HL Deb 16 June 1904 vol 136 cc248-57


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I do not think I need detain your Lordships very long on the present occasion. I need not, I think, adduce any arguments in favour of vaccination in the abstract. The last time your Lordships' attention was called to the subject it was, I believe, with some difficulty that the House was persuaded to pass a Government Bill because of the conscientious objector clause, and because there was no provision for re-vaccination. And I believe I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Lister, whose authority on the subject we shall all recognise, was so strongly in favour of a re-vaccination clause that he wished that the Bill could be rejected in order that it might be brought forward with such a clause in it. My noble friend Lord Harris, who at that time was in charge of the measure, gave an undertaking that the Government would consider seriously the possibility of in-troducing a Re-vaccination Bill in the following session. That would have been in the session of 1899; it was partly in consequence of that promise that the House was induced to pass the Government's Bill. I have no doubt that the pledge to consider the matter has been faithfully adhered to by His Majesty's Government, but the consideration came to nothing, and from that time to this the Government have found themselves unable to deal with this question.

I therefore make no apology to your Lordship for bringing the matter once more before you. Let me say at once that there is nothing in this Bill that touches the conscience clause in any respect. I do not desire on the present occasion to express any opinion whatever with regard to the expediency of recognising the conscientious objector or the reverse, but I think we shall have recognised that so long as people are allowed to take a conscientious objection to vaccination of infants, it would be impossible to deprive them of the same liberty in the case of the re-vaccination of children at a later age. Therefore, so far as the conscientious objector is concerned, the Bill which I am bringing forward to-day does not interfere with him. I believe there has been, at any rate in the past, some considerable misunderstanding with regard to the necessity for re-vaccination. It is the opinion of many people that when once a child has been successfully vaccinated in infancy it is practically protected throughout the whole of its life; and there is also an opinion that, if at a later stage of its existence it is vaccinated and the operation does not what is commonly called "take," that is a sign that the patient is immune to the infection of smallpox, and may be considered perfectly safe. Further experience has shown that that is not the case.

The effect of vaccination in infancy wears out in course of time, and no vaccination can be considered really protective unless the patient suffers from it; in other words, unless the operation is what is technically called successful. This matter is particularly interesting at the present moment because of a report which has lately been presented to the Local Government Board by Dr. Lowe in regard to the effect of re-vaccination and other steps to combat smallpox which are taken in Germany. In Germany, unlike England, they attach comparatively small importance to isolation. They rely upon the practical immunity of the people in consequence of a thorough system of vaccination and re-vaccination, and the statistics which Dr. Lowe presents are very remarkable. The deaths in Germany from smallpox have only been at the rate of twelve or thirteen persons per million of the population in the last twelve years, while in England the deaths have been over 207 per million, or more than fifteen times as many.

But the benefit does not end there. It is not only because of the protection which vaccination and re-vaccination afford to the people that I argue for this Bill. One of the greatest improvements which has been made in the practice of vaccination has been the preparation of calf lymph and the addition to that lymph of glycerine. No doubt many of your Lordships will remember the days when vaccination was commonly carried on from arm to arm, and that very disquieting stories were often told of serious diseases being contracted in this manner. Now, with the use of calf lymph that is impossible, and, further than that, by the addition of glycerine all bacilli are destroyed, and therefore no possible harm can come from vaccination by glycerinated lymph, while; the virus of cowpox itself is not diminished in the least. But this preparation of glycerinated calf lymph is a somewhat slow process, and the difficulty at the present time is this, that owing to the constant recurrence of more or less serious epidemics in this country it is extremely difficult to keep up a steady supply of this lymph. Either very large amounts of lymph must be prepared which are never used, and so much waste both of time and money is involved, or else when the demand becomes very great on the outbreak of an epidemic, there is no lymph to hand at the very moment when it is most required. If, however, as in Germany, epidemics were unknown and the whole population were vaccinated and re-vaccinated, the demand for this lymph would be steady and the whole of the difficulties of its preparation would be removed.

