Smoke Nuisance (Domestic Sources)

– in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 12th July 1988.

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Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard , South West Norfolk 3:38 pm, 12th July 1988

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable smoke emitted from a chimney of a private dwelling to be deemed for the purposes of Part III of the Public Health Act to be a statutory nuisance. Let me make it clear at the outset that it is not my intention in bringing in the Bill to try to transform all areas of this land into clean air zones or to impose bureaucratic controls on the types of fuel or appliances used. The Bill's intention is merely to remove an anomaly in existing public health legislation and to enable local authorities to act in cases in which gross smoke nuisance occurs from domestic chimneys. It is indeed an anomaly that, under our present law, smoke may be a statutory nuisance except when it is emitted from the chimney of a private dwelling.

Since, in all urban and suburban areas in Britain, clean air legislation is in force limiting the types of fuel that may be used, smoke nuisance from domestic fires is largely a rural problem, where the clean air legislation is not in force. In such areas, therefore, people have no statutory protection from neighbours who cause a gross nuisance, either because of what they choose to burn on their fires —I am talking not about logs, but about motor tyres, animal carcases or old window frames—or because of faulty chimneys or flues. Such people have recourse to the law through a civil action, but they cannot always afford that.

The fact that the omission is an anomaly was recognised by the Government who, in a consultative document on air pollution control, issued in December 1986, said that it was their intention to repeal section 16(1)(a) of the Clean Air Act 1956 so as to bring non-dark smoke emissions from dwellings within the ambit of the statutory nuisance provisions of the Public Health Acts. Such a proposal is strongly supported by the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, the members of which have to deal with the problem. It states: It was of concern to the Institution that the proposals in the consultation paper did not culminate in new consolidating and revising air pollution proposals which would have included the provisions for the control of nuisance. No doubt hon. Members will be able to quote examples from their own constituencies. A couple of examples from south-west Norfolk serve to illustrate the effect on individuals of the anomaly that exists. Mrs. Hammond's cottage is semi-detached. Unfortunately for her, her neighbours are enthusiastic users of a solid fuel range, which is refuelled several times a day and then burnt with the damper shut down. She says: The smoke billows continuously and at times so thickly that we cannot see from one end of the garden to the other … We cannot go outside to work in the garden or on the cottage, nor can I hang out laundry ….On winter evenings my neighbours light the open fire also and we get a double dose. My nine-year-old son's doctor believes that his constant cough is caused by the smoke and he has had to go to hospital for chest X-rays in the past several months. Our neighbours admit that their flue should be 18 inches higher than it is now to prevent turbulence and down draughts, but they will not pay a builder to install a new flue. The environmental health officer said that he has no powers to do anything about the pollution and we are very reluctant to go to court ourselves … Do we have to wear a face mask every time we go outside? Mrs. Thompson lives in a semi-detached house with a flat roof single-storey extension on the rear—an exact replica of her neighbour's house. Unfortunately for her, the neighbour installed an oil boiler attached to an old flue in what had been the old washhouse. It goes without saying that that was done without building regulation permission. Because the flue is not tall enough to provide draught for the boiler, the fumes roll along the roof and into a first floor window in Mrs. Thompson's house. No action can be taken by the local authority, and no action can be taken under the building regulations.

In each of those cases the nuisance was investigated by the environmental health officer and was found to be genuine, but all action had to be abandoned because the council had no powers to act. Theoretically, it would be possible for such local authorities in rural areas to declare clean air zones to deal with the problem of smoke from domestic chimneys. However, that would be too draconian a solution to deal with isolated instances of nuisance, and it would be unnecessarily repressive for the majority of people, who are law-abiding and considerate neighbours.

What are needed are powers for local authorities to investigate and deal with nuisance caused by domestic smoke in the same way as they can deal with other domestic nuisance. After all, it has been recognised since the end of the previous century that no emission of smoke can be tolerated if it constitutes a recognised health hazard, either short-term or long-term, but that does not apply to smoke from domestic sources. That omission was put right for people living in towns with the clean air legislation in 1956. My Bill seeks, in a less draconian fashion, to offer the same protection from isolated incidences of gross domestic smoke nuisance for people in rural areas. It is a limited measure, designed to deal with a problem which, although it may occur relatively rarely, nevertheless constitutes a gross nuisance and a health hazard. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will be supported.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Gillian Shephard, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Malcolm Moss, Mr. Alan Amos, Mr. Roger Knapman, Mr. John Greenway, Mr. David Martin, Mr. Andrew Mitchell, Mr. Simon Burns, Mr. Julian Brazier, Mr. David Davis and Mr. Tim Boswell.