would still be under their control. At present the greatest care was taken that everything should be of the best quality. The efforts of the Commissioners to induce Guardians in some cases to give a more liberal diet had generally been successful. The first point pressed upon the Guardians by the Commissioners was that they should allow three meals a day, instead of two. The next recommendation of the Commissioners, which had been adopted in a great many cases, was that a small portion of meat should be put into the vegetable soup for the purpose of rendering it more palatable. Another recommendation was that in the case of aged and infirm persons bread and tea should be substituted for "stirabout" and milk. It had been also recommended that a considerable addition should he made to the meat portion of the dietary: but, looking at the state of the country, he thought the reasons against adopting this recommendation were perfectly conclusive. In the first place the present dietary in Ireland was much more nutritious and wholesome, containing a greater quantity of animal food, than the English dietary. It should be remembered, moreover, that the great object of those who had the management of these institutions was to put the inmates in a position to obtain their livelihood by industry; but if in regard to young persons a scale of dietary were established superior to the ordinary diet of the country, no inducement would be offered to such persons to earn their livelihood by industry. There were good reasons, therefore, for the course which the Poor Law Commissioners had thought proper to adopt. It would be found from the Returns that the mortality in the Irish workhouses was very low; and under all the circumstances, although it might be desirable to make minor alterations in the scale of dietary, it would be unwise to make any considerable addition to the meat portion of the dietary.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.