HL Deb 13 July 1925 vol 62 cc36-48

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is quite unnecessary to make a long speech on this Bill. The Bill was passed unanimously on both Second and Third Readings in another place. It was promoted in the first place by the Municipal Corporations Association, but it is equally strongly supported in its present form by the Association of County Councils, the Association of Urban District Councils and the Association of Rural District Councils, a very unusual combination. My noble friend Lord Derby, who is the president of the Association of Municipal Corporations, ought to have introduced the Bill, but he is unfortunately unable to be here. That is why I, as one of the vice-presidents, inn venturing to do so. The measure is also supported by His Majesty's Government, particularly by the Ministry of Health. Successful efforts have been made to safeguard the interests of any organisation specially affected, and I am able to tell your Lordships that such bodies as the National Federation of Property Owners, the Central Landowners' Association, the railway companies, the Canal Association, and the National Gas Council, composed of the gas, water and electricity authorities, are all satisfied with the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to collect into one Act, subject to certain restrictions and limitations, and to make available for the whole country, provisions already enacted in local Acts which have stood the test of experience over several years. Every clause of this Bill is founded upon local precedent except some that were introduced on the Committee and Report stage on the initiative of the Government in another place. The Bill follows the principles of sanitary and local legislation which have grown up in this country. All through the last hundred years Private Bills have been passed giving special powers to the local authorities. After the provisions of those Bills have been tested by experience they generally assume a stereotyped form and when that is the case they are collected from time to time into General Acts such as this.

These Acts are of two kinds,—one consisting of such Acts as require another Act in order to incorporate them and apply them locally. Examples of that are the well-known Lands Clauses Act, 1845, the Gas Works Clauses and Markets and Fair Clauses Act, 1847, and many other Acts. The other kind of Acts consist of those which are either of general application or are adopted by the localities on a resolution of the local authority. Examples of those Acts are the Public Health Acts of 1848 and 1375 and the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act, of 1689, once adoptive but now compulsory. I could mention many others. It is to the latter class of Bill that this Bill belongs. I can assure your Lordships that it is quite in accordance with precedent that a Bill of this kind should be introduced by a private member. The greater part of our sanitary and local legislation in its original form has neon introduced by private members both in this House and in another place, acting, as the promoters of this Bill are acting, as a rule with the co-operation and advice of the Government.

It is eighteen years since the last measure involving Public Health provisions was introduced—the Public Health Acts Amendment. Act, 1907. Many new provisions have been inserted in local Acts since that time and have been found useful in practice and the time seems ripe for putting those into more general form. That is the opinion of the Local Legislation Committee of the House of Commons. That Committee reported in 1921 as follows:— The Committee is further of opinion that a consolidation and extension of the Public Health Acts would be extremely beneficial and if consolidation cannot be attained at an early date they urge the immediate extension of the Public Health Acts to include all powers which are now regularly granted in Private Bills of local authorities. In 1922 and 1923 they made similar observations in their Reports for those years.

It is hardly necessary for me to go through the clauses of this Bill in detail. They deal, on the lines that I have explained, with many subjects which are ripe for general legislation. I must, however, say one or two words of general description of the Bill. The Bill is divided into nine parts. Part I deals with the machinery for bringing the Bill into operation. The Bill does not apply to Scotland at all and only Part IX applies to London. Parts II, III, IV and V are adoptive; but with certain limitations. For instance, Clauses 21, 22 and 24 can only be put into force in a borough or an urban district council area of fewer than 20,000 inhabitants if they get the consent of the Ministry of Health. It cannot be put into force in those places simply on the motion of the local authority. Those clauses, as well as Clauses 17, 19 and 35, also require the consent of the Ministry of Health in order that they may be put into force in rural district council areas.

