HL Deb 14 March 1973 vol 340 cc342-68

4.40 p.m.

LORD SOMERS rose to draw Her Majesty's Government's attention to the problems of noise and noise abatement; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, having already had one long debate, I propose to make my short debate as short as possible. It is a long time since we had a debate on noise, and I felt it was about time we discussed the subject again. I am very glad indeed to see that I have been the means of luring the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, into giving his maiden speech today, which I am sure all your Lordships are looking forward to.

One of the dictionary definitions of the word "noise" is "any sound"; so I presume that under that definition I am guilty of producing noise in your Lordships' House at this very moment. My only defence is that a good many other noble Lords have been guilty of the same sin already. I suppose also that music would come under this category, and I must confess that there is a good deal of contemporary music of which it would be a very apt description. However, I propose to divide noise into two categories: that which is merely irritating, and that which is definitely damaging.

The borderline between the two is rather vague, because noise can sometimes be so irritating as to be definitely damaging to the nervous system. One of the worst sins, the most anti-social acts, I have always considered, is the use, for instance, of a radio in a garden in a built-up area or with an open window. It is an extraordinary thing how far sounds which are produced by radio can travel—much further than normal sounds. When I was a student and was practising regularly, I was always careful to shut the window, however hot the weather might be, but I am quite certain that no sounds that I ever produced on the piano would have travelled so far as those that a radio produces.

Another one, of course, is traffic noise: the noisy exhausts of cars. This is a rather technical question, because the fitting of an exhaust to a car is not as easy as those who are entirely uninitiated might think. You must put the silencer in exactly the right position in the exhaust system in order not to detract too much from the power of the engine. That is why smaller engines have much more rudimentary exhaust systems and, as a consequence, make a great deal more noise. Motor cycles, particularly scooters, and very small cars, mini-cars, and particularly the hotted up version, the Mini-Cooper, I find are absolutely maddening; you can hear them for miles. They sound just like a trombone being blown fortissimo. I do not think that sort of thing is necessary. I do not think that it is beyond engineering science to find some solution. Another cause is the acceleration of large diesel lorries. In that case, I believe—though I stand open to correction, that most of the noise there is mechanical, rather than that of the exhaust. That is largely because on many diesel lorries the engine is perfectly open to space. Sometimes a large diesel lorry accelerating past you can be absolutely shattering. Another extremely annoying noise is the use of those electrical chain saws which are so popular nowadays. No doubt they save a good deal of time when one is lopping a tree, but they make the most revolting noise, and I should have thought that even though it takes a little longer we still have enough muscles to use an ordinary push-and-pull saw.

One form of noisy transport, is, of course, trains. I have never failed to notice the difference between main line trains on the Southern Region and those on the suburban system. The main line trains are very steady riding and they are quieter. They are obviously well padded so far as noise is concerned. But the suburban ones are noisy in the extreme; in fact it is almost impossible to talk in them while they are still moving. That, again, is a fault of construction. It is cheaper, I suppose, to turn out a noisy vehicle than a quiet one. All these things go to make life a great deal more unpleasant than it need be. Successive Governments are reluctant to introduce legislation on the subject, because the noise I have been speaking about has no definitely damaging effect; it is merely annoying, and they feel that there are many more important questions to be dealt with.

Now I come to noise which is definitely damaging—factory noise, for instance. Those who work in very noisy factories must suffer permanent damage to their hearing. Is there any legislation about the compulsory wearing of ear pads while working in such circumstances? If so, I think it should be more rigorously enforced, and, if not, then it should be introduced. Pneumatic drills are a source of great noise. They are bad enough when one is just walking past them, but for the unfortunate men who have to work them, with not only the noise but the excessive vibration, it must be little short of inferno. I am very glad that I do not have to use one myself. Another problem is aircraft noise. Not being enough of an engineer, I do not know to what extent a jet engine can be silenced. Perhaps some of those noble Lords who are following me to-day will know more about that subject. There is no doubt that the noise of a jet engine at full blast is extremely unpleasant. I am again sorry for those who have to work at airports.

