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Mr. Skinner : Yes, confetti. There has been no paper from the Box. Labour Members sussed out the Government early on. I am not prepared to accept lectures from the Government about private Members' Bill time. They have hijacked a private Members' day to pass a Bill that was wrongly drafted.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the answer may be that my hon. Friend the Minister is so competent that she does not need to be briefed and has all the answers waiting for the hon. Gentleman?
Mr. Skinner : The hon. Lady has not been here all morning. I suppose that she was down at Wimbledon, getting ready for the ticket touts in June and July. Had she been here she would have heard the minister speak briefly, because she has been handed the difficult job of trying to explain away why it is that the amendment seeks to make the Bill wholly different from what it was before. The minister dodged the issue. If the hon. Lady had been here, she would have thought that it was funny that the Minister should get up to explain yet explain nothing although she would have kept her mouth shut because she would have thought, "She is one of ours". She would also have thought, "There must be some reason for the Minister's reticence." I did not hear the Minister explain or give any answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. The Minister wanted to intervene, but did not give the answers. If the hon. Lady had been here, she would have known the answer. As she asked, I have given her the answer.
Mrs. Dunwoody : The Bill was obviously drafted by the Department, which would have used parliamentary draftsmen. They are specific in their instructions to Ministers that the English used must reflect accurately legal interpretations. Is it not a shame that they handed over to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) a document that is so deficient in its drafting? The draftsmen not only missed their own incompetence, but had to bring in a rarely used procedural measure to do something about it. They should apologise to the hon. Member for Basingstoke, who has been put in an awkward position.
Mr. Skinner : Although the Minister made only a brief statement, she could at least have done what my hon. Friend has suggested. She could have said to her hon. Friend the member for Basingstoke, "I am not going to say much about the amendments because they are a bit of an embarrassment to me. We have placed you in something of a predicament." The hon. Gentleman has had to sit here all morning. I imagine that they told him beforehand that the Bill would be through quickly and he may have expected
Column 1200it to be all over by 10 am or 10.30 am. That may have been the signal he was given. The Minister should say, "We are sorry that the Bill was wrongly drafted. I apologise for all the trouble and embarrassment caused." Even at this stage the Minister could intervene and apologise for the trouble that she has caused him. We do not need apologies. In many ways, we have scored a parliamentary triumph today in thwarting the Government's activities. [Laughter. Some Tory Members laugh. Had they been here earlier and listened to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who spoke briefly on the matter, they would have known that what I am saying is said against the background of a Conservative Member fully understanding the muddle that the Government have created. I do not want to put words into his mouth, but he more or less said that in typical, Tory coded language.
Mr. Skinner : It was a bit more overt than that. The hon. Gentleman was astounded that such a procedure was being developed. He wanted to know how, when and why. He did not go on at length, but he made his point and he did not receive any answers. We have not had any answers either. The hon. Member for Orpington might explain to his hon. Friends who were not here at the beginning how the new procedure was brought in. We have sussed out the truth. We are trying not only to deal with the Bill and the amendments, but to ensure that such a mistake does not happen again. I hope that the Bill will go through. We have tried to ensure that such a mistake does not happen before with the Department of the Environment. Other Bills have been taken up in court and have caused the introduction of retrospective legislation. We have said, "Don't do it again." Then the Secretary of State has done it again. They have got the legislation wrong five times, and this makes it six.
Why should we just say, "We are sorry that you have got it wrong. You have brought in a bill that is totally wrecked compared with what it was at the beginning"? We must put it on the record that we shall not allow Parliament to be abused in this way or for private Member's day to be taken over by the Government to get their Bills through rather than use the opportunity on proper Government days to introduce proper environmental measures.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend has suggested that the decent thing for the Minister to do would be to apologise for the abuse which the Government, through this shabby little conspiracy, have heaped upon the House. Does my hon. Friend agree that expecting an apology from the Government to a democratic institution is like asking for snow not to melt in spring? The Government's hallmark is what Lord Hailsham described as the elective dictatorship. When the Labour Government were in a minority and, ever since, with a majority of 100 on the Conservative side, the Conservatives have tried to trample on the rights of the House. They have used that majority and Lord Hailsham has never uttered a single criticism of the true elective dictatorship with which we are faced.
