HC Deb 18 July 1956 vol 556 cc1337-52

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be read the Third time.

9.43 p.m.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

We cannot allow this Bill to go without some word of criticism. I do not know where we are going with this polite language we are trying to adopt today. At one time, there were such people as ratcatchers. They became rodent operatives. I always thought that "ratcatcher" was a very good description of the job one hoped that such men were doing. Now, there are no longer to be sanitary inspectors, hut they will be called public health inspectors. I find in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary that "sanitary" means of or pertaining to the conditions that affect health, especially with reference to cleanliness and precautions against infection. Surely, a sanitary inspector was exactly the inspector of things pertaining to conditions affecting health. I, personally, could see nothing wrong with the title as it stood.

I said earlier that I wondered how far we were going with this politeness in regard to titles. I wonder whether some day some hon. Member will suggest that the title "Parliamentary Secretary" does not really define or indicate the importance of the job which a Parliamentary Secretary holds, and introduce a Private Member's Bill to provide that Parliamentary Secretaries shall be called Deputy Ministers. What shall we do about the Whips? Is it right that a body of such tender-hearted men—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is nothing about Whips in the Bill.

Mr. Blackburn

I was really using it as an illustration of changes in title and designation, such as the one we have here, from "sanitary inspector" to "public health inspector". I will not pursue that line of argument.

There is likely to be confusion with regard to the change in title. There are already people employed in the department of the medical officer of health who are referred to as public health inspectors. There is, therefore, likely to be confusion between public health officers and public health inspectors. I suppose that all this has arisen because the sanitary inspectors feel that their job is associated with sewers, drains and nuisances generally.

When I think of sanitary inspectors, I think of them as a fine body of men who have been doing an exceedingly good job. It will not make the slightest difference from that point of view whether they are called sanitary inspectors or public health inspectors. It is not worth voting against the Bill on such a matter, but it is important that we should make a protest about this sort of action which is being taken.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) in the comments he has made. The progress of the Bill through the House illustrates some of our difficulties in dealing with Private Members' Bills. The Bill came up for Second Reading on several occasions. It was impossible to discuss it because it came in unopposed at the time and one would have had to hold it up to discuss it. Nobody would want to hold up a Bill obstructively.

The Bill then went to Standing Committee. I took the trouble to ask to be put on that Committee so that I could make some remarks about the Bill, but on the morning that the Standing Committee was due to meet there was no quorum. Therefore, the Committee did not meet until a week later, when I could not attend owing to an engagement which had been made many months before. I have had no opportunity, therefore, of making any comments on the Bill until Third Reading and I am sorry that it should be necessary to raise the matter at this late stage.

Like my hon. Friend, I did not want to vote against the Bill. If a body of men as valuable as sanitary inspectors want to change their name in this way, I would not hold them up. I would even less want to hold them up if I thought that the Bill would increase the number of sanitary inspectors, because there is a tremendous shortage of them. If people are going to prefer to become public health inspectors to becoming sanitary inspectors, there may be something to be said for the change.

In my opinion, however, this is fundamentally a silly Bill and a foolish proposal. The name of the sanitary inspector is an ancient and honourable name. All through our history of public health legislation, in the very front rank has been the sanitary inspector. One remembers the famous remark of Disraeli: "Sanitas sanitatum omnia sanitas." When he thought in his day that at the bottom of all public health legislation were drains, smells and all the unpleasant things that we now rather try to put in the background, he was right.

It would be a great pity if people got the idea that environmental health was now a rather delicate affair which could be done by going along with a penicillin spray without having to tackle the basic problems of bad smells, bad drains, bad refuse collection and all the kind of things that at the back of our urban civilisation are the real dangers of the spread of infectious disease. Therefore, one wonders a little whether the motive behind the Bill is really that of trying to pretend that we can ignore things like sanitation and that we must think of health protection and environmental health in terms of delicate euphemisms.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, it seems a little unwise, in this House of all places, to suggest that, because a name has ceased to convey the nature of the office to which it is applied, it should be changed. After all, you, Mr. Speaker, would be in imminent danger were this to be the common practice. No one can pretend that the main contribution you make to our proceedings is by speaking.

It is true that the sanitary inspector has ceased, because of the change in the nature of his job, to have a great deal to do with elementary sanitation nowadays, but this may not always be so, and it does not matter in the least, because as I have said, the name is an honourable one, and one to which people can point with great pride.

I have one comfort in watching this rather foolish performance, and it is that the great British people are always proof against all these attempts to legislate in euphemisms. A Bill may call him what hon. Members like, but the sanitary inspector will always remain the sanitary inspector in the language of the people who go to him. What we call him in a Bill may not matter very much. The important thing is that he is recognised as performing a very great and important function in the service of local authorities, and the name he has long had will, I am quite certain, still be the name by which the people will always call him.