Finally, I should like to come to one source of noise that is quite preventable, totally unnecessary and is having a very damaging effect indeed; I refer to what are sometimes known as "discotheques" or otherwise as "pop music houses", which the young favour very much to-day. I remember once going over a youth club on the Regent's Canal. It was a beautiful old house that had been taken over by this youth club, and had been beautifully done up by the young members themselves. It was a very nice place indeed, but I passed by the open door leading into a semi-darkened room where the young were sitting round, out of which was coming a blast of sound of such enormous strength that it really very nearly knocked me flat. I have never heard such a noise. The young who sit and listen to that sort of noise every day must suffer permanent damage to their hearing. In fact, it has been said by qualified doctors that that is the case. I should have thought that that kind of thing could be discouraged. Even going past an open door leading downstairs into a subterranean discotheque near Charing Cross, the noise that I heard coming out has been so colossal that it has overcome all the noise of the traffic—and, as your Lordships know, that is pretty bad.

It seems to me that the young should be persuaded that, if they are to retain their full power of hearing, they must not subject themselves to that kind of noise. After all, the power of hearing is very valuable. I think it is possible that some sort of legislation might be introduced to control noise of that kind. Admittedly one does not want to introduce too much legislation on these subjects; it should be left so far as possible to the common sense of both children and parents, but I urge the Government to issue some propaganda on this subject, because we do not want, in a generation or so, to turn into a nation of semi-deaf people.

There are a good many other unpleasant forms of noise in the world today, but those that I have mentioned are some that I think we could control. Although admittedly the nation is not going to rise and fall by a reduction or increase of noise none the less I feel that it is important for the welfare of our people that we should become a little more noise free. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, shortly after taking my seat in your Lordships' House a noble friend of mine asked me when I was going to make my maiden speech. I told him that I would not know what to speak about. After a while he said, "Speak about something that makes you really angry". Therefore, I am grateful to be able to take part in this debate on noise and noise abatement brought about by the noble Lord, Lord Somers. I have always hated noise, but I must admit to being very apprehensive in addressing this House for the first time, and I ask for your Lordships' indulgence.

Walking about London one sees notices to the effect that owners of dogs will be fined £20 if their dogs commit a nuisance on the pavement; also if you throw away litter you will be fined £100. It always seems to me that these priorities are the wrong way round. However that may be, one never sees any mention of nuisance by noise. There are some noises that are quite amusing. A little time ago I had occasion to visit a depot that specialised in vintage cars. I asked the manager whether there were any eccentrics still left, and he said, "Alas! very few". But his favourite eccentric was a man who had a passion for motor horns. On the dashboard of his car there were no less than six buttons, one for each horn; three to blow in front and three to blow behind. This eccentric, when he was cut in on by a fellow traveller, got into such a frenzy that he waited for a short while until he could pass the car, when he pressed all three rear horns at once.

Generally speaking noise is not so funny. I wonder whether noble Lords saw in The Times a little time ago an article showing the effects of sudden noise on passers by. The illustration showed a picture of a man's head, on top of which was perched a bowler hat. Over the bowler hat was poised a large hammer, which, in reaction to the noise heard, would come down on the hat with varying degrees of force. For instance, a bird singing or a bicycle bell ringing and the hammer would hardly be affected at all—say 5 degrees or less. But a passing motor bike might bring the hat down by 20 degrees; a heavy lorry by 40 degrees, and so on. At the sudden roar of a pneumatic drill the hammer would bash the hat down so hard that the man's face disappeared altogether. Shortly after this article appeared an American doctor wrote that the effect of a loud noise physically—which can be proved by pulse rates, blood pressure, et cetera—is the same as being rushed at by a mad bull, and I am sure that that is an experience that not many of your Lordships would care for; at any rate, not too often.

