HL Deb 14 July 1854 vol 135 cc234-43

said, that in moving for Returns relating to the Board of Health, he would take the opportunity of replying to certain attacks recently made on the conduct of that Board. It would be irregular on his part to refer more particularly to these attacks; but, for the purpose of making his defence, he must assume that charges had been made against the Board somewhere—no matter where—and by a certain eminent statesman whom he needed not to name. The nature of those charges he thought sufficiently showed that the party who made them must be extremely ignorant or extremely malignant; but when a public board was charged, however undeservedly, with a complete perversion of its duties and functions, he thought it was desirable that it should be defended; more especially when it was a Board of such importance, and engaged in such matters, that no one could deny, if it were well administered, that it must be of the most essential service to the material and physical—and, he might almost add, the moral—well-being of the people. In the speech to which he was referring, there was a distinct assertion that the Board of Health had, by its misconduct, completely checked the progress of sanitary measures in this country, and that it had, by its despotic and overbearing behaviour, disgusted the whole country, and had thus been the cause of the non-progress of those great and beneficial measures so largely required by the physical condition of our people. The first statement was this—"Sanitary measures were introduced, not from the free will of the towns, but forced on them by the despotic interference of the Board of Health." Now, to that statement he gave the very flattest possible contradiction, and he would show by facts how entirely unfounded it was. The Act had been applied in 182 places; in 168 of these it was applied upon petition from the ratepayers, according to law; in fourteen it was applied after representations from town councils or vestries, based on the excess of mortality, and, though the Act gave the Board power to proceed by virtue of its own authority in towns where the mortality exceeded twenty-three in 1,000, yet in no one instance had that been done, except upon the representation of the town council, or of the public assembled together. Therefore, in no single case had the Act been applied, except upon the desire of the governing body, or of the inhabitants of the place itself, assembled together in some form of public meeting. Since, however, these attacks had appeared, the Board had received many letters, expressive of strong condemnation of them and of the readiness of the writers to refute them from their own experience. For instance, a letter had been received from Lancaster, from which the following was an extract— I have been amused with the rabid attack made upon the Board of Health by Lord Seymour and Sir B. Hall. There is a great prejudice, arising, as it does, from ignorance; but sanitary improvement is too important, and the Board of Health have done too much to promote it, to be put down by such wholesale accusations. Speaking for Lancaster, I know we have much reason to be grateful for the ready advice and assistance we have always received from the Board on all occasions. He might also quote similar accounts from York, Rugby, Tottenham, and many other places. A letter had been received from the engineer of the local board of health at Preston, where public works were being carried on to a great extent, from which the following was an extract— So far as this local board is concerned, I am prepared to give the strongest contradiction to such outcry. The whole of the business of this board with the general Board has, until lately, been carried on by me, and I can fairly state that in all our transactions with them there has not been any attempt at unnecessary interference. The general Board have acted in a fair spirit towards me, and have cordially co-operated in all matters having the sanitary improvement of the borough for its object. I am also glad to say that in the great scheme of sewerage which I had the honour of preparing for this borough, not one single objection has been taken to it by the general Board. On the contrary, it has had their ready assent, and I am progressing with the works in the most satisfactory manner. So much for that statement, but next came one rather more important, because it involved a serious charge against the Board, as being determined to thwart the views of the President of the Board, and, in fact, to act in defiance of the Government. But to that statement, also, he gave as flat a contradiction as he had given to the other, and in like manner he would show that it was totally unfounded. These were the words of the charge, and here he must premise that it was made by one who had once held the office of Chief Commissioner of the Board of Works— When he was himself at the Board of Works, and after communicating with the other Members of the Government, he bad made a communication to the Board of Health as to the course he thought they should adopt; he was told that his proposition was not seconded, that the members of the Board knew nothing of what the Government might wish; they only knew that the proposal was not seconded. Was that the way in which public business was to be conducted? Certainly not, he answered; it never was so conducted. He most distinctly and most emphatically denied on his word of honour, that the term "second" or "seconder," had ever been used on that day or in that discussion, or, indeed, at any one time to his belief, whenever that noble Lord (Lord Seymour) was present. In this he could be borne out by his colleagues, and by the secretary of the Board, who was present. It did so happen, however, that upon the minutes in which the events of that day were recorded, the word "second" did appear, but they