HC Deb 10 July 1856 vol 143 cc549-53

Order for Committee read.


said, the whole subject treated of by this Bill was one of great difficulty; three Acts of Parliament had been passed in reference to it, and it was generally admitted that, hitherto, legislation had been unsatisfactory, and the present law was in such a state that it could not continue as it was. The defects were obvious. Public vaccinators were appointed throughout the country, but there was no security that they should he skilful and competent to discharge their duties. There was no security provided that the lymph should be of a healthy character. The whole country was divided into districts, but some districts were too small to allow of the lymph being constantly provided and circulated from children vaccinated to children not vaccinated, and others were so large that parents were subjected to great inconvenience in bringing their children to be vaccinated. There was an elaborate system of registration for the purpose of detecting cases of omission; but the register was not complete. One of the provisions of the law was, that every surgeon should register all cases of vaccination successfully performed by him; but the private medical men were not remunerated for it, and in consequence neglected to return their cases. Those gentlemen were; very ready to undertake labours for the benefit of their patients, but they were unwilling to occupy their time for the benefit of the public without remuneration. The law imposed a penalty fur non-vaccination, but there were no means of inflicting it; no one was called on to prosecute, and there was no fund out of which the expenses of prosecution could be defrayed. It was urged upon the Government that such a state of things ought to be remedied, and last year a Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Brady), which proposed to transfer the I administration of the law of vaccination from the boards of guardians to the General Board of Health. He was strongly opposed to that proposition, because, although the Board of Health was supposed to be associated with an ardent and enthusiastic love of centralisation, before he succeeded to the post, he now occupied he did not share that feeling, and he had not since been either inoculated or vaccinated with it. In his opinion, such a measure as vaccination could only be carried into effect by local machinery, and therefore he declined to adopt the Bill of the hon. Member. But, as it was evident that the law must either be altered altogether or made efficient, he had turned his attention to the latter alternative and introduced I the present Bill. He thought to secure more careful and skilful vaccinators, by placing them under the superintendence of a body of medical men of eminence, and requiring a certificate of attendance at a smallpox hospital and of skilful performance of the operation he thought to effect an improvement in the districts by making them co-extensive with the present registration districts. With regard to registration, he proposed to establish under the Bill a system which should be complete and satisfactory; and he also introduced a provision enabling the board of guardians to charge on the poor-rate the expense of prosecutions in those cases of obstinate non-compliance with the law in which they thought it necessary to proceed. Objections were urged against the compulsory clauses which he proposed to retain in his Bill. It was said that the Legislature should never compel people to do anything which they did not like; but the force of that objection was greatly weakened by the argument, that in compelling vaccination they were not obliging people to do anything disadvantageous to themselves, but merely to take precaution against a loathsome and terrible disease, which spread with great rapidity and destroyed a greater proportion of those attacked than perhaps any other known disease. It appeared that the proportion of deaths from smallpox of persons attacked, without the protection of vaccination, was one in three, or one in four. When such was the virulence of the disease and the extent of the mortality resulting from it, it appeared to him that there was no constitutional reason why parents should not be obliged to do what was necessary for the preservation of their own and their neighbours' children. A man was not allowed to burn down his own house, because it would endanger his neigh-hour's property; and if the only objection to the Bill had been to its compulsory character, he should not have hesitated to press it upon the attention of the House. But there was another objection far more weighty. It was asserted that a great number of persons did not admit that vaccination was a proper, safe, or efficient measure of precaution against the smallpox, and that certain disorders not merely followed, but were caused by vaccination. In 1806, there was an inquiry by the most eminent medical men of that day, and they reported that no instance had arisen of other diseases having been propagated by vaccination, and it was stated, that in no case out of 40,000 had any evil consequences resulted, and although medical science repudiated the notion that any other disease could be given by vaccination, yet they knew that medical opinions were not infallible, and he should be very sorry to be the means of putting on the Statute-book a compulsory enactment against the deliberate convictions of any large class of the community. He believed the great opposition which had arisen to that Bill was directed more against vaccination than against the Bill itself. It might be that there was something in the manner in which vaccination was performed among the poorer classes which prevented its being as safe and efficient a precaution as it was for the richer portion of the community. They were not, however, legislating for the higher, but for the lower classes. Under these circumstances, he had thought right to adopt a suggestion of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) to move for a Select Committee next Session to inquire into the manner in which vaccination was practically performed, and to move now that the order for going into Committee on this Bill be discharged. The hon. Member moved that the order be discharged.


said, he thought the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman was a judicious one. This was a difficult and delicate question, with which the House was very little acquainted, and in regard to which investigation should precede legislation. In 1840, Sir Robert Peel, being urged to make vaccination compulsory, expressed his opinion that such a course would be repugnant to the habits and feelings of the British people, and to that freedom of opinion and action to which they were well accustomed. In 1843, at a later period of the Session than that which had now been arrived at, a compulsory Vaccination Bill was smuggled through the House. Fortunately, it became inoperative by its own defects, and remained a dead letter. It was proposed to remove those defects and make the law more stringent; but, while he believed great good had resulted from vaccination, he did not think it would be encouraged by penal enactment. The course adopted by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire was most judicious, and he rejoiced at the question being ended for the present Session. He hoped also to hear that the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary would follow this example with respect to the Burials Act Amendment Bill.


was very glad this Bill was about to be withdrawn. He believed that the endeavour to make vaccination compulsory had been most mischievous in its effects. Vaccination was quietly making its way; people were adopting it more and more, but from the moment it was made compulsory, they began to think that every evil which happened to their children afterwards necessarily ensued from it. He had no objection to the subject being referred to a Select Committee another year, but no report would satisfy him that it was desirable to make vaccination compulsory.


said, that smallpox, treated upon the hydropathic principle, would not, under any circumstances, be fatal to the extent of three per cent. And, since the authorities of the Smallpox Hospital returned the mortality as high as thirty-five and fifty per cent upon the number of cases, they should at least keep ambulances, and not encourage the practice of bringing patients to the hospital in public cabs. He had no objection to vaccination being tried as much as they pleased, but he believed it was one of the greatest humbugs the world ever produced.


said, if the Bill had not been withdrawn, he should have objected to any charge for prosecutions being thrown on the union fund, unless some more equitable mode of raising that fund than the present was adopted.

Order discharged.

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