HC Deb 03 August 1962 vol 664 cc968-86

12.31 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

I am most grateful that this subject has been selected for debate. More important, many other people will be grateful, because so many people are affected. Noise is one of the greatest scourges of our lives. We are deluged by it; it is in the air, and all around us. Some people suffer from it more grievously than others. I think of sick people at home or in hospital, night workers who want to sleep during the day, and sensitive people, who require quiet for their work, as well as people who live on busy roads or near large airports.

But except for the privileged and fortunate few who dwell in remote places, we all suffer from the scourge of noise. It affronts our privacy, and it destroys our comfort, our work and health. We all suffer from it, but we never do anything about it. We meekly accept it as inevitable. I suppose that some noise is inevitable, but much of it is avoidable—and much is deliberately inflicted upon us by people who have a vested financial interest in noise.

I want to read an extract from an admirable speech made by Mr. John Connell, Honorary secretary and founder of the British Noise Abatement Society, before the International Congress for Noise Abatement held at Salzburg last May. He said: Our first and most immediate targets must be those commercial interests seeking deliberately to sell noise to the intellectually and sensitively underprivileged. I recall the British sportscar advertisement that boasts that it gives ' a satisfying roar guaranteed to turn every head within earshot.' I recall the British Mini-car whose manufacturers boast that ' higher up the speed scale the noise is deafening.' These sort of manufacturers are morally no better than brothel-keepers. These are strong words, but I can appreciate Mr. Connell's feelings.

But it is not about motor bicycles, motor cars, heavy lorries or aircraft that I wish to speak this morning. I wish to speak on the narrower point of the control of the level of noise on building sites. At once I must declare a personal interest. I have had a painful experience, enduring now for about seven months. But let it not be thought that this experience is the cause of my raising this subject this morning. It is not the cause; it is merely the occasion. If I describe it, I do so for two reasons— first, because it is something on which I can speak with first-hand knowledge, with personal authority, and without having to consult any other source, and, secondly, because my experience is typical of the experience which hundreds of thousands, and probably millions, of people are experiencing at this moment.

There is now a great building boom in progress—the greatest in all time. It is likely to remain with us for a long time. This is another reason why the Government should regard this as an urgent problem.

I have lived for several years in a flat in Kensington, one of whose attractions was its quietness. I could relax there, think, and do my writing. At least, I could until this year. At this year's beginning the developers arrived. Just a few yards from my window they demolished buildings. They dug deep foundations through the concrete, and then began to build a block of shops and flats. During those months, day after day and even now on Sundays, sometimes for ten hours a day, we have been tortured. Pneumatic drills, a compressor, a cement mixer, and something that sounds like a monstrous saw, have been lacerating our nerves.

Many complaints have been made to the public authorities—to the police, to the town clerk, and to the medical officer of health. These people are all most sympathetic, and also powerless The police officers called at my flat to listen for themselves, and said how appalled they were. They asked how we could possibly stand it. One can stand anything, when one has to. They were quite sad because they could not do anything about it.

Appeals were made to the firm. I made a few myself. One answer that I received is most revealing. I raised the question of the cement mixer. It emits a high whining sound, not unlike the air raid sirens that we once had to listen to. But whereas the air raid sirens' noise lasted for a minute or two, that of the cement mixer goes on for hour after hour, unceasingly. I telephoned, and asked one of the directors whether it was necessary that cement should be mixed on the site, and whether it was not possible to have the cement precast and carried on to the site. He replied, "Oh, yes, of course it is possible. Of course the stuff could be carried already mixed on to the site. But it would increase the cost." As he put it, if money were no object the cement need not be mixed on the site; it could be brought there ready made.

If money were no object! The private lives of a couple of hundred honest citizens are of no object whatever. They are of no account where a little extra cash is concerned. People who think and behave like this have no social conscience whatever. I believe that they are social outcasts, or social outlaws. But, I suppose, provided that they get the extra cash, they do not mind a bit. But the Government should mind. The Government should protect us against these social outlaws.

