HC Deb 28 February 1949 vol 462 cc113-28

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

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

It might be for the convenience of the House if the Instruction to the Committee which is down in my name were discussed along with other references to the Bill. Our main points of difference are contained in the Instruction to the Committee, but there are one or two subsidiary points relating to the other Clauses to which certain of my hon. Friends wish to refer. Therefore, it is felt that the general discussion might take place on the Second Reading and we could move the Instruction quite formally and without further Debate.

This Bill, which has a large number of Clauses, is largely non-controversial in its effect, but there are certain Clauses to which we on this side of the House take reasonable objection. The first one is Clause 90 which deals with the sterilisation of meat for feeding animals. The purpose of this Clause is to make it compulsory to sterilise meat which is to be sold as animal food. The reason behind the Clause is that meat sold as animal food is usually derived from carcasses which have died a natural or unnatural death and which have not been properly slaughtered in accordance with our laws and practice to make them fit for human consumption.

It has been represented that such carcasses might have been heavily contaminated while the animal was alive or lay dying, and that that meat, although intended for animal consumption, might by accident find its way into a butcher's shop where meat is sold for human consumption, or might indeed be bought at an animal meat shop and then be consumed by human beings. By sterilising all such meat, the intention of the Clause is to prevent the risk of infection of human beings by diseases present in the animal before death.

The intention of the Clause is, of course, admirable and I have no quarrel with its intention but rather with the lack of efficacy with which its intention can be carried out. The fact is that such sterilisation only affords partial protection to the public. The carcass after sterilisation is equally liable to infection. It may, indeed, be imagined to be perfectly safe through having been sterilised, but of course it is just as liable to contamination as any other carcass. The Clause thus gives a false sense of security to those who handle animal meat. It is particularly important that no such false sense of security should be built up at a time when meat supplies are regrettably short.

Furthermore to introduce the Clause in this single private Bill is to introduce legislation if it be necessary at all, in a piecemeal manner. I understand that the Birmingham Corporation has this Clause and so has one other town in the Black Country—Dudley, I believe. West Bromwich also seeks this Clause. We thus find that there are small oases in the central area of Britain where the meat is supposedly sterilised, but there are large areas surrounding these oases where the existing conditions will continue to hold good. There may be, if I may so describe it, a traffic of meat between the sterile area and the non-sterile area—a perfectly honourable traffic, but leading to the removal of the effectiveness of this Clause.

If, indeed, sterilisation is desirable and is to be effective, surely it is properly a matter for public Bill legislation. Indeed, I think it is stated in Sir Gilbert Campion's "Introduction to Parliamentary Procedure" that it is a proper reason for the deletion of a Clause from a Private Bill that the subject matter could, and ought to be, handled by public legislation. If sterilisation is indeed an effective safeguard, the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries should take the matter up and deal with it nationally. If the case is not so proven, why insert in the Bill a Clause of this sort which could only lead to a false sense of security and impose additional tasks upon those people who are honourably trying to supply meat for this rather specialised market?

The next group of Clauses which it is our hope the Committee will be instructed to delete relates to the registration of massage and other establishments. The group of Clauses numbered 91 to 101 inclusive seeks to make it compulsory for masseurs, massage establishments, chiropodists, manicurists, and some other specialised establishments to be registered and licensed. Clause 92 prohibits the conduct of any of these practices without due registration and licence. These Clauses have been introduced in other Bills before, notably in certain London Bills, and it might therefore appear that there is a well-established precedent for them. The registration was, however, originally introduced for an entirely different purpose, namely to control the possible growth of undesirable premises.

