HL Deb 27 June 1889 vol 337 cc858-65

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government why, considering the marked increase of rabies in the Metropolitan area, and the alarm thereby created in the public mind, the Commissioner of Police did not exercise the powers vested in him by statutes by issuing the rabies and muzzling orders, by means of which, according to the testimony of Sir Charles Warren, the disease was exterminated after the outbreak of 1885, said: It will be in the recollection of most of your Lordships that in the year 1885 there was a serious outbreak of rabies in the Metropolis. Many persons were bitten by mad dogs; hydrophobia in some instances followed, and general alarm existed among the population. In consequence of that, Sir Edmund Henderson, who was then Chief Commissioner of Police, issued what was called a Muzzling Regulation under the Metropolitan Street Act of 1867. Under the 18th Section of the Act power is given to the Commissioner of Police to order that all dogs shall be muzzled within the Metropolitan area. Unfortunately, however, that Act, through some omission on the part of the draughtsman, contains no provision as to penalties, and it was therefore impossible to enforce it. Consequently another Order was issued by the Commissioner under what is called the Dogs Act of 1871, by which power was given to the Commissioner to order that no dogs not under control should be in any public thoroughfare or public place within the Metropolitan Police District, and that Act gives power for the dogs to be seized, and any person acting in contravention of the Act to be fined 20s. Owing to the Metropolitan Magistrates having at first made up their minds that being "under control" meant being either muzzled or led, this latter order effected its purpose, and after a good many prosecutions had been successfully undertaken against persons who acted in contravention of the Act, muzzling became universal within the metropolitan area. About two years ago my noble Friend the Lord President moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the whole question of rabies amongst dogs. I happened to be a humble member of that Committee, and I had the advantage of hearing Sir Charles Warren, who was then the Commissioner of Police, having succeeded Sir Edmund Henderson in the year previously, give his evidence. His testimony was unequivocal that the result of the muzzling order had been the complete extirpation of rabies within the metropolitan area. Lord Mount-Temple, who was a very strong opponent of muzzling under any circumstances, asked him— Do you think the diminution of rabies arose from the policemen having killed such a very large number of unowned dogs? Sir Charles Warren replied: I think it was the muzzling that stopped it. The muzzling prevented the dogs biting each other, and in that way rabies was reduced to certain areas. If the muzzles were kept on till a certain time there would be no such thing as rabies. I may say that the result of all the scientific evidence that we had was that if muzzling could only be generally enforced rabies would be exterminated throughout the whole country; for if one thing was made clearer than another it was that this dreadful disease can only be communicated by the bite of a mad dog. It cannot arise spontaneously, and, therefore, if all dogs were put in such a position that they could not bite, it is clear that rabies would be extirpated. Then he went on to say: I do not think it is necessary to muzzle dogs all over the country. It is only in crowded streets that muzzling is necessary. The danger only exists in crowded streets, and there is more danger so far as one can understand of rabies in places where dogs lead such unhealthy lives as they do in towns. His theory is that dogs are more liable to contract rabies when bitten by a mad dog if they lead the filthy and unnatural lives that dogs must lead in towns, than if they were living in more open places. I may remind your Lordships that it is not every dog that is bitten by a mad dog that contracts rabies, any more than it follows that a human being bitten by a mad dog will suffer from hydrophobia. Then he was asked by the Lord President— Tell us what effect these Rules had upon rabies in London? and his answer was— I think they entirely exterminated it, and if there had been muzzling outside London I do not think we should have had any more rabies now. It was admitted that after rabies had ceased in London, owing to stray dogs coming in from country places it had begun afresh. The result was that Sir Charles Warren allowed the order to drop, his reason for that being that it had effected its purpose, and that rabies was practically exterminated, or at any rate reduced to a very low proportion indeed. Unfortunately, rabies comes on in certain years with much greater virulence than in others. The year 1885 was a bad year, and this promises to be as bad, if not worse. Your Lordships may have noticed the Returns given by the Home Secretary of the number of rabid doge seized by the police in the Metropolis. They amounted this year to very considerably more than in the corresponding period of last year. Perhaps on this point I could not do better than read to your Lordships a very few words from the chief medical journal of the Metropolis; I mean the Lancet. Writing on the 8th June, the Lancet says- There is now unfortunately no possibility of disguising the fact that rabies, after a brief period of diminished activity, is again distinctly increasing. The preventive measures adopted during the recent epidemic will again be necessary, and experience clearly shows that the successful prophylaxis of the disease must largely depend on the efficiency with which these are carried out. As bearing directly on this point the observations of Mr. A. J. Sewell are particularly instructive. He tells us that during the years 1885 and 1886 he himself met with 78 cases of rabies in dogs. In 1887 he had no cases in his private practice— that was after the suppression by means of muzzling. And during that year the disease, as far as London is concerned, was practically extinct. This highly satisfactory result has been very reasonably attributed, in the absence of any other preventive of reliable efficacy, to the fact that during the preceding period no dog was allowed to be at large without a muzzle. The epidemic was no sooner past than muzzling was dispensed with. In 1888 rabies again appeared, and during the present year nearly 30 cases have been reported in Mr. Sewell's prac- tice alone. In addition to these, four persons have died of the disease in London within the same short space of time. Just consider, my Lords, for a moment what that means. Four persons have died of the most horrible disease to which humanity is subject, in order that the feelings of some persons who object to the muzzling of dogs might not be offended. It may be urged that these facts embody the evidence obtained within a limited field of observation. This is true; but it must also be allowed that the relative scope and duration of the inquiry, as well as the experience of the investigator, are amply sufficient to justify our accepting it as the basis of a practical deduction. Then, my noble Friend the Lord President asked this question of Sir Charles Warren: Irrespective of rabies, there is some protection necessary, I presume, for persons who are bitten, of whom there are evidently a large number. Sir Charles Warren replied: An enormous number. The Post Office Officials wrote to me on the subject, and said that whereas in former years a large number of postmen had been bitten, after the Order came in few were bitten. That, my Lords, is really a point not to be forgotten; that, quite irrespective of the danger of hydrophobia, persons have a right to be protected from this horrid nuisance of being bitten by strange dogs at any time throughout the country. Then, I will call your Lordships' attention, finally, to what Sir Charles Warren said in answer to a question of mine as to why he did not continue the Orders. He said— If I thought that rabies existed to such an extent as to be dangerous to the public I should put the Order in force. Well, I cannot think there is the slightest doubt that at this moment rabies does exist to such an extent as to be a danger to the public, and what I want to know is, Why does not the First Commissioner put the Order in force? It is quite true that at this moment there has been a discussion and correspondence going on between the London County Council and the Privy Council as to whether or not it is desirable to have a general muzzling all over the country; but while these two bodies are discussing this matter, people are dying of hydrophobia, and rabies is spreading through the Metropolis. The power that the County Council has under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act of enforcing it in the Metropolis alone is not exercised by it; they are of a far too ambitious nature to do such a thing as to give a legitimate Order which appertains to their proper functions, and in the meantime we are the sufferers. The Police Order can be issued absolutely irrespective of whether the County Council or the Local Authority does its duty in this matter. I myself have had the case brought under my own notice in the most practical way possible, for last week a mad dog was killed in my area by the police—a most disgusting and offensive sight—causing great alarm to the servants. A poor man came to me this morning, having seen the notice that I had put on the Paper, to tell me that he had been badly bitten by a mad dog in the hand in Palace Gardens four weeks ago, and he is now in a most painful state of anxiety, as persons always are who are bitten by mad dogs. It seems to me, my Lords, that a serious responsibility rests upon the Home Secretary if, through the neglect of the Commissioner who acts under his orders, a single case of hydrophobia occurs. The most humble of Her Majesty's subjects have a right to be protected if they can be, and as they ought to be, protected from this most horrible disease. Under these circumstances, I beg to ask my noble Friend the question of which I have given notice.


