HC Deb 12 July 1996 vol 281 cc676-720

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 7, at end insert

("or an order made by the Secretary of State so provides").

9.37 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

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

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendment No. 2.

Mr. Greenway

The House will be aware that the Bill includes provision for a new offence to deal with excessive noise at night emanating from domestic premises. The Bill enables local authorities, by resolution, to adopt for their areas the new night noise provisions. The amendments would, in addition to the local authority power to make a resolution, enable the Secretary of State to make an order applying the new night noise provisions to the area of a local authority. The order cannot have effect until three months has passed from the date on which the order was made.

In considering the need for the amendments, we need to ask ourselves one key question: in practice, will the new offence operate in places where there is a real problem with excessive night-time neighbour noise?

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

As I understand it, clarification of the existing powers of temporary confiscation and forfeiture of noise-making equipment will not itself be adoptive, and the amendment will make no difference in that respect. I understand also that, when the Bill becomes an Act, the power will become available immediately in its clarified form to local authorities. Is that correct? Perhaps my hon. Friend will clarify the position.

Mr. Greenway

So far as I understand it, that is the position. If it is not, I shall come back to my hon. Friend, but I am sure that he is right. I thank him for making that point, because it is of great importance to everyone in the land.

Some of my hon. Friends are not confident that the new, excellent powers will be adopted in every area, which is a problem, but I think that we are generally agreed that making every local authority operate the new offence is not the answer. There will undoubtedly be local authorities that have little need for a night-time noise service, and such authorities may have to cut back something that has a higher priority locally to provide the service. A middle way might be to make it mandatory for all urban authorities, but one then has the problem of defining what constitutes an urban authority. I am very tempted by the idea that it should be.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the problem of noise often applies to semi-urban, even rural areas, as well, and so to talk of these measures in terms of urban authorities might be misleading in terms of assisting those who need it?

Mr. Greenway

I accept that noise can come from anywhere. It can come from heavily urban authorities and from rural and semi-rural authorities, and definitions are extremely difficult. It is clear, though, from past prosecutions and reportage, that some local authorities, particularly rural areas, do not regard night-time noise as a severe problem, and therefore to force all local authorities to adopt the measure when, I hope, it becomes an Act, might be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The freedom to adopt or not in the first place is of great importance and must be respected.

It is always easy in life to take an all-or-nothing decision, but the problems may arise afterwards, which is when any anomalies arise, when one is faced with difficulties, irregularities and situations that one had thought existed when the total decision was taken but which did not actually exist. Bearing in mind that we would be giving money to local authorities that do not necessarily need it and taking it away, possibly, from urban authorities—despite the problems of definition—where it is urgently needed, it is right to strike the balance, which I seek to do this morning, by accepting the Lords amendment.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for undertaking on Report to review the workings and take-up of the new offence after two years. He also said that the Government would not oppose an amendment that gave the Secretary of State the power to order local authorities to operate the new offence.

That is very important, as individuals and Members of Parliament could make representations directly to the Secretary of State and pressurise him or her into forcing local authorities to operate the new offence. We would then see the democratic process at its most effective, assuming that we have such a sensible Secretary of State as we have now. Thus, the Secretary of State would be able to take action if the review showed that that was desirable.

Lords Amendment No. 1 provides the order-making power. Lords Amendment No. 2 is consequential amendment, to allow at least three months to elapse before the Secretary of State's order takes effect. It gives the local authority time to put its organisation into place. These amendments are a sensible way forward and address the concerns of hon. Members without imposing an unnecessary burden on local authorities. I commend them to the House in that spirit.

After talks with the Department of the Environment, I understand that the new night noise offence, with confiscation provisions, is expected to be implemented next April, which will coincide with the money resolution coming into effect, and will allow time for full consultation on the technical aspects of measuring the noise.

Mr. Thomason

My hon. Friend referred specifically to money, and clearly there are problems about the cost of enforcement of the provisions of the Bill. Can my hon. Friend give some idea of the costs involved, particularly for local authorities that may have an order imposed on them under the amendment?

9.45 am
Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We should remember that the money resolution was set at £3 million, which has already been accepted by the House and so would be law, so to speak. Costs in terms of wages, salaries, the number of enforcement officers required and so on will vary from area to area.

Personally, as a sound and—if I may say so—successful schoolmaster, I know that, to be successful, one must go in hard straight away. If a teacher takes on a new class—I am not straying, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I am drawing an analogy—or starts to run a new school and begins by being weak, grinning at everybody like some Cheshire cat, willing to accommodate any reaction, they will get nowhere.

But if they go in ferociously, prepared to deal with any nonsense, from wherever it might come, fearlessly, without flinching, strongly and resolutely, as though they are going to win, they will win. One can always come back from a strong position, but one can never go forward to a strong position from a weak one.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

That was a very moving lecture.

Mr. Greenway

I am glad that my hon. Friend is moved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. The hon. Member must remain in order as well, though.

Mr. Greenway

I am seeking to remain in order by drawing an analogy, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

To complete the analogy, this is an important and fundamental part of my Bill, which my colleagues and I hope will become an Act. If, at the implementation stage, local authorities go in hard straight away and go for the troublemakers—let us remember that one in 10 of the population face this problem, according to The Mail on Sunday, which I thank for its support and whose marvellous campaign I commend; I also thank the Evening Standard—and makes some strong prosecutions, if the courts are determined and confiscate noise-making equipment, which they will have the power to do, and impose a £1,000 fine, and if the £100 on-the-spot fine is accepted, the problem will fall away very fast and they will be able to reduce costs.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

My point follows on from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) about cost.

Surely the cost of implementation will depend on the number of areas on which orders are imposed. It is not clear to me how many areas will have orders imposed on them. It is also not clear to me whether the Secretary of State will have power under this amendment, about which I have serious reservations, to limit the imposition to a specific area of a district council.

I can think of rural district councils—I shall talk about one later—that have urban concentrations where noise is a real problem, but they might not want the obligation of a night noise enforcement role across the whole district council area. I should be grateful for clarification.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend the Minister will, I am sure, give a view as to how the Secretary of State sees the amendment.

In terms of cost, the money resolution was £3 million. That is, of course, for all local authorities. We must remember that there will not be a requirement on local authorities to implement the Bill. The pressure will come from within communities—it will certainly come from the community of Ealing, North.

Mr. Dykes

I was very impressed with the advice my hon. Friend gave about the role of a teacher in a school, and the parallel he drew with implementing the powers under the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) also covered that point in his intervention.

Does my hon. Friend agree that many local authorities are fed up with having too many rules and regulations imposed on them by Parliament through national legislation? Many are eagerly awaiting the powers in the Bill. That is why my hon. Friend should be commended and supported for introducing this vital measure.

I represent a heavily congested urban area, as does my hon. Friend, and during the past two years I have had at least eight examples of incidents in which the powers in the Bill would have been extremely useful. Indeed, recently there have been disturbances by religious groups at 4 am. If the powers had been available, we could have dealt with that problem. Does my hon. Friend agree that his Bill will be welcome throughout the country, especially in urban areas—not just the rural areas referred to earlier?

Mr. Greenway

I am enormously grateful to my hon. Friend for the defining points that he made about the effect that the Bill will have, and needs to have, in urban areas.

Mr. Waterson

On the subject of additional costs for local authorities, can my hon. Friend confirm that about a third of local authorities already have some form of night noise complaint service, so the additional costs on them would be minimal?

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend is right. Many local authorities already have environmental noise and pollution officers. The problem is that, in many areas, they operate on a very limited basis only. Ealing council is Labour-controlled—and miserably so. It cut that important service when it took office in 1994. Now, noise patrols operate only one or two nights a week. That is not enough. There must be a full service in areas such as Ealing, Eastbourne and Harrow, where the communities require it. I hope that my Bill will ensure that that happens.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)

My hon. Friend has touched on an important point about discrepancies in the service offered by different local authorities, including London local authorities. He rightly said that his borough of Ealing provides only a partial service, whereas some other London boroughs provide a full service. I am sure that he will join me in expressing the hope that local authorities will pay attention to what their residents want on the important issue of noise.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making such an important point. In Ealing and other areas, local people want a full and proper night noise patrol, as well as patrols at other times. I have the expectation that local authorities will provide that.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and my hon. Friend the Minister both expressed the view that the Bill's effect would spread. Does my hon. Friend think it possible that some local authorities might withdraw their noise patrols, as Ealing did, or does he see the Bill has having a one-way ratchet effect that will extend noise patrols?

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Once the Bill becomes law, I anticipate the ratchet effect referred to by my hon. Friend, leading to comprehensive cover every night of the week. Initially, there will be pressure from the many people who have suffered from noise problems for many months, or even years. They will call upon the service when it starts, so local authorities may have to put more money up front than they would have to expend over the long term. As I said earlier, if the problem is hit hard in the early stages, it will diminish, and local authorities will be able to reduce their cover and therefore the costs.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Opposition support his Bill. I am trying hard not to be partisan—notwithstanding the fact that I am a little outnumbered this morning. He made some comments about Ealing council. He must know the pressure that local authorities have been under during recent years because of cuts in Government expenditure. Would he support Ealing council if it said that, as a result of his Bill, X amount of resources would be required to enforce it?

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the Bill. He rightly points out that it has all-party support, and nothing I say challenges that. However, I am sure that he will understand that I must challenge Ealing council. Its chairman of the environmental services committee—who calls himself the chair; I think chairs are for sitting on—has said that the council may not implement the Bill when it becomes law. I do not want to be unduly long, but I intend to come back to that point. If the chairman makes that sort of threat, he must expect me to challenge it.

The hon. Gentleman was right to say that additional finance must be provided for local authorities, including Ealing, to implement the Bill. That money will be provided. Indeed, as I pointed out in my opening remarks, the House has passed a money resolution to accompany the Bill. Ealing council would not need my support, because it would get the necessary money in the usual and sensible way. I must point out that the council is enjoying an additional £5.6 million on its budget from central Government this year, so it is not that hard up.

Mr. Thomason

My hon. Friend says that the money will be available. Can he confirm that that means that it will be available in the sense that it will be put into the usual grant distribution process in the Department of the Environment and distributed to all local authorities according to the usual mechanism? It will not be specific, and therefore will not be directed only to those authorities that have either chosen to implement the Bill or are obliged to do so by virtue of the Secretary of State's order, if this amendment is accepted.

Mr. Greenway

I respectfully point out to my hon. Friend that that is a technical question for our hon. Friend the Minister, rather than for me. I shall leave it to my hon. Friend to deal with it.

To continue with my remarks about interpretation, I gather that the new and clearer powers on confiscation, as they relate to the existing statutory position, will take effect from the autumn. I have been given that information by the Department of the Environment, and it is worth putting it before the House, because it is of great importance.

The Bill applies to night, rather than day, noise; it does not cover barking dogs—other legislation already does that—aggravating as that problem can be. I have a few instances of that in my constituency. Indeed, people from across the country have written to me complaining not only about barking dogs, but about screeching peacocks and peahens, among other things. Therefore, there is much noise apart from the noise of neighbours, but that is already dealt with legislatively and is not covered by the Bill. I would not want anybody to be misled about that.

There will be pressure on local authorities to implement the legislation, because people are suffering. As I have said, one in 10 of the population are said to suffer seriously from noise pollution caused by neighbours. Some suffer to the point at which they commit suicide. There have been 17 reported deaths in recent years of people who were driven by relentless noise from neighbours to the point of destroying themselves. That shows the seriousness of the issue.

In moral and spiritual terms, noise not only has a sad effect upon those who are at the receiving end but shows the wanton wickedness of the perpetrators. No society can tolerate such inconsiderate behaviour between neighbours. The world is my neighbour, and I have the duty to my neighbour that I have to myself.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. There is much validity in what the hon. Gentleman says, but it is well beyond the terms of the amendment.

10 am

Mr. Greenway

I am seeking to deal with the pressure for implementation of the measure which the amendment addresses. The amendment gives the Secretary of State power to order local authorities which have not implemented the legislation within two years to do so.

