HC Deb 06 July 1870 vol 202 cc1584-92

Order for resuming Adjourned Debate on Second Reading [31st May] read.


said, that his Bill was not intended to conflict with the principle of the Act of 1867, but was rather intended to strengthen the provisions of that Act. He believed that the construction put upon that Act by the Law Courts was never intended by Parliament when it was passed. It was a mere verbal accident that the penalties of vaccination were made continuous. Vaccination could only be enforced by taking the children out of the hands of the parents and giving them by force into those of the public vaccinator. He quite admitted that the feeling of the country was largely in favour of vaccination, and it was because he himself was in favour of it that he would mitigate the severity of the law as it had been construed by the Law Courts. His opinion was that even were there no law in favour of vaccination, 80 per cent of the population would have their children vaccinated; 10 per cent were apathetic on the subject, and were induced by the penalties of the Act to comply with it; but there was a class—honest, intelligent, and well-disposed—who altogether objected to such an operation, and would not be compelled to vaccinate their children by any penalty that might be imposed. Such persons were, in his estimation, entitled to what he might call a Conscience Clause in the matter. He was quite aware that it would be impossible for him to carry his Bill at this late period of the Session, and he would therefore withdraw it if he received an assurance from the Secretary of State for the Home Department that a Select Committee would be appointed early next Session to investigate the whole of this delicate and difficult subject. That there was some need of amendment of the present Act was proved by the fact that many conscientious people left the country rather than submit to its operation.


said, he had come down to the House prepared to argue against the Bill; but as it was not to be pressed, he would not adduce the arguments he had prepared. He would merely remark that if it were true that many people left the country rather than submit to have their children vaccinated, the country would be the better of their absence. The Bill before the House was, in his opinion, neither more nor less than a Bill which would sell indulgences to parents to break the law at the price of £3. When the Motion was made for a Select Committee he hoped reasons would be adduced to show that its appointment would not tend to check the action of the present system, which all who were acquainted with the results must regard as eminently satisfactory.


said, he did not understand that his hon. Friend who had brought in the Bill (Mr. Candlish) objected to the system of compulsory vacci- nation. What he said merely was that unfortunately, as was very well known, there were a number not only of poor and uneducated people, but of persons who ought to know better, who were opposed to vaccination, and, the penalties being very considerable, and, indeed, indefinite in their ultimate amount, it was difficult to administer the law when the victims became the objects of so much public sympathy. That was an administrative difficulty which it was the duty of Parliament to grapple with. He thought, therefore, that it would be well to appoint a Select Committee to consider the point, and if possible to suggest a remedy. He thought it was perfectly impossible for any reasonable man who considered this subject with our experience in England and our more recent experience in Scotland and Ireland—where small-pox was almost entirely got rid of—to doubt the beneficial results of compulsory vaccination. He was bound to say that there were subjects connected with vaccination which were well worthy of the consideration of a Committee, and the supply of good vaccine matter was one of them. He begged it to be borne in mind, however, that in moving for a Select Committee he understood his hon. Friend to have moved for it in the full determination to apply the system of compulsory vaccination. But whilst they agreed that this was desirable they should take care, in order to remove prejudice, that the application of the compulsory Act should be made in the manner that was most in accordance with the wants, wishes, and feelings of the people. Upon that understanding he would have no objection to the granting of the Committee.


