§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I hope the House will bear with me in my shortcomings in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, as I am one of the new Members, and this is the first time I have had the pleasure of introducing a Bill. I have served for a long period on a local council, and that is why I am introducing this Bill, because I know the benefit that will be* derived by local councils from this Bill if it be passed into law. The Bill itself may seem somewhat cumbersome, but it only provides for a consolidation of powers that have been given to many local authorities through private Bills promoted by them. The reasons for the Bill are, firstly, that, a local authority cannot obtain the benefits of up-to-date legislation without incurring the great expense of promoting a private Bill; secondly, that it will give uniformity throughout the country, which is very desirable; and, thirdly—a very important reason—because it will mean the saving of a tremendous amount of time to Parliament itself. I think these are three very strong reasons why the Bill should commend itself to the House, and I believe it will meet with general approval here.
The primary object of the Bill is to collect into one Act and make available for the whole country provisions which Parliament has already inserted in local Acts. Therefore. I submit that all the provisions in this Bill have been thoroughly tested and found to work well, and, therefore, this particular Measure should be non-contentious. The question of passing a consolidating Bill is not a new one. It has been done in many cases, notably, for instance, in the Land Clauses Act, 1845, which was simply a consolidation of local Acts into one Bill applying to the whole country. There have been a good many other Acts of a similar nature. In 1875 a Bill was passed consolidating and amending the various Acts that had been passed in connection with public health, and all that the promoters of this Bill are asking is that the House shall do to-day what was done then, that is to say, bring up to date and consolidate all the various 2709 Acts connected with public health. Public health legislation itself originally grew on the initiative of the urban authorities, who found it necessary from time to time to obtain powers dealing with the health of the people, and the promoters of this Bill contend that, where one authority, by spending a large sum of money, has obtained certain powers which have been of great benefit to the health of the people and in the government of its own district, all the other authorities should have the right, if they so desire, to adopt those same Acts. In my own district a notable case occurred. We had the pleasure of getting an Act passed by this House which gave us power to deal with obnoxious trades, and we used that power for the benefit of the people residing in the district. But the adjoining authority had not that power, and the result, of course, was that the people to whom we objected simply went over the border and commenced operations there, and we got the benefit, if the wind was in the right direction, of the obnoxious small. Therefore, we submit that it would be only right that neighbouring authority should, by a Bill such as this, have the same power that we enjoy.
What is the procedure of the local authority applying for certain powers to deal with the matters of public health and other questions? It is well known to the House that that procedure is to promote a Bill. That is a very costly process, as many townships have found out. This Bill is then referred by the House to the Local Legislation Committee. Not speaking from experience inside the House, but from experience outside, when I have along with other people had to approach this Committee, I have nothing but commendation for the Committee as at present constituted under the Chairmanship of the Member for Stretford Division (Sir T. Robertson). But I submit in dealing with various local Bills brought forward it is a very severe strain on members of that Committee. They take every care and consideration when dealing with these Bills; expert opinion is obtained and there is no doubt none of these local Bills are sent back to this House to be passed into law until they have been thoroughly examined and gone into. I, therefore, submit that, as this Bill is only the consolidation of the many things this Committee have passed from time to 2710 time, I am only asking for a very reasonable thing. When these are passed it is often found that other local authorities would like to have the same privileges, but are not in a position to promote a Bill, and, therefore, cannot enjoy them. I want to say that this Committee itself has said from time to time that it would be a wise thing if an Act such as this which I am suggesting to-day, a Consolidation Act, were passed into law. If the House will allow me, I will quote from a report made on 25th May, 1922, which states:Most of the Bills which your Committee have considered during this and in previous Sessions contained provisions relating to public health, sanitation, and other matters which were set out in the Special Report in 1921. Your Committee would emphasise what they have pointed out in previous years, as many of these Powers are now usually sought, a consolidation and extension of the Public Health Acts, 1875-1907, so as to include such powers under general legislation, would be extremely beneficial to local authorities.Then, again, in 1923 the Committee repeated the same thing, and at a later date we had them asking this House what I am asking to-day, namely, to produce a consolidating Bill which would be saving a good deal of work for the Committee, and certainly for this House itself. It is 18 years since the last Act was passed by Parliament embodying public health provisions, based upon local Acts, and I think it is high time we dealt with this matter. I believe the Bill I am submitting is one which would deal with it in a, proper manner. I do not want to take up a great deal of time, because I hope this will be an agreed Measure. Those who are backing the Bill represent all parties in the House. I believe, from conversations I have had, that Members are in general agreement, and I do not want to take up the time of the House if it is going to be an agreed Measure, which I think it will be.
