HL Deb 25 April 1939 vol 112 cc730-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, this little Bill, which consists of one operative clause only, was passed through another place without dissent anywhere, and without any amendment, and I hope that your Lordships will be able to treat it in the same way. It is parallel with the Bill relating to similar subjects for England, which, as has already been reported to-day, has now come up to this House in an agreed form from another place. It was felt better that the matter should be dealt with separately so far as Scotland is concerned, for reasons which I will mention in a moment, which appear in Clause 1. Otherwise it is on the same lines as the English Bill. There is no doubt at all that these "bings," as they are called in Scotland, are sometimes a source of danger, certainly to the health of the community, sometimes even to their property, and I believe that in some cases they might indeed be very serviceable to hostile forces who want to come and bomb certain places. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, will perhaps give us an illustration of that, drawn, I believe, from a place not very far from his own home. Anyhow, these bings burn day and night, and are sometimes very dangerous. Whether it is possible physically to put them out is another matter. I should think a good many of them could not be put out by any means that we know at present. But at all events it is to be hoped that the Bill will prevent the addition to their number, and I think it is rather a preventive Bill than anything else.

In the case of Scotland it was felt that it was fair and right to provide that before an authority took the steps which the Bill authorises them to take to declare one of these deposits a nuisance, those affected should have the right to have the case heard before a trained legal authority rather than take the chance, which might be variable sometimes, of the treatment they might receive before an ordinary bench of untrained magistrates. Therefore it is provided in Clause 1 (1) that the case should be heard before the Sheriff. And then a safeguard further for those who are responsible for making the heap is provided in the words of Clause 1 (2), that it should be a defence if it can be shown that practicable means have been taken for preventing the accumulation of deposit from becoming liable to spontaneous combustion. I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, that he will wish to move one or two minor Amendments to the wording of this subsection, as to which of course I can say nothing until I see precisely what they are. But the Bill as it stands has, as I say, received the approval of all Parties in another place, and was passed through all its stages without alteration. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Addison.)

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for a moment to support the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill. My home in Scotland is just about ten miles away from the naval base at Rosyth, and I was there at Easter, a couple of weeks ago. Every night, when I went out for a turn the last thing, I could see, blazing like a beacon in the sky, a tremendous bing or "blae-heap," as we call them, and it would undoubtedly form the most wonderful guide-post for enemy aeroplanes. My home is, as I say, ten miles from Rosyth. This pit lies about halfway between—that is roughly five miles from the naval base; and whether the weather is thick or clear you can see this great heap blazing in the sky. As a matter of fact I was sitting down to write to my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to call his attention to this state of affairs when I saw the noble Lord's Bill on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House. I should like to have an assurance either from the noble Lord opposite or from the noble Marquess who will answer for the Government that this Bill will deal with this very serious state of affairs.

The Bill refers to deposits of refuse which are liable to spontaneous combustion. What I am concerned about is a heap which is actually on fire at the present moment. Is that a deposit which is liable to spontaneous combustion in terms of the Bill? The noble Lord opposite expressed doubt as to whether these fires could be put out. This particular fire must be put out even if it involves dragging it stone by stone and possibly spreading it over acres of the countryside. I cannot conceive a more dangerous state of affairs than to leave this dangerous beacon where it is. I should like to have an assurance before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House that it covers this state of affairs, or, if it does not, that the Bill will be amended accordingly. I am quite convinced that this is a matter of urgent national im- portance. I believe the noble Lord has placed the House under a debt of gratitude by bringing the Bill forward, and I should like to support it with all the force at my command.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, Lord Gainford has asked me to say that the mining industry is in sympathy with the general provisions of the Bill, but some of your Lordships may feel that the word "liable" is much too wide and may cause interference with the proper working of the mines. I should like to refer to the Public Health Act of 1936 which, in Section 109, provides that "nothing in this Part of this Act shall be construed as extending to a mine of any description so as to interfere with or obstruct the efficient working of the mine." That is an important point, and it is possible that this word "liable" may interfere with the working of the mine. It might be possible to alter the wording so that the refuse which is deemed to be a nuisance should be "in respect of which there is reasonable cause to believe that spontaneous combustion is likely to occur." I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, is proposing to set down certain Amendments dealing with these points. One other point is this: that it might be possible to take the two Bills dealing with this matter together—the Scottish and English Bills. I would like to suggest that.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for intruding on your Lordships' time once more, but Scotland and India seem to be having a field day to-day. I desire on behalf of His Majesty's Government to express approval of this Bill, at any rate as far as its Second Reading is concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, asked whether under this Bill it would be compulsory to destroy a refuse heap which is actually burning. I am bound to say, as I read the Bill, that would not be so. What the Bill does is to say that in certain circumstances these refuse heaps which are liable to spontaneous combustion shall be regarded as a nuisance under the provisions of the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897. That means that proceedings could be initiated against the owners of one of these refuse heaps if it were proving to be a nuisance or if it were proving to be a public danger. In the case of the particular instance to which the noble Lord has referred, it would undoubtedly be a case, I think, which would be regarded as a nuisance. But the owners have a certain defence in proceedings taken against them, or proceedings which might be taken against them, if this Bill becomes law. If they have done all that is decided by the Sheriff's Court to be reasonably practicable to prevent these refuse heaps from becoming a nuisance, then that would be a good defence.

It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that at the present moment discussions are taking place between the technical officers of the Mines Department and the Department of Health in Scotland and the owners of the majority of the collieries where these dumps are actually on fire. It is apparently the case that no fewer than sixty-eight collieries at the present time own refuse heaps which are burning to a greater or less extent, and se far discussions have been entered into between the technical experts and thirty-three out of the thirty-eight companies who own these burning dumps. Discussion has still to be initiated with the remaining five companies. In addition to that, the technical officers have inspected some thirty-seven refuse heaps to enable them to suggest ameliorative measures suited to the conditions in each case. I understand that it is not easy to be certain of preventing one of these dumps from breaking out into fire, but precautionary measures are now possible, and, wherever these precautionary measures can be taken, as a result of the passing of this Bill they will have to be taken. I hope that to some extent that may have proved an answer to the noble Lord's question, though I quite appreciate it does not go the whole way to meet his point. On the whole the Government regard this Bill as a useful measure and wish to give it their blessing.


My Lords, there is nothing for me to say except to thank the noble Marquess for what he has said.

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