HC Deb 07 November 1950 vol 480 cc899-910

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

10.11 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

The subject which I want to put before the Government is one which I have not been able to find time to raise in the House for the last six or eight months. It is a subject which merits greater attention than this late hour or the time at our disposal permits. It is the question of the noises—in some cases intolerable noises—which have to be accepted by many hundreds of thousands of residents in industrial areas throughout the country. It is a question which has been perpetually before my notice in the city of Sheffield for a number of years. Many other hon. Members will have had the experience which I have had in trying to explain to constituents why it is that the unfortunate residents in the industrial areas have to put up with these sometimes indescribable conditions simply because of the situation of heavy industry in those areas. I have had many cases of this kind in my constituency, and it is not confined in Sheffield to the area of Attercliffe.

I want briefly to mention one or two cases as illustrations of the kind of thing which is going on. There is a very well known steel firm called Brown Bayleys. During the war this firm installed a heavy compressed air hammer at their works immediately opposite a crowded housing area. Because of the pressure of work during the war the hammer was constantly in operation morning, noon and night—throughout the 24 hours. I received protests not only from the residents but from local doctors who complained that they could not use stethoscopes on their patients because of the noise and vibration. Furniture was being damaged and electric bulbs were being broken, and the life of the people was quite intolerable.

So much was this the case that when I made very strong representations to the then Minister of Supply, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), I was able to obtain his assistance at least in closing down this operation during the night hours. The reason why that was possible during the war was that the Ministry of Supply had direct control over the operations of these firms, and the reason why the Minister was so concerned about it was that the main sufferers were the steel workers and the colliers and their families, who were finding it impossible to carry on with their work because of the impossibility of getting any sleep. Incidentally, I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. R. Winterbottom), to whose constituency this plant has now been transferred, that, far from the situation having been mitigated, the firm is now installing a further series of compressed air hammers alongside the original. I believe that there will be time for him to make a few observations should he so desire.

A more recent case in my constituency is where the railway works in a manner that requires the engines which have been pulling trains up a long, steep incline to stop behind a closely packed residential area for the purpose of waiting for their relief teams, and, having accumulated so much pressure of steam in the long journey up the hill, they pass the time blowing off that steam.

In this case the railway authorities have been extremely forthcoming and cooperative. They have gone to great lengths to try to mitigate the hardship caused to the residents in these houses. They have installed a telephone system which enables a warning to be given that a train is approaching, and the relieving team to be on the spot to avoid wasting time and to avoid the necessity for releasing steam. They have had discussions with the staff at meetings, they have issued circulars to the staff, and they have had great co-operation from the railwaymen in the area. I have no doubt that that nuisance has been mitigated to some extent, but it is still extremely serious for these people who have never before been used to such noise opposite their houses.

I could quote a number of other cases if time permitted. Some of these firms when approached have been ready to do everything in their power, even at some little inconvenience and expense to themselves, to try to assist the unfortunate victims of this state of affairs. In other cases, however, the firms have been far from co-operative. In one recent case I have already twice written a polite letter to the firm suggesting that there might be something in the complaints of the local people, and that I should be glad to have a talk with the manager and see the factory, but I have had no reply. That is the different attitude one meets in regard to these complaints. Cumulatively in these spots the effect upon the health, the well-being and the morale of the people is extremely serious and can give rise to drastic situations.

The Minister will probably reply that under the present law there is no remedy for this situation. I appreciate that I cannot raise any question of legislation on the Adjournment, but I hope the Minister will not content himself with simply invoking the assistance of the Common Law provisions. He must know that it is an extremely expensive business to take out an injunction in cases of that kind, a problem which it is difficult to get working-class people to face even if there were reasonable prospects of winning their case.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Legal aid.

Mr. Hynd

Legal aid would not cover a case of this kind, as the hon. Gentleman knows quite well. In any case, where these are industrial scheduled areas, there is little, if any, prospect of their winning the case.

Therefore, I want to ask if my hon. Friend can do nothing within the present legislation to assist. I also want to make some suggestions. Unfortunately I would rule out at once the possibility of transferring the residents to other houses. I understand that the Sheffield City Council has been giving serious consideration to the possibility of transferring a number of the people living opposite the Brown Bayleys Works, but because there are many others waiting for houses with priority because of the time they have been on the list, that is not feasible lat present.

During the war it was possible for the Minister to bring some pressure to bear upon a firm to take some steps, as I have said. In the case of the railway nuisance at Darnall Station, the railway authorities have done their best to co-operate. In another case where opencast coal working was in operation in the Darnall district, where the houses were being shaken and the people seriously disturbed because of the blasting operations, again it was possible, because it was a Government Department concern, for an inspector of the Department to come to the district and discuss the situation with the people and myself. As a result, an entire change was made in the process of blasting without any detrimental effect to the actual operation, which reduced the cause of disturbance and damage to the property.