What can the Government do? First, before coming to Governmental level, I should like to say a word about a more local level. The other day I read with great interest a report in a newspaper that a man who lives at Chingford in Essex has had his rates reduced on account of the heavy traffic that passes his door. I think this is an excellent idea. I hope that it catches on everywhere and that it is universally accepted. I suggest that the reduction in rates be according to decibels. As every school boy knows, "decibel" is the name used to describe a measure of response in an electrical communication circuit. That means that it is a measure of sound. I think that a reduction in the rates should be graded according to decibels—the louder the noise, the lower the rate.

Local authorities need not necessarily lose anything by this arrangement, because the rates of people living in quiet streets could be increased correspondingly. This would, I think, have two results. It would maintain the rates at their present level and it would also give to people who live in quiet streets a vested interest in noise abatement. They might even make demands on the Government to do something about it.

To return to Government level, what can the Government do, or what can be done by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? I have two complaints about the Ministry, and there is no personal criticism implied here be-cause I am well aware that the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend have only recently taken over their offices. First, the Ministry seems to assume that if some legislation is passed, particularly about public nuisances, that legislation is final and complete and can never be amended, improved or added to. My second complaint is that the inclination of the Ministry is always to "pass the buck" to the local authorities. Let me give two illustrations of what I mean. On Tuesday afternoon I asked the Parliamentary Secretary whether he would introduce fresh legislation to control the level of noise on building sites. The hon. Gentleman said, "Oh, no, because under the 1960 Act the local authorities already have sufficient power to control noise." As I have already pointed out, at any rate the local authority in Kensington, where I live, does not seem to have enough power to stop that terrible nuisance, despite the numerous complaints from ratepayers.

I can give the hon. Gentleman another example of this inclination to regard all legislation as final and that local authorities have all the powers which they require to do everything which they should do. Earlier on Tuesday I asked whether the Parliamentary Secretary would compel the owners of disused quarries, sand pits and gravel pits to fence them in an adequate manner because these are a danger to the public. The hon. Gentleman said, "No, local authorities already have power under the Acts of 1954 and 1959 to see that these places are adequately fenced." He may think that local authorities have the power. But some local authorities do not think that they have, and are very dissatisfied with the powers which they possess. One local authority, the Thurrock Urban District Council, petitioned Ms Ministry two or three months ago to introduce more legislation so that these plague spots, these danger spots for children, these blots on the landscape could be hidden—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is near a "danger spot" in making an invitation for legislation his chief motif, which I am not permitted to allow.

Mr. Delargy

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was giving another example —possibly I do not need to—of this inclination on the part of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to think that it should never introduce any further legislation.

What ought the Government to do? I make two or three suggestions to the Parliamentary Secretary and I am sure that he will do his best to comply with them. First, the public should be educated about the damage and the danger resulting from noise. The public should be told, for example, that the loss of efficiency through noise, the fatigue and ill-health directly caused by noise, is costing this country considerably more than £1,000 million a year. This figure has been arrived at from comparative studies made first in some universities in America. A typewriter firm carried out a survey of the productivity lost directly as a result of noise. It was discovered that typists and executives lost between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. of their total efficiency. If we reduce that figure by 10 per cent., if we say that there is 10 per cent. less noise in this country than in America— that is something which I refuse to believe—and if we work out the number of persons in this country and say that the level of earnings is only £10 a week —although in fact it is slightly higher— the total loss to the country in a year is £1,000 million.

Why should not there be a big advertising campaign in order to educate the public about this? We have had such campaigns in relation to death on the roads and dangerous driving, and about cancer and smoking—all excellent campaigns—so why not have one on this subject? I suggest that the Government consult the Noise Abatement Society. I am not a member of that society, although having now read its literature, I think I shall become one. I understand that it is a comparatively new body which has carried out quite a lot of research and it would know how to handle such a campaign. Unfortunately, the society has no money. I think that money should be made available, either to that society, or to some other organisation, or for the Government themselves, in order that there may be an advertising campaign carried out to educate the public.

