HC Deb 16 March 1886 vol 303 cc981-98

, in rising to call attention to the subject, and to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, the Contagious Diseases Acts, 1866–1869, ought to be repealed," said, he did so with a confident hope that his Motion would be successful. The Acts were passed without discussion, in silence, and he might say by stealth. ["No, no!"] If there was any doubt on the matter he would prove it. The present Prime Minister, on the 7th of May, 1883, used these words— Most unfortunately, though from the best of motives—from the desire to prevent public discussion on a subject not fit for proper discussion—these Acts were passed almost without the knowledge of anyone. He was a Member of the Government at the time they were passed; but he did not know how they passed, or by whom they were carried through the House."—(3 Hansard, [279] 65.) And, again, in reply to an hon. Member, the right hon. Gentleman observed— I said that these Acts were passed in general obscurity, and that they were never brought before the Cabinet of which I was a Member. Those statements were conclusive of the circumstances and conditions under which this legislation took place. It was his (Mr. Stansfeld's) conviction, shared by a great part of the country, that had it not been for that silence and the rapid way in which the Acts were smuggled through Parliament, they never would have been enacted, so strong would have been the public indignation at their provisions. Since then 17 weary years had passed, in which many hundreds of persons, both men and women, had spent their time, some their lives, and some had broken their hearts, in the endeavour to get these Acts repealed; and he thought, after that lapse of time, the moment had arrived when he was entitled to claim from that new Parliament a decisive and final verdict. Further delay would be inconceivable and impossible. The subject had been exhausted by a succession of inquiries, and had been judged by the late Parliament, and by the country at large. In 1870, they had a Royal Commission which reported on the whole question. Next, they had a Committee of that House in 1879, which sat in two Parliaments. He laboured on that Committee, and he never went through a heavier or more repulsive piece of work; but it was work undertaken from a sense of duty. The Commission presented two Reports—the Report of the majority and the Report of the minority, the latter being his. The Reports were antagonistic in every paragraph. He appealed to the late House of Commons, and on the 20th of April, 1883, he succeeded in carrying, by a majority of 70, a Resolution by which the House disapproved of these Acts upon moral grounds. Inconsequence of that Resolution, which was accepted by the Government of the day under the present Prime Minister, the system of compulsory examination had practically ceased to be in operation in this country. That suspension of the operation of the Acts was, however, only regarded as a temporary expedient, and the late Government of his right hon. Friend felt and acknowledged the obligation to do something more. They introduced first one, and then another Bill, each absolutely repealing the Acts, but also containing clauses to which a great many who had devoted the greatest amount of time to the subject felt very strong and conscientious objections. Partly because of those objections to those clauses, but mainly from the pressure of Public Business, the Bills were not pressed through the House. But, at the close of the last Session, a discussion took place, and the view was expressed, both from the Treasury and the Front Opposition Benches, that the question was ripe for some solution; but it was thought fitting that it should be left to the new Parliament; and now he brought it before the new Parliament, and asked for some definite legislation on the subject. He objected to these Acts in a threefold manner—upon moral, constitutional, and hygienic grounds. For many years past he had undertaken in that House, and elsewhere, the painful burden of bringing forward the statistical argument to prove that which he believed was the hygienic failure of the Acts. On that occasion he would not go into the statistical question how far the Acts had or had not fulfilled the objects for which they were passed, for he believed that on the two former grounds public opinion was overwhelmingly on his side. Neither did he intend to enter upon the hygienic argument, for he did not think the House would stoop to consider that part of the question, because hon. Members had come to their own conclusion upon the matter on different and higher grounds. He thought that the public were of opinion that if the Military and Naval Authorities of this country were desirous, as they ought to be, of diminishing the amount and severity of disease in the Army and Navy, it behoved them to find other means for this purpose than those which had been adopted under these Acts. Means must be found which would not sin against the principle of liberty and law, and which would not have any of the objections which most of them had found against the policy and principle of legislation on the subject. There were only two principles between which Parliament must take its choice—the principle of freedom, and the principle of the Acts, which was that of compulsion. Parliament must choose between those two principles, for there was no half-way house. It was a false doctrine to suppose that the principle of compulsion in this matter could be accepted without producing some effect upon this particular vice. That effect would be to stimulate and increase its amount. He knew something of the progress of opinion with regard to this subject in the Services. A sense of discipline kept officers and men silent; but he was certain that there had been a growth of opinion in favour of the principle which he advocated—the principle of freedom, instead of that of compulsion. He asked the House to determine in favour of the principle of liberty, and, above and beyond all, to do so because the principle of compulsion in its action upon the public mind and upon the minds of those who were most concerned in the matter tended to give a sanction, and therefore a stimulus, to that vice which was the cause of disease which all were desirous of diminishing. He thought that the House would arrive at a conclusion upon this matter upon constitutional and moral and religious grounds. In the campaign against these Acts he had never sought to obtain a mere tactical advantage, for the objects which he and his Friends had in view were far higher than the mere repeal of the Acts. That object was to rouse the public mind to the degradation and the crime which resulted from the growth of this particular vice. That crime had been successfully dealt with by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which was the outcome of their 17 years' agitation. It was they who tracked the Belgian traffic, which led to the appointment of the Lords' Committee; and nobody could say that the Criminal Law Amendment Act was not acting effectually in exposing, as well as repressing, crime. More than that, they wished to raise the moral tone of the country; and in that they had succeeded. Associations for promoting social purity had sprung up all over the country, and in all the churches of the land men's minds had been awakened on the subject. That was in consequence of their agitation, and part of its justification. He had a firm conviction that when the House had repealed the Contagious Diseases Acts, when they had turned their minds to the better and true belief that vice was capable of diminution, and that law and government ought to be on the side of virtue, and not on the side of vice, they would all be conscious of a great relief, and of a sustaining and well-grounded hope; and he believed that a general raising of the moral health of the community and of a spirit of true manliness would abide with them, and be their justification and reward. He begged to move the Motion which stood in his name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the Contagious Diseases Acts, 1866–1869, ought to be repealed."—(Mr. Stansfeld.)