I should like to mention briefly the Clauses of the Bill. Part I is introductory. That does not want very much comment. Part II deals with restrictive provisions, and I want to mention in connection with that that I am sneaking as a member of a local authority. That Clause enables local authorities to deal with many defects in connection with streets and buildings, and I have to suggest to the House that local authori- 2711 ties ought to have the power to deal particularly with that portion which relates to the paving of courts and alleys and what are known as private streets. We have a great deal of difficulty with these. In my own town these particular courts and alleys are not properly attended to. We know there is a system whereby you can compel an owner to attend to them, but it is a very round-about system, and we ask for a provision in this Bill to deal with that matter effectively and quickly. If hon. Members would study Part II they will see that that Clause is giving powers to local authorities to deal with matters that ought to be dealt with, and dealt with at once.
Part III deals with sanitary matters and does not require any detailed statement. It deals with the construction of drains, laying of drains in private streets, and the prohibition of discharging petrol into drains, which, I submit, is an important matter, and the nuisance caused in some instance by van dwellers in unsuitable places, and enables the local authorities to deal with these matters and regulate them. I would like to see it differently drafted, but I submit that can be dealt with in the Committee stage.
Part IV deals with a very unpleasant subject, but one that any man who has had experience of sanitary work, especially in towns, knows is a very difficult one to deal with, and that is the question of verminous articles, verminous dwellings and verminous people. It is a very difficult matter and a very unpleasant subject, but one of great importance, because many infectious diseases are carried by vermin. The powers we are asking under this Bill are only right and reasonable for any local authority to have.
Part V which is an adoptive Clause relates to the adoption in small areas with a population under 20,000 people with the consent of the Minister of Health, deals with streams and water courses the object being to ensure that when any water course is culverted the culvert shall be properly constructed. That is a very important thing, and I am sure it will commend itself to the House.
Part VI deals with the question of provision of recreation grounds. It is proposed that provisions should come into operation wherever the correspond 2712 ing provisions of the Public Health Acts (Amendment) Act, 1907, have been adopted. It will enable local authorities to provide cricket, football and other grounds, and also will, I think, be a very good thing indeed for those authorities, particularly in congested areas who are desirous to provide reasonable recreation for the young people, because in some of those areas we find it very difficult for these people to get ground at all. If local authorities can encourage sport among the younger people to my mind it is going to be of great benefit.
Part IX, which deals with baths and washhouses, is the only part that deals with London. As a matter of fact, public health legislation for London is in most cases different from the rest of the country. The Act of 1875 did not apply to the metropolis. The. law relating to baths and washhouses is the same for London, and it is proposed that the Clauses dealing with this subject shall apply to London and the provinces. The charges for public baths fixed in 1878 were all right then, but do not fit the present day. The Act of 1846 provided that men and women should bathe separately. I want to say one or two things about this. I am very fond of mixed bathing. I am a swimmer myself, and so are my wife and daughter, and I do not want to have to go in one bath while they go into another. Fortunately, as far as my own town is concerned, we have either ignored the Act or else got powers under a private Act, I do not know which, but we allow mixed bathing. I enjoy it very much, and I want other people to enjoy the same privilege, and it is only a reasonable thing that we should allow, at any rate, the municipalities to decide whether they shall allow mixed bathing or not without breaking the law if they do allow it. The Bill does not embody any clear-cut principle which the House will be asked to approve on the Second Reading. It deals with questions of principle which have already been decided by the House, and if there are any Amendments to it, or anything that anyone can take objection to, I would ask him to leave it to the Committee stage, when every opportunity will be afforded of raising any points in connection with it. The Bill is supported by municipal authorities throughout the country. It is something that has been 2713 wanted for a considerable time. It is going to enable those of us who are keenly interested in local government and in the health of the people to do many things that we cannot do at the moment. It is going to save money and to save the time of the House. I ask the House to give this first Bill of mine very favourable consideration to-day, and if there are any who are opposed to it, I ask them to leave their opposition to the Committee stage, and I will ask my friends not to kill it by talking past the time.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I beg to second the Motion.
I support the Bill because I entirely agree with the principle of it, and because I come from a constituency not very far away from that of the Mover, which in many respects is not quite so enlightened as the community he represents. While his constituency has discovered some legal or illegal method of permitting its citizens the joys and thrills of mixed bathing, in the community I represent the old ladies of the male sex have so far been able to convince the majority of their colleagues on the council that cold water is an exceedingly bad thing for people to indulge in, and that it contributes to an outlook and a type of mind which it is not desirable to cultivate, although my personal experience of mixed bathing has been quite the contrary, and cold water I have found most invigorating. I am not altogether sure that I agree with the hon. Member that all the thrills of mixed bathing are exhausted when one takes one's own wife or daughter to the baths with him. However that may be, it seems quite ridiculous that in these days, when by-laws are made under the Baths and Wash-houses Act of 1848, they must, to be legal, provide for men's baths separately. The hon. Member has told us that the main purpose of the Bill is to provide in one Act a consolidation of principles already accepted in local Acts which have been passed by Parliament, and therefore the principles of the Act have been tested by experience, and have been subjected to a good deal of examination.
