HC Deb 22 March 1897 vol 47 cc1150-62

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [5th February], "That the Bill be now Read a, Second time."

Question again proposed:—Debate resumed.

SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)

said that this Bill, which purported to consolidate and amend the Public Health Law in Scotland, was remarkable not so much for what it contained as for what it did not contain. A number of difficulties which had been felt had not been met at all. He referred especially to the sanitation of the dwellings of farm labourers, farm servants, crofters, and small holders. These four large classes of the population were now suffering very much from the insanitary condition of their homes, which was not only dangerous but disgraceful to the country. He should like to know whether the Government were prepared to deal with this question. He had put down an Amendment declaring that the House declined to read any Public Health (Scotland) Bill a Second time unless this questions were adequately dealt with; but that Amendment he should not move at the moment. Why should not the Bill of 1895 for improving the condition of farm servants—a Measure introduced by Mr. Seymour Keay, and accorded the assent of the House—be incorporated in the present Bill? A Bill was brought forward in February 1895, by Mr. Seymour Keay, for the improvement of the accommodation for farm servants in farmhouses. He seconded the Motion for Second Reading on March 28th, and the Second Reading was carried without a division. It might, therefore, be regarded as a non-contentious Measure, and he saw no reason why its very useful provisions should not be included in the present Bill. Clause 3 of that Bill provided that the local authorities might make bye-laws to secure proper accommodation, and the proper amount of cubic space for farm servants, power being given to the medical officer to examine any buildings used for the lodging of farm servants, and to report upon their condition to the local authority. If the lodging was reported insanitary it became the duty of the landlord to make such alterations as would bring the place within the requirements of the bye-laws under a penalty of £5, and 20s. a day until the required alterations or repairs were completed. These proposals met with the approval of the House, and lie would ask why they were not included in this Bill, which professed to consolidate and amend the public health law of Scotland, and to be a sort of code of health for that country? This, however, it would scarcely be if it omitted to deal with some of the classes of the population now specially suffering from want of accommodation. Besides the accommodation for labourers in farm houses, there was great want of cottages in some of the agricultural districts of Scotland for labourers, crofters, and small holders. The rural population was in consequence declining, and farmers complained bitterly that they had to get their labour from the towns, and to accept the services of unskilled men in lieu of the relatives of small holders in the glens. Cottages were unhealthy and insufficient, and the present state of the law could not improve matters, but rather aggravated the evil. This was especially the complaint in the north-east of Scotland. His hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen and himself had drawn the attention of the House to this matter. What happened was this. The Medical Officer of Health was called in, and if he found a house or cottage unfit for habitation he reported it. But he hesitated to condemn it, for the result of his doing so would be the house would be pulled down, and the last state of the poor tenants would be worse than the first, for it was better to have a bad house to live in than no house at all. The medical officer was in a difficult position; he was afraid to condemn the house, for there was no power to compel a landlord to repair or rebuild. Condemnation of a house implied its demolition, and against this there was an outcry from the whole countryside. The law operated fairly well in crowded towns because ground was valuable, and it was to a landlord's advantage to rebuild the house. Not so, however, in the glens, and in agricultural parts of the country; it was there rather to the profit of the landlord to get rid of the house. He was willing enough to pull it down, but very unwilling to build another in its place. He preferred to include the site of it in the neighbouring farm. This was not invariably the case, and some landlords were careful to do their duty in this matter, but very often a landlord was anxious to clear off the cottages, especially when there was valuable shooting, lest the house should harbour poachers, or the poor cottagers become paupers and chargeable to the rates. This was a matter which had excited a good deal of feeling, and it was brought to the attention of the late Secretary for Scotland, who instituted an inquiry. Perhaps the Lord Advocate could say what was the result of that inquiry, and whether any proposals were made which might properly be embodied in this Bill? There was a difficulty in inducing landlords to grant sites for cottages, but if the Parish Councils were empowered to buy land for the purpose there would be little difficulty in getting houses built. At present agriculture was very much handicapped from these causes.


reminded the hon. Member that he was somewhat outside the objects of the Bill, which was a Public Health Bill.