My Lords, I can state in a few words what is the position of the police at the present time with regard to mad dogs. It was decided in 1886 by the Secretary of State, with the concurrence of Sir Charles Warren, who was at that time the Chief Commissioner of Police, the Privy Council Office having then assumed the jurisdiction in the matter of rabies, that they for the future should be relieved of the responsibility of a continuance of the Orders made by them under the Metropolitan Streets Act, 1867, and the Dogs Act of 1871. The Orders were not then to come to an end; they were continued until December of that year, and then they lapsed. In 1887, by an Order in Council, the London County Council was created the Local Authority in the Metropolis, and the police considered that their duty henceforth would be to render assistance in any regulations that were issued by the Local Authority. Early in last month the Chief Commissioner of Police drew the attention of the London County Council to the fact that there was an increase—although not such a large increase as my noble Friend thinks—in the number of cases of rabies in the Metropolis. I am afraid I cannot give any very satisfactory statistics as to the number of mad dogs that were killed in the year 1885, which was the worst year that was known for some time, for this reason. In 1885 the police killed 369 dogs; that was in the whole year. This year, up to the present time, they have made away with 83 dogs. In 1886 it was not the custom to examine the carcases of dogs to find how many of them had actually been affected with rabies, and therefore it is impossible to state how many of the 369 dogs who were made away with in 1885 were affected with rabies; but in the present year, out of the 83 dogs, 70 carcases have been examined, and it has been found that 22 were affected with rabies. Having called the attention of the London County Council to the increase of rabies, there the action of the police has stopped; but I am informed that the London County Council have considered the matter, and that they have made proposals to the Privy Council Office which, I believe, are of a very large and extensive nature, and at the present time the Privy Council have those recommendations under their consideration, and are considering whether they can properly be put into force or not.