If that can be done where a Government Department is involved, then I suggest that there is a great possibility of something being done to persuade firms who are not forthcoming, to take some steps and interest in problems of this kind. The difficulty, of course, is that although legislation exists which technically gives people the opportunity of recourse to the law, it is almost impossible for people to take advantage of it, for the reasons I have already given.

I suggest to the Minister that if in reply to this discussion he can give some kind of a lead to firms in industrial areas, drawing their attention to the fact that this is a matter which seriously concerns the health and well-being of people, and inviting the firms to be co-operative in making little sacrifices for their own benefit or making money available for relieving the situation of their neighbours, it might have some effect. It might have even more effect if the Minister could indicate that if such an appeal were not responded to, or reasonable reception given to the protests and appeals of local inhabitants, it might be necessary for the Government to have to take steps through legislation—which might be difficult and inconvenient at some stages—to remedy the position.

I understand that some local authorities have a by-law under which, if a certain number of residents complain of noise or other nuisance, they can begin to bring pressure upon firms to try to obtain a remedy. I do not know whether the Minister has considered extending this kind of procedure by making representations to local authorities. Whatever my hon. Friend replies, I hope that he will not merely dismiss the problem as unimportant. It is a very human problem and one which can involve serious political situations when the national position may be extremely tense, as it was during the late war. I hope, therefore, that within the limits of existing powers, and irrespective of any long-term views on town and country planning and so on, the Minister will consult with his colleagues in the Government who are concerned—the Minister of Health, for example—with a view to seeing whether steps can be taken to bring this appeal to the notice of private employers and local authorities and whether between them they cannot find some answer to what is a real human tragedy.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Davies (Epping)

I want to add a brief plea to what the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) has said. I shall not bore the House with details of a case which has frequently come to my notice, except to say that at Chingford in my constituency I have had frequent complaints about a punching machine which keeps residents and workers awake at night. I took up the matter with the local council, who were quite co-operative, but there was nothing much that they could do. I pressed the matter and said that there surely must be some limit to the amount of noise which can be permitted in a residential district before the borough council is able to act. the council sent me a copy of their bylaws, which showed that they had powers to deal with noisy dogs or gramophones, but not with noisy machines.

This is certainly a serious problem. People are being kept awake at night by machines in many areas. The local authority are the people who should be able to judge the case, but it appears that in Chingford, and, I take it, in many other boroughs also, they have no power to do so. I add my complaint that the position is unsatisfactory. Surely something needs to be done, and the solution would appear to lie on the lines of encouraging local authorities, or giving them the powers, to deal with such problems.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Richard Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

I wish to support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) and say that this problem of noise is very far-reaching in its consequences, not only on industrial and social life, but also in its effects on the health of the people.

I want to use the illustration of Messrs. Brown Bayleys, in my constituency. I raised the matter with my hon. Friend some time ago, and, subsequently, with the Minister of Health in an effort to secure houses for the people affected. In 1948 a licence was granted to Brown Bayleys, against whom I make no indictment, enabling them to transfer their hammers from a place where they were doing no harm to a place where they are now immediately opposite houses in Manningham Road, Sheffield.

My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe has correctly described the situation. Electric light globes are smashed daily, cups are smashed in the hands of people having meals, children are going to sleep in school because they cannot sleep at home and in the 40 houses in Manning-ham Road there is not one window whole. Without indicting anyone, because I believe this is a heritage from the past for which we can blame no one, I suggest that there are only two ways of settling the very serious problem in regard to Manningham Road. One is to remove the hammers and the other is to rehouse the people.

If the hammers were removed, production would suffer for a time and regulations in Sheffield are such as to prevent —I think rightly so—the rehousing of these people and placing them at the head of the queue because of the shortage of houses. I think the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe is a wise one and because this is a problem of production and houses there should be co-ordination between the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Health about housing. I appeal to the Minister to re-examine the matter, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, to see what can be done to help people who cannot get to sleep, day or night, because of constant banging.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

I wish to emphasise what has been said on the question of housing. As The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is present, I hope he will give some hope to Sheffield that we shall have our housing allocation increased, because at the moment we are woefully short. Another 1,000 houses in Sheffield would go a long way to help in this problem, as in others. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support our plea for an extra 1,000 houses.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

As a technical man who has spent many years of his life in the steel industry, I would point out that there are two alternatives—to move the people from the houses affected, or to move the hammers. The second alternative might appear simple on paper, but I can assure the House that to remove the hammers would mean removing practically the whole of these works. As an ex-steel worker I know that these men are making an excellent contribution to our recovery.

Those who cannot get sleep because of the noise should receive the attention of the two Ministries concerned; everything possible should be done, even at the expense of priorities being denied those who think they should have priorities over these men. I make my plea, from an adjacent constituency, that the matter should be given the urgent attention it deserves.

10.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Lindgren)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Nigel Davies) will not mind my ignoring his point, serious though that may have been to the people in the immediate surroundings. This problem in Sheffield, and in some other industrial towns, is one of tremendous magnitude and the matter to which he referred is, by comparison, a small one.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

People have human feelings I suppose, even though they did not vote Socialist.