were drawn up by the secretary, who had assured him that he had made use of the term, because he was giving a description of what had occurred, but that it had never been made use of in the discussion, either in form or substance. He firmly believed that the thought never occurred to the noble Lord until he had read that word in the recorded minutes. The noble Lord had, in fact, revived a charge which he had made once before against the Board, that it was quite impossible for him to continue to attend at the Board because he was invariably thwarted and opposed by the other members of it. The noble Lord had assumed the other night, that his reason for not attending the meetings of the Board was, that he was perpetually thwarted there and could not carry his own views into effect; but he could assert most solemnly that, when he waited on the noble Lord, immediately on his assuming office, the noble Lord told him that he should never be able to attend to the meetings of the Board, because he should have so very much to do in his own office, and the noble Lord was also good enough to add a compliment, to the effect that he had no fear of anything going wrong, having sufficient confidence in his (the Earl of Shaftesbury's) discretion. Shortly after that, too, the noble Lord told him, that his rule of business was never to do anything that he was not absolutely compelled to do. Now, when the noble Lord had thus forewarned him of his intention not to attend the Board, it certainly was not unnaturally a great surprise to him to learn, that the noble Lord had said that he had stayed away, because of the opposition which he anticipated; but, on the first day that the noble Lord attended the Board, on the sixth day after he took office, no opposition was offered to him, for he merely took his seat; but, to show how completely he carried his predetermination of non-attendance into effect, between his first appearance and his second, he allowed sixty-eight boards to elapse; and after his second appearance, he allowed five boards to elapse before he attended again, and then his stay was very short. Between his third and fourth appearance there were ten boards; but between his fourth and his fifth appearance he allowed no less than ninety-four boards to elapse, making, in 183 boards, five attendances. On this fifth attendance the noble Lord certainly did make a proposition, to which he (the Earl of Shaftesbury) ventured humbly to take exception, because the proposal was utterly impracticable, and even hazardous. He told the noble Lord so, and the matter was discussed, and it fell to the ground, simply because it was impracticable, and of that the best proof was, that afterwards, when the whole ques- tion was referred to the Treasury, they decided against it, and confirmed the reasons on which it had been opposed. He begged their Lordships would note the fact, that he had opposed the noble Lord's proposition, because, throughout all the famous speech to which he was referring, it was represented that his two colleagues, Dr. Southwood Smith and Mr. Chadwick, were the only parties present and the only parties who raised any opposition; but he believed the only opposition that ever was raised was on this day, the noble Lord's fifth attendance, and then the objection was raised by him (the Earl of Shaftesbury). At no one time, he believed, either before or after, was there any objection raised, either by him, or by either of his two colleagues. After his fifth attendance, on which this event took place, there was another interval, he believed, of ninety-seven boards, before the noble Lord attended again, and then forty-three more before he attended again for the seventh and last time. After that, before the noble Lord retired from office there were 118 boards which he never attended. And yet the noble Lord now stated that his reason for absenting himself from the Board was the opposition he met with, after he had previously stated to him (the Earl of Shaftesbury) and to others besides, whom he could produce in testimony, that he did not intend to be present because he was so occupied with the business of his own office, and even after he had used language to the same effect in a letter to him in January, 1851, in which he said— As it is not in my power to attend the meetings of the Board of Health without the neglect of my duties here, I have to request that you will furnish me with copies of all minutes," &c. There was another charge also brought forward by the noble Lord, in which he insinuated that there had been tampering with the Board of Health; that there was an understanding existing between the Board of Health and the local boards, and that the inspector first of all brought in the Board, and then the Board brought in the inspector. To this charge he could give the most positive and emphatic contradiction, and at the same time he felt bound to say that, if the noble Lord really believed it was true, the subject ought to have been inquired into long since, and the charge ought to be brought forward now by those who had the means of preferring a public accusation. It was, in fact, nothing less than a charge of corruption against the Board of Health, and the noble Lord was bound by every obligation of honour, and as a gentleman, to substantiate it if he could. After having made these charges, the noble Lord concluded by saying—and it should be remembered that the noble Lord was speaking of his former colleagues—that the only way to bring the members of the Board of Health to reason was to stop their salary. He would ask their Lordships, or any body of gentlemen, whether this was becoming language to publicly make use of in reference to the conduct of persons who were absent, and who, therefore, could not defend themselves or answer the charges that were brought against them in the same public way that they were made? The noble