HC Deb 26 April 1955 vol 540 cc890-5

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I beg to move, in page 9, line 31, to leave out from "facilities" to the end of line 33.

It will probably be convenient to discuss at the same time the other Amendment on the Paper, in page 10, line 46, at the end to insert: As respects any harbour in the United Kingdom, subsections (1), (2), (5) and (8) of this section shall have effect in relation to arrangements for disposing of oil residues discharged or deposited by vessels using the harbour's oil reception facilities, and to the making of such arrangements, as those subsections have effect in relation to oil reception facilities and the provision of such facilities. As I indicated in moving the recommittal Motion, these Amendments enable me to carry out an undertaking which I gave in the Standing Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) put down a number of Amendments, the effect of which was to extend the powers of harbour authorities and of the Minister in respect of the making of disposal arrangements for oil.

In substance, what those Amendments proposed to do, and what the Amendments I am now discussing do, is as follows: the Clause authorises harbour authorities to provide oil reception facilities and, if possible, to combine for that purpose. It also provides for a reserve power in the Minister to issue a direction to them to provide such facilities. As it stands, the Clause does not go so far as the provision of facilities for disposing of the oil. The Amendments will give the same power in respect of disposing of the oil as is given by the Clause for combination in respect of taking the oil, and they allow the same power of direction to the Minister.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

We appreciate the incorporation by the Minister of this Amendment, but I want to make one point clear. Upon another occasion, and in subsequent conversation and correspondence, the Minister indicated that there would always be economic pressure to dispose of these oils and sludges satisfactorily.

I can assure him that there are cases where oil is being buried under the ground at this moment. He did not give way on another case, and in regard to another Amendment, but the Amendment now before the Committee will give him power in the matter. I therefore inform him that there are cases where oil is being buried under the ground and is seeping out on the foreshore. I will not go into details, but I think he will find that the power he is taking is power that he should have, and I hope that he will be prepared to use it.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I should like to thank the Minister for accepting the principle of the Amendments put forward in Committee. He asked for them to be withdrawn for an operation which he described at the time as face-lifting. This is apparently the result of the face lifting. I would merely observe that the result is short and ugly instead of the original form, which was long and beautiful. Nevertheless I thank him.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 10, line 46, at end insert: (9) As respects any harbour in the United Kingdom, subsections (1), (2), (5) and (8) of this section shall have effect in relation to arrangements for disposing of oil residues discharged or deposited by vessels using the harbour's oil reception facilities, and to the making of such arrangements, as those subsections have effect in relation to oil reception facilities and the provision of such facilities.—[Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.] Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

This Clause raises the question of the disposal of oil in harbours, and seems to be closely connected, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) has already pointed out, with the disposal of oil in other places, particularly when it has been washed up on the beaches.

The present position appears to be that a local authority is entitled, but not bound, to deal with oil on the foreshore, and perhaps the Solicitor-General will explain the position in that respect. As I understand it, in all probability the result in most cases is a nuisance. I presume that the local authority may, therefore, serve an abatement notice on the person who has committed the nuisance, if it can find him; if not, on the owner of the foreshore, who appears in most cases to be the Crown.

This is a matter of very considerable practical importance. Perhaps we could be told whether local authorities are entitled to take these steps, and what other means they may have of recovering the cost of removing oil residues from the foreshore when they think it necessary to do so.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)

It is only by the generosity of the Chair that I might in this context reply to the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I am grateful for the indulgence because in Committee I undertook to look into the matter. It obviously is one of public interest, and we are grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his ingenuity in this respect.

The local authority has power to clean the beach because, by Statute, the beach is incorporated in the local authority's area for all local government purposes. Whether it can be obliged to do so is a different matter, except that some person aggrieved could go to the magistrates' court and get the court to order the local authority, in appropriate cases, to do the cleaning—in more technical language to abate the nuisance. That is about the sum total of duty.

I regret that the rest of the position is so complicated that even in endeavouring to put it in a nutshell I am obliged to take a few moments to do so. There is the problem of recovering the expense. Where the summary procedure for abating a nuisance can be made to work it is really easy. There are two persons to be considered. There is the person who, in technical language, by his act, default or sufferance causes the nuisance to arise or continue, whom it is convenient to call the person responsible. The other person comes into the picture when the person responsible cannot be found; he is the owner or occupier, in this instance of the foreshore or, in the wording of the Measure, the premises.

May I deal first with the person responsible?—where one can find him. If he is the occupier of a "place on land as contemplated in Clause 3, one can serve an abatement notice, go through the procedure, and ultimately recover the expense of cleaning. That works whether the act giving rise to the nuisance, discharge of oil, is in a particular local government area or not. There is statutory provision by which one can tackle the offender in the place where he is offending.

That is all right in the case of a person on land. When a ship is concerned, it will depend on whether the vessel is within the local jurisdiction of the court of summary jurisdiction. It would be if the act or default, namely the discharge of the oil from the ship, took place … in any harbour, river, arm of the sea or other water lying between two or more local jurisdictions … That is the definition given in the Magistrates' Court Act, 1952. That, no doubt, would carry a large number of estuary cases, that is, inland water cases. In those cases one can serve an abatement notice.

The ship at sea—that is outside that definition of his jurisdiction—is much more difficult. H it had a British owner—and this is always assuming that one knows who has caused the nuisance, because the process does not begin unless one knows that—one could not apply the summary procedure, but one might possibly do something in the High Court which would avoid one's having to incur the expense and enable one to insist upon somebody else doing something about it.

If there is no owner within the jurisdiction of the court then, as far as my researches go, there is no hope of recovering the cost. Where the person responsible is not known, the application of this procedure is very difficult, for the simple reason that so large a proportion of the foreshore is in the ownership of the Crown and one cannot bring the Crown before the magistrates and have an abatement notice to deal with the matter. There may be complicated cases where the local authority has a lease of the foreshore from the Crown containing within its terms enough property to enable the local authority to be regarded as the owner.

Everybody must be grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering for drawing attention to this matter, but I am sure that he would be the first to agree that this Bill, which the House of Commons wants, is not the place to set about the matter, in so far as it may be unsatisfactory, because obviously it is not in this class of legislation that one can set about reviewing the public health and local government powers of local authorities. I suggest that we shall want to see how the Bill works as an Act of Parliament before we attempt some review of the powers to find out what gaps there turn out to be in practice. I have done my best, and I am most grateful for the indulgence of the Chair, to investigate in summary form what is the legal position.

Mr. Mitchison

I should like to thank the Solicitor-General for what he has said and to suggest that there might be other methods of dealing with the Crown than by notice of abatement. Lastly, I should like to remind him that in this place Law Officers are infallible and outside it unquotable.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I am a little diffident about taking part in a debate in which learned lawyers are discussing very complicated issues but it seems to me that the Solicitor-General implied that local authorities could be sued in connection with this nuisance on the beach. There is a nuisance on almost every beach in the country from these oily deposits, and considerable damage is done to the interests of hoteliers and private persons. There is, therefore, an almost unlimited number of people who can apply to the local authority for enforcement.

10.15 p.m.

Last week I asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he was prepared to appoint a committee to investigate the problem of clearing these nuisances from the beaches. He dismissed my suggestion in a very cavalier way implying that this Bill will abate the nuisance—

The Chairman

That does not arise on Clause 8.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee, and on recommittal), considered.