HC Deb 08 December 1920 vol 135 cc2212-5

(1) For the purposes of Section seventeen of the Housing, Town Planning, &c., Act, 1909, the representation of the medical officer of health that a dwelling-house is in a state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation shall be binding upon the local authority, and where a closing Order within the meaning of the cited Section has been made in respect of a dwelling-house it shall not be within the power of the local authority to determine the Order except the medical officer of health certifies that the dwelling-house has been rendered fit for human habitation.

Provided that nothing in this Sub-section shall affect any right of appeal to the Minister under the cited Section.

(2) Where the local authority consider that it is not reasonably practicable to render a dwelling-house, which is in a state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation, fit for human habitation they shall, when serving the closing Order, accompany the Order with a notice to that effect, but no closing Order shall be invalid by reason of any failure to comply with the provisions of this Subsection.— [Mr. Robert Richardson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I want to protest as strongly as I can against the decision of the right hon. Gentleman not to accept any new Clause on the Paper. We want to try to give the Minister some help in making this Bill a real Health Bill, and such action does not give us very much encouragement. Under Section 17 of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909, the duty is imposed on local authorities of making closing orders, but it does not compel them, when they find that a house has been condemned by their medical officer, to say that it must be closed. What we want is that, once the medical officer of health—who has been appointed, probably, because he is the best man that they could find—has decided that a house is unfit for habitation, no power shall be given to the council to prevent the doctor from closing that house. I want the medical officer to have that power. If he does not have it you reduce to a lower standard your best medical men and you put them on the same level as recalcitrant authorities. When houses are a menace to a local area the medical officer should have power to close them. We know of thousands of houses in which are not to be found even the elementary conditions of pure water for the people to drink. Medical officers have reported condemning houses because they lack a water supply, and yet these places are still occupied to-day and likely to be occupied for many years to come. I do not know if this Clause like the rest is to be turned down; if it is I wish to enter my most emphatic protest against the action of the Government in dealing with the Bill in this manner when they might have got something good out of it.


I beg to second the Motion.


This is not a good proposal, because it takes the power out of the hands of the local authority altogether.


No, it does not take any power from the local authority; it gives power to the medical officer.


It removes the power from the local authority and it constitutes the medical officer of health an autocrat over that body. My hon. Friend well knows that the reason action has not been taken in respect to many areas that have been scheduled is that alternative accommodation is not available. I am sure a proposal of this character would be a retrograde step. You must make up your minds to trust the elected representatives of the people. If they are not trustworthy, if they do not do their duty they should be turned out at the next election. They already have tremendous powers, and it is for the electors to see that they exercise them. But it would not do to place an officer of a local authority in the position of imposing his will upon them.


I think the right hon. Gentleman is wrong in his deduction. Everybody knows that the medical officer is appointed by the local authority and has tremendous powers under the Health Act. I have been a member of a local authority for over 30 years, and I have never found any medical officer take upon himself these autocratic powers.


But this is a proposal that he should do so.


He would have to report to the Health Committee first and they in their turn would have to report to the General Council. I do not see any danger in giving these powers to medical officers. I think we are up against a dead wall to-night. The Minister apparently has made up his mind that he will not accept any of these proposals, and I, for one, feel inclined to walk out of the House and leave him to do as he likes with the Bill. We are simply wasting our time in proposing these Clauses.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.


I do not know if the House is prepared to accept the advice offered by the hon. Member who spoke last. If it is, there does not seem to be any particular need, in view of the attitude of the Government which has been endorsed by the House on a Division, to go through each of these new Clauses. It would simply be a waste of time.


I agree.


Then we had better pass at once to the first Clause of the Bill.