Lord had, no doubt, to the advantage of the country, himself received a salary; but would he not have deeply resented the imputation, if any one had said of him that salary was his sole object, and the threatened removal of it the only way by which he could be urged to perform the duties that were imposed upon him? He felt bound to say, in reference to the two gentlemen who were the subject of attack, and with whom he had had the pleasure to act for four years, and to participate in all their measures, that he had never met with more diligent, zealous, and efficient men of business, and men who were more anxious to effect all the good they were able to do. He did know what the feelings of the noble Lord might be on the subject, but this he did know—that if his two friends, Mr. Chadwick and Dr. Smith, had said so dirty a thing against the noble Lord or any one else, they would, in their sober moments, most deeply have regretted having done so. The noble Earl concluded by movingThat there be laid before this House, Return of the Number and Description of Petitions from Local Boards of Health against the Continuance of the General Board of Health: And also, Return of the Number and Description of Petitions for the Application of the Public Health Act, and also of any Petitions or Memorials or other Forms of Applications for the Extension of the Jurisdiction of the General Board, or for the Exercise of increased Powers for the Protection of the Public Health.


said, that the noble Earl who had just spoken bad very properly observed that the question at issue was the conduct of the Board of Health; and therefore, to a certain extent, the charges which had been made must materially affect the character of those who appointed the gentlemen who constituted that Board. He considered, however, that if the Board of Health had not succeeded in carrying into effect the great sanitary reforms which were anticipated by the public, their not having done so was no fault of the Board of Health, but of the Government, who had neglected to assist them in the way that ought to have been done. If the Board of Health had not been thwarted by the Government, or rather by those officers of the Government whose duty it was to watch over the Board of Health, and, if necessary, to control, but more generally to encourage their proceedings, the public would by this time have had good water, and that at a price so trivial as scarcely to be worth consideration. He was perfectly persuaded, also, that if the proposals of the Board of Health had not been opposed by those in power, the burial question would by this time have been settled, with infinite advantage to the population of the metropolis, and without injustice to the interests of individuals: but, no—the Board of Health were here impeded more than even on the former question, and a combination of the shareholders in different cemetary companies had sufficient influence with those in authority to prevent the Board of Health effecting the improvements which they contemplated and desired. As to the members who composed the Board of Health—Lord Shaftesbury, Mr. Edwin Chadwick, and Dr. Southwood Smith, and who had been personally attacked—their names had been connected with every project for the improvement of the condition of the poorer classes of this country. It was, of course, unnecessary to say one word in favour of the noble Earl, whose many acts of charity for the physical and moral improvement of the labouring classes were so well known; but, on the other two gentlemen, perhaps he might be allowed to make a few remarks. Mr. Chadwick he had known for thirty years, and he could say that a more efficient, active, diligent, and honest servant of the public never existed. This was sufficiently proved by his conduct as secretary to the Poor Law Commission. It was to his knowledge and exertions, and to those of Mr. Nichols, that we were mainly indebted for the amendment of the Poor Law. After faithfully discharging his duties as secretary to the Commission, Mr. Chadwick turned his attention to sanitary matters, on which he had display- ed an extraordinary amount of knowledge. It was his (the Bishop of London's) opinion, that if the suggestions of Mr. Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith had been carried out, we should not now have had to dread, at least to the same extent, the return of the cholera. At the root of Mr. Chadwick's knowledge there was an amount of benevolent interest for the poor, which would prevent his sanctioning any measure which would inflict hardship on the poorest of his fellow-creatures. Dr. Southwood Smith had for many years been known to him (the Bishop of London) as a very benevolent man. Dr. Southwood Smith had laboured very much in the metropolis in visiting the sick poor, and had had extensive opportunities of becoming acquainted with the subject while physician to the Fever Hospital. He had applied the knowledge which he had thus acquired to sanitary improvements, and if there was one man more qualified than another to be a member of the Board of Health, it was Dr. Southwood Smith. No man was more fully actuated by the principles of true benevolence, or more likely to apply his knowledge to the carrying out of the great purposes for which the Board of health was constituted. That Board had been placed in a position of the greatest difficulty from the want of proper encouragement on the part of those whose duty it was to render it every assistance. He was happy from his personal knowledge to be able, and he felt it his duty to rise and to bear testimony to the merits of both Mr. Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith; and he trusted the Government would uphold those gentlemen in the difficult position which they occupied, and that they would long continue to be, as they had hitherto been, worthy colleagues of the noble Earl.


