HL Deb 26 July 1956 vol 199 cc310-22

3.32 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. May I at once say that I have the honour to be one of the Vice-Presidents of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association, and to that extent I have an interest. On the other hand, I also have the honour to be one of the Vice Presidents of the Association of Municipal Corporation; and, as your Lordships know, Municipal Corporations employ sanitary inspectors. This Bill comes to us from another place and was sponsored by Sir Wavell Wakefield, who, of course, sits on the Government Benches. It passed through all its stages without opposition until the Third Reading when, it is true, sonic discussion arose. Perhaps, however, your Lordships will allow me to say that in this discussion the Bill was supported by Mr. Blenkinsop, who in the Labour Government was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and who therefore would know the mind of the Ministry upon this matter at that time.

Quite briefly, there are four main reasons why I venture to commend this Bill to your Lordships. First, the change of designation was recommended by the Working Party in its report on The Recruitment, Training and Qualifications of Sanitary Inspectors. The Chairman of this Working Party was Sir John Maude, who I need not tell your Lordships was a distinguished civil servant. The other members were Dr. Beattie, principal medical officer of the Ministry of Health; Dr. Burnett, medical officer of health, Preston; Mr. Lewis, senior sanitary inspector, Pontardulais Rural District Council; Mr. White, who I believe had some connection with Civil Service organisations; Mr. Williams, chief sanitary inspector, Coventry, and Mr. Fuller, Ministry of Health, Secretary.

This Working Party was assisted by a very distinguished steering committee, and I suggest that it would be quite true to describe it as an extremely able and competent body of men, with a wide and varied experience of local government problems. I think it would be quite fair to say, too, that the Working Party was in no way weighted in favour of sanitary inspectors. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote just three short extracts from the Report that was made. This is the first:— The word 'sanitation', it is said, though, as a matter of etymology, it means the same as 'health' has in popular parlance come to be connected with drains, sewers, water closets and the like, and to bear that restricted meaning: and this, it is argued, leads to a quite inadequate and partial view of the wide scope of the work of these officers. The second quotation is:— Again, the Sanitary Act of 1866 and earlier Acts bearing similar titles were replaced by Public Health Acts and both in the language of the Legislature and elsewhere public health 'has replaced 'sanitation' in this connection. And while the meaning of 'sanitary' has become narrower the scope of the sanitary inspector's duties has broadened and the word has thus become something of a misnomer. For this reason we consider that the case for substituting 'public health' for 'sanitary' in the designation has been made out and we are in favour of this change. The third quotation is:— We recommend, accordingly, that the present designation should be replaced by that of 'Public Health Inspector'. This Report was presented in 1953, so that no one can claim that the men con- cerned have pressed your Lordships and others with undue haste to ask for an implementation of the recommendations.

I pass to the second reason why I commend this Bill to your Lordships—I can state it quite briefly. It is that the officers concerned are strongly in favour of the change. The third reason is that Her Majesty's Government's Ministry of Health support the change. The fourth reason—and this I would urge most strongly—is that in the considered opinion of those whose views are entitled to respect the change will materially assist in recruitment to this essential branch of the local government service which is at present seriously under-staffed. When I recalled the famous letter to The Times of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, on the use, or rather the misuse, of the word "target", I had hoped and expected that the writer of a letter which must have delighted anyone who has some concern for the proper use of words would have supported this Bill. I am sure the noble Lord has noticed the ambiguity that lurks in the term "sanitary inspector". The ambiguity arises from the fact that the word "sanitary" is an adjective; and. if my memory is correct, an adjective is a word that expresses a quality or feature of a person, animal or thing. Need I develop that argument any further?

Just one further word on another point. There has been, I know, some discussion whether the word "inspector" should be replaced with the word "officer". The Working Party rejected that suggestion, and in my view they did so quite rightly because, after all, these men are part of the staff of a public health department, the officer in charge of the public health department is the medical officer of health, and I am certain that the medical officer of health, for quite good and obvious reasons, would not consent to the title or term of "public health officer". I apologise to your Lordships for taking up so much of your time. I can assure the House that the officers concerned feel most keenly on this matter, and I venture to hope, for the reasons I have endeavoured to advance to your Lordships, that the Bill will commend itself to your Lordships and that you will give it a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Burden, has moved the Second Reading of this Bill with his usual charm and persuasiveness, and on every personal ground it would be far more agreeable to me to support him than to oppose him, but I do not think that I can possibly do so. Before this House gives a Second Reading to this Bill, I think that it should be satisfied on three points. I think I can put them most shortly by saying that we ought to ask ourselves three questions;—first, is the old title "sanitary inspector" wrong or objectionable? Secondly, is the proposed new title right? Thirdly, is the matter of such importance as to justify legislation on this one single point? The third question only arises if the answer to the first two questions is Yes.