said, he was sure that the House would agree with him in recognizing the clearness with which his right hon. Friend had, as was usual with him, put before the House the case for this Motion, and the temperate tone with which he had dealt with the subject. Fortunately, it was not necessary for the House to re-argue the point upon which the late House of Commons pronounced its judgment on April 20, 1883. He said this was fortunate, not only on account of the inherent unpleasantness of the subject, but because it was a subject which, so far as it depended upon medical details and hygienic theory, the House of Commons as an Assembly was little fitted to discuss. At that time, three years ago, the House was in full possession of the facts. A strong Select Committee had sat for several years, and had collected a great mass of evidence. The arguments for and against the practice of compulsory examination were urged with an unusual degree of zeal and fervour, because it was a peculiarity of this subject that, to the astonishment of plain people like himself, it seemed to supply both to the upholders and to the assailants of these Acts a sort of new religion. At any rate, the House had the benefit of a full exposition of all the facts and arguments on either side, and it pronounced a decided judment upon them. He believed that the great majority of those who contributed to that decision were not actuated by any high-pitched theory in the matter; but they asked themselves this question—Granted that some benefit has been proved to the health of our soldiers and sailors, and to the condition of the towns to which the Acts apply, is the advantage so gained worth the cost? And when he spoke of cost, he did not mean the expenditure in money, but the grievous hurt to the sentiment and instinct and conscience of a great part of the nation. Thereupon the practice of compulsory examination was abandoned; and he ventured to say that it was impossible that any Government or any House of Commons should revive it. And his right hon. Friend now asked why they should retain on the Statute Book provisions which were in disuse, and which were disused, not because it was temporarily inexpedient to put them in operation, but because a majority of the House of Commons, and, probably, in his (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman's) opinion, a still larger majority in the country, condemned and repudiated them. So far as the Government was concerned, it was a matter of course that they should support the Motion of his right hon. Friend, because, in 1883, I shortly after the decision of the House to which he had referred, the former I Liberal Government brought in a Bill providing for the absolute repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, so that this was no new opinion of theirs. That Bill was not proceeded with, having met with strong opposition, owing to a new proposal it contained, that although there should be no compulsory examination, yet if a person voluntarily entered one of the hospitals, there should be power of detention until thoroughly cured. It was not the intention of the present Government now to renew a proposal to that effect. It would be regarded, on the one hand, with great jealously, on the ground that the powers given might be abused; and, on the other hand, there was no very high estimate formed of the effect on the health of the Army and Navy of such a system, if standing by itself. But then it would be asked of the Government—and the question would be addressed with personl directness to himself, who had an immediate responsbility to that House for the efficiency of the Army—"Are you content to leave things as they are? Are you so satisfied with the information supplied to you that you will take no steps to secure the health, both moral and physical, of our soldiers?" His answer was "No," he was not. He was not content to see them left exposed to the evils which now surrounded them; but he feared that they would remain so exposed until these Acts were repealed. The figures supplied to him undoubtedly showed, as they might expect, that there had been a considerable increase of disease following the suspension of compulsory police action in the protected districts. He found that the admission to hospitals, which averaged 496 per 1,000 during the years 1873–82. rose to 110.0 in 1883, and