I know the enthusiasm of many of my Conservative friends for their work in connection with the administration of 2714 local government. The services which have been carried on for the people of this country by the various local authorities under the provision of the Public Health Acts are, of course, an area of social activity which really means that you are applying Socialism to the evils thrown out by private enterprise under a capitalist system of organisation. Amongst some of the most enthusiastic administrators of Socialist principles there are a good many who call themselves Conservatives at election time. In my own constituency the four great communal needs of gas, water, electricty and transport are met by communal effort, and we adopt the principle of communal ownership. One of those great undertakings in another dozen years' time, worth £ 500,000 at least, will have become the property of the citizens of the town without it ever costing them a single penny, and, strange to say, the gentleman whose energy, brains and initiative have contributed so much to the success of that undertaking is one of the most violent anti-Socialists I know. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) is sitting on this side of the House, and after a while he will be able to come up a little higher because he has done very great work in municipal administration in his town.
I hope the House will assent, to the principle of this Bill because, in the first place, it will enable local authorities who have found out the difficulties of various Acts they are working under, as the result of experience, to get, under the powers proposed in this Bill, up-to-date powers to deal with their difficulties at very much loss expense than they can get them to-day. Take the position of the average local authority. It meets some administrative difficulty and it has to do one of two things. It has either to promote a private Bill, which is a very expensive proceeding, or it has to wait for several years until a number of other needs, necessitate its seeking Parliamentary power, have developed, and then insert a Clause in some private Bill. So far as I understand the provisions of this Bill, if it were put upon the Statute Book it would give effect in one consolidated Act to all these various powers that local authorities have from time to time found as the result of their experience to be 2715 necessary to successful administration and it would, of course, obviate the expense of a private Bill. A second advantage which would, come from the Bill is the fact that it would lead to a greater uniformity in the administration in various parts of the country of the Public Health Acts. The hon. Member mentioned the difficulties that exist where contiguous local authorities have different powers and different interpretations of existing Acts. In some cases there are private Acts in one locality, and in another contiguous to it, working probably under the general Acts, difficulties of administration arise and the two systems may be very different. A third reason which should commend itself to the House is the fact that the time of Parliament would be saved, and particularly the time of those Members of Parliament who serve on the Local Legislation Committee. I have heard the opinion expressed by certain hon. Members that this particular work does take up a great deal of time, and anything which would simplify the procedure or reduce the pressure in this direction would be a good thing for Parliament and for themselves.
I hope that my horn. Friend will have success with his Bill. It does not go so far as I should like to see a Bill go when dealing with the powers of local authorities. I would like to see the people of this country given an opportunity of developing through the municipalities all the services for which there is need in their particular localities without so much reference to Parliament as is necessary to-day. It would, of course, be necessary to subject to Parliamentary control the financial problems that might be created by a Measure of this kind, but I fail to see why municipal administration should be handicapped by this close system of Parliamentary control which we have developed in this country, and I would like to see the local authorities given the power to do everything that a limited liability company, which operates under the Companies Acts, can do. If that were done, it would enable progressive local authorities, in places where there is a development of progressive opinion, to engage in very valuable experiments which might enable them, if they were as successful in their trade undertaking as they have been in 2716 the same areas, to reduce considerably the rating burden which is now placed upon the people. I thank the House for the attention with which they have listened to me, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be successful.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I am very glad to say one or two words in support of this Bill from the point of view of my special experience as an old county medical officer of health. This Bill is largely a jumble of Measures which have proved useful in one or other of the localities where they have been tried. It is true that they are instances of communal effort, but my hon. Friend who has just sat down has a view of Socialism, which, from our point of view, is entirely erroneous, and he is doing great disservice to public health if he is going to associate public health Measures with Socialism, for then many of us who are bitterly opposed to Socialism in all its forms would be inclined to disagree with giving support to these Measures.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
So many different definitions are used by hon. Members opposite and by other persons supporting the Socialist party, that it is difficult to select the one which will please the hon. Member, but the one which we take, and which we have had in discussion on the matter, is that Socialism Is the common possession of means of production, distribution and exchange. That is the definition to which we are bitterly opposed, but we on this side of the House are not opposed to communal effort, whether it is on a voluntary basis or an official basis when it is necessary. We are not dogmatic like hon. Members opposite, or like members of the party which apparently does not exist this afternoon below the Gangway. We believe (hat you can get certain things done best by combined effort, sometimes official effort. On the other hand, some things are best done by private enterprise. It is because we believe that these different methods are useful in different circumstances and conditions that we are definitely opposed to the Socialistic idea, which is to include all these methods under communal effort. In the Bill there are two or three points which will have to be considered carefully in Committee
