HC Deb 17 June 1858 vol 150 cc2279-85

Order for Committee read.


said, that he should have bad no objection to the principle of the Bill bad it been such as announced by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Adderley) on introducing it. But it appeared to him that the Bill contained greater powers than were then stated. He therefore wished to know for what purpose the Bill had been introduced—whether in fact it was for the purpose of transferring the sanitary powers of the Board of Health from the general Board to local Boards; or re-constituting the old Board of Health, which had been condemned so frequently by that House. If the right hon. Gentleman would inform him that, in order to meet any particular emergency, or to check any aggravated form of disease which might arise, he asked for dictatorial powers under the provision of the measure, to such a proposition he should have no objection to accede. Indeed, some such pressing occasion might be said to have arrived, for the state of the Thames at the present moment imperatively demanded that to the abatement of the nuisance a remedy should be applied. So great was that nuisance that it had, he had been told, attracted the attention of every hon. Member who happened to have been in the library in the course of that evening. Now, if such were the case in the building in which they were sit- ting, how much worse must be the state of things in those alleys of the metropolis which adjoined the river! He should not, therefore, object to giving a Board of medical officers the power to take summary steps in a case of that kind. The first clause to which he particularly objected was the third, which enabled the Privy Council to make inquiries which they thought necessary with respect to the public health; but it did not enable the Privy Council to do anything in consequence of those inquiries. He wished to know whether that clause meant something or nothing. By another clause the present Medical Officer of the Board of Health was to become the Medical Officer of the Privy Council. He wished to know what duties this officer had to perform sufficient to justify his being paid a salary of £1,500 a year, especially taking into consideration the fact that the gentleman who now held the office had other offices, besides a considerable private practice. The Bill also gave power to appoint a medical board, but he understood that there was no intention of appointing a paid medical board. It was quite competent to the Government to appoint a medical board in case of an epidemic, and afterwards to apply to Parliament to grant them a Bill of indemnity for so doing; but he must object to the taking of these indefinite powers, which opened a door to jobbery, and for paying large salaries to officers whose posts were sinecures under ordinary circumstances. The whole course of legislation on the subject of the public health was, indeed, a disgrace to this House. In spite of all their Commissions and Health Bills, the Thames, which was the mainspring of the power and wealth of London, had been allowed to become one vast sewer, which would surely spread disease and death around. He really thought it was high time for any men of humanity, who felt for the position of the working classes in London, to protest against the present system of legislation on this question. In conclusion, he must object to the system of bringing on Bills containing a variety of details which required discussion at a late hour in the evening, when it was impossible to discuss them satisfactorily.


said, that the Bill had nothing to do with the larger questions which were embraced in the Local Government Bill, and with which the hon. Gentleman appeared to have confounded it. The Bill then before the House simply enacted that the services of the Medical Officer of the Board of Health should be transferred to the Privy Council. The appointment and salary of that gentleman would remain when the Board of Health expired, but he would have no duties if this Bill did not pass. The main object of the Bill was to provide for the emergency of an epidemic. That such powers were required was, he thought, proved by the pestilential state of the great river which flowed close by, and which really might soon come to be a terror to this House, and to those who lived on its borders. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would allow the Bill to go into Committee, and then raise his objections upon its details.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4.


said, he wished to know what were to be the duties of the Medical Officer under this Bill, and why it was to be turned into a patent office. If he did not receive satisfaction on this point he would move the omission of that part of the clause.


said, he could not see what objection was to be urged to the retention of the Medical Officer, whose position was not altered from what it was before.


remarked, that this Bill was about to make a very great change by transferring the powers under the Bill from a Board over which the House had power to the Privy Council, over which the House had no power. He was not prepared to go on with the Bill, and in the absence of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who had Amendments on the paper, if the Bill were persisted in he would move that the Chairman report progress. The clause also gave the Privy Council the power of fixing the salaries, and took from the House the power over the purse. He thought the Bill should not be passed in that loose manner.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Locke), and he thought the House was at least entitled to know what would be the probable estimate of the salaries of the men that were to be engaged.


said, he should not be content with knowing the salaries. He objected altogether to the House of Commons giving up the purse strings out of their hands into those of the Privy Council.


said, there was no danger of the House losing hold of the purse strings, because no salaries could be given except out of the money voted annually for that purpose by Parliament. Then, as to the objection of other medical officers being appointed, he understood the clause to mean, that in case an epidemic broke out in five or six towns at the same time, the Privy Council should not be limited to one medical officer, but should have power to send down an inspector to each, while for years together, perhaps, there might not be occasion for the employment of one. What they wanted was to have one medical officer always at the disposal of the Board, with power to engage more when it was thought necessary.