Mr. Skinner : It is not just that. We do not expect Lord Hailsham to defend the rights of working class people. It has been left to Labour Members to sort out this constitutional and parliamentary chaos. It is significant that throughout the debate--it is now nearly 1 o'clock
Column 1201--not a single member of the rag tag and bobtail parties has been present. Those Social and Liberal Democrats go round the country talking about Parliament. We hear the leader of the officials and the leader of the provos on television. They talk about the need to reform Parliament. Where are they today? We have seen neither hide nor hair of them. They are not concerned about the way in which parliamentary procedures are trampled upon. They have not turned up for work. It has been left to Labour Members to discover the way in which the Government have taken over this Friday for their purposes. Those Members who should be here have gone missing. I suppose that they are down in the Vale of Glamorgan--some good that will do them! I have been told that they have a meeting with Michael Meadowcroft because he has started another party. They are spawning--it is like mushrooms in a field. Every time I pick up a newspaper, there is another party, so we cannot expect those people to be here advising on the parliamentary chaos when they have so much chaos within their ranks.
Mr. Skinner : There is no doubt about that. In the last election they were going to appeal to the electorate by saying, "Leave it to us. We will work with anyone." They are not working today, are they? They are not here. I knew that for a lie at the beginning. During the 1987 election, I saw one of the leaders get on one bus and another get on another bus. I said to a mate, "Did you notice that? They are supposed to be together but they are on different buses!" We do not want those people to tell us about how to make sure that Back Benchers' rights are protected against a Government who are prepared to trample all over those rights and to bring in a Bill using all sorts of methods so that it can weave its way through Parliament. It is nearly 1 o'clock.
Mr. Cohen : I have followed the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the way in which the amendments and the Bill have come about. I agree that they may have emanated from Downing street. An even more sinister possibility which my hon. Friend should consider is that the Bill started out repealing the exemption from the statutory nuisance provisions. If the amendment is passed, people will be able to create a smoke nuisance. 1 pm
The sinister aspect is that, perhaps the Government meant "amend" in the first place but put "repeal" because they wanted to defuse any opposition so that the issue would not be raised. Now, at this late stage, the Government have come up with this new procedure--verbal amendments--to stick in the word "repeal". They avoided doing so earlier when there could have been criticism and a proper debate on the matter. Will my hon. Friend consider that sinister possibility?
Mr. Skinner : That is a more sinister argument. What my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton says is interesting and quite possible. We should examine what he is saying, which is that when the Government first introduced the Bill they deliberately put in "repeal" to put people off, so that they would say, "This is not a matter for us." Then on Third Reading, they changed it. That is really sinister.
Column 1202My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton has been right on such matters before. If this sort of procedure is to take place we should try it regularly on every Bill put before the House. We are to start discussing the Dock Work Bill on Monday and we have already discussed the possibility of changing its title so that instead of repealing the docks scheme we will amend it.
Imagine the sort of measures that could be carried through when we are in Government--my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton might be a junior Minister like the hon. Member for Surrey, South West (Mrs. Bottomley), or even in the Cabinet, and he could quietly say to me and one or two others, "Don't worry about the Bill on Friday--we don't mean to do what it says because we are going to change its title ; we only put it in to keep the Tories off." It would be an interesting development to bring in Bills which were the opposite of what they were intended to be. Talk about a circus--the Government have done some tricks in here from time to time but if this is what they are up to now, we shall need the sharp eyes of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton on all these Bills. I shall certainly go through them all from now on. Most of the Bills that are being fetched off the shelf and handed down to Tory Back Benchers for a bit of kudos could mean the opposite of what they say, so we shall have to come here every Friday from now on.
