HC Deb 20 June 1978 vol 952 cc389-412

12.23 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter)

I beg to move, That the draft Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 16th May, be approved. This order is concerned with the prevention and control of pollution of the environment. As hon. Members will know, the Control of Pollution Act has been on the statute book since 1974 and most of its provisions are now in force. It is now opportune for similar provision to be made in Northern Ireland.

The Province does not experience some of the pollution problems found in Great Britain. This is not only because of its more rural character but also because it does not have any concentration of heavy industry. Nevertheless, there is a general public awareness of the need to take action on two fronts—first, to strengthen the law in order to prevent pollution, and secondly, to enable the responsible authorities to take more effective action to deal with existing problems.

Considerable strides in pollution control have been made under existing legislation in two fields. Atmospheric pollution, particularly in urban areas, has been substantially reduced by the application of the Alkali Act and the Clean Air Act; and the consent procedure introluced by the Northern Ireland Water Act 1972, by which discharges to watercourses are regulated, is helping to maintain the generally high quality of Northern Ireland's waterways.

It is in regard to solid waste disposal and noise control that the greatest need for legislation arises. Control over the location of waste disposal sites is, of course, contained in existing planning legislation, but no effective method of regulating operations on disposal sites is available, except for the public health nuisance provisions, and these are remedial rather than preventive in nature The overall size of the problem is not known since existing legislation does not enable district councils to assess the amount of waste in need of disposal in their areas.

Moreover, beyond some provisions in local Acts and in bylaws, no effective control of noise exists, and there is need for substantive legislation to deal with the abatement of noise nuisances and to limit noise from certain troublesome sources.

I now turn to the provisions of the order, which broadly follow the lines of the Control of Pollution Act. Part I contains the usual introductory articles. Waste disposal is the subject of Part II, and here it is proposed that each district council should, on the basis of a survey of all household, commercial and industrial waste arising in its district, prepare a waste disposal plan setting out how waste is to be disposed of.

All disposal sites will need to be licensed by councils, and, by imposing licensing conditions as to site operations and by inspection and enforcement, councils will be able effectively to control sites in their respective areas. The reclamation and recycling of waste collected by a council will be included in the extended powers in relation to the waste collection duties of councils. The Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland would acquire powers to regulate the disposal of dangerous wastes.

By way of consolidation, existing legislation on litter and the removal and disposal of abandoned vehicles is repealed and re-enacted. Provision is made also for increased penalties for offences.

The provisions in Part III introduce for the first time in Northern Ireland comprehensive powers relating to noise control. Noise problems will be dealt with as statutory nuisance, and remedial action will be possible either by councils or by occupiers. Councils will be required to inspect their districts for noise nuisances and to select possible areas as noise abatement zones.

The designation of such zones will ensure that in these areas there is no increase in the general noise level and that, where possible, a reduction of levels is achieved. As well as these general controls, provision is made for the specific control of noise from construction sites and from loudspeakers. The control of noise from plant and machinery will be by regulations made by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.

Although the existing legislation on atmospheric pollution in the Alkali and Clean Air Acts has proved effective, the opportunity is being taken to strengthen the powers available by amending the Clean Air Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 to bring it into line, where necessary, with the 1968 Great Britain Act and also by giving district councils greater powers to obtain information on atmospheric pollution from commerce and industry. The Department would also be able to regulate the sulphur content of fuel oil used in furnaces and engines.

Some amendments to Northern Ireland water enactments are dealt with in Part V. They relate to the Department's power to restock polluted streams and rivers and the action which the Department may take in time of water shortage.

Part VI contains miscellaneous and supplementary provisions, including articles which allow district councils to act in certain circumstances involving public health and safety, for example, in the control of pleasure fairs and control of seaside pleasure boats.

Penalties for a wide range of offences are being increased to bring them into line with those obtaining in Great Britain.

Hon. Members will have noted that the order will come into operation by means of appointed day orders, and discussions have already started with the Association of Local Authorities on a possible timetable for implementation.

I commend the order to the House.

12.29 a.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

In our last debate we heard appeals from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies for district councillors to be given more powers, and Part II of the order confers important new functions relating to waste disposal upon district councils.

In England and Wales, I understand, waste disposal is a county, not a district, function. I have heard the argument that even the county is too small a unit for the efficient planning of waste disposal. I make no pronouncement upon that, but it is somewhat ironic that that view should be held when one considers how few important matters are entrusted to district councils in Northern Ireland.