9.52 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

It seems to me that if we pass this Bill we shall be in at least one difficulty, because if we are to start upgrading the titles of local government officials we really ought to start by upgrading the title of the clerk to the council, because the clerk is much more than just a clerk nowadays. He is a manager or general manager in the sense in which the title is used in America. I think it is rather unfortunate, perhaps, that we should start at the level of sanitary inspector, instead of starting at a higher level. It seems to me we are in some difficulty in starting in this way. That is why I do not feel very enthusiastic about the Bill.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

I am in a similar position to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), in that I have been trying to catch up with this Bill and, unfortunately, have succeeded in doing so only on Third Reading. I hope the House will reject the Bill for the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes have stated. I see no purpose in the Bill at all.

As a result of modern trends and of our recent legislation in the Clean Air Act, some of the duties of the sanitary inspectors will be transferred to smoke abatement officers and sanitary inspectors will have to concern themselves with their original function, namely, looking after sewage disposal and drains.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I think my hon. Friend is at fault there. The work under the Clean Air Act will remain very largely, if not entirely, with the sanitary inspectors.

Mr. Hobson

I know a little about the problem of smoke abatement. I have not served in local government and for twenty years in the engineering profession in power stations without having learned something of the ways and means of controlling smoke emission, particularly from large generating plants. The modern tendency is to have smoke abatement officers, and it will be less and less the duty of sanitary inspectors to deal with the work which will be done by smoke abatement officers, and the sanitary inspectors will be confined more to their original functions, which have been adequately described by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes.

What will the result of the Bill be? The result of changing the designation of sanitary inspectors to that of public health inspectors will be pressure, very common in local government, for increased salaries. The change of nomenclature will be used as an argument for their being paid considerable salary increases.

This is one of the normal processes which are taking place throughout local government. There is empire building on the one side and an increase in salaries for these people on the other for doing precisely the same job as they were doing before. We have seen many other examples. When I was in local government not many years ago there was a very important officer attached to the health department who was known as a rat catcher.

Mr. Blenkinsop

We have had that before.

Mr. Hobson

Hon. Members may have had it before, but they will get it again. My hon. Friend ought to know that there is no surer way of getting the hon. Member for Keighley to continue than to make an interruption of that kind. These rat catchers are now known as rodent officers. They are not catching more rats but they have had considerable increases in salary.

There is absolutely no need for the Bill at all. Why should we surrender to what is, after all, just a matter of people's vanity? That is what is involved in the Bill. This is merely a lever whereby recommendations can be made for increases in salary. I hope that the House will divide on the Bill, chuck it out and treat it with the contempt which it deserves.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

I am sorry that some of my hon. Friends found it necessary to criticise this small Bill, which is welcomed by the people for whom we are legislating. I was glad to hear that it was because he was unavoidably detained that my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) was unable to attend the Committee, because on two occasions we tried desperately hard to secure a quorum to discuss the Bill in Committee. It is a little late now to offer criticisms—

Mr. MacColl

My hon. Friend and I are good friends, and I know that he will forgive me for intervening. I stayed in the Committee all the time on the first day in order that there should be a quorum rather than try to kill the Bill by walking out. I was engaged at quarter sessions on the other day, as I told my hon. Friend, and therefore it is a little hard that I should be blamed now.

Mr. Wilkins

I am sorry. I withdraw the observation that I have just made, but that does not excuse a number of hon. Members who ought to have been present in the Committee.

I regard the objections made this evening as rather pettifogging. Surely one of the matters which we have to consider is that when we designate people who perform the functions of local government the designation of their office should at least have some sort of relationship to the job that they do. It is perfectly true that years ago the work of these inspectors was confined almost entirely to such things as inspecting drains, but their responsibilities today are in many ways totally different and are manifold compared with the jobs which they were originally called upon to do. They have shop inspection duties, inspection of weights and measures—

Mr. Hobson

Not in all boroughs.

Mr. Wilkins

We know where the objections come from, because we have had the literature circulated to us.

Mr. Hobson

The objections do not come from circulated literature. They come from experience. I was a member of Willesden Borough Council.

Mr. Wilkins

We also know that these objections come from certain interested parties who are not very anxious to see that these people are properly designated. These people's duties comprise many things other than the inspection of drains and sewers. We owe a great deal to them for the fact that, generally speaking, we have a meat supply which is free from tuberculosis.