I seek to bring to the House's attention the existing social pressures. They are also political pressures, because in the end social pressure becomes political pressure if it is not addressed. If people take their own lives because of the wicked, inconsiderate and destructive evil behaviour of their neighbours, that is a political pressure, which local authorities will have to address.The Mail on Sunday has reported vivid stories of people who have committed suicide as a result of the pressures upon them.

Local authorities will have increased powers to implement the Bill's strong provisions, and I do not see how they could ignore them. If they do, the Secretary of State, through the democratic processes, will be able to lay them on the line.

Mr. Dykes

I hope that I am in order. Does my hon. Friend agree that the mainspring of the legislation is the depressing and distressing selfishness of some citizens? We have to contend with that in our surgeries when we listen to stories about the selfishness of neighbours. We live in the age of blaring radio sets, mindless chat shows and rubbish music that is played all night in cars and homes. My hon. Friend is performing an outstanding service by providing the legislation, because many people are reaching breaking point.

In my surgery, I have heard distressing, heart-breaking stories of neighbours who suffer. When I put the inevitable question, "When you remonstrated or had words with the neighbour at 1 or 2 am, what was the reaction to your request to turn down or turn off the radio?", I am told, "They just laughed in my face." What is causing such behaviour in our society?

Does my hon. Friend think that we need further legislation to insist that people behave in a neighbourly way, or would we prefer—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is becoming a speech, and is certainly outside the terms of the amendment.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend may have strayed a little, but I acknowledge that his point is important.

The Bill's adoptive nature will give local authorities considerable discretion about taking up the new offences. I hope that authorities in areas where the problem of noisy neighbours is marked will not tarry in adopting them. They could tackle the problem straight away, and I hope they will. Some local authorities say that they will not, and that is the burden of our debate.

The statistics showing the need for the amendments are interesting. There were 131,153 complaints to local authorities about noise from domestic premises in 1993–94. That is more than a threefold interest over the past decade. A worrying fact is that fewer than 0.3 per cent. of the complaints led to convictions. That is a disgrace, and it causes real distress.

Some councillors in Ealing, including the chairman of the environmental services department—who, as I have said, calls himself the chair—claims that the Bill is not necessary to address the problem. That is unbelievable. People come to my surgery desperate for action on night noise. The chairman of that committee is quoted in the Ealing and Acton Gazette, that most authoritative local paper, as saying that there are enough powers to address the problem of noisy neighbours. That is nonsense.

Mr. Waterson

He should resign.

Mr. Greenway

He should.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The amendment would give the Secretary of State power to direct the adoption of the noise legislation. There has been a significant increase in complaints about noise, and local authorities should direct their minds to it. If they are not prepared to listen to their residents, powers should be available for the Secretary of State.

Mr. Greenway

Those are powerful words by the Minister, and they are valuable in the political and social context of noise in society and between neighbours. The world will note what he has said.

Mr. Viggers

My hon. Friend said that there were 131,153 complaints, and that it was a threefold increase. He also said that one in 10 people suffer because of noise from domestic premises. That is about 6 million people. Where will all this end?

Mr. Greenway

That is a matter for speculation. The answer to my hon. Friend's pertinent question is that I think that it would be substantially decreased by the implementation of the measure.

In Ealing, some Labour councillors claim that the Bill does not need to be deployed because existing legislation is adequate to deal with the problem. I have received a huge number of complaints about noisy neighbours in my surgeries, by letter and in every other way in which Members of Parliament receive such complaints. They can represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Only 13 prosecutions were brought on noise-related problems by Ealing council in 1994–95, and of those only 10 were successful. Yet the chairman of environmental services has gone on record as saying that the Bill is not needed. He is hugely out of step with my constituents, who repudiate every syllable he has said on the matter.

The fact that only 13 prosecutions were brought in a single year and only 10 were successful makes the remarks that the council has enough powers to deal with noise absurd. They are not laughable, because it is not enough to laugh at such remarks. They must be driven back down the throat of him who utters them. He should withdraw the remarks, eat humble pie and implement the Bill, as I shall see he does.

Most victims of neighbourhood noise come from heavily populated areas. A Mr. Purbrick of Cardiff complained about the volume of neighbour noise, and said that he could not get redress and needed to do so. I have no doubt that there will be great pressure on local authorities to implement the Bill, but if they fail to do so, the amendment will deal with the problem. I acknowledge the wonderful work done in another place by Baroness Gardner of Parkes, a former member of the Greater London council, who has been a notable political figure in London for many years. I thank her for all she did, and the other place for its warm support for the Bill.

I believe that, in the next two years, once the Bill is law, pressure will exist between areas in which the Act is successfully implemented and noise is effectively reduced, and areas in which the Act is not implemented. Local figures, Members of Parliament, councillors and others will be able to compare areas in which the Act is implemented and working well and where it has not and the problem continues. That will create its own pressure, but there will be many other pressures. Therefore, the importance of the amendment is beyond measure. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Luff

I am grateful to catch your eye first in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to have my own opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) for his work on this important Bill. I share with him the belief that it is important.

I am reminded of a story of a visitor to Chartwell to see Winston Churchill. He was sent out to the garden to see the great man, who, he was told, was preparing a speech for the House. He heard a voice from behind a hedge saying, "Mr. Speaker, I had not intended to intervene in this debate." That sums up my position today. I am here primarily because my Periodicals (Protection of Children) Bill appears further down the Order Paper. I shall not move further consideration of the Bill, because the publishers have made great progress on a voluntary code of conduct which more than meets all my concerns.

I scanned the amendments to the earlier Bills on the Order Paper, and I have to say that I viewed them with considerable alarm. When the Noise Bill left this place, it was a perfectly reasonable Bill, but it now risks becoming draconian. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North seemed to understand the dilemma of those local authorities that would not wish necessarily to use the discretionary powers that his Bill originally gave them. The debate about whether the powers in the Bill should be discretionary or mandatory lies at the heart of amendment No. 1.

I have a reputation for interventionism—for liking to give the Government powers to do things—which is entirely unjustified. I genuinely believe that the amendment is wrong. it seeks to give the Government too much power to interfere with the affairs of local authorities. I have some difficulty in opposing the amendment, because I understand that, if we sent it back to another place, the whole Bill could be lost. So I shall be looking to my hon. Friend the Minister for some strong assurances about the way in which these rather dangerous powers will be exercised by a future Secretary of State.

10.15 am

I support the Bill, because there has been a huge increase in noise complaints in my constituency surgery. I have seen a surge in complaints this year. I have read the earlier proceedings on the Bill in this place and in another place and some of the horrific stories that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North cited. I believe that even a murder has been caused by night noise nuisance, which the Bill seeks to correct, but I note that such events seem to be concentrated in urban areas.

We should be able to trust local authorities to use the powers that the Bill gives them, if they feel that they need to do so. I do not see why we should be in the business of forcing local authorities to assume powers that they do not wish to assume. I read the accounts that my hon. Friend gave of the likely scale of protest that would occur—particularly, I suspect, in urban areas—if the local authority decided not to implement the powers that the Bill gave them. The force of democratic protest in areas in which night noise is a nuisance is sufficient to assure us that the Bill will be implemented where it is necessary and where the local authorities embrace the powers willingly.

We had this debate on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. There was a huge dispute among Conservative Members as to whether the powers should be discretionary or mandatory. That dispute spread across the House. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) expressed concern in the Standing Committee on 13 March that many councils would not adopt the proposals.

On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) was clear that the legislation should be permissive. He said: Does he recognise that councils in heavily rural areas, where the pressure of noise is not as obvious as in Bexley or other urban environments—that is not to say that the problem does not arise in rural areas because it does—will need permissive legislation, rather than being made to enforce legislation?"—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 13 March 1996; c.6.] He was right to make that point.

On Report, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) spoke strongly. I will not repeat his words, because he is here to make his own speech. I appreciated what he said on 10 May. He was right. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North responded in a way that suggested that he agreed with my hon. Friend's remarks. He said: However, to force all local authorities to implement the Bill where it was not needed would be mistaken. That would simply put people through a bureaucratic process."—[Official Report, 10 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 548.] He was right to make that observation.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Perhaps I can make it clear that the Bill places no mandatory requirement on local authorities to implement it. If the amendment is accepted, as I hope it will be, that position will not be changed, but the Secretary of State will have a power to order local authorities to implement in some cases. Obviously, no Secretary of State would order universal implementation. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Well, not where it is not required.

Mr. Luff

My hon. Friend makes a brave assertion, which I hope he is right to make. That lies at the heart of my concern. What guarantee can he give us that some future Secretary of State will not use the powers to make an all-embracing order that covers the whole country, where local authorities have not chosen voluntarily to use the powers that the Bill gives them?

In another place, Lord Graham of Edmonton said: I am trying to understand under what circumstances central Government would make an order against the wishes of the local community."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 June 1996; Vol. 572, c. 1982.] Why should central office—I mean central Government: I can understand why central office might do so—seek to make an order against the wishes of the local community?

The amendment represents an uneasy compromise between hon. Members who want powers forced on local authorities and those who, like myself, would rather leave it to the authorities to decide what to do. It is a blank cheque for busybody Ministers to intervene in the affairs of local communities.

I am wary of local authority claims that excessive burdens are placed on them—under good Conservative management, councils can cope with all the burdens that the House imposes—but we must ensure that they have discretion to decide whether or not to act in respect of matters of local rather than national interest. The House ought to devolve more discretion to local authorities, not give the Secretary of State for the Environment the power to impose legislation that councils might not want to enforce.

My constituency has two local authorities that would be given powers under the Bill. My hope is that Worcester city council—an urban area from which most night noise complaints originate—will use the Bill's powers and enforce them. I hope that the Secretary of State would not have to compel Worcester city council to implement the measure.

Wychavon is a rural district council area with two or three centres of urban population—Pershore, Evesham and Droitwich. The council's environmental health officer told me yesterday that existing powers to issue statutory notices work well, and he reminded me that it was a criminal offence not to comply. Sadly—this is one reason for the Bill—people are less happy these days about resolving disputes locally. There is reluctance to knock on a neighbour's door and say, "I don't like the noise." People tend instead to rush to a statutory enforcement agency, which is an adverse trend.

The EHO to whom I spoke thought that urban areas would need the legislation, but had reservations about whether permanent night noise patrols could be justified in rural areas. He does not want the Secretary of State to impose that requirement on him.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I agree that noise pollution is a growing problem, as evidenced by the increasing correspondence we receive from our constituents. I represent a lot of old pit villages. In one quiet little hamlet, a cockerel was crowing at 5 o'clock every morning—which is what it was supposed to do, but one resident did not like the noise. I could have invoked the powers of the local authority's environmental health officer, but instead had a novel idea. I offered to buy the cockerel and give it to the old-age pensioners for their Christmas dinner.

I managed to resolve the problem, but there is no doubt that the Bill's powers will create problems for rural areas. I hope that it is passed but, judging from the number of Conservative Members present, I suspect that the Bill will have a torrid time. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has done a deal with his friends, but otherwise his measure could have a rough passage.

Mr. Luff

I welcome the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to the ranks of pragmatists, and congratulate him on the way that he approached his constituency problem. Others have a more mundane way of dealing with such matters. I believe that I am right in thinking that a cock crowing would constitute a night noise nuisance in the terms of my hon. Friend's Bill.

Mr. Harry Greenway

indicated dissent.

Mr. Luff

Its provisions would be in effect until 7 am.

Mr. Greenway

I said in my opening remarks that barking dogs, peacocks, pea hens, cockerels and other animals are dealt with under existing legislation.

Mr. Luff

It seems that they are dealt with also by the hon. Member for Bolsover, and those of us who have problems with crowing cockerels in our constituencies might hire his services—but as I know that the hon. Gentleman does not accept payment from outside interests, I am sure that he would give them pro bono publico.

Mr. Greenway

One problem with the approach taken by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is that, by the processes of nature, no cockerels would be left. That needs to be thought about.

Mr. Luff

I think that I had better not respond to that point.

