HC Deb 15 August 1871 vol 208 cc1708-16

Bill, as amended, considered.

Clause 5 (Appointment of vaccination officer).


moved an Amendment making it obligatory on Boards of Guardians to appoint a vaccinating officer only where the Poor Law Board required them to do so.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 20, after the word "expedient," to insert the words "to authorise the Poor Law Board."—(Mr. Dickinson.)


said, the Select Committee, after a careful examination, were strongly of opinion that there should be a vaccinating officer in every Union throughout the country. The Amendment would bring the Poor Law Board into collision with the Guardians in many Unions where no such officer existed.


said, he thought that practically the Amendment was carried out by the clause as it stood.


complained that there had been no adequate opportunity of discussing so important a Bill. For weeks and months he had had on the Notice Paper an Amendment on going into Committee, and, after all, the ques- tion came on at 3 o'clock on Saturday morning, when he was absent, though even had he been present he could not possibly have moved the Amendment. The Bill was a measure to compel parents to have one disease communicated to their children in order to preclude the chance of their catching another, and such legislation was objected to strongly by thousands and tens of thousands of persons who ought to be afforded an opportunity of giving expression to their opinion. It was idle to attempt to discuss the Bill at present; but the more the subject was investigated the more it was found that vaccination depended on subtle and intricate medical doctrines. However, as matters stood, there was nothing left to him but to protest against the course which was being pursued.


concurred in what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. Chambers), believing that the country had much reason to complain of the conduct of the Government in regard to this Bill. It had been passed through Committee in a most unsatisfactory manner at 3 o'clock on Saturday morning, after his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read) and himself, who had remained until 2 o'clock, had been obliged to leave the House. The Bill would double the cost to the ratepayers, and he hoped the Government would before long consent to throw the burden upon the Consolidated Fund.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.

Clause 10 (Limitation of penalty for non-vaccination).


moved the omission of the clause. Under its operation anyone who chose to pay 20s., or two smaller amounts, would be permitted to allow his child to remain unvaccinated and would enjoy the privilege of being able to convey infection to all the other children in his immediate neighbourhood. The clause, in short, was both unjust and absurd. If the law providing for vaccination was a good one it ought to be enforced without any such exemptions. By the action of those who availed themselves of the clause the disease might be spread, and the beneficial result of the Bill to those who complied with its provisions thus neutral- ized. As had been stated by his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read), sheep affected with the scab were prevented, from running about and communicating the disease, and if the present clause were a proper one, why, he should like to know, should not the owner of a flock be permitted to allow his diseased sheep to roam about from place to place and spread the infection with impunity?

Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause 10.—(Sir Massey Lopes.)


, as a Member of the Committee who had sat on the subject, while admitting that the clause appeared to be somewhat singular, pointed out that those who were opposed to vaccination embraced various classes, fanatics, men with honest convictions, and quacks. Persons who pretended to know all about the matter went about among the poorer classes and described vaccination as blood poisoning, and as being a totally ineffectual remedy against the small-pox. The result was that many parents conscientiously believed that they would be sacrificing their children if they allowed them to be vaccinated, and that fines had no effect in inducing them to act contrary to that belief. They constantly made their way into another district and nothing was gained by the repetition of the fine.