One of the most important tasks that these people perform is that of meat inspection in abattoirs after the cattle have been slaughtered. When it comes to drains and sewers, in the main that is a job which is now passed over to the engineer's departments, in most boroughs at any rate, and sanitary inspectors are only called in when there are nuisances to which house-holders may object. Even after they have decided that a complaint is valid, it is generally passed over to the engineer's department to rectify.

I said in Committee that I welcomed this Bill. I believe that those who have objected to it, or at least have indicated to us as Members of Parliament that they have certain objections to it, have done so largely from a form of professional snobbery. They did not want these people to be upgraded but not for the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson), namely, that they would be asking for increased remuneration. After all, if they did that, they would only be doing something in common with many other people who are engaged in local authority work.

Therefore I welcome this Bill. I know many of these fellows personally. They are a fine body of men who do a conscientious job on behalf of the community. They are far from being limited to the terms which their present designation would imply, and in my opinion this is a long overdue reform of the designation accorded to them.

Mr. Blackburn

Would my hon. Friend not agree that the dictionary definition of the word "sanitary" exactly describes the job which they are doing now?

Mr. Wilkins

No, I would not.

Mr. Blackburn

Also would my hon. Friend please explain to us who do not know, what is the literature we are supposed to have received?

Mr. Wilkins

The literature is that which was sent by various organisations.

Mr. Blackburn

No, no.

Mr. Wilkins

Then my hon. Friend must be unique, because some of us have certainly received literature asking us to oppose this Bill.

Mr. Blackburn


10.2 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The interruption made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) brings us to the essential point in this matter. Everything I have heard described has had something to do with sanitation which, after all, deals with health. I should be sorry to see the title "sanitary inspector" disappear. I was in local government a long time before my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson), being first elected to a local government authority in 1908, and I have always regarded the term "sanitary inspector" as a term of considerable honour. What is more, this House has always regarded it as such and took steps to safeguard the position of the sanitary inspector.

In my day, and I believe it is the same today, a local authority could not dismiss a sanitary inspector without the consent of the President of the Local Government Board who, I suppose, is now succeeded by the Minister of Health. However, Ministers' names have been so altered in the last twenty years that one never knows where the pea is under the many thimbles under which it can now hide. This is an honourable office safeguarded in that way. Surely that shows the importance which the Government of the day felt for it when the office was made? In fact, when I started in local government it was said that no sanitary inspector who did his job could expect to be popular in the area he served.

It is true that some of the things which then gave great concern, give less concern today, but there are plenty of boroughs and rural districts in which the elementary part, the first part, of the job of the sanitary inspector is still important. If people think it is upgrading to call him a public health officer rather than a sanitary inspector, all I can say is that we can all have our ideas of the grading that words give to certain offices.

This was the officer who in those days was the right-hand man of the medical officer. He was expected to deal with many duties which could fall on a medical officer, such as infectious diseases—which still exist—to find out the environmental causes which had led to an epidemic and to deal with all sorts of problems which I believe still exist. Although they are more rare now than they were, it may require a great deal more vigilance on the part of the officers than in the days when we pretty well knew what was the cause of the trouble.

I share the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) that some people may think that the name sanitary inspector has some degrading connections. Those who recollect the work which sanitary inspectors did, often in the face of bitter opposition from the owners of small properties in their areas, will feel, I am sure, that it has always been a designation of honour—one which has always been held in honour. I know that some authorities object to being called sanitary authorities. I recollect that when I was chairman of a county council I once had an obstreperous band of county district councils in front of me trying to prevent the county council from doing what I thought it ought to do, and I referred to them as sanitary authorities. Their representatives immediately got up and protested, and I pointed out that ever since the Public Health Act, 1848, that was how they had been described in the Acts of this House.

The raising of the standards of sanitation in this country since 1848 has been very largely secured by the work of these men, and I hope the House will decide to retain a title which I still regard as the best description of the work which they have to do.

10.8 p.m.

Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)

I find myself in agreement with hon. Members who have suggested that the Bill is a nonsense and ought to be thrown out. It seems to me that when we consider whether legislation should be passed, the first duty of Parliament is to decide whether the legislation is necessary or whether it is not. It also seems to me that if we were to pass this Bill it would be totally unnecessary legislation—and one of the difficulties in Parliament is that we pass too much legislation and clutter up the Statute Book with more legislation than people have time to digest. I therefore suggest, on the question of principle, that when a Bill appears to be totally unnecessary, as this Bill appears to be, the House would be very unwise indeed to pass it.

It might be worth while to say a few words about the history of the Bill going through the House. It has been objected to on various occasions when it has come before the House and it slipped through when very low on the list of Bills late on a Friday afternoon.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

My hon. Friend is inaccurate when he says there has been objection to it. There has not.

