HL Deb 20 February 1888 vol 322 cc851-7

, in rising to move— That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Return of all cases of febrile disease in the Dublin Garrison since January 1881, ordered by this House to be printed 9th September 1887, be continued to 31st December 1887"— said, the matter to which that Return referred was a very serious one. There had been constant complaints for many years, yet nothing had been done by the War Office to improve the sanitary condition of the garrison which the Return disclosed. Within the last few weeks three very grave cases had occurred among the officers of the garrison; and their Lordships must see that whatever affected the health of the officers must also affect that of the men. If the officers were living under insanitary conditions, much more must the men composing the rank and file of the garrison be doing so. The unwholesome conditions in which the Dublin Garrison were placed were a source of serious expense and loss to the Army. The Army Medical Report for 1884 was presented only in 1886, and he thought it was a great pity that statistics of that description should be submitted to Parliament so long after date, as it prevented their being turned to as useful account as they otherwise might be. Taking, however, the Return for 1884, he found in regard to enteric fever that Dublin showed the greatest number of cases. Again, he found in the same Report in respect to invaliding that the highest ratio of admissions to hospital per 1,000 men occurred in the Dublin district. He urged Her Majesty's Government to remedy this serious injury which was being done to the troops. It might be said that the question of expense stood in the way, but he was quite sure that no one would grudge any expense which was incurred in maintaining Her Majesty's Army in health and strength. Moved, "That a Return of all cases of febrile disease in the Dublin Garrison since January 1881, ordered to be printed 9th September 1887, be continued to 31st December 1887."—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


said, he wished to add a word to the remarks of the noble Earl, and to point out to the Under Secretary of State for War the extreme urgency and importance of this question. He had studied the Returns, and it was really appalling to consider the number of cases of fever which had occurred, enteric and otherwise. The Return for the first half of 1887 pointed to the same conclusion as the Returns for the whole of 1886. From what he had personally heard, he had reason to believe that matters were not in the slightest degree better during the last part of 1887 than they were during the earlier part of the year. It was not right to subject our troops to insanitary conditions which could be avoided by attention, and even, if necessary, by the expenditure of money. The fact that the remedy would be costly was no sort of justification or excuse for sending men to a place where they must contract a serious and dangerous disease.


said a Report had been received as to the state of Dublin Barracks from Dr. Grimshaw, Registrar General of Births and Deaths, and Sir A. Cameron, Medical Officer of Health for Dublin. Her Majesty's Government had not the slightest desire or intention of shutting their eyes to the serious condition of the barracks in Dublin. The Report pointed out several unhealthy conditions about the barracks, and he would suggest to the noble Earl that this Report should be laid on the Table of the House and the Motion of the noble Earl for the continuation of the Return of febrile cases withdrawn. The Report would strengthen the case of the noble Earl as to the insanitary condition of the barracks without the continuation of that voluminous Report. The Secretary of State for War was prepared to lay the Report on the Table; it showed conclusively in what an insanitary condition the barracks were, especially the Royal Barracks. In the first place the Committee recommended an alteration of the subsoil drainage and removal of the inequalities of the ground. The most important part of that undertaking was now in hand. The removal of a considerable portion of the present buildings was recommended; but with that recommendation they could not deal at present, because the troops could not be removed and placed under canvas at this time of the year. Last year he mentioned that there were legal difficulties in the way of going on quickly with the now Cavalry barracks. Those difficulties had now been removed. £15,000 from last year's Estimates would be expended upon the work. The land had been bought and about £3,000 had been spent in laying the foundations. £35,000 had been taken this year, and he was informed that the whole of that sum would be spent in the ensuing year. The Committee recommended the removal of the timber and renewing the floor. This work would be undertaken as soon as possible. The doctors also recommended that certain ventilation tubes should be used, but he understood that the military medical officers took exception to that recommendation. A re-arrangement of the hospital drainage was also recommended, as well as a disinfection of the sewage from the hospital, together with a suggestion that it should be diverted from the rest of the sewage system. This work had been ordered and was being carried out at the present time. A reconstruction of certain closets and an examination of their connection was recommended, and this work was also being carried out. The Committee recommended that a certain alteration should be made as regarded ash pits and receptacles of that kind. The attention of the local Military Authorities had been called to the matter, and the work was now in hand. An improved system of ventilating the main sewers was recommended, and the work was also in hand. The isolation of infectious disease was recommended. There had been some difficulty in providing a hospital for these cases, but that difficulty had been removed and was now arranged for. The medical officers, however, pointed out that cases of enteric fever were not always easy to diagnose as such until some time had elapsed, when it was too late to remove the patient. The Committee further recommended that care should be taken with regard to the supply of milk, which they seemed to think was suspicious. This question had been referred to the local Military Authorities. As to the officers, he pointed out that one of the cases was that of an officer who had been in lodgings. Another case was that of an officer who, although in quarters, had been a great deal with his friends; and there appeared to be an idea prevalent that this officer might have contracted the disease in lodgings, as his friend did. The Government did not conceal the condition of the barracks, and they had every intention of carrying out the alterations recommended.


