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Orders of the Day — Ministry of Health Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 26th February 1919.

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Photo of Mr Edward Carson Mr Edward Carson , Belfast Duncairn

I only desire to say a few words on this Bill, more particularly with regard to its application to Ireland. In the first place, may I join in my congratulations to the President of the Local Government Board for having brought in a Bill which, in my opinion, at all events, has before it, if it passes, a great future. I am well aware the Bill only deals at the present moment with machinery, but the machinery is the most important foundation of the whole matter, and when you have set up your machinery, I think you will find that when it is somebody's duty to do a particular thing and there is the machinery provided for doing it, you will have a much better chance of the thing being done whole-heartedly. When this Bill, or a similar Bill, was before the House in the autumn I entered a protest against it not being applied to Ireland, and I did so for the reason that, I regret to say that for some years past there has been a growing disposition in the House in Irish politics to leave out from Bills for the amelioration of the people Ireland, with a view to avoiding political opposition, or with a view of getting the Bill through in an easier way. That policy has proved very disastrous to the people of Ireland.

Last year we passed for England and Scotland an Education Bill of a far reaching character, and in regard to those Bills, great and beneficial as they are going to be for Great Britain, we are already beginning to perceive that they are going to leave the boys and young men in Ireland at a great disadvantage. So far as I am concerned, I am determined in whatever way I can to urge upon this House the great necessity of not treating the people of Ireland as if they did not require the same measures of amelioration as the people of England and Scotland. If hon. Members who differ from me, for either political or other reasons, disapprove of this course as regards the parts of Ireland they represent, all I can say is I will then urge that at least the North-East of Ireland would gladly welcome all the measures of reconstruction and advancement for England, and they do not want to be left out because other parts of Ireland do not wish to come in.

I can foresee that a great deal is foreshadowed by this Bill. In the first place, my right hon. Friend has stated, and I think rightly, that the question of housing will be under this Ministry. That question has, in my opinion, more to say for the health of the people than almost any other question that comes before us. I am not sure that it does not also help to solve the temperance question, because if a man has a decent, comfortable, healthy house to come to I think he is not so likely to be constantly frequenting the public house. In Ireland, and especially the Constituency I now have the honour to represent, there is no more pressing question at the present moment than housing. It is a fact that in Belfast, growing rapidly as it is, having grown almost out of its clothes, I do not know how in the coming few years the people of that great community are to get on unless very drastic measures are taken to supply the deficiency of houses that exists there at the present moment.

There was another matter foreshadowed by my right hon. Friend, and it was the revision of the Poor Law, and there is no place requires a revision of the Poor Law more than Ireland, more especially on the question of the separation of medical relief from the relief of pauperism. I am not going into details, and I merely make these observations to show that there really is foreshadowed in this Bill a great, policy of amelioration of the people, and I claim that policy for Ireland just as you are claiming it for England and Scotland. I would join the Scottish Members in the course they have taken in asking for a separate Bill for Ireland, were it not that. I believe if I did so I should never get it. I think my only chance and the only chance of Ireland is to ask to be, included in this Bill, and then when the people of Ireland are included they will have a chance of getting relief in all the various ways which are foreshadowed by the policy that has been stated by my right hon. Friend. Ireland, as regards public health, is miles behind this country. Let me state one or two facts. The medical officers of health in Ireland are supposed to conduct the whole question of health, which includes preventive as well as curative methods and sanitation, and when I state that except in three out of six county boroughs there are no whole-time independent medical officers of health in Ireland hon. Members will realise what that means. There are some 812 part-time medical officers of health at an average salary of just under £20 a year, and very few, not 5 per cent., of the whole of that 812 hold a diploma of public health. You cannot wonder that the Branch Medical Council of Ireland have reported that these officers cannot discharge their duties to the best advantage of the public, and sanitation for this reason, combined with the permissive character of public health legislation in provincial and rural Ireland, has become a sad farce. It is worse, because it is practically non-existent. The course of legislation has been that the most elementary Health Acts are all permissive in Ireland, and, bearing this in mind, hon. Members will readily understand what a condition we are in. Let me take the Infectious Diseases Notification Act of 1889. That particular Act is permissive in Ireland, and there are six urban and fifty-one rural sanitary districts in which it is inoperative. There are sixteen urban and ninety rural sanitary districts in which the Infectious diseases Prevention Act of 1890 in Ireland has not been put into force at all. As regards the notification of tuberculosis, only forty-one out of 213 rural sanitary districts have adopted it. That is a scandalous condition of affairs to have to bring before the Imperial Parliament.

6.0 p.m.

May I mention one or two more facts? We have not in Ireland the power of medical inspection of the children of the schools at all. We have no such Act. That is another of the Acts that were passed for this country where Ireland was purposely left out. We have no method in Ireland for the inspection of the sanitary condition of our schools. We have hardly any legislation at all in Ireland, as you have in England, as regards the blind and the deaf. All these things are still in an antediluvian state of chaos, and I do press upon this House that they should insist that this Bill in its fullest form—I say that because my right hon. Friend said as far as it may be practicable, expedient, or something of that kind—should be made applicable to Ireland, and a strong body set up—I do not care whether it is in the Local Government Board, but a statutory body—whose duty and responsibility it will be to take care that no longer are these great subjects neglected in Ireland. I cannot myself see any difficulty in adapting this Bill to Ireland. Almost every Clause of it which is beneficial might be easily applied to Ireland. But even when that is done, I must beg the Government, and particularly the Irish Executive—and now that we have a new Chief Secretary who is a Scotsman probably there may be more hope for us—seriously and anxiously to take in hand this whole question of health in Ireland, and to do something to make up for the arrears which exist there, especially for our children, and indeed the whole of the poor population, something to bring us nearer the level, because it will take a long time to bring us up to the level, of what has been done for the people in this country and in Scotland. I hope that in this matter I may have the assistance of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin). I hope, moreover, that if we do happen to agree upon a matter of this kind we shall not be told that we only agree because we want to rob the British Treasury. This matter is removed from politics. It is a matter upon which, I hope, we can easily agree, and still hold our own strong views. Perhaps we are each at the further end of the pole, but for all that, while this question of the settlement of Ireland is going on, as it has been going on for so many years, do let us recollect that generations are growing up, and that they are not having a fair chance.