2717 To those of my friends who are most individualistic and least in favour of communal effort, I would say that we recognise—those of us who are in favour of this and similar measures—that there are certain measures of constraint that are put upon persons for the common advantage. The Bill does interfere with extreme individualism and individual rights in certain respects. But those who look through the Clauses of the Bill will realise that in each case those restraints are necessary, either as they are outlined or with certain modifications which can be made in Committee. For instance, there is the proposal for dealing with infectious diseases. Undoubtedly in such cases certain definite restraint is necessary to make the person who is in charge of premises where there is lying the body of a person dead from an infectious disease, take reasonable steps in order to protect: people who may come in contact with the body. That is a definite constraint. It may involve a great deal of trouble or some expense to persons who may be very hard worked and there may be difficulty in carrying it out, but it is necessary in the public interest. On the other hand, there are in the Bill some compulsory measures which may be unnecessary. Take, for example, the Clause which deals with the broadening of roads and various minor points in connection with the highways, necessitated by the growth of motor traffic. The Bill says that in the case of blind corners the local authority may serve a notice on the owner of the land at the corner and call upon him to take down all obstructions, above a certain height, which interfere with the public view. I cannot see why the private owner should be compelled to take away, say, bushes and trees or whatever it may be that has grown lip on his premises to suit his taste. I cannot see why he should be required at his own expense to remove the obstruction for the sake of the public advantage.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
There should be compensation and there should be power for the local authority compulsorily to do the work, and the owner should be required only to give facilities, with a provision as to compensation 2718 Some amendment of this Clause may be made in Committee. Then take Clause 59, which is the definition of a dangerous infectious disease. The Clause says that "dangerous infectious disease" shall mean only infectious diseases that are named in Section (6) of the Act of 1889. Many things have been discovered, and, unfortunately, a great many unpleasant and dangerous diseases have been discovered since 1889. Under Sub-section (2) of Clause 59 of this Bill the Minister of Health may, by Order, declare any other infectious disease to be a dangerous infectious disease for one particular area or generally or temporarily or permanently, and this would apply to diseases which have been discovered as generally dangerous infectious diseases, and which were not definitely named in the 1889 Act. It will include, for example, cerebrospinal meningitis; it will include tuberculosis and other diseases—anything which the Minister thinks necessary. That allows a Very large amount of latitude and adaptability in the application of the Act.
It is only an instance of how our public health system grows up by degrees First you have various local authorities adopting, in a tentative way, certain measures and asking Parliament for special powers to do so. Some of these measures prove useless, extravagant, or unnecessary and do not go further; others are found useful in one locality but not useful elsewhere and they do not go any further. But a very large number of measures have started first by being adopted by Manchester or Leeds. Birmingham or London and being found useful there have been adopted elsewhere. Then it conies to the stage when a measure peculiarly adapted to one area is found to be generally adaptable to the whole country. This is the stage which is represented by these proposals enabling these measures to be adopted all over the country without further sanction. There are some parts of this Bill which it is proposed to make compulsory, namely. Parts VII, VIII, and IX. I have looked through them carefully, and most of them provide only that the local authority may do this, that or the other. There is nothing very serious in these parts of the Rill being made compulsorily applicable to the whole country. The other parts can be adopted, if this Bill passes, with- 2719 out application to Parliament. The third stage in this process of development is when proposals which are found to he generally applicable are made compulsory and we get sanitary measures of general application which are Dart of the final code of this country.
Thus you have first, the tentative stage in the locality, then the adopted stage, where all local authorities are empowered to adopt measures if they think fit, and, finally, the compulsory stage, where all localities are compelled to adopt them. This is an essential Measure in connection with that development, and I hope the House will agree to it. It is an essential preliminary to the great work which all who are interested in the public health desire to see, namely, the consolidation of the public health laws of this country. Since the great Act passed by Disraeli in 1875 there has been a constant succession of Public Health Acts, and it is almost impossible for anybody who has not made a professional study of public health law and administration to know his way through the different charters of the last 50 years. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health if a Measure of consolidation is in process of preparation. Members on both sides have been interested in this matter for the last two or three years. Definite questions have been put, and we have had the assurance that the Ministry are preparing to undertake a consolidation Measure, and it is an essential step towards that end to get these Measures which have been passed as private Acts throughout the country incorporated into the common law. I hope we shall have a promise from the Ministry of a consolidating Public Health Bill within the next year or two, and that the House will agree unanimously to the Second Heading of this Bill.
This is the first time I have had the pleasure of addressing the House, and I feel sure that the courtesy and kindness which have always characterised this House will be extended to me. I have had upward of 20 years of public life, and at the present time I occupy the honourable position of being chairman of the Lancashire group of the Municipal Corporations Association. I therefore may 2720 fairly claim that I know a little about this subject. I am sorry, in the first place, that the name of Socialism was mentioned in the Debate. This Bill is for the benefit of all parties and all sections of the community. [An HON. MEMBER: "So is Socialism."] And so is Socialism; I quite acknowledge that. This Public Health Bill, which the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) has introduced, has given great satisfaction to all municipal corporations and, I am sure, in all sections of the community all over the country. We realise that, with the great number of Public Health Acts which have been passed, the time has come for consolidation, and I assume that this is a stepping-stone towards something which will consolidate the numerous Acts dealing with the public health.