It is not part of the West Bromwich Corporation's case that this control is required for the purpose for which it was originally intended. Rather do they wish to control massage establishments, chiropodists and manicurists for, if I may say so, the joy of controlling them. In fact, one of the main reasons given for their desire to have these Clauses is that they are anxious to prevent a mushroom growth of manicurists and so on. They give no evidence that there is any sign of such a mushroom growth, no evidence that there is an abnormal rush by unreliable people to West Bromwich to attend to people's feet there. It strikes me as a wholly undesirable restriction akin to the strange nature of the Hairdressers' Bill which was introduced privately a few days ago. Of course, there will be a licensing fee so that if the Clauses are given to the Corporation there will be a useful additional source of revenue for the Corporation's treasurer. As the evidence so far supplied to me privately is so flimsy that I feel there is no justification for these Clauses remaining in the Bill.

I turn to Clause 102, which deals with the transmission of entertainments. The Corporation wishes to be able to transmit entertainments from one property to another where those two properties are not adjoining. At first sight, of course, that seems a quite reasonable request. For example, the idea is that if there should be a live band playing in one park it should be possible for the Corporation to relay the live band's performance to another park or another establishment within the Corporation's boundaries. So far, well and good. Against that I have no objection. But on this side of the House we desire to see proper protection afforded to residents of a formerly quite area where they feel that a nuisance is being created. Some residents may have chosen their houses near a small park noted for its quiet. They may have wanted to get away from bands and other forms of public entertainment in public parks and, therefore, have chosen a district near a secluded park. Imagine their discomfiture if they find that, worse than a live band, they are to have a loudspeaker braying at them for hours at a time.

The extension of broadcast relays, of course, lends itself to the dissemination of gramophone records and B.B.C. recordings, so there may be a constant drone of noise in these formerly quiet centres of the town and recreational centres of the town, and as things stand at present the ordinary individual has precious little redress if a nuisance is created, precious little appeal against it. I know he has common law appeal; he could raise the matter against the Corporation, and I think he could sue the Corporation for damages, but there are few people who would be prepared to go to the legal expense of taking the Corporation to court. While, therefore, we do not object to the Clause in principle we should like to see some safeguard introduced to enable the legitimate rights of residents to be protected.

I turn to Clause 104 which is another Clause which aims at the registration of a particular section of the community. This time it is entertainment proprietors. The Clause will make it compulsory for all entertainment proprietors to be registered, including cinema and theatre owners. The Corporation has informed me privately that its aim is to be able to control wandering fairs and circuses and mobile amusement units, to quote the modern way of describing these establishments. It strikes me as a curious way of going about it to insist on the compulsory registration of every cinema and theatre in the city, to insist on the compulsory registration of the humble pin-table saloon, to insist on the compulsory registration of a mobile Punch and Judy show.

This Clause seems a very heavy-handed way of achieving a simple object—if the object be necessary at all—namely, to control mobile fairs. I urge that this Clause be deleted from the Bill, for I think it is another example of control for control's sake. I have mentioned the pintable. If the pintable saloons are indeed the menace to the young of our country that they are sometimes made out to be, the proper course is public legislation. The problem should not be handled in a piecemeal manner. If the danger exists, and I doubt it, London ought to be prohibiting or registering these pintable saloons and not leaving it to West Bromwich to show the way. It is a matter for public legislation if legislation is required at all.

To Clause 140 we have much the same objection as to the corresponding Clause in the Bradford Corporation Bill. West Bromwich Corporation are seeking powers to run a parcels service. On the surface that is an innocent enough request. But, really, is it necessary? We already have a public Post Office capable of taking parcels from one point to any other point within the town or, indeed, within the British Isles. In addition, there is the British Transport Commission which, if there is a need for the independent carriage of parcels in the district, can surely provide—and, indeed, should provide—the necessary service. I am glad to see the Minister of Transport nodding his head. I hope he will give me his support in this matter, because it surely is most uneconomic and wrong for yet a third public agency to enter into this business of parcels carriage. We have two already, both subsidised. Surely, we do not want a third. If we are to have competition in the field of transport—as I believe we should have, to obtain proficient services then it should be competition between private agencies and not competition between State or municipal agencies all subsidised at the expense of the taxpayers and ratepayers.

