HL Deb 30 June 1960 vol 224 cc897-912

7.0 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which my honourable friend Mr. Rupert Speir, the Member of Parliament for the Hexham Division, introduced in another place. He had the support of Members of all Parties; and in the debate on the Second Reading Her Majesty's Government, through the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, welcomed the Bill. After the Second Reading, indeed, my honourable friend had the invaluable help of the officials of that Ministry, and of Parliamentary Counsel. The result is a Bill which, though modest in scope, I confidently commend to the approval of this House. As one who worked for many years with the first Lord Horder in the cause of noise abatement, I am happy to be associated with the improvement of the law which this Bill proposes, but I do not wish to exaggerate its effect. I propose to explain very briefly its main purpose and effect, and then, if necessary, to answer at the end of the debate such questions as noble Lords may wish to nut to me.

My Lords, there are two main ways in which noise may come within the control of the law: first, a noise may be affected, directly or indirectly, by an express statutory provision; secondly, it may be a nuisance at Common Law. To deal first with statutory provisions, there are two main classes which are of importance to the cause of noise abatement. First, there are the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations made under Section 64 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. I mention the consolidating Statute, but, of course, we have been familiar with such regulations for 30 years or more. Some of those regulations are of great importance when we are considering noise. They are the regulations which deal with fitting a silencer, with the use and maintenance of a silencer, with driving with excessive noise, and with the obligation to stop the engine when the car is stationary. Those are examples of regulations affecting noise. These regulations are not in any way affected by this Bill.

The second main class of statutory provisions affecting noise are to be found in the by-laws made by county councils and the councils of boroughs under Section 249 of the Local Government Act, 1933, and other Acts. Local authorities are thus enabled to make by-laws for good rule and government and the suppression of nuisance. The Home Office model by-laws contain a considerable number dealing with noise—for example, with music near houses, music near churches, music near hospitals, wireless loudspeakers, noisy hawking and noisy animals. All those topics have been dealt with by by-laws. This useful by-law-making power remains undiminished and unaffected by this Bill. That is expressly provided by Clause 4. In addition to those two main sets of statutory regulations, there are a number of particular sections of particular Acts which also regulate or prevent particular noises. A good example is contained in an Act which received the Royal Assent very recently indeed. Section 7 of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, prohibited aerial advertising—a matter of direct benefit to the cause of noise abatement.

Apart from such statutory provisions, noise comes within the scope of the law only if it is an actionable nuisance at Common Law. In general, noise can be restrained, if at all, only if private individuals seek an injunction in the courts. That brings me to the important change in the law proposed by Clause 1 of this Bill. This clause does not make anything an actionable nuisance which is not an actionable nuisance already, but it does provide a new remedy. Perhaps, in a slight diversion, I may here deal with a point put to me in conversation by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leicester. He had hoped to speak in this debate but could not; and I should like to deal shortly with the point he raised. He feared that the effect of Clause 1 of the Bill might be to stop the normal use of church hells. I think I can reassure him. The present Bill does not make the ringing of church bells a statutory nuisance except in a case in which the courts would already hold that there was an actionable nuisance at Common Law. In fairness, perhaps, to the right reverend Prelate, I should mention to the House, or to the non-legal Members of the House, that there was a rather exceptional case in the year 1851, reported, under the title Saltau v. De Held, in volume 61 of the English Reports at page 291, in which an injunction was granted to restrain the ringing of the bells of a Roman Catholic Church so as to occasion a nuisance. If the right reverend Prelate would refer to that case, or would have a word with me about it, I think he will find, if he studies the judgment, that there is nothing to cause him alarm.

My Lords, if a noise or vibration is a nuisance at Common Law, the first clause of this Bill makes it a statutory nuisance subject to Part III of the Public Health Act, 1936. Under that Part of that Act and this clause, the local authority will be able to require the abatement of the nuisance by abatement notices served on the persons causing the nuisance, or on the owners and occupiers of premises on which nuisances arise. Such a notice, if not complied with, can be enforced by the local authority by proceedings in a magistrates' court. Further, complaints can be made by any three or more persons who, as occupiers of land or premises, are aggrieved by the nuisance.

