HC Deb 19 June 1925 vol 185 cc1034-49

Amendment made: In page 48, line 34, at the end, insert the words:

7 Edw. VII, c. 53. Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1907. Section seventy-nine.

[Lord E. Percy.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


In passing, I desire to make one or two comments upon the question which was raised a little while ago in connection with the words "such" and "reasonable" and other words which are on the Paper. I should like to call the attention of the House to Clause 83, Sub-section (1). In that Clause it will be found that the local authority is empowered to let their swimming baths to various people for various purposes upon such terms and conditions as in their absolute discretion they think proper. They can do those things as they think proper. They can let their baths free of any charge if they think proper, or let them at any price they choose, for the Clause gives the local authority power to use their discretion; but when it comes to a question of paying the wages of the officials and employés engaged at the baths or elsewhere the word "reasonable" is nut in, they may pay "reasonable" salaries. Who is to be the judge of reasonable? Is it to be someone from Whitehall or any other place who is to say what is reasonable, or those who administer the baths, who have been elected as administrators by the electors of the district?

The members of local authorities do not walk into those positions without a contest. In the Division which I represent we have very strenuous contests at elections. We get the Ratepayers' Association and the Ratepayers' Alliance, and all the rest of them, putting out their literature and trying to scandalise us ail they possibly can, and doing it very effectively—with the exception of convincing people; that is the only difference. If they do not succeed it is not because they do not use all their efforts, not because they do not have plenty of posters on the walls and plenty of vehicles. They waste plenty of money in trying to get people to believe they are the only virtuous people in the world who ought to manage things; but they do not get elected. We are told that majorities must rule, but it appears to me that majorities cannot rule in local affairs, but can only rule in this House. If that is to be the case, why not alter the laws entirely, so that we may know where we are? If majorities can rule in one instance, surely they ought to in another; and if it is right to have words in one Clause giving an administrative authority the right to let their baths and to make a charge as in their discretion they may think fit, surely the same discretion ought to be given to them when it is a case of paying the wages they think fit.

We are not satisfied with the word "reasonable." Somebody else has got to interpret the word "reasonable," and not the people who are elected to administer the affairs of the locality. There is not supposed to be any discretion when it is the case of a locality administered by a Labour body. It is no use our talking about Whitley Council rates of wages, or trade union rates of wages. We have got councils which are affiliated to the Joint Industrial Council paying less than the awards arrived at by that Joint Industrial Council; but we do not hear of any surcharges upon those councils. That is because they happen to be composed of people who are anti-Labour, of people who belong to the Conservative party. But where we have an authority elected by working-class people and administering things in the interests of those people, we get this kind of thing thrown up at us. When the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) was bringing in his Bill the other day on this subject it was said that what had been done was illegal. No one in the Courts has said that what we pay is illegal. All they say is we do not use reasonable discretion—in their view, not in our own view. We would prefer to have something in the Bill which was definite, so that whatever the authority which is having baths or washhouses they may be able to pay the rates of wages and let their servants work the number of hours they think fit. I wanted to get those few words in. because I could not get them in when the Proposer withdrew the last Amendment. I would have preferred that this matter should have gone to a Division, and, although we might have been defeated, it would have given us an opportunity to show that the Conservative party are against the Labour party having any powers to do what they are elected for.


Now that this Bill has passed through all its stages except the Third Reading, I think it is desirable that we should realise its important nature. This is a somewhat unusual kind of Bill, because it is one without any general principle running through it, unless you can call the general well-being of the people a principle. This Measure is a collection of Clauses which have little or no connection with one another, and it is built up mainly upon private Bill legislation spread over a period dating from 1907. I suppose it is true to say that everything in this Bill can be found in some Corporation Bill or another, and it is probably the case also that no corporation possesses all the powers contained in this Bill, and a great many corporations possess very few of these powers.

