HC Deb 02 July 1935 vol 303 cc1769-72

6.47 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 37, after "health," to insert "or sanitary inspector."

This deals with a very simple point. Clause 12 says: It shall be the duty of the medical officer of health appointed by the local authority of any district to furnish annually to the Department and to the local authority in accordance with regulations to be made by the Department particulars with respect to the condition of the district in relation to overcrowding. In Committee upstairs the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) asked why the duty was to be imposed specially on the medical officer of health, who was a very busy person, and why it should not be possible to appoint some officer specially for the purpose, or allow it to be done by any one whom the local authority thought fit. The reply made by the Lord Advocate was: As to the point raised by the hon. Member for Bridgeton we think that the medical officer is the proper person to make the report. No doubt a great deal of the information will be gathered through subordinates. Obviously he cannot do it all himself, but he is the proper person to make the report. His position in this respect is peculiar, in that he cannot be removed from office without the sanction of the Department of Health, so that he is really, in a sense, free. If a local authority should not be carrying out the Act as they ought to he will be free to give to the Department a certain amount of criticism, which will he very useful to the Department. For that reason we think he is the person from whom we shall get a true—perhaps I should not say a true but a completely unbiased—report on the position in his district."—[Standing Committee on Scottish Bills; 11th April, 1935, col. 468.] The matter was not pressed in Committee, but since then all Scottish Members have no doubt received a circular from the Sanitary Inspectors Association of Scotland pointing out that they, too, enjoy the same security of tenure as medical officers of health, and that under former Statutes they have been charged with the duties in respect of overcrowding. As they are able to rest their claim on the precise grounds put forward by the Lord Advocate upstairs, I suggest that the Government should accept what is a very reasonable Amendment.

6.50 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

My hon. Friend has expressed the position so clearly that it is unnecessary for me to add very much to what he has said. I have received strong representations on the subject from sanitary inspectors in my constituency, who feel that they have been rather ignored in the Bill as it stands in a way which is unnecessary and somewhat unexpected. It is believed that if the old system were to remain, whereby the sanitary inspector had the right to report to his own local authority, it would make for a more expeditious administration; and I do not see that the status of medical officers would be in any way affected if the Amendment were accepted. I hope the Government will make this concession to a body of men who are highly trained and efficient, and who are able to report in a most reliable manner to the local authority with whom they are connected.

6.51 p.m.


I mentioned this matter in Committee upstairs. I should prefer that a definite official should be appointed whose duties should be housing duties, and nothing else. That would have been desirable and possible in the large county authorities and in the big cities and burghs; that is, a man who would be responsible to the council direct and not to the medical officer. It is obvious that in roost cases the medical officer of health will have to delegate these duties to somebody else, and in certain cases he will delegate them to the sanitary inspector. Anyone who knows anything of local administration knows that where an official does not report direct to the committee whose interests he is serving, but to another official, neither the council nor the official can get to close grips with the problems which confront them in their area. I should have preferred a separate official for housing alone, but if that is not feasible, then the suggestion of making the sanitary inspector the alternative official to the medical officer should be accepted.

I am thinking of small burghs inside counties which are housing authorities with housing duties, and speaking from general knowledge, without having checked the facts, I think that a large number of these small burghs do not have a full-time medical officer, but that most of them have a full-time sanitary inspector; and in towns with a population of 5,000 up to 20,000 you are going to impose this duty in connection with overcrowding on the, medical officer of health, who may be a very busy medical man with a large private practice, and who is much dependent on keeping on pleasant terms with his patients. All sorts of difficult complications may arise in a small burgh where the medical officer of health has to perform certain duties under this Bill which might bring him into conflict with his own personal medical practice. I think there is a strong case for accepting the Amendment.

6.53 p.m.

Captain McEWEN

I, also, have received strong representations on this point. There is no doubt that it is the sanitary inspector who will in most cases be making all the inspections, and as no one doubts their competence to report on all other matters, it is rather unfortunate that they should not be considered competent to be responsible for the official statement to the Department of Health. I understand also that the Sanitary In-spectors Association are seriously alarmed as to the way in which their status is being undermined by successive Acts of Parliament, and they regard this particular Bill, rightly or wrongly, as being not the least damaging blow aimed at their status. For these reasons, therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will accept the Amendment.

6.54 p.m.


The position in my own constituency differs from that of Glasgow, where the medical officer of health has control over the sanitary inspectors. It is quite different in my constituency, which I think is typical of most other constituencies in Scotland. There the medical officer of health is a part-time official, but the sanitary inspector is a full-time official, and invariably in these circumstances he is the individual who carries out this job. I support the proposal and ask the Government to accept it.

6.55 p.m.


The Amendment in its present form would leave it doubtful which of the two officials would make the report. It would mean an undetermined responsibility. On the merits of the question which has been forcibly put by several hon. Members, we shall have an opportunity of considering the matter again. There is a variety of different circumstances to consider. That is all I can say at the moment. We will look into the matter with complete impartiality and in the light of the interesting arguments put forward, and, if necessary, make a change in another place. But I would warn the House that it might be in the form of a rather elaborate Clause, because we shall have to consider the different conditions where one officer would be the reporting officer in one area and the other officer the reporting officer in another.


In view of the reply of the Under-Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.