HC Deb 07 July 1897 vol 50 cc1298-318

Order for third Reading read.

MR. WALTER HAZELL (Leicester) moved, "That the Bill be now Read the Third time." He said the object of the Measure was to enable persons infested with vermin to be cleansed and disinfected without having to go to a workhouse or casual ward. It accordingly gave permission to local authorities to grant the use of their disinfecting and bathing appliances to any persons thus infested who might apply for this purpose, and it permitted these authorities to incur the additional expense which Would in some instances be necessary for maintenance or for the erection of new appliances.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

, who rose amid some cheers and laughter, said that before the House passed the Third Reading of the Measure, he desired to draw attention to certain omissions in it. In the first place, he objected to the Measure because it was permissive only and not compulsory. He should have liked to have seen a. Measure of this character, which he understood was introduced with the sanction of the Government of the day, made of a more effective character for the purpose of enforcing sanitation among certain classes. He desired to point out what was the real germ of the evil which the Bill sought to meet—namely, the alien pauper immigration that was permitted to go on unchecked. Alien paupers who arrived at Hull or Grimsby in a filthy condition were at once passed on by the local authorities to Liverpool closely packed in railway carriages which at other times were used for the conveyance of ordinary passengers, with serious results to the latter. As the law now stood, it was the interest of the local authorities, acting on behalf of the ratepayers, that these filthy pauper aliens should not be subjected to an effective inspection, as it might delay their transit to other parts of the country. The Report of time Committee which had sat for the purpose of inquiring into the subject of the immigration of pauper aliens, clearly showed that verminous persons were to a large extent imported into this country. That Report also showed that the so-called inspection of intending emigrants in Russia and certain other parts of Europe was of the most perfunctory character, and was conducted upon principles altogether opposed to the idea of saving this country from danger. The object of the inspectors was not so much to prevent verminous persons from leaving their country as to get rid of them and to facilitate their reaching our shores, utterly regardless of the danger to ourselves that it might give rise to. The Bill gave permission to local authorities to lend cleansing apparatus to any person who, on the ground that he was infested with vermin, should apply for it. [Laughter.] Was not this reducing the legislation of the House to a farce? The person whose very presence in this country was a source of danger to health was to come forward and say he was a verminous person. [Renewed laughter.] Legislation on the subject of alien immigration, of which the question of verminous persons formed a part had been promised in the Queen's Speech. Last Session the Government gave an undertaking that they would deal with the subject, but their promise had not been fulfilled, and it was hopeless to expect that it would be fulfilled during the Session which was now in progress. A large number of persons arrived from abroad with a view to making this country their home, and not merely of passing through it on their way to other parts of the world. They went to reside not in the midst of the community they first entered at the port of London, but they passed on to other towns and permeated the whole country, to the great detriment of the community from a sanitary point of view. Returns showed that the arrival of foreigners in this country ostensibly going elsewhere had largely increased. Whereas, in May 1896, 4,275 such persons arrived in this country, there were 4,939 in May 1897, an increase of 700. That was a matter not lightly to be passed over. From local circumstances the figures varied from year to year, but whereas up to the end of May 1896 17,095 foreigners were admitted to this country, up to the end of May 1897 18,519 persons were admitted, an increase of about 1,500. The evil was steadily on the increase, and the subject was one which the House ere long would be compelled to take up. No doubt the date at which the Session had arrived would preclude the Government from legislating on alien immigration, but the House had an opportunity of dealing effectually with a limited branch of the subject. If the House decided to recommit this Bill it should insist on the inspection being real, compulsory, and not permissive. He did not propose that the cost of carrying out the Act should be borne entirely by the local authorities, but that as the verminous persons were a natural danger the cost of the Act should be borne by the country at large. He hoped that the House would consent to the recommittal of the Bill, with a view to the insertion of the necessary provisions that he had indicated. He could not go into the question of alien immigration now, but it was one on which the mind of the country had been decidedly expressed, more especially with regard to its sanitary aspects. The Report of the Committee which sat during 1889 said:— The mode of living of immigrants is wretched in the extreme. Their houses are in a miserable unsanitary condition; their food is of a poor nature, and they are able to maintain existence on much less than an English workman. It was also stated on authority that could not be gainsaid that the condition in which these persons lived was a danger to the public health. Mr. Abraham Levy, who spoke with knowledge on the subject, was asked:— Are they dirty or clean? A.—That depends whether they are new arrivals or foreigners who have lived in England for some time. The latter are very clean. When these people are new arrivals they seem to be overcrowded and dirty. Q.—How are they as regards sanitary arrangements? A.—Unfortunately, they bring with them Continental disregard for sanitary arrangements, and dislike the use of soap and water. These persons who had "a Continental disregard" for soap and water were the persons whom the Bill sought to make better acquainted with the elements for which they had a chronic dislike. [Laughter.] But the Bill, as it stood, was a complete farce. He trusted hon. Gentlemen would co-operate in making, the Bill effective for the enforcement of sanitary precautions, by introducing provisions which would make it an advantage to the community. He moved to leave out the words "now Read the Third time," and, at the end of the question, to add the word "re-committed."


