HL Deb 16 May 1939 vol 112 cc1052-6

4.23 p.m.

Amendment reported (according to Order).

Clause 1:

Coal mine refuse liable to spontaneous combustion to be deemed a nuisance.

1. For the purpose of paragraph (5) of Section sixteen of the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, an accumulation or deposit of refuse from a coal mine in respect of which there is reasonable cause to believe that spontaneous combustion is likely to occur shall be deemed to be an accumulation or deposit which is a nuisance:

Provided that—

  1. (i) any application under Section twenty-two of the said Act in respect of any such accumulation or deposit of refuse as aforesaid shall be made to the Sheriff; and
  2. (ii) in any such application it shall be a defence for the respondent to prove that the best practicable means have been taken for preventing the accumulation or deposit from becoming liable to spontaneous combustion.

LORD ADDISON moved to leave out proviso (i) and insert: no application under Section twenty-two of the said Act in respect of any such accumulation or deposit of refuse as aforesaid shall be made except to the Sheriff and with the consent of the Department of Health for Scotland; and The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Amendment on the Paper in my name is the result of negotiations which have taken place in the interval between Committee and this stage, and in respect of which I desire to acknowledge the assistance which has been received from the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Zetland) and the Lord Chancellor. I hope that the proposals which are now made will meet with the acquiescence of my noble friend Lord Gainford, because the Amendment has been constructed to meet what I think is really material in the contentions which he advanced at an earlier stage. Frankly, as the one responsible, I do not like it, but then I think that is characteristic of every compromise. It means a sort of double-barrelled procedure. It means that a case will have to go before the Scottish Department and be considered by them; but everyone, I am sure, is desirous that no proceedings shall be instituted which will inflict hardship upon a mining company which has genuinely tried, and is genuinely trying, to abate the dangers or other ill-effects from these deposits.

It is therefore proposed in the Amendment that, before an action is taken—and action can only be taken before a Sheriff's Court—there shall be the approval by the Minister of the Department. I inquired myself from the Department what that would really mean, and I was assured it would mean that when application was made to this Department they would, in fact, get into touch with the mining company and endeavour to ascertain what was practicable, and what was being done, so as to make sure that the thing was operated fairly. It does, in fact, mean a certain duplication of procedure. As the House is aware, the Bill was specially drafted in order to secure that only a higher Court should hear the case, and in order to ensure that nothing was done which was unfair to the company. Having accepted this procedure, which in substance, although not in form, is what the noble Lord proposed, and as the form in which he proposed it is open to a number of very serious administra- tive and other objections, I hope he will be willing to accept my alternative, which I am assured is practicable and I am certain is fair.

Amendment moved— Leave out paragraph (i) and insert the said new paragraph.—(Lord Addison.)


My Lords, although this Amendment does not go to the full extent desired by the Mining Association—and of course the Mining Association feel that they have a right to be heard by a Minister before an assent is given. If my words had been accepted by the Scottish Health Department, and by Lord Addison, we should all have been more or less satisfied—yet, having regard to the fact that the Scottish Health Department have agreed with Lord Addison that the Minister of Health shall have to approve of applications, and on the understanding that the Minister of Health is going to satisfy himself not merely on the ground of health but on the ground of the practicability of removing the nuisance, I am not prepared to oppose Lord Addison's Amendment and to press my own. I would like, however, to ask the noble Marquess, representing the Government, whether he can support the view which Lord Addison has just expressed, and give an assurance that the Minister of Health will take advantage of the opportunity of ascertaining—whether from a colliery owner or the owner of land after a colliery has been worked out, or from the Government's inspectors—whether it is reasonable and practicable to abate the nuisance. If that assurance is given I shall be satisfied, but I would like to have such an assurance from the noble Marquess representing the Scottish Office, that that is the course which the Minister would naturally take. If so, the Mining Association, I think, will be satisfied, and there is no reason to oppose this Amendment.


My Lords, this Amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Addison, has explained, is the outcome of various consultations which have taken place, and it is designed to meet the main point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, on the Committee stage of the Bill—namely, that before an application could be made by the local authority to the Courts there should be some machinery by means of which the Minister would be brought in to consider the case and to give his consent to the application. The noble Lord has asked me whether I can give him an assurance—or so I understood him—that the Minister, in performing his part through the agency of the Department of Health in Scotland, will take into account all relevant considerations. I think I may safely give the noble Lord that assurance. The mere fact that the consent of the Department of Health is required before an application can be made to the Courts implies, surely, that that Department must consider the reasonableness of the application from all points of view, and I should certainly assume that the question whether it was practicable to take any particular action with a view to minimising or removing the nuisance would be a very relevant consideration. I hope, in view of that assurance, and in view of the fact that the Amendment also confines applications to the Sheriff's Court, that the noble Lord will be entirely satisfied that we have gone as far as we can reasonably be expected to do to meet his case.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, the next Amendment and the remaining Amendments in my name have the same effect and purpose as the Amendment moved by Lord Addison, which has been accepted by the House, and therefore I do not propose to move them.


My Lords, I desire, if I may, to move another Amendment of which notice has not been circulated, but which was received by the officers of the House this morning. It is more or less a verbal one—namely, in proviso (ii), after "means" to insert "are being or"; so that the paragraph would read as follows: in any such application it shall be a defence for the respondent to prove that the best practicable means are being or have been taken for preventing the accumulation or deposit from becoming liable to spontaneous combustion. It is thought to be quite reasonable that if all practicable steps are being taken, that should be a good defence, just as if they have already been taken; and, as long as the Court is satisfied that they are being taken, it is reasonable that that should be a defence.


My Lords, we are aware that in another place an Amendment moved in this form would not be accepted as in order, but your Lordships have your own Rules of Procedure, and I understand that if objection is not taken Amendments may be moved in this way. So far as I am concerned, I am quite willing to accept the Amendment. I was not quite clear as to whether the noble Lord read it correctly. Perhaps I may be allowed to re-read it: in any such application it shall be a defence for the respondent to prove that the best practicable means have been or are being taken— and so on.


I am quite prepared to move it in that form, if that is a preferable form. I beg therefore to move it in that form.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 19, after ("been") insert ("or are being").—(Lord Gainford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.