HC Deb 11 December 1878 vol 243 cc623-30

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that he really thought it would not be necessary to detain the House long, as a simple explanation of the Bill would be quite sufficient. The object of the measure was to provide that no person should be deemed to be disqualified to be registered as a voter at Parliamentary or Municipal Elections by reason that he, or any member of his family, had received medical treatment or relief for any infectious or contagious disease as an in-patient or out-patient of any hospital, infirmary, or dispensary. He thought that anyone who had observed the spread of certain diseases, and who had taken any part in attempts to limit or control their spread, would see the importance of allowing the medical authorities to have the earliest information of their outbreak, and the fullest control over, or the charge of, those patients who were afflicted with typhus or scarlet fever, small-pox, and cholera. Those were the diseases which we had most to dread, and which required to be treated promptly in order to prevent them spreading, especially in large towns. Taking the case of scarlet fever, it was known that articles of clothing—even a single bit of rag, or a pocket-handkerchief, which had been infected at a certain stage of the disease—would, after lying years in a cupboard, spread the disorder afresh throughout the whole household; and, therefore, the necessity of inducing patients at once to enter a sanitary institution was of the utmost importance. It was possible to have a complete and proper organization over districts where these diseases broke out. He spoke with knowledge of these things, as it was his duty to assist in preventing the spread of an outbreak of cholera at Liverpool some years ago, when they tried to confine the disease to small areas. Cholera broke out in two quarters of the town, and they took means to get hold of every case the moment it was attacked, and by doing that they confined the cases to those two districts. Perhaps the most important point was to persuade persons to go into hospitals where they would be properly taken care of; but there was in the minds of many of the working classes a prejudice against doing that, which it was highly desirable to remove; and this prejudice would be greatly increased by the knowledge that if they did so they would be disfranchised, and that disqualification the Bill proposed to remedy. A case very recently came before the Vestry of Kensington, where it appeared that a householder, whose name was on the list of voters, and two of whose children, attacked with small-pox, had been removed, against his will, by direction of the local medical officers of an hospital, was objected to before the Revising Barrister, who held that he was disqualified from exercising the franchise because he had received parochial relief. In consequence of that decision the Guardians had taken up the question, it being one of considerable importance; and it was now proposed to place these four diseases upon the same footing as public vaccination when the patients were sent to any hospital. From a paper which he held in his hands it appeared that in February, 1877, the proportion of patients in the hospitals who were paupers was under 10 per cent, so that 90 per cent, who were not paupers, became disqualified by the law in force from exercising the franchise. That was a great injustice to those persons; and now that public attention had been drawn to the subject, the prejudice against going into hospitals would be greatly increased; and as there would be more difficulty in dealing with these diseases by the sanitary authorities, it was proposed by the Bill to put them, as he had stated, upon the same footing as public vaccination. Another body—namely, the medical officers of Vestries—had taken the matter up strongly. They said that the proposition was a reasonable one, so far as the Metropolis was concerned. This was not an instance in which the danger of pauperizing by relief arose, for there was no fear of people becoming purposely affected by these diseases in order that they might receive medical relief. The Bill was confined to those diseases which might spread and become a public danger; and therefore there was a reason for inducing patients to go into a hospital. It had been suggested that instead of allowing these patients to go into the general hospitals already provided other hospitals should be provided at the expense of the parishes, and be placed under the control of the sanitary authorities, and that the going into those hospitals should not disqualify any person from the exercise of the franchise; but to provide fresh hospitals would inflict upon the community a very large and unnecessary expense, and perhaps for only temporary purposes. Such a course would be oppressive in ordinary parishes, though it might not be felt in large towns or in the Metropolis. Others said that persons who went into the hospitals for these diseases should be re-instated in their rights upon repaying the expenses of being treated there; but that was not a reasonable proposition, nor, indeed, would it be practicable to carry it out. He could not help thinking that it would be very hard, as had been sometimes suggested, that poor men, whose wages were perhaps not more than 20s. a-week, should be called upon to repay the cost of the maintenance of their children during their treatment in public institutions. Rather than agree to such an arrangement many poor men with children suffering from contagious or infectious diseases would run the risk of keeping them at home, and he contended that as the suf- ferers were removed to an hospital for the public safety the public ought to bear the burden. He trusted, in concluding, that the House would give approval to the principle of the Bill, of which he would now move the second reading.