said the Bill illustrated the difficulties which attended our system of legislation. On several occasions the Bill had passed through its stages without a single word, because there had been no opportunity for discussion. The discussion of the Bill now seemed to have a strange fascination for the House. [Laughter.] The objection he took to the Bill was of a technical character, but although technical it was fatal. Some Bills could be altered in another place, but the alteration needed in this Bill could not be made in another place, because questions of rating could not be there dealt with. In the latter part of the first clause the provision as regarded the cost of carrying out the Act ran as follows:— Local authorities may expend any reasonable sum On buildings, appliances, and attendants that may be required for the carrying out of this Act. That might be a good Instruction to the draughtsman, but could not form part of the Statute Law of the Realm. It was not enough to inform a local authority that they could spend money; they ought also to be directed how they could obtain that sum. He would refer to two Statutes, in the passing of which through Parliament he took some part. The Public Libraries Act, 1892, said that the money was to be derived out of a rate to be raised with and as part of the Poor rate, or in other cases out of rates described in the Statute. Like provisions were found in the Museums Act. He believed that provision to be necessary, and unless such words formed part of the statute it would be utterly worthless. He thought that objection was fatal to the Bill, in addition to which the administration would be attended with the greatest difficulty. How were they to enforce discipline among these verminous persons? How were they to keep them in order? How many patients was the authority to provide for? Was there to be an average number of applicants, or was an enormous crowd to collect at the entrance to the Town Hall? There was no direction as to how they were to be treated. He regarded the Bill as impracticable, and begged to second the Motion.


said he was surprised that his Friend the Member for Leicester had not given a fuller explanation. He had come there with a perfectly open mind on the subject, and had felt grateful to his hon. Friend for tackling such an unsavoury subject. He was bound to say, however, that he was convinced that he was not justified in voting for this Bill. This Bill had been rushed through recklessly without any sort of discussion. He blamed himself—[laughter]—and all other Members of the House. They ought to have looked more carefully into it to see what his hon. Friend was doing. With every wish to aid his hon. Friend in his campaign against these little animals, they were bound to say that the Bill in its present form was impossible. They were told that the House of Lords might make alterations in the Bill, but he did not think they ought to throw their dirty work on the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet used cogent arguments in regard to aliens, and clearly showed that it would not be fair to throw this local burden on Liverpool. It seemed that the vermin on the persons arriving here from foreign countries were snore voracious than the vermin of this country. The right hon. Gentleman estimated that there were about 4,000 persons arriving in one month alone.


said there were upwards of 9,000 persons in the month of May alone.


said the vermin upon these persons bred very swiftly, and taking this number of 9,000 as a basis —[laughter]—they would get millions and millions of these creatures. He had listened with the greatest respect to the hon. Baronet, who was an authority on local matters, who had asked where this money was to come from. Why was the Bill to be optional if it was a sound Bill? They were told that any town or district might allow these unfortunate persons to have their clothes boiled and themselves cleansed, but, he would point out, these persons might concentrate themselves in one particular parish. If it was a local tax, however, they ought to go to their own parish. Moreover, sometimes the clothes of these people when boiled would fall to pieces, and then the parish would have to supply clothes also. He complained that there was no definition clause. What was the definition of a verminous person and of vermin? Were persons suffering from fleas to be understood to come within the scope of the Bill? He hoped his hon. Friend would give some sort of schedule of vermin. [Laughter.] He admired his hon. Friend for having taken up this subject; they owed him a deep debt of gratitude, and if he pursued the subject exhaustively his name would for ever be connected with it. [Laughter.] He was afraid they might not be able to get the Bill through this Session, but, if not, they might be able to grapple with it next Session, and if a sound Bill was brought in, he should be ready to vote for it.


