HC Deb 10 July 1872 vol 212 cc926-34

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving "That the Bill be now read a second time," said, that though his belief in the advantages of vaccination was as great as that of any other man, he found that there existed a strong feeling among his constituents and in various parts of the country in favour of the limitation of the stringent powers of the Act of last year. It could not be denied that there was a strong feeling in the country against the excessive penalties now levied for a neglect of the Vaccination Acts, especially among the poor, who thought that Church and State were both hostile to them in the matter, as he found in the instructions to district visitors issued by the right rev. Samuel Lord Bishop of Winchester, that amongst the duties of the visitor he was to inquire whether each child in a family had been baptized and vaccinated. He thought it would be quite as well if they inquired into the reasonableness or unreasonableness of that feeling, for it must be remembered that parish doctors, though an invaluable body of men, treated the poor in a very different manner to the treatment which the rich received at the hands of their medical attendants. It was against the accumulation of penalties now authorized by the law that this Bill was directed; and it was based upon the recommendation of the Committee of 1871 that inquired into the subject. The Bill proposed that no person who had been fined the full penalty of 20s. for the non-vaccination of his child, or who had been twice fined in smaller sums on that account, should be liable to any further penalty under the Act. The Committee had recommended that whenever one full penalty had been imposed by the magistrate on the parent for the non-vaccination of a child, no further penalties should be levied upon him in respect of that same child. That provision was supported in the House of Commons by a large majority, but was struck out in the House of Lords by a majority of 1–15 Peers taking part in the division—and the Amendment thus made was accepted by the Government as the only chance of passing the Bill that Session. There could be no doubt that, in some few cases, disease, and even death, did result from the vaccination of infants, and it was not surprising, therefore, that here and there parents should conscientiously object to risk the lives of their children by submitting them to the process. Again, though the parents might be sent to prison for neglecting the Act, it generally happened that the children still remained unvaccinated; and it was also beyond doubt that the birth of children in many cases were left unregistered, and that in others the parents left their houses in order to evade the vaccination officers. He was not pleading for those who neglected to have their children vaccinated merely from carelessness; but he did appeal on behalf of parents who, having the most conscientious and deeply-rooted objection to the process, were now brought up and fined over and over again on that account. The law was one intended to do people good against their will; but it went far beyond the recognized principle that punishment purged the offence. In many instances men were fined over and over again, and in one case in London a man had had eight distress warrants issued against him in 14 months in respect to the non-vaccination of three children, and had been put to expenses of close on £20. In another case, a person had been fined five times, and his expenses were £13 15s. And scores of similar instances had occurred, the most flagrant being, perhaps, that of a parent in Kent, who had undergone, within a space of two years or less, the following terms of imprisonment because of his refusal to comply with the Acts:—14 days in Canterbury Gaol, 14 days in Maidstone Gaol, 31 days in the County Gaol, 31 days again in the same gaol, and 10 days in the same gaol. He believed the adoption of his measure would practically do a great deal more in the way of securing general vaccination than the leaving the law in its present state, and he trusted, therefore, that the House would accord it a second reading.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Pease.)


