HL Deb 15 May 1969 vol 302 cc250-5

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This is a very brief and politically non-controversial Bill of four clauses which was moved in the other place by my honourable and gallant friend the Member for Carshalton, and it passed through its Second Reading in the almost record time, I think, of 15 minutes flat.

The purpose of the Bill is to elaborate upon and indeed improve the much weightier 1936 Public Health Act. Under the 1936 Public Health Act local authorities were given powers to deal with nuisances at the time of the nuisances being committed. The purpose of this Bill is to deal with nuisances which recur from time to time. We can all think of some of them. Of course, the Noise Abatement Act 1956, and the Clean Air Act, have largely disposed of the problems of smoke and of noise, but there is the problem of the man who consistently mows his law on a Sunday afternoon with a mower which makes far too much noise and which shatters the peace of the neighbourhood or, even worse, if he cuts it at nine o'clock at night. Under the 1936 Act he could be taken to task by the local authority if he was caught doing it at the time, but under this Bill if the local authority find that he is committing this inconvenience at frequently recurring intervals he can be dealt with accordingly.

The two main aspects of this Bill are concerned with smell and obstruction. We have an increasing number of rubbish tips, some of them quite unauthorised, littering our countryside. These give off very offensive smells and every now and again things are added to them. Under this Bill the local authority has powers to make those responsible stop this practice. There is no provision for increased penalties other than those under the 1936 Act, but those nuisances which occur regularly can be stopped. The Bill does not apply to Scotland, because Scotland was go-ahead enough to put this legislation in force some while ago. But following the 1963 Wilson Committee on Noise, action will at last be taken in England and Wales. This is an age of do-it-yourself, and since hiring labour is expensive there are to-day more and more machines on the market. The Bill is not a kind of spoil-sport Bill, to prevent people tidying up their gardens and so on, but there are those who do not do it very effectively and, perhaps, at great inconvenience to their neighbours and others.

To deal briefly with the clauses of the Bill, Clause 1 empowers a local authority to serve a notice prohibiting the recurrence of a nuisance, and subsection (3) gives power to serve the notice whether or not the nuisance is in force at the time. This is really the main force of the Bill. As I said earlier, it can deal with, say, a lorry which unloads rubbish or material and blocks an entrance to a thoroughfare, causes an offensive smell or infringes safety regulations. Clause 2 gives power to a local authority to complain to a justice of the peace in cases where there is non-compliance with the prohibition notice. Clause 3 enables a private person to make a direct complaint to a magistrate.

We are living in days when our countryside is gradually being built on. We are losing much of our valuable farmland and many of our beauty spots. This is all part of progress and in many cases we cannot complain, since we cannot have it all ways. But we can, at least, prevent some of the nuisances which this Bill seeks to rectify and I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

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

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome this small but valuable Bill, and to congratulate my noble friend on having introduced it in your Lordships' House. I feel a certain sense of guilt, because now that it has emerged that the public health law of England has for long lagged behind the public health law of Scotland in this matter, I ask myself why I did not rectify that omission when I introduced a Public Health Bill into Parliament in the year 1961. It was an omnibus Bill which dealt with a very wide variety of subjects, yet I regret to say that I missed this one.

This Bill seems to me to have another value over and above those which my noble friend has mentioned, in that it should save a good deal of local government time. One of my experiences in local government was that local government officers were liable to have to waste a good deal of time when they were trying, ineffectually, to serve a notice on somebody who was doing something which he should not. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will be familiar with the way this is liable to happen in the case of housing nuisances. There is no doubt that in the past, when local authorities have been seeking to get a nuisance abated, their officers have had to waste time, as the service of an abatement notice is not valid and effective unless it is served at a moment when the nuisance exists. These recurrent nuisances may be occasional and intermittent, but if they only happen, for example, on a Saturday evening that may be just the time when it is hardest for the local government officer to serve a notice.