said he did not think verminous persons should have freedom to roam about our cities and spread abroad the unfortunate denizens with, which they were affected. But he agreed that there should be in the Bill some definition of vermin. After all, "vermin" was a purely relative term. It meant what one did not like. To a battleship torpedoes were vermin, and were so officially described. Rabbits, stoats, and weasels were also often described as vermin. Surely the industrious flea when he was engaged in earning his own livelihood—[laughter] —was not to be regarded under the Bill as vermin. He was sure the hon. Member who brought in the Bill did not propose to abolish the lawful calling of the industrious flea; and that it was only when the flea was ranging as a marauder over the body of some unfortunate person that he was to be considered as vermin. [Laughter.] For a short period he had been a verminous person himself. [Laughter.] He unfortunately one time took passage in a Spanish ship, and on waking at night found the rats were holding military manœuvres over his person—[laughter]—but he got rid of the vermin without having to appeal to a local authority. [Laughter.] He admitted that both on account of the verminous persons themselves and on account of public health it was desirable that such persons should be dealt with in some way. But some of the proposals of the Bill were ridiculous. The operation of the Bill was purely optional. If a person thought he was verminous enough he might appeal to a local authority. But surely if there was a need for cleansing those verminous persons, the cleansing should be made compulsory. The verminous person was the last person that should be consulted in the matter. If he were a public nuisance it should not be left to him to decide whether he should be cleansed or not. The intention of the Bill was good; but its provisions were ineffective.


suggested that the Bill should be recommitted, not to a Committee of the whole House, but to a select Committee composed of members having experience on the subject. He for his part objected to his time being wasted discussing a question which he knew nothing about. On the other hand there were Members who had experience of the hardship inflicted on their constituencies by the free immigration of foreign paupers into them; and their opinions would carry great weight. The names on the back of the Bill were the names of persons who could not have had the slightest personal experience on the question, and therefore he could not regard them as authorities. One of the provisions of the Bill was that a verminous person might make application to the Guardians of his district to be cleansed. That meant that the application of the man would be discussed at the Board of Guardians, and his condition published in the local paper, with the result that he would be shunned by his fellow-workmen and his companions, and the object of the Bill would be thereby defeated. Then again, the Bill was too limited in its scope. It only enabled the local authority to deal with the clothing of a verminous person, and gave no power to enter the house occupied by a verminous person. and disinfect the bedding and furniture. All this showed the need for having the question reconsidered by a Committee of men of experience in the matter.


assured the House that there was no intention on the part of the promoters of the Bill to deal specially with the case of foreign immigrants. No doubt many of those people were in as offensive a condition personally as some of the poorest and lowest classes in this country; but it was a national fallacy to say that we were cleaner than people on the Continent. [" Hear, hear!"] The Bill aimed at doing good work among the very poor. There were in London alone—and the same remark applied to the other great cities of the country—50,000 persons who had to sleep nightly in refuges; and who consequently came to a loathsome state of body. These people had no means of getting cleansed unless they became paupers and applied for admission to a casual ward. [" Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members who were connected with the administration of the poor law were aware that the cleansing apparatus and arrangements provided under the Bill existed in most casual wards, and he believed the application of the cleansing process was more or less compulsory in the case of persons admitted to those wards. But it would be adding to the grievance of unfortunate verminous persons if they were obliged to go through a casual ward in order to get cleansed. A man might for the want of a few pence be compelled to go to a dirty night refuge; and by getting into a condition of body loathsome to his fellow-workers and employers, might be prevented from getting employment. The Bill provided that a person in such a state might go to a local authority and that the local authority might have the necessary apparatus for cleansing him. It was objected that the Bill ought to be compulsory, but under the conditions it was only by good fortune that a permissive Bill could be got through the House. A compulsory Measure would certainly have provoked a great deal of opposition. The Bill threw no expense on the local authorities unless they wished to incur it. The evil dealt with was not confined to the persons who had been mentioned, but was liable to be spread through the general population by infected persons lounging about tile parks and going to public reading rooms and libraries. The Bill had been introduced at the urgent request of some of the best known workers among the poor. He had visited casual wards and lodging houses, and had consulted nurses, local authorities, and the clergy; and all were agreed that a Bill of this kind might do a great deal of good and could do no harm.

Question put, "That the words 'now read the Third time' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes, 115; Noes, 34.—(Division List, No. 275.)

Main Question proposed.

