HC Deb 03 November 1954 vol 532 cc422-8
Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 12, line 24, to leave out "forty," and to insert "thirty."

Into a Bill which is so much concerned with pure milk and keeping the water out of the milk, it is perhaps a little inappropriate to introduce the parish pump. I am sorry to say that this is the parish pump, naked and unashamed, as parish pumps so often are. I have been looking into the matter and have regretfully come to the conclusion that I can expect no special personal help from either the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary. It appears to me as improbable that Tiverton should become a food and drugs authority as it is that Luton should cease to be one, and in those circumstances I must be quite frank with the Committee.

I represent two important towns. One of them, Kettering, has a population of between 30,000 and 40,000 and a noble record of municipal enterprise in this kind of matter, and in others too. Next door is a place called Corby, which, while at present too small to be a food and drugs authority, is destined to have a population of 40,000. As it has an almost record birth rate, it is only a question of time before the population will exceed 40,000.

I do not want to go back into history, I need only turn to the present. What would happen if we tried to give some great municipal advantage to Glasgow and denied it to Edinburgh; or, if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite prefer a Commonwealth instance, if we gave it to Sydney and denied it to Melbourne? I can assure the Committee that there would be serious trouble.

There is nothing particularly sacred about "forty." The position used to be before the 1938 Act that there were food and drugs authorities not entirely dependent on the number of the population, though not every local authority, of course, was a food and drug authority. It did not only depend on population at that stage, as far as I know. It certainly did not depend on a population of 40,000, which was a provision introduced in 1938.

Let us think of the beauties of a town having a population between 30,000 and 40,000. It is just about the right size. It can be relied upon to show great municipal enterprise and to administer its affairs with intelligence and a progressive spirit. It can be relied upon occasionally, though not always, to return the right person to this House. I should have thought that it might well be a shining example of local government, and I would say with all diffidence that on its record Kettering, in particular, can claim to be that. If the authority were allowed to be a food and drug authority it would be a particularly good one. I should have thought that in general towns of that size ought to be allowed to be so.

The present position is that a local authority as such has some powers under this Act. If it is a food and drug authority it has more powers, but surely as far as possible we ought to try to eliminate the double position, that is the position where one has an authority with half the powers under the Act. It is not the kind of thing one wants to enlarge. Therefore, I beg the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary to consider in a kindly and sympathetic spirit, forgetting for the moment the great size of Luton and the comparative smallness of Tiverton, the plea that I make that the figure should be lowered and that no invidious distinctions should be drawn between the prospective Corby and the present Kettering.

Dr. Hill

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) had no need to apologise for putting a constituency point so nakedly, for there are others who have constituency points relating to the status and functions of local government authorities who have not hesitated to do the same. Clearly, the hon. and learned Member will appreciate, though I do not suggest that this is the complete answer, that there are repercussions in a number of directions following a change of this kind. My right hon. Friend has been looking at the two unrelated problems raised by this Amendment and the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), which requires that a direction be given.

My right hon. Friend authorises me to say that he would like an opportunity of considering them further. We would be glad to listen to anything that hon. Members have to say and, without commitments, would be glad to look at both the problems between now and the Report stage. I would ask that with that undertaking we should proceed to move into the Bill the two privileged Amendments in the name of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

The hon. Gentleman has been good enough to say that the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and that to be raised by myself in my Amendment are unrelated and, therefore, I would not respond to his invitation on this occasion. I should like him to address himself more particularly to the point which I shall raise when, with permission, I move the Amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey).

Mr. Mitchison

As regards the Amendment in my name, I should like to thank the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for what has been said, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 12, line 29, at end, insert: (2) Where, apart from this subsection. the council of a non-county borough or urban district would become the food and drugs authority for that borough or district in consequence of the publication of any census, and the Minister of Health is satisfied, upon application made by the council of the county in which the borough or district is comprised, that the area or areas in respect of which the last mentioned council would in that event be the food and drugs authority are inconvenient in size, shape or situation for the efficient performance of their duties, as such, he may direct that the council of the county shall, so long as the directions remain in force. continue to be the food and drugs authority for the borough or district.—[Dr. Hill.]

Amendment proposed: In page 13, line 6, at end, insert: (4) Where according to the last published census for the time being the population of a non-county borough or urban district is less than twenty thousand. no directions shall be given in respect thereof under subsection (3) of this section and, if the council of the borough or district were a food and drugs authority before the publication of the census, the council shall cease to be the food and drugs authority for the borough or district and any directions in force in respect thereof under that subsection shall cease to have effect.—[Dr. Hill.]

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Beswick

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, at the end, to add: save that a direction may be given when the Minister of Health is satisfied that such a direction is necessary to secure the efficient performance of the purposes of this Act. For certain domestic reasons, I can support the glowing terms in which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) painted that town which he represents so well. Nevertheless, he ought not to be under the misapprehension that if his Amendment had been accepted it would necessarily follow that Kettering would be made a food and drug authority. It would still remain within the power of the Minister to issue a direction to the effect that that town should not be so designated.

