HC Deb 28 June 1883 vol 280 cc1834-8

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for extending to certain hospitals the provisions relating to werkhouses which enable the detention therein of persons affected with diseases of an infectious or contagious character, said: Although I have no doubt that the amendment of the law which I ask leave to introduce may give rise to a good deal of opposition, I hope the House will be disposed to allow it to be introduced without opposition this evening, and be content to take the discussion on the second reading, which I will undertake to move at a time when it can be conveniently and adequately discussed. It may, however, be appropriate that I should say a few words as to the object of the Bill. It is simply for the purpose of carrying into effect the proposals of the Government which I have already stated in answer to Questions in this House, proposals which they have to make in consequence of the Resolution arrived at a short time ago by the House. Hon. Members will recollect that the House passed, by a considerable majority, a Resolution con.demning the compulsory examination of women under the Contagious Diseases Acts. It appeared to the Government that, although they were perfectly aware that no Resolution of one House of Parliament could alter the law, this was a matter which, through the structure of the Acts, was unquestionably within the power of this House to decide upon; because the Acts depended for their operation entirely upon the action of the Metropolitan Police and certain surgeons, the expenses of whom were met by Votes of this House. The House of Commons, therefore, had the power in their own case to give effect to the Resolution at which by a large majority they had arrived. Well, Sir, the Government, holding as they did that the powers conferred upon them under the Acts were unquestionably mainly of a permissive character, proposed at once, when the Resolution of the House was passed, to give effect to that Resolution by withdrawing, as soon as possible, the Metropolitan Police from the districts dealt with, and thereby put an end to the compulsory examination of women. At the same time, the Government stated that, in their opinion, no time ought to be lost in making the law conformable to the new state of affairs. They, therefore, undertook to bring in a Bill to give effect to the Resolution of the House, upon the line which I have already indicated. It is with the object of fulfilling that pledge that I ask leave to bring in this Bill. It will proceed upon the analogy of the Poor Law. Under that law the workhouse authorities are enabled to detain persons affected with contagious diseases in workhouses, and this Bill proposes that similar powers be conferred upon the chief medical officers of certain hospitals under the Acts. The Bill also contains provisions for maintaining order in hospitals, for empowering magistrates to order the discharge of women from the hospitals, and for the payment of the expense of conveying women to their residences, when those residences are situated within the limits defined in the Bill. These are all the provisions which we believe will be necessary. The provisions of the Contagious Diseases Acts which relate to the compulsory examination of women, to the registration of women, and the so-called voluntary submission to examination may, in our opinion, safely be repealed. I do not think it is desirable that at this hour I should detain the House by any further explanation of the Bill. I need not repeat that the House has the perfect right to decline to continue longer the experiment, conducted as it was on a very partial scale, which was long tried under these Acts. I cannot disguise from myself the very strong opinion that exists in a large part of the country against these Acts; and I cannot disguise from myself that it is impossible to hope that anything in the nature of this legislation could ever have been extended over the whole country. I do not believe that any very great or satisfactory result could have been expected from the operation of a law confined within the very limited area which the Contagious Diseases Acts covered. I cannot say that I speak with any great confidence or hopefulness as to the future use of the hospitals maintained by the Admiralty or the War Office under the system simply of voluntary admission. At the same time, there is one way in which it will be possible to have these women treated in the hospitals. Under the Bill which I am asking leave to introduce, the medical practitioners generally will have inducements held out to them by the Admiralty and the War Office to persuade their patients of the class in question to enter the hospitals. Thus without any police warning, without being made marked women as it were, women of the town who are affected with these diseases may be induced, possibly in larger numbers than at present, to repair to the hospitals where they will be treated without having fixed upon them the social and moral stigma which attached to any woman who was known to be subjected to periodical examination and the supervision of the police. There is some hope that in this way, where these hospitals exist, a number of women, perhaps not smaller than those under the Compulsory Clauses, may be induced to go into the hospitals, and the good intentions of the Legislature may not be frustrated. I move for leave to bring in the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill for extending to certain hospitals the provisions relating to workhouses which enable the detention therein of persons affected with diseases of an infectious or contagious character."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)


said, he thought that in moving to introduce this Bill the noble Marquess had clearly shown that the Bill would be worthless; and he wished to submit to the House the question whether it was worth while to occupy time in discussing the Motion when the Bill was, of necessity, introduced by words which clearly indicated that there was little prospect of its being of any use? It would repeal the present Acts, and thereby do great national as well as local harm. When these Acts were put in force in garrison towns, it was done for Imperial purposes; and it was not too much to ask that those towns should have the protection which those Acts afforded. Nobody knew better than the noble Marquess, and the Chief Secretary, and the Secretary to the Admiralty, and the Judge Advocate General, who had to administer these Acts, how valuable they had been; they were unequivocally in favour of the Acts, and yet the Government brought in this Bill. The Home Secretary had told a deputation that the condition of things before the enactment of these Acts in the localities for which they were intended was simply shocking. He quite concurred in that, and he thought the House ought not to give leave for the introduction of this Bill.


said, that contrary to their convictions the Government had yielded to an agitation against Acts which they knew had done good. He did not rise to reproach them, but to make a suggestion, which might have some effect on this important Bill, and that was that a provision should be inserted making it a misdemeanour for any person knowingly or negligently to communicate this disease to another. The effect of that provision would be to induce woman to go into hospital; and he thought that suggestion would assist the Government. He was convinced that until such communication of disease was made a misdemeanour, women would not feel a sufficient stimulus to enter the hospitals; for in their unhappy trade their disposition was to go on as they were.


said, that with all deference to his hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, he thought the hon. Member was premature in condemning this Bill. The Goverment had simply fulfilled the pledge they gave in regard to this matter, and it remained for the House to deal with, and if necessary amend, the Bill in Committee. He thought it would be well to pass the first reading of the Bill.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by The Marquess of HARTINGTON, Secretary Sir -WILLIAM HARCOURT, and Sir ARTHUR HATTER.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 247.]