Mr. Lindgren

Even at this time of night the right hon. Gentleman should not make such interjections. I was about to deal with the Sheffield case.

Mr. Nigel Davies

The case I put was not negligible.

Mr. Lindgren

It is in comparison with Sheffield's problem.

In Sheffield, the problem arises from the ills of the past—from the days when it was quite common to intermingle industrial and domestic premises. In this instance it is the houses which are in the wrong place, and the only solution of the problem is to remove all the people at present in these houses to some other area where they will not suffer this inconvenience. The area in which they are situated is a heavy industrial area, with forges all over the place, and in Sheffield's plans it is intended to be designated as a heavy industrial area.

The question of the removal of these people is a matter for the Sheffield City Council, who are the housing authority. It is for them to deal with the matter in relation to the problem generally which they have in Sheffield. The Sheffield City Council are a very good housing authority. They must be left to deal with the problem in their own way. As one with considerable local government experience, let me say, frankly, that at present if these people were taken out of these houses, as some of them may have been for all I know, immediately there would be a demand from someone worse housed to go into the houses they have vacated. There would be a hue and cry in Sheffield if the houses were pulled down on being vacated—that is the real solution, which is a long-term one.

Now we come to the question of reducing the noise during particular periods. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) referred to the fact that during the war the five-ton hammer was stopped during the night. That concession has been continued, and that hammer even now only works on the six-to-two shift.

Mr. R. Winterbottom

Would my hon. Friend make inquiries about that? Not only does the hammer operate for 24 hours during seven days of the week, but the new 5-ton hammer, for which a licence has been granted by the hon. Gentleman's Ministry, will also operate for the same time.

Mr. Lindgren

I have taken the opportunity afforded me to make certain about the facts. I understand that there are six hammers. One is a five-ton hammer, only used on the six-to-two shift and, as occasion demands, on the two-to-ten shift. Unfortunately, that is not all; there is a three-ton hammer, two 15 cwt. hammers, and two of 10 cwts., going throughout the 24 hours—[Interruption.] I can only go on the information I have, and I am told that the five-ton hammer only works during the six-to-two shift and, as I have said, occasionally on the two-to-ten shift. But the others do, in fact, go at varying periods throughout the 24 hours. In relation to the possibility of re-siting them, it has been pointed out that re-siting the shops, and completely changing round the hammers, the furnaces, and the sand pits for forging, and all the rest of it, would be an expensive and almost an impossible task, because it would entail closing the works for some considerable time.

Everybody has the utmost sympathy for the residents who suffer this very great hardship of living in these terrible—I would even say abominable—conditions. I was glad to hear from both my hon. Friends the Members for Attercliffe and Brightside (Mr. R. Winterbottom) that, in general, the firms in the district have done their best. My Ministry has had the utmost co-operation from the firms and that also applies to the Ministry of Supply. If my hon. Friends would discuss with me their difficulties I will see if we can get things on a more satisfactory basis. The railways are excluded from the general conditions about noise but, there again, I am glad to have got the confirmation that they have met the case so far as they possibly could under present conditions.

I am afraid that the reply is not satisfactory. The only satisfactory solution would be the complete evacuation of the people to some other area, making over the whole area to heavy industry. That will be done as soon as accommodation can be found. The Sheffield City Council has, as the housing authority, the responsibility of dealing with that.

Mr. P. Roberts

Would the Parliamentary Secretary give an assurance to the House that he will press his right hon. Friend to give an increased allocation of houses to Sheffield?

Mr. Lindgren

There is no question of pressure, so far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, for an increased house allocation. The rate of building is very largely determined by the labour force available in the area.

Mr. J. Hynd

Would the Parliamentary Secretary ask the local authorities to pay more attention to this question?

Mr. Lindgren

The local authorities are in a very difficult position. Sheffield's town plan excludes housing from this area, which is a zoned industrial area. So far as the local authority is concerned, it has very little powers at all, because the normal industrial activities of these firms, as forging firms, mean having heavy presses going and having the necessary steel works there. The local authority cannot interfere with a normal, legitimate business.

My opinion, both from the experience of the Sheffield City Council and from our own experience as a Ministry in negotiation with the firms concerned, is that they have been most co-operative in trying to mitigate, as far as possible, the trouble which arises.

Mr. R. Winterbottom

Will my hon. Friend ask, as a result of this Debate, the Minister of Health, in consultation with the Sheffield City Council, for special consideration in respect of the people in the heavily affected Manning-ham Road?

Mr. Lindgren

That is a matter which my hon. Friend ought to take up with the Minister of Health direct. I merely hinted that if these people were moved and the houses pulled down, an outcry would be raised.

Mr. W. Shepherd (Cheadle)

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why it was that this problem was aggravated by these licences being granted. Was his Ministry consulted before these licences were issued?

Mr. Lindgren

It is not necessary because the local authority is the planning authority.

Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.