Part VI of the Bill deals with recreation grounds. It is an extension of Part VI of the 1907 Act, and it is proposed that this part of the Act shall operate where that Act operates. There was considerable discussion on this Part of the Bill in another place on the Report stage, and I imagine there may be some discussion here when we come to the Committee stage. It is a matter for the Committee to settle. All I can say is that I do not desire to give any unduly extended powers to local authorities, and I should be glad to listen to any reasonable proposal that is brought forward in regard to this somewhat contentious matter.

In regard to Part VII of the Bill, dealing with infectious diseases and hospitals, this is to come into operation at once. So far as I know, there is nothing contentious in the proposals made, and no opposition has appeared in regard to them. Part VIII contains a number of miscellaneous clauses. There is one inserted on the suggestion of the Ministry of Health to allow local authorities to do something to assist to prevent blindness, as well as to treat it when it occurs, in localities. There is a clause dealing with parking places for tars. Clause 71, which has also led to a certain amount of discussion, deals with the, question of cold storage. I have met the representatives of the Cold Storage Association this afternoon, and, although the arrangement we came to was only verbal, and has to be reduced to writing and to print, I may say that we did agree verbally, and I shall hope to have this clause in an entirely non-contentious form, so far as they are concerned, in the Committee stage. I shall have a word or two to say later on with regard to Clause 74, which deals with offences in regard to driving motor cars and other vehicles.

Part IX deals with baths and wash-houses and this is the only part which applies to London. It gives greater powers to increase the charges. The scale of charges allowable in regard to public baths and washhouses was fixed so long ago as 1878 and has never been altered. It also gives power to meet other uses of baths sanctioned by precedent. I do not know of any objection being raised to that part of the Bill. Such, shortly, is the scope of the Bill. I have described its origin, the care taken in its preparation and the attempts to meet all well-founded criticisms. I repeat that it is supported by all the great associations of local authorities and by the Ministry of Health. It is on the lines suggested by the Local Legislation Committee of another place, and I would fain hope that it will have the support of my noble friend the Lord Chairman of this House, who has unique experience in regard to Private Bills. It only remains for me to refer very briefly to the two Motions for the rejection of this Bill of which Notice has been given. One stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.


May I at once inform the noble Lord that I am not moving?


I am obliged to the noble Lord, and I will not take up your Lordships' time in dealing with what I imagined was the cause of this objection. The other Motion stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam. I have often admired hi another place the ingenuity with which he found arguments to oppose Bills, and I have no doubt he will have ingenious arguments to offer against this measure if he pursues the Notice he has given. I do not know what his reasons are, but it is possible that he thinks this Bill might make local expenditure rather easier than it is. There are some clauses only that can possibly be used in that way. I would venture to remind your Lordships that the Bill is also meant to save money inasmuch as it will lessen the cost of promoting Private Bills and reduce the number of such Bills. I might also remind your Lordships that whatever may be said about local extravagance—and Heaven knows the rates are high enough—the rates have not gone up as much as our taxes have done, and I think there are often more genuine incentives to economy in localities than there are in regard to Imperial expenditure.

Has not our sanitary legislation been justified? In the decade 1891 to 1900 the death rate was eighteen per thousand. In the last three or four years it has come down to between ten and twelve, or an average of somewhere about eleven per thousand. The death rate for infants in the earlier decade of which I speak was 153 per thousand, and I am informed that to-day it is less than half of what it was then. Those are results that must be stated in favour of some of the sanitary legislation which this country has adopted.

It may also be that my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam prefers the system of Private Bill legislation to incorporating these stereotyped clauses in General Acts. If so, I would venture to remind your Lordships that the people who seem to know most of this question—such as, for instance, the Local Legislation Committee in another place—take, a different view. In fact, I may say that this Bill gives no reason for complaint by anybody, so far as I am aware, except three classes of people possibly. One consists of the Parliamentary Agents and another the Parliamentary Bar: and these gentlemen have hitherto managed, somehow, to find profitable occupation in spite of a long course of legislation of this kind. The third class of people who may possibly complain are members of your Lordships' House who are such gluttons for Committee work on Private Bills that they would regret to see anything done to curtail the number of such Bills. That being so, I ask your Lordships with some confidence to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Emmott.)