In this Bill there is nothing novel and there is nothing revolutionary, and I may say that the very fact of it having been considered by the Municipal Corporations Association for quite a long time and it having been before the law committee of that body ought to be sufficient recommendation for us to realise that there is something good in this Bill. The lengthy and protracted negotiations which we have had with the Ministry of Health—and I have been up there on scores of occasions in the last few years—should be sufficient to ensure this Bill being given its Second Beading. It provides a protection for those local authorities which have not got the powers obtained by many municipal bodies through private Bills. It only conserves something which a lot of these smaller authorities have already done, which, strictly according to law, they ought not to have clone. A useful provision in the Bill is, as the hon. Member for Grimsby rightly said, the extension of power in regard to recreation grounds. In the industrial centres, we realise that we want more power to provide open spaces and recreation grounds, where the youth of our district, who throughout the day are enclosed in a bad atmosphere, should be able to enjoy to a full extent the rights of citizenship, of which we hear so much from hon. Members on the Opposition Benches.
The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) mentioned danger spots, and asked why we 2721 should call upon private owners to surrender land for making alterations, but I hope that this Bill or some future Bill will provide that where they are unreasonable we shall be able to negotiate through some sort of arbitration. In the borough that I have the honour to represent, Eccles, we have a danger spot where there have been several fatal accidents. There is only a thorn fence, but it is a blind corner, and it has no practical purpose at all, because there is only a little field of about a quarter of an acre behind the fence, and the owner wants an exorbitant price to cut the fence down. I hope this Bill will go to a Second Beading, when it will have full consideration, and when it is passed into law I hope the Minister of Health will bring in a Bill of a far wider scope dealing with public health. I thank hon. Members very much for the kind attention they have given me in this, my maiden speech.
§ Lieut-Colonel FREMANTLE
May I say a word of personal explanation? The hon. Member said I was opposed to the owner being compelled to surrender the corner. I am not at all opposed to that; I am only opposed to his being compelled to do it at his own expense
I was only drawing attention to a little fact that has occurred in our borough. I did not for a moment intend to apply anything to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ Sir PHILIP RICHARDSON
May I first congratulate the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Bethell) on the very confident way in which he has presented his case to the House, and express the hope of the House, I am sure, that he will address it on many future occasions? As one who backs the Bill, I venture to offer one or two remarks. In the first place, I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) on having introduced a Measure of this sort on a Friday afternoon. There has been a tendency of late to introduce highly controversial Measures, and, as the Minister pointed out the other day, Measures which should really be Government Measures, are introduced on a day which should be set aside for private Members. This Bill is introduced and backed by Members of all parties, including the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. 2722 Clynes) and the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts), and also two Members of the Liberal party. That being so, it is, to a great extent, an agreed Measure; but an agreed Measure will not go through unless it has Government support. Therefore, I am very pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, to ask him whether he has had his attention drawn to the pronouncement of the Minister of Health on the 28th March, 1923, when he said:Legislation for the purpose of amending Public Health Acts on a number of points which experience has shown to be necessary, is now under consideration in my Department and is, in my opinion, an essential preliminary to any consolidating Measure. Althongh I cannot undertake to deal with the matter in the present Sessiom., the urgent importance of consolidating its numerous and complicated Statutes is fully present to my mind.If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will give us the assurance that Government support will be accorded to this Measure, I am quite certain it will obviate a great deal of discussion, and probably lead to the matter being taken through to its Committee stage. The Bill is, obviously, one which contains a very large number of Clauses, and it is quite impossible for one to deal with any of them in any detail in the short time at our disposal. Each Member would, probably, have something of special interest in his district. We have had from the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) his point of view. In my own particular district, the question of the flooding by rivers is a very important one and one which is exercising the attention of my constituents. Every Member in this House, probably, would be able to get up and say something which is interesting him or those whom he represents, but that is impossible at this stage. I will not detain the House further, in view of the short time at disposal, but I do hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that this matter, which has been so earnestly occupying the attention of the Ministry of Health since March, 1923, is now going to be brought to fruition.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I desire, on my own behalf, to add one or two words in support of this Bill. This is a Measure which, so far as I understand it, would 2723 have the support of the Local Legislation Committee, which hears appeals and considers Bills from local authorities from time to time. I have had the honour of serving on that Committee for 12 months; a very valuable experience indeed. This Bill embodies those principles that in this connection are deemed to be essential in local government. I hope, therefore, that we shall not be compelled to listen to a discussion on Socialistic ideas in connection with it. What I would say to my hon. Friend (Colonel Fremantle) on the opposite side is, that on the day he was appointed a medical officer of health by a local authority, that that was in essence an example of municipal Socialism. Any hon. Members on the other side who cannot detect a degree of municipal Socialism in a Bill of this kind, where provision is made for the erection and expansion of public washhousrs do not understand what municipal Socialism means. There is no question that I know of that crystalises the idea of municipal Socialism and its effect upon the domestic life of our people more than the establishment of municipal washhouses. I would not, however, like to raise a discussion on that fundamental issue on a Bill of this kind.
