HC Deb 07 April 1891 vol 352 cc32-61

Order for Second Reading read.


The House will observe that there are two Bills dealing with this subject, the first of which is an Amendment Bill, the second a Consolidation Bill. I hope that, as was done in the case of the Housing of the Working Classes Bills of last Session, these two Bills will be referred to a Standing Committee, and discussed in a businesslike manner. The state of the law in regard to public health in London is very unsatisfactory. Whereas the law as to public health in the provinces has been amended and consolidated by the Act of 1875, the public health law of the Metropolis is scattered over a number of Acts, beginning with Michael Angelo Taylor's Act of 1817, and is contained in 29 separate statutes. There can be no doubt that such a condition of things is greatly to the disadvantage of the public health of London. It enhances the difficulties of the Local Authorities and prevents them from carrying out the provisions of the law as they would desire to carry them out. It is probable that the Local Authorities are often blamed for not discharging their functions in matters affecting the public health as efficiently as they ought to do, when as a matter of fact it is the Statute Book which is to blame. The Consolidation Bill before the House consolidates the whole of the Public Health Acts, but the Bill is not absolutely a Consolidation Bill, because it does this— wherever the clauses in the existing law are of a similar character to the clauses of the Public Health Act of 1875 the provisions of that Act have been adopted in the Consolidation Bill. Certain Amendments, then, are proposed to be made in the existing law, but I do not think they are Amendments which are likely to create much criticism, or which cannot easily be disposed of in Committee. As there has been some misapprehension with regard to Clause 61, I would point out that under the present law the Sanitary Authorities may contract with the managers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board for the provision of hospital accommodation. In that case the Sanitary Authorities are liable for expenses to the Asylums Board, but the patients, or those responsible for their maintenance, can toe made to pay in cases in which the Sanitary Authority thinks them able to do so. The only alteration which the Bill before the House makes is to extend this provision to hospitals which are built by the Sanitary Authorities, so that in that case also the cost of the patients may be recovered. We propose, however, not only to consolidate and simplify the law, but also to very largely amend the law with regard to public health in London. Last year I sent round to the various authorities in London the proposals with regard to consolidation, and those authorities went carefully into the matter, and made suggestions which the Government have found themselves largely in a position to adopt; and I have to express my obligation to those bodies, as well as to the London County Council, for the assistance they have rendered to the Department over which I have the honour to preside. The Amendment Bill, in the first place, greatly strengthens the law both as to the prevention and definition of nuisances. The Bill provides for the immediate abatement of a nuisance, not only where it is actually proved to be injurious or prejudicial to health, but also where it is dangerous to health. At present only the persons affected by the nuisance or the Local Authority can move in the matter, but the Bill provides that any person may give information of a nuisance with a view to its removal, and under these provisions any person found guilty of allowing a nuisance to exist will be held responsible for doing any work necessary to abate it. The House will see that to require the work necessary to be done to be specified, as at present is the case, may easily give rise to delay and appeals; but where a nuisance ought to he summarily and quickly abated it is very desirable that that should not be so. If the charge is considered by the Magistrate to be proved, the author of the nuisance will be held responsible for doing whatever may be required to abate it. The Bill also imposes—and this is new— on the London County Council the duty of making bye-laws for the cleansing of streets and the prevention of nuisances. It is thought that these matters will be much better dealt with by a body representative of the whole of London, and it is quite clear that the County Council is the proper body. This will throw upon the County Council the duty of making bye-laws to put a stop to a particular nuisance as to which consider- able complaint has justly arisen, namely, the throwing of salt on the streets of the Metropolis in snowy and frosty weather. Great evil arises from that cause during the winter, and we think it very desirable to deal with the matter. The Bill next deals with offensive trades, and several Amendments of an unimportant character are introduced, one of them being to do away with the distinction at present existing between slaughter-houses and knackers' yards. All these places will be put under the same Local Authority. There is one very important Amendment in the law which we make with regard to the proceedings of Sanitary Authorities. The House must be aware that many complaints are made by persons residing in the Metropolis of nuisances alleged to be caused by the Sanitary Authority themselves. These complaints are of a two-fold character. One is that the Sanitary Authorities carry on offensive operations at wharves and other places where refuse is deposited, and the Bill includes these operations in the category of offensive trades, so that the Local Authorities will be compelled to take every practicable means to reduce any offensive effluvia or nuisance which might be created by the removal of refuse. The Local Authorities will be liable to prosecution if they fail to avail themselves of such means. The second is generally known as the destructor nuisance. The Bill provides that where a Sanitary Authority causes a nuisance, or does anything injurious or dangerous to health, it may be prosecuted, and all the provisions as to nuisances shall apply. Destructors to destroy refuse brought from the area of one authority are sometimes situate within the area of another authority, and we propose to prevent nuisances arising from this operation by the means I have stated. With regard to the smoke nuisance, at present both the Sanitary Authorities and the Commissioner of Police are charged with the enforcement of the law. It is thought that this dual authority is not a good thing, and therefore it is proposed to intrust the carrying out of the law to the Local Authorities; and in the case of nuisances arising on the River Thames to the Port Sanitary Authority. As to scavenging and cleansing the streets, particularly after a fall of snow, the law at present is that the occupier, or, in the case of empty houses, the owner is liable to keep the footway and the water course in front of his house properly swept and cleansed. It has been maintained that this is a duty which should be undertaken by the Local Authorities; but I am not disposed to agree altogether with that view, and I do not propose to relieve individuals of the duty which thus falls on them. In my opinion, if such a heavy additional duty were cast upon the Local Authorities, it would be almost impossible for them to carry out the law, and render the last state of things worse than the first. If the occupier does not perform his duty after a short interval, it will be performed for him by the Sanitary Authority, and the cost may be put upon him; besides which, he will be also liable to a fine for the non-performance of his duty. Another difficulty which will be got rid of by casting upon the Sanitary Authority the duty of keeping the streets. clean is that in connection with empty houses, and squares, and gardens. Nobody can fail to be struck, after a fall of snow, with the numerous cases in which a large amount of pavement is left untouched for days and days; and in nine cases out of ten this is in connection with unoccupied houses or gardens and squares. Clearly it should be the duty of the Sanitary Authority to see that this state of things should not exist; and they are now given the power, and the duty is imposed upon them of either enforcing the performance of the work by the person who is liable, or of doing the work for him and making him pay wherever it is possible-to do so. With regard to streets, the Bill requires the Sanitary Authority to perform its duty of sweeping and cleansing, and the Sanitary Authority is made liable to a fine if it does not perform its duty as far as is reasonably practicable. If an occupier is bound under a penalty to perform the duty which is cast upon him, for my own part I think that there is a corresponding duty towards the occupier on the part of the Sanitary Authority, and that the same method of enforcing the duty should be applicable with regard to the Local Authority as against the individual; and, therefore, we provide that a penalty-shall be imposed in case of neglect.

MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

To whom will the penalties go, and who is to receive them?


I will come to that point later on. The next point in the Bill is as to the removal of house refuse-The duty of the Local Authority in this matter is at present an implied one; but the Bill will make it perfectly clear, any default subjecting the authorities to prosecution and fine. The Bill does not set out a period within which the removal must be made; but the Sanitary Authority will be bound to fix some proper and reasonable period for clearing away dust and house refuse, and they will be liable to a fine if, proper notice being given, they do not at once comply with the request of the occupier. The Bill also provides for the proper regulation and examination of sanitary conveniences, and for seeing that they are properly constructed and in proper order. The next portion of the Bill deals with the question of unsound articles of food. We propose to extend the existing law, which applies only to particular articles and to those who expose such articles for sale. This Bill applies to every article used for food, and gives power both of search and destruction. We propose to apply the existing enactment to every article of food, and we punish, the sale as well as the exposure. By the law. as it stands at present it is only the individual who exposes the article for sale who is punishable by law. We now propose to make the person from whom the food is bought, as well as the person selling it, punishable for the offence. Then comes the question of proper water supply to houses. In my opinion a house without a water supply is a nuisance, and we now declare that the being without a proper supply is a nuisance that renders a house unfit for habitation, and the Bill absolutely prohibits a new house from being occupied until the Sanitary Authority shall have certified that there is a proper supply. We further strengthen the law with regard to polluted sources of water. We also amend the law with regard to infectious diseases. The provision of the present law with regard to disinfection is entirely permissive. We propose to make it the duty of the Sanitary Authority to provide proper premises for disinfecting bedding, clothing, &c, and also vehicles for carrying these articles to and fro. I am sure the House will see that unless some proper provision be made in this direction, it will be impossible to carry out the Act which the House has recently passed with regard to infectious diseases. We think it right that it should be in the option of the Local Authority whether they shall make a charge for the performance of this duty or not. Obviously there are many cases where it is right that there should be no impediment to the carrying out of such an important matter as disinfection. We also provide that the Sanitary Authority may relieve poor persons by disinfecting, not only bedding and clothing, but also their houses free of charge. Representations have been made to the Local Government Board, especially from Maidstone, to persons picking fruit who have been found manifestly suffering from infectious disease. It is eminently desirable- to prevent a person suffering from an infectious disease from handling articles of food at all, and, therefore, the Bill imposes a penalty upon anyone milking, picking fruit, or otherwise engaging in an occupation connected with food who- knows himself to be suffering from an infectious disease. We propose that the. Sanitary Authority may make a reasonable allowance to a poor person if he be taken away from his occupation on this account. In order to avoid what may he very considerable hardship, the Sanitary Authority may, at their discretion, give hat they think right and just without the person having to apply to the Guardians. We also propose, with regard to the notification of infectious diseases, that the Return of cases of those diseases required to be sent by the Metropolitan Asylums managers to the County Council shall be sent by them to every. Sanitary Authority in London, and to the London School Board and to the managers of every public elementary school in London. With regard to mortuaries we provide that Sanitary Authorities must erect them, either separately or in combination. At present the law-is only permissive, and considerable scandals have arisen in this respect. Every Sanitary Authority must also, if required by the County Council, provide a building for post-mortem examinations. One very important matter with which we deal in this Bill is the question of underground or cellar rooms. No one who has any knowledge of the conditions under which poor persons exist in these rooms can fail to be aware of the enormous disadvantage to the public health which arises from the condition of many of the rooms at present occupied. The law on the subject has been modified from year to year, and has been considerably strengthened with the view of doing away with the evils acknowledged to exist in this respect. But the law in London still remains far behind that which prevails in the provinces. By the Public Health Act of 1875 very stringent regulations were made to secure ventilation, &c. In London, however, so far as -underground dwellings are concerned, the provisions with regard to the preservation of health are comparatively few and weak. By this Bill ample provision is made with regard to height, drainage, and ventilation. Our proposal is to apply to underground rooms the principal provisions of the Public Health Act of 1875, and also some additional provisions. Then there arises the question as to whether these provisions should apply only to new buildings. The Local Government Board have received many representations, both from the London County Council and from London Vestries, requesting that any provisions which are made shall be applicable to buildings both old and new. Looking at the legislation which has been passed in this matter, we do not think we should be justified in perpetuating the exemptions which exist at the present time. Therefore the proposals in the Bill will apply to all underground rooms, with the reservation that the London County Council may, by general regulations or on the applications of the owner of particular rooms, 'dispense with or modify the provisions as far as they