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Infectious Diseases Notification Bill—Bill 100

Volume 280: debated on Wednesday 27 June 1883

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( Mr. Hastings, Sir Trevor Lawrence, Dr. Farquharson, Brinton.)

SECOND READING.

Order for Second Reading read.

, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the Bill embodied the recommendations of a Select Committee which had considered the subject, and also the provisions of a number of Private Bills which had been passed from time to time for upwards of 30 cities and boroughs in the United Kingdom. One-sixth of the annual number of deaths in this country were caused by zymotic diseases, such as small-pox and scarlet fever; and the object of this Bill was that such notification should be made as would enable the medical officers of health, and parents and others, to take measures to prevent the spread of infection. In the cities and towns where this means of communication had been adopted it was found that the measures taken resulted in a large reduction of the amount of the disease and the number of deaths. Such a means of notification would enable them to know where a disease had arisen and where it had spread from, and, if approved of, would naturally save hundreds of thousands of valuable lives. The rich towns could afford to come to Parliament for Private Bills; but, in mercy to the poorer towns, he asked the House to give them the opportunity of checking disease in their midst.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—( Mr. Hastings.)

, in moving that the Bill be read a second time on that day three months, said, he should resolutely oppose the Bill. It would have been far better if the hon. Member, instead of proposing this measure, had brought one in for removing the dens of disease in our large towns. He believed the charge against those who opposed the Bill was that they were retarding the saving of life by this proposal; but if the nests of disease were destroyed that would be a far better system to follow. His belief was that in the cities and boroughs where these provisions had been adopted in Private Bills, the bulk of the people had no knowledge of what was being done when the Bills were passed. Several large towns had expressly repudiated the use of the powers which the Bill proposed to confer upon them; and he believed that if what lurked behind this measure—namely, compulsory isolation—were known, the whole population would be up in arms against it. He believed that in Edinburgh they so applied this system, that when the medical officer felt difficulty in effecting compulsory removal, he placed a policeman at the door of the householder to inform the world that there was this or that illness in the place. After a while the people came very helplessly, and said—"Oh, doctor, we cannot fight you. It is true that it breaks our heart to let our child go; but you are starving us out, and therefore our darling must go." ["Oh!"] That was, in effect, Dr. Little-john's own evidence, and what he rejoiced in as showing his own acuteness, and his own power of managing these cases. He hoped the House had not got to the position of their Northern friends, who rejoiced in such arbitrary power as that. The Bill might be characterized as one of those "fads" for interference with personal liberty which were aired at Social Science Congresses. It was a first step towards compulsory isolation, and would have the effect of empowering the medical officer and Inspector of a parish to enter a home and remove any sick member of a family without regard to the feelings or wishes of its other members.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,

, resuming, said, the measure would be harsh and oppressive in its operation on the poor man, who, if one of the members of his family was attacked by disease, would have to inform the world of the fact, so that he would lose his employment, and would thus have starvation added to the other misery which invaded his humble home. The measure, moreover, would not really tend to check the spread of disease, because under it, in many instances, the poor man, when sickness visited his household, would not call in the medical officer, but would resort to the herbalist and botanist, who would keep faith with him, and would not make that disclosure of the case which would produce the injury to him that he dreaded. Again, the duty of notifying these diseases, if it was to be cast on anybody at all, ought to be thrown on the medical men; but the Medical Profession, in a Congress hardly less important than that over which the hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Hastings) so ably presided, objected to any such proposal.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at half after Four o'clock.