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Diseases Prevention (Metropolis) Bill

Volume 282: debated on Thursday 2 August 1883

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MOTION FOR LEAVE.

asked leave to introduce a Bill

"to make better provision, as regards the Metropolis, for the isolation and treatment of persons suffering from cholera and other infectious diseases."
In 1855 there was passed an Act of Parliament called the Diseases Prevention Act. That Act was passed in consequence of the cholera epidemic in that year, and it was followed by similar Acts with regard to Ireland and Scotland. Under that Act, and similar Acts for Ireland and Scotland, the powers of the local authorities for dealing with cholera epidemic in the United Kingdom were amply sufficient, and they were powers which needed no supplement at the hands of Parliament at the present day. But as regarded the means of putting the powers in force in the Metropolis, there was a certain amount of difficulty. There had been one great cholera epidemic in London since the days in which the Act was passed. That epidemic occurred in 1866. The work was thrown upon the Sanitary Authorities, and in the Metropolis there were no less than 38 separate Sanitary Authorities. In 1866 some of those Authorities had more work than others, and some of them performed the work extremely well, and others less well. The purpose of the Bill which he asked the House to allow him to introduce was, to give an option as to two different sets of Authorities in dealing with cholera in London; so that if the law threw the duty upon any Body unable to cope with an outbreak, there should be some other Body in the Metropolis to fall back upon. At the present time, the Metropolitan Asylum Board, which was elected by various Boards of Guardians, had the power to deal with fever and small-pox cases, and contained amongst its ranks men who had shown great ability in dealing with epidemic disease. It would be almost necessary—in fact, absolutely necessary—in London, in the event of a cholera epidemic, that they should be able to fall back upon a second Sanitary Body, in addition to the 38 Sanitary Authorities, for the purpose of the suppression of the disease. The object of the Bill was really expressed in its 2nd clause, which said that—
"The managers of the Metropolitan Asylum District shall be within that district a local authority under the Diseases Prevention Act, 1855, for such purposes of the said Act, and with such powers and duties as may from time to time be specified by regulations of the Local Government Board. Subject to such regulations the managers may from time to time utilize any of their buildings, ambulances, and other property and their staff, for the execution of any powers or duties conferred or imposed on them under the said Act and this Act."
It would be seen that this clause constituted the Asylum Board an authority, not a sole authority. The next most important clause in the Bill was the 4th, which related to the expense. At the present moment, each of the parishes and districts under the 38 Vestries and District Boards would have to bear separately the expense incurred in connection with an outbreak of cholera in that parish or district. Supposing there were immense pressure on any one parish, as was the case in 1866, the whole of the costs of dealing with the epidemic in that parish would have to be borne by the parish, which might be, as was then the case, a very small one. It had been thought desirable to equalize the expense of coping with an epidemic by throwing it upon the whole Metropolis. The 4th clause, therefore, provided that—
"The amount expended by any local authority in the Metropolis under the Diseases Prevention Act, 1855, other than the managers, in providing any building for the reception of patients or other persons under that Act, shall, to such extent as may be determined by the Local Government Board, together with two-thirds of the salaries or remuneration of any officers or servants employed in any such building under that Act, be repaid to them from the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund by the receiver of that fund, out of any moneys for the time being in his hands, upon the precept of the said Board, to be issued by thorn after the production of such evidence in support of the expenditure as they may deem satisfactory, and the Board may require contributions for the purpose of raising the sums so payable."
Those were the main clauses in the Bill. There was one clause with regard to the Sanitary Authority of the Port of London, which was intended to remove a legal doubt; but the 2nd and 4th clauses were, as he had said, the most important in the Bill. He was happy to be able to repeat to the House the assurance which he gave the other week—namely, that up to the present time there had been no outbreak of cholera in this country; and that, taking the country throughout, the condition of public health was very satisfactory. But there was a certain amount of anxiety with regard to London. There had been, during the last three or four weeks, a large mortality from diarrhœa amongst children under one year of age. Although the mortality from that cause amongst the adult population was small, the atmospheric conditions were such as to excite a certain amount of alarm; and as they were not safe against cholera epidemic even during the course of the present year, until more than six weeks had passed by, it had been thought desirable that powers, such as this Bill contained, should be obtained as quickly as pos- sible. The Bill might be printed during the course of the present night, so that he hoped he might be allowed to take the second reading to-morrow night. He hardly anticipated there would be any opposition to the second reading of the Bill. The consideration in Committee he would put off for a few days, so that Members might have every opportunity of examining the details of the clauses. He was not wedded to the language of the Bill, and he should be very glad to do whatever he could to meet the views of any hon. Members who might see fit to take exception to any of the details. Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make betters provision, as regards the Metropolis, for the isolation and treatment of persons suffering from cholera and other infectious diseases; and for other purposes."—(Sir Charles W.Dilke.)

observed, that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board spoke of cholera, yet his Notice referred to other infectious diseases. That was one endeavour to obtain special powers in respect of what he hoped was only a panic. If it was meant to give the Metropolitan Asylum Board controlling power over all the Sanitary Authorities of London, he (Mr. Hopwood) was bound to say he should feel it his duty to resist the Bill. He would like to know, in the first place, whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed the Bill as a temporary measure; and, secondly, whether this was an attempt to obtain, at the hands of the people of London, a central control over their individual managements and their local concerns?

said, there was nothing in the Bill at which even the hon. and learned Member need be alarmed. As regarded the temporary nature of the measure, he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was so anxious to obtain the alternative power that the Bill gave, that he would not be disposed to resist a clause providing that the Bill should be only temporary in its application.

asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he had any intention of bringing in a Bill for the protection of seaports, especially with regard to the delivery of rags?

said, he issued yesterday the Order which several days ago he said he had under consideration. The Order was issued yesterday to the only port at which rags had been landed; and to-morrow it would be sent to the whole of the remaining ports.

said, it appeared to be intended to make the Metropolitan Asylum Board only a Local Authority. He ventured to suggest that it would be better to give the Board some control over the different Local Authorities.

said, in introducing the Bill so late in the Session, his object had been only to propose clauses which would raise as little opposition as possible; and he had not considered it right to make the Asylum Managers in any way supreme over the existing authorities. If he were to attempt anything of the kind, he would be certain to raise opposition to the Bill.

said, there had been strong complaints in Dublin with regard to the means there of protecting the health of the inhabitants at all times, and especially in times of epidemic; and his right hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Dawson) had introduced a Bill on the question. He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) supposed that this Bill would be strictly confined to the Metropolis, and that it would be impossible to insert any clauses dealing with Dublin?

said, it would be possible to introduce in the Bill, consistently with its form, provisions relating to Local Authorities in England other than those in the Metropolis. He feared, however, it would be difficult to introduce any provisions relating to Ireland, because in Ireland there was a different Local Government Board. In order to include Ireland in the matter, it would be necessary to introduce a separate Bill.

assumed that that would be so. Of course, the anxiety arising from the threatened danger was common to all nationalities; and he would ask whether, in case the Bill of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Dawson) was, in his (Sir Charles W. Dilke's) judgment, fairly calculated to meet the evil, it would receive his support?

said, he would be very happy to confer with his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland on the subject. Of course, the English authorities would be very glad to place all the information in their possession at the disposal of the Irish Government. Motion agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir CHARLES W. DILKE and Secretary Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT. Bill presented, and read the first time [Bill 279.]