I do not wish to go through all these clauses in detail, because any points that any noble Lord wishes to raise I can deal with in reply. But it may be convenient if I say that, under subsection (3), it is provided that in the case of noise or vibration caused in the course of a trade or business it is a defence to prove that the best practical means have been used for minimising the effect of the noise or vibration. This will provide a defence similar to that provided under Section 94 (5) of the Public Health Act, 1936, in respect of dust or effluvia.

My Lords, the whole of Clause 1 is based on a model clause for inclusion in local Acts, and a number of local authorities, including nine county councils, have provisions on these lines in their local acts. Among these authorities are the London County Council, the Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Essex and Middlesex County Councils and, among county boroughs, Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Croydon and Portsmouth. The Bill makes an improvement on the model clause by including vibration and by substituting the simple words "which is a nuisance" for a much longer and clumsier description of noise contained in the model clause. In effect, it may fairly be said that Clause 1 of the present Bill gives local authorities throughout the country an improved version of the powers already enjoyed by many of them under local Acts.

The other main clause of the Bill, Clause 2, limits the use of loudspeakers in streets. It prohibits their use for any purpose between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. and prohibits their use at any other time for advertising any entertainment, trade or business. Subsection (2) contains a number of exemptions, and subsection (3) exempts a loudspeaker used by hawkers of perishable commodities, notably ice cream vendors, to announce their presence. The exemption applies only if the loudspeaker is operated so as not to annoy. Perhaps I should inform your Lordships that it was this subsection that, almost alone in the whole measure, gave rise to some controversy in another place. The promoter indicated on the last day when the Bill was discussed that this subsection would be further considered, and I can inform your Lordships that we may well find that we can further improve it when the Committee stage of this Bill is reached, perhaps by defining the hours during which the exemption shall operate.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill. It does not affect motor traffic noises, which are dealt with by regulations of the Ministry of Transport. It does not deal with aircraft noise, an immensely difficult subject, which could not possibly be tackled by a Private Member's Bill of this description. As your Lordships are aware, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, the Minister for Science, recently set up a Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. A. H. Wilson, F.R.S., with these terms of reference: To examine the nature, sources and effects of the problem of noise and to advise what further measures could be taken to mitigate it. When that Committee reports we should be in a better position to plan more far-reaching legislation. Meanwhile, I hope that this House will approve this modest and useful measure and pass it quickly into law. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Conesford.)

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will wish me to say a few words about the Government's attitude to this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has said in introducing the Bill, it is in some respects typical of the way in which our legislation advances. We have here a modest measure, introduced in another place by a Private Member, which gives general effect to provisions which have for some time been in force in a number of areas up and down the country under local Acts. When Mr. Speir introduced this measure in another place, he was at pains to point out that it did not amount to a comprehensive code to deal with noise in all the forms in which it assaults us these days, but that is not to say that the Bill is not valuable in its limited approach.

Modern inventions have led to a great increase of noise. We have all, presumably, our own opinions about the most devilish—pneumatic drills, aircraft, motor-bikes and whatever it may be. Indeed, the feeling has grown up in recent years that the level of noise we have to endure to-day must ultimately have an effect on our health and wellbeing, if not actually on our sanity. It was because of this that my noble and learned friend the Minister for Science set up a Committee under Mr. Wilson, as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has said, to go into the whole problem of noise. I should like to assure your Lordships that the Committee's terms of reference will enable them to carry out the widest possibly inquiry. So, though all of us may have strong views about particular noises which we ourselves think ought to be prohibited or, at any rate, controlled by law, I think that we ought to wait for the Report of this Committee before introducing any wide-ranging legislation. In the meantime, the Government welcome this Bill as a useful though necessarily limited measure.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth asked me to say how sorry he was that he could not be in his place to speak for the Opposition on the noble Lord's Bill. I am sure that we all appreciate the modest way in which the noble Lord moved his modest Bill. In a sense it is a "gun-jumping" Bill, because the Government are making a thorough investigation of this difficult problem of noise. I think that the Bill is a little more useful than the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, indicated. I believe that it will have two beneficial effects. First of all, it will enable ordinary householders to get together and take simple action to abate a particularly annoying noisy noise which is afflicting them persistently and is manifestly a nuisance. Secondly, the mere threat of action by a local authority will often stop a producer of a noisy noise, who may never have thought of it. Therefore, though it is a modest and limited Bill, I think that it is bound to do a lot of useful work.