said he only asked that the three points he had indicated would be favourably considered: (1) that the provisions of Mr. Seymour Keay's Bill, as it received the assent of the House, should be incorporated in the Measure; (2) that power should be taken to compel cottages to be repaired and put in a sanitary condition, and he would suggest, in order that that might not be a hardship on proprietors, that provision should be made by which public money should be advanced to them on favourable terms if they were not otherwise prepared to undertake the responsibility; and (3) that reasonable facilities should be provided, in order that sites should be obtained for suitable and sanitary houses being built either by the people themselves or by professional builders. Thus the evil of the slums in the large towns would be much reduced, and the farmers would have at hand men properly trained from their boyhood to agricultural work.


said he did not rise to oppose the Bill now before the House. As a consolidating Measure it contained many useful clauses, but he submitted that a Public Health Bill which was likely to remain on the Statute-book for a number of years should represent the high-water mark of sanitary science and administration. There was one respect in which it appeared to him that this Measure did not reach, but fell far short of, that high-water mark It had been demonstrated, and was now generally recognised, that in our large cities and towns epidemic diseases more especially typhoid and scarlet fever, were largely due to the importation of milk from infected farm-houses, dairies and cow-sheds. Two of our largest cities in Scotland—Edinburgh and Glasgow—and also one of our towns—Greenock—had for a number of years been in the enjoyment of powers enabling their sanitary inspectors to proceed to infected farm-houses, dairies and cow-sheds. Under clauses in their local Acts those powers had been most beneficially exercised. He was interested in this question, because in the constituency he represented they had had numerous instances of very serious epidemics directly traced to the introduction of milk from farm-houses, and dairies, and cow-she s within a few miles of the town, lint beyond the municipal boundary. For a number of years the sanitary inspector in several of the adjacent parishes. Various instances arose in those parishes in which he was able to go into the counties and visit the farmhouses, and, without exercising any compulsory power, he was able to induce the farmers to submit their places to isolation, take charge of the patients who were suffering from disease, and in that way very speedily to prevent the extension of cases. In one of the cases there were 118 persons suffering from disease, and several valuable lives were lost. One might have supposed, from the experience of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and from the information as to how this worked in Dundee, that equally efficient clauses would have been introduced into this general Bill to those that existed in the Edinburgh and Glasgow Acts. Instead of that, the particular clause in the Bill was, in comparison with the powers they possessed, very roundabout, dilatory, and inefficient. He hoped that when this Bill reached the Committee it was to go before, the Lord Advocate would agree very much to improve the clause that was in the Bill. In answer to a question the other day, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to speak as though he were in some sense specially the representative of the counties in this matter. But he submitted to the right hon. Gentleman that he was also the Minister for the burghs as well as the counties, and that he had to look to the general health of the population. ["Hear, hear!"] There was some feeling of the counties standing on their dignity—that they were not willing to consent to the incursion of the burgh inspectors into the counties. He thought there should be no such feeling, but that every facility should be given, especially within a certain radius of our large towns, for the sanitary inspector to proceed to examine on the spot, and at once to induce the parties interested to agree to prompt measures being taken. Under the clause as it stood, there were six or seven different stages to be taken. Application had to be made to the sheriff or magistrate, and evidence must be submitted to justify the action of these officials. In this way it would almost be necessary to allow the spread of disease and the accumulation of cases in order in present evidence to the sheriff upon which it would be necessary for him to act. Prevention was the object at which they ought to aim; and promptly, and without unnecessary delay, action should be taken. It was understood that in future the clause was to be considered a standard clause, and that nothing going beyond that clause in local Acts was to be permitted. He hoped that the Lord Advocate would be prepared to give that clause very careful consideration, so as to bring it more into line with the clauses of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Acts than was now the case. In this matter it was well to remember the old adage, Salus populi suprema lex. The health of the people should be the first consideration in all sanitary legislation.


