Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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The Chairman: Order. Before the Minister replies, I think that this is one of those cases where the amendment and the clause substantially overlap, so I suggest to the Committee that we regard the debate as being on the amendment and the clause stand part.

Miss McIntosh: I will not detain the Minister. I want to ask him about one of the issues on which we have been least heavily lobbied. However, I understand that there was an incident on a bus on which someone carrying a jam jar of insects broke the jar. One or two ladies, with whom I have complete sympathy, became hysterical and the bus had to grind to a complete halt. Clearly, there is an issue here.

I understand from the consultation of outside bodies that there was a request for the term ''insects'' to be clearly defined to avoid challenges in the courts. Some felt that only the insects that could spread disease should be included and that it would not be reasonable or practicable to include insects that are merely a nuisance. Wasps, which are insects, can have fatal consequences for the people who are allergic to them. A minority felt that dangerous pets should be included in the provisions, but I would not insist that pets should be deemed to be insects.

I declare an interest. There are a number of beekeepers in the Vale of York, and I hope that the Minister will not seek to extend unfavourably the items listed in the clause in such a way that beekeepers innocently going about their business are affected. The bees are bred to produce honey and should not be deemed a nuisance. Will the Minister give us a definition of ''insects''?

Alun Michael: I am grateful to the hon. Ladies for their questions about the clause. The provision is intended to cover all premises other than domestic ones. The simple answer is that a farm, as a business, would be covered. A bus, which is not premises, would not be covered. The activities that could give rise to insect problems are not likely to be carried out at domestic premises, but that cannot be said of all business premises. Moreover, it may not always be clear whether a site should be classified as industrial or business. That is why I would not welcome the amendment. However, I take the point that it was the peg for a wide discussion.

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It is worth pointing out that industrial trade or business premises and their owners will be able to make use of the defence of best practical means to remove or reduce a nuisance caused by their activities. It is worth detailing the background to the matter. In 2001, when the London borough of Hounslow served abatement notices on Thames Water for mosquito and odour nuisance at the Mogden sewage works, the case went on for a considerable time. It reached the High Court, which ruled that sewage treatment works are premises under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Therefore, odour can be tackled as a statutory nuisance but the mosquitoes cannot. That is what gives ground to the need for the change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) was assiduous on behalf of her constituents. I became very familiar with the arguments and the details of that case. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) was equally assiduous in raising the issue of the odour arising in Plymouth as a result of the activities taking place on Cattedown wharf. I have described the background to explain the origin of the provisions.

As far as the reference to farms is concerned, the fears that the hon. Member for Guildford explained to us are unjustified. I can offer her the assurance that she is looking for. Insects could be considered a nuisance under these clauses only as a result of a business activity—in that case a farming activity—which might include slurry spreading but not the natural infestation to which she referred. We will certainly make that distinction and cover those points clearly in the guidance that is necessary for commencement. I hope that with that explanation, members of the Committee will be happy to see the clause stand part of the Bill.

Sue Doughty: I thank the Minister for that explanation, but I do not think that he has entirely reassured me.

Alun Michael: The hon. Lady said at one stage that there were other more specific issues that she would have liked to raise if there had been time. I am happy to undertake to write to her in more detail on those issues and respond to any further specific points that she wishes to raise with me.

Sue Doughty: I am grateful to the Minister, and I appreciate that reply. I believe that English Nature has also raised with his Department the point about the potential environmental damage, and again I look forward to some clarity about that. The organisation Buglife would be very interested in making representations to the Minister and his Department. If we are trying to deal with the flies arising from slurry, I would like to know that we are not blocking out a whole area of insect life and impacting on pollination, the food chain and the entire ecosystem.

Alun Michael: I can give the hon. Lady a clear assurance that that is not our intention, and it will be made clear in guidance. The situation that we envisage is a similar to that in Mogden, where nuisance to local
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residents has gone on for many years. It is clear that the law needs to be altered to ensure that such cases can be dealt with. Given her comments about her personal affection for mosquitoes, I am sure that she would understand the views of local residents who wanted swift action taken and therefore this type of change to the law.