MR. DUNCOMBE (Cumberland, Egremont)

said that the Bill was the most permissive Measure he had ever known, and that he could not believe it would do any good. He sympathised with the objects of the promoters, but the Bill was unlikely to promote them, and if it were passed it would make it very difficult in another Session to introduce a more effective Bill. It was computed that in Whitechapel alone 60,000 of the poorest people slept in dosshouses every night; and without some power of inspection and means of compelling those people to go to the local authorities to be cleansed, the Bill would have no effect at all. The Bill as it stood, being wholly permissive, was a bad and useless Bill, and, that being so, he hoped the House would not allow it to be read a Third time.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

supported the Bill, because, though it did not go as far as it might, it would do a certain amount of good. He was sure it would be appreciated by many people, even though it was only permissive. Foreigners had been prominently brought forward in the Debate, but he did not think that the foreigner was necessarily a more dirty person than some of our own inhabitants in poor places. With regard to the suggestion that a more complete Bill should be brought in next Session, that was no reason for rejecting what the present Bill offered. In his opinion, the local authority ought to have power to cleanse houses as well as persons. Most of the dirt came from the houses those persons lived in. If the local authority were empowered, at the request of a certain number of inhabitants, to enter and cleanse a dirty house, it would be a great improvement in many cases. And one of the great causes of dirt was the papering of walls over and over again. He objected however, to compulsory powers being directed against individuals, because this might lead to pressure being brought to bear upon very harmless persons.


hoped that after the Debate which had taken place and the Division on the preceding Motion, the proceedings on this Bill would be no longer delayed. He did not think that what he could not help characterising as trifling with a Measure of this kind was at all to the credit of the House of Commons.


said the hon. Gentleman talked about trifling with the House of Commons. What had been the case while the Debate had been going on? The hon. Gentleman had been the sole tenant of the Treasury Bench. None of Her Majesty's Ministers and such-like great persons had been present to offer any light and leading upon the subject. What were the views of the Government about it? Really the House was in the position of there being no Government at all in the country. [Laughter.] Seeing that the Government deliberately absented themselves because they could not make up their minds how to vote, it Came ill from the hon. Gentleman to get up and sneer at a discussion which he considered had been useful and, indeed, valuable. [Laughter.]

GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)

rose to continue the discussion, when

MR. MICHAEL AUSTIN (Limerick, W.) moved "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided: —A yes, 68; Noes, 82.—(Division List, No. 276.)

Debate resumed.


said that when he was interrupted he was endeavouring to show as a member of a local authority that the local authority would be placed in an awkward position if this Bill in its present form became law. Take the case of two parishes—St. George's, Hanover Square, and Marylebone. If St. George's, Hanover Square, thought that the inhabitants of its neighbourhood needed cleansing, and erected establishments for the benefit of its people, it was more than likely that the people from other parishes would come there and ask to be cleansed. In this way the local authority of St. George's, Hanover Square, would assume a heavy responsibility if, after having erected cleansing establishments, they were to be resorted to by the inhabitants of other parishes. He thought, therefore, it would be unfair to leave the local sanitary authorities in this position. Every parish should either furnish cleansing appliances or they should not be asked to place them in the open position which the Bill provided. [" Hear, hear!"]