Let us consider the first two questions. Is there anything wrong about the expression "sanitary inspector"? The words mean an inspector concerned with matters affecting health. That describes the work of these useful and excellent people concisely and accurately. What then is the trouble? Apparently this: that though the word "sanitary" does in fact mean exactly what is required, an increasingly ignorant public thinks that it means something else—namely, concerned with drains. What is alleged is, in effect, this. Being increasingly ignorant both of Latin and of English, people think, when they hear the word "sanitary", not of health but of sewers. It would be a melancholy thought if years of compulsory education had resulted in our people becoming more and more ignorant of the meaning of words, and if every few years Parliament had to pass an Act to deal with, or pander to, their increasing illiteracy.

How new and modern is this ignorance? The passages in the report of the Working Party, from which some quotations have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, are all found on page 66. May I say in passing that I hope your Lordships will forgive me if front now on I refer to the civil servants who produced that: report as a committee and not as a "Working Party". It seems to me that a committee of civil servants is rather foolishly described as a Working Party—it suggests that civil servants might collect together as an idle party, which I think is a libel on the Civil Service. As they pointed out on the page to which I have alluded, this expression "sanitary inspector" is not a very old one. As recently as 1921—only thirty-five years ago—the Public Health (Officers) Act. 1921, substituted the term "sanitary inspector" for the older title of "inspector of nuisances" for the country generally, though in London the title had been employed since 1891. Have people really become so much sillier since 1921. that they can no longer understand the language of their fathers? I believe that is a slander on our people. The answer, therefore, to our first question is: there is nothing wrong with the expression "sanitary inspector".

I now turn to the second question: is "public health inspector" right? Let me say at once that I think it is obviously wrong. The verb "inspect" is a transitive verb. You inspect something. If you put some noun before "inspector" the suggestion is that that is what the inspector is inspecting. We can have a weights and measures inspector or a ticket inspector, but, whatever it is that these admirable men inspect, it is not public health. No doubt they promote public health, but they do not inspect it. To do justice to these excellent men, the new term which it is proposed to thrust upon them is not the one for which they ask. If noble Lords will refer to page 66 of this report they will find that the sanitary inspectors objected no less to the term "inspector" than they did to the term "sanitary". The committee—I hope your Lordships will not mind my calling it the committee—backed them in their first objection to the word "sanitary" but turned down their second objection. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Burden, that the committee might well have been right in rejecting "public health officer",since that expression might be liable to cause considerable confusion. But at least "public health officer" would have made sense, while "public health inspector" makes nonsense. I think that your Lordships should hesitate before passing into law what is admitted nonsense.

The noble Lord, Lord Burden, made a moving plea. He said that these men would like the Bill to be passed and would be discouraged if it were not. I find that plea most moving and I should like to help these men. If only they wanted us to do something less than exceed the stupidity limit in legislation, for I think that is what they are doing! I wonder whether they are right in their own interests in asking for this change. It really did not help the rat-catchers when they persuaded the local authorities to call them "rodent operatives". I understand that that is the expression used by most local authorities, though I believe that the Ministry of Agriculture, to make a slight change, calls them rodent operators. But let us consider the title used by the local authorities. The rat-catcher has become the rodent operative. What is a rodent operative? He is a workman with prominent front teeth in the habit of gnawing—or, more technically, a workman with strong incisor and no canine teeth. I really doubt whether the rat-catchers have done much good for themselves by persuading the local authorities to give them this new title. They have excited considerable public ridicule which is not tending to diminish, but at least it can be said for them that they did not produce a Bill to go through both Houses of Parliament saying that the rat-catcher must in future be designated "rodent operative". lf they had, I think that there would have been a vigorous response in both Houses. It has been said that the Royal Sanitary Institute has changed its name to the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. Why should they not do so if they wish? That change still describes accurately what they are, but, as I have explained, this proposed change introduces an absurdity.

I think that I must allude to what happened on this Bill in another place, because noble Lords may not have looked up the proceedings of another place. What happened is more understandable to those noble Lords who served for many years in another place, but I can explain it briefly to your Lordships. By, I think, a lucky or unlucky chance, the Bill was never discussed at all on Second Reading. It received a Second Reading on the nod, I think because those who wished to object were not present, or not sufficiently awake.


That was their fault.


Yes, certainly. It went to a Standing Committee, where on the first occasion it was unable to obtain a quorum. On the second occasion it did obtain a quorum, but as nobody wished (and I am sure nobody would wish here) to amend the short Bill in any way, no Amendment was made. Therefore, the first discussion on the merits of this Bill took place in the Third Reading debate, which started shortly before ten o'clock last Wednesday night. That was a most remarkable debate. Eleven Members took part: seven were against the Bill, and four were in favour —I believe those figures are right. The division of opinion was by no means on Party lines. Of those who spoke against the Bill, five were members of the Opposition, and two were Conservatives. The noble Lord is quite right in saying that both Mr. Blenkinsop and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Health supported the Bill, but I would invite the attention of your Lordships to those who opposed it. Those who opposed the Bill included several ex-Ministers of the Party opposite, including one name that I think carries considerable weight, not only because he has held high office, but because he admittedly has had a long experience of local government: I refer to Mr. Chuter Ede. I invite any noble Lord who is in any doubt as to the merits of the Bill to read that short debate.