The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, said that we all wonder which is the most devilish noise and which is the most noisy. A noise is the most difficult thing to define. It is defined officially by the British Standards Institution as "sound which is undesired by the recipient". They go on to sub-divide noises. First, annoying noise, which is, of course, subjective—you cannot estimate whether it is annoying outside what one feels about it; secondly, noises which reduce efficiency—and they have to be pretty loud noises actually to reduce efficiency; and thirdly, noise which is so bad as to make people deaf—and this has to be quite terrific. The technique of measuring noise is very difficult, because the human ear is immensely sensitive and the range it can cover in noise is very wide indeed, not only in range and frequency but also in power. So great is the range in power that it has to be expressed as a logarithm and cannot be expressed in direct figures, because the figures would be simply enormous.

The degree of noise is expressed in decibels. A noise of 150 decibels would produce permanent instantaneous deafness. But that is a simply tremendous noise. At 90 decibels one can get permanent deafness if a person is exposed to it for about ten years for several hours a day. You can make a person hear you at five feet against a 60 decibel noise, and a 30 decibel noise is so small that you can hardly hear it at all—unless it happens to be in the house next door when you can hear it very well indeed.

It is the sudden noise that often causes the trouble. One of the noises that so irritates me is the banging of car doors at night, and car doors are banged at night by a great many people now. It is a new problem, because as a result of all the on-street parking at night enormous numbers of people have a car which does not belong to them parked regularly outside their home. The people bring this car along at one, two or three o'clock in the morning, bang the door and wake one up. I think they can be "got" under this Bill, although the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said that it does not deal with automobile noises. I think they are almost certainly creating a statutory nuisance under his Bill; and I hope they are, because it seems to me that if three householders complain about the regular banging of motor car doors at night, it is a nuisance if it is done at that sort of hour. In the same way, the continuous ringing of church bells can be a nuisance. I love the sound of church bells—a jollier noise one could not hear—but when it comes to ringing bells for fun, bellringers are usually restrained a little and try to choose times when people are not likely to be too much upset by them; and I think they can be restrained, and have been restrained in the past.

The trouble with noise is that it has two effects. It is a primitive call to action, as it were, and that at once raises your blood pressure and raises your pulse rate and gets you ready to do something; and a sudden noise therefore disturbs whatever it is one is doing. Secondly, it is an invasion of one's privacy, which is also a somewhat primitive thing well built into the personality. We have no legislation which lays down maximum permissible noises for our motor cars or, so far as I know, for anything else. Certainly in industry we have no maximum permissible noises. But in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Bermuda they have statutory maximum permissible noises.

Bermuda is an interesting case, because they had such a noise from mopeds and other small two-stroke bicycles that it became positively unbearable. They introduced legislation, and these machines are now all tested in a Government testing station to make sure that they do not make too much noise when measured against some set scientific standard. There is no great difficulty about doing this, and I understand that the Ministry of Transport are looking into it, because probably the noisiest noise which annoys us now is the noise of motor cycles and two-strokes. I think they are probably the main source of extraneous noise in our homes. The difficulty up to now has been to get a definition which would cause all the manufacturers to fit the same equipment to abate the noise, because if it were left to the individual manufacturers they might cut it out to get the price down, knowing that if they did not their competitors would. There is, as the noble Lord said, an Order in Council which prevents legal action against noise due to aircraft.