As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) knows, I was in Lame last April. Without straying too far, perhaps I could say that Lame Borough councillors gave me appalling figures for the cost of refuse collection. I suggested that they might study the experiment being undertaken by Maldon District Council in Essex for the collection of domestic refuse by contractors. I am told that an overall saving of £19,000 has been recorded.

I obtained particulars of the scheme from my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) and passed them to one of the Larne Borough councillors. I do not know what they will decide to do—that is for them—but should they decide to make the experiment and discover how private contract can compare with municipal collections, I hope that Ministers will place no obstacle in their way or in the way of any other local authority which might decide to do the same.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon has told me that it is of first importance to the success of such a scheme—this is what one would suppose—that the good will of the council workers and the support of their union should be obtained, and in Maldon that has been done.

12.32 a.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

As the Minister has reminded us, much of the existing legislation on environmental protection in Northern Ireland is ineffective and out-dated. For that reason alone, I imagine that this proposal will be considered both timely and welcome.

During our consideration of the proposed changes in Northern Ireland company law, I described the view which my colleagues and I take of the general question of parity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It seems unnecessary now to rehearse once more the arguments which can be summoned by those of us who seek harmonisation, save to say that the order represents yet another step in that direction and that it will accordingly encounter no opposition on this side of the House.

There is, of course, a third reason for our enthusiasm, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison). That is the acknowledgement implicit in this legislation that local authorities in Northern Ireland are competent to assume and exercise greater powers and responsibilities than those with which they are presently entrusted.

It might be said that the draft order tells much of the current trend of developments in Northern Ireland and perhaps explains the great amount of harmony which has been a notable feature of at least the better part of today's proceedings. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) can speak on these matters with greater knowledge and authority than I. I shall therefore content myself with dealing with the general principles and the effect of some of these provisions on the type of problem that I have encountered.

In view of the large number of new responsibilities which this measure will bestow upon local authorities, will the Minister say what efforts will be made to ensure that the authorities are prepared for their new role, how long he expects full implementation of the order to take and what the overall cost of the operation is likely to be?

My knowledge of the situation in Great Britain is very limited, but I understand that the 1974 Act was intended at least in part to meet the difficulties which had arisen in the implementation of previous legislation. I am told that local authorities held only a watching brief on pollution problems and that consequently only a half-hearted attempt was made to implement the terms and provisions of the 1972 Act. Will the Minister say how successful the Control of Pollution Act 1974 has been in operation? What improvements have resulted from the direct involvement of local authorities in the fight against pollution in Great Britain, and what lessons, if any, does he feel might be learned from that Great Britain experience in the application of similar legislation to Northern Ireland?

I briefly mention these matters because my impression is that while some local authorities in Northern Ireland have responded positively and enthusiastically to the publication of this proposal, the reaction of others would appear to have been markedly indifferent, to say the least. I am anxious that such benefits as are to be derived from this legislation should not be denied us because of the sort of approach which seems to have hindered progress in Great Britain in recent years. For that reason I stress again the need fully to prepare local authorities for the functions which they will have to fulfil. I have no doubt that they will do their part to ensure that the legislation has a practical effect in Northern Ireland.

I could cite numerous problems, not to mention eyesores, caused by the indiscriminate dumping of waste material. I am encouraged in the knowledge that the new regulations are workable, that they more clearly define responsibilities and that they will make it much easier to deal both with the problems which will arise and, perhaps more important, with the offenders.

It is here that I am convinced that local authorities will play a crucial role in the preparation of waste disposal plans, in the licensing of disposal facilities and in seeing to it that such conditions as they impose in particular cases are observed. I come back to the Minister's remarks on an earlier order, that district councillors are probably best placed to keep an eye on developments, particularly on the illegal extension of dumping.

On the general question of the councils' powers, I should like to raise two matters in detail. The clearest example is the case of Parkgate Quarries, where mistakes were made even in the guidance given to the owners when the plant was established. Several constituents of mine, especially a farmer, Mr. John Eaton, have been affected both by noise and quarry dust. Will the district council have authority to try to resolve the problem under these new powers, and to provide or recommend compensation either to the affected residents or to the quarry owners if it is decided to resite at least some of the plant?

The second matter relates to those articles in the order which deal with defences which may be considered in actions brought in connection with the unlicensed disposal of waste. Article 5 (4) of the order deals with the prohibition of unlicensed disposal of waste and lists as a defence for a person charged in this connection to prove that he acted under instructions from his employer and neither knew nor had reason to suppose that the deposit or use was in contravention of the regulations. I have heard it said, and no doubt the same view has been put to the Minister, that the excuse of obeying orders should not be considered a defence and that in such cases the employee and/or the employer should be liable to prosecution.

