HL Deb 08 June 1989 vol 508 cc1004-8

7.29 p.m.

The Earl of Portsmouth

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE LORD HAYTER in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Extension of offence of emitting dark smoke from industrial or trade premises]:

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Tordoff

I should like to speak on the Question of whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill, and I apologise for slightly causing confusion on this issue. I understand it is the intention that I should speak on Clause 2 stand part, and we will come to the noble Earl's amendments to the Long Title at the end of our discussions.

I hesitate to intervene at this stage, partly because I did not speak at Second Reading and partly because it may be that I shall give the noble Earl some worry that I am going to damage his Bill. Let me assure him that it is no intention of mine in any way to hurt this Bill, which we totally support from these Benches. But I want to take the opportunity to deal with some matters that have been brought to my attention on information which was received by me after the Second Reading, and this is the only way that I can raise them.

There are those who are not satisfied that Clause 2 goes far enough in dealing merely with dark smoke. There is a problem relating to chipboard factories which has been drawn to my attention by the good people of Hexham. I regret, incidentally, that I was not able to give the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, notice of the fact that I was going to speak about this, because he might have felt that he had a constituency interest.

As noble Lords will know, Hexham is a small country town in Northumberland and it is claimed that the chipboard factory there produces for 24 hours, every day and night, plumes of what is, on the face of it, steam which hangs over the river valley. It also produces a blue haze and a brown haze. This factory is producing chipboard and there are two or three other chipboard factories in the country also producing this material, using wood chips, as one might imagine, as well as phenolic resins of one sort or another—formaldehyde, pheno-formaldehyde, melamine and other resins for bonding these chipboards. Although these substances are not excessively toxic in the amounts that are beng put into the atmosphere, nevertheless they can be extremely irritating and they do not seem to be caught under the provisions of this very excellent Bill.

As I said, this problem is not confined to Hexham. There are cases reported in Scotland and I quote from the Sunday Post, which I understand is a Scottish newspaper, of 19th February, which states: People living in the shadow of two giant chipboard manufacturing plants in Scotland endure polluting fumes and dust 24 hours a day. Their local Environmental Health Department are powerless to act. All because of a loophole in proposed Government legislation". One must take this with a certain amount of scepticism, coming from the public prints, but there is obvious concern here. The article goes on to say: Wood fibre and fine sawdust pour from the plant chimneys daily. When the prevailing wind takes the emission over the village, cars and pavements are covered in a fine powder and a heavier, woolly substance . . . The Sunday Post has received identical complaints from residents living near [a plant] in Irvine". There is also a plant on the Welsh border which is causing similar worries.

I understand that it is possible that there are proposals in the pipeline for local authorities to be given greater powers than they have at the moment to deal with this nuisance, but at the moment, according to information I have received, there is no specific legislation available to control emissions from chipboard factories.

The existence of this excellent Bill has raised people's expectations that something might be done at this stage. I am asking the Government to offer some reassurance to the good people of Hexham and other places either that something can be done very quickly or that thare will be legislation coming forward at an early stage to offset this nuisance.

Lord Hesketh

The noble Lord referred to air pollution from chipboard manufacturing plants. These plants are currently subject to control under the Public Health Acts. Local authorities are responsible for the control of any emission that constitutes a statutory nuisance, although it is also open to the local people to complain of a statutory nuisance direct to a magistates' court.

As the noble Lord quite correctly pointed out, my department issued two consultation papers in 1986 and 1988, both of which are in the Library of the House. They included a proposal that air emissions from certain processes, including some timber processing plant, should be controlled by local authorities under a system akin to that currently operated by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. It is proposed to bring forward legislation to give local authorities these new powers during the course of this Parliament, and it is likely that this factory in Hexham will be among the processes scheduled for local authority control under the new system. I hope that those words will give some confidence to the good citizens of Hexham.

Lord Tordoff

I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply. I am sure that it will give great comfort to the people of Hexham and similar places. I am delighted to have such a satisfactory reply and certainly I shall not seek to impede the progress of the Bill for one minute more.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

In the Title:

The Earl of Portsmouth moved Amendments Nos. 1 and 2: Line 1, leave out ("repeal") and insert ("amend"). Line 1, leave out ("to amend").

The noble Earl said: I should like the leave of the Committee, if that is necessary, to move both of these amendments on the Marshalled List together. This Bill was introduced in another place on 21st December 1988. The Long Title tabled at that time was: Control of Smoke Pollution … a Bill … to repeal section 16(1)(a) of the Clean Air Act 1956 and to amend: section 1 of the Clean Air Act 1968".

After introduction, parliamentary counsel produced a first draft of the Bill. At that stage it was realised that Clause 1 went further than the proposal contained in the Government's December 1986 consultation paper on air pollution control. The consultation paper proposed that non-dark smoke emissions in areas not subject to smoke control should come under the ambit of the statutory nuisance provisions of the Public Health Acts. The effect of repealing Section 16(1)(a) would be to extend statutory nuisance to cover non-dark smoke emissions both outside and within smoke control areas.

So as not to depart from the consultation paper proposal, which was widely welcomed, Clause 1 was drafted so that non-dark smoke emitted from the chimney of a private dwelling within a smoke control area would remain exempted from the statutory nuisance provisions. This was achieved by retaining part of Section 16(1)(a). Thus Section 16(1)(a) required amendment but not repeal. The result of this was that Clause 1 of the Bill provided for amendment, whereas the Long Title given in the First Reading referred to "repeal".

The purpose of the amendments is to align the Long Title with the drafting of Clause 1. Clause 1 provides for the amendment of Section 16(1)(a) of the Clean Air Act 1956. The Long Title refers to the repeal of Section 16(1)(a). It should read: amend Section 16(1)(a) of the Clean Air Act 1956 and Section 1 of the Clean Air Act 1968".

The amendments in no way alter the substance of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

The improvements in air quality achieved as a result of the Clean Air Acts are well known. We tend sometimes to forget these major achievements when concentrating on some of the new air pollution problems that have emerged. This Bill offers two small but important changes to these Acts and has our full support.

Non-dark smoke emitted from the chimneys of private dwellings can be a nuisance. It is right that there should be a statutory mechanism for tackling such nuisances wherever they occur, not just in those parts of the country covered by smoke control orders—albeit that these orders cover two-thirds of all urban premises. In extending the current definition of "statutory nuisance" to include non-dark smoke emissions from private dwellings outside smoke control areas, Clause 1 achieves this extension of control and is to be welcomed.

There are already controls in the Clean Air Acts over dark smoke emitted from industrial premises. The provisions in Clause 2 will strengthen these controls by closing two loopholes which have hindered effective enforcement by local authorities. It will hamper those who deliberately flout the law for quick profit without heed to the often serious loss of amenity suffered by those living nearby.

Turning to the two amendments, my noble friend has explained that no changes of substance are proposed. The purpose is to make two small changes to the Long Title of the Bill so that it accurately reflects the provisions in Clause 1. In welcoming Clause 1, it follows that these two uncontroversial amendments also have our full support and I commend them to the Committee.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.34 to 8.30 p.m.]

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