But although this Bill contains nothing which is fundamentally novel, nevertheless it will confer upon a great many public authorities many valuable powers which they do not possess at the present time. It will be noticed that the Measure is divided into a number of parts, and some of those parts come into operation automatically, while others have to be adopted, and can only be adopted with the express sanction of the Minister of Health. In spite of what we have heard with respect to the rights of majorities, that is probably a reasonable thing. What those critics who have been speaking of the rights of majorities in local councils overlook is that local authorities are not sovereign powers and all the money they spend is not provided by themselves, because a good deal of it comes out of Imperial funds, and those spending it are responsible to the Imperial Parliament. We have a right to see that a local authority possessing those powers does not go beyond the powers conferred upon it by Parliament.


Can the hon. Gentleman tell me what part of the money expended by borough councils is provided by the Imperial Parliament?


The hon. Gentleman is referring more particularly to Metropolitan boroughs.




If the hon. Gentleman will consider municipal boroughs generally he will find that they receive grants under a great variety of heads. If they happen to be education authorities they receive large grants—


Is it not a fact that the Burnham Committee fixed the salaries of teachers, and we have nothing to do with the settling of that matter?


The fact remains that very large grants are made directly or indirectly for these purposes out of Imperial funds. The London position is peculiar because of the relationship of the Metropolitan borough councils to the county council, but if the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. March) would inquire in regard to the expenditure on public health by the Poplar Borough Council, he would find that there are grants under a great many headings received by that council from the Imperial Parliament. He would also find that there are certain consolidated fund payments made to local authorities whereby they obtain the produce of certain specified taxes. So long as that is the case, it is perfectly futile to get up and say that a local authority ought to have absolutely free power to do as it likes It carries out those powers which have been conferred upon it by Parliament, and Parliament has prescribed that the Minister of Health, or the President of the Board of Education, or some other Minister, shall have certain powers of control, and it is only those who wish to be free and expend other people's money in a way that other people do not altogether approve of who want to have these absolute powers possessed by municipal authorities.

I do not want, however, to be led away. I want to concern myself with the very important powers which this Bill confers upon municipalities. Let us realise that at the same time that we are conferring these powers the Bill restricts individual liberty. There are in this Bill a great many Clauses restricting the rights of individuals, but the object of those restrictions in the long run is to increase the rights of individuals. For instance, we seek to protect ourselves against the verminous person. We restrict his liberty, but we do it in the interests of the community and of other persons who are not verminous. There are a great many powers with regard to the widening of streets and the making of streets, and there is a great variety of powers which hon. Members who read the Bill carefully may be surprised to find in it. Many of these powers are definite interferences with individual liberty, but, as I understand most of them, they are justifiable interferences, and, because I regard them as justifiable, I hope that this Bill will receive a Third Reading this afternoon.

The Bill has been very materially altered in Committee upstairs, and it has also been altered to some extent during the Report stage this afternoon. A great number of new Clauses have been added to it, and a great number of Clauses in the Bill as it was read a Second time have been amended by the introduction of safeguards for the purpose of protecting the legitimate interests of a great variety of persons, corporations, public authorities, and the rest of them. I think most hon. Members who will trouble to compare the Bill as it is now with it as it was when it left the House to go upstairs will agree that the bulk of the Amendments made in Committee are very useful Amendments, and that the Measure now is more workable than it was when it left the House.

I would like to draw attention to some of the new Clauses which have been introduced, and, notably, to Clause 61, which deals with tuberculous persons who are in an infective condition. No one who has been brought into contact with conditions which affect many people suffering from tuberculosis can have failed to be perturbed at finding people in an acute state of infection living in small houses and infecting the rest of their family. It is sometimes the case that these persons are removed to a sanatorium for a limited period and then brought back to their homes, and the general administration, in my opinion, is in many respects far from satisfactory. This Bill does take one definite step forward, and, again, it is a violent interference with the liberty of the subject. It is an interference which will be resented. It will not be popular, because it means that in some cases a person will be removed from his home against his will to a public institution, but he will be moved in the interests of his wife and his children. I would draw the attention particularly of those Members of this House who are engaged in municipal administration to the important powers conferred upon municipalities by Clause 61. There is, of course, the safeguard in that Clause that, before an Order is made, where it is a compulsory removal, the Court is in a position to decide, and if the Court is of opinion that the conditions under which the infectious tuberculous person is living are such as not to justify removal, then, of course, the Court would not make an Order.