involve structural alterations, having due regard to the necessities of the case. The Bill also amends the law where it is at present undoubtedly faulty. It pro- vides that where two or more underground rooms are occupied together they shall be considered by the law to be separately occupied. It has been shown that the existing law has been interpreted to be that, in order to bring rooms within the law, each room must be separately occupied, and thus the occupier of two rooms escapes. The provisions with regard to underground rooms will not apply to cases where an underground room merely forms part of the premises in occupation. It is also necessary to strengthen the means by which the law affecting the public health is enforced. One of the proposals of the Bill refers to the Inspectors of Nuisances and Medical Officers of Health. Means are provided by which an adequate number of proper persons shall be appointed as Inspectors of Nuisances, henceforth to be called Sanitary Inspectors. Complaint has been made that the number of these Inspectors in some parts of London is not nearly adequate for the area over which they exercise their jurisdiction, and it is quite impossible for the Sanitary Authorities to carry out the law unless they have a sufficient staff of Inspectors. The Bill provides that the Local Government Board, if satisfied, on the representation of the London County Council, that a Sanitary Authority has not appointed a sufficient number of Inspectors, may order that Sanitary Authority to appoint as many moreas maybe deemed necessary. It is also provided by the Bill, with a view to secure fit and proper persons as Inspectors, that their appointment shall be subject to the regulations of the Local Government Board; and with regard to the Medical Officers of Health and Sanitary Inspectors, it is provided that they shall be removable by the Sanitary Authority only with the consent of the Local Government Board. This provision has been asked for from many quarters, and there is much force in the argument that, unless these officers are to a certain extent independent of the Local Authority, they cannot perform their duties with absolute freedom. There is a precedent for this in the Scotch Local Government Act. It is said, " Will your law be carried out? " I believe that the action or inaction of the Sanitary Authorities has been very largely caused by the complexity of the law with regard to the public health; and the mere simplification of the law will enable the authorities to perform their duties in a much more efficient manner. I am greatly encouraged in this belief by the action of the Local Authorities under the Housing of the Working Classes Act. It is a matter for congratulation that in London the Local Authorities have almost with one accord endeavoured to make the best possible use of the powers given them by Parliament last year. Undoubtedly, however, it is the duty of the Local Government Board to take some guarantee for the due performance of the duties imposed on the Local Authorities. I have already said that the Sanitary Authorities, just as the individual, are liable to be fined for the non-performance of their duties. The Bill provides that the London County Council may prosecute the Local Authority, and also that the Local Government Board may, on complaint by the London County Council that the Local Authority is neglecting its duty, and after satisfying itself that the complaint is just, make an order fixing a limit of time within which the duty must be performed; and, if it be not then performed, may transfer the duty from the Local Authority to the County Council. It has been represented that some Local Authorities regard this provision as an attack upon themselves. Such a view arises from a misapprehension of the existing law. With regard to the prosecution of offenders, the existing law is that any aggrieved person may prosecute. Therefore the Bill is only placing the London County Council in the position of every private individual in the Metropolis. So with regard to the non-performance of duty by the Sanitary Authority. At present in London any person may make complaint against the Sanitary Authority to the Local Government Board, and the Local Government Board may hold a local inquiry, and if satisfied that the complaint is just, they may appoint parsons to perform the duty which ought to have been performed by the Sanitary Authority. They may, under that law, appoint the London County Council; but we make a modification of the law in favour of the Vestry. We say that in future it shall not be in the power of any individual to put the Sanitary Authority to all the trouble of a local inquiry; but, that when a complaint is made to the Local Government Board it shall be made by some properly constituted authority. We say that the London County Council must satisfy themselves that the Local Authority has made default in the performance of their duty before the Local Government Board can be set in motion. It is needless to say that in many matters the London County Council have already very extensive powers. They are the absolute authority in regard to the disposal of sewage, and under the Housing of the Working. Classes Act of last year they have large power of interference where the Local Authority does not carry out the Act. It seems to me right and proper that in regard to the great question of public health in London, the County Council ought to be charged with the performance of duty, which, in the opinion of the Local Government Board, after inquiry, has not been adequately and properly performed by the Local Authority. I think the House will see that, at any rate, we have prepared this Bill in a very large and liberal spirit. We shall consider fairly all representations made to us by Local Authorities to strengthen and simplify the law and enable it to be properly carried out. If the House will give its assent to the Second Beading of this, and the Bill which stands next on the Order Paper, I will propose to refer them to one of the Standing Committees, which will undoubtedly go through the Bills in a businesslike way, and make them even better than they now are.

Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the Bill be now read a second time."—{Mr. Ritchie.)

(5.15.) MR. JAMES STUART (Shore-ditch, Hoxton)