said, that neither in generosity nor justice to the gentlemen whose names had been brought under the notice of their Lordships could he allow the discussion to close in total silence on his part. He had had the honour of being associated with his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Shaftesbury), and with Mr. Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith, in the first organised attempt to improve the public health of the country, and he could bear testimony to the difficulties which beset them in the prosecution of their arduous labours. Against his noble Friend no imputation whatever could be made—the estimate which the public had formed of his character and services ought to have shielded him from the attacks to which he had been subjected. In respect of Mr. Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith, the case was not so fortunate, inasmuch as those gentlemen had not the same opportunity as his noble Friend of making their defence as public as the attack. After what had passed he felt bound to say thus much, that he quite agreed with the right rev. Prelate in the opinion which he had expressed respecting the two measures of our time which seemed to him beyond any others to have affected the internal condition of the great body of the people—the amendment of the Poor Law and sanitary reform; and he sincerely believed that the most efficient agent in originating and in producing those two great fundamental measures, and in clearing away a host of obstacles which beset their early birth, was Mr. Chadwick; and to one or other of these measures he had ever since devoted his time, his health, and his strength. It might undoubtedly be true—to say nothing of the multiform actual hostilities which every large measure of amendment was sure to stir up and exasperate—it might be true that, on taking up any great question or idea with enthusiasm, a certain portion of positiveness and precipitation might be mixed up with it more than was desirable; but he trusted that our contemporaries would not refuse to those who had established great principles and introduced large measures, some portion of that gratitude and honour which were certain to be awarded to them by an intelligent posterity. In respect to Dr. Southwood Smith, he owned he felt still greater difficulty to account for the attack referred to; for that gentleman had always seemed to him to combine with very meritorious services the most unobtrusive and inoffensive spirit with which he had ever come in contact, and which alone ought to have disarmed all angry censure. His professional experience, which he had acquired during a practice of more than twenty years in the wards of the London Fever Hospital—acquired too at the risk of his own life, for he had been attacked by fever no less than three times—the experience which he had thus acquired had been brought to the aid of the public at large, to protect them from those dangers which had been proved to be as extensive as they were direful. His knowledge had been most valuable in the drawing up the Quarantine Reports, and during the preva- lence of cholera he directed his attention peculiarly to premonitory symptoms and house-to-house visitation. These were some of the benefits which Dr. Southwood Smith had conferred on the public at large; and he would express a hope with regard to both his distinguished friends, that to whatever obloquy they might find themselves for a moment exposed, the consciousness of the good they had done, of the evil they had prevented, of the lives which, under God, they had been privileged to save, would be to them a sufficient consolation.


said, that his noble Friends who had already spoken had only done an act of strict justice in bearing their testimony to the merits of the individuals whom they had so ably defended. He well remembered the services—the invaluable services—of Mr. Edwin Chadwick, both with regard to the Poor Law Commission and the inquiry into the state of the poor and the Poor Law; and he could most distinctly state that to Mr. Nicholl and Mr. Chadwick were mainly due the success both of the inquiry and of the great measure which grew out of it. How far the country had benefited by their labours, he need only remind their Lordships by stating the simple fact of the difference in the poor law expenditure at the present time as compared with the year 1813 and the year 1834, when the Bill passed. When compared with the year 1813, regard being had to the relative population of the country at the two periods—the expenditure during the last year would, at the rate of 1813, have been 11,746,000l., whereas it actually fell short of 5,000,000l., being 4,939,000l.. But that result of the change, easy for the purpose of comparison, was the least important, compared with the benefits which had been conferred on the poor, whose condition had been so greatly improved, and was likely to continue to improve.

On Question, agreed to.

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