Secondly, I think that the Government should prohibit the manufacture of new machines capable of producing noise of more than 60 decibels. I consider that every instrument used on a building site should have stamped upon it the maximum decibel output, just as electrical apparatus now has the voltage and other vital information clearly indicated upon it. But in the meantime, while we are waiting for new machinery, the Government should look into the various tests which have been made to silence, so far as possible, or to reduce the noise made by existing apparatus; and they should examine the possibility of using other apparatus which, while still producing more than 60 decibels of noise, is less noisy than the horrible, primitive machines which are now in use.

Tests have been made by the chief public health inspector of Shoreditch in April of this year and again last week. Three types of machines were used on a section of reinforced concrete. One was a pneumatic road drill, the ordinary horrible thing with which we are familiar, and this was used without a silencer. The second was the same kind of drill silenced with a muffling cover, and the third was an electric road breaker. It was found that the electric road breaker was much quieter in operation even than the pneumatic drill which was muffled. More interesting still, it was discovered that over the period of forty minutes during which the three machines were in operation the electric road breaker worked three to four times faster; that is, it removed three to four times more concrete even than the pneumatic drill which is supposed to be at its most efficient when operated without a silencer.

I do not suppose we could require that present machinery should be scrapped overnight, although from what we hear about building tycoons they could well afford to do that because they are making enormous fortunes. While we are waiting for the new machinery to be used and while the Government are looking at the possibility of having pneumatic drills fitted with silencers, or encouraging the use of electric road breakers, the present machines could be placed in acoustic booths. They would easily fit around pneumatic drills, compressors, cement mixers and so on.

I think that noise should be taxed. There could be an annual rate of £1 per decibel over 60 decibels rising to £10 per decibel over 100 decibels. It is very strange for me to be advocating new techniques, indeed it is rather improper, but I assure the Government I would vote with enthusiasm for such a proposal. It would have two good results. It would impose a fine on social outlaws and prevent annoyance to people caused by noisy machinery. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider these suggestions. This is an immensely serious problem. There is an old saying: Cleanliness is next to godliness. I think that quiet is next to godliness. We read in the Psalms that God is not to be found in the whirlwind—non in tempestate Deus. Many years ago I read the biography of a holy man who founded a religious order and worked in the slums of a big town in southern France. I forget whether it was Marseilles or Lyons. After his death someone asked his friends, "Do you think he was a saint? If so, will you explain why you think so?" One of his friends said, "I think he was a saint because he showed such great thought for his fellows. Whenever he entered or left a room he closed the door quietly."

It is no good looking for godliness in the Government. Ever since one of your predecessors lost his head, Mr. Speaker, we have not had saints in this place, but we can look for decency and a little protection from the Government. Millions of people are affected by this problem and they are defenceless. The Government could come to their assistance.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I speak as a builder, as an outlaw, as a money-grabbing plutocrat, but I assure the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) that the building industry appreciates the problems which he has raised.

One of the difficulties is that if anyone wants a flat or a house for himself, that is the most important operation in the world, but, if someone else wants it, it is the greatest nuisance that can be tolerated. The hon. Member referred to the cost in this problem. It is no good building flats and houses so expensively that people cannot afford to pay the rent. One of the problems for the building industry, unlike those of other industries, is that its work is more mobile when it comes to sites adjoining those where people are living.

The hon. Member suggested that noise on a building site should be taxed. If that were done it would only ultimately add to the cost of the property and the rent which the purchaser would have to charge.

Mr. Delargy

Could it not also reduce the profits of the developer?

Mr. Costain

There is always that factor to be taken into account, but developers do not make the enormous profits which the hon. Member suggested. One has only to look at the balance sheets of various building companies to see that their turnover profits are among the lowest in the country. That, as also in the case of farmers' profits, is not often appreciated. If the hon. Member looked at the balance sheets he would see the point I am making.