That is not new.


It is not new in some municipalities, but what the hon. Member does not appear to realise is that this Bill confers upon all municipal authorities the various powers which some of them have obtained by Private Bill legislation. The object of this Bill is to save municipalities from great expense in promoting Private Bills in future, because many of the powers which they desire, and which otherwise they might seek to get by a Private Bill, they will get under this Public Bill. The fact that the hon. Member is acquainted with a municipality which has this power which I am describing does not alter the fact that it is a new power so far as a great many municipalities are concerned.

Under Clause 65, which, again, is a new Clause, power is conferred upon authorities to take proper steps for the prevention of blindness. It is one thing to treat those who are already suffering, but it is very much better to prevent, and prevention can be secured in many ways. I am not a medical expert; there are medical experts in the House who may be speaking; but I believe it is the case that quite a considerable proportion of the blind persons in this country are blind because their mothers happened to be suffering from a particular disease at the time the child was borne, and I believe it is the case that proper medical treatment applied shortly after birth will prevent blindness in such cases. If it be the case that we can prevent the calamity of blindness, then it is right that the municipalities should have the power to do so, and very considerable powers are conferred upon them in that direction.

Under Clause 66, important powers are conferred upon local authorities in connection with health; they are authorised to arrange for the publication within their area of information on questions relating to health and disease, and to arrange for lectures and for the display of pictures. That is, of course, a power that is possessed by some authorities, but not by all. It is a valuable power, and it can be carried to a very considerable extent. It may, as we realise, be carried by some authorities to an extent which will give rise to acute local controversy, because it raises matters which have been the subject of deputations recently to the Ministry of Health. I merely mention the fact that very full power is conferred upon municipalities to deal with these matters. Then there are other Clauses which I think are not new Clauses. The power, for instance, is conferred of dealing with the modern problem of the parking of vehicles, and power is conferred upon local authorities which do not already possess such powers to arrange for sports grounds for cricket and football. Again, power is conferred upon local authorities to arrange for the queueing of people waiting for public vehicles. Some authorities possess these powers while others do not. I am not going on to describe the very numerous and valuable powers contained in this Bill, but have mentioned the few matters that I have mentioned in order that hon. Members who have not been serving on the Committee on the Bill upstairs may appreciate that the Bill is a comprehensive Bill, and I hope the few words I have said will induce those who may have felt in doubt to give it hearty support on the Third Reading.


Now that this Bill has reached the Third Reading stage, I desire to say just a few words upon it. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) has taken the trouble to deal with the Bill almost Clause by Clause, and it is not necessary for me to give any extended explanation of it. I rose to congratulate, if I may, the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) on the success which has attended the great trouble he has taken upon himself in piloting this Bill through all its stages. It has been a very onerous task, and he has done it wonderfully well. I did want to say, however, to the Minister in charge, that a promise has been made here to-day to look into the question of the Amendment which has been discussed dealing with the powers of municipalities to provide entertainment other than by bands. I trust that the Minister in charge will see to it that this controversy, which will raise a considerable amount of heat again if it is raised at all on the Floor of this House, will be avoided, and that the Bill will now as a compromise go forward as it stands.

With regard to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Poplar (Mr. March) on the power of the district auditor to declare that a certain wage rate shall not be paid by the municipality, I fail to understand the point of view of the hon. Member for Reading. I could appreciate, however, the title of the central Government to intervene in all matters where it contributes anything towards the administration, but in the case of Poplar, so far as I understand it, the central Government has intervened in connection with the payment of wages out of the rates, where it has not provided a single penny, and to that we object.


May I remind the hon. Gentleman that in London there is such a thing as the equalisation of rates and the Common Poor Fund?


