HC Deb 16 June 1937 vol 325 cc393-400

4.5 p.m.

Major Milner

I beg to move, in page 6, line 23, at the end, to insert "or sanitary inspector."

This Clause provides that in any of the preceding provisions of the Bill there shall be substituted for reference to a factory inspector a reference to the medical officer of health, and the purpose of the Amendment is to add the words, "or sanitary inspector." In my submission there are quite incontrovertible arguments why this should be done, and I am at a loss to understand how it is that the words of the Amendment are not in the Bill. In the first place the provisions contained in the preceding Clauses, to which reference is made in this Clause, relate to cleanliness (including the removal of offensive accumulations), overcrowding, temperature, ventilation, drainage and sanitary conveniences. In my submission these things are peculiarly the function of the sanitary inspector to deal with. Not only that, but assuming that this Clause goes through as it stands, the House would, in effect, be taking away from sanitary inspectors the power which they at present have, because under the Factory and Workshops Act of 1901 action by a district council is dependent upon a certificate of the medical officer of health or of the sanitary inspector; and if the Clause goes through as it stands, the result would be that the sanitary inspector would be deprived of power which for 36 years he has exercised. That is a very serious matter. The sanitary Inspector is the appropriate officer. He carries out inspections of factories and workshops, and unless the name of his office is put in here he is deprived of a power that he already has.

There are other reasons why I urge this Amendment upon the House. For five or six years I have served with other Members of the House on a number of Consolidation Committees, in particular on a Local Council and Public Health Consolidation Committee, and in quite a number of instances in the Public Health Bill of last year, in order to secure uniformity, the words "or sanitary inspector," or similar words were invariably added by the Committee and were approved by the House. The Factory Acts are analogous, in this respect at any rate, to the Public Health Acts, and it seems to me to be necessary, in the interest of uniformity, to add these words. Furthermore, if the Home Secretary will look at the following Clause, Sub-section (2), he will find these words: Where an inspector finds any such act or default as aforesaid, he may take with him into the factory a medical officer of health, sanitary inspector or other officer of the district council. There the sanitary inspector is mentioned. We all know that in practice this sort of work is invariably done by the sanitary inspector. It may be that formal reports are signed by the medical officer, but the actual work is done by the sanitary inspector, who has the right of entry, the right to prosecute claims and to take action on behalf of the council. Without this Amendment, if I am a factory owner it will be open to me, when the sanitary inspector comes along, even under the direction of a medical officer of health, to say to him, under this Clause as it stands, "Get out; the only person who is entitled to exercise the powers in the preceding Clauses of this Bill is the medical officer. There is no authority for the sanitary inspector to come into my factory"; and it will be open to the sanitary inspector to say to the medical officer of health, That is not one of my functions, you are given the specific function of dealing with cleanliness, ventilation and so on." Confusion will arise; there will be difficulty in a number of respects, and the status of the sanitary inspector, which for 36 years has given him separate powers under the Factory Acts, will be reduced. That is not a desirable thing. Sanitary inspectors have technical examinations to pass and it is right and proper that their status should be preserved.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Ridley

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is very undesirable indeed to restrict the right of entry and of inspection. The more the right of entry or inspection is restricted, the less is it likely that infringement will be discovered. Not only is this a weakening of the provision of the 1901 Act and out of harmony with the provisions of Clause 9 of this Bill, but it is similarly out of harmony with Clause 126, Sub-section (5), which states: For the purpose of their duties under this Act a county council and a district council and their officers shall, without prejudice.… If the word "officers" in that Clause means what it can only be construed to mean, that is to include the sanitary inspector, it is inconsistent not specially to define him in Clause 8.

4.12 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

I think a certain amount of misconception underlies some of the arguments used in support of the Amendment. I would like the House to know that there is no question in this Clause of determining which officer of the district council or local authority is to perform certain duties relating to inspection. It is not that at all. The purpose of the Clause, or of the Sub-section to which this Amendment is proposed, is to transfer to a named officer of the local authorities certain powers which, under the amending scheme of factory legislation, are specifically conferred on the inspector. The powers in question, if one looks back from Clause 8 to previous Clauses, are powers of a special character. They are four in number—the power to approve certain methods of cleaning under Clause 1 (c), the power to require whitewashing in certain small factories in the proviso of Clause 1, the power to require mechanical ventilation under Clause 2, and the power to require the posting of notices in a workroom, under Clause 2. Those are the powers with which this particular Amendment is alone concerned, and the effect, as the Bill as drawn, is to say that these particular administrative actions which, in the case of an ordinary factory depend upon the discretion of a factory inspector, shall be exercised in the case of the factory which is under the control of the district council by the medical officer of health. Therefore, it is not a question of assigning to one officer or another the general duty of inspecting sanitary conveniences and that sort of thing, but of transferring from the factory inspector to the medical officer of health four specific administrative powers.

Major Milner

Why not to the sanitary inspector?

The Lord Advocate

I will explain that in a moment. The hon. and gallant Member said that unless you inserted "or sanitary inspector," as his Amendment proposes, you would be depriving him of powers which he has enjoyed ever since the Act of 1901. Once again there is a slight misconception there, because the effect of this Amendment would be greatly to extend the powers of sanitary inspectors beyond those which they now enjoy. All that they can do under the Act of 1901 is to make a report to the district council, and it is the council which takes the decision. Under this Bill, as framed, these specific powers which I have enumerated are given to the medical officer of health, and, of course, it would be quite impossible to suggest that he should act on a report of a sanitary inspector. It would be quite out of harmony with the system of local government.