I and my hon. Friends have no opposition whatever to offer to these Bills. The right hon. Gentleman has done rightly in endeavouring to consolidate the law affecting the sanitation of the Metropolis, as he last year consolidated the law affecting the housing of the poor. The only misfortune is that this consolidation did not take place earlier. When the Local Government Act of 1888 was being passed we called attention to the necessity of this consolidation, for the distraught condition of the Public Health Acts, as they affect the Metropolis, has been rather a bar and hindrance to the proper execution by Sanitary Authorities of their duties. In regard to the Bill now before us I think it right to say that all the clauses are not of equal merit and cannot all meet with the same amount of approval, but on the whole we recognise in them an endeavour to bring the law up to the requirements of the present time. The right hon. Gentleman with much reason impressed on the House the propriety of giving the County Council power to take up the matters in which the Local Sanitary Authority may be in default. I believe I shall be supported by all my hon. Colleagues who sit on the Opposition Benches in the view that the relation in which the right hon. Gentleman places the County Council to the Vestries or Sanitary Authorities in London is not only a right and proper one, considering the circumstances of the case, but is one which is almost absolutely necessary. The health of the Metropolis is a matter which concerns the whole Metropolis, and therefore any case in which a Sanitary Authority is in default ought to be dealt with by the Representative Body of the Metropolis as a whole. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman has given the County Council power to frame bye laws in certain cases where it has not to supersede the Local Authority. It is quite evident the right hon. Gentleman does not share that distrust of the County Council which some hon. Members representing Metropolitan constituencies have, or, at least, profess to have. I think that in respect to the housing of the poor and other work it has been called upon to perform, the County Council has shown very great power of self organising, especially considering the enormity of the work, and the freshness of most of its members to that work. Indeed, there are very few matters in regard to which holes can be picked in the action of the London County Council. I am glad the President of the Local Government Board emphasises his satisfaction at the way the London County Council has done its work by the position he assigns to the Council under this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to deal with the question of underground dwellings in a fair way; but I want particularly to call his attention to one matter in whick I think the Bill ought to be improved in Committee. The Lancet pointed out about a week ago, that the London County Council ought to have the same powers as to open spaces about houses, which are possessed by every urban authority in England and Wales. While the right hon. Gentleman confers powers upon the County Council in respect to Sanitary Authorities in default, I trust he will grant them such powers as the Lancet points out they ought to have. With regard to the question of water supply, I think it is perfectly right that a house should be regarded as an insanitary place if it be improperly supplied with water. The right hon. Gentleman provides that to damage the water supply shall be punishable by a fine. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would consider who they are who mostly damage the water supply of London to the great detriment of the public health of London; they are the water companies themselves who have the power to damage the sanitary condition of London by cutting off the water. Such a power ought not to be allowed. All the companies ought to be allowed to do is to recover their expenses or the debt due to them by the ordinary means. As was the case in the Bill for the housing of the working classes, there are two great omissions in this Bill. In the first place, in order to carry out properly the sanitation of London, we require to have additional funds placed at the disposal of the Public Authorities—funds other than those immediately got from the occupying ratepayers. In the second place, until the Local Government of London is completed by the establishment of efficient and properly constituted Local Authorities, who shall also be the Sanitary Authorities, we shall be constantly in difficulty in respect to the enforcement of legislation such as this and the Housing of the Working Classes Act. There is no doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, some Local Authorities have taken active steps in respect to the housing of the poor, but others have not done so. I urge on the right hon. Gentleman the great necessity for the completion of the District Government of London.

(5.30.) MR. KELLY

I desire to say a few words on this Bill. The hon. Member for Shoreditch commenced by eulogising the London County Council, then went on to advocate the taxation of ground rents, and wound up by complaining of the delay in the production of the District Councils Bill. I cannot see how the question of the taxation of ground rents has any connection with the health of London, but this I may say that the delay in bringing forward 'the District Councils Bill has been due to the action of hon. Members opposite, for the right hon. Gentleman told us that years ago he had the Bill drafted and ready to be produced. Now, I beg to thank the President of the Local Government Board for the extremely careful manner in which he has explained the provisions of this measure, and especially its technical clauses. But I am sorry it contains several proposals which will be found to be exceedingly unacceptable. There is, for instance, that wretched being the common informer brought to the fore again. I admit you cannot offer too great facilities for enabling a person aggrieved or a sanitary officer, to deal with existing nuisances, but I regret to see that one of the clauses of this Bill brings to the front that most dangerous and abominable of all 'nuisances—that pest, the common informer—to whom, in some cases under this Bill, a bribe of £25 is offered to show zeal in his odious calling. Then I come to my next objection to this Bill. We are subject in our great cities to the mistaken zeal of officials. Now, I think it is desirable that when a sanitary officer serves a notice upon a householder he should specify what work is required to be done. But Sub-section 2 of Clause 5 provides that the notice need not specify the work to be executed unless the Sanitary Authority think it desirable, obviously that Authority will be guided by the advice of its own officer, who may be ignorant of what should be done in a given case, and who might shelter himself under the cover of a general notice, putting the unfortunate householder to a considerable amount of unnecessary expense. Other provisions of the Bill are, I think, equally unfortunate. Take, for instance, the burdens thrown upon owners and occupiers with reference to our streets. I do not think it wise or really in the public interest that we should continue the antiquated system of casting upon the occupier of a house the duty of sweeping away the snow from the pavement in front of his tenement. The present system of placing that duty upon him, subjects the unfortunate householder to have blackmail levied upon him by street loafers. If the work were undertaken by the Local Authority it could be done systematically, and hundreds of poor men would get an honest day's work, whereas it is now done by idle men in a most inadequate fashion, and paid for on a most extravagant scale. Who I should like to know will cleanse the pavements in front of chapels and churches? Who, too, is to be responsible in the case of unoccupied houses? I am afraid the names of defaulters in such cases could only be obtained at great expense, and certainly it would not be possible to ensure the snow being swept away within 24 hours. Another fault of the present system is that the snow is invariably swept into the road without regard to the necessity of securing a crossing for pedestrians. If the Vestry did the work that matter would be attended to. Now, one feature in the Bill is the clause with reference to underground rooms. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the warnings of the Acts of 1855 and 1875. What is the law now?


I said distinctly that the Metropolis Management Act did contain a provision with regard to light, ventilation, &c, but it was not to be compared with the provisions of the Public Health Act, 1875.