I venture to put one further point to the House, which no one raised in another place, but which, I think—and your Lordships may think too—is of some importance. This Ministry of Health report, which is the basis of the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, made thirty-one separate recommendations. In a Written Answer given on April 29, 1954, the then Minister of Health, my right honourable friend Mr. Iain Macleod, gave this Answer—and I shall read it so that there can be no doubt that I am giving it fairly [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 526, col. 161]: I and my colleagues, who are concerned with the work of sanitary inspectors have now considered the report and I propose to discuss it with the interested bodies with a view to implementing the Working Party's proposals. It should not be inferred that I necessarily accept all the detailed recommendations of the Working Party. In other words, the Government of the day gave general approval to those recommendations, which I would remind your Lordships were thirty-one in number. Twenty-nine of those thirty-one recommendations did not involve legislation, but two of them did.

I want to read, first, from a summary of the recommendations, paragraph 307 of the Report, "Recommendations requiring legislation." The first subparagraph says: Evidence of having passed a qualifying examination should be obligatory for all new appointments in England and Wales."— and reference is made to paragraph 251, which I will read in a moment. The second sub-paragraph says: The designation of a sanitary inspector should he altered to public health inspector. I will now read the passage from paragraph 251, the other recommendation which requires legislation. It says: We have referred in Chapter 2 to the fact that the present basic qualification, the Certificate of the Examination Board, is obligatory in London but is only a condition of grant outside London. We sec no advantage in the continuance of this distinction and accordingly recommend that when a suitable opportunity occurs to amend the statute law on this subject the London. system should be applied to the whole country and any sanitary inspector subsequently appointed should be required to hold such certificate as the Minister may approve. We assume that the certificate approved for this purpose will be the certificate to be awarded to persons who pass the new qualifying examination which we have recommended above. In other words, this committee made two recommendations needing legislation: one dealt with the qualifications of sanitary inspectors, which they said should be included in legislation when a convenient opportunity occurred, and the other dealt. with designation. Can any noble Lord in any quarter of the House see any reason at all why you should legislate on designation before you legislate on qualification? Possibly you should legislate on the two together, but that the recommendation dealing with qualification should be ignored while that dealing with designation should be enacted immediately, is, I suggest, not a sensible thing to propose to Parliament.

If we reject this Bill to-day, as I think we should, it will make little difference to the passage of this change into law, if the other place sees fit next Session again to pass such a Bill. From such consultation as I have been able to have in the short time at my disposal with persons interested on both sides of politics in another place, I believe there are a great many in all quarters of that House who would very much welcome a chance of further consideration. I do not think for one moment, if they are given this chance, that they will again allow this Bill to go through without any discussion on Second Reading, and I am certain that Members on both sides in politics will raise the point I have just put before your Lordships, to seek an explanation before they allow this change to pass into law. I am sure that the three questions I asked at the beginning, only two of which actually arise on the facts, arc the questions that any responsible legislative assembly should ask itself before it passes such a measure into law. It is not true that there is any objection to the existing phraseology, other than an alleged public ignorance of its meaning, and it is demonstrably true that the change proposed, which is not that for which these men themselves ask, is illogical and absurd. I beg to oppose.


My Lords, as an ex-President of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association, which is one of the oldest and largest associations of local government officers in the country, I feel that I should say a word or two on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, is quite wrong in a number of the things he has said. As I understand it, this Bill is not inspired by the Sanitary Inspectors' Association; it is a Private Member's Bill, brought forward, I presume, on his own volition by the Member in another place, and passed by the other place without a Division. That is the essential factor which the noble Lord has omitted to mention to this House.


I did mention it.


In the Committee—not on Third Reading.


Without a Division at any stage of the proceedings in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, raised three questions. I do not think I need deal with the third, as to the importance of the matter. because he himself has obviously spent a great deal of time in looking into the question. and a quarter of an hour of your Lordships' time—which he is perfectly entitled to do. In the opinion of the noble Lord, therefore, the matter is obviously of some importance. The first question the noble Lord asked was whether the present title is wrong. I would respectfully submit to your Lordships that it is clearly wrong, because to-day it does not represent the functions performed by sanitary inspectors. Contrary to the noble Lord's view as expressed to-day, the nomenclature, "sanitary inspector", is something like one hundred years old, and the functions of sanitary inspectors in the old days were entirely different from what they are to-day.

