HC Deb 10 April 1956 vol 551 cc112-4
Mr. Powell

I beg to move, in page 12, line 46, after "one" to insert "four."

This Amendment enables local authorities, with the consent of the Minister, to take proceedings for infractions of Clause 4 relating to grit and dust offences as well as of Clause 1 relating to dark smoke offences in the case of processes scheduled now or hereafter under the Alkali Act. It is in a sense consequential on the Amendment made during the Committee stage which applied the Alkali Act in respect of grit and dust as well as in respect of smoke.

Mr. Blenkinsop

We are grateful for this Amendment, which we agree is consequential and meets the points raised in the Committee discussions.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 13, line 3, after "one", insert "the said section four."—[Mr. Powell.]

Mr. D. Jones

I beg to move, in page 13, line 4, to leave out "with the consent of" and to insert "after consultation with".

It seems to me that here the Minister has to treat local authorities as responsible bodies. As the Clause now stands, local authorities must secure the consent of the Minister before they take action. Local authorities are responsible bodies with public-spirited officials in control. Except in the most exceptional circumstances, so long as there is a provision in the Bill for consultation with the Minister, local authorities will consult him and accept his advice. But there may be occasions when, as it would be entitled to do, a local authority would disregard the advice of the Minister. Having consulted the Minister the authority might proceed to take action of its own accord.

In that way it would appear that local authorities were being treated with respect and as an adult body of people rather than as children being told what they ought to do by the Minister and his Department. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to inspire enthusiasm among local authorities the way to do it would be by inserting the words in the Amendment. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred local authorities would consult with the Minister and accept his advice, but if they did take another course they would do it on their own initiative.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Powell

Although on the face of it this is a very modest and reasonable Amendment, in reality it is not consistent with the principle of the Clause as amended. The principle of Clause 15 is that there are certain processes which, by reason of technical difficulties, cannot at present be subjected to the general provisions of the Bill. Rather than write into the Bill escape Clauses which would be defences for those processes, they are to be subjected to the control of the Alkali Inspectorate.

The House has agreed that in certain circumstances the Minister may, by Order, make specified local authorities responsible for dealing with smoke, grit and dust from those processes so long as they remain scheduled in consequence of Clause 15. The principle which we are adopting is that those processes are to be policed by the Alkali Inspectorate; that the Inspectorate is to have the duty of keeping them up to the mark and ensuring that the prevention of noxious fumes and smoke, grit, and dust is at the highest level attainable on current techniques.

We can subject them only to one discipline at a time. In the last resort, so long as they are, if I may use the phrase, under the tutolage of the Alkali Inspectorate, it must be the Inspectorate which says "Yes" or "No" to the question whether they should be prosecuted for a particular alleged offence. It would be unreasonable to allow industries operating these processes to be subjected to two concurrent disciplines without means of co-ordinating. I suggest that co-ordination can be applied only by the requirement of the Minister's consent, which means that the requirements of the Inspectorate will be harmonised with the wishes and requirements of the relevant local authority. It would therefore be wrong to allow the local authority to prosecute a firm carrying on a scheduled process for an offence which the Alkali Inspectorate did not consider it was practicable for the firm to have avoided in the current state of technique and knowledge.

Having regard especially to the earlier Amendments to this Clause, I hope the House will agree that it is right that the consent should be retained as a requirement and should not be replaced merely by consultation.

Amendment negatived.