HL Deb 16 July 1924 vol 58 cc652-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I will not venture to take up very much of your time to-night on this Bill, because in all its essentials it is the Bill that your Lordships have already given a Second Reading to twice before. I hope that those who are interested in this subject will believe me when I say that that is the reason for my brevity and not any disrespect for the great cause for which they have fought, or because I do not really appreciate the importance of the subject. To-night, I think it would be sufficient if I reminded your Lordships very briefly of the salient points of the Bill. Firstly, the colour distinction is removed. Secondly, the Minister is empowered to add to the list of noxious gases. Thirdly, the Minister does not alter the body which is to operate this Act. The power is left in the hands of the sanitary authorities. The Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, suggested that the power should be transferred to county councils. The Ministry, however, consider that the sanitary authorities, being on the spot, are the best bodies to deal with the matter, at any rate at first, and that they are more likely to have nuisances brought under their notice. But the Ministry have met this point by giving the county councils power to act in default, and, further, they are giving the Minister power to act in default.

When this Bill was read a second time some little time ago the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman, raised one objection. He said that this was an example, and a bad example, of legislation by reference. I am, however, in a position to satisfy that criticism. The Ministry quite agree with his point, and they have authorised me to say that at the present moment the officials of the Ministry are engaged in consolidating the whole of the Public Health Acts, and that when that is done, if this Bill goes through, it will duly be incorporated in its right form. I may also add that the Minister would be very pleased to consider any Amendments that are likely to improve the Bill. He is also willing to consider Amendments which, I understand, are likely to be put down by certain shipping interests. He will, however, have to keep in mind that this Bill is only likely to get through in the near future if we are able to maintain that very general measure of agreement that hitherto has been attained. On a subject of this importance the Government, of course, expect a number of Amendments, and, as I said, the Minister will be very pleased to consider them.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, I do not want in any way to oppose the Bill, but there are two points to which my attention has been called by industry, and I desire at once to bring them to the notice of the Government. One is a purely administrative point. The other is a point of some substance. Under Clause 3 the whole of the metal industry is practically immune, I understand, from prosecution under the Smoke Abatement Acts for a definite period of five years, and afterwards until they are excluded from protection by a Provisional Order. There are, however, in industry new processes which it might be desirable to include in the protective clause.

There is also, I understand, in the pottery district a glazing process in connection with the finishing of pottery which requires, at the present time, a very heavy smoke charged atmosphere, and if this process of glazing is not completed this particular industry would leave this country, because of the impossibility of securing the same finish to the goods without it as could be put upon them by competitors in other countries who would not be subjected to this limitation. The point I want the Government to consider before the Committee stage is whether they would include in the power of the Minister not only the power of exclusion, but also the power to include processes which require protection. There may be new processes, or there may be processes already in operation, which really require protection under the clauses of this Bill. I will put down an Amendment dealing with that point, and I hope it may receive the favourable consideration of the Government. It is merely an empowering Amendment, and gives to the Minister, if he is satisfied that inclusion is required, the same power as he will have to exclude under the provisions of the Smoke Abatement Acts.

My other point is one which I think will be acceptable to the Government without much consideration. In an industry smoke frequently occurs through careless firing of boilers, and complaint naturally is made. In many cases notice is at once given of the complaint to the perpetrator and action is taken by the industry to abate the nuisance which is being caused. But there is no obligation in law for any such notice to be given, and I am seeking to make it obligatory on the part of the inspector, who alleges the offence, to give notice at once to the individual so that there may be no delay in dealing with it. If it is left to the ordinary course of procedure then the inspector reports to the sub-committee, and the sub-committee has to wait until the council meeting is called. Then a resolution has to be passed by the council and the town clerk, or the clerk of the authority, has to communicate with the firm. Sometimes weeks pass without notice being given of the complaint, and my object is, by a simple administrative process, to give notice at once to the alleged defaulter. Industries at the moment are doing all they can by research work to reduce the smoke nuisance, and many processes have already been discovered by which it is possible to take advantage of the waste products which smoke contains. I hope these two points will receive the favourable consideration of the Government.


My Lords, I should like to offer a word of congratulation to my noble friend opposite on bringing in a Bill which is exactly the same as that which I had the honour to submit to your Lordsips' House. This is the third Smoke Abatement Bill laid before Parliament during the last three years.


The fourth.


It is the third with which I have had any connection. The first was introduced by the Coalition Government, the second by the Conservative Government, and now we have this Bill introduced by the present Government. I may fairly claim, therefore, that this is an absolutely non-Party matter; that all Parties are united in endeavouring to do something to abate the smoke nuisance. I trust that the efforts of three Governments may result, before long, in something tangible being done. Last year when I introduced a Smoke Abatement Bill, I suggested that there, should be some interval between the Second Reading and the Committee stage, but really that interval has been rather more prolonged than I anticipated, and as the present Bill is practically the same as the Bill introduced last year, and to which your Lordships gave a Second Beading, I hope my noble friend will proceed with the Committee stage as soon as he can. One thing which he said gave me considerable pleasure. The objection which was raised last year to my Bill by the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman, was that it was the worst example of legislation by reference he had ever seen, and my noble friend said that this was to be met by including this Bill in a Public Health Consolidation Bill. I am glad to sec that my noble friend has again followed the excellent example of the late Government.