said that the question involved in this Bill was of very considerable importance to the people of Scotland. It was not necessarily in any sense a Party question; but it had occupied the attention of local authorities in burghs and counties so much that deputations on the subject had been sent to the Government when the former Bill was before the House of Lords. He regretted that the Lord Advocate had not seen his way to explain the Bill on the Second Reading, and to show the local authorities, in so far as the Bill was a consolidating and amending Measure, the reasons which prompted the Government to introduce the Amendment in the Bill. He thought that the local authorities, who had taken great interest in the subject, were entitled to expect this from the Government. But unfortunately the Bill had been launched without any explanation from the Lord Advocate, who was otherwise engaged on official duties; and the result was, that the House was discussing the Second Reading without these matters having first been expiable I by the Government. The Bill contained 176 clauses, and it depended on a general view of the Bill, so far as consolidating and amending were concerned, whether it ought to go further. There were special reasons, moreover, why the House should discuss this matter on the Second Reading stage. This stage afforded hon. Members an opportunity of taking a general survey of the Bill, whereas in Committee they were limited to the special Amendment under discussion. It also gave an opportunity to the Government to ascertain the views of those on the opposite side, and to allow the Government to indicate their willingness to accept certain Amendments which would be very useful in promoting the progress of the Bill. Besides, the Secretary for Scotland, who was responsible for the Bill, was not a Member of the House; so that when the Bill went to a Committee the noble Lord was not there to hear the arguments, to be consulted by the Lord Advocate. On the other hand, when hon. Members brought forward certain points opportunity was afforded to the noble Lord to consider them before the Committee stage was reached. Again, this was a Measure which dealt with an important question of rating for public health, both in burghs and counties; and there was no subject of more importance to the taxpayer. If this Measure, however, were to be sent, say, to the Standing Committee on Law, what would be the effect, so far as the Scottish Members were concerned? Questions of rating might be discussed in that Committee, but when the Bill came back to the House hon. Gentlemen would not be able, on the Report stage, to discuss that question. If, therefore, they were to discuss the rating question involved in the Bill, and if discussions were to be taken to show Scottish opinions in the House, their only alternative was to bring the subject forward on an Amendment on the Second Reading. Looking to the possibility that this Bill might go to the standing, Committee on Law, they had to provide for a contingency of that kind. Then, as a consolidating Measure, this Bill dealt with the Public Health of Scotland Act, 1867, which contained about 120 clauses; 100 of those clauses were adopted practically without alteration, or alterations of a very minor kind. He thought that was a great compliment to the Lord Advocate, who drew the Bill, which had stood the test of 30 years. He hoped that when they were dealing with the question of consolidation and Amendment of the Law, it would be done with equally good care, and that they would prepare a Measure satisfactory to the people of Scotland, which would last for at least 30 years, and which might redound to the credit of even the Lord Advocate opposite. [Laugher.] By the 1875 Act—and practically it was the only point of change of consequence in these repealed Acts—the borrowing power was 50 years. Under the Bill it was made 30 years. He thoroughly approved of that change, and he hoped the Government would abide by it. He would venture to point out that there was a little conflict in the Act of 1891 and the present Bill. In the event of a burgh being formed the incidence of taxation should be the same as it was in the county from which it had been taken. They had this very peculiar state of matters. Under the Bill the burgh rating was to be upon an incidence of taxation which was practically wholly occupier, and the county rating was to be half owner and half occupier. The result would be that in burghs to be constituted they would have an incidence of rating different under the Act of 1891 than under the present Bill. By Section 125 of the Bill, it was provided that in cases of burghs where a special drainage district was formed, and was satisfactorily doing its drainage work, such special district was not to be called upon to be assessed for other districts. But while that proviso applied to special drainage districts of burghs, there was no corresponding proviso in the Bill as regarded the special drainage districts in the counties. He did not know why that omission took dace, because, in the Act of 1867, there was such a provision. They had a similar proviso as regarded the water supply in special drainage districts in the Act of 1867, and they had it also in the Act of 1891. It was of a permissive character, and they were going to retain it in the statute. That was a proviso which would have to be, very carefully considered. There was another point. The, Parish Council had the power intervene in cases of public health, in places where so many of the inhabitants of the parish might intervene in calling attention to sanitary matters. The Bill repeated the Act of 1867, whilst it did not re-enact the power of Parish Councils to exercise the power which the repealed Act gave. Again, Section 45 of the Act of 1894 provided that the assessor in framing his valuation roll should show the special districts, so that the rating of the special districts might appear on the roll. That was essential, but, strangely enough, it was omitted from the Bill. So far as the Bill was an amending, Measure, it introduced 33 clauses of the Public Health (London) Act, and 18 clauses of the English Public Health Act 1875. It did not follow that provisions applicable, to London were at all applicable to Scotland. Take the case of offensive trades. In London and the urban sanitary