One of the great difficulties about noise is that it costs quite a lot of money to suppress. If your neighbour happens to be making a row in his next flat, or if the sound provisions of the walls are inadequate, as people often complain they are in some modern flats, to increase the insulation of a wall by 5 decibels means doubling the weight of the wall, which is quite terrific in order to get a relatively small improvement. It is the same with the muffling of aircraft noise. "Silencers" are a bad name; they do not silence them, but merely muffle them. In the case of vibrating pneumatic drills, to which the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, referred, the difficulty there is that the process of banging—which is what these things do—is inherently noisy, and unless some other way of breaking up the road can be devised it is almost impossible to see how the noise can be reduced.

The noble Lord in introducing his Bill referred to the question of the ice cream and lollipop men. I must say that I like their little noises; I think they are very jolly. But if I were a shift worker and were asleep in the morning, I should not like them. That, really, is the substance of the trouble. I hope that the noble Lord will look favourably on some limitation of the noise that they make in the morning, When the shift workers may be presumed to be asleep. I hope that we can at least make provision to help those folk Who are likely to be asleep at times when these lollipop people are, quite legitimately, selling their lollipops and amusing us.

I am glad that the Government have set up this Committee. One cannot estimate the harm that noise does. It is amazing what the human frame can stand up to. When I was in hospital a kindly nurse brought me a long-playing record of the musical Carousel and proceeded to play it to me. I was feeling very ill and absolutely horrified at this proposal. But Divine Providence caused me to go to sleep, and I slept throughout the whole of the record, which just goes to show how human beings can cope with the awful noises Which afflict us. The adjustability of man is wonderful, but, at the same time, the price that we pay long-term may not be so wonderful. So that we welcome this little measure and we welcome still more the fact that the Government are having a thorough look at the problem; and I hope that legislation of a much more powerful kind will be coming within a short time.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to say only a few words, mainly for the purpose of clarification by my noble friend Lord Conesford, who is to speak again at the end of the debate. If I understand the Bill rightly, Clause 1 modifies the existing law so that noise need no longer be injurious to or dangerous to health to be actionable at law; and Clause 2 specifically mentions only noise from loudspeakers on highways. How is one to define noise which is a nuisance? What may be a nuisance to one person, or to three or more, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Conesford, may not be a nuisance to another person or three other persons.

Chambers Encyclopœdia, under the heading "Noise abatement" stresses the difficulty of enforcement with regard to this question of the reduction of noise: in fact, it gives three methods of approach to the problem. One is the elimination of or reduction of noise from engines, machinery, vehicles, et cetera; the second is the sound insulating of buildings and individual rooms—and there is already an Act which covers that question; and the third is the prevention of excessive noise through legislation. I am hoping that it will be possible to enforce this Bill with regard to a number of cases where there is excessive noise. Chambers Encyclopœdia says: The unreasonable use of wireless sets, noisy motor cars and so forth can be prohibited by law, but in most of such cases the problem of defining for practical purposes permissible and non-permissible noise renders the enforcement of such laws difficult. Although there are such things as noise meters and so forth, how is one to enforce such a law when one finds that what may be a nuisance to a number of people may not be a nuisance to others? I have in mind a visit I paid the other day to the studios of His Master's Voice, a member of the E.M.I. Group, when a "rock and roll" session had just been recorded. They were playing it back in the booth where one listens to these recordings after they have been made. So far as I was concerned the level at which the recording was being played back definitely reached the threshold of feeling and not the threshold of hearing, whilst those who were there were quite happy and were not being inconvenienced at all. I suppose they were used to this sound and their ears had become more and more hardened to its impact.

I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Conesford whether one or two noises are covered by this Bill. There are a number which I find most unpleasant. One is the question of open exhausts on highways, and the excessive use of the horn. He may say that those two types of noise, as the noise caused by the closing of a door, to which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred, are covered under Section 64 of the Road Traffic Act. But I should like clarification on that point.