The next point is this—and I think this was explained in Committee—that under the administrative regulations which control the relations of the medical officer of health to the sanitary inspector—it is an order called the Sanitary Officers Order of 1926—the sanitary inspector works in matters of this kind under the supervision and direction of the medical officer of health. He is definitely a subordinate person in the hierarchy of officials, and I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate very fully how dangerous a thing it would be, and how liable to introduce confusion of administration, if you were to confer concurrent administrative powers alternatively upon a principal and a subordinate official. Imagine the situation if some executive power was directed to be exercised by the colonel or alternatively by the major of a battalion.

As regards the right of entry, I should like to assure the House that no difficulty arises there for the very reason which was mentioned by the Seconder of the Amendment, because Clause 126, Subsection (5) specifically authorises an official of a district council, among others, to exercise these powers; so that, taking the whole matter together, I would suggest to the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment that in the light of the explanations which I have given there would be a very real danger of introducing confusion into the administration if they pressed the Amendment, which would give alternative powers of an administrative character to a subordinate and a superior official, particularly as there is no question of curtailing the existing powers of the sanitary inspector, but simply of preserving the situation substantially as it is. I am afraid, therefore, it will be necessary to resist the Amendment, unless the hon. and gallant Member sees fit not to press it.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. J. Jones

It is most extraordinary to listen to some of the lectures that we receive from the Front Bench opposite, particularly when we are dealing with local affairs and the administration of the laws of the country. We have just listened to a lecture which in itself has no relationship to the facts. Everybody who knows the work of a sanitary inspector knows that he has the right of entry, but after he has entered a factory what can he do? Report to the doctor, the medical officer of health, in his own particular locality. Everybody who is a member of a local authority knows that the medical officer himself cannot control the administration in detail, but can only give general instructions, and he has no more control than my cat. What we should do is to give authority to the people who have to do the work. What is the good of a sanitary inspector going to a factory down in my constituency? He makes a report to the medical officer of health, who has not got time to attend to it. We have had one laid up for eight months, ill. He has an assistant, who has not the authority to do the things he might like to do, and in consequence nothing is being done, and your Factory Acts become inoperative. The big firms along the docks area do not take any notice of your sanitary inspector, because he has no power to act. Why should he not have power to act as well as to report? He is the man who has to do the job and find out what is wrong, but you say to him, "You cannot do anything. There is a gentleman at the top who has to tell you what you have to do." That is not good enough.

In the constituency that I represent we have over 50,000 people employed in factories. How can one man, a medical officer, control all those factories and know what is going on in all of them? The men who are acting as sanitary inspectors know their job, and they inform me that they cannot do it because they have no power. This Bill will prevent them from having even the power that they used to have, and they will simply be reporters still. I would like some of my colleagues in this House to come down with me to the Silvertown division and go through some of the factories there and see some of the sanitary arrangements, reported for years as being unsatisfactory, and yet nothing has been done. So far as we are concerned, you are asking us simply to report and report and report, and somebody who should be able to carry out the job is not able to do the necessary alterations. Then you say to us that the sanitary inspector does not come in. The sanitary inspector ought to be one of the first men on the job, and if he is a conscientious man, as I believe most of them are, he will see that things are done. Therefore, I support the Amendment, in the hope that the Minister will accept it.

Sir Robert Tasker

Is not the position this: that the medical officers may deputise?

4.24 p.m.

Mr. Macquisten

At the present moment the sanitary inspector can only make a report, and that is what the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) objects to. I understand that under this Bill the medical officer of health can give his own orders and does not need to report to any committee. That is a departure, as I understand it, from the present position. I have no doubt that the sanitary inspector from time to time will call the medical officer's attention to the things that he comes across in going through the different factories, and it is much better that the medical officer should be able to act than that the matter should be left for consideration by the local authority. We all know how matters get delayed when they are under consideration by local committees. The Amendment remitting the matter back to the sanitary inspector would weaken the powers in the Bill, and for that reason I support the Bill as it stands.

4.25 p.m.

Major Milner

By leave of the House, may I ask two questions? Am I not correct in saying that the Factory and Workshops Act, 1901, does couple the medical officer of health and the sanitary inspector in specific terms, and is it not true that action can at present be taken by the council on the certificate of either of those two officers? That being so, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that the powers of the sanitary inspector are in no sense being weakened or his status reduced by this Bill?

4.26 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

In reply, I would say that it is correct that under the Factory and Workshops Act, 19or, which is the present law, the council acts for certain purposes such as lime washing, fencing, and the rest of it, on the report of the medical officer of health or the inspector of nuisances, as he is called there, and these two officials are coupled together there, but, please observe, merely for the purpose of reporting to the council, whereas, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) pointed out under this Bill the medical officer of health will for certain purposes have an independent administrative power, apart altogether from the council, and I think he is right in saying that the Bill in that respect is a departure from the present position.

Major Milner

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give me the assurance for which I asked?

The Lord Advocate

That the powers of the sanitary inspector are not being curtailed?

Major Milner


The Lord Advocate

I do not think they are, except in respect that it will no longer be, in terms of the 1901 Act, for the medical officer of health or the inspector of nuisances to make these reports to the council. The sanitary inspector, of course, will still continue to discharge many duties for his council under such subjects as Clause 7 (Sanitary conveniences), Clause 4 (Ventilation), and the rest of it. He will do that as a servant of the council; he will not do it under specific statutory directions such as are contained in the Act of 1901. Except in that respect there will be no curtailment of powers, but if the hon. and gallant Member's Amendment were accepted, there would be a very substantial extension of the sanitary inspector's powers over and above what he has at present.

Mr. Buchanan

In the event of a medical officer of health not being able for any reason to do his duty, has he the power automatically to ask his deputy to assume those powers?

The Lord Advocate

That is the general law. Under the English Local Government Act and the Scottish Public Health Act, a deputy has power to act when the medical officer of health cannot himself perform his duties.

Amendment negatived.