§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading agreed.
*THE EARL OF LICHFIELD
My Lords, before asking you to read a second time the Bill that is now before you, I will endeavour, as briefly as possible, to explain some of the reasons which have made its introduction necessary. The Public Health Act of 1875 enabled a local authority to provide isolation hospitals and to join with other local authorities in providing a central hospital for surrounding districts, but, unfortunately, no doubt owing to the fact that the Act of 1875 was entirely permissive, isolation hospital accommodation has not been provided to anything like the extent which is now thought necessary. To remedy this state of affairs, the Isolation Hospitals Act of 1893 was introduced, and passed. That Act does not apply to Scotland or Ireland, nor does it apply to the county of London or to the county boroughs. Amongst other provisions, it empowers county councils to cause to be provided isolation hospitals within their administrative area, and to group together suitable districts to be served by one hospital. It also enables county councils, out of the county rate, to grant annual sums of money towards the maintenance of these hospitals. Now, my Lords, it was assumed until quite recently that where an efficient hospital had been established under the 1875 Act, the local authority could, with the assent of the Local Government Board, transfer that hospital to the county council; and it was also assumed that the county council would have power, under the 1893 Act, where it thought desirable, to grant a subsidy to these hospitals out of the country rate. It was only last year that the Local Government Board decided that it was not possible to act in either of these two cases—that is to say, there were no provisions in the Act of 1893 which would enable these things to be done. The result has been to bring about an absolute deadlock in many parts of the country. Where the county council has made a comprehensive scheme embracing the whole of its administrative area it would 7 be grossly unfair to put the Act into, operation; for this reason, that the local authority which had been foremost in providing hospital accommodation under the Public Health Act of 1875 would be doubly penalised. In the first place, they would have to contribute their portion of the county rate towards the maintenance of their neighbours' hospitals, they would not be allowed to take any share of that county rate, and, in addition, they would have, by themselves, to keep up their own local hospital. This Bill has been introduced to try and remedy that unfortunate state of affairs. I will explain very briefly the provisions of the Bill; it is a very short one, consisting of only five clauses. The first clause is the title. The second gives power to the local authority, with the assent of the Local Government Board, to transfer any hospital they may have erected under the 1875 Act to the county council. Clause 3 provides the manner in which the expenses incurred by that transfer are to be met. Clause 4 gives power to county councils to contribute, by a capital sum or by an annual contribution, to any efficient hospitals built under the 1875 Act. Clause 5 enables county councils to borrow: money, a provision which, I think, by accident was not included in the 1893 Act. Some counties, my Lords, prefer to contribute towards the capital charge of erecting these hospitals; some, on the other hand, would prefer to contribute out of the county; rate towards their maintenance. This last clause gives to the county councils the opportunity of borrowing if they so desire. The Bill which I am now moving is exactly the same as the one which passed through your Lordships' House last session. It is approved by; the Local Government Board, and is entirely enabling. There is no compulsion at all about it, and I have brought it in on behalf of the County Councils Association, which, as your Lordships know, represents all the counties in England and Wales. We had hoped that the Local Government Board would have seen their way to take up this measure themselves. We asked them last autumn if they would do so, and received the following reply from the Assistant Secretary—I am directed to state that the Board have given consideration to the matter, but they are not themselves prepared to introduce a Bill on the subject.8 I cannot understand why the Local Government Board have not seen their way to take up this matter. I think they have incurred a grave responsibility by not doing so. I have, explained to your Lordships that a great deal more hospital accommodation is required, and until a Bill such as is now before you is passed, into law it will be impossible in many counties to go any further with the scheme of providing isolation hospitals. If a great epidemic were to break out, I think the Government which declines to bring in a measure of this sort would be responsible to a very great extent. In my county—Staffordshire—only one-sixth of the hospital accommodation required for the population, numbering one million, has been provided, and what applies to my county applies to other counties in, England. I trust that the Government will look into this matter, and that, if. unable to take up the Bill themselves, they will do all in their power to assist its passage through the House of Commons, for your Lordships all know, how extremely difficult it is for a private Member to get a Bill through that House. My noble friend Lord Northbrook had intended to be present this evening, but he has authorised me to say that he thoroughly supports the request which I have just made to the Government. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, I am: afraid. I am. not in a position to deal with that part of my noble friend's speech in which he made a strong appeal to the Government to take up this Bill. I suppose the Government had good reasons last year for not taking it up then. Their refusal was probably due to the heavy pressure of work, and I imagine the same reason has actuated them this year in so far declining to take up the Bill. But I will take care that the strong expression of opinion which the noble Lord has-given shall be brought to the notice of the President of the Local Government Board, and, if possible, that his wishes, shall be' complied with. As regards the Bill itself, your Lordships-passed it, in its present form, last year. The Memorandum sets forth the objects of the Bill, and, although it does not quite set out the opinions of the Local Government Board, 9 that Board has no objection to its passage this year.
§ VISCOUNT KNUTSFORD
My Lords, I should like to express my hearty concurrence with what has fallen from the noble Earl opposite, and I trust that the Government will see their way to take up this Bill. There is no dispute as to the advantages which will accrue from the passing of it, and it is really pitiful that Bills of very great utility, which we keep on passing through this House, have no chance in the House of Commons. If the Government cannot see their way to take up the Bill I trust they will strongly support it, and facilitate its passing into law.
§ Bill read 2a (according to Order), and committed to a Committee of the whole House to-morrow.