HL Deb 15 May 1868 vol 192 cc324-30

, in rising to call the Attention of the House to the Operation of the Contagious Diseases Act, 1866, and to ask. Whether it is the Intention of Her Majesty's Government to extend it to London, and to make it more effective by increasing the Hospital Accommodation? said that the necessity for this Act at the time of its introduction a few years since was very great. The health of the Army and the Navy had greatly suffered from the ravages of contagious diseases, and the Returns had shown that an exceedingly large percentage of the men were continually under treatment. The follow- ing passage, taken from the work of a gentleman who had been appointed to inquire into the subject, would show how deteriorating the effects of these diseases had been on the Army and Navy:— Prior to 1862, out of 44,611 men on an average of seven years in the army, there were each year 8,032 cases of syphilis, or 181 laid up for every 1,000 effective. In the navy the proportion was 143 to 1,000. In 1862 and 1863 there were annually more than 300 laid up to 1,000 effective. In 1865 in 73,000 there were 68,000 admissions to hospital for all diseases, 20,000 being cases of syphilis. In the French army, at about the same time, the venereal cases numbered only 40 to every 1,000 effective. The provisions of the Act wherever they had been carried out had been the means of doing much good, but from all quarters came the same complaint of the insufficiency of the hospital accommodation. At Aldershot, for instance, in consequence of the absence of sufficient hospital accommodation, only the worst cases could be taken. But at Aldershot, as well as at Woolwich, there had been a great decrease in the number and intensity of the cases since the Act had been in operation. From all the stations where the Act had been tried came similar reports. A Return which had been made of the two years 1865 and 1868 showed that the decrease was represented by the following figures; in the former case the annual ratio per 1,000 of mean strength of troops admitted into hospital, and in the latter the calculation being carried on at the annual ratio to the March quarter:—Woolwich, 204, 150; Aldershot, 302, 207; Chatham, 292, 230; Portsmouth, 329, 260; and Devonport, 360 and 110. But Sheerness was the only place where its provisions had been properly carried out, because here, and here alone, was there sufficient hospital accommodation. The result was that in July last, out of 152 soldiers and sailors, only three men were suffering from disease. Sir Henry Storks, while Governor of the Ionian Islands, had made some stringent regulations, the effect of which was that these diseaases might be said to have disappeared from the Islands. The noble Lord then read at length extracts from publications in relation to this subject, and concluded by saying that he believed that it was the imperative duty of the Government to adopt a system to counteract such a fearful state of things, similar to that which existed in most Continental States. Such a course of proceeding might, no doubt, be attended with expense, but he could not believe it possible that a country which had already voted millions for the Houses of Parliament, for hospitals, and homes for the sick and the poor, would grudge the expenditure of a few thousands in order effectually to check the ravages of this awful plague, and to remedy this great blot upon the character of a Christian nation. He felt grateful to their Lordships for the patient and kind hearing they had given him on this somewhat delicate subject, and he trusted the Government would take up the subject. If they did not a Bill relating to it would next year be introduced either into that or the other House of Parliament. He begged to ask the noble Duke, Whether it is the Intention of Her Majesty's Government to extend the Operation of the Act of 1866 to London, and to make it more effective by increasing the Hospital Accommodation?


begged to state that a few days ago he had communicated with a friend at Devonport, who had an intimate knowledge of the operation of the Contagious Diseases Act; and he had received from him a variety of statistics, from which it appeared that its operation as regarded the army had been most beneficial, and the amount of disease, which three years ago was upwards of 2 per cent, had been reduced to ½ per cent.