had been 138.0 in 1884, and (estimated) 142.6 in 1885. Similarly the proportion of men constantly sick was 3.87 from 1873 to 1882; 8.66 in 1883; 12.41 in 1884; and 11.79 in 1885. The House would thus observe that there was a great leap up in 1883, but that since then the rate of increase had not been sustained. And it was a singular fact that, in stations not under the Acts, the progress of disease appeared to have followed, though not in the same degree, the same course. In those stations, the ratios per 1,000 had been for the 10 years before 1883, for 1883, for 1884, and for 1885, of admissions, 121.0, 188.8, 160.0, and 184.4; and of constantly sick, 8.97, 15.81, 14.01, and 13.75 respectively. He thought it right to state these figures to the House; but, knowing the keenness of the controversy, he left it to hon. Members to draw their own deductions from them. The main fact before them was this—that the country had pronounced against State interference in this matter. Some hon. Members might not like or approve of that decision; but they must deal with it as a fact. Another fact was, that one of the effects of any intervention of the State always was that it strangled local and individual effort; and they might be sure that so long as the direct action of the State was merely suspended, and the chance remained of its being again put in motion, the localities would fail fully to undertake this duty. It was to the localities that he looked for a remedy for this great evil; and he was sure that their public spirit and capacity of looking after their own affairs were quite equal to the task; and, to put it plainly, it was only according to one's knowledge of human nature that they should see them maintain a passive attitude so long as it was possible that the work might be done by the exertions and paid out of the pocket of the State. It might be said that it was unfair to place this duty upon the inhabitants of the garrison towns, because the Government created in them an abnormal condition of society by bringing to them a great number of young men, and, therefore, the Government were responsible for the results. But would the garrison towns be pleased if the garrisons were removed? Did not they derive their importance and a great part of their commercial prosperity from the great naval and military establishments; and was it too much for the Government to say that they must take the rough with the smooth, and as they had the benefits so they must deal with the evils arising from the presence of large bodies of soldiers and sailors among them? There were two separate branches of this question. There was, first of all, the question of order and decency in the streets and houses of a town. Since 1883, in such towns as Portsmouth and Plymouth, the state of things in this respect had been deplorable. But this had been not owing to the suspension of the Acts, but owing to the withdrawal of the Metropolitan Police engaged under the Acts. They had done ordinary police work; and why should Portsmouth, or Devonport, or Dover have their streets kept in decent order at the expense of the general taxpayer, when the large towns of the North of England and Scotland had completely fulfilled this duty for themselves, and at the expense of their own ratepayers? If these Southern towns lacked powers under the law as it at present stood to deal with this great evil, Parliament would no doubt be willing to help them. In the second place, there was the humanitarian side of the question. It would be most lamentable if the local hospitals which had been maintained under these Acts, and in which, whatever evils might be associated with them, thousands of poor women had had some alleviation, were to be closed. He felt sure that the localities would be ready to support these humane institutions, and they might have some assistance continued to them from public funds under reasonable conditions. So long, however, as the Acts remained, neither would women resort to the hospitals, dreading as they did the consequences, nor would the municipalities and local communities be ready to exert themselves in the maintenance of decent order or in the support of hospitals. Hence it was that, in the interests of decency and health and humanity, as well as of political consistency, seeing what had been done in 1883, he should support the Motion.

SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devon, Honiton)

, in rising to move, as an Amendment, to add to the Motion the words— Due provision at the same time being made for the continued maintenance of hospital accommodation, with adequate treatment of women voluntarily seeking admission and medical care, said, he hesitated to accept the doctrine that an improved state of morality had resulted from the operations of the organization of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld) had spoken; but he fully recognized and acknowledged the earnestness and consistency with which the repeal of the Acts had been advocated by the right hon. Gentleman; and he hoped he would accept the Amendment, which would bring the controversy on this very painful subject to an end. He doubted, however, if hon. Members had considered the far-reaching consequences of that repeal to generations yet unborn. It must be borne in mind that the Acts were passed to meet terrible evils that could not be allowed to exist in a civilized country without a legislative attempt at remedy. The present Lord Aberdare, when Home Secretary as Mr. Bruce, received a Memorial in favour of the Acts, signed by 2,500 physicians and surgeons, including the chief practitioners of the day, many ministers of religion, matrons of hospitals, and many other persons of experience had borne testimony to the beneficial working of the Acts; but he agreed that there was a feeling in the country that these benefits had been obtained at too high a moral cost, that there had been an appearance of making vice easy for men, and he was not surprised at the support the right hon. Gentleman had received. But, if the Acts were removed, should we fold our arms and do nothing for those unfortunate women in garrison towns, reduced to their wretched state, to some extent, by the action of the State itself? With the compulsory clauses eliminated, there were other provisions under which women could be admitted and retained in hospitals until they were cured; and there were military and naval hospitals for the purpose supported by £16,488 voted in the Estimates. The State provided for the relief of diseases such as small-pox and cholera; and these poor women had a special claim, in that they fell victims to the consequences of the State keeping together large bodies of men in a state of enforced celibacy at a time of life when their animal passions were strongest, and they were least able to resist temptation. Voluntary local effort would not meet the case. If the work was to be done at all, it should be well done; and he maintained there was as much reason for keeping women in the hospital against their will until they were cured, as for the similar treatment of patients afflicted with any infectious disease; and he exhorted the Government to have the courage of their opinions. He put his Amendment on the Paper, recognizing the prejudice against the Acts, because the country had a responsibility of which it could not divest itself by talking of the gain to a town from having a garrison. No shallow pretence would excuse the State shirking its duty and shutting the hospital doors against the poor, suffering women who came for help, leaving them to die like dogs in the street. He believed that even in this country, when the real facts of the case were put before them, they would recognize their responsibility, and refuse to sanction such repulsive and inhuman conduct. He believed also that the women of this country would recognize their responsibility to provide for the relief of their poor fallen sisters by some means more certain and continuous than voluntary effort. In that belief he moved his Amendment to the Motion, and he trusted that the Secretary of State for War and the Mover of the original Motion would accede to that very reasonable proposition. If the right hon. Gentleman would consent to accept the addition, he and many others, he was sure, would support the Motion as thus amended.

