MR. GIBSON BOWLES
called attention to the system of quarantine. He said, the late President of the Local Government Board and he had had a difference upon this matter. What was quarantine? As a means of preventing the spread of disease by infection it was ridiculous. Forty days were prescribed, as though "forty" had some magic in it? He might refer to the lazaretto which had been built on the Chetney Hills in Kent, to which persons were sent who Were likely to convey infectious disease to Her Majesty's subjects. Quarantine did not only extend under the Act 6 Geo. III. c. 7 to yellow fever, as the late President of the Local Government Board had stated; on the contrary, yellow fever was never mentioned at all in either that or succeeding Acts, except in an exceptional manner. Quarantine applied to any infectious disease or distemper highly dangerous to the health of His Majesty's subjects. It included cholera, and might be held to apply to 956 swine fever. The provisions for carrying it out were the most ridiculous, oppressive, expensive methods ever made in a civilised country. What was our system for protecting people from infection? We had four old hulks in the Solent, where they were established originally because vessels came generally to Southampton from the Mediterranean coast of Africa or Turkey, where the plague was supposed usually to exist. The lazaretto in Kent he had already referred to. Those were the means employed to prevent the spread of infection. But what was the case now? For one person who reached this country by way of the Solent hundreds and thousands came by Dover, Harwich, and other parts along the coasts. If we were going to maintain a system of quarantine it should, in the first place, be extended to the cholera; and, in the second, preventive methods should be applied where they were most needed, at the points of largest influx of foreigners into this country. It was perfectly ridiculous if we were to allow streams of people to come in by Folkestone, Dover, Harwich, and so on without question, to maintain those four crazy old hulks in the Solent. Such a system of quarantine afforded no protection whatever to the country against the spread of infectious diseases. If we were to have quarantine at all the matter could not stop where it was, because the great streams of foreigners now entering the country wore untouched by our present system. But even supposing it were intended to make the system a reality instead of a sham, he very much questioned the wisdom of so doing, for quarantine did no good, but on the contrary it did a great deal of harm. Persons coming by sea required less quarantine than others, having by their voyage automatically quarantined themselves, so to speak. Confining people for a number of days in a ship or lazaretto was eminently calculated to spread any germs of disease if they existed or to produce them if they did not. Ridiculous as the present system was, even if made more effective, it would still be bad, for it would not prevent the spread of infectious diseases. He ventured to say no one on the opposite Benches could tell the House why such a system was kept up. No doubt abroad it was maintained as a kind of system of outdoor relief for 957 Vice Consuls, providing them with fees in lieu of paying them salaries. For instance, the Spanish Government required a health certificate to be viséd at a charge of a few shillings by the Vice Consul of the place—an unnecessary visé by a person who did not know and could not know that a certificate given by a, person who did know was correct. If the right hon. Gentleman was going to abandon his system of quarantine and call in the assistance of the Local Government Board, that would be a clear confession that his system was of no use: but if he intended to try and make it of use, let him apply it as the Act intended it should be applied. In that case, instead of having £1,600 or £1,700 put on the Estimates for quarantine expenses, the cost would be spread over the whole country. He had said enough to show that the present quarantine system was extremely useless, ridiculous, and expensive, and ought to be abolished. The time had arrived when we must either extend or abandon altogether this ancient system of quarantine, and he would be glad of an assurance from the Government on the subject, or that at all events they would promise the familiar remedy of a Select Committee. The only explanation of this old system having been allowed to go on was that its existence bad been forgotten. For more than 100 years we bad put up with it, but the time had come when an end should be put to an ancient and stagnant abuse.
§ * MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
I do not think the hon. Member opposite is quite justified in saying that the Act of George IV. contemplates yellow fever simply. It applies to infectious diseases.
§ * MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, there had been five cases of vessels detained through yellow fever during the last few years, but such cases could be quite well dealt with under the Ordinances relating to the public health. That being so, it did not appear that there was any necessity, from the point of view of public health, for maintaining the quarantine law. The Government, however, were bound by certain Conventions with other Powers to maintain the quarantine regulations. In conseequence of the Debate that arose on the Civil Service Estimates last Autumn, the 958 Government had been giving their attention to the matter, and the Local Government Board had been in correspondence with the Departments concerned on the subject. Inquiries were being made as to the attitude of Foreign Powers, and as soon as replies were received to those inquiries the Government would be able to deal with the question. He did not think it would be necessary to have a Select Committee such as the hon. Member had suggested. Probably a Departmental Committee would be better. As he had said, however, the Government were bound by the Conventions, and until they obtained the views of the Foreign Governments could not act. They agreed that there was no longer any sanitary reason for maintaining a system which was to a large extent practically obsolete. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would be satisfied to leave the matter in the hands of the Government. It was receiving the attention of the Government, and would certainly not be lost sight of.