Mr. Arbuthnot

I have, in fact, objected to it myself, so that my hon. Friend is quite wrong there. The Bill got through late on a Friday afternoon when it was low in the list.

I should like to associate myself with remarks which have been made drawing attention to the honour in which the title of sanitary inspector is held. It is a title which devotes in the public mind a body of men who have served the public well and will continue to serve it well. I hope that we shall not suggest that they should drop this honourable name.

When I consulted my own local authority in Deal on this subject, I was told that it thought that this Bill was undesirable, that there was a danger of confusion between other officers in the office of the medical officer of health, that it thought that this House would be wise to reject the Bill and suggested that that was the appropriate line of action. I must admit that I fully endorse that view, and I hope that the House will reject the Bill as unnecessary and unwanted.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

I hope that my hon. Friends will not attempt to defeat this Bill on Third Reading. I have a good deal of sympathy with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) about the somewhat easy way in which we change titles these days, and of course, the good old example of the rodent operative was brought up. In other parts of the world, this process has been taken to great lengths. A liftman is a lift operator, a car is an automobile, and I was once told that a boxing booth was an emporium for fisticuff encounters. I would say that this matter is of a rather different character.

It was suggested by one hon. Member opposite that if we were to start changing the title of local government officers, we should start with the clerk of the council because that title was out of date. If all the clerks in the country through their association wanted to change their name, if their professional association had already changed its name, if there had been a Government Department considering the matter which recommended that there should be a change of name, and if it was thought that recruiting would be improved by a change of name, I would have been in favour of some change of the title "clerk to the council". These considerations do not apply in that particular cases, but they do, in fact, apply in the case of sanitary inspectors.

The hon. Member says that the name "sanitary inspector" is an honourable name and that we are going to have it. I am reminded of the old story of a man in Hyde Park who, working himself up, said, "Comrades, when the Red Revolution comes, you are going to live in Park Lane." One man said, "I don't want to live in Park Lane." The reply was, "When the Red Revolution comes, comrade, you will live where we tell you to live." That is rather the sort of thing connected with this honourable title.

Everyone says, "What a fine body of men they are, and what an honourable title it is." But this honourable and fine body of men have decided together that they would rather have a name which more accurately describes their calling.

Mr. Hobson

It does not.

Mr. Beswick

It is no good my hon. Friend saying that it does not. I believe that it does, and in this case the men concerned, and to whom tribute has been paid by all speakers, are the best persons to judge. They believe it to be the case. If it helps them, inspires them and encourages recruitment, and if the Govern- ment are satisfied that we should accept the Bill, I personally believe that we ought to accept it and that it would be wrong at this time to oppose it on Third Reading.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)

It appears to me that the hon. Members who want this Bill are not very enthusiastic about it. We have nine names on the back of the Bill. Until ten minutes ago, there were two of those hon. Members in the House. One came in, went out and has come back again, so now we have three actual supporters of the Bill in the House.

I regard the sanitary inspector as being a member of a very honourable profession. I should not like to see the name go. I have not been engaged in local government for as long as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has been. It was in 1921 that I first entered the Birmingham City Council, and because I represented a slum ward, I immediately contacted the sanitary inspector's department. I found some very good friends there in fighting slum landlordism and the terrible living conditions which existed. That fine corps of men are "sanitary inspectors" in Birmingham.

Chief Inspector Turley, now retired, was a man of great courage and great ability. In the early days he had on his health committee some of the worst of property owners in Birmingham as councillors and aldermen, but he never lacked the courage to stand up to them and fight. He was of the utmost assistance to those of us in Birmingham who were fighting, if not for the abolition of the slums, at least for amelioration of the conditions of the people who lived in them.

I have represented three slum wards in the City of Birmingham in my municipal career. The first was called Rotton Park—a very descriptive name. I see the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) smiling, because he knows the ward to which I am referring. These sanitary inspectors are enshrined in the hearts of all those who over the years have fought—[Laughter.] There is nothing to laugh about—against slum landlordism and intolerable living conditions. Why should we change their designation now?

Mr. Beswick

Has the hon. Member asked these honourable men whether they want their name changed?

Mr. Simmons

I do not know whether they want their name changed. They could get their name changed through a deed poll. Those of us who believe in the old traditions of local government—

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

Is Rotten St. still called Rotten St.?

Mr. Simmons

Rotton Park.

Sir I. Fraser

Is it still called that?

Mr. Simmons

It has improved a bit as a result of the work of the Labour members on the city council and the sanitary inspectors.