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

, in rising to second the Motion, said, that he desired to speak to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for the Honiton Division of Devonshire (Sir John Kennaway). They could not, he thought, rid themselves of the responsibility that would still remain upon them when these Acts were repealed. We should still he left then with these unfortunate creatures not only in the streets of our garrison towns, but of other towns as well. It was desirable, then, as a matter of humanity, that something should be done to relieve their sufferings; but it must, however, be recollected that this question did not merely affect these unfortunate women, but that we had to deal with a disease which spread itself to unborn and innocent generations. Therefore, it was our duty to do what we could to put a stop to the progress of disease. Assuming that we adopted the voluntary system in the treatment of these women as to the vice from which it arose, there was, perhaps, no better way of checking it than the one which had been indicated by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. The officers of the Army had of late been doing a great deal with respect to the soldiers in regard to providing them with more amusement and more occupation for their time; and, probably, we must look to these means, and to the recruiting of a better class of men, and to keeping the soldiers out of the haunts of vice to a greater extent than had hitherto been the case. Then he believed the treatment they received, and the influence brought to bear upon these women in the hospital to which they resorted voluntarily, would have a good effect in inducing many of these poor creatures to lead better lives. The State, he could not conceal from himself, had a great responsibility in this matter from the fact of its creating an unnatural state of things by bringing together a large number of young men in garrison towns and keeping them there in a state of celibacy. He would, however, leave the matter of the future control of those hospitals for future discussion. It was sufficient for his present purpose to say that a great deal of good could be done in the voluntary hospitals contemplated by the Amendment. Then poor women would come voluntarily into these hospitals, where they would not only be medically treated, but they would be placed under kind supervision, and would, it was to be hoped, be led by the influences there exerted upon them to lead better lives; and they might even, in many cases, be restored to their friends. Those who had looked into the state of our garrison towns knew that the state of the streets would be very different from what they were if the authorities did their duty. Unfortunately, they did not. He concluded, however, that the Municipal Authorities of those towns were bound to act for the improvement of the state of the streets. With regard to the establishment of hospitals for voluntary resort, he would not limit them to garrison towns. He thought that in every town hospital accommodation should be provided by Boards of Guardians or other authorities for the reception of these un-unfortunate women. Those hospitals ought to be kept up, and, if placed under the charge of a godly matron, might do much moral as well as physical good. But he looked to an improvement in the moral tone of the Army and Navy to effect that change for the better which was so earnestly to be desired. He would conclude by seconding the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Question, to add the words "due provision at the same time being made for the continued maintenance of hospital accommodation with adequate treatment of women voluntarily seeking admission and medical care."—(Sir John Kennaway.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

MR. PULESTON (Devonport)

said, he did not propose to occupy much of their time in what would virtually be thrashing a dead horse; but he could not consistently allow the present opportunity to pass without touching upon one or two points in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld). The right hon. Gentleman said that the Prime Minister had said that these Acts were passed sub silentio 17 years ago; but at that time Mr. Gladstone was himself Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would, as such, have to pass the Estimates for carrying them out. Since then they had had many opportunities of discussing the Contagious Diseases Acts, the merits or demerits of which were well threshed out in the Committee to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. That Committee sat three years, and resulted in a majority and a minority Report, the former signed by 10 and the latter by 6 Members. The right hon. Gentleman preferred the latter Report; but he (Mr. Puleston) did not see why it should be entitled to greater authority than the Report of the majority. In that Committee, and subsequently in that House, these Acts were manfully supported by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Osborne Morgan) and the present Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Acland), and he was glad to see both those Gentlemen in their places that night. He could only describe the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War as startling. The publication of such figures rendered it unncessary for him to quote the statistics showing the condition of Devonport during the last three years as compared with the condition of the town during the three years immediately preceding the action of the House in 1883. The Acts ought not to be allowed to lapse, because their tendency was in the direction of suppressing juvenile vice, and because they contributed to the preservation of order and decency. The Select Committee that had inquired into the subject had reported that the objects of the Acts were good, and that they had, according to the tenour of Memorials from Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Devonport, been the means of relieving great suffering, and had afforded many young girls, who were just falling into crime, the opportunity of returning to a proper life. Statistics had shown the great damage that the withdrawal of the operation of the Acts had brought about; but their opponents had said that their statistics were cooked and unreliable. He (Mr. Puleston) wished to give those who differed from him on the subject credit for conscientious motives; but they declined to extend the same tolerance to those who differed from them. They claimed for themselves a monopoly of good intention. He admitted that public opinion, as represented in that House, was now opposed to the Acts; but the public little knew how effective they had been in promoting morality. Before the Acts were passed they had endeavoured in Plymouth and Devonport to improve the moral aspect of the towns. Some persons said it was their duty to do so; and he could say that the people in his district had done all that they could to discharge their duty in this respect. But they failed, because local effort, as proved by former experience, unassisted by the strong arm of the Government, could not cope with the evil. If the wishes of the inhabitants of the garrison towns were to be completely disregarded—if even the modest Amendment of the hon. Member for the Honiton Division of Devonshire was to be refused—a chaotic state of things would ensue, fraught with much absolute cruelty. He had lately received a letter from the Town Clerk of Devonport, who wrote— None of the supporters of the Acts in this town have altered their opinion as regards their beneficial operation; on the contrary, their opinion has been confirmed in every particular. He (Mr. Puleston) was alarmed at the prospect before them, if they were to rest seriously upon the statement made by the Secretary of State for War; for the worst form of the disease had increased not only in cases, but in virulence. He believed that was the experience of not only the Plymouth and Devonport people, but that of the inhabitants of Portsmouth as well. He hoped still that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would induce the Government to join him in accepting the Amendment before the House. It would, in some degree, compensate for the repeal of the existing Acts.


