HC Deb 21 March 1890 vol 342 cc1576-80
(8.56.) DR. TANNER

I wish to call attention to a subject I ventilated in this House some years ago. In May, 1887, I framed an Amendment by which I called attention "To the entirely insufficient medical requirements and supervision on board Transatlantic liners for emigrants and steerage passengers;" and also invited "inquiry into the great risks incurred by master mariners and seamen on vessels making long voyages in consequence of the former being obliged to act as physician and surgeon to the crew in addition to his other duties." When I brought this matter under the notice of the House before, I got a very poor reply indeed from the right hon. Gentleman, at that time connected with the Board of Trade (Baron de Worms), although the question is a very important one. I speak on this question as a medical man, and as one who has had an opportunity of visiting the large ships by which thousands of poor people are conveyed from this country to America. The grievances of which I complain have been brought under my notice again and again. I have seen these wants and requirements with my own eyes, and I conceive that I should not be doing my duty unless I endeavoured to draw the attention of the Government to the matter. It is a, sad thing under any circumstances that so many poor people should be compelled to leave the shores of the country in which they have been born—and I allude in particular to the people who leave Ireland annually in large numbers. It is a great pity that in consequence of the want of attention and consideration shown to them by the authorities they are obliged to seek in another country that which is denied them in their own; and I think the least we can do when they are driven abroad is to endeavour, to the best of our ability, to see that the rules and regulations of the Board of Trade are carried out in their entirety, for their benefit, whilst they are on board ship. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies told me that if I would bring forward any definite case that required investigation it would receive the fullest inquiry. Surely the right hon. Gentleman knew as well as I did that if the medical man on board any one of these steamships brought forward any of the cases which I have produced before this House he would immediately be deprived of his employment, and would not get further employment On one of these liners for the rest of his life. It is, therefore, utterly absurd for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Board of Trade is doing everything in its power. We all know that one of these large liners cannot clear the port of Liverpool or Queenstown without the sanction of the Board of Trade Inspector, and the President of the Board of Trade (Sir M. Hicks Beach) read me a very long lecture upon what the Inspectors did in connection with the inspection of the ship before it left the port. I never found fault with, the Inspectors of the Board of Trade. Many of those gentlemen are personal friends of mine, and from many of them I have acquired a portion of the information I have given to the House. What I say is, that when the ship clears the port all these grievances at once crop up. You have a hospital set apart on board each ship for the accommodation of such people who may be taken ill in transit. It frequently happens that no sooner has the ship cleared out of Queenstown than the brass plate is unscrewed from the door of the hospital and it is turned into accommodation for first and second class passengers. This, of course, is contrary to the rules of the Board of Trade, and were such a case to be brought under the attention of the Board of Trade the Board would be able to inflict proper punishment on the people who behave in this way. But who is to report it? If the doctor reports it he loses his position, and none of the officers on board dare report it. The medical man ought to be placed in such a position as to enable him to deal with questions of this sort, or at any rate, to bring them under the attention of the Board of Trade. I have shown that in many of the ships which convey emigrants to America there is no such thing as a permanent steerage, which means that there are no sanitary arrangements for steerage passengers. This was the case on one ship which had 1,500 people on board, no less than 800 of them being steerage passengers. The people were battened down for two days in consequence of a storm and at the end of that time the condition of the steerage accommodation was foul and loathsome beyond comprehension. The doctor who was on board told me he could stand a great deal, but when he went down into the steerage' the stench was so bad that it turned his stomach, and he became violently sick. I have also called the attention of the Government to the want of interpreters on board these ships. A friend of mine who has only recently left these services told mo that last year on one of the ships there were a great many people of different nationalities, including a number of Norwegians, and as there were no interpreters, these people were placed sometimes in a condition of dire extremity through not being able to get what they wanted. During the last eight or ten years I have been on board some twenty of these large steamers, and I have observed that the hospital is placed in them wherever it will suit the convenience of the company, and not in the best place as regards health, or as being easily got at. If a man meets with a serious accident or is taken ill on board a ship cruising in the Atlantic it may not be always very easy to convey him to the hospital, unless it is located in a convenient and proper situation. Within the last two years a doctor on board one of these very large steamers of modern construction was going along the deck to the hospital, which was situated near the stern, when he got two of his ribs broken. On another occasion a doctor who was going to a hospital situated on the deck got his arm broken. When these things have happened, to medical men who were going to attend patients, it must, as I have said, be sometimes very difficult for a patient who is ill, and especially a man with a broken leg, to get to the hospital when it is inconveniently placed. Then, again, a case of infectious disease might easily get on board one of these large ships, carrying as they do sometimes 1,500 passengers, and it has been proved that such cases have been taken on board. Will it be said that the ordinary hospital is the proper place in which to deal with such a case? I would suggest that a small hospital should be partitioned off for the use of anyone who gets on board and is afterwards found to be suffering from an infectious disease. The present Minister for the Colonies told me some time ago that there is always a special cabin fitted up for the surgeon. Since that statement was made I have visited at least 30 of the ships, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is not the case. There ought on every ship to be a small surgery where the medical man could keep drugs and make up medicines for any cases that came under his charge. There is another subject on which I desire to make a suggestion. There are some hundreds of thousands of men who go to sea in the ships of our Mercantile Marine. Of course, it would be nearly impossible to provide any proper medical attendance for the sailors on the smaller vessels, but I would suggest that in the case of ships containing a certain complement of men, and going to Australia and other distant parts, employment should be given to gentlemen who have not completed their course, but have taken their half course, and who are of ton employed in this country. I think also it might be easy and beneficial to establish some kind of entente cordiale between the Inspectors of the Board of Trade in this country, and the gentlemen who visit the American liners on their arrival in New York, so that the Reports of the latter might be transmitted to the Board of Trade Inspectors. I know very well that Governments are frequently trammelled by the great power of the Shipping Companies; but if the Government cannot see their way to carry out all the measures which are needful, they might at any rate take a step in the right direction and grant an inquiry into the subject-matter. In so doing they would be fulfilling their duty; they would be aiding the afflicted, and I believe they would also be doing credit to themselves.