In the interests of the traditions of local government let us keep this name. I now represent an area outside Birmingham in the Black Country where people call them not sanitary inspectors, nor the newfangled name in the Bill, but "nuisance men".

10.19 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I should declare an interest as Vice-President of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association. I confess that I am a little surprised to find the House at this time of the evening taking so much notice of this very modest proposal. It seems to me that when we have a very great shortage of sanitary inspectors and when it is clear that this body of people, to whom tributes have been paid from both sides of the House, almost unanimously desires this change, it would be very foolish of us to reject the proposal.

The most that can be said against it is that it does not make very much difference and that it makes no change at all in the very important duties that these men have to perform. However, I can assure the House that these men do wish the change to be made, and in view of the work they do—

Mr. Arbuthnot

Is there not a wide divergence of opinion among sanitary inspectors on this question?

Mr. Blenkinsop

I know of no sanitary inspectors who oppose this proposal. It has been discussed by their official bodies, and they have unanimously recommended their desire to support this change. It is just not the case that these people have a very narrow field of responsibility. This House itself has imposed upon them fresh and heavy responsibilities in recent successive Acts, in regard to food legislation and clean air. There are all too few of these people to carry out their duties. I hope that the House will do nothing which will in any way set back the esteem in which they are held, and that we shall do nothing to dissuade them from encouraging every form of recruitment. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

10.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)

This Bill has the full support of my right hon. Friend. I want to take up a few of the points which have been made by hon. Members who oppose it. First, it is fair to remind the House that these officers were originally called inspectors of nuisances. When the title was changed to "sanitary inspector," the term "sanitary" had the meaning of "pertaining to health," which was a much wider meaning than is given to it today. In present-day parlance the public does not think of the term as covering such matters as food regulations and the sanitary inspectors' duties in regard to them, or clean air and many other major items of legislation.

Mr. Hobson

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell me in what way the duties of a sanitary inspector are different from what they were because of the passing of the Clean Air Bill?

Mr. Blenkinsop


Mr. Hobson

My hon. Friend should curb himself. He is getting a little too excited. Can the hon. Lady say what difference there is in the duties of the sanitary inspector as a result of the passing of the Clean Air Bill?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

That Measure gives wider powers to local authorities, which will naturally mean wider powers and more work for local authority officers. The hon. Member knows that very well. Food regulations also bring greater responsibilities and more work to local authority officers.

Mr. Hobson

Read the Bill.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

Today the word "sanitary" has come to bear a restricted meaning, not associated with health in its widest sense.

Mr. Hobson

That is wrong.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion, but it was the opinion of a working party set up by the hon. Member's party in 1951, that the term "sanitary inspector" was no longer a correct description of the work and duties of these officers. The working party reported in 1953, unanimously recommending that the term was an anachronism and also a deterrent to recruitment. I would remind hon. Members opposite that many of them—including the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop)—have been very active in asking what we were going to do to help the recruitment of sanitary inspectors. The Bill follows the recommendation of the working party which they themselves set up, and yet certain of them propose to reject it.

I would also point out the wide diversity that now exists in the work falling to sanitary inspectors. The investigations of the working party showed that only a small percentage of the time of sanitary inspectors is now spent upon duties traditionally ascribed to them, such as the inspection of drainage. Such matters take up only 6.1 per cent. of their time, and scavenging, cleansing and refuse removal account for 3 per cent. That is a total of under 10 per cent. and the other 90 per cent. of time is taken up by a much wider variety of duties on health matters than is connoted by the word "sanitary" in the mind of the public.

It is only fair to say that not only was there this unanimous recommendation from the working party, but that one of the bodies representing the members of the profession, the Royal Sanitary Institute, has changed its title to that of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health basically because the terms of its work and the qualifications of its members are much wider than the word "sanitary" implies. The Institution of Sanitary Engineers has also adopted as its new title the designation "Institution of Public Health Engineers."

I find it hard to reconcile the tributes paid by hon. Members on both sides of the House—whether they are for or against the Bill—with the opinion of the minority that this fine body of men which has done such magnificent work for the community is incapable of coming to a responsible decision about its own designation. There has been an independent inquiry into this, and there has been a very strong recommendation—

Mr. Hobson

Why not have a Royal Commission?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

If the hon. Gentleman does not like the composition of the working party he must remember that his own Government appointed the members to it.

Mr. Hobson

I am suggesting a Royal Commission.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

If an independent investigation by a committee, the whole desire of which was to improve the recruitment of sanitary inspectors and to fill many of the vacancies which now exist, has recommended this change, and if at the same time the profession feels that thes new title would aid recruitment, then I hope that the House will give a unanimous Third Reading to the Bill.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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