Mr. Thomason

Does my hon. Friend agree that under clause 1(1), a decision of the local authority must apply to its whole area of jurisdiction? It follows that an order made by the Secretary of State under the amendment would also have to apply to the whole local authority area, with no discretion to apply the order only to parts of it.

Mr. Luff

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising the point that I made in my earlier intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North—and one on which I would particularly appreciate the Minister's guidance. If orders are imposed in rural areas, they should be tightly defined, and not spread across the whole district.

Mr. Clappison

If this will help my hon. Friend to develop his argument, an order to direct a local authority to apply the offence in its area would require application to the whole area.

Mr. Luff

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's clarification, but it deepens my worries about the amendment, and it will certainly increase Wychavon district council's concerns. That local authority tells me that it already has pragmatic ways of dealing with noise nuisance locally.

If the council encounters an urgent and unpleasant incident of night noise, which happens only rarely, an officer is sent out on a case-by-case basis, and that generally works. The officer is given a couple of hours off work in lieu, or receives some small recompense for his efforts.

We do not want a future Secretary of State to impose responsibilities on local authorities by statute. There is no need in Wychavon for further legislation. I understand that one local authority—I believe that it was Woodspring—tried night patrols for three months, but found that they diverted too many resources from daytime duties, and abandoned the experiment.

Why make the amendment? Why give such a power to the Secretary of State? How would a future Secretary of State use the power? My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said that we have a sensible Secretary of State for the Environment. I know that it is Labour's aspiration to have a silly Secretary of State, who might abuse the power.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Not likely.

Mr. Luff

I agree, but we must plan for even the most unlikely eventualities when considering legislation.

What will be the content of the report that is sent to the Secretary of State? Why will three months be given to phase in an order? Why not make the period one, two or six months? A host of questions have been left unanswered, particularly those relating to the way that the Secretary of State would use his powers. A sensible, pragmatic Bill for local authorities could be transformed into a serious imposition—particularly for rural authorities.

I look for reassurance from my hon. Friend the Minister as to the way that the Secretary of State could be expected to use the powers, particularly in rural areas.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) as a Member of Parliament who represents a rural constituency—but in doing so I take nothing away from the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in bringing the Bill before the House.

I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester that the Bill was sensible when it left this House. I suspect that it originated from the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North of representing an urban constituency. The strongest support that his speech received was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who also represents an urban constituency—but the problems of rural local authorities are quite different from my hon. Friend's experience of Ealing council.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North is an excellent, hard-working Conservative Member of Parliament, but he has been thwarted at every turn by Ealing council. He has become absolutely convinced that, even if this Bill were to become law, Ealing council—because of the gross mismanagement of its affairs and its inability to conduct itself properly—would simply not have the resources to implement it. He has therefore come to the conclusion that the Secretary of State must have the power to intervene to force Ealing council to take action.

Mr. Harry Greenway

My hon. Friend may have had a slip of the tongue when he said that I might think that Ealing council does not have the resources to implement the Bill. I think that it has the resources, but it may not have the will or the integrity to do so.

10.30 am
Mr. Leigh

I am sure that that is right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) said in another debate, if local authorities were as concerned about noise pollution as they are about food safety, we might have some better action from some of those Labour-controlled local councils. Ealing council, of course, has adequate resources provided to it by council taxpayers and through Government grants to act in a proper manner, but it will not do so.

This week, I took the opportunity to consult my own local authority, West Lindsey district council, and was told by people there that the problem is not very great. I should expand on that fact, and tell my hon. Friend that my constituency is one of six in Lincolnshire, and that it covers an area of 700 square miles. In square miles, it is larger than Greater London, which has 92 parliamentary constituencies. Is it really envisaged that noise patrols will go along lanes in my constituency? While my hon. Friend's constituency may be two or three square miles, it is a 60-mile journey between Gainsborough and Horncastle, which are the two largest towns in my constituency.

Noise is, of course, a problem, and we have a right to quiet enjoyment of life. We become aware of some noise only when we think of it—such as other hon. Members' speeches when we are preparing our own. This Bill is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and Lords amendment No. 1, if it were to be passed in its current form, could be very dangerous. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North to think again.

I do not think that the Bill would deal with many of the real problems in rural areas: I assure him that bird scarers are a far greater problem in such areas. I am in the middle of an enormously involved correspondence with the Minister on bird scarers. In my own village, in the Lincolnshire wolds, one sometimes feels as though one were in the middle of the battle of the Somme. At one stage, five years ago, there were no fewer than 12 bird scarers ringed around the village going off at all times.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Has my hon. Friend suggested to his local farmers that they might borrow the beast of Bolsover to circuit those villages to scare away the pigeons?

Mr. Leigh

I thought that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made a very fair point. There is an enormous conflict in rural society between those who farm the land, who perhaps have done so for many years, and who believe that noise and disturbance such as bird scarers, smells from pigs and—as he mentioned—cockerels are a necessary part of rural life, and those with a more suburban mentality who moved into those villages and want a nice quiet life. They do not want all those country noises and smells.

Not only bird scarers and agriculture make noise. I have been awakened on three successive weekends by noise from raves—in one of the most rural areas in England. Indeed, not far from me is the loneliest farmhouse in England. People come from urban areas, find a field and maintain an appalling, monotonous beat that can be heard for miles around. Unless my hon. Friend can advise me differently, I believe that this Bill will have no impact on people conducting raves in rural areas. As he is not intervening on my speech, I assume that the Bill will not affect raves or bird scarers.

Mr. Harry Greenway

My hon. Friend is quite right. My Bill deals with neighbour-to-neighbour noise, and does not deal with raves, although other legislation does. If the police are not effectively implementing that legislation, he should contact them.

Mr. Leigh

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. My point is that we as Conservative Members should tackle the attitude that legislation can solve every problem in society. I do not believe it can. We know that there is an appalling and increasing problem with noise, particularly in urban areas. We know that we live in an increasingly selfish society, in which people are given increasingly more and in which they take ever more.

However, do we think that the Singapore solution is the answer—that we should have legislation for everything, and that, if someone drops a bit of cigarette paper on the floor, he should be sent to prison? We cannot solve society's problems by legislating to order human behaviour in every respect. It simply does not work, it is not the Conservative way, and it is not what we should be about. We should be articulating values that can try to reinforce good behaviour, and not trying to enforce good behaviour by increasingly intrusive legislation. That is why I am very doubtful about this Bill.

I wish the Bill well. It was a sensible compromise in the form in which it left this place. I urge my hon. Friend to reconsider this amendment.

Mr. Viggers

I thought that I was the only hon. Member to have reservations about the Bill until I heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). I was extremely pleased to hear his comments.

I yield to no one in my admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Last night, I re-read the Committee stage of the Bill, and the speeches were unanimous in their praise for him. He deserves that praise, because he is a model constituency Member of Parliament. His presentation of a petition earlier today is merely one further example of his assiduous work on behalf of his constituents and of others, and on such issues as horse-riding safety. He is a noble hon. Member indeed. Some boroughs and cities have a Nelson Mandela drive. I hope that there is a Harry Greenway school, perhaps in Ealing, North. Perhaps the citizens there will think about that.

My hon. Friend will no doubt go down in history, but not for this Bill. I think that single issue campaigns lead to bad law and to bad government, because they create excessive government. When I read George Orwell's "1984" as a schoolboy, I thought that the Orwellian society described could only be implemented through a soviet-style coup or putsch, leading to a Bolsover or Clay Cross situation, in which socialism or communism dominated. However, creeping and expanding government can also arise with the gradual spreading of the tentacles of the powers of local and national government, and with their interference in the normal activities of each human being.

In the long run, such government, through the well-meaning intentions of those who seek to do good, can cause more damage than other forms of government. We have two very good examples of that in Bills to be considered today. There is a problem with noise, for example, so we shall give local authorities power to stop it. Energy is being wasted, so we shall give local authorities power to report on conservation. Government is continually growing, and no one seems to be prepared to stop it.

I am all in favour of local authorities being answerable to their electorates and doing what their electorates want. I am in favour of greater local democracy provided that it is genuine.

When we had a system of rates and business rates., local authorities were able to carry through what they wished to do in their areas. That system became corrupt because of rotten boroughs—such as those in Manchester and Liverpool, in which only a small proportion of individuals paid domestic rates and no one cared about business rates.

That is why a Conservative Government eventually found it necessary to clamp down on local government's power by imposing standard spending assessments and rate capping, which took away many of local government's powers. I regret that that happened, because it was an admission that local democracy could not be trusted, and that control had to be exercised from the centre.

At least it was clear at an earlier stage in the Bill's passage that local authorities would not have to implement this noise control legislation. They had a choice whether to do so, and that was the one redeeming feature of the legislation. Now, the other place has produced a formula by which the scheme may become universal and give the Secretary of State powers to impose the scheme on local authorities, even if they do not wish to operate it.

The Minister has no doubt been advised by his civil servants that the amendment is an ideal solution—a sensible compromise between the powers being voluntary and the powers being imposed on every local authority. The civil servants have no doubt said, "The amendment gives you, Minister, the power to implement the scheme if you think it wise. It is a perfect compromise, because you, Minister, have the responsibility and the power." From the civil service advisers' point of view, and from the point of view of the single interest group which has pushed for noise control legislation, the amendment is the ideal solution.

The amendment is perfect from the civil servants' point of view, because they know that, after the election in May 1997, my hon. Friend the Minister will, as a result of his success in implementing legislation such as the Bill. move on to greater things and become an even more senior Minister. I have watched his progress since he came into the House—as recently as 1992—and I have seen him move with great speed up the ministerial ladder.

Another Minister will then be advised by the civil servants. They will say to that Minister, "Now, Minister, you must impose this legislation on more and more local authority areas." The new Minister will, of course, find it difficult to stand up to his advisers. He will find it difficult to have the backbone we require of Conservative Ministers and to say, "Absolutely not. This is not a Conservative measure, and I will not implement it." The civil servants will get their way, and the powers will be spread across the whole country.

Where will it all end? If my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North had had it put to him by the activists against noise—by the single interest group which has complained so effectively—that he should promote a law which gave draconian powers, he would, I am sure, have refused.

Let us imagine that he had been asked to promote a Bill that gave local authorities powers of search and powers of arrest, and which imposed a duty on every local authority to implement the law. After all, that is not enough, is it? One would have to make sure that local authorities imposed the law, so one would need fines on councillors who failed to implement the law, and surcharges and prison sentences for non-compliance. If my hon. Friend had been asked to implement such a law, he would, of course, have refused, but that is where it will all end.

The light touch will not work. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has mentioned the 131,153 complaints about noise in the year 1993–94, and has said that that figure is three times the figure for the previous year. He has also said that one in 10 people suffer from noise from neighbours; that is about 6 million people.

I cannot see the figure stopping at 131,000; it may reach 6 million and go even beyond that, because, if there is a mechanism for complaints about neighbours, people will use it. A light touch will not work. There will be a small army of noise enforcement officers. Goodness me, there will be a chartered institute of noise control officers—it probably exists already. There will be yet more state control.

When I first came into the House, I used to say that the day would come when no child would be allowed to climb a tree except under the control of a properly qualified tree-climbing instructor. I said that the other day at St. Vincent college in my constituency, of which I am chairman—it is a very fine college, to give it a boost.

Someone from the college said, "Of course that is right. We could not allow children to climb trees if they were not under the control of properly qualified tree-climbing instructors." As chairman of the college, I had to sign certificates from time to time to say that the people who were taking children out on adventure holidays and adventure training were properly qualified. The small army of noise control specialists will grow, and we shall need a large army.

Mr. Skinner

And legal aid.

Mr. Viggers

Yes, people will seek legal aid. The job will be stressful, so the noise control specialists will need counselling and the councillors will find implementing the scheme stressful, so they too will need counselling.

Mr. Leigh

Surely it is outrageous that people in this country should have to suffer more noise than is the case in other nation states in the European Union? I therefore believe that we should have a European directive on noise control, so that we can have equal levels of noise throughout our great European Union.

