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Isolation Hospitals Bill

Volume 92: debated on Monday 1 April 1901

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[SECOND READING.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

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said there were one or two points to which he desired to draw the attention of the President of the Local Government Board. He did not complain of the Bill itself, which was a very useful measure, but there seemed to be a tendency in its provisions to confer on the Local Government Board an undue and, as he ventured to think, an unnecessary power of interference with the discretion of county councils with regard to isolation hospitals. Under the original Act of 1893 county councils could create an isolation hospital district, and large numbers had been created, and hospitals built either by means of a subsidy from the county council or with the assistance of local rates, and under the Act of 1893, unless exception was taken to the action of the county council by the local authority, no interference by the Local Government Board was possible; but by the new Act, where county councils took over from some other local authority a hospital for dealing with infectious diseases, the Local Government Board could step in and interfere with the action of the county council. Again, where the building itself and the site were obtained out of the annual rates, the Local Government Board could not interfere with the action of the county council; but where the site was provided and the hospital built out of loans, the Local Government Board could hold an inquiry and oppose the scheme if it thought fit; but in the case where the hospital was built out of the rates all interference was prevented. If this Bill was allowed to become law that would no longer be the case, as the Local Government Board under Clause 2 would have authority to interfere with the action of the county council in that respect. It might be said that these were very small matters, but he felt that they might only be the prelude to greater demands of a more onerous character. Another point he desired to draw attention to was that what was possible under the present Act was not to be permitted under the revised Act in the future. There ought to be fuller explanation of the reasons why the county councils were to be so cramped in their operations. There had been no complaint from local authorities that the county councils had unjustly abused the freedom of the Act of 1893. The action of the county councils with regard to isolation hospitals had been first to create a hospital district and its committee, and then to erect the hospital for the district, and so with regard to transference a new building would be acquired from the local authority directly by the hospital committee. In practice it was the hospital committee which acquired the site and rated the district, and the committee was as corporate a body as the county council itself, and the case might very well be remitted to the committee direct, instead of being transferred to the county council. Why not also put into the Bill a power by which the hospital committee could rent from the local authority suitable temporary premises during the time the permanent building was being erected? He also called attention to the ambiguity of the phrasing of some portions of the Bill.

I quite recognise the courteous spirit in which the hon. Gentleman has criticised this measure, although I disagree with him in every particular. The hon. Gentleman complains of the powers we have taken under Clause 4; all we do by Clause 4 is to obtain power to amend the claim of any local authority. The hon. Gentleman is mistaken if he thinks this is an attempt on the part of the Local Government Board to extend their powers. We are bringing in the Bill at the request of the county councils in order to remove the difficulties under which they labour. There is no desire on the part of the Department to extend their control over the local authorities, and still less over the county councils. On the contrary the sole object of this Bill is to enable the county councils to do, in regard to local bodies who have exercised the powers under the Act of 1875, precisely the same thing as they are able to do in regard to local authorities under the Act of 1893. I think the hon. Member in his criticism of Sub-section 4 of Clause 1 overlooked the principal Act under which hospital committees are created—that is to say, under the Act of 1893 hospital committees can be constituted to which control of these hospitals can be given. I do not think that any alarm is felt in regard to the extended control of the Local Government Board over the county councils. At all events this Bill as originally introduced in this House was a private Bill, and it has only been slightly altered. Its object is to enable county councils to do work in the direction of providing isolation hospitals which they cannot do at the present time. On the subject of hospitals for infectious diseases. I know that some people think they are not altogether desirable, but in my opinion there is nothing more desirable than that local authorities should have every facility for the prevision of hospitals where infectious diseases can be suitably supervised. Under the Act of 1875 it, is impossible for local authorities to transfer them to the county councils or to receive relief in respect of their maintenance. Under the Act of 1893 if they have provided these hospitals the county councils can contribute towards their maintenance, and I agree with the County Councils Association that it is very hard that local authorities who have done the work under the Act of 1875 should be in a worse position than those who have done the work under the Act of 1893, and the present Bill will enable them, without any undue restrictions, to treat the local authorities who have provided these hospitals under the Act of 1875 in the same way as they treat them under the Act of 1893. The Bill is promoted really in the interest of the local authorities, and it is heartily supported by the County Councils Association. I hope the House will pass the Bill.