When this Bill was first brought in I did not see the objections to it which I do since I have studied it, and the reason for this is, that I thought it was introduced in the interests of vaccination, with the view of giving elasticity to a rigid compulsory law. But, finally, I determined to oppose it because its very existence implied doubt as to the justice and efficiency of the existing law. That doubt will be much increased by the course which the Government have advised the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish) to adopt—that is, to withdraw his Bill on the promise of a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the compulsory law. This is a far more serious and objectionable course than that proposed by ray hon. Friend. It indicates to the nation that there is something which justifies an inquiry, and shakes confidence in the protective power of vaccination itself. There is every reason why we should be satisfied with the results of our compulsory legislation, and none why we should give encouragement to ignorant agitation by a Parliamentary inquiry. I shall not detain the House above a few minutes in regard to the evidence already before us; but the new aspect which has been given to the question compels me to give a few statistical results to show that there is absolutely no ground either for hesitation or inquiry. Since Jenner's great discovery, there has been a progressive diminution of small-pox, and exactly in proportion to the increasing stringency of the law. Previous to the introduction of vaccination, the annual deaths from small-pox in England and Wales were estimated to be 3,000 per 1,000,000 of the population. In the three years before the first Vaccination Act of 1840, the Registrar General's Returns show a considerable reduction by the adoption of voluntary vaccination, for the annual average was then only 770 deaths per 1,000,000. That Act provided vaccination gratuitously, but its operation was not obligatory, and the average of its nine years' working was to reduce the death-rate to 304 per 1,000,000. Then came the compulsory Vaccination Act of 1853, which made it obligatory on a parent to have his child vaccinated, but unfortunately permitted a defective machinery to enforce the law; nevertheless, in the next 10 years, a short amending Act having been passed in 1861, the rate of mortality from smallpox sunk to 171 per 1,000,000. Before alluding to the last Act of 1867, I would refer to the intermediate Acts of 1863, which applied to Ireland and Scotland, and not to England. These were improvements upon the English Acts of 1853 and 1861, although they have defects inherent to themselves. The compulsion has been made universal, and has been accepted by both countries with very little resistance, and the results have been gratifying in the highest degree. Both countries previous to these Acts had in ordinary years about 1,000 deaths from small-pox, but in epidemic years these increased, especially in Ireland, to three or four times that number. Now small-pox may be said to be "stamped out" of both these countries; for in 1868 the mortality in Ireland was only 19 from this cause, and in Scotland, 24. In 1869, Ireland, lost only four persons by this disease—all in the first quarter, for in the remaining part of the year there had not been a single death. Scotland in 1869 had unfortunately an epidemic of small-pox, and its mortality increased to 100. England, in spite of her Vaccination Acts of 1853 and 1861, lost still between 6,000 and 7,000 persons annually by this disease, and so in 1867 we passed the last compulsory Vaccination Act, which it is the object of this Bill to amend. Well, its operation has been largely successful, though as yet it has not stamped out small-pox like the Scotch and Irish Acts. Nevertheless, the last Returns of the Registrar General show only 2,052 deaths, or at the rate of 105 per 1,000,000, our last ratio under the Act of 1857 having been 171. Hence, nothing is clearer than that the rate of mortality from small-pox has largely decreased in proportion to the force of every measure directed against it. Yet here we have a Bill before us for reducing the force. What can have led to a demand for such legislation? Exactly the same ignorance and prejudice which opposed Jenner in the introduction of his great discovery. Then, as now, associations were established to oppose vaccination. Though comprehensible in those days—as the discovery was one of startling novelty, and somewhat of a repulsive aspect, for the introduction of a disease from a beast into a man was calculated to raise prejudice; yet this prejudice was gradually overcome by the overwhelming evidence in its favour; and now, when, on a moderate computation, 80,000 lives are annually saved in the United Kingdom by its agency, it is really marvellous to find that there is a resistance to the compulsory law not in Scotland or Ireland, where the laws have been the most stringent and effective, but in England, where they have been the least stringent and the least effective. In all such resistance to law there are some grounds of valid objection, and though these in the present case happen to be very small, and connected with much that is purely fanciful, I am not disposed to treat them either with ridicule or disrespect. The objections taken against vaccination generally are shortly the following:—Firstly, that in some cases children are injured by vaccination; secondly, that loathsome diseases are communicable by it; thirdly, that the vaccine virus has lost its power, and is no longer protective. The only one of these which has truth in it is the first. Undoubtedly some children have suffered from the process of vaccination, just as some people have died from the administration of chloroform; but the proportion of injury to benefit is so infinitesimally small in both cases, that it vanishes altogether when looked at from a public point of view. Some of this injury may have, and likely has, arisen from the use of bad vaccine matter, deteriorated by defective preservation, or from taking it from the pustule, instead of from the vesicle; but the very object of the system of national vaccination is to provide proper lymph and skilful vaccinators, so that the recurrences of such accidental injuries will be reduced to a minimum. When I have admitted thus much, I have gone as far as it is possible for me to do. The averment that loathsome disease is communicable by vaccination is the main ground of opposition, but is contrary to nearly universal medical evidence, and to the results of actual and direct experiment. In 1857, the medical officer of the Privy Council, Dr. Simon, published an important Blue Book on vaccination. He addressed inquiries on this subject to 539 eminent medical men of all countries, and with scarcely a single exception they all rejected the statement that loathsome disease was ever communicated by means of vaccination. There are eminent medical men in this country who have vaccinated from 40,000 to 50,000 children, and they have never met with a single instance of such communication. Nay, more, direct experiments have been made in foreign countries—for happily our medical traditions would not permit them to be made in England—in which many children have been purposely vaccinated with lymph taken from Jennerian vesicles on the bodies of persons actually suffering from the loathsome disease, and in no case has it been communicated to the children thus vaccinated. Of course, I am aware of two instances—the Auray and the Rivalta epidemics—which are stated to have originated from this cause, but the evidence in both cases is inconclusive in the highest degree, and nothing analogous to them has ever appeared in this country. The third and last objection to vaccination consists in the allegation that the lymph has lost its efficiency by long descent, and that it no longer offers efficient protection against small-pox. I shall not trouble the House with statistics in refutation of this, though there is abundant experience to show that well-selected lymph is almost certain in its efficiency. The idea that it deteriorates in a long descent is as fanciful as would be the supposition that yeast deteriorates by passing through a long succession of brewings of beer. Both the vaccine lymph and yeast are individual existences, which are reproduced each time afresh with marked individual characters as precise and peculiar as a puppy is produced from a dog or a rose from the rose tree. However distant in genealogy vaccine matter is from the cow, it is as effective as in the first instance, if carefully selected and properly applied. With the teachings of science, and with the large practical experience acquired not only in Scotland and Ireland, but also in England, it is quite incomprehensible to me what is the justification for a Committee of Inquiry. That inquiry is not, as I understand, whether it is wise to sell vaccination indulgences to the prejudiced rich, and practically to exclude the prejudiced poor who could not pay 40s. for an indulgence, for such is really the safety-valve suggested by the Bill—a very heavily overweighted and dangerous safety-valve as I think it—but a general Parliamentary inquiry is suggested, though it will shake public confidence on the whole subject of vaccination. I know that it is useless to oppose an expressed intention of the Government on such a point; but, at all events, I can express my conviction as to the unwisdom, of such a proceeding. Had we rejected the Bill, I believe that the working classes of England would have thanked us for not treating them in a childish exceptional fashion. When the working people of Ireland and Scotland are deriving such advantages from their Acts—when England sees that Ireland and Scotland lose scarcely a score of persons annually by this terrible scourge, she will not rest content to see 2,000 of her sons perish every year. Science, as well as practical experience, shows that though small-pox is the most terrible of all diseases, it is the one most surely preventible; and it is lamentable that any course taken by the Government should throw any doubt on the necessity and efficiency of our compulsory laws.