said, he was sure their Lordships would be ready to admit the very judicious manner in which his noble Friend (Viscount Lifford) had brought forward and treated this most delicate and difficult matter. It was one of great importance as well as difficulty; but he had not been able to discover from, his remarks whether his noble Friend intended that the Contagions Diseases Act should be extended only to the military and naval establishments in the metropolis, or to the civil population generally. [Viscount LIFFORD said he desired the Act to be applied to the civil population.] The operation of the Act in a military point of view had been extremely beneficial. It was passed in 1866, and had reference solely to military and naval stations; but the metropolis was not considered a military station to which the Act could be applied. His noble Friend I asked, it appeared, whether it was in contemplation by Her Majesty's Government to extend the Act to the civil population of the metropolis generally? Now, he must answer the question by saying that they had no intention to undertake so large and onerous a duty. In a military point of view, he repeated, the greatest advantages had resulted from the operation of the Act. It was only that day he observed a paragraph in one of the morning papers containing a number of facts which seemed favourable to his noble Friend's views, and which showed that in several of the naval and military stations the percentage of disease had already been very considerably reduced. But when they came to consider the practicability of applying the provisions of the Act to the civil population generally they were met by very great difficulties. The greatest difficulty was the expense attending such a measure. His noble Friend behind him, the Under Secretary of State for War (the Earl of Longford) had informed him that so far as the War Department was concerned, the expense incurred was £15,000 a year. That expense was, beyond question, very profitably incurred. No doubt, it was, in an economical point of view, the interest of the public that the health of soldiers and sailors should be preserved, and it was most proper that the State should incur a certain amount of expenditure with that view. Although he was free to admit that there were very high and important moral considerations involved in the treatment of this subject, he thought that Parliament could hardly be legitimately called upon to deal with them. They must be left to private benevolence and religious principle. Parliament would, no doubt, be justified in dealing with the question from a physical point of view, and if it could be shown that disease of a contagious and dangerous character was at work among a large portion of the population, it might properly step in and appropriate a certain sum of money for the purpose of arresting the progress of the disease. But he did not think that, under present circumstances, the expenditure which was clearly justifiable in the cases of the army and navy, would be equally justifiable if applied to the civil population. Some idea of the expense that would thus be incurred might be arrived at from the Estimate that, in London alone, if the Act were extended to the Metropolis, about 500 beds would be required, at an expense of £25,000 a year; and if the Act were extended to other large towns, it was easy to conceive what a large expenditure would be involved. He believed that the noble Lord had not mis-stated the serious consequences of these diseases becoming ingrained among the population; but it was a well-known fact in medical experience that all the forms of the disease were not productive of the tremendous consequences which had been adverted to. However, in order to reach the most virulent kinds of the disease, it would be necessary to take under supervision a vast amount of other forms of the disease which were not attended with such serious consequences. This circumstance constituted one of the difficulties in considering how far the Act might be applied to the civil community; and he could not at present hold out any hope that it was the intention of the Government to ask Parliament to place the large expenditure which, would be required to extend the Act to the civil community on the Consolidated Fund. At the same time, he thought that the working of the Act had not been sufficiently brought before the public. Its benefits were very great, and it was most desirable that more information should be diffused upon the subject. If the noble Lord thought that the subject was of sufficient importance to demand further inquiry, and if he would move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Act, and how far it might be extended with benefit to the civil community, the Government would not oppose the granting of such a Committee.


said, that anyone who had been connected with the administration of the navy or army must acknowledge the great importance of this subject. The evil had reached to an enormous height. A ship which came into Portsmouth Harbour with her full complement of seamen, and in two or three weeks would hardly be capable of putting to sea. Therefore in 1864 the Department of the Admiralty, after communicating with the War Office, undertook to bring in the first Contagious Diseases Act. No doubt, the subject was one of great difficulty; but all parties in the House of Commons concurred in supporting the measure, and the Bill, after being carefully considered by a Select Committee, was passed. To carry into effect measures of this kind, it was requisite that they should have the assistance of local authorities, and the late Government would have made nothing of their Act had it not been for the exertions of officers and magistrates, and other benevolent persons at Portsmouth and else- where. By their co-operation the hospitals were placed under judicious management, and through their instrumentality many unfortunate women were enabled to obtain employment elsewhere; and thus a very good moral agency was brought to bear in favour of the Act. The noble Duke spoke of the difficulty of extending the operation of the Act beyond military and naval stations; but as the army and navy were dispersed in many other places, it would be most desirable to extend the Act, though it might be, perhaps, inconvenient to apply it to London on account of the immense size of the metropolis. He saw no reason why the Act should not be extended to civilians. The noble Duke spoke of the expense of applying the Act to London, and said it would amount to £25,000; but there could be no doubt if that sum could get rid of the disease, the money might be raised to-morrow. The expense was not the difficulty; but there were many conscientious persons who objected to any measures such as had been suggested being adopted, because they thought that persons should suffer the penalty of their own misconduct. He thought that if the Act were made to apply to the whole country at once, a feeling might be raised which would not be favourable to the gradual extension of the Act, and he would therefore suggest that it should, in the first instance, be extended to some large towns, such as Liverpool, for instance, and other places with which the army and navy were connected, and he did not see why Dublin should he excepted. Nothing, however, could be done without ample hospital accommodation, and he thought that if the Government would give assistance by some small contribution, local bodies would undertake to carry the Act into operation. The matter had really become so serious that it was absolutely necessary to take some further steps of the same nature as those which had succeeded so well at Ports mouth, Plymouth, and Sheerness. While the State was spending a great deal of money for the education of the people, it should be borne in mind that nothing was more important than the health of the population, for very little could be effected in any way if that were not attended to. The consequences of this dreadful disease descended to the children, and the mischief which it entailed was something too dreadful to relate, and he hoped that the Government, without undertaking anything upon a large scale, would take measures to assist local bodies who would adopt the Act.


said, he would act on the suggestion of the noble Duke, and on a future day move for a Select Committee upon the subject,