Mr. Skinner : We shall have to have two briefs. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) says that she will come to vote. It will mean a bit more work, but we shall have to prepare a brief in favour of the Bill and one against it in case it is amended at the last minute. We have no alternative.
Mr. Anderson : During the past two decades the Government have been bound to set out the way in which Bills affect finances and manpower, and the European Community. Will it be possible for the Government to add a third consideration--whether the Bill should be taken seriously at its face value?
Mr. Skinner : Imagine what the papers would say if the Labour party was doing this--what would have happened if a Labour Government had shovelled this Bill to a Back Bencher? The headlines in the Tory press the next day would have read, "Labour in complete bungle." We have not seen many members of the press in the Gallery today. The press would have said, "Total incompetence". The newspapers would have used all the epithets that they could think of, but I bet that they will not do that on this occasion. We shall have an opportunity in future to examine the matter, but we had better be careful about all the provisions in this Bill.
I have spoken for a long time because we are dealing with a constitutional matter. We thought that today's debate would be about a minor smoke pollution control Bill, but it has not been about that at all. When I discussed the Bill earlier with my hon. Friends, we thought that it would finish fairly early--we did not know that the Government were up to some dirty work, but we have found them out. Having found them out, we explored all the possible reasons as to why they had hijacked this private Members' day and brought it under their own control.
Column 1203In the past three hours or so we have made a protest, not just because of the Bill but because we have to stop the evil practice of turning the titles of Bills upside down in the course of their preparation. We have to stop the nonsense of Bills going through on the nod without proper debate. Today's happenings will make us wary about that in future.
For all those reasons, I am happy in the knowledge that my hon. Friends now understand the matter more clearly. As we approach the end of today's business, we are more aware and better understand the way in which the procedures of the House have been bludgeoned by the Government. That has to stop. For that reason, on every Friday in future while the Government remain in office we shall closely scrutinise all Bills to find out whether they mean the opposite of what they are supposed to mean and to make sure that this is the last time the Government can hijack a private Members' day for their own purposes. That is what we have learnt this morning.
Mr. Anderson : I should like to develop the theme of elective dictatorships. It has emerged forcefully during the debate that a tribute must be paid to my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on carrying out a magnificent House of Commons job.
When we take parties of schoolchildren or others through the Members' Lobby, we show them the statues of Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. There is also an empty plinth. In future, it may have on it a statue of either my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover or my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, because today's debate has shown them to be great House of Commons men. We congratulate them on their forensic skills. What appeared to be a sprat of a Bill was proved by them to be something far more significant. My two hon. Friends have followed the clues in a fine forensic way from Basingstoke to the very steps of Downing street, and that in itself is a tribute to their skills. They have shown the way in which the Government are able to manipulate private Members' time.
I generally feel sympathy for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and for your colleagues in the Chair when you are subjected to difficulties posed by the Government. The Minister is greatly respected by all hon. Members, and because of that she has been landed with the baby--if that is not a sexist term. She has been forced to take the flak in quite an undeserved way. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), to whom we all pay tribute, in all innocence accepted the Bill. From a legal viewpoint, I would like to know the terms of the contract that the hon. Gentleman concluded with the Government. What were the promises and undertakings made by the Government about the time that the hon. Gentleman would be engaged in the House on the Bill? He was probably told, "Look, here is a little Bill off the shelf. We promise that it will last only a couple of minutes and you can be back in your constituency opening a fete"--or whatever one does on a Friday. "We give you our solemn promise as a Government that it will not take long." However, because of a mistake made by the Government, it is just after 1 o'clock and the poor hon. Member for Basingstoke is still here.
Column 1204The Minister began by saying it was an error. She refused to say whose error it was, because--if she had been smoked out--if she had been frank and had said that it was an error, either of the parliamentary draftsmen or of the legal advisers in the Department of the Environment, she would have let the cat out of the bag. We would have known straight away --as we all know in reality--that it is a Government Bill that masquerades as a private Member's Bill on a Private Member's day.