said, as he had some peculiar means of knowing a few of the facts connected with this question when he was in Dublin, he should like to offer a few observations. While in Dublin he was in constant communication with some of the officers who were quartered in those barracks. While in Dublin on the last occasion nearly all those barracks had cases of illness of an enteric character in them. The Royal Barracks, however, was the place whence the officers came with whom he was in constant communication. During the time he was in Dublin one officer died in that barracks, and the other officers felt that they were in daily danger of catching typhoid fever owing to its condition. This was not a new question. He believed the question of illness in the Royal Barracks was a very old-standing grievance. He thought the evil had been going on for 25 years, and at different times there had been deaths not only among the officers but among the rank and file as well. He hoped the Government would seriously take this matter into consideration. It required to be dealt with immediately. He was glad to hear the noble Lord say that the immediate difficulty with regard to the site of the new barracks had been overcome. He should like to know whether the Government had consulted what were known as sanitary engineers, independently of the Military or Civil Authorities. He believed a question of this kind could only be dealt with by specialists who thoroughly understood the subject.


All I can say, my Lords, is that if this barracks is not healthy I lived in it for seven years, two years in the House where one of the officers has, unfortunately, died, and five years in the Royal Square. There has been a large increase in the number of cases of enteric fever among British troops all over the world, and therefore the spread of that disease among the troops stationed in the Royal Barracks in the City of Dublin is not by any means extraordinary. Throughout the whole of Ireland there has been more fever than usual, and no doubt the Royal Barracks have had their share in the increase of that disease. It must be borne in mind that when a large number of men are brought together there is great danger that diseases of this class will spread among them. The spread of the disease among the troops in Dublin may further be accounted for by the fact that the Royal Barracks are situated in the neighbourhood of a very low class of houses, which, however, are not specially connected with fever, although they are inhabited by a very low class of persons. The condition of the Liffey is certainly not all that could be desired. The difficulty which we have to face at the present moment is how we are to provide accommodation for the troops if we were to remove them from the Royal Barracks. We certainly could not place them under canvas at this time of the year; and the only other way to deal with the matter would be to hire large accommodation premises, which would be difficult to find, and, even if found, would be very expensive. The noble Lord the Under Secretary for War has assured us that the recommendations of the several Commissions which have sat to consider the question of the sanitary condition of our troops are being largely carried out at the present moment, and that any other suggestions that may be made in the same direction will receive very careful consideration. If it were decided to pull down any portion of the Royal Barracks in Dublin, considerable troop accommodation would be lost, and new barracks would have to be built somewhere else at great expense. All these points to which I have referred involve very serious questions, and naturally anyone occupying my position must take all the difficulties to which those questions give rise into consideration. I feel as strongly as the noble Lord who brought this subject under the consideration of the House how desirable it would be to ascertain absolutely what is the cause of the Royal Barracks being so unhealthy, and whether there is any necessity for pulling even a part of them down. The Local Authorities, who ought to know more about the matter than we do, do not advocate pulling down the barracks, even although that course had been recommended by the Commissioners. Then we come to the other question, as to new barracks being built. Of course, when such barracks are built, it will enable us to reduce considerably the number of men now in the Royal Barracks; but it will take some two or three years to build these new barracks. I think that in the meanwhile something may be done to make the Royal Barracks more healthy by opening up the passages on both sides of the Royal Square and by pulling down a portion of the gable ends of the barracks. I can assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State for War is anxious to effect all necessary improvements in these buildings; and I believe that no endeavour will be spared to put these barracks into the best possible condition.


said he would remind the Under Secretary for War that it was not only the Royal Barracks that were unhealthy, and he was very glad to hear the assurances of the Illustrious Duke. He trusted that any financial difficulties would now be overcome. The time for consideration had gone by, and the time for action had arrived. He might add that while he was desirous of having the medical Report which had been referred to by the Under Secretary for War, he was also anxious for the Return for which he had asked.


asked the noble Lord if he could give them any information as to the condition of the Richmond Barracks at Dublin. In cases of this kind the truest economy would be to place the troops in healthy barracks. The question of the sanitary condition of the barracks ought to be referred to experts, and he trusted that such persons would soon be able to point out the cause of the unhealthy condition of these buildings.


said he would obtain full information with regard to the state of the Richmond Barracks. He quite agreed with the noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) that the question of the sanitary condition of these barracks was one for experts. He should like to point out that if Dublin Barracks were in the insanitary condition of which the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) had spoken, it was a pity that he did not interfere when he was in Office in Ireland.


A report on the subject was sent in.


said, that notwithstanding that, the Government of the day did not accede to the representations made to them. All he could say was that the present Government had now the information from experts which they desired last year upon the matter, and they had no intention of delaying the work.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.