HL Deb 28 April 1837 vol 38 cc297-9
Earl Fitz-william

said, he had to present a Petition on the subject of the Poor-law Amendment Bill, and he felt bound in duty to those who had intrusted him with it to read it at length to their Lordships. He would not convey the sentiments of the petitioners to their Lordships in his own words, because, as he differed in opinion from them, they might suppose that he would not state their sentiments so fully or so strongly as they ought to be stated. The noble Earl then proceeded to read the petition, which came from Halifax, in the county of York. The petitioners stated, that they had heard with consternation and dismay, that the Poor-Law Commissioners intended to introduce the New Poor-law system into that part of the country. They had been informed, that in the places where this law had been introduced, men had been forcibly and illegally separated from their wives and children, and shut up in large prisons, called workhouses, As Englishmen, they asserted their right to protest against this law, which they conceived to be illegal, and they now called upon their Lordships for its repeal. They felt that the measure was opposed to the principles of humanity, as well as to the doctrines of Christianity. They considered that the powers of the Commissioners were entirely too extensive. They were convinced that the guardians, as they were called, had not the power to protect the interests of the poor; indeed, they looked upon the name, as well as the office to be a mere delusion. They looked upon the bastardy clause as productive of infanticide and female suicide, and the whole measure as utterly unfit for this country. It appeared to them to be a great national grievance, and one that was not to be endured. They, therefore implored their Lordships, by all that was sacred in religion, by all that was dear to manhood, by the blood which their forefathers had shed in defence of those liberties which this measure invaded, immediately to repeal the Poor-law Amendment Act, and to restore to the rate-payers of England, and to the poor, those rights which had been destroyed by this measure. The noble Earl then proceeded to say, that, in presenting this petition, he admired the straightforward magnanimity of those individuals who thus addressed their Lordships' House for the removal of that which they deemed to be a grievance. He was, however, of opinion, that their complaints were founded on a pure illusion on their parts. He did not believe that the law inflicted any such grievance as the petitioners described, or that it took away any of those constitutional rights, as the petitioners denominated them, which belonged to the rate-payers and the poor. He believed that it was because the measure was not properly understood, that these complaints were made against it. He now laid the petition on their Lordships' table, observing that it was for the satisfaction of the petitioners, and not for his own, that he felt himself under the necessity of reading it at length.

Several noble Lords intimated that the petition was informal.

Earl Fitzwilliam

I ask, what communication am I to make to these petitioners? If the petition be rejected as informal, the informality ought to be stated. I shall, therefore, move "that this petition be received." If any noble Peer thinks, on the contrary, that it ought not to be received, he can state his reasons for coming to that conclusion.

Lord Abinger

observed, that there was no signature to the sheet on which the petition was written, and therefore it could not be received.

The Earl of Malmesbury

Let the point of informality be fully understood. Let it be known, that the petition cannot be received, not on account of its matter, but because there is no signature to the first sheet.

Earl Fitziwilliam

The reason why I moved that the petition be received was, that the point on which it was rejected should be understood, lest it might be supposed that it was withdrawn in an under-hand manner by myself. It will now be seen, that it was withdrawn by your Lordships' own act, and in pursuance of the rules and regulations of your Lordships' House.

Petition withdrawn.

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