That happens all too frequently. When I entered the House in 1966 Private Member's Bills were just that. So long as the first eight Members put forward a reasonable and not eccentric Bills, they would expect to get their Bills through, and other Bills, too--given a fair wind--had a chance. Now, effectively, the Government have taken over Private Member's Bills procedure and even the first six in the ballot have no chance of making any serious progress with their Bills, unless they have the full authority and the concurrence of the Government.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Is my hon. Friend not understating his case? We have seen on a number of occasions Bills of hon. Members in the first six in the ballot not succeeding if the Government have not liked them. An example was the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), to assist the handicapped. Even when a Bill is high up in the chain, it often suffers from the payroll vote of Members who are present on a Friday and can defeat crucial and major parts of it. Nowadays, unless a Private Member has a Bill in which the Government acquiesce, all sorts of devices are used to block it.
Mr. Anderson : I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members want to speak before we proceed to Third Reading. I am joining my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in exposing what has increasingly been Government practice--that is, to obliterate what used to be the intermediary bodies between Government and citizens. They have done it across the board. They have done that with the trade unions, with local government and with all bodies that used to filter and alter the views of Government. We have in Parliament an exact example of what Government have done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said, it is a form of elective dictatorship.
When Lord Hailsham used the phrase "elective dictatorship" against the Labour Government, I confess that I had a certain sympathy with him. I would now consider his views with greater esteem and consider them to be more credible if we had had even a peep from Lord Hailsham about what is happening under this Government. It is clear that, when he criticised an elective dictatorship, he was doing it in a one-eyed, selective and partisan way.
Column 1205of the law. When he sees the other major inroads into private liberties--the other major demands made by this authoritarian Government--and says nothing, we can hold certain views on Lord Hailsham.
I leave elective dictatorship there. I commend my hon. Friends for the tremendous work that they have done on behalf of the House. I look forward to developing my points on Third Reading.
Mr. Win Griffiths : When I entered the House this morning, I expected a completely different sort of day from that which I have so far experienced. Earlier this week, I was advised that the Control of Smoke Pollution Bill was uncontroversial and would go through with little debate, but that the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill would excite some discussion--and I prepared myself for that possibility. Having listened to what will probably go down as some of the most eminent contributions in defence of Back Benchers' and private Members' rights, I discover that the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill will not be debated. Instead, I find myself in the midst of a constitutional and procedural crisis. Moreover, it is a crisis of which the generality of right hon. Members are unaware. Arriving at the House this morning, I detected a whispering hum in the Tea Room about the verbal amendments to the Control of Smoke Pollution Bill that were to be debated this morning--the like of which had not been seen for 18 years. Only right hon. and hon. Members who happened to be present in the House this morning were aware of those amendments.
I still hope that the Minister or the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) will tell the House who drafted the Bill. At one point, my sympathies lay with the hon. Member for Basingstoke for having been handed such a measure by his Government. However, his continued silence throughout the debate makes me wonder whether he expects some kind of preferment afterwards for being so stoical in accepting without comment all the remarks that have been made.
The explanatory and financial memorandum makes the Bill's intentions fairly clear. However, the repeal of the long title is quite against the legislation's intentions as described in the explanatory and financial memorandum. I hope that an acceptable agreement will be reached that will allow the small but worthy improvement to the environment that the Bill would provide--at least as reflected in the explanatory and financial memorandum--to be made as if the Bill had been allowed to progress with its original title. I look forward to a proper explanation of how major errors came to be made. Will the civil servants concerned be exonerated? Will the hon. Member for Basingstoke take it upon himself to accept the blame, or will that be done by the Minister? Or will the blame be accepted by the Secretary of State for the Environment who has not been prepared to come to the House today and face the flak?
Mr. Ray Powell : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that, in an invisible state, you have been involved in the debate since 9.30 am, and will appreciate that our debate has been about the two amendments. The dilemma facing hon. Members has resolved on those two amendments, but we should now like to bring the debate to a conclusion. With your assistance, Mr. Deputy
Column 1206Speaker, I am sure that we shall be able to do so. Perhaps we will be informed by the Minister of the Government's response to the points made by right hon. and hon. Members.