LORD BANBUKY OF SOUTHAM had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was only a short time ago that we listened to a very powerful speech from the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, in the course of which he pointed out that this country must exercise economy if it was to return in any kind of way to its ancient prosperity. The noble Earl pointed out, as the noble Lord has just said, that taxation had increased enormously and that the rates had also increased to a very great extent. I think we all know that whereas we used to pay something which varied from 2s. to 5s. or 6s. in the £, the rates are now somewhere between 15s. and 20s. in the £. After the noble Earl's speech I hoped that there would have been some signs of a return to sanity and a little attempt at any rate to stop increased expenditure. But, as has always happened, I find that this is not going to take place and that whenever anybody wants to spend money he can always find excellent reasons for doing so.

This Bill is brought in by a private member of another Place who has only been for eight months in the House of Commons. So far as I can see from the names on the back of the Bill, there is not one who had been more than, if as much as, three years in that House and all but one of them were, I believe, connected with municipalities. We all know that the officials of municipalities are anxious to interfere with our private life and to impose fresh burdens upon us. It may be the case, and I think it is, that there are a few provisions in this Bill which might be advantageous if this country was still rich and prosperous. As it is a poor country, we have to cut our coat according to our cloth and to do everything we can, not only to avoid increasing expenditure but to diminish it.

The noble Lord, Lord Emmott, will excuse me, I do not want to misrepresent him in any way but I rather gather that he laid it down that this was a consolidation Bill.

LORD EMMOTT indicated dissent.


It has been said to me that it is, after all, only a consolidation Bill, which combines certain Acts which are already the law of the land. As a matter of fact the title is: "An Act to amend the Public Health Acts … and the Baths and Washhouses Acts … and for other purposes relating to public health." It is true that there might be a number of municipalities—as a matter of fact, there are some ten or twelve—which have power at present to provide amusements, theatres, concerts, etc. But that is under special Acts which were given to these particular municipalities because they were either seaside resorts or watering places; and I do not think it is wise at any time to extend those powers and certainly not at present. We are now getting into the position of ancient Rome shortly before her downfall. We are providing panem et circenses at the public expense. I hope that your Lordships will take warning from ancient Rome and give up what, to my mind, are very foolish extravagances.

Allow me now for a few moments to direct your attention to the Bill. There is another very bad feature in this Bill in that it allows a Minister of Health to do all sorts of things without the authority of Parliament. One thing that it allows—I will come to it presently—is that the Minister of Health may authorise municipalities to spend any sum of money, and to levy any rate, without limit. We do not know how long the present Government is going to exist, but it is not without the bounds of probability that we might have a Labour Government in power. Are we prepared to give to a Labour Minister of Health that power? Assume that the Minister of Health was a woman—not an unlikely event—what on earth might she not do, moved no doubt by the most excellent reasons, and a desire to improve the health of the country, though how theatrical entertainments and cold meat storages are going to improve the health of the country I do not know.

Let me call your Lordships' attention to subsection (2) of Clause 4: The Minister of Health may by order apply to any rural district, or contributory place therein, any provision in Parts II to V of this Act, in the same manner as provisions of the Public Health Act, 1875, which apply to urban districts, may be applied to rural districts. That is to say that though this part of the Bill only applies to urban districts, the Minister of Health, without going to Parliament, may on his own initiative apply it to rural districts. It is true that there is a clause saying that notice must be given of the Order once at least in one or more of the newspapers circulating within the area to which the application relates in each of two successive weeks, but that of course is a perfectly illusory safeguard. Clause 14 says:— The local authority may, in proper and convenient situations in any street or public place, erect and maintain seats and drinking fountains for the use of the public and troughs for watering horses or cattle. A most excellent thing, but up to the present time a very considerable number of drinking troughs for horses and cattle have been provided at private expense. Why alter it, and put this expense upon the rates, especially at the present time? My noble friend the Earl of Balfour says "especially when there are no longer any horses." I venture to disagree with him there. There are still a few.