One word on the Bill itself. There are a few changes from the previous measure. For instance: I hope the noble Lord will give me some indication as to what the subsection in Clause 2, relating to the London County Council, actually means. Then there was an omission in the Bill of last year in regard to the confirmation of by-laws by the Ministry of Health. It may have again been inadvertently omitted. The other alteration is only slight; the provisions with regard to black smoke have been made a trifle stronger. We have heard from Lord Gainford that he proposes to move Amendments in Committee, and I trust that other noble Lords who are interested in the question will also move Amendments so that the whole question may be thoroughly thrashed out and that we may arrive at some conclusion on the subject.


My Lords, I hope when this Bill comes before us in Committee that some Amendment will be accepted by the Government. No device has yet been invented which will enable steamers to consume their own smoke. I only wish we could get some such device, it would save us many thousands of pounds a year. But if this Bill goes through as it is, and shipping is included, I am afraid there will be great danger of ships being held up in the ports of London, Liverpool, Bristol, and elsewhere, which will cause serious inconvenience. I feel sure that His Majesty's Government will take care to consider this point very carefully in Committee.


My Lords, this is not the third Bill which has been introduced on this subject; it is the fourth. I introduced one myself, and three Bills have been introduced by successive Governments. I observe that some slight progress has been made on each occasion, and this Bill is described as a Public Health Bill, which shows that the Government recognise some of the objections to smoke. It is a novel experience for me to find anybody in this House besides myself who has anything to say on a Bill of this kind. I welcome the contributions of noble Lords, but up to now they do not appear to be quite so friendly to the principle of the Bill as I should like.

I congratulate the Government on one thing, and that is that in framing this Bill they consulted not only the various associations with whom I act but also the representatives of the Federation of British Industries, and I observe that this very important and influential body has got something very substantial out of the Government. In Clause 2, in addition to the advantages they have hitherto enjoyed in the way of exemption, they are going to get still further exemptions. In this I trace the hand of Sheffield. There is no noble Lord present just now who is interested in Sheffield, but probably, if one were present, he would be very indignant with me when I say that Sheffield is one of the smokiest towns in the country. I am informed, on the authority of the Air Ministry, that airmen, when they rise from London on a clear day, can at once distinguish the smoke of Sheffield in the far distance, and can direct their course to it without the need of compasses or anything else, just as the Israelites were able to proceed by means of the pillar of cloud thousands of years ago.

While congratulating the Government upon some slight improvements in the Bill, there are certain matters regarding which I, as well as the noble Lords who have spoken, propose to offer Amendments. I observe that many of the recommendations which we made have been conspicuously ignored. I notice, for instance, that in the clause which deals with what are termed standards the penalties apply only to black smoke. I should have thought that everybody would realise, by this time that smoke is equally objectionable in whatever form it may appear. Green, yellow or brown smoke is every bit as objectionable as black smoke. Then again I observe, much to my surprise—because I look upon it as an act of extraordinary coolness, not to say impudence, on the part of the Government—that they propose to exempt their own establishments. They propose to fine private manufacturers if they emit smoke, but they are going carefully to exempt their own manufactures from anything of the kind.

As regards administration, I regret that the Government have been unable to accept our recommendations. We wanted to make the county councils and the boroughs responsible for the administration of this Act. That would have reduced the number of authorities who would have had to administer the Act from 1800 to something like 140, which, in itself, would have been a very considerable gain. But my chief objection to the Bill—and I hope that, for once in a way, it is a groundless objection—is that it is brought in at such a late period of the Session that there is not much hope of its passing into law. I have frequently deplored the apathy of successive Governments with regard to this important question. I regard it as one of the most pressing social questions that exist, and I will go so far as to say that it has a very important political aspect as well. It is not by a mere coincidence that the most revolutionary and disturbing influences in politics proceed from the districts which are most afflicted with smoke. There is a very good reason for it. A short time ago we were talking a great deal about "homes for heroes," though we do not hear so much of that kind of talk now. The hero's home is not ideal if, as happens in many parts of the country, he is unable to open his windows on account of the state of the atmosphere.

The great difficulty with this Government—and I am rather surprised at it, though it has also been the great difficulty with other Governments—is that you cannot get them to believe that there are any votes to be got out of this Bill. I know perfectly well, and everybody else knows, that no Government will take up any Bill unless it thinks that there are votes to be got out of it, and we find it very difficult to persuade even this Government that there are votes to be got by legislation of this character. I believe that to be a profound illusion. I believe that there are far more people, and intelligent people too, who feel deeply upon this subject than is commonly realised, and that if any satisfactory legislation is ever passed the Minister responsible for it will have conferred inestimable benefit upon his fellow-citizens.

There is, at all events, one hopeful feature about this most important question, and that is that it has been taken out of the hands of private individuals, people like myself and societies who have been perpetually urging legislation of this character. I am only too glad to think that, now that successive Governments have accepted the responsibility of dealing with this most important question, it will, I take it, be impossible for almost any Government to evade it in future, and, if we exercise sufficient patience, I suppose we shall some day get, if not everything we want, at least a large measure of it.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for his congratulations, and I only hope that the Labour Government will continue bringing to fruition those works which other Governments are apparently unable to achieve. I will certainly bring the Amendments suggested by noble Lords to the notice of the Minister.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.