Supplementary provisions to Article 5 allow for the exclusion from the controls imposed of any deposits which are "small enough". Those words "small enough" appear in Article 6 (3) (a) of the order. I understand that the response of some district councils, not surprisingly, has been to request the removal of such a provision on the ground that in most cases large quantities of indiscriminate dumping start as very small deposits. It would seem to be something of a puzzle.

I would be interested to hear any comment the Minister might care to make about the matters I have raised. For my own part, I am anxious that we do not build into this useful piece of legislation provisions which might inhibit the full realisation of the objectives which I am sure we all share.

12.42 a.m.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) I welcome the introduction of this order. While I note the reservations my hon. Friend has about what needs to be done before its implementation, I hope that the Minister will press ahead with all speed to have it implemented. There are things in the order which are needed now in Northern Ireland.

We do not need to study closely the reports of the local district councils to realise what a major problem waste disposal has become, particularly in the rural areas. Until 25 years ago a disused quarry could have served the purpose, but with the increasing volume of waste produced by society it is now virtually impossible to find a facility in the rural areas which will not disfigure the countryside.

We cannot help visiting Craigavon without seeing the eyesore of the Sligo tip which towers anything up to 30 feet above the River Bann, not only disfiguring the locality but probably poisoning the area too. It is on fire at the moment and is polluting the surrounding residential area. The villain of the piece is the local council which, although it claims to be making efforts to prevent pollution, does not seem very effective. One of its excuses is that it cannot find a location for the disposal of the waste. Naturally, no one wants a tip in his locality.

In its attempt to handle the problem the council opened the tip at the Lurgan end of Craigavon, where the Minister has spent many tens of thousands of pounds developing the marina. Because of the dumping on level land there is now a plateau of rubbish about 12 feet to 14 feet high. Although the tip was closed and fenced by a six-foot high fence the Minister will recall the story in a Belfast morning paper last week to the effect that figures existed to show how little regard was paid to the fences. Indiscriminate dumpers have broken down the fence and are dumping along the stretch of roadway.

In discussing an earlier order the Minister said that now that we had the legislation we had to make sure that we implemented it. It is nice to see increased penalties for indiscriminate dumping, but they will not be imposed often if we are not able to implement the order. I suggest that the Minister takes advantage of the consultative and co-ordinating role of his Department, and of the powers given to him under Article 78—whereby the Department may undertake or contribute towards the costs of investigation and research relevant to the problem of waste disposal—and considers the proposition I wish to put to him.

One of the most effective and valuable contributions made to waste disposal over the generations in Northern Ireland has been the reclamation of the mudflats at the mouth of the Lagan, where much land in the dock area has been brought into use. The mudflats on either side of Belfast Lough are accessible to the railway line which runs north and south along the shores of Lough Neagh. That railway line connects through Coleraine, Ballymena and Antrim, into Belfast on one side and from the south side through Craigavon, Lisburn and Belfast to Bangor.

Perhaps consideration can be given to using these powers for the possible collection of refuse from the areas which I have mentioned—from future growth centres which are generating a lot of waste. Perhaps some investigation could take place into whether it would be possible to transport, via that railway system, refuse from those areas and to use it for the construction of two sidings for further land reclamation in Belfast Lough. That is something which is worth considering, especially when one bears in mind the cost of collection and the problems of trying to find disposal points in the countryside. It may well turn out that that is a suggestion upon which the Minister can build.

The other part of the order which is attractive to me is that concerning noise control. There are undoubtedly many areas in Northern Ireland, especially in our smaller towns, where residential and industrial areas are side by side and where people are living in what are now becoming intolerable conditions as 24-hour working becomes the norm in many factories. I visited an area in Portadown not so long ago in the middle of an afternoon. With the noise of children playing, traffic noise and bird song, one did not think very much of the continual hum in the background. But the residents told me that if one lived there six or seven days a week, and had to listen to that vibrating hum at 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock or 4 o'clock in the morning, it was very different from that which I experienced on that sunny afternoon. For some of those people it has had a seriously detrimental effect on their health. Apparently, the hum is not sufficiently loud to create a danger to their health as such; therefore, with existing legislation it has been impossible to do anything about it. But the local public health inspector was certainly waiting anxiously for this legislation to be implemented so that he could take some action. I am quite sure that that attitude is duplicated in many other parts of the Province.

