HC Deb 25 October 1960 vol 627 cc2236-41

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 42, after "loudspeaker" insert: between the hours of noon and seven o'clock in the evening on the same day".

7.20 p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I tell the House quite frankly that this is a compromise Amendment. I hope that hon. Members will think it is a reasonable, sensible and workable compromise. By and large, the Bill has had a fairly easy passage through all its stages both in this House and in another place. The great exception has been the issue of what are known as ice cream chimes. The fact that the Bill has hitherto had such an easy passage has demonstrated that its general aim is universally welcomed and acceptable. Most people agree that the time has come when we ought to take steps here in Parliament to try to discourage and control unnecessary noise or, as the Bill puts it, to abate noise.

The chief danger I have had to guard against in piloting the Bill thus far has come from the ever-enthusiasm of the extremists, of people who would, in my judgment, go too far in infringing the liberty of the subject and would clamp down on every possible noise. For my part, I am a "middle of the road" man on the subject of noise. Many noises I like. I am certain that most people would not enjoy living the cloistered life of the silent cell. That would drive many people mad, and do it far more quickly than living in our noisy world.

On the other hand, I join issue with Dr. Donald Broadbent, of Cambridge University, who was reported recently as saying, when addressing the British Association, that loud noises did not do anyone any physical harm. I gather that Dr. Broadbent based his belief on experiments he had carried out on some rats. He found that rats bred just as freely in the presence of loud noises as they did in the quiet of their sewers. I scarcely regard that as a conclusive experiment.

Ice cream, although it is not specifically mentioned at all in the Bill, came very near to wrecking the whole Bill. Perhaps it is not altogether surprising that ice cream should have played such a prominent part, since it is now a very popular item of food. Its popularity is growing every day. The Daily Express told us recently that, if one collected and piled up all the ice cream which had been consumed in Britain last year, one would be able to make a solid full-scale model of the whole of the Palace of Westminster. That demonstrates quite clearly how popular ice cream has become as a food which people enjoy. It is something of general interest to the public, particularly in its method of sale, which now to a great extent, if not to the greatest extent, is done from mobile shops and vans. It is the chimes used by the mobile shops and by the salesmen in their vans which has caused so much discussion.

The amplified chimes of ice cream vendors were referred to constantly in Committee and on Report in the House, and I undertook to have the matter examined and reconsidered when it went to another place. This Amendment is a direct result of further examination and discussion with all interested parties. As I have frankly said, it is a compromise, but a compromise which I regard as sensible and reasonable. If it is accepted, it will mean that amplified ice cream chimes and other amplified chimes will not be sounded before noon or after seven in the evening. This limitation will have the merit of giving protection to the shift worker, who will not be disturbed by amplified chimes in the morning hours, and it will have the benefit also of giving parents of young children protection so that their children are not kept awake or woken up by the chimes after they have gone to bed.

I understand that the Amendment is acceptable to the local authority associations and, albeit unwillingly, to the ice cream trade. I hope, therefore, that it will commend itself to the House.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I confess that, where noise is concerned, as with other things, I am an extremist. I believe that undue noise is one of the really damaging features of our social life. I do not believe that we should disregard complaints about noise and the unhappiness and misery which it causes people in all walks of life as just extremist complaints. I myself suffer very badly from noise. I am a light sleeper, and I find that the things which keep me awake at night are unnecessary noises. I should like to introduce a Bill to abolish dogs that bark. It would be a great step towards achieving a civilised social life in this country.

I have done my best to try to persuade the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) to see the error of his ways in, as it were, falling for the propaganda of the ice cream merchants.

Mr. Speir indicated dissent.

Sir L. Plummer

The hon. Gentleman should not shake his head. This Amendment, useful as it is, represents an almost complete denial of what was originally proposed. We were to have ice cream chimes between eight o'clock in the morning and nine o'clock at night, thirteen hours a day. This was amended then to ten hours a day. Now, at the last moment, it has been amended to seven hours a day. But we were told that the whole ice cream trade would disappear if the vendors were not allowed to have their vans running through the streets making as much noise as they could modulate for as long as they liked.