Mr. Viggers

And we shall no doubt have an advisory committee to co-ordinate the legislation in this country with the legislation in Europe.

I make one prediction of which I am totally certain, which is that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and I are sitting on the Government Benches in 2000, there will be at least 1 million complaints about noise. I make that prediction with absolute confidence.

Why only noise control? Has my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North thought about smell control or light control—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Not under these amendments.

Mr. Viggers

I am looking ahead, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to what I am certain will happen, and I fear it. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to throw away the speech notes that have been prepared for him. I ask him to say to his civil servants, "Find another Minister to play Trilby to your Svengali. I will have none of it."

10.45 am
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I support the Lords amendments to the Bill, but I have one or two minor queries which I will put through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Minister.

I have carefully followed the Bill during its passage through the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) knows, and I have made contributions at most stages. I am a strong supporter of the Bill, and I understand its purpose. More importantly, we are here to ensure that it operates in practice as it is intended to operate. That is the significance of the Lords amendments.

On Report, I raised the question whether there should be more than just a discretionary power on local authorities. There was considerable debate about that, and my hon. Friend the Minister, in his winding-up speech, promised that he would look at the possibility of an amendment being introduced in the other place to try to achieve a balance between the people who wished to see a stronger law under which there was more than just a discretionary power on local authorities and those who argued, as many of my hon. Friends have argued eloquently this morning, against such a power.

I believe that the Lords amendment just about gets the balance right. It has a light touch, which would enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, where necessary, to impose a requirement on local authorities to enforce the Act, as I hope it will become, but which would leave most local authorities with nothing more than a discretionary power.

Our discussion this morning has revolved round the powers of local authorities and the stage at which the House should insist that a law is applied whether or not a local authority wishes to do so. I have a good deal of sympathy with those who argue that local authorities should have more discretionary powers. I believe in that, too, as a matter of principle and good justice.

It would be excellent to have a system in which more power was devolved to local authorities, so that they had the right not only to take action as is proposed in the Bill—a right that they would not have without the Bill—but not to implement a law if they felt that that was appropriate.

In many senses, the Bill is an ideal example. I readily accept what many of my hon. Friends have said—that, in their constituencies, there is generally no need for the Bill. Sadly, my constituency is different: it is an urban constituency, and there are severe problems of neighbourhood noise. The existing framework of law is clearly inadequate, so the Bill is welcome. It is an excellent Bill, which will address many of the problems.

However, I must be fair: if I lived in Gainsborough, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), I would probably take a similar approach. If I lived in the countryside where my next-door neighbour was two miles down the road, as I believe is the case for my hon. Friend, I would know that I or my neighbour could jump up at three in the morning and rave, shout, play loud music and foam at the mouth—[Laughter] I am not suggesting for one moment that my hon. Friend does that: I hope that he did not mistake me for so doing. I merely use that as an illutstration of how an infernal noise could be created by my neighbour, and I would not know about it. So the law would simply not be relevant.

My constituency is totally different. I live in an area where the houses are a little further apart. I cannot quite touch my neighbour's property from my front door, although it is not far away. In other parts of my constituency, however, the houses are extremely close together, and where there are blocks of flats, people live in even closer proximity, and even the slightest noise can cause a great deal of disturbance. That is the essential difference between different parts of the country.

The reason why the amendment is necessary for areas such as my constituency is that people have a legitimate problem and good grounds for complaint. They need this Bill not only to be on the statute book but to be put into practice. If the power remains only discretionary, people will be crying out for action in some areas of the country where, for one reason or another, the local authority has not got around to using the power. That would be ridiculous. The Bill would be on the statute book, but the law would apply only in theory. The law would not only be an ass; justice would not only be blindfolded: the law would be a blindfolded ass.

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is advancing a very dangerous argument. We all accept that the Bill is necessary, but there is an argument between those who believe that the power placed on local authorities should be discretionary and those who believe that it should be mandatory. If the problem is so great in his constituency, or, indeed, in Ealing, public pressure on the council will build, and in the end the local authority will take action. That is what democracy is about. My hon. Friend is arguing that democracy should be overcome, which cannot be valid.

Mr. Merchant

I wish that I shared my hon. Friend's optimism. He knows very well that the world is not quite that simple, and that local authorities do not necessarily respond that quickly to public opinion. My fear is that, even though public pressure may build, the nexus in which, in theory, he believes does not exist in practice. Because of the way elections work, decisions are rarely made on single issues, bureaucrats often hide behind walls some distance from the real problem, and there are financial pressures.

With great respect, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle advanced the theory that the law could not solve all problems, and that basically we had to learn to get on with each other. It is a fine theory, and there is nothing wrong with it, but if it were true, we would not need to sit in this place very long, since we would not need to pass many laws. I believe in a law-based society and the rule of law.

I challenge my hon. Friend. What would he do? Would he knock on the doors of people complaining about noisy neighbours and explain to them that we all had to be very nice to each other, get on with each other, and ask them whether they would please turn the volume down? If he is willing to do that, I will invite him to my constituency. He would realise what happens.

Would my hon. Friend the Member follow up the complaints by giving people a long philosophical lecture about the origin of conservatism and why we should all get on with each other in a responsible society? Does he think that, at 3 o'clock in the morning, that would persuade people to turn down the volume of the gramophone or whatever instrument they are using at their party? Such a wishy-washy approach to societal problems just does not work. It is very liberal-minded, but would not cure the problem.

Mr. Thomason

Does my hon. Friend therefore believe that there should be no such thing as local authority discretion? It would appear to be his thrust that everything must be decided by central Government, because local government is incapable of making a decision until it makes one with which he happens to agree.

Mr. Merchant

I was not saying that, and I hope that, if my hon. Friend reads my words in the Official Report, he will realise it. I was very careful to say that I strongly agreed with the principle of local authorities having discretion, and that I wished that it could be extended further. We must look at each measure at a time and decide whether it is relevant for such discretion. I am saying that there may be circumstances—that is all that the amendment would add—in which discretion would not work.

My hon. Friend should not forget that the impact of the amendment is not to make the law mandatory on all local authorities. Discretion is being retained. My hon. Friend the Minister has fought off pressure from some of our hon. Friends who are not present, who wanted the Bill to be mandatory on all local authorities. The amendment will not make it so. It merely gives my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the right in extremis to intervene and make the power mandatory, where, I imagine, the local authority responsible is not operating the discretionary power properly.

Mr. Viggers

A moment ago, my hon. Friend was talking about circumstances in which the noise complaint was being investigated and passed on by the local authority official. It is unlikely that, if someone is playing a radio or a record player rather loudly, and an official turns up and says, "Will you please turn down your noise?", the chap will do it.

A policeman told me that, on a number of occasions, he has had to attend to a complaint about noise. He said that the events usually occur late at night, when people have been drinking, or perhaps drugs have been involved, and the noise is exorbitant. He told me that he has never yet not encountered violence or the threat of violence on such occasions. Can my hon. Friend envisage how much expense and complication will be involved if that is a frequent occurrence?

Mr. Merchant

As I see it, the Bill will be a deterrent when it becomes law. The existence of the power and the knowledge that officials have an ability to impose a fixed penalty fine on those who are consistently causing night noise should be sufficient to act as a major deterrent. That is the most important part of the Bill.

My second response to my hon. Friend is that, although in some circumstances what he says is undoubtedly correct, I know of many occasions in my constituency that do not so easily fit into an overall picture. There are examples of noise being created negligently or recklessly but without intention, and once sufficient pressure is brought to bear by the authorities, the noise ends.

On other occasions, noise is considered persistent—over not one or two evenings but a whole season—because of the different life styles of people making the noise and those complaining about it. It is often a generation problem. In such circumstances, too, knowledge among those who are making the noise that effective measures can be taken against them should be a strong deterrent and prevent them from repeating the noise.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I had a letter the other day from one of my elderly constituents who is absolutely beside herself because her next-door neighbour has let his house to some young people who are totally anti-social. There is loud music, bad language, and the sort of anti-social behaviour that my hon. Friend would expect, including the throwing of rocks over the garden fence at her grandchildren. Does he envisage that the Bill will help my constituent in her predicament?

Mr. Merchant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The Bill will help people in such circumstances—although not entirely, because clearly other offences are involved. I hope that the Bill will help to diffuse the sort of neighbourhood problems that can mushroom out of all proportion. Examples have been given of people dying as a result of neighbourhood noise. Such examples are well documented—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should return to the subject of the amendment.

Mr. Merchant

I am grateful for your admonition, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall draw my remarks to a close, as I do not wish to monopolise the debate; however, I should like to make just two more points.

First, I shall give a example of a similar discretionary law that I consider to be inadequate. I cannot quote the Act concerned, but it provides a power by which local authorities can give financial support to those who wish to litigate on leasehold matters. Many of my constituents would like to exercise that right, as my constituency has a large proportion of leasehold properties.

However, the local authority has decided not to use its discretionary power. Therefore, an area that was intended specifically to benefit from a particular measure cannot do so, because the local authority has chosen not to apply its discretionary power. That is one example of what can happen if a discretionary power is not implemented even where it is most needed. The local authority has chosen not to implement its power for the best and most understandable reason—the potential cost involved. I do not blame the local authority, because I understand its dilemma, but I empathise with my constituents.

11 am

I am concerned that the same may happen under the Noise Bill—that the local authorities with the worst problems will be the most reluctant to apply their discretionary power. They simply will not want to take on the task involved. That is why the reserve power provided by the Lords amendment should remain in the Bill. The amendment does not stray as far into the territory of extinguishing local authority discretion as many of my hon. Friends seem to think. It is a well balanced amendment and I support it.

Many of my hon. Friends simply do not understand the seriousness and size of the problem in certain heavily urbanised areas. They represent pleasant rural or suburban constituencies, so they do not know how frustrating and severe the problem can be for my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North.

Finally, I seek clarification of the general power from my hon. Friend the Minister, as its implementation is crucial to the Bill. Under what circumstances would the Secretary of State be prepared to impose such an order, and what would be involved? What remedy would there be for our constituents who might face the severe problems I have outlined if his successors failed to impose an order? To what extent can they be induced to do so, and what would be the position of frustrated residents? I am simply trying to represent many of my constituents who have experienced severe difficulties.

I want to be certain not just that the Bill passes into law, but, as we have all spent considerable time honing it and making sure that it addresses the problems experienced in our constituencies, that we do not end up with a vacuous, empty, theoretical measure. We need a measure with real, practical implications. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will go into a little more detail about the circumstances in which the power would be implemented, and that he will be able to convince me and many of my hon. Friends that our constituents will be properly protected if the need arises.

Mr. Waterson

I regret to say that I oppose the amendments, because the powers in the new Bill should be mandatory and universally applied. However, I stress my considerable support for the Bill, and join other hon. Members in heaping well-deserved praise and congratulations on my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). It is an important measure, which I strongly support.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said, the Bill enables local authorities by resolution to adopt the new night noise provisions. However, in addition to the power to make such a resolution, the amendments would enable the Secretary of State to make an order in respect of the new provisions. I do not think that they go far enough.

There has been much discussion about urban local authorities. It is hardly surprising that the debate has concentrated on inner-city constituencies, but hon. Members should realise that noise can be a great problem in leafy suburbs or pleasant seaside resorts such as Eastbourne.

The problem is almost endemic in blocks of flats and rows of houses in parts of my constituency. Every hon. Member who has spoken in this morning's debate has testified to the fact that the problem is escalating. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister has given an undertaking to review the workings of the Bill after two years, so at least there is that long stop. However, my firm view is that the amendments should be rejected, as they do not go far enough, and the powers should be mandatory as soon as they are introduced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North told the House that, in 1993–94, there were some 131,000 complaints about noise from domestic premises. Although the figures are not available today, I have a shrewd suspicion that those for last year or the current year are probably quite significantly higher, as there is absolutely no doubt from the evidence from our mailbags and surgeries that the problem is increasing rapidly.