I also welcome that part of the order which the Minister skated over—no doubt to save time—dealing with the powers given to councils to handle dilapidated premises and ruinous and neglected sites. When one looks around many of our towns, one hopes that councils will use these powers to tidy them up. I hope—it has not always been the case—that if councils take action on someone's behalf they make sure that the owners pay. Unfortunately, there have been instances where sites have been cleared by local councils but where the people who could easily pay have not been charged properly. I hope that when councils use these powers, which are essential, they will recover whatever money is due from the owners of the property.

Those are the only points that I wish to make. As I have said, this legislation is essential and I hope that the Minister will press on as quickly as possible to get it implemented.

12.48 a.m.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

As in the case of the previous order, there are matters just waiting for the implementation of this legislation in order to test its effectiveness. I know the Minister will bear with me if I cite one particular instance which involves both a noise problem and a pollution problem. Again, it is in the sort of situation touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker)—that of a residential area which has within it a dyeing operation which, first, creates the problem of noise as a result of the continual hum of machinery and in addition emits into the air not only unburnt firing material but also coloured dye which is involved in the process carried out by the factory. For a number of streets in which there are literally hundreds of small terrace houses, there are these two problems, one of incessant noise and the other of emission of both dye and soot.

I do not want to go into great detail because I have raised this matter with the Minister on almost an annual basis. But there are two difficulties. The first is that the Belfast City Council has sent its representatives to the site from time to time and it has concluded that there is not a great problem with the dye or non-combustible material. That staggers me, because I have been to the site again and again and seen for myself the effect of the dye and specks of soot on clothing hung out in the yards to dry.

If that has been the position in the past, what renewed hope have we that the council will change its mind, even with this legislation to help it? Although this legislation may help meet any problems which are found to be in contravention of it, there is nothing to suggest that the council's assessment of the problem will change because of the legislation.

I note in this order that there is the possibility of appeals against notices served by the council under Article 58. What are the rights of appeal of my constituents on the Ravenhill Road who have the problems which I touched on a moment ago? What rights have they against the council whose assessment of the position is manifestly lacking?

I should like to be able to go back to my constituents and tell them that the new legislation will result in a far more in-depth investigation which may produce a different assessment by the council but that, even if it does not, they have the right to approach the Department which itself can take some action if there is no possibility of an appeal against the council. Can the Minister help us in that respect?

I apologise if the order deals with that point, but I am anxious to be able to reassure my constituents who live with this dual problem of the incessant hum and the emissions of soot and dye from the factory.

If the company has to insulate its building against noise, is there any Government financial assistance to an industry which has to undertake that sort of work? Although I am anxious to afford my constituents the peace and freedom from pollution which they rightly deserve, we are also anxious about jobs and we would not like to see a firm going out of business thereby placing scores of men on the dole. So, to balance the problem, if there were financial assistance available should the company have to insulate its building, that would be good news to it.

12.54 a.m.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

I rise to welcome an extension of council powers. I must say, though, that I welcome it in the sense that if one gets a big enough collection of pennies, eventually one has a pound. But it is a further small step in the right direction.

The House will be aware that the wish to put the lamp post outside someone else's front door is widespread. But when the lamp post is a dump, the wish to have it outside someone else's front door is pretty well universal. One has often heard, throughout the constituencies, the hope being expressed that there must, after all, be an easy way to deal with waste, whether it is industrial or domestic. However, my experience and researches lead me to believe that there is no easy or cheap way to deal with waste. Even after it is treated and processed and one has done with waste all the things one can possibly do, one has still to dig a hole and bury something which is left. Usually it is not a pleasant something.

May I relate the experiences of three council areas in my constituency? They are Limavady, Coleraine and Londonderry. In Limavady some years ago, the council decided to make its dump in a bog. It thought it was an excellent place, that it had not very many people living close by and that it was a vast area of useless land which could be utilised for this purpose. Unfortunately, bogs are wet places and the whole plan was a nearly unmitigated disaster, with the result that that council is now looking for a new site.

Londonderry Council decided that it would put one of its dumps on a sandy site. It did. Sandy sites are generally reckoned to be about the best because one has plenty of spoil to cover the dump and one does not have the stuff burning all the time. Again disaster struck in the last year or two and in a rather unusual way. Some of the wastes were toxic. They seeped through the sand got into a stream, killed all the fish and the cattle will not drink from the stream. The end result is that Londonderry Council had to put in drinking bowls for the farms. The farmers are now very concerned at the fact that all their drains are blocked, they say from the same dump, although I understand that the council is prepared to argue that aspect of the case. Again we have unforeseen and disastrous consequences.