districts of England no one could establish any of the offensive trades which were specified without the consent of the local authority in writing. By this Bill such a provision was applied to Scotland, but it was not limited to urban district—it was extended to the whole of the country. The Scotch Act of 1867 was much more reasonable, for it simply provided that a person was not to establish an offensive trade within 500 yards of a town or village without the consent of the local authority. Of course a man was amenable to other provisions against the setting up of a business which was an offence to the Then clause 37 enabled local authorities to take certain steps in respect to filthy houses. In England a, house could only be entered upon the certificate of a medical man, to the effect that it was in such a state that it might be injurious to health. It would be novel to put such power of entry into the hands of an ordinary sanitary inspector. In England, any person who knowingly cast any matter infected by infectious disease into an ash pit was liable to a certain penalty; but then the Act very properly provided that the local authority must provide a proper place into which the infected matter must be placed. In this Bill there was no such necessity cast upon the local authority. Under the Act of 1867 a local sanitary authority might provide recreation grounds at the expense of the district rate. Why was there no such provision in this Measure? The matters dealt with by the Bill were very important in the case of Scotland, where they had counties on the one hand and burghs on the other, and between them there was springing up in the counties large communities which were in an intermediate stage. They wanted to give them a Measure of local government, which would make life comfortable until they were made into burghs. It was because they had not got provision for dealing with these districts in an intermediate stage that lie thought these powers ought to be extended largely in this Bill. Another point was that the Standing Joint Committee was to be repealed. He thought the time had come when in the matter of public health they should not have the interposition of a body which had no practical concern with it. Another matter was the acquisition of land for public health purposes. That was a very important point. They would not give to the local authorities power to acquire land for public health purposes, and thus they would be compelled to go to Parliament. Let them see what changes that Bill proposed in the procedure in Parliament. It was that, in the case of a Bill brought into the House, it was to be referred, not in the way in which Provisional Orders were referred, to a Select Committee after the Second Reading. It might be referred to a Joint Committee. This would be denying the remedies of that House to a man who had not got the money. Under the Parish Councils Act of 1894, if land was required for Parish Council purposes, it could be acquired simply by an order of the Local Government Board, and under the Light Railways Act of last Session authority for the compulsory acquisition of land could be obtained from the Board of Trade, in both cases without any application to Parliament. Surely, therefore, the same powers ought to be given in such an important matter as the public health. He objected to any Public Health Bill which did not give the local authority power to acquire land with the consent of the Local Government Board without going to Parliament. As to the question of arbitration, there was to be a single arbiter, but who was to appoint the arbiter? Under the Parish Councils Act the arbiter was appointed by the Local Government Board, and under the Light Railways Act by the Board of Trade. In this Bill a Local Ordinary of the Court of Session was introduced. Why should not the Secretary for Scotland be trusted in the matter? Then there was the question of assessment. In the counties the assessment was made one-half on the owner and one-half on the occupier. Under the Bill there was to be a rate levied on the gross rental. When dealing with matters of public health, which were practically of the same character in boroughs and counties, why should the rates be levied differently in the burghs to what they were in the counties? The effect of the Bill was, in the case of burghs, to make the rates practically leviable wholly on the occupier. He was quite aware that the Lord Advocate had introduced the matter of the 1867 Act, which gave a certain amount of choice to the local authority ; but why should the local authority have the choice of levying the rate in some places wholly on the occupier and in some places half on the owner and half on the occupier? Why should it not be made clear that the rate should be levied on the same principle in burghs and counties? All modern legislation had been in favour of the principle of the division of rates. Take the Roads and Bridges Act introduced by the Government opposite in 1887. There they had the rate levied half on the owner and half on the occupier. The same principle obtained in the case of the school rate, and again in regard to the general improvement rate in burghs. Surely public health involved the general improvement of the burgh. The Bill dealt with sewerage and drainage. Were not these an appendix of property, and why should property not bear its equal share of sewerage and drainage, which were necessary to make the house habitable and an appendix to rent? There was no possible reason why the rate should not be divided equally between owner and occupier in this case. In the discussions on the Agricultural Rating Bill the First Lord of the Treasury accepted the principle. The reasonableness of having the rate divided was admitted on all hands, and he begged to move to leave out from the word "that," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words— This House declines to read a second time a Bill to consolidate and amend the Laws relating to Public Health in Scotland which does not provide for the rates under the same being levied one-half upon the owners and the other half upon the occupiers of land in burghs as in counties; and which does not permit of the acquisition of land compulsorily for Public Health purposes by an Order of the Local Government Board of Scotland without resort to Parliament.