I understand the principle has been enunciated on that side of the House and I want to combat it very strongly. The Central Government has no title whatever to do more than merely audit for accountancy purposes the expenditure of the local authority where it is provided merely from the rates of the local authority. Let me show that the State does not do this in all cases. The State contributes extensively to the funds of approved societies. The Treasury provides its auditors to audit the accounts of approved societies, but no single approved society has ever been questioned yet as to the amount of salaries and wages paid to the people who administer its affairs. Consequently, if the State has not intervened in regard to approved society administration, where it contributes extensively, surely it should not intervene in the case of a municipal authority, as it has done in regard to Poplar. This Bill consolidates the local legislation on Bills which have been passed from time to time, I think, for the last 10 or 12 years. I am hoping that some means will be found by Parliament and by local municipal authorities whereby the large amount of expenditure involved in coming to Parliament for these local Bills will be avoided. It appears to me ridiculous that large municipal authorities like Liverpool, Manchester and others should come to the House of Commons to secure powers for the most trifling things imaginable. That to me is the greatest thing that emerges from a Bill of this kind. I feel sure I can speak on behalf of all Members on this side of the House in saying that we welcome the Measure.


One has only to listen to the speech which has just been delivered to realise the very fundamental difficulties and disputes which are likely to arise in the domain touched by the Bill. It is certain that some of the utterances of the hon. Gentlemen opposite are fundamentally opposed to the views entertained on this side, and, I trust, to those of the Government I support. This Bill, take it as you will, is one involving the most serious issues. I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams), in which Clause by Clause he gave reasons, at some length, for supporting it, but pointed out certain difficulties. He explained what it is. He says it is a Bill to give to all authorities powers which Parliament has thought proper, after due examination, to give to certain local authorities. Our legislation in this House is divided into two classes. Why do we divide Public Bills from Private Bills? Is it not because in regard to Private Bills we know that there are peculiar circumstances and peculiar conditions and desires prompted by the wishes of that one locality, which require certain regulations which other localities do not want and do not ask for? That is why we have established in the wisdom of our legislature what we call Private Bills. There are other Bills, Public Bills, which make general regulations applying over the whole country. Parliament has been extremely jealous that Private Bills should not interfere with or override that supreme power of this Parliament to decide upon questions that regulate every part of the country. That is a distinction which we ought not to disregard.

The hon. Member for Reading says that this Bill is perfectly innocuous, that it simply gives to all localities, without asking whether they have asked for them, powers which they have not asked for, and which have been found in peculiar and particular cases to be suitable. This means, in reality, overriding the whole fundamental principle upon which our legislation is based. If we are to have a consolidating Bill of this kind, spreading broadcast over the country, without definite local inquiry, powers which have, perchance, been found suitable in one place, then, the only power that ought to institute such legislation is the Treasury Bench. I tell the Government that if they thought that this consolidating legislation was necessary, it was their duty to bring it forward, and not to accept a Bill thrown at them by Members, three-fourths of whom belong to the Labour party.




Yes. The hon. Member may say "no," but he has only to look at the back of the Bill, and he will see that this is a Bill not only promoted by the Labour party, but a Bill which embodies principles which over and over again they have asserted, and which have been combated by the party which the Government pretend to represent. I wish it to be understood that if the Government is to throw their ægis and protection over Measures which embody the views of the other side—of course, they are views which hon. Members opposite are perfectly entitled to hold, and which they may have very good reason to hold—they have no right to act in that way. They have no right to adopt a Bill thrown at it by the Labour party, and adopt it practically as their own. That is a false positron for the Government to take up, and they had better understand that many of their followers feel that to be a false position.

Who represents the views of the Ministry on this Bill, and who is it that has been throwing the power of the Government on to the side of this Bill? The Minister of Education. What has the Minister of Education to do with this? We all know the personality of the Minister of Education. I happen not always to share his views. Are the Government to send down as their representative a Noble Lord who has certain views, which some of us do not share, and to direct him to give the full strength of the Government support to a consolidating Bill, embodying principles which. hon. Members opposite will admit are their principles?