I am slightly puzzled by some words in subsection (1) of Clause 1 which say: Where a local authority are satisfied that a statutory nuisance has occured on any premises and is likely to recur on the same premises … I confess that I do not see how a local authority can satisfy itself that a nuisance is likely to recur unless it has already occurred at least twice. However, these words do not suggest that it need have occurred more than once before the local authority reaches its decison. I can well understand, of course, that if it is a matter of noise caused by machinery, the noise is likely to recur whenever the machinery is operated. But it seems to me quite clear that when it is a nuisance such as the dumping of rubbish, a local authority could not satisfy itself that the nuisance was likely to recur unless it had already occurred several times. The wording of the Bill may be quite satisfactory there, and experience may say that it is. But it seemed to me to he a point worth raising, and I think it is right to raise it, because one must think of the protection of the individual as well as the protection of the general public.

I wish the local authorities to have these new powers, but nobody would wish them to use these new powers extravagantly or carelessly. It seems to me essential that a local authority should have cause to be fully satisfied that there is a likelihood of recurrence before it sets on foot the procedure laid down in the Bill. That is all I have to say, and the fact that this Bill has passed quickly and non-controversially through another place gives one great hope that it may before long reach the Statute Book.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, on introducing this Bill. As has been explained, its purpose is to fill one of the gaps in the provisions of the Public Health Act 1936 relating to statutory nuisance. Under the 1936 Act, an abatement notice can be served only in respect of an existing nuisance. If the nuisance has ceased, a notice cannot be served unless the nuisance recurs. Thus, for example, where a hole in the roof has been badly patched a local authority can take no effective action until some more rain, or something similar, demonstrates that the patch is ineffective. The Bill empowers local authorities to serve nuisance notices where a nuisance has occurred arid is likely to recur, even though at the time the notice is served the nuisance is not in existence, and even though a previous notice may not have been served. I would not claim that this measure is one of first importance; but it is a useful one. I am sure that the local authorities will find it useful; and it has the blessing of the Association of Municipal Corporations. In those circumstances, and as the Bill comes to us without having caused any difficulty at all in another place, I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the local authorities will welcome this Bill and feel indebted to my noble friend for having brought it forward. As the noble Lord has just said, it is aimed at stopping up one of the gaps in the existing public health legislation, and I hope that it will do so effectively. I do not think that any great difficulty is likely to arise in the construction of the words "likely to recur". I do not think the local authorities will have much difficulty in determining whether or not a nuisance is likely to recur. Take the case that the noble Lord, Lord Burden, has mentioned, of a defective roof on which repairs are carried out by the landlord, but where the repairs are not really adequate to ensure that the nuisance will not recur. I do not think the local authority would have much difficulty in determining that in a case of that sort the nuisance was likely to recur. Whether that is so or not, I am sure that this is a useful and valuable Bill. Perhaps it can be improved in Committee. It will, I am sure, be welcomed by the local authorities.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, it is clear that the Bill meets with a general welcome. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, on introducing it. On the detailed point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about Clause 1(1), we can go into that in Committee, unless I can allay his doubts about it at the moment. But it seems to me that it is all right, because, supposing that a nuisance is committed once and the local authority then serves its abatement notice, that is the end of the matter unless the citizen makes the nuisance again, in which case he is contravening the abatement notice and the local authority may take him to court. So it seems to me that the important thing is what happens after the abatement notice is served, and not what precise grounds the local authority may have for thinking that the nuisance is going to recur before they serve the abatement notice.

There is little for the Government to add. The whole point of the Bill is to prevent not only inconvenience but a certain kind of cat-and-mouse game which is played in some parts of the country by those who understand the present loophole only too well. They start making their noise, or their smell, or whatever it may be, in the full knowledge that after the council has resolved to serve a notice on them it will be open to them to stop making it, so that by the time the officer comes round with his notice there is nothing to be done. This Bill will put an end to that cat-and-mouse nonsense, and will, in my personal experience, bring relief to a great many people who are suffering nuisance and ought not to be.


My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords on both sides of the House for the welcome and help which they have given to this small Bill. I hope that it will pass into law very quickly.

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