I am not clear as to what is intended by Clause 63. Whilst I support the Bill to-day, hon. Members must bear in mind that there are some important points that I shall feel disposed to raise in Committee upstairs. I trust that the representative of the Government, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, will be able to tell us why certain conditions have not been included in this Clause. The particular Clause to which I refer reads:(1) The local authority may make bye-laws for regulating the conduct of persons waiting in streets to enter public vehicles, and the priority of entry into such vehicles, by such bye-laws require queues or lines to be formed and kept by such persons.The point I want to emphasise is this, as to whether the principle has yet been established in respect of any local authority by the Local Legislation Committee by which motor cars, or other vehicles must stop whilst persons are entering or alighting from tramcars. I speak on this subject because I have seen one of the most terrible accidents that I ever witnessed happen simply 2724 because there was no provision in the bye-laws of the local authority to prevent an approaching motor-car from stopping when people were alighting from a tram car. I am told by my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Wheatley) who knows Glasgow better than I do, that Glasgow has already a provision of the sort to which I allude, whereby an approaching vehicle, coming towards a stopping tram-car must stop whilst passengers alight from a tramcar, or indeed any other vehicle. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he has taken note of the fact that the Local Legislation Committee has apparently established the principle in one or two cases already and that this very important principle, therefore, should be included in this Bill.
There is just another point to which I would call attention. I understand, having spent ten years on a municipal council, that when a local authority finds itself in the position, especially if it be a Conservative or anti-Socialist council, and it desires to get out of doing good to the community, it always plays on the legal word "may." The particular point arises in connection with Clause 66 of this Bill. I can well understand a backward local authority, which owns public baths, taking advantage of the words "the authority may make charges." As a matter of fact, enlightened authorities at present allow school children, and in some cases unemployed persons, to use the public baths without any charge whatsoever. For my part I would make no charge at all for using public baths. I would regard their use as a contribution to the health of the people. I trust, therefore, that when this Bill goes before a Committee upstairs we shall include in it such words that backward authorities shall not be able to shelter themselves behind optional provisions of this kind.
Having said that, I would like to add that I feel sure there is no objection to the Bill in general, as it is a very necessary one. I understand that this House periodically embodies the decisions of the local legislation committee in a Measure of this kind; and although this Measure does not go as far as I should like it to go—I do not think it deals with all the amendments that are required to the Public Health Act, 1875—it is a good Measure as far as it does go, 2725 and I trust it will be passed to-day and sent to Committee for more detailed consideration.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I gladly rise for the purpose of stating the attitude of the Ministry of Health towards this Bill, and I should like to join with my hon. Friend who has just spoken in deprecating the raising of any question of Socialism or anti-Socialism in connection with this Measure. I am content to leave the examples of Socialism where he left them—to the appointment of a medical officer of health, which, according to the hon. Gentleman opposite, is one of the first examples: the second one, I understand, being the adoption of washing by a large section of the community, and I am in entire agreement with him as to that. The attitude of the Ministry towards the Measure is this: We believe, in the first place, that, it is high time the Public Health Acts should be brought up to date, and, secondly, we certainly believe that they should be consolidated. The main Public Health Measure in this country was passed as long ago as 1875, and in 50 years there has really been no revision of that law. It is true that some Amendments were made in 1907, but those are far from having achieved all that is needed at the present time. Each year Parliament has had before it a large number of local Bills, many of the provisions of which have been rendered necessary by the fact that general legislation has not kept up with the growing needs of the time, and it is perfectly true, as has been stated this afternoon, that no one has more appreciated this or more often drawn attention to it than the Local Legislation Committee. In their Report of 1923 the Committee emphasised what they have pointed out in previous years, thatAs many of these powers are now usually sought, consolidation and extension of the Public Health Acts, 1875-1907, so as to include such powers under general legislation, would be extremely beneficial to local authorities.Therefore, I need hardly say, so far as my Department is concerned, that we welcome this Bill and would be glad to see it have a Second Reading. Naturally we should desire to examine the Bill again in Committee, and to examine also the 2726 different points raised by hon. Members, but we would like to see the Bill receive its Second Reading and go to Committee upstairs, and so far as my Department is concerned we would be glad to give it what facilities may ultimately be found necessary in this connection so that it may speedily reach the Statute Book. I also want to say, with reference to questions that have been raised as to the policy of the Government in this connection, that we also are very anxious to bring forward a consolidating Bill. But that, as the hon. Member behind rightly said we cannot do, and this is a necessary preliminary to any consolidating Bill at the present time. Directly this Bill, as I hope it will, goes on the Statute Book, there are two courses which the Government propose to take. We consider it necessary that a further Bill should be introduced by my Department for the purposes of making a number of Amendments to the Act which experience has shown to be required. I may say in answer to my hon. Friend that the preparation of this Bill is well advanced and originally it was intended to introduce it this Session, but the Association of Municipal Corporations was anxious to promote the Bill which my hon. Friend has so ably presented to the House this afternoon. Two separate Public Health Bills could not very well be. dealt with in the same Session, and so we decided to defer to 1926 the introduction of the Government Bill. Hon. Members will see that a good step forward is made this afternoon if the House should adopt this Hill, and we shall then probably have some suggestions of our own in 1926 which will be followed still further by a Consolidation Bill.