What are the provisions of the Metropolis Management Act, 1855? One is that no underground room shall be occupied unless it is 7ft. high and 1ft. above the surface of the street adjoining. In this Bill the 1ft. limit is altered to 3ft. Again, the Act of 1855 says there shall be an open area 3ft. wide all round the room. Will the House believe that that is to be altered to 4ft.? And who is to be punished for infringing this law? I admit that the owner who lets underground rooms which ought not to be let in the interests of the public health should be promptly punished; but why should the ignorant, uneducated occupier be included along with the owner as liable to punishment? Let me point out the class of houses it will be impossible to let if this Bill becomes law. I admit frankly that if the London County Council had proper time to investigate these cases no great injustice would be done. I have not a word to say against the County Council. I do not think we are justified in distrusting our Local Representative Body. But undoubtedly the duty of dealing with these questions will be delegated to officers, some of whom are not too well paid, and to whom pecuniary inducements may be offered to neglect the proper discharge of their duties. Now, in the neighbourhood in which I live a large number of flats have been built. The upper floors bring in large rents, averaging about £200 a year, and the basement floors, of course, not so much, probably about £90 yearly. I have visited several of those houses, and I found that the area round one side of the room was 4½ft. to 5ft., while on the other side it was about 3ft. If those rooms are untenanted at the passing of this Bill they cannot afterwards be let. Some of these flats, too, are built on a slope, the effect of which is that the rooms at one end of the block are letable, and those at the other end unletable. It would be much better to say to what kind of buildings the restrictions shall apply, instead of spreading the net so widely, because many buildings will be included within the scope of the measure that are airy, perfectly healthy, and constructed on the newest principles. I confess I feel that London has very little to gain from the Bill. There are provisions so harassing in their character, the machinery of the common informer is so foreign to our English spirit, there is so little done to relieve the unfortunate Metropolitan householders from the foolish burdens cast upon them, that I should feel disposed, if any hon. Member were to move the rejection of the Second Reading, to support him. It is true the Bill is going to a Committee; I should like to know which?


The Standing Committee on Law.


I can only say I am sorry it is not going to the Trade Committee instead of the Law Committee. The Bill deals with questions of common sense, not nice points of law, and those questions can be much better dealt with by men of the world than by lawyers. No doubt it deals with something like 29 Acts of Parliament, but it is necessary that a measure of this kind should be clearly understood by the people, and it is more likely to be couched in plain terms if dealt with by the Committee on Trade. I can only repeat that it will require most careful supervision in Committee.

(6.47.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

The hon. Member, in the course of his speech, made an observation which I think ought not to be passed by without notice. He said that the District Councils Bill had been delayed by the action of lion. Members on this side of the House. Now, that is a statement of an altogether Party character, and out of place in discussing this measure. But that is not all. It is absolutely, and even ridiculously, without even a shadow of foundation, because hon. Members on this side of the House have always met the proposals of right hon. Gentlemen in so fair a spirit that the President of the Local Government Board has himself repeatedly expressed his obligations and acknowledgments of the reception which has been given to them. Therefore, I do think that the observation ought never to have been made. Now, I am entirely in accord with the hon. Member in his condemnation of the impolicy of continuing and even extending the system of harassing householders in connection with the cleansing of footways in front of their houses. At present the duty is imposed on the householder of clearing snow away from the pavement fronting his house—and that is work, I think, which ought to be undertaken by the Local Authority rather than by individual ratepayers. There is another important change introduced in this Bill to which I think sufficient attention has not been drawn, and that is that power is given to enable the managers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board or the Sanitary Authority to charge not merely a patient for his maintenance in hospital, but also the friends of that patient. That is quite a new power.


The hon. Member is slightly in error. The law at present is that the Sanitary Authority or the Asylums Board may in the case of non-pauper patients charge the cost of maintenance on those legally responsible for the maintenance of the patient, and, consequently, the Asylums Board can sue not only the patient, but they can also sue his friends.


That may be the case with regard to London, but I trust I am not precluded from going into the question, as it affects the country at large, and in that direction I think it must be admitted that at present the expense can only be recovered from the patient. This Bill will extend the liability. Now I come to the question of making bye-laws. I think that one of the most important objects of this Bill is that of allowing the London County Council to make bye-laws, and I wish to submit that subordinate authorities in London should be equally subjected to these bye-laws.


They are.


That is not so, for I find that the City of London is exempted from the operation of this provision. Now, we know that large and important areas, such as Chelsea and Kensington, are to be brought under the operation of this provision, and I think it is most unfair to exempt the City of London. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Shoreditch in his views as to the desirability of empowering the London County Council to pass bye-laws in terms similar to those which are contained in Section 157 of the Public Health Act. That section provides that an Urban Authority may make bye-laws with regard to sufficiency of space for buildings, and to secure the circulation of air, &c. It is true that in the Metropolis Buildings Act there is a clause which deals with this subject, but it is by no means in terms so broad as those which are contained in the Public Health Act. Take, for instance, the case of the notification of disease. There is a provision in this Bill which entitles the managers of every elementary school to receive a list of cases of infectious diseases. Of course, it is desirable to isolate, and the House has on various occasions recognised the desirability of isolating, cases of infection in the interest of the health of the general community. But, at the same time, it is extremely desirable that undue publicity should not be given to the prevalence of infectious disease, and it seems to me that in this provision the Bill is doing that which may lead to considerable difficulty, because it insists on the intimation to a large number of persons, who, not being officials, are not bound to secrecy, that disease is prevalent in a particular house. I do hold that it is important that unnecessary publicity should not be given to the fact that infectious disease has broken out in a particular house. With reference to the provision dealing with Coroners' Court Houses, I certainly advocate the substitution of the word "shall" for "may" in the clause, for I hold that it is most undesirable that inquests should be held in public houses. I also think that as a Town Council is empowered to provide a market subject to the consideration of private rights, similar power ought to be given to the London County Council. Again, the injury which results to health and property from smoke in the Metropolis is becoming a question of grave public importance, and I would suggest that this is a good opportunity for making the Smoke Acts more stringent than they are at present. I think the Bill contains many good features, and I have no doubt that in Committee it will be very much improved.