Those are my principal objections to the Bill. I do not object, of course, to the Bill as a whole, but I certainly feel that the Clauses I have mentioned are objectionable and should be deleted, if the Bill is to go through the House in the same harmonious way as, it seems, the Bradford Corporation Bill will.

7.42 p.m.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

I want to be punctilious in avoiding repetition of what my hon. Friend has already put before the House in the consideration of this Bill, but there are one or two points I should like to add to what he has said. I think that the fundamental care the House has to take is, of the danger of the infectiousness of controls. One of the major ills from which the country is suffering—that is admitted by both sides of the House—is the plethora of controls. The "big brother" controls emanate from this honourable House, and the smaller relations from the local authorities. We have seen local authority powers very much curtailed—a process with which we on this side of the House do not agree. Local authorities have functions to carry on on a much wider and more important scale than, in fact, is being left to them. So it is, perhaps, natural that their exuberance should find expression in controls over such things as doubtful meat and doubtful massage. However, we have to be quite sure, it seems to me, that those minor controls left to local authorities are necessary and helpful, and that they achieve the desired results.

There is one question to which I may, perhaps, have a reply. It is in connection with Clause 24, by which the local authority seeks power to divert a highway so as to make a new highway more commodious to the public. That sounds perfectly reasonable. However, in subsection (9) it is said: Where any highway is diverted in accordance with an order made under this section the substituted highway shall be repairable by the person (if any) by whom the original highway was repairable. It seems to me, subject to some explanation that that may bring about very considerable suffering. A highway exists; it is diverted; it may be a very much longer highway after the diversion; it may have its foundation on softer, more boggy ground, and so may need more frequent and expensive repairing. It would seem only fair that if the local authority is to have powers so to divert, it should not at the same time be able to pass on to the individual who was responsible for the original highway what may be a very much increased cost in connection with the new highway. I should he obliged if the hon. Gentleman will tell me whether there is any safeguard.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the question of the sterilisation of animal food stuffs, in which, I think, there may be very considerable risk. I would add only this to what he has said, that if this particular Clause is to be made watertight, there must be subsidiary powers taken to destroy that sterilised meat after a certain period of time, when it may have become once again infected; that there ought to be powers to segregate it from any kind of food which may be used for human consumption; and, finally, that there ought to be powers to prevent unsterilised animal food from coming into the area. If those steps are not taken there may he a situation riddled like a sieve with the possibilities of escape, or of avoidance of the very purpose which the Bill is intended to achieve.

As to the Clause about the registration of massage and other establishments, should like to have an explanation why, while there appears to be a right of appeal by an individual who is refused renewal of an existing licence, there is no appeal for an individual who makes application for a licence for the first time. It seems to me that under Clause 94 (3) provision is made for appeal by an individual who has had a licence and who has had it taken away from him, but that there is no similar appeal for an individual who makes application for a licence for the first time, and has it refused. It seems to me also that the penalties under this Clause are very heavy—£50 for contravening, starting an establishment without a licence, or for misrepresentation in obtaining a licence. Penalties of £50 and £20 daily may be very savage. I think that that does not add to the desirability of the Clause. Then, is it really necessary that where a medical practitioner intends to start an establishment of this kind, he must be vouched for by two independent medical practitioners, and that this voucher must be renewed annually? Surely, that is a reflection upon the medical profession, which is certainly not necessary or desirable.

Finally, under the Clause which controls the registration of entertainment it is proposed virtually to force any proprietor of any entertainment establishment to apply for a licence for the kind of entertainment to be provided. It will be understood that the owner of premises which provide entertainment cannot be sure all the year round that the same kind of entertainment will be provided. Impresarios come along and offer a particular turn or a particular entertainment, and the owner of the premises has to decide whether or not that is the sort of thing the public are likely to swallow. If he has started his year with an intention of putting on only, let us say concerts—which, I understand, the Bill does not require to be registered—somebody may come along to provide "a circus exhibition of human beings"—whatever that may mean—and the owner of the premises has to run along to apply for a licence in respect of his premises for that purpose. I should like to hear the reply to these points and then consider whether the House should be invited to pass the Bill in its present form.

