HL Deb 22 November 1910 vol 6 cc826-8

*LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask whether, for the more effective destruction of rats in the plague-infected districts of East Anglia, the Local Government Board, as the chief authority, will not itself take steps for their extermination or else induce the local authorities concerned to adopt concerted measures under expert scientific guidance.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, having had experience of the difficulty of destroying rats in the plague-infected city of Bombay, I put this Question on the Paper for, so far as I could judge from the newspaper reports, there seemed to be a lack of co-ordination on the part of the authorities in their effort to get rid of the rats in East Anglia. Since putting down my Question I have noticed that fresh regulations have been issued by the Local Government Board. These regulations in some degree meet my objection, but I still have considerable doubt on the subject, and my doubts have been reinforced by seeing an appeal in The Times to-day on behalf of the Royal Institute of Public Health, asking for money to get rid of rats and other vermin. Perhaps the noble Lord who will answer me will say what are the methods adopted, and whether the central authority and the local authorities are co-operating together in this matter. If they are not, their efforts are in vain.


My Lords, the noble Lord, who has had experience of plague and the extermination of rats in India, has, I think, shown justifiable anxiety that efficient steps should be taken to prevent the spread of disease in the districts of East Anglia. In his Question the noble Lord rather suggests that the Local Government Board might turn rat-catchers, or, at all events, that the Board itself should superintend the extermination of rats. Whilst the Local Government Board are of opinion that a campaign against rats should be of a local character, I think I can, without going into all the details of their procedure, show the noble Lord that the Board are fully alive to their responsibility ill the matter of public health, that they have not been slow to press upon the local authorities concerned the necessity of adopting proper methods, and that they have, in fact, from the outset provided them with guidance and advice.

The matter was first brought to the notice of the Local Government Board on October 3. Four cases of suspected plague in East Suffolk were reported to the Board on that date, and Dr. Bulstrode, the Medical Inspector of the Board, was instructed on the same day to visit the locality and procure specimens, etc., and this was done. On the evening of October 8 a dead rat was sent to the Board for examination, and it was definitely pronounced on October 12 to have had the plague. The Board's inspector proceeded at once to make a systematic local investigation as to the extent of the disease and to tender advice to the sanitary authorities of the districts concerned. He continued his investigations in the districts invaded, and made visits with a view of setting in action steps for the extermination of the rats; and during the entire investigation the Board's inspector has been in communication with the local sanitary authorities in the districts, advising them as to the steps to be taken and receiving weekly reports from their medical officers of health.

The Board issued on October 10 an Order, a copy of which I can show to the noble Lord if he desires to see it, imposing upon the sanitary authorities the duty of destroying the rats and preventing their entry into buildings and other premises in the districts. Article 2 of this Order states that if representation is made to the local authority that rats in the district are infected or threatened with plague, or that there is an unusual mortality among the rats in the district, the local authority shall report the matter to the Local Government Board, and shall take steps for the destruction of the rats and for preventing their entry into premises in the district. The noble Lord referred to the question of expenditure. The Order of October 10 provides that the local authority may appoint such additional officers or servants as they may deem necessary and may delegate to them any powers under these regulations, and that the expenses incurred by the local authority in the execution of these regulations shall be defrayed, in the case of a local authority which is a sanitary authority as part of their expenses under the Public Health Act, and in the case of any other local authority as part of their general expenses in the administration of the public health. The local authorities have power, therefore, to incur any additional expenditure that may be necessary for this purpose.

Other steps have also been taken by the Board. Arrangements have been made for a special staff of the Lister Institute to go down to Suffolk and make an examination of the rats on a large scale, with a view of ascertaining the kind of rats affected and their special flea parasites. This work is being undertaken by Dr. Martin, the director of the Lister Institute and late Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the India Office on Plague, to whose investigations on plague our present accurate knowledge of the spread of this disease is largely due. The Local Government Board consider that a campaign against rats is a local affair, and there seems no reason why this particular work should be undertaken by the State. I do not think my noble friend will contend that the State is better equipped with machinery for the extermination of rats. At the same time, any advice which the Board can give is at the disposal of the local authorities. The Board of Agriculture have, I am informed, issued a leaflet on the subject. The Local Government Board and the Board of Agriculture are in co-operation and in touch with the local authorities, and will continue to give such advice as may be necessary.


The answer of the noble Lord seemed satisfactory until he came to the announcement that the Government considered that this was a matter for the local authorities. A rat does not confine its operations to the district of one local authority. That is the whole danger. I hate centralisation as a rule, but in this case you do want the central authority to see that the regulations are carried out. If that is done I am quite satisfied.


I can only repeat that the Local Government Board have been in touch with every district in which there has been any reasonable suspicion of the existence of disease-infected rats. They have issued regulations, and given advice, and they are in continual touch with, and receive reports of any suspected outbreak from, all the districts and areas concerned.