It may be a right Bill, and if they thought it a right Bill, why did they not bring it in? A consolidating Bill is a matter for the responsibility of the Government. If they thought that the powers given to a small number of local authorities throughout the country ought to be spread broadcast and indiscriminately over the whole country, then it was the duty of the Government to come forward and give that consolidating Bill. I am very glad that the Minister of Education, who has been acting as the protagonist of the Bill, is now present. I am sorry that I cannot repeat what I have said. This Bill is described as a consolidating Bill, and if it is necessary in the interests of the country, it should have been promoted by the Government. It is not fair either to the right hon. Gentleman's own party, or to hon. Members on the other side, who have been fighting for this principle, that the Government should adopt it and pretend that the principle is theirs. I feel a great difficulty as to many parts of the Bill. The hon. Member for Reading, who has helped the Bill with very great skill, told us, I admit, that the Bill interferes very largely with the individual liberty of private citizens.


The Bill contains a provision dealing with verminous persons.


Even verminous persons have their rights. Are we not entitled to inquire into a Bill which interferes very largely with private liberty? Are we to take such a Bill on Friday afternoon with scarcely any discussion, and because it is supported by a Government which has not yet openly professed that it wishes to make itself the chief protagonist of this principle, to pass it without inquiry? Many of us object to this interference with individual liberty. Some of us take a kindlier view, that a little more attention to individual liberty and a little more persuasion might, perhaps, be better than to pass these 70 or 80 Clauses interfering with every corner of our life, telling us exactly where we are to place our motor cars, and how much of our land is to be seized upon by the local authorities, and at our expense used for purposes which they may happen to think useful. All this is embodied in a Bill promoted by a private Member on the benches opposite.


Let me say that I, the promoter of the Bill, am as good a Tory as the right hon. Gentleman.


The hon. Gentleman has chosen some curious associates. Do not let the Government claim the credit for this Bill, because it has sent down the Noble Lord, who happens to be the Minister of Education and who has no connection with health, to throw his ægis over the Bill, and, I presume, to claim hereafter, with his colleagues in the Government, to be the author of a Measure which finds its chief supporters on the benches opposite.


May I appeal to the House not to talk out this Bill? In answer to the last speaker, I would mention that as the promoter of the Bill I have sought the assistance of all parties in the House and I have received great consideration from Members of all parties. I have interviewed scores of people who objected to certain Clauses, and I am glad to say that we have been able to clear away the opposition and that the Bill has bad a fairly easy passage though Committee. Whatever the last speaker thinks, I, as a Member of the great Conservative party, am proud to have been the sponsor of this Bill. The Bill will confer undoubted benefits upon the people of the country. I believe that my leader and many Members of my party are just as keen for the social welfare of the workers of the country as are Members of any party. I am proud to be associated with the Bill. Particularly am I proud to be associated with the Clause which gives local authorities power to spend money on the prevention of blindness. Prevention is always better than cure and this Clause will do a humane work.

I wish to thank all Members of the House who have supported me so loyally during the passage of the Bill. I thank the Noble Lord, the President of the Board of Education, for the help which he has given. I would point out to the last speaker that the Noble Lord served a term of office at the Ministry of Health under the last Conservative Government, and he certainly showed in Committee on this Bill that he thoroughly understood the subject under discussion. I wish to thank certain officials of the Ministry of Health, who have been helpful to me in this matter, and also the Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations for doing a large amount of work in connection with the Bill. I hope without much further discussion the House will give a Third Reading to the Bill, and that I shall be able to say that I have done something which will be of value to the country and to the working people of the country in this my first Session of Parliament.