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


said, if the Bill received a second reading it would require to be dealt with with considerable care in Committee. As he understood it, the Bill provided that a voter should not be disqualified because he, for the public benefit, was compelled to go into the hospital or other place provided for contagious diseases. But they must take care that the Bill was confined to the object for which it was intended, and it appeared to him the Bill, as it stood, would go somewhat beyond that. It was a virtual alteration of the Representation of the People Act, and they must see that it did not affect the disqualification inflicted by the receipt of ordinary parochial relief. They must take care to mark the exceptions, and separate them from the receipt of parish relief. They should confine the Bill to the case of an individual or a family sent into one of these places for the benefit of the public and for the purpose of preventing contagion and the spread of the disease. That he took to be the intention of the Bill, and it was a fair and legitimate object, and one which met with his approval.


said, he thought the suggestion just made by the hon. Member (Mr. Gregory), as to the safeguards to be attached to the Bill, were worthy of consideration. If poor persons receiving parochial relief—that was, relief other than that contemplated by the Bill—should be retained on the franchise, it would undoubtedly be an abuse, but, subject to that suggestion, he thought the Bill deserved to be read a second time. In Ireland the Bill would be a very great advantage, and would not alone prevent persons who received such medical relief from being excluded from the franchise, but it would be an inducement to them to co-operate with the sanitary authorities, and so lead to the prevention of the spread of disease. In the City which he represented (Limerick) they had adopted economical measures somewhat similar to those sug- gested by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone). They had been obliged to withdraw assistance from the various hospitals in the city, and they had brought round them various institutions to meet those contagious diseases and prevent their spread among the poorer classes. It often happened that a tradesman, or one of his family, who would never have sought relief under ordinary circumstances, went into the Union fever hospital or small-pox hospital, and remained there until the disease had been removed and all dread of contagion had disappeared. It was quite evident that in the case of such a man it would be a very great hardship, and an unnecessary stigma, to deprive him of his civil rights because he had gone to such a hospital to obtain relief. It was not merely from a civil point of view that he thought the Bill desirable. He considered it was necessary in order to remove a stigma which attached now to occasional relief at the expense of the rates. Under the present circumstances, they found it very difficult to get poor people affected with those diseases to avail themselves of relief from the rates, and the medical relief got in poor-houses; but if the Legislature came forward and said that no disgrace attached—that there' should be no deprivation of civil rights in connection with such medical relief as that—the difficulty would be greatly reduced. Therefore, both on the ground of constitutional fairness and sanitary disciplinary administration, he hoped that the Bill, guarded by the suggestion made by the hon. Member opposite, would deserve the support of the House.