said, the opposition to vaccination was much stronger and deeper than was generally believed. He had presented a Petition from 1,650 inhabitants of Northampton against the compulsory clauses of the Vaccination Act. Some of these persons were suffering from penalties inflicted upon them for non-observance of the Act. These men were intelligent and sincere in their objection to vaccination. Some hon. Members opposite might think they deserved expatriation for their obstinacy; but he belonged to a people who had suffered banishment for conscience sake, and could understand a man preferring prison to doing to his children what he believed to be an injury. He was glad that a Committee was to be appointed.


said, that if the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, and St. Andrews Universities (Dr. Lyon Playfair) were likely to be accepted with the authority it deserved, the appointment of a Select Committee would be undesirable; but the state of feeling in the country with regard to vaccination required an authoritative declaration from a Select Committee to disperse the unreasonable and unfounded dislike to vaccination prevalent in some parts of the country. He hoped the Government would see that a proper Committee was appointed, and that evidence from both sides was taken. Then he had no doubt that the present opposition would be removed, and the smallpox as effectually stamped out in this country as it had been in Scotland and elsewhere.


said, that one great objection to vaccination was that it was injurious to the constitution; but the idea was unfounded, as was proved by the low death-rate in Ireland, where vaccination was more general than elsewhere.


said, he was very much afraid that the announcement of the Secretary of State for the Home Department with regard to granting a Committee next year would have a most mischievous effect in the interim. It would strengthen the opposition which now existed to the Vaccination Act, would create doubt in the minds of many who now had no doubt, and produce a laxity in enforcing the Act which would be followed by a state of things similar to what was at present occurring in Paris, where as many as 212 deaths had occurred last week in consequence of laxity in enforcing vaccination. He would recommend the publication of a few facts upon the subject by the display of a handbill in shop windows to allay fears regarding vaccination, and he was of opinion that if the Registrar General would issue a circular showing the percentage of deaths from small-pox before and since the passing of the Vaccination Act, it would tranquilize the public mind.


said, he would remind the House that a Committee, presided over by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had sat upon the subject in 1867. He thought it was unnecessary to appoint another.


said, that Committee did not take evidence upon the subject of vaccination.


said, as a Member of the Committee spoken of, he could confirm that statement; the Committee confined itself to the clauses of the Bill referred to it. He thought evidence as to vaccination should be heard, and he therefore approved of the appointment of a Committee next year.

Order discharged.

Bill withdrawn.