I have had a number of constituency cases mainly involving disputes between neighbours. Some of them have been concerned with the early stages of implementing care in the community, when people have been discharged from an institution and have stopped taking their medication and engaged in bizarre behaviour, including playing loud music late at night. Just one person behaving in that way, for whatever reason, can easily disrupt the peace and quiet of an entire community in a block of flats. We cannot overstate the genuine distress that is created in all our constituencies by problems which are often maliciously caused. We all know that neighbour disputes are the most intractable and distressing matters that come to us in our surgeries, and all too often they lead to these noise nuisances.

Only last Friday night, I went on patrol with my local police in Eastbourne. One of the problems we have to face is the phenomenon of boy racers—young gentlemen who roar around the centre of town, particularly Devonshire place, in their souped-up cars, often with loud sound from their stereo equipment. I shall press my hon. Friend on the extent to which the Bill may or may not address that problem.

On one occasion, we stopped a young man in a car that I doubt had even scrap value, but lurking within it was the most massive, expensive stereo than I have ever seen. It was certainly worth a great deal more than the vehicle that he was driving. That is just one example of a problem specific to my constituency. I am not aware whether such mobile nuisance, the use of stereo equipment, and so on, would be affected by the Bill as it stands.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Perhaps I could clarify the matter a little for my hon. Friend and tell him that the Bill applies from dwelling house to dwelling house, which includes gardens. I suppose that if a car were in the garden of a dwelling-house making an unreasonable noise with stereophonic equipment, it would be caught by the Bill; but if it were in the street, there would be a problem. However, other legislation exists to address that problem.

Mr. Waterson

I am grateful for that clarification. As I feared, unless by some mishap a car ended up in somebody's garden we would have to use other powers. Perhaps if we revisit the legislation in future, we could think again about that nuisance, which I suspect happens in other constituencies, too.

Mr. Greenway

I do not want to intervene excessively, but I thank my hon. Friend for giving way to me again. The problem with stereo and other noise from cars is that, although it could be static, it is by definition almost always mobile. If a car were in the driveway of a garden area or in a garage, it would be caught by the Bill; if the car were mobile or on the street, other legislation would apply. I know that my hon. Friend accepts the fact that stronger legislation may be required—but legislation is already in place.

Mr. Waterson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that further clarification. My fears that the Bill would not assist in the instance that I mentioned are justified. The cars that I described are typically driven around locations such as Devonshire place in Eastbourne, or they may be parked—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could move on from the mobile side of the problem and return to the Lords amendment.

Mr. Waterson

I was about to move on to the power of seizure of noise-making equipment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I intervened during the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North to ask whether the power of confiscation and forfeiture of noise-making equipment, which is clarified by the Bill, would be available to all local authorities with immediate effect when the Bill becomes an Act, or whether it was adoptive, as are some of the other powers in the Bill.

Mr. Clappison

I think that I can assist my hon. Friend on that point. The powers of seizure, forfeiture, and so on will apply to all local authorities in connection with the present offence of statutory nuisance. That is not affected by the issue of whether other powers should be discretionary or mandatory, which we are now debating, and which will concern only the adoptive offence of noise at night. As I understand it, the powers of seizure and forfeiture will apply generally.

Mr. Waterson

I am delighted to hear that; in view of that clarification, obviously it would not be in order for me to say anything more about the power, as it now transpires that it does not arise under the amendment.

I am concerned, however, about the role of local authorities in general on such issues, as it would be affected by the amendments. I have had the benefit of talking to Jim Foster, Eastbourne borough council's senior officer responsible for dealing with environmental problems of that nature. Like many hard-pressed local authority officers, he still welcomes the principles behind the Bill, although he wanted me to raise several points.

Mr. Harry Greenway

We expect the seizure provisions to be implemented within about three months of enactment. By the autumn, local authorities will have the powers to seek to confiscate and impose a £1,000 fine.

Mr. Waterson

That is excellent news, which I know will be widely welcomed throughout the country.

The role of local authorities is important, especially as I believe that there is some evidence of a retreat by the police from involvement in such matters. The other day, I received a copy of a letter from Wealden district council, which covers the Willingdon and Polegate parts of my constituency, to the chairman of the police authority for Sussex, stressing the council's concern about the fact that the police are becoming less and less involved in dealing with such incidents. I hope that that difficulty will be resolved amicably between the district council and Sussex police. However, as Mr. Foster points out, environmental health departments in Sussex are wary of these provisions from a practical and resource standpoint. I shall touch on two or three practical points that Mr. Foster raised with me. One of my hon. Friends has already mentioned that local authority staff often feel that they need police support when visiting offending premises. They therefore suspect that there will be resource implications for the police as well as for local councils.

In Eastbourne, as in other places, there is a health and safety duty to safeguard staff out late at night. The guidance in my borough is: Where a potential risk exists staff are instructed not to proceed without Police presence. Mr. Foster feels that There should be provision for adopting for part of the year only and for amending hours for special occasions such as New Year.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is extremely interesting about Eastbourne, but it has absolutely nil relevance to the Lords amendment. We are discussing whether the Secretary of State should issue orders under the Bill, which has nothing to do with what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

11.15 am
Mr. Waterson

Yes, of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to put across the genuine practical concerns of my local authority about the idea of making the powers mandatory. I am arguing that we should bring in the powers on a mandatory basis straight away. As you know, the amendments would give the Secretary of State a power at some time in the future, which may or may not ever be exercised.

Mr. Foster makes several points, which add up to the suggestion that local authorities would have to devote extra new resources to enforcement if the powers became mandatory.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend is coming to some important points. The discretionary or mandatory order-making powers are closely related to the review that we shall carry out, and when we do so we shall have regard to such matters as the level of complaints in local authority areas, and representations from those who live there. We shall try to take into account the sort of experiences that my hon. Friend has mentioned, too, and I hope that that will give him some assurance. I shall talk at greater length about resources in due course—that is another important issue—but I hope that my hon. Friend will bear in mind the fact that the representations that he has described are important, and will be important in future.

Mr. Waterson

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. I know that, when the review takes place, it will be thorough, especially if he is in charge of it.

I was about to talk about the existing situation—the subject on which I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. It seems that about one third of local authorities already have some form of night noise complaints service, although we must recognise that the extent of that service—the number of staff and the resources currently devoted to it—may vary dramatically from one part of the country to another.

A recent survey by the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection suggests that at least one third of authorities would wish to adopt the provisions in the Bill. Whether that one third coincides with the one third that I have just mentioned, we cannot know at this stage; but it seems to make sense that authorities that are already doing much of what the Bill will encourage and underpin are more likely to adopt its provisions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said, a backward-looking, unhelpful and whingeing local authority may seek all sorts of excuses not to implement the Bill. That raises a fundamental issue as to the law on the matter; whether one has protection as soon as the Bill becomes law will depend entirely on the vagaries of where one happens to live.

On the subject of resources, I understand that the Government will take into account the cost of the implementation of the new power in the revenue support grant settlement, and I imagine that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that in more detail. Additional funding could well be allocated to all local authorities, whether or not they have an existing night noise service.

Mr. Dykes

Does my hon. Friend feel that the amendments would take care of a problem that we have seen in other areas, as well as noise pollution? Where there is an overwhelming case, a local authority can reject a malevolent applicant's planning application because of noise pollution. The local authority will be helpful to the residents, but then, on appeal, a remote inspector—who can be miles away and have no knowledge of the local problems or the agonies that the local residents are suffering from excessive night noise—will turn down the decision. Does my hon. Friend feel that the Secretary of State's powers implanted in the Bill adequately take care of that likely problem?

Mr. Waterson

My hon. Friend raises an interesting and novel point, and it is one against which all constituency Members of Parliament bump up from time to time. I would hope that the amendment will have the effect described by my hon. Friend. That may be an issue to which my hon. Friend the Minister will return in his speech. It is a very important facet of the problem.

I wish to draw my remarks to a conclusion, as I am eager to see the Bill make rapid progress. It is right to have some flexibility, but I have two points arising from that. First, many local authorities—sadly, not under Conservative control—may protest too much about the Bill's resource implications. I have said that one third of authorities are probably doing much of what is required by the Bill anyway, and funding will be made available. But this is a high-profile matter which directly affects many constituents, and politically motivated local authorities may be tempted—I put it no higher than that—to say that they will not implement the Bill's provisions, and then blame the Government. We can erase that possibility entirely by rejecting the amendments, and by making the scheme mandatory with immediate effect.

Secondly, for whatever reason—perhaps for the best motives—some authorities may choose not to adopt the Bill's provisions. That would produce a regional variation in provision, which would be unfortunate. If a resident in a borough that decides not to adopt the Bill's provisions encounters noise problems, that will be extremely frustrating. I shall press Eastbourne borough council to go ahead and adopt the provisions come what may. My fervent hope is that it will implement and adopt the provisions in full when they become law. I believe that, like me, the council will look to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North with gratitude for having worked so hard in pushing this important Bill through its various stages.

Mr. Jenkin

I do not wish to detain the House, because the amendments have been discussed at some length. Nor do I wish to detract from the achievements of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in getting the Bill thus far. He is addressing an important concern, particularly for constituencies such as his own, as I made clear when I spoke on the matter on 10 May.

I first became interested in noise—it is important to qualify our discussions on the amendments in this context—when I was a schoolboy, and I was given an essay as a punishment entitled "What noise does grass make when it is growing?" More particularly, another title, "What noise annoys an oyster most?", was most apposite for someone who became a Colchester Member of Parliament. Noise has been a preoccupation of mine for many years, and it is therefore a pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North in his overall objective of getting the Bill on to the statute book.

I share the concerns of a great many hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate about the amendments. On 10 May, I made it clear that my support for the Bill was based on the fact that it was an enabling and decentralising measure. It gave powers to local authorities, not obligations. Over the past 20 or 30 years, we have centralised too much—perhaps to the detriment of good public administration and of the public accountability of local authorities.

I thoroughly concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), although I was disappointed that he did not quote from my speech at length, as I am far too modest to do so myself. However, I reiterate what I said on 10 May, and I refer my hon. Friends to those comments. I also agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), whose scepticism about the effectiveness of legislation to deal with every eventuality is entirely justified. The great strength of the Bill is that it gives local authorities discretion to use extra legal powers, rather than an obligation. That was reflected in the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson).

I have great respect for what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said about his frustration that local authorities do not do enough of what we want, but in a democracy in which we respect local democracy, that is a matter for them. We must impose obligations and restraints on local authorities to fulfil certain criteria, not least those concerning matters of money, debt and taxation.

Our constituents require protection from excesses in those respects that would upset the general conduct of the economy; but in a matter as localised as noise, even I become a strong supporter of the Delors concept of subsidiarity where there is clearly a strong argument for allowing decisions to be taken at a much more local level than that of a national Parliament or a Secretary of State. That is what draws me to discuss the amendment. I am very interested in the process of argument and decision that concludes with us discussing the amendments in the House today.

Mr. Dykes

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point which, I think. is in order—the relationship between local and central Government as expressed in the amendment. Many people feel that, surprisingly, the previous Conservative Government interfered too much in local government and centralised too much, whereas we have always believed in decentralisation. Local authorities have been given an excessive burden in having to keep up with central Government edicts without the adequate financial resources to do so. We need a period of peace and calm in local government, and we should let it make more decisions—probably with less strident party politics. We should return to the good old traditions of British local government at its best.

Mr. Jenkin

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, as I was earlier this morning when he ticked me off in the Library for using a dictating machine. I apologise to him for that again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Noise pollution."] It was indeed a type of noise pollution, for which the rules and mores of the House have made provision. We did not need a policeman or a man coming around with a noise meter, and I am pleased to say that we managed to sort it out between us. I must say, however, that I find my hon. Friend's manner a little abrupt at times—but I am not in the least offended. Perhaps naturally, I feel admonished by my hon. Friend, but the matter is now on the record and I feel that I have got it off my chest. I have nothing more to complain about.

11.30 am

I wonder what process of discussion took place in the private offices of Ministers of the Department of the Environment when they were considering their reaction to the amendment. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gives a welcome to it, as I fear he will, I suspect that he will do so with a little hesitation. He knows that further powers for Secretaries of State for the Environment over local government are un-Tory and should be taken only reluctantly.

