HC Deb 25 July 1871 vol 208 cc234-9

, in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the Laws relating to Public Health and Local Government, said, that the measure which he wished to introduce was simply the Report of the Sanitary Commission in the form of a Bill. The first task of the Commission was to consolidate into one statute all the laws relating to sanitary matters and to local government which had been passed piecemeal during the last quarter of a century. Those laws, which were of the most heterogeneous character, included the Nuisances Removal Acts, Prevention of Diseases Acts, Sewage Utilization Acts, Sanitary Acts, and the General Local Government Acts of 1848 and 1858, besides a mass of subsidiary statutes relating to the consumption of smoke, for preventing the adulteration of food, for making provision for local improvements in towns, and for the management of streets and highways throughout the country. In the present Bill at least 20 Acts were reduced into one. Many of these were inconsistent with each other, distinguished things not different, clubbed subjects totally distinct, omitted some things, repeated others, and it was desirable not only to reduce such a multiplicity of statutes on one subject, but to put an end to a large mass of actually conflicting legislation. They were, for the most part, a series of experimental Acts, introduced by hon. Members, each of whom had some particular object in view at the moment, and who seldom took the trouble to refer to what had already been passed by Parliament. The Sanitary Commission, which was appointed two years ago, included several Members of both Houses of Parliament, eminent physicians, officers of the Royal Engineers, civil engineers, distinguished lawyers, besides official persons now or formerly connected with the permanent departments of the Government. Legislation on sanitary subjects had ended in Executive inanition, and in the present state of things the removal of nuisances had often still to be effected by the very expensive process of suits in Chancery, so that the law, such as it was, was not only ineffective, but in proportion to its inefficiency was extremely expensive, while the multiplication of conflicting laws multiplied offices and salaries, every separate detail, however inoperative, having its own complete machinery. The second important object of the Sanitary Commission was, therefore, to consolidate the authorities throughout the country, and in systematizing the heterogeneous character of the law to reduce the multiplication of authorities. Among these were various kinds of local boards, and Improvement Commissioners, Sewer Authorities, and Nuisance Authorities, while in rural districts matters were sometimes referred to vestries, sometimes to the Boards of Guardians, and sometimes with, sometimes without, intervention of the justices. He would appeal to hon. Members whether, if some public work or ordinary sanitary operation were wanted, or some nuisance had to be removed in the neighbourhood of their own homes, they would know ex- actly what authority, if any, they could refer to. The third object of the Commission was to remove the extraordinary anomaly that the application of these sanitary laws was entirely optional, and that it depended upon every locality whether it chose to adopt the powers and incur the responsibility which the law ought to throw upon all alike. The Commissioners had, however, no need to propose the constitution of new authorities, but simply to indicate some existing authority which ought to carry out the law, and in no instance had they proposed anything new. The boroughs of the kingdom had their own Town Councils or Commissioners. In other towns local boards were proposed always to be elected, and in rural districts it was found by the Sanitary Commission that Boards of Guardians were the most fit body to carry out the sanitary laws. The large towns of the kingdom — such as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and others—were not thus interfered with by the Bill. They had their own local Acts as well as authorities, which were mostly sufficient, and the Bill only gave them facilities to merge their own legislation, if they pleased, in the general law of the kingdom, or to adopt into their local Acts those provisions of the general Act which might appear to be suitable. He had no doubt that very general use would be made of any offered facilities to effect such objects through provisional orders. The fourth point which demanded the attention of the Sanitary Commission was the existing confusion caused by the areas of local government overlapping each other. The Petty Sessional divisions, and the Poor Law Unions, for instance, seldom coincided in area, and very frequently ran into two or more counties, while the highway districts, only optionally formed at all, were often inconveniently exceptional in their boundaries. The want of coincidence of areas of local jurisdiction of various kinds occasioned needless official expense and conflict.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


continued. The fifth object of the Bill was the simplification of the central authority required to preside in London over all local authorities throughout the kingdom, for their assistance, stimulus, and uniformity of action, and he had been astonished at the opposition made to this provision as proposed in the recent Bill of the President of the Poor Law Board. Was it thought that any central authority was necessary, or was it thought that the local authorities of the country could be carried on more effectually than now without a central authority? The object of a central authority was to set local government in motion. There were hundreds of instances besides those of total local inaction in which the local authorities wanted highly skilled and experienced engineers to assist them in local works, and there were cases in which a central referee was absolutely necessary for appeals. But was it thought that the present central authority was the best that could be devised? It was scattered through four several Departments of Government. Some of the subjects of local government were referred to the Home Office, some to the Privy Council, some to the Board of Trade, others to the Poor Law Board. The proposition for the union of such multiplied central authorities was, least of all, open to the opposition of those who disliked centralization. The Bill contained nothing that could increase the expenditure of the country; but, on the contrary, its principle was to strengthen local government by simplification. There was a general feeling against any change of local authority which would have a tendency to increase the rates, and the connection of the rating question with that of the simple organization of local government had caused mistaken opposition to the President's Bill; but in every proposition contained in the present Bill there was fiscal economy. The Bill created no new authority and no new officers. It contemplated, on the contrary, a reduction of offices and corresponding economy. Nothing came out more clearly in evidence than that waste was occasioned by want of centralization and by the unnecessary variety of officers. The result of the present inanition of sanitary legislation was a great amount of preventible sickness, debility, and mortality. Thousands of persons died every year in this country from preventible causes, and the power of a still larger number to work and gain their livelihood was diminished by sani- tary neglect. A large proportion of the pauperism and poor rates of this country would be obviated by such a measure as was now under consideration. There was no reason why the great mass of the inhabitants of our towns should breathe tainted air and drink foul water, and the Bill was designed to carry out the existing law, now inoperative, so as to reduce the preventible causes of sickness and death. With respect to the Bill which he asked leave to introduce, the first part would repeal and re-enact, in amended and consolidated form, all the existing sanitary Acts as far as they applied to England and Wales, such clearance of the Statute Book was a necessary preliminary to the great object of a single and complete sanitary code; but though that Bill contained 450 clauses it would be found that nine-tenths of them were mere re-enactments of the existing law. It would bring all the country within sanitary districts, and enact that there should not be any district without a recognized responsible sanitary authority, while to the sanitary authorities would be given full powers for all that they were, and, in fact, are now, called upon to do. The whole kingdom would be under some now existing urban or rural authority, made to act for those purposes, while facilities would be given for combining such authorities for joint purposes. He also proposed to simplify the areas of rural jurisdiction by doing throughout the country what Lord Eversley and other magistrates had already done in one county—namely, Hampshire. Of the 600 Poor Law Unions in this country more than one-half overlapped the boundaries of counties. Petty Sessional divisions seemed carefully to have been disregarded in forming unions. It was most desirable, as far as possible, and by using every opportunity, to obtain a rectification. The third part of the Bill would propose the concentration of the various central authorities in one department, and this part of the Bill would still not be rendered unnecessary by the Bill for this purpose of the President of the Poor Law Board—which he hoped would pass this Session—because when they came to reduce into one Act all the law on the subject, they would find it absolutely necessary to repeal every existing Act, and in re-enacting to specify distinctly under each head the provisions applicable to it. In the next part of the Bill all the powers would be enumerated and described, which were to be given to every local authority with respect to water supply, the prevention of disease, all kinds of local improvements, and many other matters which were now dealt with separately owing to the confused state of the law. The last part of the Bill referred to audit, legal proceedings, appeals, and borrowing powers, and in this respect the existing law would be very materially improved by past experience. Of course, he could not expect to carry the Bill beyond its first stage in the present Session; but if introduced it might be circulated throughout the country and discussed during the Recess, and he felt confident that when it was seen to be possible to reduce all the sanitary laws into one not very bulky Bill, the Government would no longer be able to delay satisfying a demand which he thought would be universal that something equivalent to his Bill should be passed during the next Session. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

Bill to consolidate and amend the Laws relating to Public Health and Local Government, ordered to be brought in by Sir CHARLES ADDERLEY, Mr. RUSSELL GURNEY, Mr. STEPHEN CAVE, Mr. WHITBREAD, Lord ROBERT MONTAGU, Mr. RICHARDS, and Mr. M'CLEAN.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 269.]