HL Deb 29 October 2002 vol 640 cc27-9WA
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action can be taken on health and safety grounds to require marine lessees and operators regularly to remove flotsam and jetsam from within their areas of responsibility of ownership. [HL5723]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Madonald of Tradeston):

Under the terms of existing legislation, there are no powers under which the Government can require marine lessees and operators regularly to remove flotsam and jetsam from within their areas of responsibility of ownership. There is no general legal requirement on operators to clear litter from marina waters. The responsibilities of any lessee will depend on the terms of the lease. However, there are powers which do apply in specific circumstances, and they can also differ depending whether the origin of the material is from a land source or from ships.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will shortly be publishing a consultation paper that includes 27 recommendations for improving the quality of public space. One of these recommendations is to examine the "legislative controls to address litter in areas not covered by Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (in particular, on beaches, rivers and canals)". Although flotsam and jetsam is not strictly litter, it may be considered by certain groups to be an unsightly nuisance and something that authorities should have a duty to clear. This factor will be considered as part of the Defra-led consultation process.

Sections 79 and 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 require a local authority to investigate any complaint of a statutory nuisance made to it by a person living within its area. If satisfied of the existence of the nuisance, it must serve a notice requiring the person responsible (meaning the person to whose act, default or sufferance the nuisance is attributable or, where that person cannot be found, the owner or occupier of the premises) to abate any nuisance. The matters which may constitute a statutory nuisance for these purposes include any premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance; and any accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance. For the purposes of statutory nuisance, the local authority area includes the territorial sea lying seawards from the shore. The word premises includes land and any vessel, the occupier of the latter being the master of the vessel. Accordingly, it is possible that a local authority would be able to take action to require the private owner of a beach to remove jetsam if it were such as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance. The situation with flotsam might be more difficult, although at private moorings or within a harbour it might be practicable for the local authority to identify the person responsible or an owner or occupier and serve notice if they considered that a statutory nuisance existed.

There are also provisions in place which apply when any vessel is sunk, stranded or abandoned in, or in or near any approach to, any harbour or tidal water under the control of a harbour authority or conservancy authority in such a manner as, in the opinion of the authority, to be, or be likely to become, an obstruction or danger to navigation or to lifeboats.

In these circumstances, Section 252 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 gives power to harbour and conservancy authorities to take possession of, and raise, remove or destroy the whole of or any part of a vessel. The same power also applies to every article, thing or collection of things being or forming part of the equipment, cargo, stores or ballast of the vessel.