HL Deb 14 September 1909 vol 2 cc1135-9


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a small Bill to which His Majesty's Government hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading and allow to pass without very serious alteration. The subject has come under your Lordships' notice before. Three years ago the London County Council wished to have powers to establish and maintain a really efficient ambulance service for the use of the citizens of London in the event of street accidents. The clauses, after examination by a Committee of the other House, passed through satisfactorily, but a Committee of your Lordships, presided over, I think, by Lord Camperdown, rejected these particular clauses. The Home Office appointed a Departmental Committee which went into the whole question and took a large amount of evidence, and this Bill is founded largely upon their Report.

There is some question of a difference of opinion, to which correspondence in The Times in the last day or two may have called the attention of your Lordships, as to whether the London County Council or the Metropolitan Asylums Board is the proper authority to undertake this work. The position of the Home Office is this: There is an urgent need for the establishment of a good ambulance service in London, but in the opinion of the Home Office it would not be possible for the Metropolitan Asylums Board to undertake that duty now, and there is some fear that the public at any rate would imagine that the ambulance of the Metropolitan Asylums Board was liable to infection as it is the authority charged with the removal of scarlet fever and other infectious illnesses. It is very desirable that nobody should have any suspicion that there was a risk of getting an illness if these street ambulances were used. The London County Council would probably be able to use a certain amount of land and a certain number of stations perhaps, and altogether, in the opinion of the Home Office, they are the proper authority to undertake the work. An Amendment in the Standing Committee of another place to the effect that it should be done by the Metropolitan Asylums Board was defeated by twenty-eight votes to one, and as there are supporters of this Bill in your Lordships' House on both sides anxious that it should pass as it is, I venture to hope it will have an untroubled passage through this House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Beauchamp.)


I regret very much the absence of my noble friend Lord Midleton, who, being a prominent member of the London County Council, is very much interested in this question; but in his absence I have been asked very briefly to explain to your Lordships the view the London County Council take with reference to this Bill. I think it is agreed on all sides that the present provision is inadequate and that something ought to be done. That fact has been recognised, I think, on all sides for a considerable time, culminating in the appointment of a Home Office Departmental Committee to which the noble Earl has referred. The noble Earl says that this Bill is founded very largely upon the recommendations of that Committee. I am instructed that this Bill is contrary to the recommendations of the Committee, and that what happened was that whereas the Committee recommended that the Metropolitan Asylums Board should be the ambulance authority for London there was, if I may use the phrase in this connection, a Minority Report, or, at any rate, a Minority Memorandum, from Sir William Collins, the author of this Bill, in which he differed from his colleagues, and advocated practically the system which is outlined in this Bill. I am desired to say that the London County Council still generally adhere to the views expressed in the Report of the Committee, and they consequently do not like the Bill as it now stands. They think the system proposed by the Committee would be a better one than that proposed by this Bill, and it would certainly be more economical that the Metropolitan Asylums Board should be the ambulance authority for London and not the County Council. At the same time they feel that this is a matter of some urgency and they would be very sorry indeed to see any delay in dealing with it. Therefore, I have been asked not to offer any opposition to the Bill at this stage, but to give notice that when the proper time comes in Committee an Amendment will be submitted to your Lordships so as to enable the London County Council to enter into an arrangement with the Metropolitan Asylums Board which will have as its object the utilisation and preservation of existing facilities, subject, of course, to the consent of the Local Government Board. Notice will be given of the Amendment, and I hope your Lordships will agree to it when the proper time comes.


My Lords, it is quite correct, as the noble Earl has stated, that this matter was before this House about three years ago, that it was referred to a Committee of your Lordships' House, and that I served on that Committee. At that time the Home Office was opposed to the London County Council being the body, and, if my recollection rightly serves me, the representatives of the police gave evidence, and I think there was official evidence also from the Home Office to the effect that they thought it better that this matter should be in the hands of the Police. Well, my Lords, since that time, for whatever reason, the Home Office appear to have changed their minds. I dare say if they had told us at that time that they were in favour of the County Council being the authority no doubt we should have given every consideration to official evidence of that sort. The evidence which we received from the Home Office naturally had a good deal to do with our conclusion, but if the Home Office have now altered their minds and wish the County Council to be the authority I am sure no members of that Committee wish to press upon the House the opinion which they formed at that time.


My Lords, the London County Council from time to time have been accused of megalomania, and I am bound to say that at the time when I had the honour of being a member of that body I often had to take exception to the desire expressed to have more work put upon them; but I think the County Council have now come to the conclusion that they have quite as much to do as they can possibly manage. At the same time, as the saying goes, somebody must do these little things. It is quite clear that the Home Office, representing as it does the Police, is not prepared to undertake the work of providing ambulances in London, which to my mind would certainly be the best course; but if it is not prepared to do this and the London County Council are willing to have this duty put upon them, I for one believe that they will discharge it with perfect efficiency. Whatever may be the faults of the London County Council, nobody can deny that their administration of parks and various other matters into which, fortunately, political controversies do not enter, is very admirable, and I earnestly hope, therefore, that your Lordships will not allow another session to pass without using the only opportunity which apparently presents itself of providing an efficient ambulance service for London.


My Lords, I can quite confirm what has fallen from the noble Earl behind me with regard to the change of front of the Home Office as to this Bill. In fact the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, in this House called it a revolutionary change to which the Home Office was not prepared to consent. Well, my Lords, the Home Office has changed its mind and may be right, but as a member of the Committee I should like to ask for an assurance from the Home Office on one point. I think one of the points that influenced the minds of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House over which the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, presided, was the danger to the public. When a man is knocked down in the street the person who must pick him up is the policeman. The County Council are not a police authority. The City of London and most Corporations are police authorities, and, therefore, before this Bill is read a second time I think your Lordships should have some assurance from the noble Earl who represents the Home Office that some thoroughly good working arrangement has been arrived at between the Home Office and the London County Council, so that those disabled in the streets will not lack assistance from the police, who are in a great number of cases competent to give first aid to the injured.


May I with your Lordships' permission, call the noble Earl's attention to one matter which I omitted when I was speaking. In Clause 1, subsection (3), it is proposed to give power to acquire any lands or buildings in the county. Does that mean by agreement or by compulsion? If it is the latter, there are no words in the Bill and no procedure proposed anywhere in the Bill by which compulsory purchase could be carried out. If the noble Earl means only by agreement I think it would be necessary to put words in the Bill when we are in Committee.


It is earnestly to be hoped that this Bill will pass. It seems to be agreed on all hands that accidents have increased, and that the time has come to take action. As regards the Metropolitan Asylums Board, it may be mentioned that their stations are not in the centre of London but on the outside, and therefore are not adapted to the work required. Fresh stations would have to be acquired if the Metropolitan Asylums Board undertook the work.

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