I welcome this Bill as a member of the medical profession. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) described it as a Socialist Measure brought in by the Socialist party. I feel very pleased indeed that Members of the Labour party should have put their names to a Bill which makes such a marked improvement in the health services of the country. There is one remarkable innovation which I welcome very heartily, and that is with respect to tuberculosis. In this Bill powers are given for the compulsory removal of tuberculosis cases to hospitals. There is great danger at the present time in connection with the treatment of consumption in the cottages of our industrial towns. Sometimes the rooms are very small, and there is great difficulty in obtaining the necessary accommodation for the patient. Perhaps in the course of time, through the activities of the tuberculosis authorities, we may be able to remove cases from these surroundings to the sanatorium, where, after three or four months of treatment the patient may be much improved in health and may have received certain definite training as to the prevention of infection. But when these poor people go home again to the same confined accommodation they resume their life under infectious conditions, and in practically all such cases the patient dies. The percentage of cures in such cases is particularly small. As a medical officer have always thought that these cases should be taken up as early as possible—an early diagnosis is essential to a cure—and removed to hospital or sanatorium and kept there until recovery. It is no use sending patients home again unless they are absolutely cured, because there is the risk of infecting others in the house and it is impossible to stamp out consumption—the greatest curse in the country, if this practice goes on. Therefore I welcome a Bill whether it is the product of the Labour party or the Conservative party or of all parties combined which is making a definite effort to deal with this scourge. If the powers conferred by the Bill are adopted and ached upon by every municipality then I think we have some definite hope of stamping out consumption in this country. For that great reform whichever party is responsible I think that this Bill should receive the support of every Member of this House who has a horror of consumption and who knows the tremendous toll it has taken of the life of the people of this country, and the great amount of misery it has caused. I hope that this Bill will get an uninterrupted Third Reading, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities will recognise that a very great move towards improving the health of this country has been made. This Clause with reference to the com- pulsory moving of tuberculous patients marks an epoch in the treatment of the disease.


I would not have intervened in this Debate but for the statement by the hon. Gentleman opposite that the State made no contribution to the finances of Poplar. He challenged the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) on the point and stated as a fact that no contribution was made at all. If the hon. Gentleman had thought it out a little more clearly or had had a little more information on the subject, he would have known that when he contradicted the hon. Member for Reading he himself was entirely wrong inasmuch as contributions are made by the State. I will give one instance which will be sufficient to refute his argument. Let me remind him that the State contributes 50 per cent. of the moneys expended under the Maternity and Child Welfare Act of 1918. As Poplar has adopted that Act, it must be clear to the House that the State does contribute to the finances of Poplar. Quite apart from any contributions out of State funds, Poplar benefits very considerably indeed out of the equalisation of rates and the Metropolitan common poor fund. Westminster, for instance, with which I am associated, has the privilege annually of making a very substantial contribution out of the moneys collected from the ratepayers of Westminster for the assistance of Poplar. The House will appreciate that it is exceedingly necessary that the State should have the power to look into the expenditure of the Poplar authorities and, if necessary, to surcharge them for any extravagant or unreasonable expenditure.

With reference to Section 45 of the Bill which has been criticised by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), I understood from him that he considered that, where verminous people or premises were concerned, the people possessed of the vermin should be left to get rid of them of their own free will. I do not know if he has ever owned any property inhabited by tenants who are of a verminous description with the result that the local authorities have served notices on the unhappy owner to take down the wall-paper, repaper, and get rid of the vermin. I happen to stand in that position as an owner of property owing to the fact that I have tenants afflicted with vermin, and under the Kent Restrictions Act I am unable to get rid of them. I, therefore, welcome this Section, and I hope that, when it is passed into law, the local authorities will be in a position to serve notices, not on the owners, but on the verminous individuals, so that they may put right their wrong, cleanse themselves of those animals with which they are, unfortunately, afflicted, in order that the premises may be clean and wholesome in future. I hope and trust the Bill will be passed.


Following on what the hon. Member has just said about the cost of Measures of this kind to local authorities, the last thing of which Members of Parliament think, when these Bills are before them, is what they are going to cost the community. In many respects I think this is a Bill which remedies grievances, but it should not be lost sight of that it is going to involve expenditure on the local authorities, and, so far as its compulsory Clauses are concerned, it is going to force expenditure upon them. I think the speech of the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. March) is an excellent instance why Parliament should keep some control over the expenditure of local authorities and protect minorities to some extent against unreasonable and extravagant expenditure. Whether such powers should be exercised by Statute or by the criticisms and deductions of an auditor acting under Statute does not matter. But minorities ought to be protected, and it should be impossible for local authorities to incur unlimited expenditure, landing communities, not only in financial, but administrative chaos. I hope this Bill may realise the full expectations of the supporters.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time." put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.