This matter has had the constant attention of the Ministry, and we are very anxious indeed that these steps should be taken. I only want to make a further observation on one or two points raised by one hon. Member. He was referring to Clause 22. I think it should be said in regard to that Clause, which relates to obstruction of the view of drivers of vehicles at the corners of streets, that certainly in places local authorities, after consideration of the report from their surveyor, have power to prescribe the height to which boundary walls in places should be raised. I do not think myself that is an unreasonable sug- 2727 gestion, and it is only right that it should be said that in this Bill there is also the proposal that when a notice has been served upon such owners he should be directed to carry it out, but also it should be said there is power to pay that owner compensation. I think myself that most owners would prefer to carry out that work themselves rather than the local authority should step in and do the work. That is a point which no doubt will be considered in Committee and any alternative which could be set up by which the local authorities themselves should have power to do it.
Then I think my hon. Friend called attention to Clause 59, which relates to the question of certain infectious diseases and the power of giving in this Bill the Minister of Health to prescribe other dangerous diseases. If the Minister of Health does make that prescription then, of course, the provisions of Part VII would apply. I agree that the Clause is a very general one. It is only right that it should be said that it is qualified by the word "dangerous." At the present time it is certainly a curious thing that the list in our Public Health Act does not include such dangerous infectious diseases as plague, dysentery and matters of that kind. I think my hon. Friend will agree that such power in connection with this should be given. Then I think the hon. Gentleman referred to Clause 66 in relation to charges made by various local authorities for baths and matters of that kind. This Bill, I think, rightly leaves in the hands of the local authorities concerned the decision as to what they should do in matters of that kind. After all, these local authorities are elected bodies, and I believe hon. Gentlemen opposite believe in democracy and the right of the people to rule, and I think the matter of what they should charge for a bath might very well be left to them without the interference of Parliament. At any rate, that is the suggestion in the Bill, and it is not a suggestion in which I personally quarrel with himself. I hope that the House will give a Second Reading unanimously to this Bill this afternoon. It is in no sense a party Bill. All parties have backed it. The Ministry of Health regard it as a most useful Measure, and. subject to our 2728 criticisms in Committee, we shall be very glad to see it on the Statute Book at an early date.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I think this House will be doing a very valuable piece of work indeed if, as looks probable, it gives a Second Reading to this Bill. I have always held the view that it is desirable that the law should operate uniformly ever the widest possible area, and I do not think that this particular argument has been put forward this afternoon. In normal times, when there are empty houses, people do move from one municipal area to another, and it is a matter of considerable inconvenience when they find themselves living under a different municipal law and under different by-laws in one district from those under which they have been accustomed to live in another district. It. is a principle of our Constitution that the citizen is supposed to know the law, and no doubt that is a good principle, but it becomes exceedingly difficult to a citizen to be able to give effect to that principle without getting himself into trouble if in practice there be a wide variation of the legal powers as between one municipal area and another. For that reason, quite apart from any of the other reasons, it is very desirable that this Bill should be given a Second Beading.
I have read it through as carefully as I can, and I realise that it is always difficult for the non-legal mind to be quite certain of the significance of all the words contained in a Bill, but, as I read it, it is an essentially reasonable document. There are one or two things in it that I might like to criticise, and, if it happens to come before a Standing Committee of which I am a member, assuming that it receives a Second Reading this afternoon, there may be certain Amendments that I shall desire to move, but it seems to me. broadly speaking, a good Bill and a well-drawn Bill, and I am glad that it docs not go beyond what it contains. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taylor) expressed some desire for a more comprehensive Measure. I think if we had a more comprehensive Measure we should have a good deal more controversy than we have had this afternoon. Even as it is the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) did for a few minutes provoke a little controversy by suggesting that this might or might 2729 not be a Measure of municipal Socialism. I have never regarded any Measure for administrative control as anything to do with Socialism. It is when you come to the fundamental question of trading and producing the ordinary commodities of life that we begin to talk about Socialism. Otherwise, everything that is not anarchy can be called Socialism. We are not here to discuss the relative merits of collectivism and individualism, but whether this Bill should receive a Second Reading.