(5.58.) SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S)

1 desire, at the request of the Local Authority in my constituency, to say one or two words in regard to these Bills; No doubt many of their provisions are required, and they will introduce valuable amendments in the law. Provisions relating to public health are at present scattered up and down many Statutes, and so ingeniously concealed from the people; and I venture to think it would be a great advantage to have them consolidated in one measure. I think, too, it is very important that both owners and occupiers should know their obligations, rights, and remedies, and should take a personal part in securing the sanitary condition of the Metropolis. In regard to the amending Bill, I think it is also necessary. It is almost incomprehensible that London should be content to continue to be governed under an Act which is in a very great degree obsolete. It is almost a caricature that Michael Angelo Taylor's Private Act should be the public law of London— an Act under which arrests, for instance, can be made for only minor nuisances.


Without warrant.


Yes, without warrant. These Bills will undoubtedly improve the law, and bring it in accord with modern requirements. Bat I am asked by the Local Authority of my district to call attention to one or two points. One is the disposition of the two Bills to subordinate Local Authorities to what I may call the Central Authority. I am one of those who sympathise with and do not distrust the County Councils. I have had too much experience of Provincial Municipal Councils to think that these matters cannot be safely entrusted to the County Councils. Still, one of the defects of the London Council has been that it has scarcely been able to cope with the immense amount of work imposed upon it. Yet these Bills give it additional powers of control and additional duties which it will hardly be able to fulfil adequately. Take, as an instance, a portion of the work which has been done in Islington, and which the County Council is now to be asked to undertake. Islington has a population equal to that of any of our large towns, save, perhaps, some four or five. I may mention, as an illustration of its public work, that during the last decennial period no less than 293,565 inspections of houses have been made. No complaint has been made of the manner in which that duty has been performed, notwithstanding the complexity of the law under which it has been dis- charged. Yet the right hon. Gentle man asks that power and control should be given to the Central Authority, though he has made no allegation of neglect of duty in these matters by the Local Authorities. On the contrary, I always like to look upon the parish as the unit in dealing with these matters. We must also always remember that the Local Authorities have great experience of details and great knowledge of local requirements, and it would be dangerous, in my opinion, to attempt to supersede them by conferring powers upon the Central instead of the Local Authority. I do not hesitate to say that there is too much tendency towards a Central Authority rather than to the development of Local Authority in the Bills before the House. Again, some of their provisions are too drastic. One imposes a penalty of £50 for not keeping the streets clear of snow, with a continuing penalty of 5s. a day. But, in regard to such emergencies, the Local Authorities have many things to consider, including the question of the unemployed, and whether they should keep a large staff of officials, at great extra cost to the public, for the purpose of meeting those emergencies. Another provision, following the precedent of the Scotch Bills, makes the Medical Officers and Sanitary Inspectors irremovable, except with the consent of the Local Government Board. I think such a provision exhibits the dangerous tendency of distrust of the Local Authority; and I am disposed to think that the sense of responsibility is decreased by these over-riding and appeal provisions. The tendency to centralisation in these Bills will deprive localities of the services of the best men; and while I welcome some of their provisions, I think in Committee that exception will have to be taken to others of them.

(6.10.) DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

I think this Bill will do a great deal to remove some of the minor miseries under which Londoners have lived for so many years, and add greatly to the health and convenience of the community. I am bound to say that I think the Committee on Law requires to be strengthened before such a Bill can be threshed out. This Bill notably does one thing, it abolishes that most detestable custom of putting salt on the snow in the streets—thus lowering the temperature, producing a mixture which finds its way through any shoe leather, and causing great pain to horses which have to stand in it. I am glad also to find that the Bill abolishes the emptying of dust bins at all hours of the day. The other day, in Grosvenor Square, at 11 in the forenoon, I found dust bins being emptied, and the air all around thickened with the dust, probably laden with germs, or baccili, which spread over the Metropolis, thus causing epidemics, which the Local Government Board, with all its skill, would probably be unable to run to the ground. We have heard nothing about fog, which is a difficult matter to deal with. I am glad to see that the responsibility of removing snow slush is to be taken from the householder, who does not do it well, and imposed upon the Local Authority. With some of the right hon. Gentleman's observations regarding the prevention of infectious diseases, I warmly agree. I think the schoolmaster will be able to put his fingers on infected areas, and probably prevent the outbreak of disease, not only in the school but in the locality. As to the dismissal of Medical Officers of Health, their duties, if properly discharged, are so likely to excite prejudice, that I think their dismissal should only be with the consent of the Local Government Board. I do not intend to say more upon this Bill, which appears a very good one, and which I have no doubt, when put into shape in Committee, will confer great benefit upon the Metropolis.