The third case was at Coleraine where the authorities decided to fill an old quarry. Because there was no easy entrance, it had to be dumped at great depth. They got sea gulls. I never thought there were so many seagulls round the coast of Ireland until I visited the place. It went on fire periodically and all the plants in the neighbouring gardens died, the people complained of feeling ill and the paint came off the window frames.

Here were three councils, all with the best of intentions; all having disastrous results from their efforts to get rid of industrial waste. They were all council dumps where a considerable amount of care and expertise was exercised before they decided on the sites. In the light of that experience I can only say that even careful investigations will not necessarily uncover all the problems which will arise. In general private dumps are far worse than council dumps.

Because of all this, may I ask the Minister whether, after a council has carried out its very careful investigations, as it has to do under this order, planning permission will still have to be sought for the siting of dumps of any description? I do not think that point is covered, although it easily could be, because there are 71 pages in the massive order and one would have to go through them with a fine tooth comb. I confess that I have not done that. I wish I had the time because there is an enormous amount in it which I would wish to take on board.

The Minister will be surprised to hear me say that in general I welcome these costly proposals. These proposals undoubtedly are costly in manpower and in execution, and they will be in costly in vehicles and treatment works, whether provided by public or by private money. They will also be costly in consultancy fees. Geologists will have to be employed and agricultural interests will have to be examined. One will also have to canvass the views of chemists and chemical experts and to investigate the possible pollution of streams and waterways, which brings in the fishing community. Farming interests will also have to be considered.

I welcome these proposals because there is no easy or cheap answer. Wastes have to be collected, processed, burned or buried—and I emphasise that eventually something has to be buried.

What does the Minister see as the means of collecting commercial and industrial waste? What does he regard as a reasonable charge? Will the same rule apply to waste in its raw state as to waste which has been processed to some extent by the industry concerned. Sometimes firms have to process their own waste before they dump it in order to put it into a relatively safe form.

I ask this question because in my constituency there are a number of large firms and allied industries which make plastic substances, and I am aware that things go wrong in these works. When that happens, one is never too sure what sort of goo will come out. On occasions some of those plants have produced a stick goo which does not deteriorate or go away, it does not get hard or wash away, but simply stays there. Some of it has been sitting in dumps for 20 years and is still a sticky goo. It looks like lasting for ever.

These matters concern those who are worried about the conservation of the countryside and about what we are dumping in holes in the ground. They are worried about the end result because that result is sometimes unforeseen, especially when 20 or 30 years hence some other material is dumped on top.

In the light of this information, will the Minister say whether the total cost of collection and treatment will be a reasonable charge put on to the cost of industrial waste? In other words, are we to treat the collection, processing, destruction or dumping of industrial waste as a production cost to the process or the factory concerned?

In some specialist applications of waste collection, what will happen if firms make their own arrangements for transportation and dumping? Many firms either carry out the work themselves, or get a private firm to transport material, again sometimes with unforeseen results.

I also note from the order that councils are to give adequate publicity to the fact that dumps are to be created in their districts, but apparently they will give publicity only in their own areas. Sometimes dumps are placed on the very edge of a council area. In such circumstances may we be assured that the neighbouring council area will also receive the same publicity so that those living outside the council area will have the right to object to what is to be dumped on their doorstep?

I note from the order that even with household waste, if it arises in an inaccessible area, the council can make a reasonable charge for collection. How does this match up with the rate demand to the householder? Surely this will not be treated in the same way as industrial wastes which are part of production costs. People expect household waste to be collected, and we all have our bins emptied, though sometimes at rather irregular intervals. As the requirements of the countryside rise and councils lay down regulations governing the dumping of waste, an increasing number of householders, even in the most isolated areas, will demand the same standard of service as is given to people in urban areas, especially if people in rural areas are to have local dumps closed because they are not licensed, I do not see why those people should not have the benefits that are enjoyed by people in towns.

One aspect that has escaped the attention of most hon. Members but concerns me greatly is silage effluent from farms. Councils are required to lay down standards for the storage of industrial waste. It is a moot point whether a farm is an industrial concern, but silage effluent is a most dangerous poison. It is exceedingly difficult to store and to dispose of and it could fall within the ambit of the order. Can the Minister give the farmers of Northern Ireland some guidance about who will lay down standards for the storage of silage effluent? Will it be the Ministry of Agriculture or the Department of the Environment?