I suspect that my hon. Friend's initial reaction was that no further power should be taken and that some of the attractions of the Bill were its enabling and decentralising characteristics. But time passed and there was the drip, drip of the permanent secretary and his colleagues: "Minister, this power would never be exercised in any particular circumstances that we can now envisage, but it would be sensible to have a reserve power, something that we might rely on; otherwise, Minister, we would have to introduce primary legislation, which would be of great inconvenience to you and your ministerial colleagues, and to your friends in the House." I can understand exactly how my hon. Friends' determination to be decentralising Ministers was whittled away and seduced from them by the purring noises of their civil servants.

The danger is that we shall not always have—

Mr. Clappison

I wish to reassure my hon. Friend that I have not been whittled away or worn down by any dripping. I have, however, listened to the voices—in some instances, siren voices—of some of those who sit around my hon. Friend on the Government Benches. I have tried to respond to their representations. My hon. Friend will appreciate, on the very basis of the argument that he is developing, that there have been two rather conflicting points of view advanced at different stages of the Bill's consideration.

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.

The conflicting advice that my hon. Friend is receiving from my hon. Friends reflects the wide range of experience that individual Members have of their constituencies, ranging from the empire of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle to the pocket handkerchiefs of colleagues who represent London constituencies. I represent a constituency that is a mixture of the two, if anyone can imagine an empire tied to a pocket handkerchief. That, however, represents the urban and rural nature of my constituency. The Bill might apply appositely to part of the urban area of my constituency but with some discomfort to the rural areas. It is entirely appropriate that the matter should be left entirely to the discretion of local authorities.

Mr. Couchman

I find it difficult to differentiate between noise created in the urban part of my hon. Friend's constituency and noise created in the rural part. It would seem that noise nuisance is noise nuisance wherever it takes place, and that there should be no differentiation.

Mr. Jenkin

If that were the nature of the Bill, it would be taking much more wide-ranging powers than in fact it is. The Bill concentrates very much on neighbour-to-neighbour noise, domestic noise. We are not dealing with industrial noise or noise caused by farmers in rural areas. A farmer who uses a chainsaw in the middle of the night or a farmer's pigeon scarer making noise in the middle of the night would not be covered by the Bill. The Bill is confined to the problem of neighbour-to-neighbour noise, which tends to be a problem of the urban environment.

Mr. Couchman

Does my hon. Friend say that no neighbours create neighbour-to-neighbour noise in rural areas? Are houses in the rural areas of his constituency so far apart from one another that noise cannot be heard from neighbour to neighbour?

Mr. Jenkin

I am not saying that, of course. It does not take a great stretch of the imagination, however, to recognise the statistical probability of neighbour-to-neighbour noise in an area of high population density as opposed to one of low population density.

I think that we can safely say that the Bill is aimed at urban areas. It is interesting to note that hon. Members representing urban areas are the strongest champions of the Bill. Indeed, I champion the Bill on behalf of the urban areas in my constituency.

The obligations that are to be placed on local authorities are of great concern to those who live in rural areas, where distances are much greater than in urban areas. Coverage of different pockets of urban populations in Gainsborough and Horncastle, for example, would be difficult without disproportionate expense. Local authorities in the area that I represent have complained about the possible expense of complying fully with the proposed legislation. Therefore, the voluntary nature of compliance is most important.

I return to the substance of the amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North seems to think that they are premised on the assurance that we shall always have a splendid Secretary of State for the Environment, and a no less Tory Secretary of State than my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Have I got that right? It is—[Interruption.] I do not know why anyone is surprised. My right hon. Friend has been one of my very dear friends for many years, and a friend of the family. We are all Tories in the Conservative party.

Mr. Clappison

I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall report back to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State what I construed to be a most gracious compliment. My hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend stands in a long line of distinguished Conservative Secretaries of State for the Environment.

Mr. Jenkin

I am sure, however, that I would be forgiven for being the first to say that we have not always acted in a decentralising way, and that we must do our best at all times to decentralise. The great fear is that my right hon. Friend will not be Secretary of State for the Environment for ever. There are hon. Members who purport to offer themselves as stakeholding Secretaries of State. There is a great danger that the Bill will be used as an instrument by a Secretary of State to give us all a stake in each other's noise, rather than a stake in each other's peace and quiet. The Bill could be imposed on authorities with a political complexion different from that of the Secretary of State.

I fear that stakeholding is rather an urban concept. I do not think that it has much rural relevance. We do not want a stakeholding society having the right to roam and trample on the English countryside in my constituency. The danger and cost of imposing extra obligations on local authorities in the name of stakeholding reflect a new danger represented by the new Labour party. On the other hand, is there a subtle plot? Perhaps we are setting a trap for the new Labour party. I fear, however, that we shall be giving yet more power to central authorities that could be abused by less worthy men than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Therefore, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the entreaties that he has heard this morning and ensure that we remain on the high ground of Tory principles and legislate to take extra powers into the hands of Ministers only if that is absolutely necessary.

Mr. Thomason

Like other colleagues, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on introducing and taking this important measure through the House. It is noteworthy that there were no significant objections to the structure of the Bill during its passage. From time to time, we have expressed concerns about matters of detail, and I now express my concern about Lord's amendment No. 1.

I shall not delay the House, for we have had a full debate, and the arguments covered many of the points that I had wished to make. There are, however, grave dangers in following the line suggested in the amendment.

We have local authorities to reflect the diverse pattern of local communities and to introduce a form of government that is relevant to those communities. It is quite apparent from this morning's debate that the considerations that apply in a dense urban area such as Ealing are different from those that apply in sparse, urban areas such as Gainsborough—my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) made their points powerfully—or mixed areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) referred to it as the pocket handkerchief tied to the empire of rural sparsity.

Each area is different. Each has different problems that need to be addressed by the local authority that represents that locality. Yet, apparently, the proposal is that we should introduce national uniformity to deal with the range of different objectives which the Bill should address. The amendment is fundamentally misconceived. I do not want to torpedo the Bill itself, which I welcome and want to see fully implemented.

My hon. Friend the Minister may touch on this point in his reply, but I am concerned that the funding to support the infrastructure necessary to police noise, as envisaged in the Bill, will be distributed to local authorities through the revenue support grant mechanism—the formula that distributes money to local authorities. There will be no fine tuning, and as much money will go to the authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle as to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. It will be distributed according to the factors that apply to the normal distribution of grant, not according to whether it is appropriate to introduce the measure in different areas. As a result, it will be difficult for Secretaries of State to resist pressure from authorities that do not want to implement the Noise Bill. It will be said that local authorities already have the necessary funding because it has gone into the revenue support grant.

Ministers are opening a dangerous trap. They will come under pressure over something that should be a local issue. The problem of noise is clearly one that concerns localities, not the nation. Where local authorities determine that, because of funding problems or considered social pressures, they do not wish to implement the Bill, the complainants will beat a path to the door of the Secretary of State's office or, perhaps, that of the constituency Member of Parliament. The Secretary of State may find it extremely difficult to resist the pressure against implementation of the Bill, because he will be told that the local authority has already received part of the total funding that has been made available for its implementation. That is a dangerous trap for Secretaries of State, and they should have avoided it by not accepting the amendment.

If I heard my hon. Friend the Minister aright—I am sure that he will correct me later if I misunderstood—he said that, at the end of the two-year review period envisaged in the Bill, he will listen to the complaints from particular areas and determine whether local authorities have properly taken into account those complaints. It seems extraordinary that the Secretary of State should be required to police local authority performance based on the number of local complaints in the manner that he envisages. Perhaps I misheard him, because surely it is not the role of a Secretary of State to pass judgment on a detailed level about the performance of a local authority.

11.45 am

Where does the Secretary of State draw the line? If there have been six complaints from Gainsborough and five from Ealing, and neither local authority has implemented the measure, does he decide that it would be appropriate to implement it in Gainsborough, where there was an orchestrated campaign, and not in Ealing, North, where the problems may be far more severe but where no such campaign was organised? If so, we begin the silly situation where small campaigns can force the Secretary of State's hand if he lays down such criteria. All those are pitfalls, and the Secretary of State will find himself on a difficult road if the measure contained in the amendment is implemented.

I presume that a series of orders will be required to implement the Bill's provisions locally. I imagine that they will be subject to negative resolution. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that that is the nature of the subordinate legislation that he envisages as a result of enactment. If that is so, local authorities might ask their Members of Parliament to object to the orders, which could result in the House having to debate order after order arising from the Bill, because of concerns expressed locally about the availability of resources, the need to implement its provisions, or whatever. All those are further dangers of following this course of action.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to think carefully about the wisdom of pursuing Lords amendment No. 1 to what is otherwise an extremely good measure.

Mr. Vaz

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) for his hard work in ensuring that the Bill has reached this stage. I have known him for a number of years. He and my sister, who was deputy leader of Ealing council, were frequently at odds with each other in the Ealing and Acton Gazette, which—I am sure he will take this as a compliment—should be renamed "The Greenway Gazette", so often do his photograph and activities appear in it.

Before I finish, I shall speak about some of the things that he said about Ealing council, which, in the context of what he is trying to achieve, were a little unfair. It is, however, right to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, because it is extremely difficult first to win a place in the ballot, and then to get a Bill to this stage.

I promoted a private Member's Bill a couple of years ago that cleared all its stages—Second Reading, Report and Third Reading—in 60 seconds. I had hoped at 9.30 this morning that the hon. Gentleman's Bill would be in a similar position, but, as we can see, many hon. Members have decided to participate in the debate. I found the contributions of all hon. Members fascinating, especially the exchange between the hon. Members for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). I have always found the hon. Gentleman to be such a quiet and reasonable person. I cannot believe that he or his dictating equipment—I am not quite sure what was being alleged—would make such a noise. I do not believe that any order could possibly be made to restrict the noise that emanates from the hon. Member for Harrow, East, so placid and reasonable is he.

Mr. Dykes

It was the other way round.

Mr. Vaz

If it was the other way round, I can understand that. I am grateful for that clarification.

The Bill is important, because, as hon. Members have said, we see many examples in our surgeries—I certainly have over the past nine years—of constituents who have come to complain about noisy neighbours. That is why, when the subject of the hon. Gentleman's Bill was announced, there was such widespread acclaim from all those who have suffered as a result of noisy neighbours. Happily, I have never had to put up with noisy neighbours, but I know how miserable it must be for constituents who have to face such an awful ordeal.

I have dealt with many cases of noise nuisance in my constituency, which I refer to the local council. I remember one lady who had been putting up with a noisy neighbour for five years. She kept a daily diary, for all those five years, of every incident, from the moment she got up at 6 am to when she tried to go to sleep at 10 pm. In the end, she had to sell her home and leave the city. People should not have to do that; they should have the protection of the law. Therefore, we support the principles underlying the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ealing, North has received many letters of support in his postbag.

I understand why Baroness Gardner introduced the amendments in the other place, with the agreement of the hon. Member for Ealing, North. I understand the concerns. I wait with interest to hear what the Minister will say. I would not like the amendments to scupper the purpose of the Bill in any way. It is important that there is a Noise Bill at the end of today's proceedings—indeed, I hope much before the end, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) is keen to ensure that his worthy Bill is also debated and passed today. I hope that the Government and the hon. Member for Ealing, North will be flexible. We want to arrive at a compromise that serves their purpose, which I believe has been served to a large extent by the introduction of the Bill and the national debate that it has created on such an important subject.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider whether he really wishes to proceed with the amendments. It is essential that, out of those long deliberations—Second Reading was more than five months ago, followed by an interesting Committee stage—should come a Bill that protects people from those who, because of their life styles, make their lives difficult. We need to put something in place to meet that demand.

I have had many dealings with the Minister over the past few weeks as we sat opposite each other during the Committee stage of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill. He is a reasonable person and I am sure that he has carefully considered the points made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North. I hope that we will reach a compromise to ensure that the Bill clears its final stages.

