HC Deb 13 May 1889 vol 335 cc1938-46


First Resolution read a second time.

MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I put on the Paper the Amendment to reduce the salary of the President of the Local Goverment Board by £100, in order to call the attention of the House to the question which I raised on Friday—namely, the vaccination of workhouse children within a week of their birth. I drew attention fully to the question on Friday, and I only desire now to refer briefly to the main points raised then and to ask the House to divide upon the question. I pointed out that children have been vaccinated in workhouses within two or three days of their birth, and the President of the Local Government Board declined to interfere with the rule regarding the matter laid down by the Boards of Guardians, chiefly in the metropolis and in some of the large towns. He also said the Local Government Board was not responsible for the practice and had no power to do away with it. That I venture to contest. There was issued a circular letter, signed by Mr. Lambert, the Secretary of the Local Government Board, in 1881, distinctly approving at that time of the practice of vaccinating children thus early, and the Act of 1874 gives full power to the Board to make such orders as to vaccination as may seem to them proper. I, therefore, contend that the Local Government Board has perfect power to deal with this question and to issue an order to the Boards of Guardians throughout the country pointing out the undesirability of vaccinating children at a very early age, and asking them to alter their practice in the matter. The justification for this practice is, of course, that in a workhouse you may have started an epidemic of small-pox by the young children being left unvaccinated, but as I pointed out the other day there is also the danger of an epidemic of erysipelas in a workhouse, which may spread throughout the institution. I submit that the practice is utterly inconsistent with the very principle of the Vaccination Act. The principle of the Act is that a parent is not compelled to have a child vaccinated until the third month. To talk of the consent of the parent being given in such cases is simply ridiculous. There is no possibility of comparing such cases with the cases in which regular and formal legal notices are sent under the vaccination laws. We know perfectly well that the unfortunate women who are confined in workhouses are practically compelled to have their children vaccinated within a very few days of birth. The President of the Local Government Board admitted the other afternoon that there was no statutory authority for enforcing vaccination thus early, that such vaccination would be a distinctly illegal act if formal consent were not given by the parent. It is absurd to say that any doctor can determine whether a child is in a fit state for vaccination at such an early age, before the child has had any start in life, before any opportunity has been afforded of seeing whether there is any disease in the child which wholly unfits the child for vaccination. I hope the President of the Local Government Board, who on Friday met what I had to say on this subject in no unconciliatory spirit, will see his way to use whatever power he has with the Boards of Guardians to put an end to this practice, and, at any rate, to postpone the vaccination of children born in workhouses to, say, a month or two months after the birth of the child. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, "to leave out £133,823,' and insert '£133,723'"—(Mr. Channing)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That '£133,823' stand part of the Resolution."


The hon. Gentleman has made exactly the same speech he made last Friday to which I then gave a detailed reply, and as I imagine the only object the hon. Gentleman has is to take the opportunity he missed on Friday of moving a reduction of my salary, I do not think it is necessary for me to say more than that the Local Government Board have no power to interfere with the action of the Guardians. But these children are usually illegitimate and are taken away from the workhouse soon after their birth, and therefore it is clearly in the interest of the child that vaccination should be performed so early that the sore is healed before the child is taken away. Many accidents occur after children leave the workhouse, and if the arm were illtreated a good deal of trouble might ensue. It is mainly with a desire of seeing that the child is well and that the sore is properly healed before it leaves the workhouse that vaccination is performed early, but the authorities receive strict instructions that no vaccination is to be performed unless the consent of the mother has been obtained.

The House divided;—Ayes 212; Noes 51.—(Div. List, No. 109.)

Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I wish to call attention to a matter in respect of which I asked a question the other day, and unless I receive from the President of the Local Government Board now a more sympathetic reply than I did then, I shall feel it my duty to take the sense of the House on the subject. The Local Government Board have an Inspectorate of 25 persons, and of the whole staff of Inspectors only one is a lady. Now, when it is considered that considerably more than half the inmates of workhouses are women and children, this disproportion must be allowed as grossly unfair. During last year a Committee of the other House examined the question of Poor Law Relief, and took a considerable body of evidence on the subject, some portion of that evidence relating to the matter I am now bringing before the House. I would particularly invite attention to the evidence of Miss Twining, a member, I believe, of the Kensington Board of Guardians. She was asked: We understand you advocate the extension of a system of lady Inspectors generally, in connection with workhouse administration? Miss Twining replied: I do most earnestly desire it. I think it is our one great object just now. When Mrs Nassau Senior was appointed in 1874 I had the honour of being consulted about it by the then President of the Local Government Board. That appointment was a great success. A complete change was made in the ideas of treatment of children and the sick. We have had to remove some nurses from the impossible conditions under which they did their duty. One nurse had to cook her rations in the same saucepan in which she cooked for the sick. Others, again, had to cook in the wards or their own sitting room, and we had to remove those who could not put up with the difficulties. Miss Twining further said— If the Master goes round with the Inspector, and very often that official does so, the nurses have not the courage to explain their wants as they would do to a woman. The evidence of Miss Twining and other evidence, among which I may allude to that of Miss Mason, pointing to the same conclusion, seems to have produced considerable effect upon the Committee of the other House, an influential Committee as a reference to the names will show, and they made a recommendation that, believing great advantage had been derived from the appointment of a lady Inspector, there should be further extension of such appointments to secure more competent inspection of the female and children's wards in workhouses, and of the staff of nurses and other female officials. As I said just now, when I put a question to the President of the Local Government Board, I did not receive much sympathy from him. The right hon. Gentleman agreed it was very desirable that ladies should be members of Boards of Guardians, but I think it is equally desirable that ladies should be appointed as paid Inspectors of the Local Government Board. I suppose the objection that mainly weighs with the right hon. Gentleman is the expense. Of course this is an important matter, but I should not desire the Board to launch out at once into any very great expenditure. All I desire is to secure from the right hon. Gentleman to-night some expression of sympathy with the object I have in view, and some declaration of an intention to carry out that object as occasion may arise. What I would suggest is that instead of having all male Inspectors we should have some lady Inspectors, and by the substitution of the one for the other no additional expense would be incurred.[Interruption.] Some Members of the House seem rather disposed to make light of this question, which to my mind is a matter of great gravity. Depend upon it, the women and children who are occupants of workhouses would not regard it in that light spirit displayed by some hon. Gentleman below the gangway opposite. It is to them a matter of almost vital importance that they should have one of their own sex entrusted with the duty of inspection, and coming round from time to time to see if everything is right, instead of having the present system of male inspection only. I should be quite willing to take from the right hon. Gentleman a small instalment to night. I hope he will promise that when an Inspector's place becomes vacant on the next occasion he will appoint a lady Inspector, and then I will not further press the matter. But for the present I beg to move the reduction by £100 of which I have given notice.


The hon. Member cannot do that. The House has decided that the amount proposed shall stand part of the Resolution.


Although the hon. Member cannot move the reduction I should be sorry to leave his appeal unanswered. The hon. Member proposes there should be an increase of lady Inspectors. To accomplish that one of two things would have to be done, looking to the fact that the whole of England is divided into districts, you must duplicate the number of Inspectors or you must substitute women for men, and this last I understand is the hon. Member's proposal with a view to meeting the difficulty of increased expense. My own opinion is that if the remedy proposed removed a grievance which the hon. Member says exists, but of which we at the Local Government Board have not heard, it would create another and an infinitely greater grievance for to say that a woman could perform all the manifold duties now performed by the male Inspectors of the Poor Law Board is, with all respect to the hon. Member, a little more than the Committee will accept from him. The hon. Member really cannot know the variety of the duties Inspectors have to perform not only in connection with the workhouse itself, but on interviewing the Guardians and on many matters of Poor Law administration, and to say that these can be as well performed by a woman as by a man is more than I can believe. The hon. Gentleman asks me to give an expression of sympathy with his object, and that I do most entirely, but the object can be achieved without expense to the country by lady members going on the Boards of Guardians. We have many cases of that already, and members of the Boards of Guardians are at perfect liberty to go to the workhouse and make all inquiries they desire. But when the hon. Member asks me to promise that when a vacancy occurs I will appoint a woman instead of a man, that I must absolutely decline to do, for I am quite sure that the administration would suffer materially. The hon. Member alludes to the inquiry into Poor Law administration by a Committee of the other House, and it is quite true they did make a recommendation of the character referred to, but I will venture to say that recommendation was supported by very scanty evidence. The hon. Member has referred to a vast quantity of evidence taken, and much evidence was taken, but upon this particular point the evidence was confined to that of Miss Twining, so I am not wrong in saying the evidence was extremely scanty, and I think the Committee had much more in mind, the inspection of boarded-out children, than of replacing male by female Inspectors, and as to this I can make no promise.

*MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

As in other matters, the expression of the right hon. Gentleman's sympathy does not promise an improvement in the matter complained of. The point my hon. Friend desired to raise was not that female Inspectors should be appointed to do all the duties of male Inspectors; all we ask is that there should be lady Inspectors for the female sides of workhouses and infirmaries, and this change would mean much less than a duplication of the staff. For these duties, not undertaking those for which men are specially fitted, a few ladies could cover large areas. Miss Mason, who, I think, was appointed in 1885 to the inspection of boarded-out children, said in her evidence that she had some 1,300 or 1,400 boarded-out children under her inspection over the whole of England and Wales. This lady has to cover a large area of inspection, and so it might be if the recommendation of the Lords Committee were acted upon. From the evidence of Miss Twining, as well as from knowledge acquired from ladies who are Poor Law Guardians, I can say that not only do the female inmates regard this as exceedingly desirable, but the Guardians themselves would welcome the change. I would emphasize that point in Miss Twining's evidence in reference to the appointment of Mrs. Nassau Senior. This lady looked after workhouse schools for a year. and it was decided by the authorities that at the end of the year the appointment should include the general inspection of workhouses, but before the expiration of the year that lady's health broke down and she died. Now, if Mrs. Nassau Senior had not died, she would have been appointed to the very office we suggest a lady Inspector should fill; therefore, to say that the Department can hold out no hope of this being done is to lose sight of the fact that such an appointment was about to be made by the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax. If Mrs. Nassau Senior had lived the appointment would have been made, and there would be no reason to raise this point now. In her evidence before the Committee, Miss Twining explains that her idea is that women should do the work of inspection as regards the clothing management and domestic economy of the female side of the workhouse wards. It cannot be doubted that such inspection would be an advantage. My wife has been a Poor Law Guardian, and she has described to me how absurd it is to send a male Inspector round the female wards for the inspection of clothing, bedclothes, utensils, &c. It is absurd and scandalous, too. Miss Twining was asked if such inspection would be of any assistance to the matron, and she replied that the good ones would welcome such a charge, though of course the bad ones would not welcome lady Inspectors or lady Guardians either, and that Mrs. Nassau, Senior, was loved and respected by all she came in contact with. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consent to reconsider his decision. We do not want any great expenditure; we shall be perfectly satisfied with the appointment of one lady Inspector to go round and visit the female wards of all workhouses. It will be a great work to do, and will take much time, but it would be attended with great advantage to the inmates, for there are many matters that must escape the attention of the male Inspector.


Speaking as Chairman of a Board of Guardians, I must say I think this proposition most practical. I do not think the work of inspecting the female side of our workhouses is at the present time done as efficiently as that of inspecting the male side. You should have one lady Inspector who would devote herself solely to the females' and children's part of the workhouse, leaving the general sanitary portion of the workhouse to the male Inspector. Furthermore, the female Inspector would be able to keep the female matrons in order. The right hon. gentleman the President of the Local Government Board might well consider this matter, and see if he could not appoint at least one female Inspector for the whole Kingdom.

The House divided:—Ayes 192; Noes, 64:—(Division List, No. 110.)

Resolution agreed to.

Second Resolution read a second time.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I wish to move the reduction of this Vote by £3,000. There are six Inspectors in lunacy in England paid £1,500 a year each, and only two in Scotland paid £1,000 a year each, or 50 per cent less than the English. Seeing that the Scotch Inspectors are superior in their knowledge of the question to the English Inspectors, I desire to reduce the salaries of the latter to the level of those of the former.

Amendment proposed, "to leave out '£13,215,' and insert '£10,215'"—(Dr. Clark)—instead thereof.

Question put, "That £13,215 stand part of the Resolution."

The House divided:—Ayes 195; Noes 46.—(Div. List, No. 111.) Resolution agreed to.

Subsequent Resolutions agreed to

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