HC Deb 31 January 1969 vol 776 cc1776-80

Order for Second Reading read.

2.33 p.m.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

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

This is a short Bill, and its aim is to fill a gap in the law relating to statutory nuisances. This crowded country is becoming more crowded, and the uses of land and buildings are being intensified. It is, therefore, all the more desirable that bad neighbours should be kept in check. A nuisance from neighbours may be simply a question of lack of consideration, but it can go beyond that. Actions by individuals or firms can cause distress to surrounding residents, other people in the vicinity or the public at large. In such cases it is right that the law should be available to redress the situation.

Under Part III of the Public Health Act, 1936, local authorities have a duty to inspect their districts in order to detect statutory nuisances and, if they are satisfied of the existence of a nuisance, they must serve an abatement notice. If this is done an dthe notice is not complied with, or if the nuisance has been abated but is likely to recur, the authority may institute summary proceedings before the magistrates.

These provisions are reasonable. The offence is brought to the notice of the individual, and, if he rectifies the situation, that is an end of the matter. Proceedings are instituted only if he does not comply. It is then for the magistrates to determine whether there is a nuisance, or whether, if already abated, it is likely to recur. If the offence is proved, the magistrates can make a nuisance order and can also impose a fine.

The House will note that the magistrates can deal with a nuisance that has already teen abated but is likely to recur. Similarly, local authorities can themselves institute proceedings before the magistrates if, after having served a notice, they are of the opinion that the nuisance, although abated, is likely to recur. As the law stands, they cannot serve an abatement notice unless the nuisance is actually in force at the time when the notice is served. This can cause difficulties to local authorities who are conscientiously trying to carry out their statutory functions.

For instance, a public health inspector may find in the exercise of his duties that somebody is depositing piles of obnoxious material in a certain place, possibly prior to removal elsewhere. The pile is not always there and it may not always be obnoxious, but the inspector knows that this is a recurring but intermittent occurrence. He wants to take action, but for this he needs a resolution of his council. He must, therefore, set a careful watch and then act swiftly to get his council's resolution and an abatement notice prepared in order that it may be served while the nuisance is in existence. If, when he comes to serve the notice, the nuisance is abated, even temporarily, it is of no avail; the whole procedure has to be repeated in the hope of better luck next time.

Precisely the same situation can arise with other statutory nuisances, noise or dust from machines, for instance, which may be intermittent or of short duration, and this renders the service of an abatement notice even more difficult.

Clause 1 is designed to deal precisely with circumstances of this sort. It empowers a local authority which is satisfied that a nuisance has occurred and is likely to recur to serve a notice prohibiting its recurrence and, incidentally, requiring steps to be taken to prevent a recurrence. This notice does not have to be served while the nuisance is actually in existence; for that an ordinary abatement notice will suffice. If the authority wants to make sure that its action will be effective, it can serve an abatement notice and a prohibition notice at the same time to make doubly sure that its action will not go unheeded.

If the prohibition notice is complied with, that ends the matter. But if the authority finds it necessary to take legal proceedings because of failure to comply with a notice, the magistrates will deal with the matter in the same way as they will deal with an abatement notice that it brought before them, and this is provided for in Clauses 2 and 3. The House will notice that in Clause 3 Section 99 of the Public Health Act, 1936 is excluded. That Section enables a private person to lodge a complaint with the magistrates about a nuisance.

The Bill does not affect the private person's right to complain, as he is not involved in any notice. Thus, a private person who has suffered from a nuisance, whether continuing or recurring, can lodge a complaint directly with the magistrates. That avenue is not open at present to local authorities, who have to be satisfied about the existence of a nuisance at the time of serving an abatement notice. As the private individual serves no notice under Section 99 of the 1936 Act, no question arises of entitling him in this Bill to serve a further kind of notice. Section 99, therefore, is excluded by Clause 3(1).

I stress that there is no provision for additional penalties in respect of a prohibition notice or order, and that this procedure does not cause any additional restrictions on a person's rights to carry on the activities of his choice.

I should explain that statutory nuisances caused by smoke are excluded from the Bill's provisions by virtue of Clause 4. Adequate powers to deal with this form of nuisance are already contained in the Clean Air Act, 1956, where they are defined more sharply.

I believe that the Bill will simplify the work of local authorities and make it possible to deal more effectively with the unpleasant problem of statutory nuisances. I commend it to the House.

2.43 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to make only a brief intervention. I am one of the sponsors of the Bill and, as you will understand, I have an interest in not detaining the House. However, I want to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) and congratulate him upon both his initiative in introducing the Bill and the very helpful and lucid way in which he did it.

I hope that the Minister will indicate his support for the Bill. It will be very useful to many of our constituents, who often come to us with complaints which, strictly speaking, are for the local authorities to deal with but for which, in a way, it is fair to put the onus upon us, since it is our fault that the local authorities cannot deal with them.

A good example of what happens concerns a complaint which was made to me only a few days ago about a case in my constituency where a garage is operating in a road of private houses. Gradually, the garage has expanded its activities, and there is a continual stream of heavy lorries moving across the pavement in and out of the garage, to the extent that the fumes and noise are a continual nuisance to the residents. I say that it is a "continual" nuisance. In fact it is a recurrent nuisance, in that it is technically committed only at the moment when a lorry goes into the garage [...] emerges from it.

As I understand it, that is exactly the sort of situation with which a local authority cannot cope under the present law. It is one which the Bill remedies. Therefore, I warmly endorse all that my hon. Friend has said, and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

2.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)

On behalf of the Government, I thank the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) for introducing this useful Measure and congratulate him on the way that he explained it. I think that he covered every point most clearly. I want, too, to echo his hope and that of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) that the Bill will have a speedy passage to the Statute Book.

Undoubtedly, there is a substantial gap in the provisions of the 1936 Act in that only if the nuisance exists at the precise time when the legal processes are being operated can one take action. In a whole series of instances, that may not be the case.

As the hon. Member for Ilford, North said, it is extraordinary that this gap has continued to exist. The Scots have been more fortunate. They have had similar powers in an Act of Parliament since 1897, and it is surprising that the point was not picked up in the revisions of the legislation in 1936 and 1961. We have to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton for having picked it up now. The Bill will close that gap, which so often has rendered local authorities powerless and wasted a good deal of their officers' time in trying to seek information and be on the spot when nuisances have taken place.

If the House, as I hope, gives the Bill a Second Reading today, we shall take action which will be parallel to that which we have taken in the town and country planning legislation, where we were in a similar position. In the past, one had to wait until an offence was being committed before being able to operate the planning machinery, by which time it was often too late. It might have been noted that a bulldozer was on a site about to demolish a bank which might have been an historic monument, but until the action took place the planning authority was powerless to do anything. That is now dealt with by way of a stop notice. In the case of a public nuisance, under this Bill the hon. and gallant Gentleman proposes a prohibition notice.

Again, our thanks are due to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for introducing this useful Measure, and, on behalf of the Government, I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).