said, as the Representative of a garrison town, he also hoped that the House would accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Honiton Division of Devonshire, although he knew that the entire repeal of the Acts was favoured by the House and the country. He (Sir William Crossman) could himself speak from a personal knowledge of Portsmouth, for many years before the Acts were thought of, and he could only say that before the Acts were passed the streets of Portsmouth and Portsea were a disgrace to any civilized land. While the Acts were in full operation those streets were respectable again; but since the Acts had been suspended they were as bad as ever. This was not due, as had been stated, to the action of the Metropolitan Police, but largely to the operation of these Acts. It was not now the time to go into hygienic matters connected with these Acts, and therefore he would only say this—that if the years 1880–2, when the Acts were in full operation, were compared with the years 1883–4, when they were suspended, it would be found that disease had increased by at least 50 per cent. He did hope and trust that some indulgence would still be afforded to the hospitals in the garrison towns in the shape of a sum of money, and that the House would accept the Amendment. He was surprised that the Government should be consenting parties to the repeal of the Acts, and he must oppose the Resolution.

LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)

said, he assumed that the Government were prepared to accept the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Sir John Kennaway). [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] Well, he had assumed it, because it entirely tallied with the speech of the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman had clearly, and in the most distinct manner, informed the House that it would be, in his opinion, a most lamentable thing if the hospitals were closed. What he (Lord George Hamilton) wanted the Government to undertake was that these hospitals should not be closed; and he had hoped that the Amendment of his hon. Friend would meet with unanimous approval. Until the Local Authorities had been approached, with a view to maintaining and supporting these hospitals, it clearly was the duty of the Government to be responsible for their maintenance, although he did not understand that any such promise was given by Parliament; and he thought he could show that it was the bounden duty of the right hon. Gentleman and all who thought with him to support the Amendment. Probably not half the Members of the present House were present at the debate in 1883, when the compulsory powers under the Acts were suspended. The Acts contained two powers—namely, compulsory examination, and a provision for the maintenance of hospitals. On the occasion of the debate of 1883, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) pointed out that he did not propose to interfere with the maintenance of hospitals. That statement, of course, had a great influence in the House, and enabled the right hon. Gentleman to carry his proposal to suspend the compulsory powers of examination under the Acts. The then Secretary of State for War made use of words to the same effect; and therefore these two right hon. Members had pledged themselves, as far as he could see, to support the proposal contained in the Amendment of his hon. Friend. As to the hygienic effect of the suspension of the Acts, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld), in his speech, always assumed that these Acts had not tended to prevent disease. Many persons accepted that statement, and it was on the strength of that statement that the compulsory powers were suspended. But what was the real result? When he (Lord George Hamilton) was at the Admiralty, he was supplied with information which showed that there had been a great increase in disease of the most virulent kind. His experience during the six months had convinced him that the suspension of these Acts had been a great evil. Under these circumstances, he trusted the House would insist upon having security that the work now being done by the hospitals would be continued.


