HL Deb 19 May 1835 vol 27 cc1194-6

The Earl of Shaftesbury, as there was no further business before the House, moved, that their Lordships should adjourn.

Lord Brougham

said, that before their Lordships adjourned, he wished to call their attention to a mistake which prevailed elsewhere as to the Poor-law Amendment Bill, namely, that the provisions of that Bill enabled the overseers to separate a man from his wife—a thing which the persons who were under this mistake seemed to consider a horrid crime; and there was, he understood, a proposition to introduce a measure to take that part of the Poor-law Bill out of the Act. Now, that would be to perform an impossibility, for it was impossible to remove that which did not exist—and this provision did not exist in the Poor-law Act, in which there was not one tittle of any section giving a power to the overseers to separate the husband from the wife, nor any section giving any power of the kind, of which they were not possessed before the Bill passed, and which did not exist under the old law. He had made inquiries from several persons, and from the Commissioners themselves, and he understood that no separation had taken place under the provisions and the authority of the Act, nor could any such take place under its authority or provisions; but that whatever separation had taken place between husband and wife had been entirely independent of the Act, and had taken place under the old law such as it existed before the late Act was passed. There was no foundation in fact for the statement, there was no intention on the part of any human being whatever to separate the husband from the wife in the way described. But that they were separated in another sense of the word, though not under the new law, was possible enough. The matter had been discussed, and had been discouraged in that House when the Bill was before their Lordships; and there was nothing in the new Act that authorized parish officers to send husbands away from their wives. All the power they had on this point, they derived from the old law. To assert that they had such a power under the new law was a fiction, a pure and absolute fiction of some person's imagination. It was never intended by any human being connected with this Bill, or by the Board of Commissioners, either with reference to the metropolis or to the provinces, that such a power should be given. That, however, the overseers should claim the right of separation, not under the new law, but under the old law—that there might be such a desire on their part, was very possible. But let those who objected to this principle please to recollect the circumstances which led to the necessity of a species of separation—that of placing the wives in one part of a building and the husbands in another. There was no question about the fact, that married couples could not have separate rooms, There was, then, in the work- house, a room like a barrack, with a row of thirty or forty beds on each side; and he would ask whether any decent modest woman would like to undress herself at night, and to dress herself in the morning, in the presence of all the inmates of such a place? Finding that poor but modest women were adverse to such a plan, the overseers applied themselves to the old law, and, in conformity with it, they placed the husbands in one ward and the wives in another. Now, if those gentlemen who complained of this system would advance or give a draught for 900,000l. or 1,000,000l. to effect the object which they had in view, he was certain that the overseers would be exceedingly obliged to them. The calculation was, that to give to each married couple a separate room would require nearly, if not wholly, 900,000l., and that being subscribed, there would be no necessity for the overseers to act upon the old law.

The House adjourned to Thursday next.

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