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Smallpdx Cases, (Ss "Mooltan")

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 19 May 1949

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asked the Minister of Health if he is now in a position to make a further statement on the s.s. "Mooltan."

Yes, Sir. I regret that my reply to the hon. Member's supplementary question on 5th instant has led to a misunderstanding. Passengers who disembarked from the "Mooltan" at Marseilles did so before smallpox was suspected and had to be traced. On the other hand, when the medical officer of the Port of London received from the "Mooltan" before she reached port a message that there was a case of chickenpox on board, he made preparations on the assumption that it might be smallpox. No one was allowed to land until all proper precautions had been taken. These included the offer of vaccination to all passengers, ascertaining where they were going in order to warn the medical officers of health of the districts concerned. I am glad to take this opportunity of acknowledging the prompt and efficient work of the health authorities in the Port of London and in the districts to which the passengers went.

In view of the fact that nobody was allowed to land until the body had been buried and the place fumigated, will the Minister say if he has power, or will he take powers to detain or quarantine known contacts who refuse vaccination? In view of the fact that smallpox is still spreading, is it not better for the individual to suffer rather than to allow the disease to spread and the consequent anguish to other people?

The hon. Member is asking for a change of the law and before that could be done I should have to consider very seriously the effect on the liberty of the individual caused by the suggestions he has made.

While considering the question of the handicap on the liberty of the individual, will my right hon. Friend also consider the previous situation whereby vaccination was compulsory?

No, because that would not affect the position at all. Under the original law it was possible to obtain exemption and because so large a number of cases had applied for it and received it I came to the conclusion that it was no longer necessary to have compulsion.

I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter again on the Adjournment.