Another matter of concern to the farming community is the removal of waste deposited on land. There is not a farmer in Northern Ireland who has not, at some time, gone to the end of his lane or visited fields in a distant part of the farm and found a load of waste dumped there. Who is responsible for the removal of that waste, especially if it is noxious waste? If it is the farmer, will he be charged the full cost of removing something that he did not put there, does not wish to have there and for which he is not responsible? Is he to be the fall guy for the scoundrel who carries out the illegal dumping? I never fail to be surprised at the number of places where one sees the most astonishing things dumped.

The order includes a reference to responsibility for street cleaning being returned to local councils. Is it intended to put into statutory form the agreement between councils and the road services under which councils are responsible, in general, within the 30 mph signs into and out of villages and towns and the road services are responsible for areas beyond those signs? I understand that this is the standard procedure in Northern Ireland, though it is not governed by statute.

If it is to be put into statutory form, the councils will surely be entitled to ask what will happen to the regional rate which is that part of local tax which covers the responsibilities of the road services. If the councils take over some of those responsibilities, will some proportion of the regional rate be passed back to the district councils or will it go off into the wide blue yonder where no one knows what happens to it? There will be increased expenditure and work for councils and a shift in the balance of responsibility and, therefore, of expenditure. I hope that the Minister can give us some good news in that respect.

I give a warm welcome to the restoration of the right to vest for public health reasons. This right has been lacking and has held up the provision of new dumps. Councils do not have the right to vest for dumps. In those circumstances grave difficulties have been caused whenever the shortcomings of existing dumps have been exposed.

Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the problem of the control of noise. My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) referred to a faint noise that annoyed people at night. One of my constituents complained to me that he had sited fairly close to his house a large electrical transformer. A transformer does not make all that much noise, but as my constituent said "At 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning it would drive you daft." Having been near transformers at 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock in the morning, I am inclined to agree with him. What are the noise levels that will be laid down to govern noise control?

When considering the pollution of the air we must bear in mind the burning of oil and the sulphur content of oil. I note that the Department will be responsible for most of the regulations but the councils will be responsible in some instances for the enforcement of the regulations. Is it reasonable to split responsibility in that way? There is the possibility of argument arising on who is responsible in any given case.

What will be the position around the docks with the loading and unloading of ships? For example, the handling of fertilisers and coal gives rise to dust nuisance. There has been a considerable volume of correspondence and a considerable volume of anger over the problems that arise in Londonderry City, where the harbour is in the middle of the city. The dust nuisance causes a considerable amount of annoyance to many thousands of my constituents. At present the Public Health Acts cover such matters. Is it intended that the order will supersede the Public Health Acts?

Finally, I have noted that the interests of the Crown are excluded from noise regulations and other such matters. Does that exclusion extend to contractors and machinery engaged in building works on Crown property? Such activities would be covered if they were taking place on private property. Are contractors working on Crown buildings excluded?

1.13 a.m.

Rev Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Ministers have the advantage over Northern Ireland Members in these debates as Ministers deal with their orders, do their stuff and leave the Chamber, but some Northern Ireland Members have to remain for all the orders. That is part of the whole iniquity of direct rule as we now have it in the Province, and part of the price that the House forces Northern Ireland to pay for destroying its democratic Parliament and Government.

The Minister told us that he will not return planning powers to the councils. I interjected "Because they were Protestants". The Secretary of State made it clear that he would not see any Protestant ascendancy in the Province. If we happen to be Protestants and we are elected, we can be sure that we shall have no powers given to us.

It is strange that the Minister says "District councils are not capable of looking after planning but they are capable of looking after the disposal of waste and quite good at policing our orders." The Minister says "You will police another order. Powers over dogs and the licensing of dogs will go to the district councils." They are fit to look after dogs and they are now to deal with the disposal of waste. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) may smile, but I welcome that at least more powers are coming back to the district councils. Environmental pollution is becoming a real problem. I am glad that the elected representatives will have the opportunity of dealing with that matter.

I welcome Article 66, referred to by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). That relates to Ruinous and dilapidated buildings and neglected sites. There is a series of villages in my constituency which the Minister has visited—Kells, Connor, Broughshane, Ahoghill and Cullybacky—where there are dilapidated buildings. They are a scourge and a danger to the community, especially to children. I am glad that powers are to be vested in the councils so that these matters can be tackled. For example, in Carrickfergus land almost in the centre of a large building development has been abandoned. No one seems to know who owns it. It has become a dump in the centre of a residential area. Therefore, I am glad that councils are to have the power to clean up these eye-sores in their communities.