opposed the Third Reading. If passed in its present form, it would, in his judgment, be absolutely inadequate to attain the object in view. It gave the local authority power to cleanse the clothing and the persons of people who needed such cleansing, but everyone who knew anything about vermin was perfectly well aware that it was not sufficient to cleanse the person and the clothes only. Further steps would have to be taken, and the process of cleansing would have to include the whole of the furniture, bedding, and everything else that had been in contact with the verminous person. He reminded the House that nowhere was personal cleanliness attended to so much as in the East, because there it was a question of religion. The people there made five ablutions a day, and nowhere, in Europe, at all events, was personal cleanliness carried out as it was in Turkey and in Persia. Yet nowhere probably in the world were more vermin to be found than in Turkey and Persia. [Laughter.] When one went to an inn in those countries the landlord showed the traveller the vermin; he brought out a handful. [Laughter.] If they were very large the traveller would pass on and would not enter the inn—[laughter]—if they were of a moderate size the traveller entered the inn. [Laughter.] Tins was the sober truth, and, in spite of this fact, the Mussulman's personal cleanliness and the cleanliness of his clothing was most complete. The methods proposed by this Bill were not in the least calculated to get rid of vermin. They must go far beyond the person and the clothing if the House wished to stamp out this pest. He was surprised to find that the only person who defended the Bill was the Secretary to the Local Government Board, and that hon. Gentleman defended it by giving the House of Commons a lecture which was not in the least needed, and, if needed, would come with an ill grace from him, while it would not be submitted to had he been a private and unpaid Member still. [Laughter.] He could not refrain from noticing the absence of almost every honourable Member whose name was on the back of the Bill. What was to be thought of the earnestness of gentlemen who, on a great historic occasion like this, were not present to say a word in favour of their Bill? Where, for example, was the honourable knight the Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit)? If there was ever a Member in this House who, in season and out of season, took an opportunity to make himself heard, it was the honourable knight, and yet on this occasion, when the fate of his own child was trembling in the balance, the honourable Member was probably attending some futile garden party instead of being present to defend the great project of legislation which his name sustained. [Laughter.].Then there was the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). He believed that it was partly in consequence of that honourable Member's name—a deservedly honoured name—that this Bill had arrived at its present stage. What was the House to understand by the hon. Member's absence? Hon. Members knew that the hon. Gentleman was a conscientious man, but he could not help coming to the conclusion that the absence of the hon. Member on this occasion meant that he had repented of having put his name on the back of the Bill.


The hon. Member voted for the Bill.


said that, at all events, the hon. Member for Morpeth, in the crisis of the Bill's fate, when the House was to decide whether the Bill was to be beheaded or to continue its miserable existence, was absent from his place. Why was this? Because, although he had voted for the Bill, he had now listened to the voice of reason—[laughter]—because he had reflected on the anomalous position, not only in which he would put the verminous person, but himself and the local authorities charged with the execution of the Bill. The hon. Member, therefore, had come to the conclusion that, as an honest and conscientious man, anxious above all for the promotion of public business and the passing of wholesome legislation, he could not vote for the Bill. Then the noble Lord the Member for the Chorley Division of Lancashire (Lord Balcarres) was also absent. Why? He believed that the noble Lord came from north of the Tweed. [Laughter.] He understood that if there was any part of the country in which an interest might be taken in this Bill, it was in the country north of the Tweed. [Laughter.] From duke to peasant in Scotland every one felt this to be a national question. [Laughter.] Why, then, was the noble Lord absent? It was clear that he was absent because he, unthinkingly and with that generosity which distinguished all his countrymen, had put his name in an unguarded moment on the back of the Bill. [Laughter.] What had happened since? The noble Lord had received overwhelming representations from Scotland that this Bill would be an interference with Scottish liberties, which was not to be tolerated. [laughter.] From John o' Groat's to the Tweed there had been a universal cry of indignation, which had reached him, and the noble Lord had yielded to that appeal. He claimed, therefore, that the voice of Scotland had been pronounced against the Bill, that Ireland was against the Bill, and that Islington was quite solid against the Bill. [Laughter.] With Islington, Scotland, Ireland, and conscience combined against the Measure, who shall say them nay? [Laughter and cheers.] Another respected Member of that House, whose energy and perseverance he had long seen occasion to admire, was also absent. Here, again, it was probable that representations had reached the hon. Member from Ireland that the Bill was not to pass. Seeing, then, that out of five Members whose names were at the back of the Bill only one had thought fit to be present at the crisis of its fate, they were amply justified in opposing its Third Reading. [Cheers.]

MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

said he had not intended to address any remarks to the House upon this Bill, but as the House had by a large majority rejected the Motion for closure, showing a desire for further discussion, he felt it was incumbent upon him to say a few words in support of the Third Reading. The hon. Member for Lynn Regis had referred to the Bill as having the opposition of Scotch Members, and in support of his contention remarked upon the absence of the noble Lord whose name, was on the back of the Bill; but the noble Lord's absence might be due to another cause than indifference to the fate of the Measure. It was a good Bill, that was apparent, and it might well have been anticipated that it would pass unanimously. The hon. Member for Lynn Regis had moved no Amendments in Committee, and it might have been assumed that there was a general wish to see the Bill go through. So far as Scotland was concerned, he reminded the House that his country had always been among the forerunners of sanitary reform. The Public Health Act for Scotland dated from 1867, the English Measure followed in 1876. Scotland had always been a pioneer of sanitary reform, and he would venture to say there would not be a Scottish Member on his side of the House who would not be a supporter of the Third Reading of this Bill. The hon. Member for Lynn Regis had some little reason for making his reference to Scotland in the fact that not very long since a question was raised in the House in reference to matters connected with a corps of Scottish volunteers; but the House should bear in mind that there had only been a statement from the Treasury Bench, that an inquiry had been asked for and refused, and he felt quite sure that a full inquiry would clear Scotland of every imputation made by the War Office in reference to the affair. He would not have it assumed that in this matter would be found any reason for the Scottish people being opposed to a Bill of this kind. It had been made matter of complaint against the Bill that it was voluntary, not compulsory in its nature, but he was not at all sure that that was a disadvantage. The Public Health laws of Scotland and England dealt with the sanitary condition of dwellings, and in cases of infectious disease, with the disinfection of clothing and other things, but there was nothing in those laws which touched a question of this nature affecting persons afflicted with a disease of this kind, though it was a question in which public health and decency were concerned that might very well be dealt with by Parliament. In dealing with a subject of this character it was most desirable to proceed cautiously, for in an enactment restraining the liberty and interfering with the person of the subject, public sentiment must be with the law. In the measures taken for checking the plague in India public sentiment was not with the authorities; there was no co-operation on the part of the people, and trouble ensued from interference with the person of the subject under the repressive measures adopted by the Government of Bombay. This should be a warning to proceed cautiously. At first then it was well this Measure should be permissive, and eventually experience of its operation might justify the law being made compulsory. It was objected that the Bill contained no provision as regarded rating and as affecting Scotland. It was not declared whether the expenses should fall upon the rates levied or occupiers, or those to which occupiers and owners equally contributed. That was a technicality upon which the House of Lords could offer no assistance, for a question of rating was one for the House of Commons to determine, and in Committee. At the same time he did not think there was much practical importance in this question of rating. They had been told that local authorities would be free to expend a reasonable sum for this purpose, and they were further told that local authorities in London had appliances at the moment, so that there was no reason why a beginning should not be made in London, where disinfecting places and appliances would answer the purpose. The Bill did not compel local authorities to cleanse persons or employ others to do so; it only provided that if they saw fit the authorities might permit any person to have the use free of charge of the apparatus for cleansing the body from vermin. The infected person would cleanse himself, nobody else was required to do it, and he would cleanse his own clothing. If it was merely the supply of the apparatus, the authorities of London already had; if it was free use by the turning on of a tap or whatever the apparatus might be, then there would not be much expense connected with it, and on this ground there was no objection to the Bill. Other objections mentioned could be met on the passage of the Bill through the other House. It would be competent for the House of Lords to introduce a compulsory clause if that were thought desirable. In other points he quite admitted the Bill required amendment; for instance, in its application to Scotland. As every one knew, the phraseology in Scotch and English Bills differed. The third clause of the Bill declared that a local authority should mean the Council of any county borough, and in Scotland that would apply only to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Powers were given to the District councils of any district or any Board of Guardians. They had no Boards of Guardians in Scotland, and if this Bill was applicable to Scotland, they would require that Parish Council should be substituted for Board of Guardians, and County Council and District Council in regard to the other matters. They must recognise that this Bill was imperfect from the draftsman's point of view, but at the same time they must recognise the difficulty a private Member had to get a Bill of any kind through that House. He thought, however, that it might easily be amended in the House of Lords—and, after all, what was the House of Lords for but to amend in small details Bills which passed through that House?— without taking up their time now.

MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

said that to his mind it was nothing short of an insult to the intelligence of the House that a Bill of this kind should be brought forward when more important Measures stood lower down on the Order Paper. He could not congratulate those who were responsible for the drafting of the Bill. The Bill applied to Ireland, but absolutely no machinery was provided to put it into operation in that country. The machinery in the Bill was applicable to England, but it was not applicable to Ireland, and therefore it would be absolutely impossible to carry it out. When he saw this Bill on the Paper he looked upon it as a kind of joke upon the intelligence of the House. They were told that persons who were so it infested were to declare themselves so. Who ever heard of any person likely to do a thing of that kind? Take the poorest of the community. Were they likely to proclaim that they were in an unsanitary condition to the local authorities, or to anyone else? Were they not more likely to hide their condition? On the grounds of common sense, of draftsmanship, and of the impossibility of applying it to Ireland, he thought the House ought to reject the Bill.