Mr. Mitchison

The Minister would not do that.

Mr. Beswick

My Amendment is more concerned with the powers of direction which have been granted to the Minister and the further powers he proposes to have under the Bill. I want to give the Minister a certain amount of essential discretion, and I feel that consideration of this point should be taken separately from the more general case which my hon. and learned Friend presented.

In the county of Middlesex—and I hasten to say that I am not moving the Amendment in any parish pump sense at all—when the 1938 Act was going through the House there were 14 districts, each containing over 40,000 inhabitants, in respect of which the Minister nevertheless issued a direction to the effect that none of them should be permitted to exercise authority under the Food and Drugs Act. Having issued that direction, he had no power to rescind it. Therefore, despite the fact that each had over 40,000 population, it was not possible for these urban districts to take the powers under the Act. Since that time other districts have grown up to over 40,000 population but, because of the anomalies which would have been created, similar directions were issued in respect of them.

The position in Middlesex now is that 21 districts, each of over 40,000 population, have not the powers which normally would have been provided under the Act to become food and drugs authorities. Of the remainder, all but one have between 20,000 and 40,000 population, and therefore, under the Act, each has the right to apply to become a food and drugs authority. The Minister can issue a directive giving them that authority. If he wants to apply the provisions of this Act as it will stand after amendment, and to revoke the directions already given in respect of the 21 authorities with more than 40,000 inhabitants and to give the powers to those urban districts which have between 20,000 and 40,000 inhabitants, that would leave one urban district in the far corner of the county without the possibility of becoming a food and drugs authority.

There is one urban district, with which the Minister of Health will be familiar, because he happens to represent it in this House, which has a population of between 17,000 and 18,000 inhabitants. I am not concerned with Potters Bar. which is the urban district in question. I have no doubt that it is a very attractive urban district, although it is somewhat ill-advised in its political judgment. But it would be quite wrong either to create the anomaly of leaving one urban district within the whole county without the necessary powers and having therefore to retain in the guildhall an administrative apparatus for the purpose of carrying out responsibilities under the Act, or to deny the powers to the remaining urban districts simply because it is not possible under the Act as it stands to give the authority to Potters Bar.

What my hon. Friend and I are advocating is to give the Minister the kind of discretion that would be necessary with regard to Potters Bar. I am not here concerned to discuss the merits of the case of whether the powers of revocation which the Minister has taken should be used or not. He now has powers to revoke the direction given to those authorities with more than 40,000 inhabitants, and I presume that, as he has taken those powers, the Minister is contemplating using them. If he does use them he would be creating this anomaly. I think this is a position which we should not allow to prevail. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will see his way either to accept this Amendment, or specifically to say that he will accept the principle.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

In giving favourable consideration to the matter, will the Minister consider whether instead of the word "necessary" in the Amendment to the Amendment the word "desirable" might be used?

Dr. Hill

I will see that the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) is considered.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) has argued his case with clarity and cogency. As he said, it is a separate point. If the Minister considers both points in both Amendments, it by no means follows that the same consideration or the same results will apply to them; they are two separate points. The Minister will give most careful consideration to the point put by the hon. Member, but he wants to see this structure as a whole in the light of both proposed Amendments. For that reason, what I am saying does not disguise lack of sympathy in this matter. For the reason I have given, the Minister would like to look at the position as a whole in the light of these two projected changes, without commitment. It is for the Minister further to consider, but he will consider the points raised.

Mr. F. Willey

I am very glad that we have the Minister of Health present in our consultations. I am sure the Committee respect the interest that he has shown by sitting patiently through the discussion. Potters Bar has a very talented hon. Member, but he is peculiarly misguided. They find difficult to understand that a person with such gifts and intelligence should come to such remarkably wrong political conclusions. But that is another matter, mentioned only incidentally.

I am very glad that the Minister will look at this question. I do not want to embarrass him, but I take it that it is conceded that there is a case here for some provision to be made for these exceptional cases. I appreciate the general difficulty. Some day we shall have to reform our local government and these matters will be dealt with. Meanwhile, there are particular difficulties, and we can expect that there will be an effort in this Bill to meet the peculiar difficulties which have been mentioned by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Beswick

I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to respond to the words uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey)? I was already aware of the sympathy of the Parliamentary Secretary. I have no doubt that he will regard the principle with great care, but I do not want to confuse it at all in any discussions with a more general revision of this business. Here is a small and narrow question. What I want to know, if the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to respond, is that the principle I have endeavoured to set out within these words is accepted; that the discussion would simply be in order to find ways and means of facing the difficulties which will be created for the Minister of Health and his successors and to see if we cannot find a form of words which will give the necessary discretion.

Dr. Hill

I have gone as far as I can. A powerful case has been stated by the hon. Member, but it would be wrong of me to go further now than to say that most careful consideration will be given to it.

Mr. Beswick

In view of the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, and as there is such a thing as a Report stage, and I hope our discussions will take place before Report stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Proposed words there inserted.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.