I think the object of this Bill is very good, and it is one that becomes increasingly important as our population increases. The fact is these isolation hospitals become more and more necessary as the population grows denser. The means of communication have become vastly easier, and the possibility of the spread of infectious diseases thereby is multiplied a hundred-fold. It is necessary, therefore, in all these districts under the county councils that there should be powers to create isolation hospitals. That is. I think everybody will admit, almost a truism in the interest of public health. The history of this Hospitals Bill is a little peculiar. I remember the introduction of it, and in 1893 I had several conversations about it. The Bill was passed in a form which has proved to be a little unworkable. One of the great difficulties has been where a local authority had under the Act of 1875 established a hospital for this purpose, maintained it, and done its duty in that respect, that local authority had no chance of coming under the Isolation Hospitals Act, but was subject to this injustice that, although paving for its own hospital, it was liable to be rated by the Isolation Hospitals Committee for supporting other hospitals. Thus a district which had done its duty itself was penalised by having to support the hospital in a neighbouring district. That caused a good deal of dissatisfaction and difficulty in carrying out the Act of 1893, and that is one of the chief difficulties this Bill seeks to remove. By removing difficulties we hope the Bill will add to the number of isolation hospitals in different parts of the country; but while I wish the Bill all success, I am bound to say that there has been, but may be again in this House, some opposition to it from some of the non-county boroughs. They look with some jealousy on the Bill, and think that the powers transferred to the County Councils may be in some way injurious to them. We may have in the course of the Committee stage to consider not only the Amendments my hon. friend has very well put before the House, but we may have to consider other Amendments which strike more seriously at the Bill as now drawn. I think myself the criticisms of the Bill have some substance in them in several particulars. It is a pity, I think, that in a Bill of this kind, which has now the authority of the Local Government Board, means were not taken to give more authority to the county councils. I myself view with some apprehension the tendency that exists everywhere to give more and more work to the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board has already more work than it can do, and I do not like these appeals and references and methods of tying up local authorities at every step in their work by references to the Local Government Board, and the necessity of requiring the sanction of that board to be given to such a small affair as the taking over of a small hospital of a rural district. I think all these matters ought to be settled more and more by the county councils, for they are as competent to settle them as the Local Government Board. If we delegate more and more power to the local authorities we shall relieve the Local Government Board of an immense amount of detail work it could well do without, increase the strength and dignity of the local governing bodies in the counties, and get the business done with much greater expedition than at present. I think my hon. friend the Member for East Bristol made a useful suggestion when he said that it would be better that the county council in creating its district committees should form its district before taking over the hospital, because very often the taking over of the hospital in the first instance may create good deal of friction and jealousy. If you form your district and get the hospital in it willingly, then I think you will have less friction in carrying out the work effectively throughout. My hon. friend has expressed a fear with reference to Clause 5, which may have a good deal of substance in it. I know that the urban districts would not like to be under the control of the rural districts. The parish councils are in many cases good governing bodies, of stronger energy and more activity than the rural district councils, and I should like to see them also in this Bill rather strengthened than subordinated to the councils of the rural districts in which they exist. These are points which can well be discussed in Committee, and I think the Bill will make an Act which at present is comparatively inoperative, more useful. I hope the House will give the measure a Second Reading.

said he had taken considerable interest in what was understood as the original Act. Some of the matters in the present Bill would be most conveniently disposed of at the Committee stage. He had been largely responsible in connection with education in boarding schools. One of his great difficulties in the management of these schools was the prevalence of infectious diseases. He had the honour to be on the governing body of a school which was now almost incapacitated by an attack of infantile disease—of measles. He believed that the same had been the case a few months since at the great school of Eton. This question did not affect one class of the community only, but all classes. He believed many of these diseases might be almost extinguished by proper precautions and by isolation, and he welcomed every well-considered proposal for the mitigation of this great evil; he might venture to describe it as a scourge. He hoped that without further delay, at this stage at least, the Bill would receive the full sanction of the House.

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said that in his own county of Staffordshire, as far back as 1893, they had desired to divide the county into districts, but had found that, owing to the absence of the powers proposed to be given by this Bill, they were unable to take over the existing hospitals. They had been anxious to bring into one comprehensive scheme the hospitals already established by the Act of 1875, but had been unable to do so, and therefore his noble friend Lord Lichfield, in the other House, had brought forward a Bill to carry out that purpose. Now the Government had made it their own, and he hoped there was a good chance that the matter would be satisfactorily carried out. He would make this one appeal to the Government, that the Bill should be sent to a Grand Committee, so that it might be expeditiously dealt with and then brought on for Third Reading. It was a most useful measure, and would be most satisfactory to the county council of Staffordshire—the body that first started the matter.

asked for an explanation of the provisions of Clause 5. He said there were in the counties a considerable number of boroughs which had already provided isolation hospitals, and were anxious to make terms with the counties with the view to the hospitals being managed by joint boards.

said Clause 5 had simply been inserted to obviate a difficulty which had arisen in connection with the operation of the law as provided by previous Acts.

said that as the public desire for isolation hospitals had grown it was found impossible to make use of those, which were established in advance of public opinion. That was the main cause of this Bill. It enabled these hospitals to be transferred on fair and equitable terms.

said he was glad the Bill made an attempt to meet the difficulty with respect to rating. He hoped the Local Government Board would see their way to develop this system and deal fairly with the rating of all districts.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc.