HC Deb 12 July 1872 vol 212 cc1068-75

Resolution [July 11] reported. That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of Moneys to be provided by Parliament, to the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board, of such Salary as the Treasury may determine, in pursuance of any Act of the present Session for amending the Law relating to Public Health.


said, he proposed now, with the leave of the House, to state shortly what he might call the financial proposals of the Government in connection with the Public Health Bill. The House was aware that he had been several times questioned as to the intentions of the Government on this subject, and, as the appropriate moment had arrived, he now proposed to make a statement, in order that the House when it went into Committee might be in full possession of the intentions of the Government. The House was aware that Her Majesty's Government had been placed in some difficulty on this question in consequence of the adoption of the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes). That Motion travelled over a very great space of ground, and opened up some very large questions connected with the incidence of local taxation, and the relation between Imperial and local charges. Her Majesty's Government recognized upon that occasion, and since, the obligation which the vote upon the hon. Baronet's Motion imposed upon them, of fully considering the subject, of coming to their own conclusion upon it, and of taking some fitting opportunity in a future Session of stating their opinions and conclusions to the House. If any financial proposals were to be made in connection with any Bill dealing with the subject of local taxation, or connected with it, it was evident either that Her Majesty's Government must at once determine their views, finally, if possible, on the larger question; or, if anything was done in the meantime, that it should be done upon its own merits—he would rather say upon "the old lines" upon which they had been accustomed to go with reference to objects partly financial and partly administrative; and that what was done should be done provisionally, leaving both parties with respect to the question of local taxation entirely free in approaching it in future. Hon. Mem- bers would understand the meaning of these remarks when he reminded them that it might have happened that some hon. Member on that side of the House, or the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon himself, might have suggested some new method of dealing with some portion of the expenses locally undergone and borne partly by the Imperial funds. He might have proposed that certain Votes should disappear from the Estimates, and that provision might be made in other shapes and from other funds for the purposes in view. The House, and every hon. Member of the House, would probably agree that if the Government were to deal with this Bill, and were to make any financial proposals, as far as the Imperial Treasury was concerned, the only method open to them—a method equally fair to themselves and to those who might, perhaps, differ from them—would be to do what they proposed provisionally, and neither to tie their own hands nor the hands of others. With that preamble he would state the proposals of the Government, with very considerable confidence that they would be felt to be not only reasonable, but liberal. These proposals were dictated in neither a crotchetty, narrow, or illiberal spirit as regarded the Consolidated Fund. The House would observe that by a clause in the Bill, it was proposed that on the recommendation of the Local Government Board the Public Works Loans Commissioners should be empowered to lend money on easy terms to local bodies. That was the first financial proposition of the Government, and he need hardly draw the attention of hon. Members of the House to the extreme importance and great value of such a provision to local bodies who desired to raise money for sewage works and other purposes. It was not of so much consequence to large towns which could come to Parliament for Acts, and whose resources enabled them to go into the open market for such funds as they might require; but hon. Members would bear him out when he said that small towns could not obtain loans in the open market without great difficulty and expense, and that they would have to pay interest at the rate of 5 per cent. What he proposed was that, on the recommendation of the Local Government Board, local bodies should be enabled to come to the Public Works Loans Commissioners, who would be authorised to advance money at 3½ per cent. Anyone familiar with those tables which showed the percentage which year by year would pay off a loan in 30 or 35 years, as the case might be, would understand the importance to local bodies of borrowing money at 3½ per cent. The difference between a rate of 3½ and 5 per cent came to this—that instead of the loan remaining as a permanent debt upon the resources of the town, it would be entirely paid off in 35 years. In the Bill it was proposed that no new powers should be given to local authorities, and no new duties imposed with one exception—that it would be compulsory on them to appoint Medical Officers of Health. The Government also proposed that local sanitary authorities should be entitled to make joint appointments, and he hoped those might be the rule rather than the exception. In doing that, they imposed upon local boards as a duty that which had hitherto been a matter for their own discretion; and for that reason, as well as upon other administrative grounds, basing their proposal on the precedent of the Poor Law system, the Government would be prepared to ask Parliament to enable them to pay half the salaries of those Medical Officers of Health, provided they were appointed upon what was called Poor Law terms—namely, that they, the Local Government Board, should, be partners in their payment and partners in their appointment and dismissal. The Government would require that the appointment of these officers should be approved by them, and that when appointed they should not be subject to dismissal, save with the consent of the Local Government Board. He had one more proposal to make which he thought would be acceptable to the House, and for which the House would be probably unprepared. Next to the Medical Officer of Health, the most useful officer was the Sanitary Inspector. It was of the greatest importance that local authorities should be encouraged and enabled to appoint competent men, and pay them fairly, and it was also important that these persons when appointed should be freed from the risk of capricious dismissal, and should be able to discharge properly the duties which the Legislature had cast upon them. The Government, therefore, proposed to ask Parliament to allow them on similar terms to contribute one-half the salaries of these Inspectors. The proposals of the Government would, therefore, amount to this—to lend money to sanitary authorities at a minimum interest of 3½ per cent; and to pay half the expenses of Medical Officers of Health and of Nuisance Inspectors.


said, he must express his satisfaction at having heard from the right hon. Gentleman what were the financial proposals of the Bill before the House went into Committee upon it. He had ventured, some weeks ago, to make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that he should follow the course which he had that afternoon adopted; and he would say, speaking for himself alone, that the proposals he had just listened to were, on the whole, satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that it was his intention to assist local authorities by lending them money, which would be a great boon to them. But it might not have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that the demand upon the Public Works Loans Commissioners was increasing so largely year by year, notably for the purpose of school buildings and other works of that kind, that there might be some doubt whether it would be in the power of the Commissioners to carry out their advances in the future to such an extent as could be wished. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was quite right, when speaking of the proportion of the salaries of the two classes of officers to be borne by the Imperial Treasury, in saying that his proposal was merely a provisional one. It was clear that this proposal and others must come again under the consideration of the House when the question of local taxation was considered, as he hoped it would be next Session. And he ventured for one to say, that when that question did come on he very much doubted whether it would remain satisfactory that only half the salaries of these officers should be paid by the Treasury. He said so for the reason stated by the right hon. Gentleman—that the Poor Law Board were at present, and the Local Government Board was in future to be, partners in the appointment and dismissal of these officers; but the Local Government Board and the Poor Law Board were something very much more than partners in the matter; at least, the partnership was by no means an equal one. The Local Government Board practically, to his mind, had the power partly of appointment, and entirely of dismissal, with regard to these officers; because in very many cases their consent was necessary before the local authorities could take any action in regard to either appointment or dismissal. Therefore, he thought when the time came for the House more fully considering this important question, it might very fairly be argued that the whole instead of the half of the salaries of the officers of this character should be paid by the Treasury, and that nothing at all should be paid from the rates. The House would recollect that as a matter of practice the salaries paid to these officers were not within the control of the local authorities. They might wish to raise or lower the salaries paid, but they had to apply to the Local Government Board previously for their consent. And seeing the Local Government Board exercised this control, there would be no risk of the local authorities dealing with the money of the Imperial Exchequer in the way they might be disposed to deal with it, if at liberty to spend it as they chose. It was satisfactory, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had gone as far as he had done.


said, that the importance of the Public Health Bill was not inferior to any measure that had been introduced during the present Session, and he could not help expressing his sense of the inconvenience to which they were put by the discussion of such a Bill being delayed to so late a period as that at which they had now arrived. He thought, however, that this was a most incomplete and imperfect measure. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that his present proposal was only provisional—that was, that the main point and pivot on which the Bill turned was only provisional. That fact ought to be considered. Then, as regards it nature, he thought its operation would be only partial, and as the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that in small boroughs and areas the security was inferior and the percentage high, it might be that larger areas might obviate that inconvenience and make the boon not inconsiderable. What was proposed in reference to borrowing would in small boroughs be no inconsiderable boon; but, in his opinion, the benefit should not be confined to small boroughs, and he gave notice that he should propose Amendments that would considerably enlarge the area of borrowing. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would pay half the salaries of the officers, and that was what he (Mr. Corrance) had always asked him to do. There were precedent and custom in favour of adopting this course. He did not wish to see the Government pay the whole of the salaries of the officers, because he wished to see local payment and local responsibility continue. He trusted that the medical officers of Unions would almost always be appointed Health officers; but as they already received half their salaries from the Government the end would be that if the course he suggested were adopted the parishes would only receive about the same amount of money from the Government as they now received. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wished to prevent capricious dismissals taking place, and it was to be hoped that the appointing authority would be such that there would be no danger of capricious dismissals. However, he regarded the Bill as one of the greatest consequence, and he should be very sorry if anything were done which would cause its rejection.


said, he believed that the advantages held out to local authorities in reference to contracting loans were manifold, and he therefore thought that the Bill was a valuable concession. The second proposition he regarded as even of still greater importance—namely, that not only should the Government pay half the salaries of the medical officers, but that they should also have a voice in their nomination. Having that voice, it would be most important that the Government should encourage the idea of medical officers being appointed, not merely for a parish or Union, but for several parishes, Unions, and even districts. They did not want medical officers to be mere Inspectors of Nuisances, nor did they want them to make reports upon all sorts of subjects. At present there were cartloads of reports which cost the metropolis hundreds of thousands of pounds, but of which no use was ever made. The special function of a medical officer should be to report, not only upon the special circumstances of his own district, but so to concentrate his attention upon all the sanitary peculiarities of the locality as to be able to make suggestions to the central office for them to carry out, in connection with the Government, for the improvement of the sanitary condition of the people. He hoped the taxation of the country would not be devoted merely to supplementing the private practice of individuals, but that the influence of the central office, which he looked upon as of the greatest importance, would be used to select persons who were peculiarly capable of observing the sanitary conditions of districts, and who in order that their minds might be applied usefully to that object, would not be allowed to enter into private practice, for the functions of such an office were extremely difficult to carry out, and would require the whole attention of any person who had to do the work. He, for one, should do all in his power to assist his right hon. Friend in carrying the measure to a successful issue.


thought that the Bill was too important a one to be decided upon in a hurry. It had, no doubt, been before them for some time; but they had not had the statement upon it until to-day. Why were they not told beforehand that the Government would pay half these salaries? The head of the Government told them a short time ago that there were a great many questions which would arise out of this matter, and that it would require very grave and great consideration before anything could be done with regard to local taxation; yet now they were asked after the 12th July to pass a Bill which would have a most important bearing upon it. He believed that if the Government had not been most anxious to pass the Bill they would never have said anything about paying half the salaries out of the public money. He, however, was not going to be bribed in any such manner, for he thought it a great deal too late in the Session to discuss so important a measure as it ought to be discussed, and he ventured to protest against the course which the Government had pursued with respect to it.


believed that the House would act unwisely if they did not encourage the Government to proceed in the course which they had entered upon. Surely they ought not to place obstructions in the way of the right hon. Gentleman when he was marching in the direction of the revision of our whole system of local taxation. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the advance that he had made; for though the step taken was a small one, yet the principle conceded was most important. Moreover, it was in the right direction, and he earnestly hoped the boon proposed might be one which would ultimately be extended to Scotland. With reference to loans, he wished to observe that they guaranteed loans at 3½ per cent from the Public Commissioners of Ireland by the Act of 1870, and it was enacted that such loans should be repaid by an annuity of 5 per cent for 35 years. In the present Bill it was proposed that the loans should be repaid in 30 years; whilst under the Scotch Education Act the time for repayment was 50 years. He did not see why there should be these various periods, and he hoped that in the present case the 30 years would be extended to 50 years.

Resolution agreed to.