I hope that this point of order will be helpful. If we are given some kind of assurance--perhaps that the amendments will be withdrawn so that they can be dealt with when they have been properly tabled--we may be able to resolve the matter this afternoon so that we can get on with the next debate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I have noticed that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) is trying to catch my eye. He would, of course, need the leave of the House to speak. [Hon. Members :- - "The Minister."] I now understand that the Minister may wish to speak, again with the leave of the House, so I shall call her.
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley rose --
Mr. Cohen : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before the Minister speaks, may I make a brief point? Perhaps she can tell us the status of the part in summary on the face of the Bill which refers to the removal
"exemption from the statutory nuisance provision of smoke from certain domestic chimneys".
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a point of order ; it is a point for debate. It would be helpful for the whole House--I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) for his suggestion--if we were now to hear the Minister.
Mrs. Bottomley : Being mindful of the fact that today is a private Members' day, I have done my best to be rather restrained in my remarks. I thought it proper to debate the amendments, particularly in the unusual circumstances--it is 18 years since anyone tried to move a verbal amendment. That seemed an appropriate use of parliamentary time.
I had hoped to speak at much greater length on Third Reading about my experience of these matters. Much concern has been expressed to the Department--whether in Bolton or Barnsley, in Bristol, Scunthorpe or Sheffield--about the burning of buses and the pollution that it causes, let alone the problems emanating from domestic premises, where non-dark smoke causes offence and nuisance to neighbours who are powerless to obtain redress.
Let us examine the history of the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) is known by everyone in the House to have been a distinguished member of the Select Committee on the Environment. He has a considerable knowledge of environmental matters and indeed of air pollution : he contributed to the Select Committee's report on air pollution. I am surprised that hon. Members should even suggest that he is not a man of great experience, with clear views on the way in which he wished to use his private Member's slot.
My hon. Friend, graciously and kindly, consulted the Department about whether there were matters of concern to him, with his knowledge of air pollution, which would also be popular and acceptable and would play an appropriate part. I ceased only recently to be a Back-Bench Member--a week ago the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said I had been a Minister for only
Column 1207five minutes ; it is another 10,000 minutes since he said that--but it is important, if a Bill is to meet with success, for it to fit within the general framework.
I said earlier that it was a considerable source of regret that this error was not spotted. The fact is that clause 1 stands fairly and clearly. The substance of the Bill is perfectly straightforward, but for one reason or another its long title did not contain a small substitution. As I have said, it is a source of regret.
It might help the House if--this measure will meet with great popularity among the constituents of all hon. Members--
Mr. Bermingham rose --
. Friend the Member for Basingstoke may feel that in the circumstances the best way forward would be for him to seek to withdraw his amendments so that progress could be made on the Bill and it can be considered in another place. Mr. Hunter : With the leave of the House, may I say how deeply I regret accepting the advice to table the amendments? I apologise to the Chair and to Opposition Members for any embarrassment that this hassle may have caused. I meant no discourtesy.
It has been an interesting and lengthy debate. I stress that there was no conspiracy. It was a monumental blunder. Obviously, as the Bill bears my name I must accept responsibility for it. The original draft of the Bill was changed long before Second Reading. It transpires that the blunder was committed at that stage and that the title of an original draft Bill was not changed. I did not reaslise that at the time of the Bill's Second Reading on 3 March. It was brought to my attention only at the beginning of this week, shortly before the Select Committee on the Environment went away for two days, which meant that I was not in a position to seek advice about it. Therefore, in a hurry, I agreed yesterday to table the amendments. I accept the advice given by my hon. Friend the Minister. I believe that these matters can be resolved in the House of Lords and, with that in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
If the past few hours are put to one side, the fact remains that this small Bill is an important contribution in the battle against pollution.
Clause 1 seeks to bring certain smoke emitted from domestic premises within the statutory nuisance provisions of part III of the Public Health Act 1936 or, for Scotland, of the Public Health Act (Scotland) 1897. In clause 1, the category of smoke emissions is that of non-dark smoke from dwellings that are not in smoke control areas. So far, that aspect of smoke control does not exist. It is a loophole in the existing legislation and the Bill seeks to close it. The Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 essentially declare three points. First, there is the prohibition on dark smoke--the most pollutant smoke--from any building except in
Column 1208special circumstances under the regulations introduced by the Secretary of State. Secondly, within the smoke control areas, there is a prohibition on dark and non-dark or clean smoke from all premises. Yet again, there can be exceptions and some were specified when the original smoke control orders were issued. Others have been specified subsequently by the Secretary of State. The third essential aspect of the clean air legislation is that--
Mr. Hunter : I do not have the precise details, but I know that the public wealth Acts refer to the Ringelman scale by which the cleanliness or otherwise of smoke is gauged. I imagine that it includes the category that my hon. Friend has in mind, but I cannot be absolutely sure.
The emission of non-dark smoke can in certain circumstances be deemed to be a statutory nuisance. Clause 1 seeks to extend the categories of smoke emission that can be deemed to be a statutory nuisance to include non-dark smoke from dwellings that are not situated in smoke control areas. The existing statutory provisions do not apply to smoke from dwellings that are situated outside smoke control areas. They are limited to industrial premises. The purpose of the clause is to extend the existing statutory provisions that now apply only to industrial premises to domestic dwellings.
The Bill is the result of a consultation process. Opposition Members unfairly ridiculed that suggestion when it was made earlier. In December 1986, the Department of the Environment, the Scottish Development Department and the Welsh office published their review of air pollution control in Great Britain. They published a follow-up paper in December 1988. It was a lengthy consultation process. Local authorities, local authority associations, trade associations, companies, firms and individuals took part in the process. The recommendation that is embodied in clause 1 was made by the Government and it was supported by 64 representations. Four were against. There was overwhelming support for the recommendation. Clause 2 has two subsections. Subsection (1) refers to the "occupier of the premises." A loophole in the existing legislation has been exposed. The Clean Air Act 1956 and the Clean Air Act 1968 make the occupier the person who is legally responsible. The Acts specify "the occupier". It may be, however, that people other than the occupier in law start a fire that emits the offending smoke. The object of subsection (1) is to make not just the occupier but any person "who causes or permits the emission" responsible. It is a neat tidying up of that loophole.
Local authorities have faced problems over securing prosecutions. It has been difficult for them to establish when combustion has taken place illegally, particularly at night, and the precise nature of the smoke emitted. Subsection (2) is designed to close that loophole and to make prosecutions easier. During the consultation process there was overwhelming support for the proposal that such a change in the law should be made.
The Bill encompasses little but it would achieve a lot if it were passed. I regret that this morning and during the early part of this afternoon we have had to spend, quite rightly a great deal of time on an important matter. I hope that that will not cloud hon. Members' judgment when
Column 1209they consider the Bill in its own right. I commend the Bill strongly as I believe it will close loopholes and will be a vital part of our legislation against pollution.
Mr. Bermingham : I shall be extremely brief in asking the Minister for a number of assurances. First, once more parliamentary draftsmanship has led to great delay. Let us be open and honest and admit that it is not the first time, and probably will not be the last time, that that has happened. The basic problem is that "amend" and "repeal" have different meanings.
Secondly, clause 2(2) should be re-examined as it does not cover the problem that has arisen on a number of occasions on demolition sites. A demolition site is said to be a site where a trade or industry is being carried on. The Minister will be well aware that much demolition is taking place in the north of England to rejuvenate inner cities and other areas. That demolition is often carried out by contractors, not local authorities because the local authorities own the land or the premises to be demolished. I know that there have been a number of serious emissions of dark smoke from demolition sites without prosecution because of certain loopholes.