pointed out that one of the main defects of the Bill—that relating to the financial provisions—could not be dealt with by the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Lanark made somewhat light of that defect. He told them that there were no Boards of Guardians in Scotland, but there were in England, and he believed that, if the Bill became law in its present form, individual members of those boards, supposing they chose to adopt its provisions, would be surcharged to the amount of the expenses they were put to in regard to the Bill. Those who remembered the discussion on the Parish Councils Bill would know how very particular and precise were the provisions as to where the money was to come from and what was to be done with it. Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman opposite made light of the financial aspect of the present Bill he thought he could scarcely have fully appreciated the force of the conditions laid down by the House in this matter. He would also remind the House that Section 46 of the 38 and 39 Vict., relating to Public Health—to which his attention had been called by the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigan, whose experience in matters connected with public health entitled him to speak with authority—provided that where, on the certificate of the medical officer of health, or of any two medical practitioners, it appeared to the local authority that any house or part thereof was in such a filthy condition that the health of any person was affected or endangered thereby, they should give notice, in writing, to the owner or occupier to whitewash, cleanse, or purify the same, as the case might require. If the owner or occupier failed to comply with the order, he was liable to a penalty not exceeding 10s. for every day during which he continued to make default, and the local authority could carry out the work and charge him with the expense. There were other parts of the Bill which showed that the draftsman was not familiar with drawing documents of this kind, and he must express his surprise that any Government Department should have allowed the Bill to have reached this stage without intrusting some proper person to make a few amendments. As regarded local authorities, he thought it should be compulsory upon them to take this Act, because otherwise the verminous person would not know where they could get cleansed. There was no provision in the Act authorising local authorities to make it known whether they had or had not adopted the Act, or for testing the accuracy of the statement of persons who wished to have their clothes thoroughly cleansed at the public expense. Then there was this remarkable clause—that the local authorities should be allowed to expend a reasonable sum. This House had often been engaged in discussing whether "reasonable" was a properly-defined word to insert in an Act of Parliament, and he could remember various occasions on which it had been laid down that it was not. Then, again, who was to determine what was a reasonable sum? Was the auditor to determine that, and to surcharge the local authority with all above that amount? It did appear to him that there was nothing good to be said in favour of this Bill, which had been fairly pulled to pieces in the speeches which had been made, and the contentions of the hon. Member who represented the Local Government Board that they should pass it practically without discussion was one which, he thought, he would be alone in holding.


thought they would find considerable difficulty in accounting for the extraordinary exhibition the British House of Commons had resolved on making of itself on the present occasion, and, furthermore, in accounting for the conduct of the Government. Having brought together representatives from all parts of the Empire, the Government, who were entirely responsible for the proceedings of the House to-day, had produced this Jubilee Bill. [A laugh.] The discussion which had taken place to-day was due entirely to the action of the Government in specially reserving this Wednesday for the Verminous Persons Bill. Early in the Session he appealed to the Government to reserve a Wednesday for the consideration of an Irish Land Bill, but they refused to do so. There had been no legislation for Ireland during the Session, but he and his hon. Friends were to be sent back to Ireland with a Verminous Persons Bill—[laughter]—as the only result of five months of continuous attendance at the House.


remarked that the Government had nothing to do with this Bill being the First Order. The Bill was the First Order by the Rules of the House, and not by the fixing of the Government.


asked why the Government exempted this Wednesday. [Cries of "Oh!"] He maintained that the Government were entirely responsible for this scandalous exhibition.


said that the hon. Member would not be in order in discussing on this Bill the policy of the Government in taking or giving any particular Wednesday.


believed he was going a little out of order—[laughter]—but his feelings got the better of him. [Renewed laughter.] The British House of Commons was certainly placed in a ridiculous position, and, although he would be out of order in discussing, the strategy or the policy of the Government in bringing about that position, be would be in order in drawing attention to the condition of the Government Bench. There was only a subordinate member of the Government (Mr. T. W. Russell) present; the Leader of the House and all the responsible Members of the Government were absent, and did not seem to be in the least concerned with the honour of the House and the dignity of its proceedings. They had been discussing for three hours a Bill that no vestry in the country would condescend to print. This was an unnecessary and a disgusting Bill—[laughter]—and it was entirely unworthy—he would not say of this House, because it was very hard to say what was worthy of it—entirely unworthy of any assembly of intelligent men to spend hours in discussing, it.

Question put. The House divided: — Ayes, 135; Noes, 82.—(Division List, No. 277.)

Bill read the Third time, and passed.