Then, my Lords, there is another point which I cannot help thinking is of increasing importance every day, and that is the necessity for isolation hospitals. The Local Government Board are pressing.—and very wisely pressing—all local authorities to provide smallpox isolation hospitals in their various districts, and a very large expense is thrown upon the rates for buildings for which a site is very difficult to find, and which perhaps may not be used at all for a great number of years. In Germany there are very few isolation hospitals. The regulations for their erection at great distances from other buildings are disregarded. They are constantly in close proximity to hospitals and other places, and whenever there are no smallpox patients to occupy the hospitals persons suffering from other maladies are housed in them. In England exactly the reverse is the case. Let me call your Lordships' attention for one moment to the regulations of the Local Government Board. They insist, first, that the isolation hospital is not to be within a quarter of a mile of any hospital, workhouse, asylum, or other similar establishment, or of a population of 200 persons; that it is not to be within half a mile of a population of 600, and that it is not to be used for other than smallpox cases.

These are conditions which in many cases it is extremely difficult to carry out, and daresay many of your Lordships have had my experience as a landowner that when an attempt is made by a district, under pressure from the Local Government Board, to provide a smallpox hospital, everybody cries out that they will not have it near them—a very natural objection. But the result is that the district council are pulled different ways, first by the Local Government Board in pressing them to find a site, and then by the people in their district opposing any site they select, and the ratepayers are burdened with the great expenditure incurred in the erection of the buildings. If thorough vaccination and re-vaccination could be carried out the greater part, if not the whole, of this expense would be abolished. The country would be so protected that smallpox epidemics would, as in Germany, be practically unknown, and those rare cases which would be taken to hospital would not be a danger to the population because the population, would be already properly protected by vaccination.

The Bill that I am asking your Lordships to be good enough to read a second time to-day proposes to re-vaccinate all children within six months after they attain the age of twelve years. The reasons for selecting this age are several. In the first place, the protective effect of infantile vaccination is supposed to be very rapidly lessened in consequence of the very rapid growth and development of tissue. All these processes go on more slowly at a later age, and therefore a child of twelve, who may be supposed to be beginning to lose the protection which vaccination in infancy has conferred upon it, may be hoped, if re-vaccinated at twelve years of age, to be protected until, say, middle life. School children can, of course, be more easily dealt with than others, because it is not difficult to get access to them. There is one very important circumstance which points to the desirability of re-vaccinating school children, and it is this. It is not entirely the ordinary prejudice against vaccination which prevents re-vaccination. If vaccination is successful it very often incapacitates a man from work for several days. That is a very serious question for the bread-winner, and I am certain it deters many who would otherwise be glad to avail themselves of the opportunity of undergoing the operation. We must also remember that a good many people exaggerate the effects of vaccination, and believe it will incapacitate them longer than it actually does.

All this interference with labour does not hold good in the case of children, and it is, therefore, advisable to take them at the age set out in the Bill. One may hope that parents will object less to having their children vaccinated at twelve years of age than at an earlier age. Personally I do not believe in the danger of vaccination to infants if properly carried out, but those who do will feel more confidence in submitting an older child to the process. The Bill places parents and others having charge of children in the position of being responsible for having them re-vaccinated, and local bodies are required to send to the authorities a list of the children chargeable to them on their attaining the age of twelve years. I do not think I need say more in explanation of this Bi41, beyond remarking that if your Lordships will be good enough to give it a Second Reading I am sure it will bean important step towards conferring a great boon on the population.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Duke of Northumberland.)


My Lords, I should like to say a very few words as to the attitude which His Majesty's Government desire to adopt towards the Bill, the Second Reading of which has just been moved by the noble Duke. We are certainly in no sense hostile to the principle of the Bill, and by the principle of the Bill I mean, of course, that re-vaccination is in itself a desirable thing. The evidence on that point seems to me to be absolutely conclusive. The noble Duke quoted the high authority of Lord Lister, an authority the weight of which is recognised throughout this country, and nowhere more than in your Lordships' House. He also gave us a very interesting piece of information lately acquired by the Local Government Board with regard to the results of re-vaccination in Germany. I do not know whether I exactly followed the figures which the noble Duke gave, but those which are supplied to me go to show that in Germany, where re-vaccination is compulsory, during twelve years there were only 607 deaths from smallpox in a population of fifty-six millions, whereas in this country during the same period, in a population of only thirty-two millions, there were 6,700 deaths from smallpox. These are, I must say, very startling and suggestive figures.

There is also in favour of re-vaccination the authority of the Royal Commission, but the noble Duke will, of course, remember that the Royal Commission stopped short of recommending compulsory re-vaccination. They thought it undesirable to have resort to that measure on account of the great practical difficulty of enforcing re-vaccination, owing to the movement of the population, and also because they conceived, and I cannot help thinking rightly conceived, that compulsory re-vaccination would add to the volume of hostility to vaccination which the Bill had to encounter in this country. That view prevailed with His Majesty's Government, and we have therefore until now merely done all that was in our power to encourage and facilitate re-vaccination. Re-vaccination is now performed free of all cost by public officials, and those officials are instructed whenever there is an epidemic of smallpox to spare no pains to make generally known the fact that re-vaccination is open to all those who desire to be re-vaccinated.

