Clause 101 - Statutory nuisance: insects

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 27th January 2005.

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Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 4:30 pm, 27th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 116, in clause 101, page 74, line 32, leave out ', trade or business' and insert 'or trade'.

At first glance I broadly support the clause. We have all experienced the problems that occur when somebody is composting on a commercial basis and the flies cause a real nuisance to the people who live close by. It is quite hard to get people to deal with that.

I have a particular aversion to mosquitoes, almost to the point of declaring an interest. My house is in a river valley, which has areas of water on which mosquitoes breed. From time to time, that makes sitting in the garden a misery. It is tempting to say, ''Death to all   mosquitoes'' willy-nilly. Mosquitoes particularly take to me, but I do not particularly take to them. However, Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, has expressed considerable concerns. We want to get rid of nuisance insects, not insects per se. That is where we seek guidance.

It is a matter of what we define as a trade or business. Does a business include farmland and fields? Does it include areas where there would be a normal diversity of wildlife, including insect life? The last thing that I would want is for us, in dealing with nuisance insects, to have to deal lock, stock and barrel with all insects in a particular area. That would be completely counter-productive and would go against what we have all been working for in establishing our wildlife biodiversity.

It is also a matter of how ''nuisance'' is defined. What constitutes a nuisance from insects, as opposed to the normal situation with insects, particularly at certain times of the year? I will give an example. St. Mark's flies are harmless. For about two weeks in the spring they swarm. Normally, they live in hedgerows. They eat roots and pollinate hawthorn bushes; they are generally benign, but they are bit annoying when they are swarming. They do not hurt people, but they look unsightly. People complain about them and ask for them to be controlled. There are only two ways in which to deal with St. Mark's flies. Either the land can be ploughed up, which does not seem a good idea, or the area can be sprayed with a pesticide. In either case, everything else in the vicinity will be knocked out. If a complaint was made and the local authority enforced it with an abatement notice, the farmer could be compelled to destroy or poison habitats of local wildlife.

There is also the problem of mosquitoes breeding in standing water. As I said, I would quite happily ring up the council every other evening of the summer and complain about mosquitoes. However, we must think what will happen. Reinstated flood plains—there are more of those as we are learning about water management and how to deal with floods—are there to protect downstream properties from flood damage. Mosquitoes are a by-product of that sort of water management. Will a farmer spray pesticide on the flood plain? If so, it may go into a watercourse. Given all the work that we have been doing to remove and reduce the amount of pesticides in drinking water, we are concerned that there may be a counter-productive situation in which somebody complains about mosquitoes, the water is sprayed and the level of pesticides in water gets worse instead of better.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

The hon. Lady will no doubt be interested to know that that is exactly what the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is considering. I am intrigued about the wording of the amendment. It effectively takes out the term ''business'' and leaves ''trade''. Can she explain what that means in the context of the Bill?

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 4:45 pm, 27th January 2005

We want to probe whether a farm is a business or a trade. The owner of the land may be the National Trust, for example, which owns a lot of   riverside land. Is that a business or a trade? Who owns the land, and what impact will there be on biodiversity? How do we do the right thing? I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman a little clarification.

Landowners will be under pressure if a neighbour comes along and says, ''You have got mosquitoes. What are you going to do about it? They are giving me hell.'' Most landowners like to get on with their neighbours. Dealing with insects is specialist job, and people might be worried that there will be a knee-jerk reaction in which a landowner just sprays everything that moves. There are many more examples I could give, but I know that we are trying to move along, having lost a lot of time earlier. The Minister has got the gist of the importance of the question, and I look forward to his response.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

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.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

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''?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

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.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

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

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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   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.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

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.