HC Deb 14 July 1857 vol 146 cc1506-8

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Public Health Act, 1848, and to make further provisions for Town Improvement, said, that he should have brought the question before the House at an earlier period of the Session, but it was thought desirable that it should follow another Bill which was now before Parliament, for transferring the powers of the Board of Health to the Department of Education. The provisions of the Bill had been submitted to the local Boards of Health in the chief towns in the country, and he believed he might say, that those provisions had the concurrence and support of all of them. The main object of the measure was to remedy the defects which an experience of nine years had shown to exist in the Act of 1848—to give powers of cleansing and purifying towns, to renovate streets and highways, to audit accounts, and generally to improve the management. With regard to the central Board he proposed to repeal the power which, by the existing law, the General Board of Health possessed of applying the Act to towns without the consent of the inhabitants. This was a power to which considerable objection had been made, although it had rarely, if ever, been resorted to, because it was clear that, even if there were an advantage in the central authority being able to apply an Act against the consent of the inhabitants, there would be little result from it, since the execution of the Act must depend upon the voluntary use made by the inhabitants of the powers given them by the Act. He, therefore, proposed so far to alter the mode of adopting the Act, that it should no longer be applied by the action of the Board of Health, or other authority to whom those powers had been entrusted, but by a vote of the inhabitants of the town desiring to have the benefit of the Act. It also very seldom happened that a town wishing to avail itself of the Act had the proper boundaries which it was desirable it should have, and the Bill, therefore, gave the central Board power to interfere to settle the boundaries, of course with the consent of the inhabitants. Moreover, there was often a difficulty in applying the Act, in consequence of the existence of local Acts, and the Bill gave power to the central Board to make provisional orders which would be submitted to the House, There was a tendency in local bodies when they constructed works, to saddle future ratepayers with the burden of the expense, and power was given to the central Board to prevent that being done, unless the works were of a permanent character. At the same time, he might observe with regard to the powers now possessed by the General Board of Health, some of those powers were considered to be unconstitutional and arbitrary. Much ignorance seemed to prevail upon that subject, but if hon. Gentlemen would take the trouble to look carefully into the Act of 1848, they would see that there was nothing in that Act which vested in the Board of Health any power of a compulsory nature. In fact, the power of that Board was rather of a restrictive character than anything else. The object of the whole legislation upon this subject was, to enable the towns to execute necessary works, and to keep their localities in good order and sound sanitary condition. This Bill would afford the means of removing all the sources of disease which could be abolished by the action of local bodies, and which now existed to a large extent in almost every court and alley of large towns, while it was so framed that each could adopt so much of its powers as were necessary to meet its immediate wants. It would be strictly a permissive measure. He believed it was very much demanded by the towns themselves, and he therefore hoped it would not meet with any serious opposition.

Leave given. Bill to amend the Public Health Act, 1848, and to make further provision for Town Improvement, ordered to be brought in by Mr. COWPER and Mr. MONSELL.