It is fair to put before the House some of the facts and to refer to some of the things which the industry is doing. The hon. Member suggested that their should be a machine to measure decibels. I defy him to suggest a machine which would measure the noise caused by riveting. That would be quite impracticable, but the industry has made great advances with new techniques by which welding often takes the place of riveting and is a noiseless operation. The hon. Member referred to noise caused by concrete mixers. On a number of building estates in London electric concrete mixers, which do not make the same amount of noise, are being used. There is also the introduction of plastics to the building industry, a development in which I see great potential benefits which in themselves will decrease the noise on building sites.

A number of builders appreciate the difficulties. The better ones notify adjoining owners about when operations are to take place and how long it is likely that the noise will continue. The hon. Member will appreciate that although noise may be a beastly nuisance one can tolerate it more easily if one knows that it is to be limited to a few weeks' time.

Mr. Delargy

Of course, that is helpful. It would be helpful to know that a noise was to continue for only a few weeks, but it is not helpful to be told that and then to find that it goes on for months.

Mr. Costain

I readily appreciate that. I do not know the contractors of whom he spoke, nor the circumstances, but I agree that there is no greater nuisance than for a noise to be going on and not to know when it will come to an end.

The hon. Member referred to precast concrete. The development of pre-stressed concrete is a factor which needs consideration. The use of ready-mixed concrete which can be delivered all over the country also cuts down the noisy operation. The electric barrow hoist which is being introduced is another factor which can help. In a debate of this short duration it is not possible to go into the full details and to develop ideas fully, but I suggest that the building industry has to work economically.

A classic example of how this problem is dealt with is the work on the Hyde Park Corner deviation. There was the problem of noise disturbing patients in St. George's Hospital and the possible damage to the structure. The consulting engineer employed an Italian technique which allowed under-pinning to be done without any noise at all, but the increased cost, although it is unknown to me, would, I think, be rather in the tens of thousands than in thousands of pounds. One cannot expect a normal building operation to follow that example.

One of the greatest noise nuisances is when roads are cut up. Nothing annoys the general public more than to find the gas authority using pneumatic drills to make holes one week and the following week the electricity authority carrying out a similar operation. My hon. Friend who is to reply to this debate has some power in this direction, I believe. If not, I suggest that power should be taken to co-ordinate the work of such operations. Bearing in mind that we recently passed the Pipe-Lines Bill, we must remember that another authority will soon have the same object of making a hole as quickly and economically as possible.

I ask my hon. Friend to make suggestions for cutting down the number of authorities doing this kind of operation independently of each other.

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) has raised an important subject. I think that he was right to concentrate on industrial noise, because, athough the noisy motor car or motor cycle is bad enough, as a rule it is not as persistent as a noise going on for weeks and weeks in the same place, and, therefore, not as much of a nuisance as that to which my hon. Friend referred. As we are out of order in an Adjournment debate in proposing new legislation, we have to consider what can be done under the existing law about this matter.

My hon. Friend mentioned that it is possible for people who suffer from this nuisance to apply to have the assessment of their rates altered. If he will consider the matter, he will realise that automatically that has the effect which he wanted of causing people who live in quiet areas to pay rather more. If I have a reduction in my rate assessment because I live in a noisy area, and the borough council still has to have the same amount of money, it must raise the rate poundage. I shall be paying a little less and people whose assessments have not been altered will pay a little more. It is desirable that the right to try to have one's assessment lowered if one suffers from noise should be generally known.

It is also possible, either for individuals or for local authorities, to take legal action in the case of serious nuisance, whether from noise or from other causes. Some time ago a constituent of mine brought an action for nuisance by noise against an industry— not a building firm, but another kind of industry. He succeeded. The learned judge took the view that although the firm had gone to considerable trouble to try to reduce the noise, none the less at the end of the day the amount of noise which the firm was making was more than it was reasonable to expect the residents to endure.