I cannot help thinking that in this respect the Local Government Board have been wise in attempting to lead rather than to drive the people of the country towards re-vaccination, and certainly the great success which has attended the Act of 1898 points to that conclusion. I am told that whereas in 1898 the proportion of successful vaccination to births was 54 per cent., in 1901 the proportion had risen to no less than 67 per cent—a very marked increase. For these reasons His Majesty's Government have not thought it desirable to attempt legislation in favour of compulsory re-vaccination, and it would obviously in any case be impossible for us to contemplate the passing of such a measure through Parliament during the present session. All, therefore, that we can say with regard to this Bill is that inasmuch as we are in favour of re-vaccination we certainly do not desire to oppose its Second Reading, but that we must be clearly understood as not in any way committing ourselves to the details of the measure, or contemplating that it shall become law during the present session of Parliament.


My Lords, the noble Marquess has given us the views of His Majesty's Government upon this Bill, but, with all due respect to him, I do not think he has sufficiently explained the omission of the Government to provide that Re-vaccination Bill which was distinctly promised in 1898. That most iniquitous clause establishing the existence of the conscientious objector was only passed upon the distinct understanding that the Government would subsequently bring in a Re-vaccination Bill. From that day to this, with the exception of one occasion on which I myself unsuccessfully endeavoured to abolish the conscientious objector, we have heard nothing more of re-vaccination, and I submit that the noble Marquess's explanation is not altogether a satisfactory one. The noble Marquess has congratulated the Local Government Board upon their success in not attempting the task of compulsory re-vaccination, and he has made the assertion, which I have heard made before by responsible Ministers, that the success of the Act of 1898 is in large measure due to the clause which established the conscientious objector. I contend for my own part that the success which has attended that Act, so far from being due to that particular clause, has been in spite of it. The conscientious objector has, amongst other things, bred the passive obstructor. It was a most unfortunate departure in legislation, and I deeply regret to hear there is no intention on the part of His Majesty's Government of dealing with this difficulty. With regard to the Bill which has been introduced by the noble Duke, I confess I look upon it as little better than a practical joke on the part of my noble friend. If a Bill of this kind is to be introduced, the Government ought to be responsible for it, and everybody knows there is not the remotest possibility of a Bill of this character, introduced at this period of the session, passing into law.


My Lords, I have never before had the opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House, but I should like to say a few words on the subject of this Bill. I think there are points which have not been taken notice of, not only by noble Lords present, but by many who have spoken and written, on this subject throughout the country. I have been reading Dr, Lowe's Report, and I see that Germany does not depend upon vaccination and re-vaccination, inasmuch as in the isolation houses all the nurses are re-vaccinated whenever a case of smallpox comes in. In regard to the question of the policy of a Re-vaccination Bill, I think that has been traversed already in the Bill of 1898—I mean in regard to the point of such a Bill tampering with the divine right of liberty of man. I know that vaccinators say that people must be protected, but if vaccination is such a protection, why such fear everywhere? It seems to me that the very point which is brought forward in support of re-vaccination is what has been shown in Germany, if the evidence is really properly sifted, to be quite a fallacious opinion. I would ask the Government if it would not be possible to have a Committee whose Chairman should be one accustomed to deal with and sift evidence, so that all this evidence might be scientifically looked into and the points at issue regarded from some other point of view than the merely argumentative point of view from which they have been looked at hitherto.

As regards the question of vaccination, I do not know whether it is in order to say that it seems to me absolutely contrary to universal law that injecting animal poison into human flesh should produce health. Dr. Jenner was a man who was not able to get a diploma. His ideas were received by the public, but in his own family he did not vaccinate; and 108 years after that time we are still believing in this fallacy. You say you can produce statistics to prove there are certain results from vaccination, but I would say that these effects are not necessarily the result of vaccination, but rather of mental laws, the result of belief in vaccination and the confidence which that belief produces. This is the real cause not of the immunity of Germany, but of the decrease of smallpox in Germany. I think even Dr. Lowe's Report shows that, and, after all, Dr. Lowe is a vaccinator and would naturally be biassed on the side of vaccination.

On Question, Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.