(6.15.) MR. ISAACS (Newington, Walworth)

In the few words I have to offer in connection with this Bill, for which I thank the right hon. Gentleman, I am rather disposed to follow the line of argument adopted by the hon. Member for Hoxton (Mr. Stuart), when he said that possibly the better course to have pursued would have been for the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to. have addressed himself in the first place to the completion of the Government plan, discussed some years ago, by the introduction of a Bill for establishing Municipal Councils. No doubt if such a course had been pursued a considerable amount of the time that will be necessary for the consideration of the two measures which the right hon. Gentleman has now thought it necessary to introduce, would have been saved. I think, however, that there are in those two measures many elements which are likely to be productive of great benefit to the people of London. With regard to the second Bill, which is a measure of consolidation, I think that measure is one which will be found to be of the greatest service to those who are interested in the carrying out of the sanitary work required in the Metropolis. It is an important measure, having a wide scope, and embracing no fewer than 29 other measures, all of which deal with the government of the Metropolis. With regard to the measure immediately under discussion, I would say that I think there is great cause for congratulation, although some of its provisions are such as will have to be very carefully considered when the Bill is sent to the Committee upstairs. I fully share with the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Kelly) the dread he has expressed lest the Bill should prove to be the means of finding undue employment for that most unpleasant, disagreeable, offensive, and obnoxious person, the common informer. If the House looks carefully into the measure, I think it will see how large are the inducements it offers to that person to put in force the provisions of the Bill. The penalties imposed by some of the clauses are exceedingly severe. One of them has already been referred to, namely the clause which imposes a penalty of £50 on the Local Authority for neglecting to cleanse the roadways, and, in addition to this, inflicts further penalties of a continuous character. These, however, are details, which, no doubt, would be better considered upstairs. In addition to the objections I have urged to the provisions which may offer inducements for a large employment of the common informer, there is another matter which I think is likely to meet with grave opposition on the part of the existing Local Authorities. I refer to the provision for calling into requisition the action of the London County Council on matters which, in my opinion, are not the proper subjects with which they ought to deal. If I correctly estimate the duties of that body, they are of a general and metropolitan character. The London County Council are called upon to deal with London street improvements, with main drainage, with the means of inter-communication between the north and the south sides of the Thames, and with other matters of a large and comprehensive character, and I do not think that the London County Council would have its time usefully employed in the settlement of bye-laws as to the manner in which the streets are to be cleansed. Admitting that it may be desirable there should exist some means of dealing with this question, it cannot be contended that a great body like the London County Council should be called upon to lay down rules for every district of the Metropolis as to the hours at which the cleansing of the streets should be performed. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that he will have to forego a good many of the references he has made in this Bill to that body. At any rate, I have little doubt that he will meet with a considerable amount of opposition on the part of the existing Authorities against what they may consider to be an undue interference in matters coming within their province. I would also say that, as the Bill now stands, it is simply a piece of patchwork, that is to say, it can hardly be regarded as a complete measure. With regard to one provision relative to the cleansing of the footpaths, I venture to think that even on the score of economy the householders of the Metropolis would greatly welcome provisions under which the cleansing of the footways, as well as of the roadways, should be undertaken by the Local Authorities. At present, whenever there is a heavy fall of snow, the householders are subject to the enforcement of blackmail in order to get the work of clearing the snow away from the front of their premises performed; and this alone would, I think, induce them to go a long way towards supporting a proposal which might even involve a slight extra addition to the rates, by throwing this work upon the Local Authorities. As it is, we call upon the Local Authorities to cleanse the roadways, and they do it; but we leave it to the option of the householders to cleanse the footways at such times as they may think fit; and the result is, that after the Local Authority has rendered the carriage-ways clean, the householder gets to work, and undoes what has already been effected by the Local Authority. With regard to the portion of the Bill which deals with underground dwellings, I am in entire accord with the right hon. Gentleman, and I also particularly approve of those clauses which deal with the sale of unwholesome food; but, on the other hand, I think that the provision with regard to making known the existence of infectious diseases to the whole of the Local Authorities of the Metropolis is, perhaps, a little too drastic, and may need some amendment upstairs. However, taking the Bill as a whole, and having regard to the general scope of the measure, I think the right hon. Gentleman has shown the House how completely he has mastered the subject, and how eminently capable he is of dealing with this important matter in a lucid and practical manner. To these few observations I have only to add that 1 shall give the measure my most cordial support.

(6.21.) MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

In supporting the Second Reading of this Bill I hope its passage may not be taken as an excuse for any further delay in the introduction of the District Councils Bill. I agree with the hon. Member opposite who has said that the District Councils Bill ought to have been introduced in preference to this; because much of the work the House is now doing will have to be gone over again when that Bill is brought forward. Reference has been made by my hon. Friend to the desirability of introducing upon the Grand Committee, which will have to consider this Bill, the scientific element, and I hope the Committee of Selection will not forget the London Members who ought to be appointed on the Committee, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hoxton reminds me, particularly those who sit on this side of the House. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Pesident of the Local Government Board whether he can relieve the anxiety which is felt by certain Medical Officers of Health and Sanitary Inspectors who now hold appointments in the Metropolis with regard to the protection to be afforded them under this Bill? By-Clause 35, Sub-section. 8, the Bill provides that Medical Officers and Sanitary Inspectors appointed after the commencement of the Act shall be removable by the Local Authority, with the consent of the Local Government Board; but there is no provision for the protection of the officers who now hold these appointments. They are anxious to know whether they have been intentionally omitted from the clause, or whether they have only been omitted by accident. I hope it will be thoroughly understood that although we are going to vote, as I trust, most cordially, for the Second Reading of this Bill, there are many details which will have to be thoroughly threshed out in Grand Committee.