I think my noble Friend has hardly answered my question. I asked not what the London County Council were going to do, but what the police would do.


The Commissioner of Police, as I told my noble Friend, has communicated with the London County Council, which is the authority having power to issue the order, and it is now for that body to take action.


As a member of the Committee on Rabies, to which the noble Lord alluded, I can confirm what he said as to the evidence of many of the most skilled witnesses as to the efficacy of the muzzling regulations in putting a stop to rabies; but there is one point to which I wish to refer, which was put promit- nently forward by witnesses both from London and other large towns, which was, that the most serious outbreaks of rabies always started in large centres of population, and that after the disease has been lying dormant in the country, when it broke out again it was invariably in London, or in one of the other populous districts in other parts of England. That appears now to be the case with respect to this outbreak which has started in London, and it appears that at the present moment, if I am rightly informed, some authorities in the country districts are already taking precautions to prevent the further spread of rabies, and to muzzle the dogs within their own districts; but while they are doing this the authorities in London, which is the centre of rabies—at all events, in this part of the country—appear to be doing nothing. So that, while the very centre of the disease is not being attended to, the surrounding districts are receiving proper treatment. I understand that there is an application about to be made to the Privy Council to enforce universal muzzling all over the country. I must say that unless that is found to be absolutely essential, I think there would be a very strong feeling in the country against such an order being put in force. I venture to make these few observations in the hope that things will not be allowed to go on to such a pass in the metropolitan district as would make it almost essential to enforce muzzling all over the country—a step which, I am sure, would be most unpopular.


Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words in confirmation of what the noble Lord has said as to the popular feeling which would be aroused by an order to muzzle dogs all through the Kingdom. I think I am right in saying that in Wales and in Scotland there has not been a single case of rabies this year, and most of the rural counties of England are entirely free from the disease. The Committee to which reference has been made were unanimous in the opinion that a general muzzling order, unless it was felt by the country to be absolutely essential to the stamping out of the disease, would do more harm than good. The present condition of legislation on this matter is very unsatisfactory. In the Metropolis the police have power to seize and destroy stray dogs, but that power does not exist in the Local Authorities, which is a very prejudicial thing, because if they seize dogs they do not know what to do with them, and it is illegal to destroy them. We propose if possible to remedy that state of things, at all events so as to give greater power to the Local Authorities. I can assure your Lordships that this matter is having our earnest and practical attention, and I hope that no very long time will elapse before steps are taken to meet this evil, which I admit is a very great one.