said, he thought the subject one of great importance, and well deserving the attention of the House; but he must call attention to the fact that the Bill was only delivered to hon. Members on Thursday, and that there had not, therefore, been time to communicate with the different persons throughout the country who were best qualified to express an opinion on the proposal contained in it. [Mr. RATHBONE said the Bill was the same as that of last Session.] Last Session the Bill was not publicly discussed, and just now public attention was absorbed by-foreign affairs, and had not, therefore, been so fully directed to this Bill as would otherwise have been the case. Previous to the Reform Act of 1832 parochial relief given on an outbreak of cholera or small-pox or an unforeseen accident did not disqualify. The old law thus recognized cases of emergency as exceptions to the general rule. In modern legislation exceptions had been established on the principle that the subject should be manifestly one involving the public benefit, and should be one of compulsory legislation. The Compulsory Vaccination Act of 1867, and the Education Act of 1870, proceeded on this basis. He would also point out that the Bill did not appear to fit in with the Public Health Act of 1875. That Act contained provisions respecting Infectious Diseases and Hospitals, and the prevention of epidemic diseases. The Bill extended to contagious diseases, and should be limited in this respect. Where there was compulsory action by local sanitary authorities for the general public benefit—as in the case of education and vaccination—there might be fair grounds for considering that exceptions should be made, but the present Bill seemed to have been drawn without much regard to this principle. There was great danger that if they adopted the Bill as it was they would do more than they intended, and thus lead to mischief. He thought a fair ground for exception from the disqualification of voters that was the consequence of parochial relief would be made out in the case of persons who were medically treated by the parish authorities for the protection of the public. It was, however, desirable that the Bill should not go beyond that; and therefore, although he was not prepared to support the Bill as it stood, he was ready to give his assent to its second reading, on the understanding that it should be amended by the introduction of certain safeguards into it in Committee. If the Bill was designed simply to extend exceptions already recognized by the law in regard to disqualifications, he should not be disposed to give it any opposition even in Committee. The Bill should, however, be amended, so as to make it applicable to the municipal franchise as well as to the Parliamentary franchise. The object of recent legislation had been to assimilate the Parliamentary and municipal franchise in boroughs, and it would be very undesirable to introduce a new element of difference between them. If the Bill were read a second time, he thought it would be desirable to postpone the Committee for a considerable time—say until March—in order that opportunity might be given to ascertain some local opinions, which would be of great value on this subject.


thought it was most desirable, from every point of view, that the disqualification should be removed. He therefore gave the measure his most cordial support; and while he agreed that it was desirable that safeguards against abuse might with advantage be introduced into it, he hoped that no Amendments would be made upon it of a nature to make it inoperative. The real object of the Bill was to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. He thought it was even more important to prevent people who already had disease from spreading it than it was to insist upon vaccination. In the case of public vaccination, which was paid for out of the rates, no disqualification was the consequence; while as the law at present stood there was a disqualification in the other case. The Bill was introduced last Session, and the question had received a great deal of consideration in the country, in consequence of some recent decisions of the Revising Barristers. He therefore would not advise his hon. Friend to put off the Committee till the period suggested by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Marten).


said, that as his hon. Friend (Mr. Rathbone) could not speak a second time, he would say, on his behalf, that he would confer with hon. Members who had stated their views in favour of the principle of the Bill, but advocated certain Amendments in its details, and the Committee could be postponed. He would suggest that the Committee should be put for Monday, in order that, in the meantime, the question as to the time for discussing the Bill in Committee might be considered.


thought the Bill was too wide in its scope. He objected to out-patients being included in its operation, and should move an Amendment in Committee with a view to their exclusion. He would also suggest that it might be fair to ask people who had been treated in hospitals to contribute a sum towards the expense of their treatment.


said, that hon. Members on all sides would sympathize with the motives which had led to the introduction of the Bill, for he thought there was a general agreement that cases of infectious disease should be carefully isolated, and that poor people afflicted with infectious disorders in the crowded alleys of great towns were deserving of all kindness and consideration; but they must be careful lost they deviated from the general principles that guided the administration of the Poor Law. Those who had taken any part in the administration of the law had acted on the principle that when a man accepted relief under any circumstances he accepted the position which was entailed upon him in consequence; and it was necessary, for the good administration of the law, that principle should be jealously preserved. No doubt the Legislature had made an exception in the cases of vaccination and of education, and it might be that the exception should be extended to infectious diseases. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) suggested that working people were afraid that in accepting relief they would lose the power of voting. The difficulty that he (Mr. Salt) had found among the working classes with regard to the matter was this—not that they feared the loss of the vote, but that they objected to their children going into a hospital, because then they could not themselves look after them. That was a natural and a kindly feeling, and one honourable to the parent's feeling, but it tended to spread disease. He did not suggest on the part of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth), who was absent, any opposition to the second reading of the Bill; but, at the same time, it must be closely watched at the next stage, lest it might be so framed as to do more than was intended, and thereby do more harm than good. He was prepared to assent to the second reading of the Bill; but he must not be considered as in any way pledging his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board as to the course which he would take in Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.

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