7.51 p.m.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) represents a Division abutting on mine. The reason for my intervention is that I have been asked to speak by the Clerk of the Urmston Urban District Council, in my Division, which is of a political complexion similar to that of the hon. Gentleman. It is rather a paradox that a Conservative Council should ask me to support a Bill which a Conservative Member has criticised tonight.

I want to comment on two Clauses only. The first is Clause 90. The hon. Gentleman said that this Clause seeks to safeguard any person who may buy meat intended for animal consumption, and thus injure himself. I think that the Clause does not only seek to do that; it seeks to safeguard, too, the animals for whom this food is intended, and not only human beings who may buy this foodstuff for consumption. The hon. Gentleman represents a Cheshire constituency. It would not be out of place to remind him of what happened recently in a Lancashire Division at Burnley. Not long ago, a certain number of people were ill through eating meat pies made of horse flesh. While I condemn the piecemeal aspect of local authority Bills and admit, with the hon. Gentleman, that it would be much better if this matter were provided for nationally by the Government. I am certain that the Council of Burnley would have been very grateful if the safeguard contained in this Measure had prevented the scandal and outcry which happened recently there following on certain illnesses.

Mr. Erroll

While I can go a long way with the hon. Gentleman, the weakness of the Clause is that it would not prevent what happened at Burnley. The meat could become contaminated again after sterilisation, and Burnley would have suffered from a false sense of security as well as from a great sense of tragedy.

Mr. Austin

I assume that the objection which the hon. Gentleman raised applies to all meat if it is allowed to go beyond a certain stage. That is not an argument against this Bill. The hon. Gentleman is making an argument for the provisions of the Measures contained in the Bill if they are applied nationally, and I agree with him. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his party are not going to press this matter.

Mr. Erroll

It is surely a proper reason for moving an Instruction to the Committee that a matter which is dealt with in a private Bill is a proper subject for public legislation.

Mr. Austin

I should be the last to deny the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues the democratic right to ventilate the matter which is now being discussed in this Chamber.

I wish to pass to Clause 102 with regard to the broadcast and relay of public entertainment. May I give an example? I recently had occasion to benefit by this measure in my own Division. I challenged Mr. Storey, who is a candidate at the next Election and who is to oppose me on behalf of the Conservatives, to a debate. The meeting was held in the public baths which hold about 2,000 people. So popular was the debate that there had to be an overflow meeting in a building on the same premises to which the speeches were relayed. Something like 500 people crowded into the second building to hear the debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who won?"] I am not sure whether I am advocating an argument in favour of the Clause, because incidentally it was agreed by the Conservatives and everyone else that, in my own humble and modest way, I had wiped the floor with my opponent. There are other occasions which are not so frequent in the life of a council and its activities, where they seek to provide local residents with certain entertainments.

There comes to my mind the occasion of an annual horticultural show which is held in two large fields. The fields are divided by a road. There we have an occasion eminently suitable for the provisions of Clause 102. As the clerk to the council told me, there may be other occasions where it may be necessary to have entertainments carried on in a park, and relayed to another park. May I put this personal matter to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale? The occasion may arise when he may find the provisions of the Clause useful too; that is when he accepts my challenge and allows me to debate with him at Stamford Hall in the Borough of Altrincham. It may be necessary to cater for an overflow because of the crowd which I am certain will turn up to hear the debate. I am still awaiting the hon. Gentleman's response to my challenge. Finally, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has made out a case on either of these Clauses, and I certainly hope that the House will not support him in any way.

Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

I am sure that the House will not quarrel with the spirit in which the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) has spoken. It falls to me to give the best answer that I can to the points which he has raised. I feel that most of them are more properly points for a Select Committee; they are not Second Reading points. They are not matters of great fundamental principle because none of them shows any new departure; each one of them has been embodied in private Bills before, as the hon. Gentleman admitted. If I deal with them briefly, it is not out of disrespect. Clause 90, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, deals with provisions for the sterilisation of meat. He brought forward an unusual argument when he said that there was not much point in sterilising this meat because at some subsequent point it might again become contaminated. Surely that argument would apply to the whole of the meat which is sold for human consumption.

Mr. Erroll

The point which I perhaps did not bring out clearly was that because the meat had been sterilised, many people might think that it was safer than meat intended for human consumption which had not been sterilised.

Mr. Poole

In that case, the same argument holds good. If people are entitled to assume that meat for human consumption has been inspected by His Majesty's inspectors that, if the argument remains good, ought to give people a sense of false security in eating their Sunday joint. The argument does not really hold water.

Colonel Hutchison

Surely, the hon. Gentleman is comparing a national action with a local action and consequently a limited area of action in the case of this Bill. National action is one thing, and one can be tolerably sure that the meat is made safe, but where one is dealing only with a small area there may be some danger.

Mr. Poole

I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for that intervention, because it leads me to the point I was about to make in this connection. It has already been said that Birmingham and Dudley have these very powers at present, and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale asserted that there might be a danger of unsterilised meat being moved into a sterilised area. In practice the reverse has been the case. Since Birmingham had its powers for the compulsory sterilisation of meat, some of the people in West Bromwich who have been selling this type of meat have, of their own volition, taken it upon themselves to sterilise the meat. The example set by Birmingham and Dudley has been followed, without any compulsion, by some of those who are retailing such meat in West Bromwich, and all West Bromwich now seeks to do is to extend the practice so that all those who sell this meat shall be in exactly the same position.

There is a danger of people being misled into a position of false security, and assuming, because some people have to sterilise the meat, that all have to do so. West Bromwich cannot legislate for the whole country; their responsibility is limited to their own boundaries; they seek to put their own house in order. If West Bromwich is taking a power which perhaps even London has not got, that merely bears out the argument some of us. have adduced before, that the Midlands are very much ahead of even the London County Council in some respects

Turning to the Clauses dealing with the licensing of masseurs, I entirely agree with the reasons the hon. Member gave for the taking of these powers in London. In the presence of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) I should hesitate to suggest that in West Bromwich there arose the same position, needing the same powers. Nevertheless, it is the fact that the treatments catered for in this Bill are forms. of treatment which are new, which are growing very rapidly, in which very great strides are being made, and from which many members of the public are deriving considerable benefit. I, therefore, venture to suggest that in the interests of all concerned the services given should be of the highest possible standard, given by fully qualified people, and given under decent and proper conditions. It is no use waiting until some of these establishments have become undesirable places before seeking to legislate. It is very much better to shut the stable door before the horse has gone, than to do so afterwards.

That is all West Bromwich seeks to do in this series of Clauses dealing with the registration of masseurs: namely, to ensure that the various forms of treatment set out in these Clauses shall be carried out under the best possible conditions and by the best possible people. I am sure that those who think further safeguards are necessary will find the corporation willing to discuss in the Select Committee the question of protection. Of course, the fullest protection is given in Clause 168 to those who are aggrieved.

Mr. Erroll

Only existing practitioners.

Mr. Poole

I agree. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that these points will be considered on the Select Committee.

Colonel Hutchison

I understand that this speech is, so to speak, the official reply. Could the hon. Member tell us the answer about the forcing of a medical practitioner to produce two independent medical practitioners to vouch for his bona fides in conducting a massage establishment? Surely that is unnecessary. I should be glad if he would look into that before the Committee stage.

Mr. Poole

I entirely agree—although this is only the semi-official reply—that it does seem to be using a very big hammer to crack this small nut. Again, I consider that to be a committee point which could be better argued upstairs.