I have not had the same extensive municipal experience as my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), who moved the Second Readme of the Bill, but I have had a little, and it was my misfortune to be a member of a Finance Committee of a municipal authority at a time when we were paying the account for getting a private Bill through this House. I was horrified, and I know that every other member of that municipal authority was horrified, when we saw the immense burden that we had thrown upon the ratepayers in getting powers from Parliament to do certain things, the bulk of which were, essentially reasonable and about which there was no real controversy. It will be a great advantage if by this Bill we can confer these powers on all the municipalities in England and Wales, except the London County Council and Metropolitan Borough Councils, winch, I think, already possess the bulk of the powers, because their powers arise from later legislation than the Public Health Act, 1875, namely, the County Councils Act, 1888, and the London Government Act, 1899, which give them powers, perhaps, more up-to-date than those which are possessed by the municipalities outside them. That is, no doubt, the reason why the promoters have not brought London into the scope of the Bill; and the reason why they have not brought in Scotland is, I think, very evident, namely, that, if Scotland were brought in, we should certainly, whatever the merits of the Measure, have, had a much longer Debate than we have had this afternoon.
In addition to the saving of money, and not only of money in the direct sense, but the saving of work to councillors and town clerks which, to the neglect of their other work, the promotion of a private Bill involves, there is the saving, which 2730 has already been mentioned, and which I should like to emphasise—the saving of time to this House, both collectively and individually. I have not had the disadvantage, up to the present, of serving on a committee dealing with private Bill legislation, but, from what I have seen of it, it is probably the heaviest burden that is cast upon Members of this House. The result of our public health legislation and the perfectly magnificent work which has been done by our local authorities, whether county councils, municipal borough, urban district councils, or rural district councils, has been to make this country the healthiest industrial country in the world. We have seen, particularly in the present century, one of the greatest miracles in the history of mankind, namely, the cutting down of infantile mortality from something in the neighbourhood of 160 out of every 1.000 babies born to very much less than half that figure. That, in my opinion, is one of the greatest miracles in the history of mankind, and it is the result of the public health work of our local authorities under the powers which have been conferred upon them by this House—their powers with regard to sewage disposal and dealing with nuisances, their powers either to supply water or to control those who supply water, and to ensure its adequate purity, the various powers of health inspection, powers for dealing with infectious diseases, powers as to notification, and powers for dealing with dirty houses
As regards the last-named, we have learned from recent advances in medical science that a great many diseases are due to germs which are parasites on the filthy organisms which are sometimes found in old houses. Those who have taken the trouble to read this Bill will find that the powers already possessed by some municipalities with regard to verminous houses are conferred upon all municipalities coming within the scope of the Bill. I am quite satisfied that the new powers with regard to health which will be conferred upon many municipalities will lead to a still further advance in improving the health of the people of this country. As regards the powers for dealing with water-courses, I am not quite certain whether those powers will go to the extent of enabling municipalities to deal with the menace to our individual health that exists in the form of 2731 breeding-places for flies and mosquitoes. I happen to live on the outskirts of London, at Putney, near the borough where I used to be a councillor, namely, Wimbledon, and in Wimbledon they have some watercourses which breed the most virulent kind of mosquitoes that there are anywhere in London. They are selective: they do not bite everyone; but those whom they do bite suffer very severely indeed. I hope that the powers in this Bill with regard to watercourses are in fact sufficiently extensive to enable a municipal authority to be able to attack the breeding grounds of these pests. It is not merely the inconvenience you suffer from a swollen hand or face, because very often these flies or mosquitoes are the carriers of very dangerous diseases indeed, and I hope the promoter will take into account the possibility of an Amendment being moved, if necessary, to deal with this matter.
As to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle), I think that has been adequately dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, but I think it is right if, in the public interest, blind corners want to be made safe to the public, the municipal authorities should possess the power to compel the owner to do it, in the second place to compensate him, and, thirdly, allow the man to do it himself. Clause 60 should be of peculiar interest to all Members of this House. Under Clause 60 it is provided that any offices provided by the local authority for the transaction of business may be used by the local authority for the purpose of entertainments and may be let by them for use for those purposes. The expression "entertainments" includes bands, concerts, performances, lectures, shows, exhibitions, competitions and other amusements. I would like to know if "other amusements" means political meetings, because it is a matter of considerable importance, since democracy is our form of Government, that every opportunity should be given for the adequate expression of political views, and I think there 2732 should be powers to let these offices for political gatherings, provided the construction of the building is suitable for the purpose. Clause 61 is one I might criticise a little. It starts to infringe upon the area of Socialism which has been touched upon, for it enables authorities to build cold stores. I know in these days of questions of profiteering and food supply there may be some who wish that municipalities should provide cold storages. But as a broad proposition, I find that when a municipal borough becomes a trading body it becomes less effective. A municipal undertaking is run by amateurs in their spare time, and for that reason you cannot expect the same efficiency of administration from a municipal council as you can from a private body of people who are working to earn their own living. The stimulus of gain and fear of bankruptcy are two things which make us work very hard. The municipal councillor, in his administrative capacity, is not subject to these things. I well remember when I was a member of an electricity committee we used to spend two-thirds of our time explaining to an obstructive member why it was legitimately possible to sell the same kind of electricity at two prices, when one was used for power and the other for light. I submit that for that reason Clause 61, which is the definite extension of municipal trading, is a dangerous provision, and I hope the promoters will consider that when the Bill is upstairs.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to Standing Committee.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next (23rd March).