I would like next to direct your Lordships' attention to Clause 22, which says:— The urban authority may give notice to the owner or occupier of any lands abutting upon any street within their district which is repairable by the inhabitants at large, requiring him, within fourteen days after the service of the notice so to fence off, channel or embank the lands as to prevent soil or refuse, from such lands, from falling upon, or being washed or carried into the street, or into any sewer or gully therein. That clause can again be applied by the Minister of Health to a rural district so that you may have a farmer being told, because there is a certain overflow of water from his land, that he has to go to this expense. There is no appeal against the decision of the surveyor Jacks-in-office, as they very often are, who come down and think they are doing something very fine if they compel an unfortunate inhabitant of England to fall in with their order.

Subsection (8) of Clause 33 allows a local authority to enter into land speculation. It says: The local authority may purchase any land not occupied By buildings lying between the improvement line and the boundary of the street, or any interest in such land— It does not actually confiscate the land, I will say that for it, but why should a local authority enter into a land speculation? Land speculation is sometimes remunerative and sometimes is the very reverse. Then Clause 39 says: It shall not be lawful for any person to repair, reconstruct or alter the course of any drain, which communicates with a sewer or with a cesspool or any other receptacle for drainage, without giving to the local authority at least twenty-four hours previous notice in writing of his intention so to do except in case of emergency. This is no longer a free country. We cannot do anything. We cannot see that a drain into a cesspool is put right without asking the permission of the gentlemen whom the noble Lord, Lord Emmott, so ably represents.

Now we come to verminous persons and premises. In the Act of 1897 there was power to the local authorities to wash and clean a verminous person if the verminous person was diseased, but that is not enough for the local authority at present, because they say that if a person is verminous under certain circumstances they may take him and wash him against his will and detain him for a period. Perhaps I had better read the words, which are to be found in Clause 48:— (2) Where it appears to the local authority, on a report from the medical officer, that any person, or the clothing of any person is infested with vermin, or is likely to be so infested, if that person consents to remove to a cleansing station the local authority may cause him to be removed to such station— How on earth is the local authority to know whether the clothing of any person is likely to be so infested? The clause goes on: and, if he does not so consent, then a petty sessional court, if satisfied on the application of the local authority that it is necessary that he or his clothing should be cleansed, may make an order for his removal to a cleansing station and for his detention therein for such period and subject to such conditions as may be specified in the order. Really what are we coming to in these days when a person who may have given some offence to a medical officer or some local person may be, when in their opinion he is likely to be infested at some future time with vermin, hauled up before the magistrates, who, so far as I can see, have no option in the matter if the local authority say that is their opinion—no proof is apparently required. Then the person may be detained for any time and under any conditions that the local council may impose. There is power to enter any house and order it to be re-papered and painted if the local authority thinks that possibly vermin may come in. There is no definition, by the way, of vermin.


Clause 50, page 27.


Oh, yes, I see it says: The expression 'vermin,' in its application to insects and parasites, includes their eggs, larvae and pupae, and the expression 'verminous' shall be construed accordingly. I was wrong; there is a definition, but it is rather an involved one. Then Clause 56 provides for theatrical entertainments. It is a fact that in ten or twelve places the municipal authorities have power, which was given to them in the old days when we were more or less prosperous, to provide theatrical entertainments. It is one of the worst features of the present day that when once something has been done, whether it is right or wrong, and when some power has been given, everybody else seems to think that he ought to have the same power. My idea is that these powers should be taken away from these ten or twelve municipalities. The local authority, or the persons responsible for this Bill, had a more or less economical fit at the beginning, and they said that for the purposes of this Bill no rate more than one penny in the £ could be imposed, but then they had another feeling, and they said that the Minister of Health may alter this and may allow them to impose any rate they like. With the Minister of Health possibly a wild Socialist woman, what on earth can you expect, and what mercy will the ratepayers get? And you must remember that they are not the people who have the votes. The majority of electors do not pay rates, but they have the votes; and if you are going to open up a vista of public entertainments to be provided at the expense of the small minority who pay rates I do not know what the financial position of the country may be in the future.