Another noise which can be most objectionable is the noise of certain outboard motors at holiday resorts. Several noble Lords have mentioned pneumatic drills. To quote decibels like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, I believe that at ten feet the noise these drills give off is equivalent to 100 decibels. I was wondering whether, if three householders get together and thought that the noise of a drill in the street was a nuisance they are able to take action at law to suppress it. There is also the noise from underground trains, if one happens to be living near where they emerge to the surface or where the trains run through a cutting. There are windows which are only a few feet above the track. In that case householders who are living there find that noise extremely objectionable. What happens then? Can they bring a case at law against the London Passenger Executive? Those are one or two of the noises about which I was wondering whether action can be brought under this Bill.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I do not rise to delay the passage of this Bill, still less in any way to oppose it. But like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I should like it made a little clearer whether the Bill achieves any of the things in which I am interested. The thing about which I am principally concerned is the increasing noise produced by motor-cycles. They have always been very loud. The power of silencing their exhausts is very slight, if any, and I am told that in recent times—just in the last few months—the users are deliberately increasing the noise produced, by muffling or dealing with the exhaust in such a way as to produce a great deal more noise, probably in order to get a little more power. I consider that in every respect they are a nuisance in my conception of the term.

The difficulty has been, first, that one cannot define exactly when they exceed the maximum and, secondly, of getting any policeman or other person to stop them in their headlong rush. These motor-cycles are travelling up and down the great thoroughfares of the country at something like 70, 80 and 90 miles per hour, and are travelling in the streets of London in the evening, when the traffic is light, at anything from 40 to 60 miles per hour. I am perfectly certain that many of these motor-cycles are travelling at over 50 miles per hour in London. It seems to me that there ought to be some means of stopping the terrific noise they produce, the deafening noise, in the streets of London. Does this Bill do anything at all to help stop this nuisance? Does it help the policeman to stop the man? Can an ordinary person stop him? Or am I wrong in thinking that this Bill has no influence on them at all, and that we must look to this Committee who are being appointed, and hope that they will deal with it when the time comes?

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, in welcoming this Bill I apologise for taking up your Lordships' time at this late hour, but, first of all, I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and other noble Lords have said about the noise made by motorcycles. I confess that I first rode a motorcycle some years before I was entitled to have a licence. That was a good many years ago. I consider that riding a good motor-cycle is second only in thrill to riding a good horse. But "I could not agree more" that there is absolutely no reason why they should make such a beastly noise. I believe that the actual percentage of power lost is fractional when you come to the speeds at which the modern machine can cover the ground. I should like to add that to what the noble Lord, Lord Pethick Lawrence, has said in asking my noble friend Lord Conesford if something can be done. To my mind, these machines should not be allowed to produce such extra noise unless they are operated on a track for racing purposes, where the percentage of power really does count.

There is one other point I wish to make. Assuming that the Bill applies to Scotland, which I think is correct, I would tell your Lordships that at about a quarter to three on one of these recent lovely, hot summer Sunday afternoons, I was asleep on my lawn (which I regard as a proper way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon) when the silence of our country village was shattered by the noise of a loudspeaker, which continued for something like twenty minutes. It was advertising a religious service of a somewhat obscure sect, which was to take place some miles away that Sunday evening. This was frankly a nuisance, and gave rise to feelings far from Christian, which I found great difficulty in suppressing. May I inquire whether such a loudspeaker, which was affixed to a vehicle, and which was for advertising, is covered by Clause 2 and is outwith the exceptions under the Clause?

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, I will try to answer the various questions, if I can remember them. Perhaps it will be convenient, while it is fresh in my mind, to answer the question that was last put to me. The Bill certainly applies to Scotland. I was not quite certain, from what the noble Lord said, whether this annoying loudspeaker was in the street. If it was in a street, it is covered by Clause 2.

