HL Deb 26 June 1958 vol 210 cc293-7

3.17 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Waldegrave.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD TERRINGTON in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Penalty for leaving litter

(2) In England and Wales, without prejudice to the powers of any other person, any of the following bodies shall have power to institute proceedings for an offence under this section, committed within their area or on land controlled or managed by them, that is to say, the council of a county, county borough, metropolitan borough, non-county borough, urban district, rural district or rural parish, the Common Council of the City of London, a joint body constituted solely of two or more such councils as aforesaid, and a joint board such as is provided for by section eight of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949.

LORD BURDEN moved to add to subsection (2): and, where the offence was committed within the limits of any clock, harbour or pier undertaking, the undertakers. The noble Lord said: This Amendment was put on the Order Paper after prolonged negotiations. At one time it was understood that the Member in charge of the Bill in another place was disposed to accept the Amendment, but since then farther information has been received which makes it unnecessary for me to proceed with the Amendment and develop the arguments, as I understand them, in its favour, particularly as every reasonable person must welcome the provisions of this Bill. I am authorised to say that the Association of Dock and Harbour Authorities give it a cordial welcome and will do all in their power to make it a success. As the Amendment was on the Order Paper. I felt that it was only fair that the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, in charge of the Bill, should have an opportunity of saying a word or two in regard to it, and after that, I shall ask leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 28, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Burden.)


I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Burden, for the way in which he has moved this Amendment and for the inference we may draw from what he said, that he does not propose to force it to a Division. I think that I can help both him and the dock and harbour boards, whose interests he has so much at heart in this matter, because I can say straight away that dock and harbour boards, like other statutory authorities of that nature, have power to prosecute under the Bill. I think that there may have been a slight confusion of thought in the minds of certain people—though not in the mind of the noble Lord I am sure—because certain authorities are cited at the end of the Bill, and it might appear that others are not covered. Parliamentary Counsel advise me, however, that such is not the case, and that the reason why such bodies as are named are mentioned in the Bill is that if they were not expressly mentioned they would not have the power to use public funds and might be surchargeable by the Public Auditor. I am advised that this is not the case with undertakings like dock and harbour boards, who already have the power to prosecute. It would be redundant if this were explicitly stated in the Bill, and it might even throw doubt upon what powers they have under other Statutes, which would be unfortunate, because no doubts exist. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has moved this Amendment. I am afraid that I cannot accept it, and I hope he will agree to withdraw it.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for that explanation, and I beg leave to withdraw—


Before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment, I should like to say a word or two. I am not sure that this does not leave a gap which ought to be closed. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, said that the dock and harbour boards have the powers to do what is necessary under the Act. But what about the pier undertakings? Have they also power? And what is the nature of the statutory powers which the dock and harbour boards and the pier undertakings already have? What I want to be sure of is that there is no gap left open by the withdrawal of the Amendment which would allow a continuation of these things which we are all trying to stop.


I am advised that there is no gap. May I repeat what I said on Second Reading, on which of course I had advice? The reason why the bodies specifically named are named is that they have not at present any such general power to incur expense in instituting prosecutions. But these other statutory bodies have such powers under their by-laws, and they will be able to institute prosecutions and to use their funds for that purpose. That is the advice I have been given, and I think it is unnecessary to bring in any other powers for harbours, railways or anybody else.


Would the noble Earl not agree that subsection (2) says: In England and Wales, without prejudice to the powers of any other person, any of the following bodies shall have power … Is he satisfied that other bodies have the power, despite those words?


I am advised that I should be satisfied, and I hope that your Lordships will be satisfied. If you mention one person, then you must mention others, if they are to be included. The group of people who are specifically mentioned are the local authorities; they are using the rates, and they would have no general power to do so unless it were given to them in this Bill. I understand that other statutory authorities, such as the dock boards, already have the power and that it is unnecessary to put them in the Bill. That is my advice, and I can go no further than that.


Perhaps it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if I say a few words now. I, too, am advised that my noble friend Lord Waldegrave is quite correct in saying that there are no gaps left here. Dock, harbour and pier undertaking authorities have sufficient powers to operate this Bill when, as we hope, it shortly becomes an Act, and therefore the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Burden, is unnecessary. I should like to say that I, too, am grateful to him for having seen the point and for his attitude to it.


I had not intended to take part in this discussion, but since I have heard it a doubt has been left in my mind, not on the point that has been raised but on a different one. This is a Litter Bill, and we are all anxious, so far as we can, to get rid of litter. In the docks and harbours the greatest sinners are the dock and harbour authorities themselves. If they are the people who are to have the responsibility for taking proceedings, one can be certain that they will not take proceedings. What I should like to have clear is this. Does the local authority have the sole responsibility, or are there two authorities that can take proceedings? Is there a diarchy inside the docks? Can the local authority take proceedings in default of action by the dock authority? Have they both responsibility, or what? That is not clear from this clause.


I am advised that there is a diarchy—I do not know whether there is such a word as "triarchy "—and that the dock authority, with their own police and by-laws can certainly prosecute under those by-laws or, if they choose, under this Bill. The local authority, through their inspectors, can institute a prosecution; I am informed that it is open to any member of the public to institute a prosecution, if he is prepared to go through with it; and the police can also do so. That is my advice, and I hope that it may satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.


I hope your Lordships will forgive me for speaking again. My only desire is to see that none of these human pests escapes the net. I wonder if the noble Earl could tell us on the Report stage—and this would clear up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—the Statutes under which these authorities will be acting and whether they overlap with the local authorities.


I am afraid that, being no lawyer, I cannot do that "off the cuff," and I had hoped that it would be your Lordships' wish to proceed straight to the Report stage to-day, if there is no Amendment to the Bill, so that we can get forward with it. Unless the noble Viscount insists, I hope that we may proceed to the Report stage straight away.


Naturally, I accept what the noble Earl has said.


It was because my information accorded with what the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, has said that I ventured to say earlier that I did not propose to press the Amendment. I am sure your Lordships will agree that we have had a useful discussion, and I think it will have cleared up any doubts that may have existed in anybody's mind. We are all agreed on the aims of the Bill, and we wish it a speedy passage. I therefore ask leave of your Lordships to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I should have raised this point earlier, and as I have not given my noble friend who is sponsoring the Bill notice of it, I cannot expect an answer now; but perhaps he will be able to give one on Third Reading. In Sussex we have many woods, forests and ponds, and it is an old Sussex habit to fill up the ponds with bicycles and bedsteads—I once found even a very promising motorcycle in a pond. Sometimes these ponds are just the other side of the hedge, and sometimes in the depth of the forest. I take it that the people who throw bicycles into the pond over the hedge will come within the purview of this Bill but that, on the other hand, the people who walk through the hedge to put their bicycles in by hand will presumably not come within the Bill and would have to be prosecuted under some other law. If it were possible to bring within the Bill people who step off the highway in order to deposit bicycles and so on in their neighbour's pond, I think it would be a great help in preserving the beauty of the Sussex countryside.


As my noble friend Lord Hawke said said, I have had no notice of this intricate question of ponds. If the Committee will permit, I should prefer to give my noble friend an answer on Third Reading. I think there is no difficulty. but without notice, I would rather do it in that way.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported without Amendment.