said, that the Returns supplied by the Metropolitan Asylum Boards conclusively showed the value of vaccination during a period of three months at the five small-pox asylums; 281 children had died (under 10 years of age), and of these 257 were unvaccinated and only 24 were vaccinated, the former being in the proportion of 91 per cent. In one of the hospitals not a single case of a vaccinated child applying for treatment was received. Another Return supplied to hon. Members was equally conclusive as to the necessity of stringent legislation. It showed that out of 112,250 births registered in the year ending Michaelmas, 1870, there were only 35,576 successful vaccinations of children under one year of ago. In some parishes the proportion was even worse; thus in St. George's-in-the-East the births were 1,838, vaccinations 300; in Hackney, births 4,054, vaccinations 616; in Islington, births 7,700, vaccinations 1,181; in St. Saviour's, births 6,730, vaccinations 913. Thus no one could assert that the Act of 1867 was too stringent, as the question was, ought not its stringency to be increased. The Committee had admitted that there were hardly any objections to a compulsory law; but they had dwelt upon certain practical difficulties, and it came to this—that for the sake of a certain number of persons who entertained conscientious objections to vaccination, they were to be permitted to spread the chance of danger and disease through the land, at the price—as had been said—of 20s. per head. It had been said that public opinion must be conciliated; but it seemed to him that the only public opinion really worth consulting would be in favour of taking every reasonable step for putting down the disease. Again, the fine of 20s. for refusal would be nothing to a rich man, but might lead to the imprisonment of a poor one. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Muntz) had said that by moving from district to district a person might evade the law; but he ventured to think that after being pursued once or twice in that fashion, the person would consider that it would be better to submit to the law. There was only one serious reason alleged by the Committee in support of the clause, and that was that the object of the law would not be attained by continuing long contests with parents, for that the children would still remain unvaccinated, and that they would not recommend that the policeman should be empowered to take a baby from its mother. Neither did he desire that that should be done; but there was a proposal by means of which the object in view might be secured, and which was substantially embodied in the Scotch Act. The vaccination authority might be empowered to visit the homes of defaulting parents, and there and then vaccinate the children. Such a proposal had been recommended to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forster) by the unanimous vote of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The clause, if passed, would make the House stultify itself by revoking a decision which it came to in 1867, while at the same time it maintained the reasoning and opinions which induced it to arrive at that decision. Besides, the clause would, or to a great extent might, nullify the operation of the Act of 1867, which was almost universally admitted to be a valuable and beneficent Act; and, worse still, it would not only encourage a system of agitation, which in these days ought not to be encouraged, but would tend to propagate a terrible disease. Therefore, even at the present period of the Session, and in the present state of the House, hon. Members ought to pause before they gave their sanction to a proposal which was one of the most illogical that could be imagined, and, if carried out, would be one of the most mischievous.


said, that part of the expenses of the Act should be defrayed out of moneys to be voted by Parliament was a suggestion which he himself made to the Committee, and solely on sanitary grounds; for he believed that vaccination would be conducted more efficiently if, together with the local agency, there was the valuable security of central inspection and control, which should be given as an accompaniment when a certain portion of the expenses would be defrayed out of the general taxation of the country. The Committee, however, did not see that this was a matter which could be brought into the present Bill. It was rather one of the questions to be dealt with when the arrangements between rates and taxes should be settled, which must be done in a short time. With regard to what happened the other evening, he was surprised to see the letter of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read), because he had told the hon. Gentleman and several others that we had now arrived at a time of the Session when, if the Bill were to be passed at all, they must not be very particular as to the hour when it should be taken. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet (Sir Massey Lopes), and the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), showed the great difficulty with which the Committee had to contend. He had never assisted at a more puzzling investigation. The Committee, through several of its Members, went into the inquiry entirely opposed to the view which they ultimately adopted, as, for instance, the right hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. S. Cave), the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), and himself had come to an unanimous conclusion, and that fact ought to have made the hon. Baronet hesitate before passing so strong a condemnation. In- deed, if the hon. Baronet himself had been on the Committee he would probably have been obliged to take the same view as the Committee had done. The great difficulty arose when the law came into conflict with the really honest views of the parent as to what he regarded for the good of his child. The hon. Baronet had said that the authorities might go from house to house and vaccinate the children by force if necessary. That was not done in Scotland, and there was nothing which would be more likely to excite public opinion against the Act in England than if it were attempted here. In Scotland, although the law worked well on the whole, the number of prosecutions was so small that he could not ascertain a single case in which there had been a double prosecution. In Ireland, he believed, there were no double prosecutions. They had not been tried in England till the year 1867, and the unanimous opinion of the recent Committee on the subject was one that he hoped the House would adopt. With regard to the alleged injustice on the poor man, as compared with that on the rich, he would remind the hon. Baronet that that injustice already existed, inasmuch as by the payment of £4 a-year—which to a wealthy man was a trifle—a parent could prevent his child being vaccinated for 13 years. All those who were most familiar with the practical working of the Act were of opinion that the representation of the Committee was the right one, and he hoped that the House would endorse it.


explained that the resolution of the Metropolitan Asylums Board stated— That the central authority should be empowered to visit from house to house, for the purpose of vaccinating the children of defaulting parents"— not of willing ones.


explained that the resolution in question was merely understood to point to the advantage of going to the house to vaccinate in certain cases rather than that the child should be brought to the vaccinating station. The deputation which waited upon him never alluded to vaccination by force.