Then Clause 62 says that where it is proved to the satisfaction of a court of summary jurisdiction that any person suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis is in an infectious state and that the lodging or accommodation provided for that person is such that proper precautions to prevent the spread of infection cannot be taken, the court may make an order for the removal of that person to a hospital or institution. That may be all right, but we got on very well without it before. All this costs money and at a time when we ought not to spend money. And there is another clause, Clause 71, which enables a local authority to provide cold air storage, but I understand that on this point some arrangement has been arrived at. What it all comes to is this. These local authorities are anxious to extend their powers, and an extension of their powers means the spending of more money and the raising of the rates. I sincerely trust that in the interests not only of the ratepayers but of the finance of the country as a whole your Lordships will reject this Bill. I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment moved:— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill, though I am sure you have all been delighted with the speech to which we have just listened and would have been very sorry if you had not had an opportunity of enjoying it. I did my best to follow the noble Lord and as far as I could make out, on a rough calculation, he only objected to eight proposals in the Bill. There are 81 clauses in this measure, and basing it on that one fact alone I think I shall be justified in asking your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. I need not follow the noble Lord in all the points on which he made a criticism. They are all Committee points, and I am sure the promoters themselves would welcome the criticism of your Lordships in Committee.

This Bill is not a big general scheme. In its essence it is a number of detached points, many of them of great importance, which have been discussed by Parliament in individual cases. As was made clear by the noble Lord, Lord Emmott, what this Bill provides is a procedure by which facilities which have been found of advantage in many individual cases can be conferred in a cheap and inexpensive manner on authorities similarly situated. Take, for instance, the clause which so much alarmed the noble Lord, the clause dealing with the cleansing of verminous persons. I admit that the language is not very picturesque, but it does not deal with a very picturesque subject. They are all clauses which have been common in Bills for Sessions past. I do not think the noble Lord need be alarmed. Take the theatre clause. I admit that many people hesitate as to how far municipalities should be allowed to give public entertainments, but it is done now, and most successfully done, and the artistic side of music would be much poorer—I quote a case of which I have some personal experience as a member of the audience—but for the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.

But I want to emphasise the fact that these are all Committee points, and they ought to be discussed in Committee, as they have been discussed in Committee over and over again. I regard this Bill really as eight or ten years late. We ought to have had it long ago, and if we had we should have saved a great deal of public expenditure and public money. I have no doubt that certain of the clauses will come in for criticism in Committee, and possibly they can be improved. I have no doubt your Lordships will welcome opportunities for discussing various points in the Bill, just as the noble Lord desires to discuss cold meat storage and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu Clause 74, which deals with penalties for the neglect of traffic directions and for dangerous driving. I hope, however, that Lord Montagu of Beaulieu is satisfied. I can assure your Lordships that I am speaking with a full sense of responsibility when I say that by passing this Bill with the majority of the clauses in it you will be saving the ratepayers thousands of pounds of money, and you will therefore be going a long way towards meeting the views even of the noble Lord who has moved the rejection of the Bill.

There is one personal point I desire to mention. I agree with Lord Emmott in the description he gave of the origin of this Bill, and I am giving away no secret—we do not generally refer to the draftsman of a Bill by name—when I say that the late Sir Francis Greer had a great deal to do with the drafting of this measure, and, in fact, that this was the last work of his extremely useful life, I believe that in consecrating last winter at any rate to assisting those who are now engaged in the promotion of this Bill, he performed the last of very many valuable public duties on this and the other side of the Irish Channel.

On Question, Amendment negatived, and Motion agreed to. Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at ten minutes before seven o'clock.