Will the Minister also consider the problem that occurs when explosives are used to demolish buildings? A dust cloud is still a cloud, and can be a very dark cloud which causes great nuisance to the owners of adjoining land. That problem does not appear to be resolved by subsection (2).
Finally, I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the burning of vehicles, which is what might be called the Barnsley and Bolton problem, which I am aware of from yesteryear. In particular, buses and their tyres are burnt. That is often done outside smoke-control areas on sites or land belonging to people who do not give permission for the burning. Will the Minister consult her officials so that when the Bill is considered in another place--I certainly will not impede its progress--the wording of clause 2 can be altered to deal with that problem? The owner of the land is not a willing party to those practices, particularly to the cutting up and burning of buses which causes great offence in the Peak park areas and parts of Lancashire. I trust that the Minister will undertake to look at those points which should be considered in another place.
I am very interested in the Bill as I welcome legislation which closes loopholes on pollution, particularly smoke pollution which is perhaps the most noxious in that it induces severe illnesses such as congestion of the lungs, very bad throats and bad colds. I well remember the London smogs of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which were largely caused by smoke. Walking through those smogs, one could not see one's hand before one's face, and as one walked along hoping that one was going in the right direction, bits in the air would hit one in the face. It was a very unpleasant experience. For that reason, smog masks were introduced to protect people's noses, but their eyes could not be protected. In the school where I was teaching at the time a great many children became extremely ill due
Column 1210to that smoke pollution. A great deal of it came from domestic chimneys across London and in many cases there were aggressive fires.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and my hon. Friend the Minister what the penalties will be for those who are caught by the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke spent no time--I know that he had other things to say--explaining what will happen to a person convicted of an offence under the Bill. It would not be right for the House to agree to the passage of any measure without knowing what penalties are involved. Clause 1 seeks the
"Removal of exemption from statutory nuisance of smoke from certain domestic chimneys."
That means that private individuals will be subject to the provisions of the Bill.
Mr. Hunter : What happens under the existing law to the owners of industrial premises which emit offending smoke will now happen, theoretically, to the domestic dweller. In the first instance, an abatement notice is served requiring the nuisance to cease. If that is not complied with, the local authority may apply to the magistrates court for a nuisance order and finally--theoretically--the matter may go to the county court.
Mr. Greenway : I am grateful for that enlightenment. We need to pay attention to the fact that procedures currently enforced against industry will be enforced against individuals. It is extremely important for the House and particularly for my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and the Minister to say that they would expect any court to deal with an individual householder more leniently than an industrial concern. It is a serious weakness in the Bill that attention is not paid to that important matter. If my hon. Friend the Minister can give the House an assurance as to how she expects the courts to act in relation to individuals, we shall be grateful. There seems to be no difficulty about the definition of dark smoke and non-dark smoke, although you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know that for centuries the election or non-election of a Pope has been signified by the appearance of white or dark smoke above the sistine chapel. The process for producing dark smoke has not always worked and the wrong colour smoke has sometimes appeared, so there can be difficulties about the definition of dark smoke. That should be borne in mind. The burning of very green wood in any household will produce dark smoke, but it is not dirty smoke. That, too, should be dealt with by the promoter of the Bill and by my hon. Friend the Minister. 1.43 pm
Mr. Ray Powell : I shall be brief because we want to move on to the next debate. But for the two amendments, I could have delivered my speech-- which took hours last night to prepare--in a reasonable time. I assume, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that your advice would be to save my speech so that if the Bill comes back from another place I shall not have wasted my copious notes.
It has been an interesting debate and the House, the Government and people who make blunders have been taught a lesson. I must tell the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) that we all make blunders on occasions and take decisions that, with the benefit of hindsight, we realise that we should not have taken. I
Column 1211assure the hon. Member for Basingstoke that his efforts have taught hon. Members and the Government a useful lesson. I shall be brief because my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and other hon. Members want to deal with the next important debate, but when the Bill returns from the other place we shall consider it closely.
