HC Deb 08 June 1903 vol 123 cc216-8
SIR THOMAS DEWAR (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether he has yet received from the General Officer Commanding in South Africa a report explaining the circumstances under which discarded hospital blankets were sold in South Africa; will he state the result of the inquiry, the number of blankets sold, and the amount which they realised; and, in the interest of public health, will he consider the expediency of issuing instructions that all stores composed wholly or in part of textile fabrics which have been used in the field, whether in hospital or otherwise, shall be carefully disinfected before they pass out of the hands of the military authorities. †See (4) Debates, cxxi., 1343.


The General Officer Commanding, South Africa, reports that in October last, owing to the rapid demobilisation of the troops, an enormous stock of unwashed general service blankets, returned to store by the troops on demobilisation, was stored at the Cape Town Ordnance Stores, stacked in the open under tarpaulins. Efforts were made to have these washed and properly stored, but meanwhile the stacks took fire by spontaneous combustion and endangered the entire ordnance dep÷t. Prompt action became imperative, and the chief ordnance officer gave instructions for large numbers of those in the worst condition to be destroyed by fire, and accepted tenders for the sale of 80,000, provided they were removed within three days. These blankets were not unserviceable, though they had not been washed. The amount realised by the sale was £1,495. Medical officers have, under the regulations, power to destroy any articles of public property on sanitary grounds, and are expressly ordered to disinfect all soiled bedding which has been in contact with the sick. I am not prepared to issue so wide an order as that suggested—that all textile fabrics which have been used in the field should be disinfected before being sold. As previously stated, the ordnance and medical regulations contain clear instructions as to the disposal of condemned or infected articles; and I also issued special orders forbidding the sale in South Africa of any textile article which might convey infection. There appears to have been an error of judgment on the part of the responsible officer, who had otherwise done excellent service. The military authorities are investigating the matter.


I beg to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether the hospital blankets which reached this country from South Africa as discarded War Office stores have yet been traced in the towns in the provinces to which they were distributed; and can he say whether the local authorities have in every case taken steps to secure the destruction or disinfection of these infected blankets.


I sent a circular letter to about 200 sanitary authorities in England and Wales, in whose districts it was reported that some of the blankets referred to had been received, and advised them as to the measures which should be adopted in order to safeguard the public against any possible infection from the blankets. I have not received reports from all the authorities; but, so far as my information goes, I have every reason to be satisfied with the action taken in the matter.