said, he hoped the hon. Baronet (Sir Massey Lopes) would persevere with his Motion. They ought to consider the interests of those parents who paid for the vaccination of their children, as well as the effect which might be produced upon the minds of the contumacious persons who refused to obey the law. If a fine were imposed in cases of refusal where the child died from small-pox, and a record were kept of the fines so inflicted, he held that would have a good effect.


said, he thought the argument of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) tended to refute his own case. The statistics proved two things—first, that a great number of the population remained unvaccinated, and second, that by far the greatest number of deaths in the recent epidemic had occurred amongst vaccinated and revaccinated persons. The best scheme had been tried in order to enforce the law, and penalties so severe had been enforced that a Select Committee of Inquiry recommended their remission. He would admit that vaccination was to a certain extent a preventative against mortality from smallpox; but that it furnished no security against an attack of that disease. He found that of 155 persons admitted at the Small-pox Hospital, in St. James's, Piccadilly, up to the 12th of June, 145 were vaccinated; at the Hampstead Hospital, up to the 13th May, 2,347 were vaccinated out of 2,965 admissions. In Marylebone 92 per cent of those attacked by small-pox were vaccinated. Could anyone, then, say that vaccination was a protection against small-pox? He admitted that it was a protection against mortality from that particular disease; but that was not admitting much, because the diminution of general mortality was the object of all remedies; and whether vaccination accomplished that object was more than doubtful. Prussia was the best vaccinated country in Europe, yet in Berlin 164 persons had died in one week, being at the rate of 12,000 in the million, and a mortality three times greater than that of London. And yet there everyone was vaccinated and revaccinated. It was reckoned absurd to say that vaccination conveyed disease; but one of the most eminent surgeons in Paris, who had been a warm partisan of vaccination, had at last expressed his reluctant conviction that syphilis might be conveyed in the vaccine lymph. He should like to know what Sir Culling Eardley, who had himself re-vaccinated as an example to his servants, died of? He had known lately many persons who had been brought to the edge of the grave and had remained dangerously ill for months in consequence of having been re-vaccinated, although he did not pretend to say whether it was owing to the lymph or to the state of the blood. He believed that they could not in all cases compel vaccination, even if they employed the police. It was alleged that small-pox was an entirely preventable disease, and that it might be stamped out. The experience of all ages was against this theory. In Sweden everybody was perfectly vaccinated, yet when small-pox became epidemic it prevailed in Sweden just as much as anywhere else. But was small-pox, even in an epidemic form, an unmixed evil? Probably not; for in proportion as smallpox had been absent, scarlet fever, low fever, and other diseases had increased, and it was notorious that epidemics did not raise the average rate of mortality. He thought it was time that the legislation on this subject should be reviewed; let the public be enlightened on the subject, and the moment they were satisfied that vaccination was the right thing to be done they would do it, without the employment of rigorous compulsory agencies.


said, that when the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. Chambers) spoke of the deaths of vaccinated persons, he did not say what kind of vaccination had been performed upon them. The liability to small-pox depended on the mode in which vaccination had been carried out. It was found that where persons had only one mark there was a certain liability to smallpox, while in cases where two or three marks showed that vaccination had been perfectly performed, the percentage of fatal cases was infinitesimally small. The nurses of the Small-pox Hospital, who were all re-vaccinated, enjoyed an almost entire immunity from the disease; but while we were carrying out a proper system of vaccination, we were justified in trying to mitigate the effects of the Act of 1867. With regard to the clause in question, it was stated before the Select Committee that there was one person at Leeds who had been summoned 12 times, and fined four times, and whose child to this day remained unvac- cinated. In another case a working man in the North of England, who had been convicted ten times, was then in gaol for refusing to have his child vaccinated. A minister at St. Neots had also been sent to prison for non-payment of a fine of £5. It was clear that in such cases of refusal from conscientious conviction cumulative penalties were of no use, and that an amendment of the law was desirable. He believed that this Bill, without doing any injury to the community, would tend to allay the existing excitement against vaccination, and to get rid of the societies formed in various parts of the country in opposition to the principle of compulsory vaccination.

Question put, "That Clause 10 stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 12: Majority 45.

Bill read the third time, and passed.