HC Deb 09 August 1904 vol 139 cc1591-600

£9,598 to complete the sum for the Local Government Board for Scotland.


said this was not the first nor the second time he had had to draw the attention of the Committee to the necessity of the Local Government Board for Scotland taking more steps with regard to the number of uncertified deaths in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This was not a matter of legislation, but of administration. These deaths were due to the insufficiency of medical men, and the Local Government Board should take steps to provide more medical men. He remembered once being in the Island; of Lewis with a medical friend, when the minister was suddenly attacked by illness, and had it not fortunately happened that he was seen by his (Mr. Weir's) friend the minister would probably have died. This gentleman lived forty-five miles away from the nearest medical man, and had the gentleman been sent for in all probability it would have been found that he had been called to a patient miles away. It was a scandal to Scotland that such a thing should be allowed. He was sorry also to have to draw attention to the insanitary condition of the houses in the Island of Lewis; but having regard to the action of the the Government in dropping the Bill they proposed to bring in he had no alternative but to call attention to these matters. Four thousand houses at least in Lewis were in a most insanitary condition, the people inhabiting them only being separated from the domestic cattle by a handrail. Their condition was simply alarming. It was a state of things that ought not to be allowed in any part of the British Islands. He had been in many lands, and seen many peoples, but he had never seen anything so bad as the conditions which existed in the Island of Lewis. It was a scandal that should not be allowed to continue. The Local Government Board should appoint a sufficient number of inspectors who should be sent out to report what alterations should be made and should not be allowed to waste their time in Edinburgh. This condition of things existed on the western mainland. What was the result? Epidemics constantly raged, and there were no isolation hospitals for the patients, who had to be treated in their own homes. The result was that 135 schools were closed from two to four weeks twice or three times a year. That was a most serious thing from the point of view of the education of the children. No wonder the people were never able to get on. The schools themselves were not in a satisfactory condition; the water supply was bad; and the ventilation was bad, and when he asked the local sanitary inspectors and the local medical officers for health why they did not report these things they replied that they were tired of sending reports to headquarters because the Local Government Board took no notice. Why was not this state of affairs remedied? It would not be allowed for a moment if these places were close to our great cities instead of being remote.

Another matter in regard to which the Local Government. Board had been guilty of serious neglect concerned the condition of the churchyards in many parts of the Highlands. For years the sanitary inspectors had been calling attention to the facts, but nothing had been done. In many cases the churchyards were so crowded that the bodies were almost out of the ground. The Local Government Board ought to insist upon more land being secured, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman to see that the officials at Edinburgh performed their duties in a more satisfactory manner. During the past year no fewer than nineteen medical officers had been appointed, not one of whom possessed a public health diploma. That was in direct contravention of the statute. What was the good of passing Acts of Parliament if the Secretary for Scotland paid no attention whatever to them? Then there was the question of tuberculosis. That was a terribly infectious disease, the spread of which the Local Government Board ought to do its utmost to prevent. In many new establishments special wards were being set apart, and he suggested that if alterations were not being made in existing institutions they ought to be. The least that should be done was to provide a kind of out-house in which such cases might be isolated. He also asked what the Board were doing in the way of securing the medical examination to children, with a view to providing, where necessary, better treatment and nourishment, as recommended by the Physical Training Committee. Thousands of men were rejected annually for service in the Army and Navy because of their physical condition not being up to standard. Ho hoped the Board would do their utmost to bring this matter prominently forward.

The recent Return with regard to local medical officers was of the most inaccurate description. The Board ought really to see that the information they furnished to the House was correct, instead of doing their work in so slip-shod a manner. Another matter to which he had had to refer on previous occasions was the use of humanised lymph. It was condemned in every other civilised country, and yet it was allowed in Scotland. Vaccination was compulsory; there were no exemption certificates in Scotland; therefore, it was the duty of the Government to see that the lymph supplied was of the very best quality. The lymph was supplied in Scotland by an official of the Local Government Board on his own account, and none of the vaccine stations were subject to proper supervision. Any vile stuff might be sent to them. How were they to know that it was all right? There was no standard of quality for the lymph. If the Government insisted on compulsory vaccination they ought to see that there was a sufficient supply of the purest and best quality that could be obtained. He was not surprised that the people of Leicester should stand out against the abominable practice of vaccination. If they could be assured that the lymph was pure and up to a proper standard many people who claimed exemption now would not do so. He admired those who resisted rather than submit to brutal and arbitrary laws. He asked the Secretary for Scotland to give attention to the vaccination question and to see that the Local Government Board made arrangements for a satisfactory supply of lymph. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give some assurance that he would waken up the Local Government Board from their slumbers, because the matters to which he had referred, and others with which he would not deal at present, ought to be better attended to than they had been in the past.