The debate has been important. The fact that the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill--another privatisation measure that the Government attempted to sneak through the parliamentary procedures without proper scrutiny--has been withdrawn is a minor victory. I am pleased that the two amendments to the Control of Smoke Pollution Bill have been withdrawn.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) courteously took all the flak directed at the Government by Opposition Members. That should be recognised in the record, because if anyone is to blame it is the Government. The Government have a vast army of civil servants and expert parliamentary draftsmen. Nevertheless, the error was made.
Opposition Members are pleased that the amendments have been withdrawn. The reason why there will be no Division on the general principle of the Bill is the understanding that the amendments will be restored in another place in a better, clearer and less hasty way. We shall be looking out for that when we consider Lords amendments to the Bill. If amendments are not made in the Lords, the Bill will be confused and untidy because it will have repealed section 16(1) (a) of the Clean Air Act 1956 and there will be nothing to amend. It could be argued that that need not be so, but we must always ensure that when legislation leaves both Houses it is as clear as we can make it. We do not want useful legislation to be subject to protracted and expensive challenge in the courts. I therefore expect amendments to be made to make the Bill read sensibly.
I hope that the promoter--especially following the debate on the drafting error--is satisfied that there is a definition of dark smoke in the Bill. He mentioned the Ringelman scale, and those of us who have fed coal into fiery locomotive furnaces know what that is. I am the only hon. Member who has carried a copy of the Ringelman scale in his pocket. As a fireman, I put coal in the locomotive and checked whether emissions conformed with the Ringelman scale or whether they were on the darker side, which could mean prosecution. A widely used degree of definition is available. It is used by environmental health officers to check whether a prosecutable offence has occurred. I assume that in some way or another--I have not checked--there is a link in either the 1956 Act or the 1968 Act with the Ringelman scale, so that a prosecution can be certain.
I look forward to further scrutiny of the Bill. If there are omissions, the scrutiny should be long so as to encourage diligence by the Government. However, I support the general principles of the Bill.
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Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : I can only say again that it is a source of regret that the drafting error concerning the word "repeal" rather than "amend" in the long title has meant that we have not had sufficient time properly to scrutinise and to discuss all aspects of the Bill or the important effects on individual concerns and grievances in many constituencies.
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) referred to Rockwool, in his constituency. I can assure him that we have extended the powers of air pollution control and that the fibre works will be within the province of the inspectorate of pollution.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) speculated, rightly, that the Clean Air Act 1956 gives a clear definition of dark smoke and refers to the Ringelman chart, about which the hon. Gentleman has a particular knowledge. The smoke has to appear to be darker than shade 2.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) can be reassured about vehicle burning. Instances of vehicle burning have caused great difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) also spoke of vehicle burning as being a great danger. It is not only the sooty particulates and the lead, but chlorofluorocarbons from the blown foam and the dioxins from the plastics that are dangerous. The Bill hopes to address such problems.
It is possible to burn matter on demolition sites as long as one can demonstrate that there is no other reasonable, safe and practical method of disposing of the matter. The burning must be carried out in such a manner as to minimise the emission of dark smoke and must be under the direct and continuous supervision of the occupier of the premises.
Our Clean Air Acts have been a monumental success. The hon. Member for Ogmore referred to his early days in Acton when he had to wear a mask over his mouth and could scarcely move about in the smogs of winter. They are a thing of the past. Visibility in London has increased from one and a half miles to four miles over the past 40 years. Central London enjoys twice as much sunshine in winter now as it did then, and that is a dramatic success.
I regret that time constraints have made it impossible for me talk about the other issues of air pollution such as the steps to promote the use of unleaded petrol, the move to remove CFCs to save the ozone layer, the gas desulphurisation programme and the introduction of Low-Nox burners, which will tackle the problem of acid rain. The Government are busy and are committed to reducing air pollution in a number of ways.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) has chosen to tackle two particular aspects of air pollution of local and immediate concern. Quite properly, many hon. Members have raised such matters over the years on behalf of their constituents. I should like wholeheartedly to congratulate my hon. Friend on his success.