I turn now to the important matter of industrial waste. What help will be given to industry which will have certain restrictions placed on it and will have to take steps to conform to regulations on the disposal of industrial waste? Many large firms will be affected. I have spoken to the directors of one large firm in my constituency. They told me that they will have to face heavy financial burdens to conform to legislation of this nature. Indeed, they suggested that it could mean closing down because of the expense involved in modernising and equipping the factory to deal with the waste. Will some provision be made to help firms to modernise their factories so that they can stay in business? This is an important matter because it affects jobs, and jobs are hard to come by in Northern Ireland. It is important that provision be made for these matters.

I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on silage, because that is an important matter in rural districts especially to the agricultural community.

1.18 a.m.

Mr. Carter

We have had a general welcome for this legislation, although some hon. Members have had reservations about the cost. I shall deal with that matter as I go through the points that have been made.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davision) said that in Great Britain this area of legislation was covered by county councils rather than by district councils. He will be aware that in certain cases some of these powers are delegated to district councils here. The hon. Gentleman said that these matters were dealt with at a high level in the United Kingdom whereas in some instances in Northern Ireland they will be dealt with at a fairly low level.

I should stress that we hope that, where possible, local authorities will co-operate with one another in the provision of sites. It will be up to them whether they co-operate in providing large sites for the disposal of solid waste, but clearly it would be more economic and efficient if they were to do so. There is no intention on our part to interfere unduly in the way in which local authorities implement the legislation.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) praised the Government for devolving this legislation to local authorities. Judging from odd comments that he has made in the past few days, he is making rather more of what we have been doing in giving extra powers to local authorities than is warranted. The truth is that in this case the local authorities are already heavily involved in dealing with waste. They are the principle collectors of waste, and it is only natural that legislation involved with the disposal of waste should be bound up with that existing responsibility.

The hon. Member went on to talk about implementation. That to some extent depends on the consultation we shall now have with the local authorities. In any event we have to produce the regulations. But I hope that we shall move as speedily as possible. I have not talked about this to my officials yet, but I would be disappointed if we could not introduce this legislation well within the next year. There is a pressing need for it in Northern Ireland. We are well behind the rest of the United Kingdom. My Department will attach a great deal of urgency to implementation.

The hon. Gentleman inquired about cost. We currently expect it to be about£250,000 annually to all the local authorities involved. That depends to some extent on the degree of co-operation that results from the discussions. It is further felt that about £500,000 will be involved in bringing the present refuse tips up to the standard required by the legislation. Again, that is only a crude estimate, and the final figure will depend on the reduction or increases in the number of sites.

He asked about experience in Great Britain. I have no knowledge at my disposal this evening on that subject. As far as I am aware it has been good. We are carbon-copying Westminster legislation and one must assume that the legislation has been operating satisfactorily in Great Britain.

He said that the employee can use as a defence the fact that he is under instructions. The employer would remain responsible. We would obviously use whatever power we had to bring the responsible body, individual or organisation, to account for the action.

The hon. Gentleman said that he was disappointed at the exclusion of small amounts of waste. The reason for that is obvious. For example, a garage might accumulate small amounts of engine oil. It would not be right to use the full power of this legislation in such a case where the person concerned intended to dispose of the waste in a proper way.

The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) stressed that implementation should be speedy. I agree with him. He may be overstressing the problem that exists in Northern Ireland. My experience from going around the Province is that by and large most district councils are already operating very efficient and tidy disposal systems, but we can make improvements, and there is obviously a great deal of private tipping which has to be controlled and removed from the countryside. As the hon. Member pointed out, there are the odd cases where the local authorities are the guilty parties. As they are to be principally responsible for administering the new law, they clearly must be the trend setters and provide an example for everyone else.

The hon. Member was seeking a more positive approach to waste. I hope that he recognises that in this legislation we shall adopt such an approach. We shall have to see what transpires from the legislation. Obviously, positive advantages can come out of it. He went on to cite one possible improvement, which would be to transport solid waste to Belfast Laugh where, as he pointed out, we have reclaimed a tremendous amount of land which I am assured by the local authority has already acquired a considerable value, both as industrial land and possibly in the future as housing and commercial land. So there are positive benefits to accrue from a carefully thought-out and implemented waste disposal system.

