HC Deb 04 July 1923 vol 166 cc428-31

asked the Minister of Health what is the proportion of vaccinated to unvaccinated children of the age of 10 years and under; whether there has been any progressive change in this proportion; and what steps he proposes to take in order to safeguard the population against a possible epidemic of small-pox?


It is not possible to state definitely what proportion of the children now living of the age of 10 years and under has been vaccinated. The available statistics show the numbers of children born in each year who were vaccinated within a period expiring at the end of the year following the year of birth. These statistics suggest that the proportion of children now living of the age of 10 years and under who have been vaccinated is not more than 50 per cent. I will send the hon. Member a statement giving the figures for each of the years 1912 to 1921, and showing that the proportion of vaccinations to births has fallen from 50.1 per cent. in 1912 to 38.3 per cent. in 1921. As regards the last part of the question, my Department has recently circulated to sanitary authorities and boards of guardians memoranda as to the steps which should be taken on the occurrence of small-pox, and all possible assistance is rendered by medical officers of the Department to the authorities of those districts in which an outbreak occurs.


I beg to give notice that I will raise this question on the Adjournment to-morrow.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Does the right hon. Gentleman think the decrease in the number of vaccinations is due to the increase of conscience of the conscientious objectors or to the decrease in keenness of the magistrates who certify the objections?

51. Mr. T. THOMSON

asked the Minister of Health the average percentage of vaccinations to total births for the last five decennial periods and the number of cases of small-pox per 1,000 of the population for the same periods?


As regards the first part of the question, the percentages of vaccinations to total births in the periods referred to were as follow:

Year. Percentage.
1872–1881 85.6
1882–1891 82.2.
1892–1901 68.0
1902–1911 67.0
1912–1921 43.4.
As regards the second part, particulars as to the total number of cases of smallpox in England and Wales are not available for any year prior to 1911. The number of cases per 1,000 of the population for the period 1912–1921 was 0.004.


May I ask, seeing the gravity of this question in the West country, whether the right hon. Gentleman has any suggestion to make to safeguard the public interest?


I am keeping a very close watch upon the situation, and, so far as I can see at present, there is no necessity for any special legislation, if that be what my hon. Friend means.


Could not the Minister intimate in some way to magistrates and others responsible the necessity of taking great care in the examination of the pleas for exemption on grounds of conscience?


Has the right hon. Gentleman any information which shows whether the percentage of cases of small-pox has increased relatively to the decrease in the number of vaccinations?


Yes, undoubtedly.


The right hon. Gentleman has not given it.

Viscount CURZON

Has the right hon. Gentleman any explanation to offer with regard to the very remarkable drop in the last set of figures which he gave, from 67 per cent. to 43 per cent.


I think that is due to the agitation against vaccination which has taken place in various parts of the country.


Can the Minister of Health say whether every member of his Department has been vaccinated


asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the difficulties put in the way of parents wishing to take advantage of the Vaccination Act, 1907, by magistrates who disapprove of exemption being granted to objectors to vaccination; and whether he will inform all magistrates sitting in open Court that they must accept statutory declarations under that Act, whatever their views in respect of vaccination?


Complaints are occasionally made that individual magistrates refuse to receive declarations, but they have been very infrequent. The Secretary of State has no authority to give the instructions suggested in the last part of the question, but he has repeatedly said that it is the duty of Justices to take care that no unnecessary difficulties are put in the way of those desirous of exercising their statutory rights.


Is it not a fact that it is the duty of a magistrate to satisfy himself that the applicant has a bona fide conscientious objection within the meaning of the Act and not merely a political objection?


Is it not a fact that many magistrates themselves have conscientious objections to granting these certificates?


Is it not the duty of the magistrate to carry out the law?


I hope that there is no political question involved. Certainly it is the duty of the magistrates to carry out the law, and very few complaints have been made.


If the Home Secretary has no authority to intervene at all, why is it, in view of the impending danger to the public, that he interferes in a sense contrary to security?


It is not within the purview of the Home Office to send any instructions to magistrates. All we could do would be to send a Circular round to the clerks to the magistrates drawing attention to the various Regulations.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Can the hon. Member suggest any relief for the actual cases, which are innumerable, in which magistrates grant exemption for an objection that is in no way conscientious and is really political?


I should like to see that question put down on the Paper, because it carries an imputation.