HL Deb 03 May 1838 vol 42 cc796-9
The Bishop of Exeter

said, he rose to present a petition, which, though it came from a single individual, related to a matter of much interest to the pauper inhabitants of the metropolis. As the statements contained in the petition were of a very grave and serious kind, he begged leave to observe, that he knew nothing about the petitioner, and that he could not give his personal attestation as to the correctness of the facts adverted to by him, but which, the petitioner said, he was prepared to prove. He had, however, made inquiry as to one important allegation set forth by the petitioner—namely, that he was the author of an invention to promote the rapid decomposition of animal bodies, which had been approved of by Sir Benjamin Brodie; and this he had ascertained to be the fact. The petitioner stated, that by the 13th section of the Act of the 2nd and 3rd William 4th, which related to schools of anatomy, it was directed, that the bodies of paupers, after undergoing anatomical examination, should be interred; but that instead of paupers' remains being so interred, the common practice was to put a large mass of the remains of different persons together in vessels and to bury them promiscuously. The petitioner then stated, that he had discovered a mode of promoting the rapid decomposition of animal bodies, which, in the opinion of Sir Benjamin Brodie, was calculated to be of considerable public benefit, by diminishing the chances of contagion. The right rev. Prelate said he should move, after the petition was laid on the table, that it be referred to the select Committee appointed to inquire into certain cases that had occurred under the Poor-law Amendment Act.

The Earl of Radnor

said, the right rev. Prelate ought to have made some inquiry into these statements before he proposed to refer the petition to a Committee of that House. He much regretted, that the right rev. Prelate had not acquired some information as to the truth of those allegations before he had taken so much pains to make them public. But, whether they were true or not, he could not conceive what possible connexion the subject of the petition had, or could have, with the new Poor-law. If there had been a Committee sitting on the Anatomy Bill, he could understand why such a petition should be referred to it; but he could not imagine why it should be referred to the Committee alluded to by the right rev. Prelate. It would, however, appear as if some persons wished to throw on the Poor-law Bill the odium of certain affairs which were said to have occurred under the Anatomy Act, but with which (supposing they turned out to be true) the new Poor-law had nothing whatsoever to do.

The Bishop of Exeter

had already stated, that he did not hold himself responsible for the allegations contained in the petition, but he had also stated, that the petitioner pledged himself to prove their truth. That being the case, he ought to be allowed an opportunity to make good those allegations. In his opinion their Lordships would not do their duty if they did not receive a petition respectfully worded, and allow the petitioner to substantiate his statements. He admitted, with the noble Earl, that the matter complained of did not affect the new Poor-law, but he contended that it did affect establishments formed under that act; for the bodies referred to by the petitioner were the bodies of persons who died in the union workhouses of this metropolis, and were disposed of, as he alleged, in a very improper manner. He (the Bishop of Exeter) did not say, that a single point of the petitioner's statements was correct, but he hoped that the petitioner's allegations would be inquired into, and if he had made false representations on this subject, he ought to be covered with that shame and disgrace which he deserved.

The Duke of Richmond

said, he had looked over the petition, and he could not see one syllable about union workhouses in it. [The Bishop of Exeter: I can set the noble Duke right.] "One at a time, if the right rev. Prelate pleases; it is more regular in this House." The petition spoke of parishes, without stating whether they were under the union workhouse system or not. The Committee to which the right rev. Prelate wished this petition to be referred had a great deal to do, and it would be much better if the right rev. Prelate would move that the petition should be referred to a separate Committee, to report specially on this subject. The consequence would be, that the report of such a Committee would be made in a very short time; and, if any alteration in the existing law were proper to be carried into effect, it could be done in the present Session. He agreed with the right rev. Prelate in the opinion, that if what the petitioner alleged was the fact, it was quite proper that the subject should be inquired into.

Viscount Melbourne

apprehended that it was very unusual to present a petition calling for inquiry without special grounds being laid down in support of the proposition. In this case no grounds were laid down for any such inquiry as that proposed. It would have been proper, in the first instance, for the right rev. Prelate himself to have ascertained the truth of the statements made by the petitioner before he called for a Parliamentary inquiry.

The Bishop of Exeter

said, when a Committee was sitting to investigate certain matters connected with the interest of the poor, he conceived that it might also inquire whether the statements contained in this petition, and which also affected the poor, were well founded or not. Had he thought it necessary to call on the House to appoint a Committee, he certainly in that case should have felt it to be his duty in the first instance to make inquiry into these allegations. These allegations, which were certainly of a very grave character, seemed to him so far worthy of attention, as they came from an individual who was the inventor of a very important process, which might prove of great benefit to mankind.

The Earl of Radnor

reiterated his statement that the matters referred to in the petition had nothing whatever to do with the Poor-law Amendment Act. In fact, there was nothing in the petition which related in any way to that Act. Mr. Roberts, the petitioner, might be a very respectable man for aught he knew, but he confessed that this petition ap- peared to him to be a puff for Mr. Roberts's invention.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, the petition had nothing to do with the Poor-law Bill, but had reference rather to the Anatomy Regulation Act.

Petition laid on the table.

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