Are we to assume that, as a result of this Amendment, which I hope will be accepted, the ice cream trade will collapse? After listening to the propaganda of the ice cream merchants, I Should have assumed that that is what would happen. Of course, we know that it will not. The Bill would have had a much easier passage if we had not had so much propaganda given to us at the time when it was going through. At one time, we were told that we need not worry about the noise because the chimes had been composed by a famous composer—as if that was any consolation to a shift worker woken up by them. Then we were told that, in any case, the salesmen could not increase the power of the amplification. Yet a few months ago one salesman was fined for multiplying the amplification and increasing the noise.

The fact is that we were asked, on behalf of the vested interests, to give to a particular section of the food trade powers that were to be denied to others. Now, the revising Chamber has done what it is supposed to do and has brought some sanity into the matter. For my part, I should prefer the chimes to be banned altogether.

I was very much moved in that view by a letter which appeared in The Guardian of 19th July this year from a man who described how his small son ran out as he heard the ice-cream man coming down the street playing his tunes, with the result that he ran under a vehicle and was killed. This man asked that that kind of temptation to children to forget their lessons in road safety should be prohibited.

Although one is moved by that, I should not advance it as the main argument. What I have done in the past has been to try to limit the amount of noise that these people may make. However, seven hours is better than ten hours, and it is nearly twice as good as 13 hours. We have done something, and the other place has done something, in looking after the interests of the shift workers.

7.30 p.m.

I would make this final appeal to the people who will benefit by this—the ice cream people themselves. I wish that they would give instructions to their drivers to be careful about playing their tunes near busy crossings. I would ask them to be careful to make certain that when they play them outside schools they do so on the part of the road adjacent to the schools so that children do not have to cross the road to get to the ice cream vans. I appeal to them to put the safety of children first before the size of their sales. Also, I would draw the attention of local authorities to the powers remaining in the Bill to deal quite harshly with any salesman, whether he is the representative of a large combine or a small man, who tries to infringe the restrictions on noise contained in the Bill.

I welcome the Amendment. It improves the Bill. It does not do so completely, because the only way to have done that would have been to exclude the sound altogether, but I am prepared to go along with the hon. Member for Hexham and to accept the Amendment.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

The House took a risk in a flurry and fuss, and under considerable pressure, just before the Summer Recess, when we agreed to the Bill going to the other place in a form which I think many of my hon. Friends thought profoundly unsatisfactory. If this Lords Amendment had not come to the House, the longer exemption would have been in the Bill, and I think that it is to the credit of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) that he has very honourably and conscientiously done his best to redeem the undertaking which he gave to use his great influence over the other place—which appears to be extensive—to produce something which would be a considerable improvement.

It is, I suppose, to the benefit of the shift worker rather than the child, because the child who goes to bed at 6 o'clock will still suffer from the disturbance whereas the shift worker will not suffer as he would have done before. I do not quarrel with that. I think that it is not unreasonable that the shift worker should be considered, but I join my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) in saying that I hope that the result of the debates that we have had will be to bring it home to the trade how strong public opinion is, in this House and in the other place and, I am sure, outside, about the nuisance caused by noise, and that it will not feel that it has got away with something which gives it freedom to make as much noise as it likes between 12 o'clock and 7 o'clock. I am certain that the feeling in the House is such that if that were to happen the result would be a further attempt to amend the law in a more drastic way.

I found not long ago that in my constituency we have noises not only from the bells, but also from a loud refrigerator motor which is even more disturbing than the bells. I think that that would be covered by the earlier part of the Bill dealing with mechanical vibration. I hope that it will be possible to deal with that kind of trouble and nuisance as well.

I think that there can be no question that we must accept the Amendment, because it makes the Bill very much better than it was when we left it. I would, therefore, advise my hon. Friend to accept the Amendment, and I should like again to give the hon. Member for Hexham credit for having done his best to try to meet the very strong feeling on this matter on both sides of the House.

Question put and agreed to.