MR. A. D. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars),

in seconding the Amendment, complained that an elaborate, complicated Measure like this, repealing in whole or in part no less than 11 Acts, should have been introduced without any Ministerial explanation by the Lord Advocate. The Local Government Act of 1894 and the Light Railways Act passed last year furnished precedents of a more simple and effective way of obtaining land for the purpose of the Bill. The arrangements introduced into this Bill would lead to an extraordinary expenditure of time and money. It would cause dilatory objections to be made. It would confer enormous advantages on the rich, and impose serious drawbacks on the poor. To many local authorities the delays, expense, and trouble would be a serious matter. The Bill would apply, not to rich places only, but to scores of poor districts in Scotland which could ill afford the money to devote to removing the opposition winch under the Bill might be made by a single memorialist. Under Clause 25 of the Bill, it was optional how local communities should be assessed to meet the expenses under the Bill. This would permit them to have different methods and rates of assessment to meet the necessary charges for carrying out the Act. In the first place, the local authority might levy assessments under what would be similar to a General Purposes Rate. In Glasgow these were levied half on the occupier and half on the landlord. Or the local authority might assess at the same rate as the police assessment in Glasgow. For some purposes this was assessed so that the occupier paid on rents of II and upwards, and the owner on rents under £4. But in assessing for cleansing the streets, the owner paid all the assessment and the occupier none. In the assessments under the Bill there should be an absolute rule laid down and no option given, and, having regard to the way assessments were made already, they should be one-half on the occupier and one-half on the owner. Another assessment in Glasgow represented a charge which would be similar in its nature to the charges incurred under this Public Health Act—the sewage assessment, which in Glasgow was paid entirely by the owner and no part by the occupier. Therefore, according to the way assessments were made in Glasgow at the present time, the Bill should provide that at least one-half of the whole assessment should fall on the owner, and there should be no option given in the Bill to assess localities in different ways.

SIR T. GIBSON-CARMICHAEL (Edinburgh, Midlothian)

thought his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lanark had a right to appeal to the Lord Advocate for an explanation. He supposed this was the only Scotch Bill that the Government would see fit to bring forward. He did not think there was a single Scotch Liberal Member who had not claimed that a Bill of this nature on it to be passed. There were other. Scotch Members behind hint who were interested in the matter, and he himself claimed a right to say something in regard tit this matter. He was only a new Member of that House, but he had been a chairman of two District Councils for many years; old took an interest in it. He appealed to the Lord Advocate to allow Scotch Members oil that side to have a say in this matter. Ire did not think this should be treated as a Party matter. He thought it would have been much better if the Government had divided the Bill into two parts, and brought in first a County Bill, and then, if time permitted, have brought in a Borough Bill afterwards. As to judging in regard to unsound food, and the carcases of animals, he did not think justices of the peace were the proper people to deal with the matter. He said that although he was himself a justice of the peace.

The hon. Member was speaking at Midnight, when the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to lie resumed upon Thursday.