said, the provision in the Acts was one which, in the first place, did nothing to insure the treatment of these diseases in hospitals supported by the public. It was a permissive power that the Secretary of State might provide, and then it was specified what should follow if he did provide. The contention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War was that the matter was best dealt with by the discretion of the Government and the House; that the provision in the Acts, as it now stood, did not carry with it any operative effect; that the Amendment proposed, for the first time by Act, to establish this principle in a manner fettering the freedom of the House; and that they should rather continue as they had done, without change, the subventions which had been hitherto granted, than to hamper themselves by introducing into an Act of Parliament provisions of a positive character in a matter which, in their opinion, it was better to leave open. Their proposal practically was that they should resist the Amendment, because they thought the footing on which the matter now stood was a wiser and a better one.


said, he was sure it was not the intention or the wish of his hon. Friend (Sir John Kennaway) to establish any new principle into this matter. All he desired was that provision should be made for the maintenance of those existing hospitals which were now paid for out of money provided by Parliament. His hon. Friend did not understand from the Secretary of State that any such pledge was given. They understood him to point out that, in his opinion, and in that of the Government, this work should be undertaken by the Local Authorities. What reason had Her Majesty's Government for thinking that any of the Local Authorities would undertake it? If they would not do so, were Her Majesty's Government prepared to bring in a Bill to compel them? If it was to be understood from the speech of the Prime Minister that Her Majesty's Government would maintain the hospitals if Local Authorities did not undertake to do so, his hon. Friend would be satisfied; but if they could obtain no such pledge, he hoped his hon. Friend would take the sense of the House.


regretted that anything he had said had given rise to misunderstanding. The view of the Government entirely accorded as to the general principle they sought to lay down with his hon. Friend opposite. They were of opinion that every reasonable and proper assistance should be given towards the maintenance of these hospitals, and he believed that the whole House was of that opinion. He must, however, say that he thought that the duty primarily fell on the Local Authorities, and that the requirements of the case would be entirely satisfied if they reverted to the practice which prevailed before the Acts were introduced, and if a subsidy were voted by the House and handed over to the Local Authorities under certain reasonable conditions. The main principle was that the hospitals should be maintained by the localities, and the Government would assist them; but as long as these Acts remained on the Statute Book the Local Authorities would not accept the responsibility of maintaining them. He did not wish that the freedom of the House should be weighted; that any provisions of the sort proposed should be laid down in an Act of Parliament; or that a Resolution should be passed pledging the House of Commons. But, as he had said, they were willing to express an opinion that a subsidy of some sort should be given, and that the whole of the burden should not be thrown on the localities.

MR. W. H. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)

said, that the Amendment did not require the Government to impose a charge upon the House by Act of Parliament. What it said was that it was the duty of the Government, which had maintained those hospitals in the past, to make adequate provision for them as regarded the future. The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that as soon as these Statutes were removed from the Statute Book it would not be incumbent on him, or on the First Lord of the Admiralty, to make any provision for these hospitals. There would be no engagement on his part; and if the House did not accept the Amendment it would be open to him to say that he was not bound. In all probability the hospitals would not be maintained by the Local Authorities, who would say that it was the duty of the Government to maintain them.

MR. MITCHELL HENRY (Glasgow, Blackfriars)

said, he wished to make a practical suggestion, and that was that the Government should assure the House that until the Army Estimates of next year were introduced they would continue the maintenance of those hospitals. ["No!" and cries of "Divide!"] The hon. Members who called so loudly for a division had no knowledge of previous debates, and very few of them had any practical experience of these hospitals; but, considering the serious nature of the issues involved in the question, he appealed to the Government to allow the hospitals to be continued.

MR. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)

said, there was one view of this question which did not seem to have been considered; and it was that in the event of the Acts being repealed, and on the Government consenting to adopt the Motion, it must be expected that there would be applications from many parts of the country where large numbers of soldiers were gathered together, and where there were hospitals supported entirely by voluntary contributions, for donations. In Newcastle, which adjoined the division of the county of Durham which he had the honour to represent, there were something like 2,000 soldiers; but there had been no contribution from the Government towards the support of the hospital there. If the House adopted the Motion, and the Acts were repealed, he begged to give Notice that he should make an application to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on behalf of the hospitals in Newcastle.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 131; Noes 245: Majority 114.—(Div. List, No. 35.)

Main Question put. Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, the Contagious Diseases Acts, 1S66–1869, ought to be repealed.