contended, that they ought to fix the salaries first, as it would be too late to object to the salaries after the officers were appointed.


said, he conceived that the measure had not been well considered, and that it had come on unexpectedly in the absence of hon. Gentlemen who took interest in the subject. He was disposed to support the suggestion that the Chairman should report progress. The Privy Council was not the right body to have power proposed to be vested in it.


said, that there could be no doubt that no money could be spent without an estimate being laid before the House. The root of the objection seemed to be that the Medical Officer was of no use. Now, Mr. Simon, last year, prepared a report on vaccination, proving that the smallpox could be absolutely eradicated by a practical system of vaccination; and the result was that a clause bad been introduced into the Bill to give greater effect to the provisions for carrying out vaccination in this country. Therefore the result of the report of that Medical Officer would be to save many thousands of human lives, and that was a sufficient reason to justify the appointment of a permanent medical officer, and the empowering of the Privy Council to appoint a sufficient number of persons to make inquiries.


protested against the doctrine that they were not to proceed with the further business because an hon. Member chose to absent himself. He could not understand how hon. Gentlemen could resist the progress of a measure which was loudly called for by the sanitary condition of the country.


said, he was also in favour of proceeding with the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen grudged the salary of £1,500 a year to the medical officer; but they did not consider that there were now 150,000 preventible deaths every year in the country, and it was a moderate computation that for every preventible death there were twenty-eight cases of preventible illness, of an average duration of a fortnight each. Let them think of the enormous loss of industry which these preventible deaths and preventible cases of illness produced in the country. It was a new doctrine to hear that the Privy Council had nothing to do with the health of the country, when they knew that the whole quarantine regulations were under their control. He regulations it advisable, therefore, that that body should have the power of habitually and quietly, without exciting alarm, making inquiries into any manifestation of disease in any part of the United Kingdom.


said, as there seemed to be some doubt about the matter, he now intended to move that the Chairman do report progress. His hon. Colleague (Mr. Duncombe) had given notice of several Amendments on the Bill, and he was sure he would have been in his place to move them if he thought that the Bill would have been brought on. They were now discussing a clause which, in his opinion, would create as great a job as had ever been perpetrated.


said, he rose to order. As the hon. Gentleman had moved that the Chairman do report progress, he thought he ought not to delay the Committee by discussing the clause itself.


remarked, that he had only understood the hon. Member to say, that he intended to move that the Chairman do report progress.


said, it appeared to him that the Bill was one of a very important character, and required much discussion. He would, therefore, give an opportunity for further discussion by moving that the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Motion made, and Question put—"That the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again."

The Committee divided: Ayes 32; Noes 140; Majority 108.


said, with regard to the first objection, if hon. Gentlemen would but refer to the 7th clause they would find that that clause delegated the power to three persons, being Privy Councillors, of whom the Vice President of the Committee of Education was o be one. Consequently, instead of referring the matter to, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the reference would be made to that portion of it which had always a certain supervision of it. With regard to the other objection urged, he thought there was some force in it. He wished, therefore, to remind the Committee, what was the state of the law at present, and what it would be under the operation of this clause. The state of the law now was this: the Board of Health had the power of appointing not a medical officer, but a medical council, and they had the power of appointing inspectors with very large powers, which were now vested only in the Board. The powers introduced in the clause were, however, somewhat less. His right hon. Friend at the head of the Poor Law Board had given cogent reasons why the medical officers should have certain powers given to them when infectious complaints were spreading, in order that they might be enabled to point out the mode by which those diseases could be best dealt with. The provisions of the Bill would always be subjected to the revision of the House when they came to deal with the annual Estimates. He would suggest that in the clause relating to remuneration and salaries it should be specified that there should be one paid Medical Officer, who should be the only person entitled to salary, and that the remuneration of other persons he might appoint as inspectors, should be such as the Commissioners of the Treasury should from time to time direct. Thus, there would be only one permanent salary.


inquired what was the amount of the Medical Officer's salary?


£1,500 a year.


said, what they wanted was that one of the principal Secretaries of State should take the place of the Privy Council, in order that there might be some one responsible to the House for the appoinments which might be made.


said, he was of opinion that if the salary of the Medical Officer was £1,500 a year he ought to devote his services exclusively to the Board, and not derive emoluments from private practice or perform other duties.


said, that the efficiency of medical officers was very much curtailed by the adoption of the principle of isolating them from all other practice. He was not precluded from private practice by his employers, and it would be better not to restrict him by Act of Parliament.


said, he thought that if £1,500 a year was not sufficient they should make it £2,000, but that he ought to be debarred from private practice.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

The remaining Clauses were then agreed to.

The House resumed.

Bill reported, as amended; to be considered To-morrow.