I have to say that the hon. Gentleman was rather unfair in his attack on Ealing council. I am aware that he holds his seat with a healthy majority. He won it in 1983—

Mr. Harry Greenway

No, 1979.

Mr. Vaz

I apologise; the hon. Gentleman has been here longer than I thought. He has certainly increased his majority over the years. Nevertheless, Ealing returns a Labour council with great regularity. At the last election, it returned more Labour councillors than ever before. It is an interesting point that, as the hon. Gentleman's majority goes up, the majority of the Labour group on the council also goes up.

The council has done an enormous amount to help ordinary citizens in Ealing and I pay tribute to the work that it has done, despite great difficulties. A large amount of legislation has been passed by the Government restricting the powers and responsibilities of local councils. However, the hon. Gentleman has come to the House with a Bill that will allow Ealing council to satisfy one of its main objectives, which is to ensure that noise nuisance is brought under control.

I hope that, in the spirit of the all-party support that the hon. Gentleman has received, we shall hear no more attacks on the council.

Mr. Greenway

As the hon. Gentleman said, we are old sparring partners and old friends. I have great regard for his sister, who has been an outstanding councillor in Ealing in her time. I want briefly to respond to the hon. Gentleman's comments. Ealing council is about 50:50 Labour and Conservative, so the council is not under overwhelming Labour party control, as the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge.

I did not wish to attack Ealing council, but I had to respond to what the chair, as he calls himself—I call him the chairman—said, which was that the Bill was not needed and that the council could deal with noise and its vexatious aspects under existing legislation. That is absolute nonsense. The Bill offers Ealing council a golden opportunity to improve the way that it deals with noise nuisance. I hope that it takes that opportunity, and in that warm spirit I invite the council to change its views.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps we could return to the national scene.

Mr. Vaz

Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I would like to finish the point as the hon. Member for Ealing, North intervened on me. I am sure that he can use his immense persuasive skills and his undoubted charm to persuade the chair of the environmental services committee that the Bill is necessary, if he feels that it is not.

The Opposition warmly welcome the Bill. Its provisions are similar to ones that we would have introduced had we been in a position to do so. I just hope that the Minister realises that a huge number of people are desperately concerned about the issue. I realise that he has to be cautious on a number of points, but I ask him not to be so cautious that he prevents the passage of the Bill. In that spirit, I give my full support to the hon. Member for Ealing, North in what he is seeking to do.

Mr. Clappison

This has been a good debate on amendments that deal with important issues. Certainly they have emerged as important as the Bill has progressed through its stages. For example, the question whether the adoption of the power in the Bill to deal with the noise offence should be discretionary or mandatory arose during Second Reading, and we then dealt with it in Committee. It is appropriate that we should have a full debate on that this morning.

This is a good Bill, and I have no intention of trying to scupper it. I welcome the fact, as I have done on previous occasions, that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) chose this subject for his private Member's Bill when he was successful in the ballot. I congratulate him, as I have done on previous occasions, on the skilful way in which he has taken it through the House.

My hon. Friend is aware that, when the Bill first came before the House, the power to adopt the offence was discretionary for local authorities. The amendment creates a power for the Secretary of State to order local authorities so to adopt. In that light, it would be helpful to look back at how the issue has developed as the Bill has progressed through its stages.

On Report, there was a lively debate on whether the Bill should be made mandatory. Strong views were expressed by several hon. Members, especially those representing urban constituencies, about the need for it to be mandatory.

Mr. Thomason

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a fundamental difference between sparse rural authorities and dense urban authorities in looking at the problem of neighbour noise? Mixed areas have pockets of problems rather than a requirement for application of the powers to the whole of the area.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes an interesting and important point—indeed, I made it on Second Reading and at later stages. There is a difference in the position and the needs of rural local authorities compared with those in urban areas. That is why the Bill was originally framed on the basis of a discretionary power for local authorities.

During progress on the Bill, increasing concern was expressed by hon. Members, many of them in urban areas, that local authorities would not adopt the offence where it was most needed. There are two schools of thought on that, but one is entitled to place at least some reliance on the expectation that local authorities will respond to the views of their residents and apply local democracy. The worry that local authorities would not listen and would not take appropriate action to deal with a problem that causes much misery and hardship to many people has been fully expressed. It is important to put those views when approaching the amendment.

12 noon

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North outlined the situation with his characteristic skill. I can confirm what he said about the powers for seizure and confiscation or in some cases forfeiture. Those powers will apply to all local authorities for all noise offences, whether the prosecution is brought under existing legislation on noise nuisance or under the provisions of the Bill. My hon. Friend also spoke about resources, which are important in view of the Bill's discretionary nature. Hon. Members clearly wonder how that discretion will work.

The Government will take into account in the revenue support grant settlement the cost of implementing the new power, and additional funding will be allocated to local authorities. As I think my hon. Friend said, about one third of local authorities already have a night noise complaints service, and any extra cost to them should be minimal. Of course we expect other local authorities to adopt the power, and that will have revenue implications. Some hon. Members spoke about the way in which local authorities use resources.

Mr. Thomason

I am concerned about the way in which money will be directed to local authorities which participate in this exercise. The Minister has confirmed that the money will be allocated through the revenue support grant mechanism, and will not go only to authorities who will implement the Bill's provisions but to all authorities. That will give rise to pressure on Ministers to implement the Bill at a later stage.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend has great experience of local government and of the way that its finance operates. He is right, and his intervention ties in with concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members about local authorities seeking to find an excuse not to implement the new power by saying that they have insufficient resources.

An analysis of standard spending assessments for local authority services, including environmental health, per head of population shows that there is no correlation between the provision of Government funds and the level of noise service that is provided. One London borough offers a 24-hour noise service, and its SSA is substantially lower than that of other London boroughs.

I do not want to go too deeply into the issue, especially in the context of Ealing, because there was understanding and warmth when we discussed that borough. I do not want to disrupt that by going over old ground.

The analysis shows that Ealing has one of the highest SSAs in London, but does not provide a full out-of-hours noise service; whereas Bromley, whose SSA is more than £60 less, provides a full service. There should not be a way out for authorities that do not want to meet their obligations, and complain that they do not have the resources to do so.

Mr. Dykes

Are the Minister's officials satisfied that the analysis shows that in some local authorities someone answers the phone, and that there is not just an answerphone?

Mr. Clappison

A full service would mean that somebody responded to the complaint.

Mr. Dykes

But not on the following day?

Mr. Clappison

No. The full service would include manning during the relevant hours to provide a service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North is kind-hearted, although at one point in his speech it was said that he was behaving ferociously. I find it hard to picture him being ferocious, but on the issue of noise I detected some ferocity, because he spoke with real feeling. He is responding to the concerns and problems of his constituents, and I again pay tribute to him for his skill in presenting the legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) expressed the views of those who are concerned about the power being made mandatory. His constituency contains some rural areas, including Wychavon. He also spoke about the adoption of the power in part of a constituency. Perhaps he was trying to address the problems in constituencies which are part rural and trying to adapt it to provide the best possible service for constituents by taking account of different needs.

Local authorities which adopt the power will do so for the whole of their areas. My hon. Friend is keen to adapt the power to the needs of constituents in different parts of his constituency, but that might be unfair: there would inevitably be a boundary, so that the power would be available for one set of residents but not for another.

Mr. Luff

I understand the constraints placed on the Minister, but I am unhappy about what he has said. I appreciate that, if we reject the amendment, we will lose the Bill. Future Secretaries of State to whom the power will be entrusted must exercise it with the utmost discretion. Sparse rural areas do not need a massive diversion of resources to night noise patrols. They have pragmatic ways of dealing with that at present. The power must be used sparingly.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes a good point about sparsely populated rural areas. It is difficult enough to have a mandatory power, without taking account of different needs in different areas. It would be a shame to divert resources to an area in which they would not have the most beneficial effect. I shall shortly deal with how we shall review the operation of the power after two years.

I take to heart what was said about busybody Ministers. Although we must take our responsibilities seriously, we should not poke our noses into people's lives. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester spoke about the differences between rural and urban areas. That was clearly illustrated by the comments of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who told us about his intervention in a noise dispute and how he solved the problem of a crowing cockerel, by providing it as a Christmas dinner for some of his constituents. I hope that, at the end of that dinner the constituents did not come to the conclusion that it was better to have a tough old bird as a Member of Parliament than a tough old bird for their Christmas dinner.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) was also concerned about rural authorities. He made some valuable points. He spoke about the problems of West Lindsey district council, which he had consulted, and which represents an area of some 700 square miles. He was concerned about his council's position, and he too wondered whether it was necessary to have a mandatory power for a local authority such as his, or whether a discretionary power would not be more appropriate. He was worried that the power could be exercised in future in such a way as to impose its operation on his constituents. He felt, after consultation, that there was no need for it to be so imposed.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member that we take his concerns to heart. He, too, made the important point that we should not believe that legislation can solve every problem. He referred to particular problems within his constituency. He had come across the problem of raves. The provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provide assistance for those who are troubled by raves. They will not be covered by the provisions of the Bill, because those provisions cover noise between dwellings.

The issue of bird scarers is serious. The National Farmers Union is concerned about it, and has been of great assistance to those who are worried about it. It has provided a code of practice for farmers who operate bird scarers. I am now trespassing a little far from the amendment, but I hope that I have answered the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle.

Mr. Leigh

For the life of me, I cannot understand how this power would ever be used for local authority areas such as mine, consisting of towns and built-up areas in which perhaps 10 per cent. of the population lives, and a huge rural area. I presume that Ministers were responsible for framing the amendment. I cannot see why they did not frame it in such a way that the power to be held by the Secretary of State could apply only to authorities that covered wholly or largely urban areas. Why did Ministers seek to cover rural areas such as mine, where the power would be clearly unworkable?

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The question of dividing up the power to operate only in urban areas has arisen in the past. There are considerable practical difficulties in taking that course. The argument that my hon. Friend makes is part of the reason why the Bill was framed originally as a discretionary power. It was thought that it should be left to local authorities to decide what their needs were and to respond to them.

We recognise that the needs of urban and rural authorities are different. If it is decided that such a service is required in rural areas—that is a matter for the local people and their council—I suppose that the council will have to provide the service in the same way as it provides other services, bearing in mind the sparsity of population and rural needs.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

The more we consider the Bill, the more I conclude that it contains a real shortcoming, in that neither local authorities nor the Secretary of State has any power to designate certain areas and exclude others. It applies either to whole local authority areas or not at all.

In mixed areas, there is a strong case for a power to designate certain areas to be covered by the Bill. The local authority would take the powers and obligations to cover areas which could be agreed between the Secretary of State and the local authority as appropriate, but excluding other areas as inappropriate. Will my hon. Friend consider, even at this late stage, whether it is possible to introduce an amendment to enable that to happen?

Mr. Clappison

It would be difficult for residents within a local authority area to accept that their neighbours were covered by a service whereas they were not, while all the residents were voters and paid their council tax in that local authority area. However, my hon. Friend's underlying point about the difference between urban and rural areas is important.

Mr. Dykes

Could the Department assist the local authority by issuing guidance notes? If a local authority, in its council resolution at a full council meeting, designated its entire area under the powers, it could designate specific areas as outside the framework of the legislation.

Mr. Clappison

That course could be taken, but it would still leave the problem of local residents who were excluded from use of the power.

I assure both my hon. Friends and other hon. Friends who are worried about this that the existing powers of local authorities to deal with noise under the statutory nuisance regime will remain available to all residents, and will have to be enforced by environmental health officers within local authorities. The Bill does not alter those legal powers. That is an important point to bear in mind, although the Bill represents a considerable improvement in terms of night-time noise problems.

12.15 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) made some important points along the same lines. He was worried that the Bill went too far, and that we could end up with too much protection. He was worried that we could be moving towards a further extension of the nanny state, with more bureaucracy and more powers.