said, he hoped that the House would seriously consider the matter before it assented to the Motion. After the serious outbreak of small pox, by which the population of some of our large towns had been decimated, and which was still lingering on our thresholds, he thought the proposal was singularly inopportune, and he could scarcely believe that this retrograde step would be adopted by the House. The Bill, in reality, would be equivalent to an invitation to parents to disobey the law by giving them a practical impunity in the case of their continued contumacy. Absolute necessity was shown, by the highest medical authorities, for keeping the vaccination laws unrepealed. A clergyman, writing on the subject of this measure, said that if it succeeded, it would establish a system for the sale of indulgences, while it set a bad example. The House would do well to follow the course adopted by the Lords last year, and determine to read the Bill a second time that day three months, a course which he should take the liberty of moving.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, that Clause 10 of the Government Bill of last year, which was really the Bill of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pease), was one which would convert compulsory vaccination into a sham. He had stayed in the House last Session morning after morning for six weeks, with a view of opposing the clause; but, on the 15th of August, he went to bed at 1 o'clock, and when he rose, he found from The Times that the Vaccination Bill had passed through Committee. The only principle on which the expense of vaccination could be charged to the rates was, that it should be compulsory and universal; for if it were not so, he was persuaded that the cases of small-pox would increase to such an extent that Government would have to make every town provide an hospital. That was certainly a novel principle in legislation, which said if a man threw down a sovereign on the table before the justices, he should be allowed to break the law. This "sale of indulgences" was extended to the rich only. It was asked, what shall we do with the martyrs? If they did away with martyrdom in this matter, they would deprive a number of persons of a peculiar satisfaction—those persons who were never happy unless they were martyrs. But the law ought to be strong enough to knock martyrdom out of such people altogether. Were this Bill passed, they might as well say that a man who had committed a nuisance might do it over and over again on paying one penalty. He regarded an unvaccinated child as a danger and a nuisance. The authors of the anti-vaccination agitation appeared to be almost exclusively members of the Society of Friends; and he observed by their published report that in 1871, about £184 was paid to the hon. secretary, while the amount paid for the martyrs did not exceed £2 14s. 4d. He might add another fact to that, of some importance. From Darlington, the very centre of this agitation, he had presented to the House Petitions signed by several thousand persons against a measure of this character, and several from Boards of Guardians and other public bodies. No doubt, amendments were required in the law, and before compulsory vaccination could be fully enforced, it was necessary to make the registration of births compulsory also. It was particularly desirable that there should be an adequate supply of pure lymph. It might be asked, would they have the child taken by the police from the mother's breast and handed over to the public vaccinator? They were now, however, applying the principle of direct compulsion to the education of children, and he did not see why they should not equally apply it to vaccination, which might be the means of saving the child's life, and also of preserving the public health.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Honk.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, that as a Member of the Vaccination Committee, he had to express his great regret at not having divided it, against the recommendation which formed the basis of this Bill. This was owing to his high respect for his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster), who was Chairman of that Committee. The principle involved in the Bill was novel and dangerous. Its object was to relieve persons who had been fined twice for refusing to vaccinate their children, from further penalties. But that, as a principle, would be fatal to all legislation, for it really admitted that a law might be broken more than twice with impunity, though less than twice with a penalty. It mattered nothing whether the object of the law aimed at the protection of an individual, or of his neighbours. A man was often punished for injuring himself alone. They fined an imprudent passenger for getting into a railway train when it was in motion, or a man or woman for attempting suicide; but, surely, it would be a strange thing to liberate these persons from the penalty of the law, because they committed these imprudent or wicked acts more than twice. Condonment of offence could not logically follow frequency of com- mission. The only argument for the Bill worthy of attention was that it provided a sort of safety-valve for the more easy working of the Vaccination Acts; but its action, even for that purpose, was very doubtful. The breakers of the law were rarely rich men; but what respect could a poor population have for a law which sold indulgence for its infraction at a comparatively cheap cost to the prejudiced rich, and at a heavy cost to the prejudiced poor? Indulgence for the infraction of law sold at 20s. to the rich was cheap, though it was dear at that price to the poor. Now, no law could possibly be respected that acted so unequally, or that contained within itself its own condemnation; and, surely, it was self-condemned, if it possessed so little inherent force that it was exhausted by two single operations. The supporters of the Bill did not urge them to pass it because vaccination had failed. They did so, only because there was a class of persons who were prejudiced against it. Now, that House, by a Committee, heard the grievances of those persons in the fullest and most patient manner, and though the Committee recommended a measure of the nature of that now before them, the Committee at the same time came to the conclusion that the operation of the Vaccination Acts had been most salutary. Those Acts were passed not simply for the protection of individuals from a loathsome disease, but also to prevent them from becoming centres of contagion to others. Individual disbelief in a remedy which science and experience had confirmed as effective beyond all reasonable doubt, was no justification for relieving the conscience of that individual at the expense of society. If the law was wrong, abolish, it; if it was right, let them not establish a new principle of legislation by enacting that repeated infraction mitigated and nullified the offence, or that indulgences for the infraction of law could be bought by money.


said, there was among certain classes a widespread feeling, which he did not share, against compulsory vaccination, arising in some degree at least from the careless manner in which the operation had been performed, and the bad quality of the lymph employed. He held in his hand a document put forward by the Anti-Vaccination Association, which he thought was creditable to that body. The Society said that while they approved the motives of the author of that Bill, in limiting the penalty in the way he did, they nevertheless believed that its effect would be to sell an immnnity to those who could afford to pay for it, and to leave the poor still under the lash of the law. Entertaining that opinion himself, he could not vote for the second reading of the measure.