The point that the hon. Member raised about using the railway system is interesting. I shall look into that and let him know what we think of it.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) raised a constituency case which he said had been turned down on health grounds. Now we have an additional ground on which the pollution problem can be judged, and that is the ground of nuisance. That will be subject to assessment when we produce the regulations. I can tell the hon. Member from my experience in my own constituency in Birmingham that it is one thing to have regulations governing pollution but it is quite another thing to prove that the particular nuisance about which people may be concerned falls within the ambit of those regulations.

I was asked about a constituent's right of appeal. A constituent would have no right of appeal, although someone who has been found guilty of causing a nuisance would have a right of appeal under the regulations.

The hon. Member, in common with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), referred to the remedial costs that would be imposed on an industry or undertaking that was causing a nuisance. He raised the very obvious point that this would entail some financial burden for the bodies concerned. I am afraid that that is the price that one must pay for adequate pollution control. It costs money. It is true to say that in some cases in Great Britain, some indus- trial firms have had to close down because the costs of bringing their plant up to modern standards and the standards required by the law have been prohibitive. But if the community demands a high standard in its environment, that is the price that we have to pay. I am not so sure, however, that we shall be involved in that kind of problem in Northern Ireland because, by and large, we do not have there the heavy industries that produce the worst forms of pollution.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) asked whether planning permission would be required in addition to licensing, and of course it would. The two go hand in hand, and I think it highly unlikely that any local authority responsible for licences would consider giving a licence to a tip or a site that is not regarded as being suitable on planning grounds. The hon. Member made the point, once again, that the costs will be high. It is expensive, but not prohibitive. I do not think that £250,000 a year, spread across the Province, is too high a price to pay for a clean environment. I do not think that £500,000, to bring sites up to an adequate standard is too high a price, either, given the eyesores that one can see in one or two places around the Province.

I was asked whether there will be a charge for the collection of industrial waste. Already industrial waste is collected by private firms, and they obviously make a charge. If local authorities chose to get into the business of collecting industrial waste, it would be a matter for them whether they made a charge. They may consider it to be a public service, as some local authorities already do. It is a matter for the local authority. But as some private firms are already in the business of collecting industrial waste and disposing of it, I think that it is highly unlikely that the public sector will get involved.

Publicity is important. If one local authority seeks to involve itself extensively in certain aspects of waste disposal, perhaps buying an expensive piece of plant which could be used to serve the needs of other local authorities, it ought to make known to the greatest possible number of local authorities in its immediate area that that plant is available. It is in its own financial interest to do so.

The hon. Member for Londonderry asked about agricultural waste. As far as I am aware—I shall let the hon. Gentleman know—that would not be subject to this legislation. It would be a matter for the Department of Agriculture.

The pollution in the docks to which the hon. Gentleman referred would clearly fall within the ambit of this legislation. The ability of a local authority to deal with it is self-evident. But, here again, one would have to look at the regulations. The nuisance to which the hon. Gentleman refers would have to be set against the relevant provisions, and if it fell within the regulations a nuisance would have been committed.

Contractors, by whomever employed—by the Government or by private industry —would not be exempted from these provisions.

I have already noted that the hon. Member for Antrim, North referred to the question of cost. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind, in the welcome which he gives to the legislation, that it is always possible that a firm—perhaps a quarry, for example— is committing so much of a nuisance, being eventually defined as such, that, unless it takes measures which will cost money to remedy the nuisance, it may have to go out of business.

In that connection, I may add that I have been badgered over some past months—on planning grounds rather than grounds of nuisance—to stop a quarry operating in a part of the Province. This has involved a loss of jobs, but I was badgered by the hon. Member concerned, and rightly so, because the quarry was in planning terms an eyesore. It was expanding and becoming more of an eyesore, and there was every reason to say "You have gone so far, and you cannot go any further. You must find an alternative site." One had to accept that jobs would be lost. That may well be the case in regard to pollution, too.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North welcomed the provision which enables councils to remedy defects in properties where an owner has failed to meet the requirements of the legislation. After he or she has been fined, the council has the right to go in and remedy any eyesores or defects in the property.

I hope that councils take up these provisions. There are similar powers under other legislation. A few weeks ago, we were talking about some of the provisions in the rent legislation. I hope, now that we have given these powers to local authorities, they will be acted upon.

If I have not covered every detail, I shall be only too pleased to write to hon. Members. I hope to keep them informed. I hope that, as we proceed with the consultations with local authorities, we shall not encounter any difficulties, and if we do not we should see the full implementation of the legislation within 12 months.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 16th May, be approved.