HC Deb 07 December 1956 vol 561 cc1641-6

Order for Second Reading read.

12.39 p.m.

Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is not the most enthralling piece of legislation which has ever been placed before this House of Commons. It is an attempt to correct a rather ridiculous anomaly in our legislation and, if I may say so without impertinence, it provides an opportunity to a private Member to correct a piece of law-making nonsense which was perpetrated by his Ministers and betters in the past.

The Bill implements a recommendation of the Local Government Manpower Committee which reported in December, 1951, Command 8421. That body recommended that it should no longer be necessary for the Minister of Health to give his consent to the appointment of medical officers of health, deputy medical officers of health and of those who used to be called sanitary inspectors but who are now called public health inspectors.

In the case of medical officers of health and the public health inspectors, the necessity for consent was able to be abolished by regulations which originally were derived from an Act of 1872. But, by a quite ridiculous anomaly, the deputies having been originally appointed under an Act of 1875, the regulations did not apply because it had been done statutorily. This quite extraordinary anomaly meant that local authorities still have to apply to the Minister of Health for permission to appoint deputies.

I wish to express my great gratitude to the Ministry which has been so helpful in getting me through a mass of legislation which has led to my reading the Public Health Act, 1875, in which I discovered the fascinating fact that in that year it was legal to have a pigsty inside one's house. I also understand that there is an average of 80 consents given by the Minister each year and I am glad to say that the effect of this Bill will be to abolish the necessity for 80 communications to be made to the Ministry of Health, and, I presume, for 80 replies to be sent from that Department.

I feel that my speech in favour of the introduction of the Bill should not be entirely without a peroration and, therefore, perhaps I might say that the Measure is a step towards setting what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) called, I think, the harassed local authorities slightly freer than they are at present.

12.43 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

I wish to associate myself with the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) and other hon. Members in believing that this Bill will give a little more freedom to local authorities to do things which, in their opinion, they are more qualified to do than, perhaps, even the Minister of Health or his advisers.

I find that there is a good deal of disinclination nowadays on the part of many suitable men and women to undertake the responsibility of serving local authorities. I have questioned quite a number of such people and the answer commonly given by them is that they find that in many directions they are simply becoming rubber stamps of the Ministry of Health. They feel that there is no scope for their own particular local interest, and they say that there is very little interest for them in the work of many local authorities.

That is a bad thing because, with the extension of welfare and other schemes which are calculated to improve the conditions of the people, it is very necessary that we should not only have enthusiasm at the centre, but a good deal of enthusiasm and local knowledge on the perimeter as well. In so far as this matter is one more example where that power has been vested in the centre and not on the perimeter, I am fully able to support the Bill not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of the City of Manchester, which I have the honour to represent.

Another argument which I can adduce is that, in so far as the health appointments are concerned, the qualities required of officers vary a little as from one part of the country to another and from one town to another. I know that the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), who also spent some time in Manchester, when his father was postmaster there, will agree that there are certain local problems in Manchester which are probably not to be found in other cities in the country. I know from my association with the town for twenty years that the Port of Liverpool has medical problems which would not be appropriate to or which would not occur in any other port, and, therefore, I feel that some consideration should be given to these matters of local requirements.

I believe it is in the interests of the National Health Service as a whole that these problems should be resolved by local knowledge and by the consideration of local councillors and aldermen. That might possibly help to make the work of the local councillors much more interesting and might make them feel that they have a say in the matter.

Finally, I believe that in many of the health committees much more importance should be attached to what I call teamwork; in other words, that the local health authorities should work as teams. If that is done, then I think they are entitled to pick the best players for their team, and, in so far as the Bill assists them in doing that, I fully support it.

12.47 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I feel sure that the whole House will support the Bill. It may not be as thrilling a piece of legislation as that which I see reflected in it, because I notice that the legislation with which we are dealing refers to gentlemen some of whom are medical officers of health and that we are also dealing with people who, in olden days, were known as sanitary inspectors. But we have progressed since then. By an Act of Parliament sanitary inspectors have become public health inspectors. I feel that this further move towards their higher status and greater freedom will be a great encouragement to them.

In all seriousness, it really is rather ridiculous that, apart from the question of the deputy medical officer for the county, the appointment of a deputy public health inspector should require the approval of the Minister every time. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) has used his opportunity so happily and has received such firm, sensible and eloquent support from my hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams).

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

I wish to agree with all hon. Members who have so far spoken and to say that we very much welcome this small but most useful Bill. We are, indeed, grateful to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) for using the opportunity afforded to him to introduce the Measure which, as he said, removes a rather stupid anomaly that arose not from any lack of willingness on the part of Governments but from the fact, as he explained, that it was possible to implement the relevant recommendation of the Local Government Manpower Committee by regulation.

In the case of deputies to medical officers of health, and, similarly in the case of deputies to sanitary inspectors, now public health inspectors, the need for permission from the Minister was enshrined in the Local Government Act and the London Government Act. Therefore, it has been necessary to go through the whole gamut of introducing a Bill. It has not been possible to get this piece of legislation into the very crowded programme of legislation which falls under direct Government business.

I thank my hon. Friend for the care and trouble that he has taken and for the detail in which he read a far more copious piece of legislation in order to help us to get this most useful Bill and to remove the anomaly. It has been very difficult when, in some cases, the deputy, who may have been appointed for only a few weeks, had still to receive the Minister's approval and had almost finished his business as deputy before this approval had arrived.

I wish to thank the hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) for his support. The hon. Gentleman answered his own case about the criticism which he said was being made by some officers of local authorities when he commented that, far from there now being less responsibility, there is more. Certainly, so far as my Department is concerned, they have a great deal wider responsibility and play a vitally important rôle. To the extent that this Bill will give them an additional sense of authority by enabling them to appoint their own deputies, I am delighted to welcome it on behalf of the Ministry.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).

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