Sue Doughty: I thank the Minister for those constructive comments. I almost feel like declaring a personal interest: I ceased working for Thames Water in 1997, and when I visited Mogden, we did not have the level of nuisance that has since arisen. I hold up my hands and say that, as the position has deteriorated, it is possibly not a good thing that I left. I will be in touch with the Minister through correspondence about the issues raised. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 102

Statutory Nuisance: Lighting

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment No. 57, in clause 102, page 75, line 2, after 'premises', insert

    'or streetlights on public roads or public rights of way'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 58, in clause 102, page 75, line 16, at end insert—

    '(j) premises or apparatus used for the provision of electronic communication services.'.

No. 104, in clause 102, page 75, line 16, at end insert—

    '(k) a playing field, playing pitch or other outdoor facility used wholly or mainly for sport.'.

No. 117, in clause 102, page 75, line 16, after 'prison', insert,

    '; that is necessary to meet statutory requirements relating to national security or public safety, provided that reasonable and practicable steps have been taken to minimise light emissions to the minimum necessary to meet those requirements.'.

No. 105, in clause 102, page 75, line 37, at end insert—

    '''playing field'' has the meaning given in Article 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Amendment) Order 1996;''playing pitch'' means a delineated area which, together with any run-off area, is 0.4 hectares or more, and which is used for sport;'.

No. 106, in clause 102, page 75, line 49, at end insert—

    '''sport'' is designated as any sporting activity which appears on the list maintained by the National Sports Councils of activities recognised by them, as applicable to Schedule 18 to the Finance Act 2002;'.

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Miss McIntosh: The amendment relates to concerns that, without adequate security lighting for apparatus ranging from telephone exchange buildings to telephone kiosks, providers such as utility companies, in particular BT's electronic communication network, would be compromised by the service of abatement notices. Companies who own exchange buildings that have been subject to vandalism and arson and are recognised as potential targets for terrorist attacks have real concerns about the issue. In their view, lighting is also essential for the functionality of telephone kiosks at night and for the safety and protection of the individuals who use them.

In moving the amendment, we wish to note that there is a common desire to reduce pollution and promote the use of minimum artificial light as required at night. However, we wish operators such as telecommunication companies to be able to operate in safe conditions and wish such lighting to be deemed necessary.

Amendment No. 58 relates to similar concerns. It recognises that the Committee would wish to support the integrity and security of telecommunications and that, as the buildings that house the network equipment are the target of arson and vandalism, the companies that own those buildings must be vigilant against attack from terrorists or others who wish no good to their systems. While no one should be subject to vandalism, the consequence of such attacks on operational buildings can be to leave customers
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without a service, while, in the case of public payphones, the individual who uses the structure is at risk if it is poorly lit or not lit at all. If the Minister has heard what I have said, it would be helpful if he would be sympathetic to, and accept, the amendment.

I request that the Minister looks equally sympathetically on amendments Nos. 104 and 105 and that he recognises that there is no exception for football fields or sports facilities. I am sure that the Minister has had discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It will assure him that playing fields, pitches and other sporting facilities are not exempt from being listed as a statutory nuisance under the drafting and that that means that floodlighting, or any lower-level outdoor lighting for football and sports facilities, could, under the clause as drafted, be deemed nuisance lighting by a local authority. That affects thousands of facilities throughout the country.

Alun Michael: I ask the hon. Lady not to misinterpret the clause. It is not individual lighting or lighting on pitches that could be a problem. It is merely that a local authority would be able to treat as a statutory nuisance those particular cases that qualify as a common law nuisance or are prejudicial to health. So I ask her not to suggest that the clause would have an impact on sports facilities—generally, it would not.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

        Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Five o'clock till Tuesday 1 February at five minutes to Nine o'clock.

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: David Taylor, †Mr. Eric Forth

†Ainger, Mr. Nick (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) (Lab)

†Doughty, Sue (Guildford) (LD)

†Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

†Evans, Mr. Nigel (Ribble Valley) (Con)

†Follett, Barbara (Stevenage) (Lab)

†Green, Matthew (Ludlow) (LD)

†Hall, Mr. Patrick (Bedford) (Lab)

†McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

†McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)

†Michael, Alun (Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality)

Morley, Mr. Elliot (Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment)

Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)

Simmonds, Mr. Mark (Boston and Skegness) (Con)

†Tipping, Paddy (Sherwood) (Lab)

†Turner, Mr. Neil (Wigan) (Lab)

†Wright, Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)

Nerys Welfoot, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Prepared 27 January 2005