said he was a member of the Local Government Board for some time, but he was afraid that would not recommend it much to the hon. Member for Ross-shire. His experience as a member of the Board had enabled him to appreciate the points which the hon. Member had raised, and the difficulties which the Board, both as a board and as individual members, had in meeting those cases. He could assure the hon. Member that they quite recognised, and especially in the northern districts, that there were many geographical and local circumstances which made the condition of the population by no means easy. So far as matters of public health were concerned the condition were sometimes of such a character as to give a great deal of anxiety to those charged with the care of the interests of the people. If the hon. Member would pardon him for saving so, the Highland districts of Scotland, at any rate, were well represented on the Local Government Board. The Secretary for Scotland was a member of the Board, and he and the other members were well acquainted with the conditions in the various districts of Scotland.


They never go there.


said the hon. Member was hardly fair to the members of the Board. He knew that it was their fortune to visit different parts of the Highlands every year, and he could assure the hon. Member that the condition of the Highlands with regard to the various matters referred to were not sonly constantly brought before the Local Government Board, but that they engaged their most careful consideration. They were as anxious as any public body could be to ameliorate the condition of the population in the various districts. With regard to uncertified deaths in Highland parishes, he agreed that the number was unfortunately too large. But, on the other hand, he was afraid it was a matter in respect of which no power possessed, at any rate, by the Local Government Board could give any effectual remedy, for unless the patient had been seen by a medical man it was not easy to get a satisfactory certificate. He was sure the hon. Member recognised that the long distances in sparsely populated districts and the fact that in such districts as were to be found in many of the Highland counties they could not get a sufficient supply of medical men, made it difficult, and indeed impossible, completely to remedy the evil which had been referred to. He could assure the hon. Member that nothing had been wanting on the part of the Local Government Board to see that a better state of matters was brought about in that respect. The insanitary state of the houses in many parts of the country was also a matter which all must regret, but here again, he was afraid that the Local Government Board had not power to enable them to satisfactorily deal with it. To a large extent it must remain a matter for the management and the administration of the local authorities in Scotland. He did not desire to blame them at all in that respect, for one recognised the difficulties of the situation. One result of taking action in this matter might be to deprive some of the country population of even the inadequate housing they at present had, because the cost was such that he doubted whether it could be obtained to an extent which would be sufficient to secure an adequate improvement with regard to the houses. He was in hopes that his right hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland might be able to follow the example of his predecessor, as the hon. Member desired, and that they would get the benefit of his further experience.

In regard to the position of the schools, that was a matter which had been engaging the attention of the Local Government Board and of the Scotch Education Department, and he was very hopeful that if they were fortunate in respect to educational legislation next session, that it would be put on a better footing. The condition of the churchyards was entirely a matter for the various local authorities. They had power to look after their condition, if there was such room for complaint as the hon. Member had suggested. He could assure the hon. Member that it was not at all an easy matter for the central authority to insist on the strictest regard for the law in these remote, sparsely populated districts, because that would involve expense beyond what these poor districts were able to bear. They could not have local administration carried out as satisfactorily in these sparsely populated and poor districts as in wealthier districts where the resources of civilisation were much more easily available and where a remedy was less expensive to get. As to the supply of medical officers of health, that was a matter for which the Local Government Board had over and over again endeavoured to find a remedy. But everyone who was acquainted with the difficulty of the question would realise that they could not get the best men to go to an out-lying district as officers of health where there was little or no private practice to give them anything like a remuneration for their ability or energy and induce them to settle down in that part of the country. During the last seven or eight years, he knew, the Local Government Board had had to meet that difficulty and they were endeavouring to meet it.

The last point referred to by the hon. Member was as to the supply of lymph. He thought that the conditions under which that supply could be procured were thoroughly well known to the hon. Member. He thought that the arrangements which had been made were really the best possible. The supply of lymph wanted in Scotland was not at all sufficient to demand the setting up of an independent establishment; and arrangements had been made with the English Local Government Board to get an adequate supply so as to avoid the use of humanised lymph. The hon. Member said that the use of humanised lymph was forbidden in England. He did not know whether that was so or not; but so far as the practice in Scotland was concerned, the use of humanised lymph was very small compared with that of glycerinated lymph. The administration of the vaccination laws in Scotland was even less grievous than in England. Although the law in Scotland was very strict, the Local Government Board recognised that it did not pay to make too many martyrs in that regard. Fortunately, the Scottish population were fully aware of the advantages of vaccination and re-vaccination and they did not have so many of that class of people who objected to vaccination as, say, in Leicester. So far as the administration of the Vaccination Laws in Scotland was concerned there was no substantial grievance in Scotland. The Local Government Board were anxious, by care and attention, to remedy the evils to which attention had been drawn by the hon. Member, and many of which he agreed existed, and to secure that the various local authorities should, so far as their means would allow, conform to the law. At the same time they recognised that the difficulties of the situation were such that it would lead to greater evil if the strict letter of the law were enforced. They must wait for the legislation which the hon. Member desired; and he could not doubt that, by the assistance of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark in an early session, they would be able to remove some of the difficulties in the way of the Local Government Board.


said he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he would give all the assistance in his power to get such legislation passed.


said he could only suggest that in the meantime the Local Government Board had to do their duty and that the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark should likewise do his.

SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

said he wished to compliment the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty on the manner in which he had by speech and Question and Answer attempted to keep the Local Government Board up to their duty; and he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would see in the future some further fruits of his efforts. He trusted that English Members would follow the example of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty in that regard; for, after all, public Departments were the better for criticism like that directed against them by his hon. friend below the Gangway. By so acting they would be doing good service to their constitutencies and the whole country. The hon. Member had called attention to the number of medically uncertified deaths in Scotland. In Scotland there was some excuse why a number of deaths were not certified by a medical man on account of the grea distances; but an alteration of the law might bring about a remedy of the evil of which the hon. Gentleman complained. It was not for the public well-being that any citizen should die without some proper investigation being made as the cause of death. Without that the perpetrators of crime escaped, who, under a more efficient system, would be discovered and brought to justice. It also involved a large amount of carelessness on the part of those connected with the persons who were suffering from disease. If, as the hon. Member suggested, pressure could be brought to bear on the Local Government Board, some alteration in the law might be secured. At the present moment it was a scandal in England, as well as in Scotland, that a large number of people were buried, the cause of whose death had not been properly certified. The law in this country should be made like that in any other civilised country where no person could die without proper investigation into the cause of his or her death by some one representing the Government. That was a question which he had repeatedly brought before the House, and there was little excuse for the Government not introducing legislation long before now. The Report of the Committee which investigated the, subject and whch suggested a remedy had been before the Government for the last eight or nine years, and a draft Bill had even been prepared, but up to the present time no legislation had been introduced.


I think the hon. Member is asking for legislation on this subject. That cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply.


said he was only calling the attention of the Local Government Board of Scotland to this matter, and suggesting that some remedy might be found for the present unsatisfactory condition of things. He thanked his hon. friend below the Gangway for having raised this question. He thought the excuse which the Lord Advocate had given was a fair one in regard to distance. His hon. friend also referred to the question of the use of humanised lymph, and he was glad that the Lord Advocate had given a sympathetic answer. He hoped that the necessity for the use of humanised lymph would disappear altogether. It was within the duty of the Government to supply glycerinated lymph for the purpose of vaccination. He was glad that in Scotland they did not make martyrs in connection with vaccination. They had too much good sense. The people of England were often driven into opposition against vaccination because they were occasionally made martyrs in the cause. The administration of the Act would be efficient, and more satisfactory to the public if a proper supply of gly erinated calf lymph was at the service of all practitioners.

With reference to medical officers of health, there was a difficulty in many districts on account of the small areas, and the consequent small salaries. The remedy for that was co-operation between adjoining districts, which would enable salaries to be increased without any excessive burden on the rates. If the Local Government Board of Scotland would induce local authorities to co-operate in this manner, there would be generally a more efficient administration of the law. He hoped the same practice would be followed as was followed in England; and that every county area would have an officer of health. The question of expense should not be considered; because the saving of the lives of a few bread-winners would be equivalent to the salary of an officer of health for a year. It was the worst economy to attempt to save where health was concerned. It was stated that it was very difficult for a central authority to look after the sanitation of individual houses; but the duty of the central authority should be to keep the local authorities up to their duty in that respect. He thought that more might be done in that direction. At present the power of the local authorities or the central authority was not sufficient to enable them to house the people as civilised beings and members of a great Imperial race should be housed. The conditions of life in the Islands and Highlands of Scotland, and also in England, were not creditable; and it was only by steady and continuous pressure on the part of the central authority that the local authorities could be kept up to their duties in that respect. The local authorities were always thinking of expense; but expense did not enter into the question of keeping people in good health and enabling them to bring up their children properly. Money spent in that direction added more to the strength of the Empire than all the talk about Imperialism which had been heard in and out of that House. Nothing could more conduce to making the people of this country an Imperial race than by providing them with houses where morality and decency could be preserved. At present thousands of people lived in houses where morality was a miracle, and where decency was impossible. The Local Government Board for Scotland would be well advised to turn their attention to this matter; and he would urge on the Lord Advocate to use all the influence and the administrative powers he possessed in that direction.

Vote agreed to.