It is incumbent on Government, particularly a Conservative Government, to be alive to the points that my hon. Friend makes. We do not want to create powers to deal with every issue, to be too draconian in our approach or to create unnecessary bureaucracy. At the same time, where there is a growing problem, which I believe the problem of noise is, it is important that we respond to people's concerns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) is familiar with the passage of the Bill, since he served on the Committee. His comments about the amendments and the need to strike a balance between the needs of different local authorities and take account of their different needs reflected his experience.

He was right when he said that a great deal depended on where one lived. My hon. Friend put his finger on it. Obviously, hon. Members seeking to reflect the views of their constituents from rural and urban areas will come to different conclusions. However, my hon. Friend knows from the proceedings on the Bill the strong representations that were made by hon. Members from urban areas, who wanted the Bill to be mandatory from the start. They could not conceive of any circumstances in which the power should remain discretionary.

The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport were balanced, and germane to the amendments. He was right when he said that some local authorities that would be reluctant to take up the amendment might need it most. We know that not all local authorities are as good as others at responding to the concerns of their constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked under what circumstances the Secretary of State would be prepared to make an order. He was also concerned about guaranteeing the nature of future Secretaries of State. We cannot give an guarantee about exactly who will be the Secretary of State. It will certainly be a Conservative Secretary of State, I believe.

Whoever is the Secretary of State will approach the issue on the basis of what has been said today. If it assists my hon. Friend, I am happy to repeat the undertaking that I gave on Report. It may also assist other hon. Members. I said: I give them an undertaking that the Government will review the workings and take-up of the new noise offence after it has been operating for two years. I should like to make it clear to my hon. Friends and to hon. Members that, as I said: At that stage, we shall be able to see the effect that the introduction of the new offence has had and whether its coverage should be extended. If the weight of opinion is that the new offence should be applied more widely, I can see a case for requiring local authorities to take up the new powers."—[Official Report, 10 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 553.] We will want to review progress in the first two years and take into account the level of complaints, representations and all other relevant factors.

Mr. Thomason

Among other relevant factors, will my hon. Friend take into account the nature of the population, and whether an area is essentially urban or rural? Can he give local authorities some indication at an early stage—not necessarily now, but before the two-year review period expires—of the issues that the Department will consider?

Mr. Clappison

The broad concern is that powers should be available where needed. From our debates, there does seem to be a difference between the needs of rural and urban areas, but it is important that the powers should be brought to bear where needed, for the relief of residents who suffer noise problems. We do not want people to suffer in silence while terrible noise is taking place all around them.

There are clearly two separate but complementary strands of thinking.

Mr. Merchant

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's response to my questions. I am left with but a scintilla of doubt. If, after the passage of a few years, a large number of residents felt aggrieved because their local authority was not responding to a genuine problem that they could quantify, could they approach the Secretary of State in the knowledge that he would examine the matter, and, if necessary, follow up with an order? Would there be an open door? If not, what remedy would be available to those residents? The Government will have the initiative to take action, but I am concerned about the need for an initiative to remain with aggrieved residents.

Mr. Clappison

We hope that local authorities will listen to their residents and adopt the power if necessary. We recognise that there may be circumstances in which it would be desirable to make the order mandatory, where a local authority has not used its discretionary powers. We would want to listen to anything that local residents might have to tell us about that aspect. I am sure that the amendments have taken into account the fact that some councils do not respond to residents' concerns.

Mr. Luff

Local councils are better placed to assess their residents' concerns than central Government. If a small group of aggrieved residents tells the Secretary of State, "We want you to impose an order," how will he satisfy himself that their view is genuinely representative? What consultation would he have with the wider community? I still believe that local authorities are best placed to make a judgment.

Mr. Clappison

That view was taken when the Bill was originally drafted, when it did not include the power to make an offence mandatory. I remind the House of the views of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which wrote to me to support the creation of the new offence, but only if it were discretionary. It is worth quoting again the institute's view, as I did on Report: it must be up to individual local authorities to tailor their noise service in accordance with the needs of the community."—[Official Report, 10 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 552.] It is reasonable to assume that, in all such cases, councils will respond to local pressures and views. In Committee, Conservative Members strongly made the point that many local authorities fail to do so, quoting chapter and verse examples of councils that have not responded to their residents' wishes but remain oblivious to them. We thought it would be appropriate to include the reserve power in response.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

I have great faith in the order-making powers of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), but we should not place too much faith in the Secretary of State's ability to make local authorities use the powers at their disposal efficiently. The Government have been trying to do that with many councils throughout the land ever since they took office 17 years ago. Giving the Secretary of State an order-making power will not solve all the problems that many residents encounter with delinquent Labour local authorities.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point of general application. There have been several distinguished Secretaries of State for the Environment over many years of Conservative government. Every effort has been made to encourage local authorities to be efficient and to provide good value for money, but some laggards remain in many respects—not just in the provision of a noise control service, which is why it is all the more important to have a power to require councils that do not listen to their residents' views to adopt a noise offence.

Mr. Luff

Surely the correct response of a community dissatisfied with its council is not to come whingeing to the Secretary of State to override local democratic decisions, but to change its council at the next election.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but even after all the workings of local democracy, we have detailed evidence of local authorities that have remained in power a considerable time, but which still remain oblivious to the needs and concerns of their residents. I spoke earlier about the way that resources are applied in different London boroughs, reflecting the fact that problems are dealt with in a less than satisfactory way by some of them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said that he opposed the amendments but supported the Bill. He wants the powers to be mandatory as soon as they are introduced. He will have heard the concerns expressed by other hon. Members, some of whom want the power to be decentralised and to place their trust in local authorities, while others do not want the power extended inappropriately to rural authorities. I hope that my hon. Friend sees the need for balance, and accepts that we have broadly achieved it with the power introduced by the amendments.

My hon. Friend expressed concern also about car stereos and boy racers. I assure him that there are already powers for dealing with those problems, and I understand that the Department of Transport is also taking an interest in them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) most eloquently expressed the case for decentralisation and for trusting local authorities. He described it as the "Delors concept of subsidiarity." I was a little surprised to hear him cite that particular authority in support of his arguments, but it made them all the more interesting.

I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North about stakeholding. I am sure that he is right that no one will be more suspicious about the idea of stakeholding than farmers and other members of the rural community, who are traditionally people of such good common sense. If someone turns up on their doorstep with claims about stakeholding, they will be the first to suspect that the first stakeholding to be made will be one in their pockets. I join my hon. Friend in his doubts on that topic.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North and all my other hon. Friends will realise that there is a need for balance in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has played a most active part in this debate, and he is clearly very concerned about noise problems in his constituency. His comments were absolutely to the point about the need for balance. We believe that these amendments strike the right balance.

Hon. Members have expressed a variety of concerns, and I hope that I have been able to assure them about the way in which we shall approach the issue, and to persuade them of the importance of allowing these amendments to remain in the Bill.

This is a good Bill, and it will provide relief to many people who suffer from noise. I hope that the fact that it contains a fixed penalty of £100 and the possibility of prosecution, confiscation and, in some cases, forfeiture will become known by those who are apt to cause the type of noise problems that the Bill is meant to deal with; and that it will make a great difference to the quality of life of those who suffer from noise.

I am sure that all those who will be helped will feel that our hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North is to be thanked for providing that relief in their lives, allowing them to have a bit of peace and quiet at night, and to get a decent night's sleep.

12.30 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, and colleagues on both side of the House for their kind personal remarks, which are greatly appreciated. I thank the officials of the Department of the Environment with whom I have worked on the Bill for all that they have done. Again I thank Baroness Gardner and others in another place for their strong support and hardy efforts on this Bill.

This debate has been extremely good, and the Bill is strengthened by the thought that so many colleagues have given to these amendments. The amendments are central to the debate, and raise the fundamental issues that the Bill is seeking to deal with. There has been vivid and well expressed opposition to the amendments, and to the fact that the Secretary of State will be given a very great power. However, I warmly welcome my colleagues' underlying support for the Bill, which will be fundamental to its success.

My postbag has been mentioned in this debate. My postbag, like that of other hon. Members who introduced Bills of real importance, has been absolutely full of letters from all parts of the country. I can think of only one or two missives that were opposed to the Bill, so I am in no doubt that there is very widespread support for it, across the country and from all sections of society. There is particularly widespread support for these amendments, because the legion of supporters of the Bill do not want it to fail through a lack of implementation in certain areas where its provisions really are needed. The amendments go to the heart of what people want.

It has been said that I am ferocious on noise, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh)—who is on the Lords and Commons hockey team with me—said that I am ferocious on the team as well. I take those as great tributes, because I think that there are moments in life when ferocity of the right type is necessary and right.

I thank the Minister for the way in which he has replied to the debate, and particularly for his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), who said that the Bill was in danger of being draconian. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester to accept there are times when law must be draconian. It is draconian in every sense, because it requires people to do what they may not want to do, or to stop doing what they are doing wantonly. That is a proper interpretation of the adjective "draconian", and I invite my hon. Friend to accept it.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made an entertaining speech, although it was not really relevant to the Bill. It was not entertaining for the cockerel, which was taken away and put on the Christmas dinner table of some of the hon. Gentleman's friends. I am glad that he gave them that nice present. However, the hon. Gentleman's speech was not really relevant to our discussion—I am sure he forgives me for saying that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) rightly pointed out that legislation cannot solve everything; I accept that. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) understands that I cannot accept that the Bill is Stalinist, although his argument to the House was powerful and persuasive. I do not know whether he actually used the word "Stalinist", but we seem to be coming back to terminology—discussing whether the Bill is draconian, Stalinist or whatever. The Bill is certainly strong, and I believe that it requires to be so. I ask my hon. Friend to accept that point.

Mr. Viggers

The point I sought to make was that a Government do not have to be Stalinist to impose the kind of life envisaged by George Orwell in his book "1984". It is often well-meaning do-gooders who encourage Government and local government to extend their powers, which may result in the world of "1984". Such people are not necessarily Stalinist.

Mr. Greenway

I would be glad to get into a discussion on "1984" with my hon. Friend; I taught it as an O-level set book many times. We could discuss whether the Bill was Stalinist in the sense of "1984". I do not think that the book was preaching Stalinism; I do not think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would allow me to go far down that road. I simply say to my hon. Friend that I quite understand his point. The Bill seeks to regulate social and neighbourly behaviour. In that sense, one cannot avoid censuring people's bad behaviour. The amendments will ensure that.

I realise that time is short, but I want to respond to my hon. Friends who have taken the trouble to attend this morning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) has been answered by the Minister on his point about the circumstances in which the new powers would be taken up. I hope that the Minister's answer was satisfactory to him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastboume (Mr. Waterson) said that the Bill did not go far enough, and he wanted universality. I also want universality, in the sense that I want the Bill to apply everywhere it is required. I hope and believe that the amendments will ensure that. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) supported me on that point in a number of interventions, and I am grateful to him for that.

Mr. Waterson

I hope and believe that my local authority, although it does not always get things right—far from it—will see the sense of adopting the provisions, so, in the context of Eastbourne, the Lords amendments are neither here nor there. However, there are people in the grip of maverick authorities, such as Ealing, who may not benefit from the Bill.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend is making the point that I thought he was making. I am happy with what he says.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), who is not in his place at present, said that legislative powers should be limited. As a principle, I strongly agree. I believe, however, that my hon. Friend accepts the importance of the Bill, and I am grateful to him for that.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) for flushing out the way in which the proposals will be financed in local authority terms when the Bill becomes law, as I hope and believe it will.

I very much thank the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) for the consensus on the Bill. It is very important to the Bill, to me and to everyone. For the record, I am in my 18th year as the hon. Member for Ealing, North—

Mr. Vaz

It does not show.

Mr. Greenway

As he kindly says, it does not show, and long may that continue.

I could not, however, allow him to give the impression that Ealing council is dominated by the Labour party. During my 17-plus years, it has been controlled by the Conservative party for 11, and the Labour party for six. There is no sense in which the Labour party has run Ealing council all the time.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister again for his response to this very good debate, and for his explanation of the way in which his Department views the implementation of the amendments, which we have debated so thoroughly.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to.

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