I pass now to Clause 102, to which objection has also been taken, providing for the transmission of entertainment. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale said that he had no objection in principle, but that he felt there was a danger that some people who had built houses near quiet parks might be disturbed. I have had many years' experience on local government bodies, and I have never known anyone aggrieved by anything done by the corporation who did not find very definite and positive means of making their objections known. In any case, it is desirable that the corporation should have such a power. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) gave many instances in which it is desirable for such powers to be granted, and it would be quite wrong to withhold from West Bromwich the right to relay some forms of entertainment from one public park to another. This again is a Committee point which ought not to be discussed on Second Reading.

Exception was taken to Clause 104, which deals with the registration of entertainment proprietors. I think there is some misapprehension here. This Clause does not deal with those people who leisurely travel along, set up their establishments today and are gone with the mists of the morning. It deals only with those people who become permanently established in this form of entertainment. I do not know how the hon. Member reconciles objecting to the relaying of certain entertainment with opposing some measure of protection to those who may have a funfair permanently established outside their house or shop. In Birmingham recently a very large store, the Birmingham Co-operative store, had to take action against a permanently established funfair which continuously blared out music, so that people working in offices near by, could not even hear the clients who came to consult them. It is that type of entertainment, plus the permanently established pin-table saloons, which it is desirable to have licensed. I am all for the licensing of those people who run pin-table saloons, because frequently they become the haunts of very undesirable people, as some of us saw in London in pre-war days.

I turn to Clause 140, dealing with the powers to run a parcels service. The Minister of Transport tells me that in the Select Committee the British Transport Commission will be opposing this Clause, so the hon. Members who opposed it will be fortified by that support. I think that the corporation would have provided a service which is not provided by the British Transport Commission, and certainly not by the Post Office. This concerns the carriage of parcels from Mrs. Jones in the High Street to Mrs. Smith in another road just down the street; it is something which the British Transport Commission cannot do, and which the Post Office will not do in under 24 hours. The Walsall Corporation, on which I served for many years, has this power, and has used it to great advantage. I myself have utilised it at election time for getting election material from one point of the borough to another; it gives a speedier service than either of the other two agencies. It is indeed novel to find hon. Members opposite opposing some competition in a transport undertaking.

I now wish to deal with the point made about Clause 24, regarding public and private highways. I confess that the point raised was new to me, and when I looked it up I was somewhat shocked and frightened by it. I can, after consultation with the corporation representatives, give a firm undertaking that they are perfectly willing to look into this and to put in such safeguards as are necessary to prevent harm to anyone affected by these provisions. I can give very firm assurance on that point, although, as I say it is something which came up unexpectedly. I had no idea that there was any objection to the Clause.

I think I have covered, perhaps somewhat inadequately, most of the points that have been raised. If there are any further arguments on the Clause I urge that they be left to the Select Committee because that is where they rightly lie. I hope we may prevail upon the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale not to move his Instruction and to let us have the Second Reading.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

We have had an extremely happy evening so far, in that these discussions have been carried on with good will by both sides of the House. In order to continue this state of happiness I wonder whether the opponents of the Bill and those supporting the Bill, could come to a compromise. I believe that the Clauses which we feel most strongly about are Clauses 91 to 101, Clause 104 and Clause 140. Although I have not the assurance of my hon. Friend, I believe that I am right in saying that he might be prepared to withdraw all opposition to the Bill if those Clauses were withdrawn. In order to preserve the happy arrangement that we have had so far, would the corporation be prepared, through their spokesman in this House, to withdrawn those Clauses?

Mr. C. Poole

With the leave of the House perhaps I may reply. I am sorry that I must disappoint the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor). His suggestion was a little audacious. I am sure he did not expect me to agree to it—unless he thinks that I am a little more gullible than I am. I have no power to give that assurance. I urge the hon. Member to seek that assurance in the proper place, the Committee.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 90 to 101, 104 and 140; and to insert in Clause 102 safeguards to protect residents from possible nuisance.

Colonel Hutchison

I beg to second the Motion.

Question put, and negatived.