That, I think, was a surprising decision, and not everybody could be certain of being successful in bringing a case of that kind, because normally I believe that it is a defence for the industry concerned to show that it has taken all reasonable steps to abate the noise

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

That applies only to public nuisance. The common law action taken by an ordinary individual in common law in respect of a nuisance is not affected by that, nor does it apply when a local authority decides that a nuisance is so great that it will take the case to High Court.

Mr. Stewart

In that case the legal remedies which are already open are perhaps stronger than I supposed. This is something which should be known. It should be possible for people bringing legal actions of this kind if necessary to obtain legal aid. It might be a good thing if local authorities were reminded of the legal position in this respect.

But there remain those oases in which the firm can plead as a defence that it has taken all reasonable steps to reduce the noise. I think that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government should consider whether there is a case for some kind of circular or bulletin of information to local authorities about the more usual types of nuisance which arise and what is known at present about what firms can do, if they choose, to reduce the nuisance. The local authority can then consider whether the firms in its neighbourhood are making use of the knowledge which exists at present in carrying on their processes without unreasonable disturbance to neighbours.

I hope, too, that the Ministry will remind their colleagues who come under the Minister for Science of the importance of research into ways of reducing noise, because it happens over every possible nuisance which there has ever been that the argument always begins by people saying that it is quite impossible to do the work without creating the nuisance. For example, it was said to be impossible to sweep chimneys clean without sending little boys up them. In the end society has to say, "Possible or not, you must not do this any more"; and then another way is found. But one must at least have same idea of where the right scientific answer lies, and it is partly the Government's responsibility to promote research of that kind.

May I mention, in that connection, a kind of noise not mentioned by my hon. Friend? I trust that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will continue to remind the other Ministries concerned of the desirability of continued research into how to deal with aircraft noise which continues, inevitably, at present, I suppose, to plague the inhabitants of a flange region of west London. Some day, I hope, we shall discover the answer to it. I hope that any influence which the Ministry has in that direction will be fully used.

1.6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I assure the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) who raised this matter—and his doing so was certainly a valuable exercise—that it is certainly not my wish in any way to minimise the effects of the nuisance of which he complained.

I sympathise with him very much in a personal capacity, because I live more or less beside the District and Circle lines and very close to the new West London Air Terminal. No sooner had the present temporary building, with its rather complex concrete raft, been erected, involving moving the lines of the District railway, than a start was made on the permanent building.

In this case, owing to the need to avoid disrupting traffic, a great deal of work had to go on at night. But it is only fair to say—and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) intervened and made the point—that in this case the developer was obviously conscious of his public responsibility, for he tried to minimise the noise and, where noise was inevitable, he had excellent public relations in explaining to neighbouring residents why it was necessary and possibly how long it would last, and this undoubtedly helped to minimise complaints and created a general feeling of better relations.

I am glad that my hon. Friend intervened, because he was able to give some indication from the building side that the industry is not entirely complacent in this matter and that progress is being made. I hope that the hon. Member for Thurrock will not minimise either the problems which have to be overcome or the difficulties involved both administratively and legally. I accept from the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) that there are certain difficulties of enforcement, but the basic difficulty, which I think goes to the root of the lack of complete satisfaction in the legal remedies, is the great difficulty at the moment of defining the level of acceptable noise. In a few minutes, I will take up the hon. Member for Thurrock on his decibel scale. It is a technical matter and I shall not attempt to blind him with a science which has already nearly blinded me.

As I told him in answer to a Question on Tuesday, the whole problem is currently the subject of investigation by a very high-powered Committee, set up by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Science, under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Wilson. We are, at any rate, doing something about it.

Mr. Delargy

I am aware of that Committee. It has been sitting since April, 1960, and it recently published an interim report. Has the hon. Member any idea when it will publish its final report?

Mr. Corfield

I was coming to that. It is hoped that it will publish a final report before the end of the year. I remind the House that its terms of reference are very wide. They are, To examine the nature, sources and effects of the problem of noise and to advise what further measures can be taken to mitigate it. The Committee is representative of industrial, local authority, medical, legal and lay opinion and it has the advice of technical assessors from the National Physical Laboratory, the Building Research Station and a number of Government Departments, including my own.