May I now proceed at once to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence? The problem of the motor-cycle presents no legal problem at all. It presents only an enforcement problem, and the conduct he describes is wholly illegal under the present law. That law is not affected by the present Bill. If the noble Lord will be good enough to read the speech that I made in introducing this Bill he will see that I mentioned the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations of the Minister of Transport. Most of these motor-cyclists that are making themselves such a nuisance on the roads are guilty of breaches of one, or sometimes of several, of those regulations. A common practice by some of the riders of these motor-cycles is to remove the silencer altogether. That is an illegal act, to ride a motor-cycle on the road without a silencer.

If I might mention an earlier reform of the law that I was able to bring about, in the year 1934 I managed to carry, through my noble friend Lord Elton in this House, against the Government of the day, a provision which became Section 8 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, now Section 68 of the Consolidating Act of 1960. This made it illegal to sell for use on the road a vehicle that it would be illegal to use on the road. As a result of that provision, most of the motorcycles as supplied to the public are, I think, such as can lawfully be used. I would add, to deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that there is nothing to prevent the Minister of Transport, in the light of scientific improvements, from strengthening under existing legislation the provisions that deal with the maximum noise permissible. But what I want to make quite clear to the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence is that these abuses by motorcyclists, removing the silencer or tampering with the silencer, and then using the machine on the road, or riding the bicycle so as to cause unnecessary noise, all constitute offences. Nor do the police always fail to prosecute; but unfortunately the police have a great many things to do and they are rather undermanned. But my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, is that the conduct of which he rightly complains is already illegal. Such improvements in the law as he desires can all be made apart altogether from this Bill, but this particular Bill, I am afraid, has not much relevance to it.

My noble friend behind me, I think, did not appreciate what I am afraid is rather a technical point. The phrase in Clause 1, "noise or vibration which is a nuisance", does not mean anything to which a particular person objects. It means something which at Common Law is an actionable nuisance. If he asks me what is an actionable nuisance, I am not going to risk using my own words, but will read a useful short passage from a modern judgment. It is a quotation from V anderpant v. Mayfair Hotel Company [1930] 1 Ch. 138. The passage I am going to read is from the judgment of Mr. Justice Luxmoore, at page 165: Before I deal with what the evidence has established, I will state what constitutes an actionable nuisance by noise. Apart from any right which may have been acquired against him by contract, grant or prescription, every person is entitled as against his neighbour to the comfortable and healthful enjoyment of the premises occupied by him, and in deciding whether, in any particular case, his right has been interfered with and a nuisance thereby caused, it is necessary to determine whether the act complained of is an inconvenience materially interfering with the ordinary physical comfort of human existence, not merely according to elegant or dainty modes and habits of living, but according to plain and sober and simple notions obtaining among English people: see Walter v. Selfe and the remarks of Knight Bruce, V.-C. It is also necessary to take into account the circumstances and character of the locality in which the complainant is living. The making or causing of such a noise as materially interferes with the comfort of a neighbour when judged by the standards to which I have just referred, constitutes an actionable nuisance. That is an authoritative statement, and it is a nuisance in that sense which can be dealt with under Clause 1. The effect of Clause 1 of this Bill is that, if my noble friend is subjected to a nuisance of that kind, as described by Mr. Justice Luxmoore, instead of himself having to bring an action in the Chancery Division, after the passage of this Bill into law he may be able to persuade the local authority to proceed themselves; and if he does not succeed in that he might find two other occupiers of premises equally affected and the three together may go to the magistrates' court.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, thought that perhaps I underestimated the utility of the Bill I was introducing. I am very grateful to him for that statement, because I would much rather be told afterwards that the Bill had proved more useful than I had said it would be, rather than that it should be the other way round. But when he says he is quite confident, or fairly confident, that he might be able to deal with the banging doors of a motor car under Clause 1, I can only say that I am not aware, though similar provisions are in force in various parts of the country, that that has yet been successfully done. But good luck to him!

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.