(6.26.) MR. ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

I have only risen to express a hope that my right hon. Friend will permit the introduction of a clause preventing auctioneers and house agents from selling or letting unhealthy houses. We know that such houses are let. An instance occurred only a short time ago in the neighbourhood of Grosvenor Square where my hon. Friend has told us he saw the dust cart. A house was sold by an auctioneer, and when it was examined it was found to contain five open cesspools. It took some considerable time to cart away what proved to be no less a quantity than 500 cart-loads of polluted soil, which, of course, had to be done at considerable cost. I might mention another case of a resident in the neighbourhood of Regent's Park, where the house had not been occupied more than three or four weeks before the father and daughter and five servants were laid up with fever. There was another case in Bayswater where something of a similar character occurred. What I want my right hon. Friend to do is to insist that every auctioneer and house agent, when submitting for sale or for letting residential premises, shall produce an agreement to which shall be attached a sanitary document certifying that the house is fit for habitation, and in good sanitary condition. Hon. Members have probably little idea of the amount of trouble that has been caused by the letting of unsanitary houses. I could mention the names of celebrated people who have met an early death through inhabiting unsanitary dwellings, and I shall be glad, if my right hon. Friend will permit me, on the Third Reading of this Bill, to put down an Amendment to the effect that every house, before it is sold or let by an auctioneer or his agent, shall be officially certified as being in a fit sanitary condition. I hope before the Third Reading of the Bill my right hon. Friend will see his way to accept this suggestion, and meanwhile I am glad to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

(6.30.) MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

With other Metropolitan Members I thank my right hon. Friend for the introduction of this Bill, but I desire to emphasise the remarks which have been made as to the undesirability of diminishing the responsibility and independence of the Local Bodies, the Local Vestries, or the District Councils of the future. Representing as I do a district which has always been honourably distinguished for its sanitary administration, I feel bound to give expression to the very strong-feeling that there exists, the feeling of anxiety that some of the provisions of the Bill will diminish the direct responsibility of the Local Bodies. I cannot help putting this question to my right hon. Friend. The new District Councils, as we all hope, will be more able Administrative Bodies than the present Vestries, but, after all, does not the secret of all successful administration depend on the personnel of those who are the administrators? The question then is, how to attract to the new District Councils a worthier clas3 of men than those who have managed local affairs in London heretofore? One method of doing this is to give to the new bodies large and important functions, and to make them feel themselves directly responsible to the ratepayers. I cannot help thinking that just at this very moment, when we are all hoping for better local government in the future, a step is being taken by some of the provisions of this Bill which will tend to discourage really responsible people from going on the Local Bodies, and therefore it will be necessary in Grand Committee to watch most carefully those clauses which seem to fetter unnecessarily the powers of the present District Bodies, and to give unnecessarily increased powers of supervision to the County Council. Subject to these criticisms, I thank the Government for the introduction of a most important and excellent measure.

(6.34.) MR. RITCHIE

Though I have no right to trouble the House with any further remarks, I hope I may be allowed, with the indulgence of the House, to acknowledge the sympathetic manner in which the proposals of the Government have been received, and especially by the London Members. It is not surprising that objection should be taken to certain details, considering that the Bill deals with so many important and difficult questions, When the Bill gets into Grand Committee I think it will be found that the fears expressed with regard to the possible interference of the County Council with the Local Authorities are in most cases exaggerated, if not altogether groundless. The Bill does not go one bit further than the existing law. At the present moment it is open to any ratepayer in London to make a representation to the Local Government Board that a certain Vestry is not performing its duty with regard to a particular question, and the Local Government Board, if satisfied that there is ground for such complaint, may hold a local inquiry and call upon the Local Authority concerned to perform their duty within a limited time, and, unless it is so performed, may appoint any person or body of persons, including the London County Council, to perform it. Therefore, the Bill is not going beyond the existing law. In some respects, indeed, it modifies the existing law, because it provides that it shall not be in the power of any individual to put that machinery in motion but the County Council alone; and the County Council even will not be at liberty to interfere until they have obtained the previous assent of the Local Government Board. We must be satisfied that the Local Body is in default. We believe that in the vast majority of cases no such power will have to be exercised, but I think the House will see that, having regard to some possible miscarriage in the administration of the law, it is desirable that such power should exist. If in any matter of form or language the Bill is thought to create undue powers of interference, the Government will be glad to consider Amendments to remove doubts or difficulties in that connection. I should be the last person to do anything calculated to prevent good men from coming forward to serve on these Local Bodies. Allusion has been made to the cleansing of footpaths with the suggestion. that this should be a duty cast upon the Local Authority; and though I have not seen my way to altering the responsibility that now lies with * the occupier, 1 shall be perfectly ready to consider any proposal made in Committee. Then a question has been raised by the hon. Member for South wark (Mr. Causton) as to the position of Medical Officers and Sanitary Inspectors. There are a large number' of these, and in the great majority of cases they are appointed from year to year, and the position is this—that at the end of the term of their present appointment they will become officers under this Bill; until the present appointments cease they will not. Clearly, it would be most injudicious that we should impose upon Local Authorities the obligation of maintaining every one of these officers in their position irrespective of their qualifications for permanent occupation of their posts. When the new appointments are made at the end of the year or in three years they will become officers under this Bill, but until their period of appointment is passed they will not.

MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he means by re-appointment? I am not aware of the practice in London.


I refer to officers who hold their posts for a year and are re-appointed.


That, so far as I know, is only done by the Commissioners of Sewers for the City of London.


Many officers are not subject to re-appointment.


I am not aware of cases in which they are not re-appointed; but, in any event, existing appointments may be terminated by mutual consent and a new appointment made. But it would be impossible to impose an absolute duty on the Local Authority to keep on a man without an opportunity of considering whether he is a fit and proper person to be appointed permanently. I am afraid it would be impossible to carry out the suggestion about certificates for sanitary houses. In order to certify every house to be in a perfectly sanitary condition it would be necessary virtually to pull the house to pieces, and I am afraid it might be found that there were very few houses in London faultless in that respect. I will only say in conclusion that the Government do not regard this Bill as a Party one, or, in a political sense, a contentious one; and we shall be glad to listen to any suggestions in Committee, and to consider dispassionately, and I hope favourably, all proposals which we think will be improvements in the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c.