The Committee has appointed a subcommittee under the chairmanship of Mr. L. H. A. Pilkington to study the problems of industrial noise and noise from construction and demolition sites. It has already taken a lot of evidence. Its members have not merely sat in offices. They have gone round to various building sites, including Hyde Park Corner and a lot of the building in Victoria Street. The members have held meetings in a room at the Building Research Station, Where they have been exposed to noises from typical building equipment of various types and functions. We hope that the Committee will produce its report before the end of this year.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, despite the time factor, this is an immensely wide and difficult task when it is borne in mind that the problems vary from the noise of transistor radios to the noise of jet aircraft, and there are a good many things in between which will readily spring to the minds of hon. Members.

The Committee has already produced an interim Report confined to the question of noise from motor vehicles. This Report was published this month as a White Paper, Cmnd. 1780. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have had an opportunity of looking at it. Although this is a special aspect, I think that there are matters within this Report which are of more general interest and application, particularly with regard to the question of measurement of noise and a definition of the acceptable datum level from which one can start to say that this or that is a nuisance or not a nuisance.

I want to quote from two short paragraphs which put the problem remarkably well in non-technical language. Paragraphs 27 and 28, under the section headed, "The Choice of Noise Levels ", read as follows: Of these factors "— the Report previously lists certain factors— perhaps the most debatable is—what level of noise is 'acceptable'? It would be very unlikely that an 'acceptable' motor car would be as quiet as an ' acceptable' sewing machine, for example; and though much work has been done in recent years on the psychological aspects of noise, we were unaware of any method of fixing, a priori, any levels of vehicle noise which could be called 'acceptable'. A further complication was the uncertainty of correlation between subjective judgments of loudness or annoyance and the readings given by any available type of noise-measuring instrument. If the hon. Member will go on from Section IV, "The Choice of Noise Levels", and look at Appendix V, which is headed "The Measurement of Noise", again he will get some idea at any rate of the difficulties involved, even if he is not much more enlightened as to the method by which they are to be tackled than I was.

It is when one comes to follow up this problem in Appendix V that one undoubtedly gets very confused in a world of decibels, phons and sones, especially when one is told that the measurement in sones is two to the power of the measurement in phons minus forty and divided by ten; and that measurement in phons is the sound pressure level in decibels by reference to an arbitrary level. Whether that will help the hon. Gentleman more than it helped me I do not know. I am sure that he will get very much more value from trying to read it himself than from any attempt that I can make to help him.

Mr. Delargy

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have a copy of this Command Paper.

Mr. Corfield

I want to add a few words of a less technical nature on the question of the measurement of noise. One of the difficulties is that it is a subjective phenomenon and it is very difficult indeed to assess the effects not only on different individuals but of different types of sound which may well measure the same loudness. For instance, there is all the difference in the world between the noise of a dripping tap, the cat on the roof-tap tiles, and the baby next door, but they all measure something similar in terms of decibels. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want me to go into the more elementary matters of measurement, because he said that every schoolboy knows about these things. If that is so, they have advanced a good deal since my day.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that sound pressure levels, as I am advised, of 30 decibels above the reference would be found in quiet country conditions and of 70 decibels in normal conversation. Therefore, on the basis of the hon. Gentleman's tax idea he would already during this debate have incurred a considerable tax liability. We must bear in mind when thinking of these things that the public, however much it may dislike noise, is not likely to accept very lightly a tax which would interfere with the ordinary day-to-day activities of life. I am advised that in noise control an improvement of about three decibels is just about detectable. It is not until a diminution of 10 to 15 decibels takes place that anything very striking to the ordinary human ear is achieved.