I can remember when I was a young solicitor being clerk for a short time to a small local authority. The sanitary inspector there earned £3 a week, and he combined with his duties of sanitary inspector those of building inspector and a number of other duties of one sort and another. In those days, the functions were very few. Nowadays they are substantial, and this present Government, I may remind your Lordships, have imposed a great many additional duties on sanitary inspectors under the Food and Drugs Act, the Clean Air Act, and the various Housing Acts, under which they have important duties to perform. I would submit that the functions of these officers nowadays are entirely different from what they were in the old days, and that the present name does not in any way represent the functions which they carry out.

I would remind your Lordships that quite a number of changes of this sort have been made. Many of your Lordships can remember when we did not have a Ministry of Health, which was formed some thirty odd years ago. I remember the Army book on hygiene, which is now the Army Health Book, or words to that effect. The Institution of Sanitary Officers has changed its name to the Institution of Public Health Engineers. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health, as I understand it, have accepted the position as put forward by the Working Party. I regret the animadversions which the noble Lord thought fit to cast upon the members of a body who sat voluntarily for more than a year.


My Lords, the last thing I would do would be to cast any animadversions on them. They were a most distinguished body. The only words that I criticised were, "Working Party". That expression originally came from the Army, where it had a definite meaning, but to describe a committee of civil servants as "a Working Party" is foolish, because, when civil servants get together to discuss things, of course they are working. They always work. I suggest "a committee" is a better phrase.


When the noble Lord was a member of the Government in another place I have some recollection of his own Ministry appointing more than one Working Party. My submission to your Lordships is that the present terminology, "sanitary inspector", does not represent the functions carried out by these officers. This Bill is not brought forward by the Association. although, as my noble friend Lord Burden has said, it is wholly approved by them. We do not want to go back to the eighteenth century in which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford—if he will forgive me for saying so—lives to some extent. We must move with the times and call officers by the appropriate term which accurately describes their functions. In those circumstances, and particularly as I understand the Government will, in accordance with what the Ministry of Health have said, approve of this Bill, I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I ask him whether he feels that the responsibility of the Government is engaged in the passage of this measure, or does he not think that, having regard to its origin—a Private Member's Bill from another place—and having regard to the character and scope of the Bill, it might be left to a free vote of the House?


My Lords, the noble Viscount will hear the nature of my comment on this Bill and have an answer to his question. It is the custom, I believe, for a spokesman of the Government on a Bill of this kind to give some guidance to the House as to what the attitude of the Government might be. I cannot escape it on this Bill in particular because in another place my colleague in the Ministry of Health gave her approval to the Third Reading.

On first sight I am bound to say that this Bill offended against the small amount of my classical education which is left. But I cannot help recollecting that our grandfathers' perfectly proper preoccupation with smells and drains led to a narrowing of the definition of the word "sanitary" in the public mind. When my noble friend Lord Conesford asks "Is this word objectionable?", I do not know whether it is objectionable to the general public, but it is objectionable, so we are told, to those who at present are called sanitary inspectors, and they want to alter it. The noble Lord went on to say, as I understood him, that the phrase "public health inspector" is meaningless. I am not so sure. These inspectors inspect masses of meat for instance, and masses of ice cream. I imagine the noble Lord would say that an inspector can inspect a particular individual's health. If the noble Lord had swallowed the meat and an inspector inspected him, then he would be a private inspector of health inspecting an individual's heath. But he has to inspect these masses of products which affect the health of some thousands of people maybe on one given day, and I do not think it is stretching the terms too far to call him a "public health inspector." If the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, can swallow words like "automation" and "breeder reactor" without protest. I should not have thought he need jib at this comparatively modest alteration.


May I assure my noble friend that I objected strongly to "automation" in a public speech the very first time I saw it in print.


I conclude that in these modern days there is little to choose between the word "sanitation" and the word "health". Sometimes it is appropriate to use one and sometimes the other. In a month or two, I hope to see the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, come back robust and sunburnt from his holiday. I shall meet him in the corridor and say to him, "How well you are looking." If I said, "You are obviously bursting with sanitation", his agile classical mind would go back to his Virgil, but some of the more technological of your Lordships would be confused and think that I had committed some sort of solecism. Therefore, I personally come down, as do the Government, on balance, on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Burden. Sanitary inspectors want the change—they find "sanitary" objectionable. The Working Party recommended "public health inspector", and certain august bodies have changed their names from bodies formerly sanitary to bodies which are now healthy. I think the word, "health" is a good old English word, although it has not a classical derivation, so far as I know. It is sometimes good to see ourselves as others see us. it has just occurred to me, who is Lord Cones-ford or, indeed, who are your Lordships to prevent people from changing their names if they wish?

On Question, Bill read 2a; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.