said, he intended to vote against the Bill. He had, however, no wish to shirk the responsibility of the recommendation. He had been induced, as a Member of the Committee, to support the limitation to which objection had been taken by the evidence chiefly of Dr. Simon, who stated that what they more especially wanted to do was to catch the careless and negligent parents. There were very few parents who had conscientious objections to vaccination, and it was desirable in those instances that there should be no semblance of persecution for conscience sake. This was not a crime upon the heinousness of which all were agreed, but an offence against a recent enactment about which there was certainly a difference of opinion. The question, therefore, was not so plain and simple as some hon. Gentlemen seemed to think. There was also evidence of some cases in which vaccination had been positively injurious from having been badly performed, and for other reasons. Under those circumstances, were they to go on punishing persons who strongly objected to have their children vaccinated, and who proved their sincerity by their readiness to submit to repeated and severe penalties? But with regard to parents who were simply careless and negligent, Dr. Simon thought that the infliction of a small fine in the first instance, and a heavier one afterwards, would induce them to have their children vaccinated, and in that way the really serious evil would be got rid of. Before the Committee the arguments of the Anti-Vaccination Society entirely broke down, and it was proved that vaccination was in almost every instance a perfectly safe and efficient protective, when properly performed, and therefore the Committee thought it ought to be made compulsory on the community in general. He confessed that he had shared the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh (Dr. Lyon Playfair), as to the effect of the limitation referred to, and though he did not go so far as the hon. Member in regretting what he had done, he did not like it, and in common with many of the Committee he had assented to it only as being, perhaps, the least of two evils. But Parliament having chosen to pass a different Act and disregard the recommendation of the Committee, he thought it would be much better—especially as they had just heard that the very people in whose behalf the limitation was made repudiated it—that the law should remain unaltered as it now stood until, at any rate, the experiment had been tried for a longer period, in which case the opposition to vaccination would probably die out by degrees.


said, he regarded that as a very difficult question; indeed, he did not know that he had ever been engaged in any inquiry that was more so. The Members of the Committee, even including the hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh (Dr. Lyon Playfair), who had now recanted his previous opinion, would all acknowledge the difficulty of the subject. When they came to deal with matters involving an interference between parent and child, if they were bent on being strictly logical in carrying out the principle of compulsion, there could be no doubt that their practical difficulties would be enormous. What they wanted to do was to apply to a terrible disease the greatest check and prevention which they could arrive at; and it was a question whether, after all, it was expedient to go on punishing again and again a few persons who objected conscientiously to vaccination. There was a large number of parents who simply neglected to have their children vaccinated, and who had no feeling against it, while there were others again—not so numerous—who were perfectly reckless about the matter. The infliction of a penalty would meet the case of both those classes. Then, as to the small number of persons who had a strong and positive objection to vaccination, he thought it would conduce to the well working of the Act if they had as little to do with that class as possible. As it would hardly be proposed that they should take their children by force to be vaccinated, to go on punishing the parents would excite a prejudice against that valuable remedy, and perhaps, in the end, prevent more children from being vaccinated than would otherwise be the case. They once had a Member in that House whom nothing would induce to have his child vaccinated. Under the existing Act the rich man practically could—and he believed in some instances would—defy the law. Therefore, it was not a question of substituting by the present Bill an unequal for an equal law as between rich and poor. In conclusion, he felt still inclined to take the view he took last year on that matter; but he put it to the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill whether, with the strong feeling evidently existing in the House, he would not postpone his measure, and allow the present law to continue working for another year or two, when it was possible that the opinions of the Anti-Vaccination Society might cease to be held.


said, he must express his astonishment at the course pursued that day by the hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh (Dr. Lyon Play-fair). That hon. Gentleman had changed his opinion on that question no fewer than four times since 1870—a fact which must detract from the weight of his authority. The Bill before the House did not repeal the present law, but only modified its penalties, to relieve those who could not and would not consent to have their children vaccinated. ["Divide!"] He could not consent to divide in the present state of the discussion. They were not asked to repeal the law, but only to modify its provisions—

And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.