As the hon. Gentleman said, there is a great difference in the pitch or frequency of noises. He himself made the point that the high-pitched whine of the instrument to which he referred was much more irritating than some other noises. This is true, but the question of pitch does not come out when sheer loudness is measured in the decibel scale to which he referred.

Despite all these difficulties, it is clear that the first hurdle has been got over in that the Committee has been able to recommend some definite tolerable noise levels as well as methods of assessing noise in respect of motor vehicles. I have very little doubt that it will also be able to do this in respect of the noises to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Once we can get this information, once we get some sort of standard, obviously the whole question of legal enforcement becomes very much easier, because local authorities will have a guide as to the standard of noise in which they are likely to get a favourable decision in the courts, and the courts will have a guide which will enable them to build up a body of precedent, which gives that degree of certainty to the law which is so essential.

I cannot say that I am greatly impressed with the arguments for taxing noise, owing to the very considerable difficulties and the very considerable differences in the tones of noise, even though they might measure the same in loudness. I certainly would not envy the task of the Inland Revenue officials in an attempt to make the assessment or to collect tax.

With regard to the legal problems, as the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) mentioned, there is a procedure under the Public Health Act where action can be taken on the ground that noise constitutes a public nuisance. The procedure is that a local authority can take enforcement proceedings in a magistrate's court where an order can be made for the abatement of the nuisance, subject to a fine and a continuing daily penalty.

As I pointed out to the hon. Member, if the local authority is satisfied that it is a particularly severe case of nuisance which justifies it going to the High Court, it can take the case there. I am advised that in the High Court the defence that the operators have taken the best possible precaution is not available. The hon. Gentleman said that he has a constituent who was successful in that type of action. The same applies—that is, there is no legal defence of this nature— in the ordinary common law action for nuisance.

I fully appreciate that these legal remedies can be rather cold comfort, because they are expensive, and, especially where local authorities are not prepared to intervene, the ordinary private individual hesitates to incur the costs and the anxiety of an action. Once we have some sort of test, I think that this will automatically improve the effectiveness of these legal remedies.

The hon. Member for Fulham suggested that we should try to do something more in the publicity sphere by issuing a bulletin of information on the types of noise, legal aspects and the like. I think that he would agree that it would be sensible to consider this suggestion in the light of the recommendations of the Wilson Committee when we receive them, because we could very easily publish something which proved to be misleading in the light of its recommendations. In the meantime, there is absolutely no doubt that the practice between one firm of developers and another varies enormously. As I have said, the particular firm which is constructing London Airport has developed a good public relations set-up, but there is no doubt a great deal of room for improvement in other companies.

The hon. Gentleman accused us of being very loath to legislate. It is certainly my experience that the inhibition against legislation does not normally lie within Government Departments themselves. It is largely a question of the time of this House. I think that there are very few Government Departments which have not got a very long list of Measures which they would like to see put upon the Statute Book, and the hon. Gentleman knows that this is the limiting factor. Nevertheless, in a democracy, public opinion in itself will in time force a higher priority for this matter than, perhaps, has hitherto been the case, or otherwise would be the case.

In that sense, I think that the hon. Gentleman has done a very useful job in bringing home to offending developers, whom I hope and believe to be a minority, the fact that legislation, when we have the knowledge of the Wilson Report, will be much more practicable, and could very easily interfere with their practices. On the basis that the people who offend the most are probably the people who will be most inconvenienced if legislation comes about, I think they will be well advised to bear this in mind and to try to adopt a rather more public-spirited attitude to neighbouring residents.

I would end by underlining what both hon. Gentlemen have said about the question of rates. There is no doubt that noise over a long period must have an effect on the lettable value of a house, and therefore, on its rateable value. In my experience, during the building of London Airport, the officers of the Inland Revenue have been by no means unreasonable or unsympathetic, and that, perhaps, will be some small consolation to the hon. Member in the pre- sent difficulties which he faces. I assure him that the recommendations of the Wilson Report will be studied speedily and carefully in the Department. This is something to which we attach a great deal of importance, as I know my noble Friend the Minister for Science also does.