We are all only too well aware of the ever increasing noise on the ground, but what about noise in the air? I live in a top floor flat near the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. One would imagine this to be a quiet spot, but sometimes it is not so at all. It often seems like an extension to a runway at Heathrow. When the wind is in a certain direction, starting early in the morning at the rate of at least one a minute aircraft fly over at varying degrees of height making the most appalling noise for hours at a time, sometimes all day, sometimes all week, and sometimes for several weeks on end. Frequently you see one plane disappearing over the horizon while the second one is overhead, and a third one approaching in the distance. They fly so low that you sometimes think they are coming in through the bedroom window. It is impossible to talk on the telephone, listen to the radio, or do anything else while this deafening noise continues. One hears so many objections from people living in the vicinity of London's possible second airport, but one never seems to hear about the noise that thousands of Londoners have to endure every day.

Your Lordships may ask: why stay in a place when the noise disturbs you? Fair enough, but I think we should be concerned about the countless numbers of people up and down the country who, for some reason or another, cannot escape their surroundings; people living on main thoroughfares, on dual carriageways, by fly-overs, and even people living in country towns not yet by-passed who can never get away. As for those unfortunates whose homes are near busy airports, a medical survey was recently taken of people living near Heathrow, the results of which showed that the number of persons admitted to hospital for mental disturbance was eight times that of the national average. That is surely a serious figure, and yet I believe it is expressly forbidden by the Civil Aviation Act 1968 to take action against airlines or aerodromes for nuisance by noise.

Noise is a devious enemy. Its waves of assault are not like those of the sea. They come at you from all directions, like flashes from a bomb as it bursts. They vibrate the air through which they pass, and, just when you think you have stopped a frontal attack, they creep around and assault you from behind. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill for her support. I told her yesterday that she gave me confidence. So that in an age when more and more aircraft pollute the air and when, on the ground, sirens have taken the place of bells, I should like to express to Her Majesty's Government the urgent hope that they will do all in their power to reduce this dreadful menace of noise, caused very often quite unnecessarily.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I deem myself very fortunate in following the noble Lord after his maiden speech. It is a fact, as he recalled just now, that at tea-time yesterday he told me of his apprehensions and asked me whether this House is a kindly place and whether his efforts would be received. I think he will agree with me that my picture of the House was absolutely correct. Your Lordships are kind and understanding, but I can assure him that he did not need those particular attributes, because he has just delivered himself of an excellent speech which was informative and witty, and which I am quite sure, will make a mark upon this House. I ask the noble Lord to join the little club of people who devote themselves to what might be regarded as human problems, and take the very next opportunity to allow the House to hear him. I have to confess that the noble Lord gave me such a vivid description of his misery in the night, that if I were awakened by a plane in the night I should picture him and recall the conversation we had yesterday. But it is only fair to say that, as a Londoner, I live in a spot where the only noise that wakens me is the dawn chorus. I shall not tell everybody where that is, because they will immediately rush to the nearest estate agent and the prices will soar.

I should first of all like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for initiating this debate and for once more drawing the attention of the Government to the problems of noise. Of course it is understandable that in their speeches most noble Lords will devote themselves to those aspects of noise of which they are themselves particularly conscious in their own environment, as the noble Lord did just now, and will talk about noise as a nuisance. I shall speak on what I regard as the incessant—because that is a very important factor—and deafening noise which has to be endured by workers in industry. I use the word "deafening" deliberately, because I became fully alive to the potential hazard to health of the noisy machine when I was the Member for an industrial constituency. I had been the Member for a London constituency for many years, and the problems that I had to tackle then were certainly not those of the factory. But I was then offered an industrial seat, which was a complete contrast, and I was astonished to find men who were partially deaf at 40, who told me that their fathers who had worked in the same factory had also lost their hearing at the same age. That was quite common. I got into the habit, when I went to the social functions of the constituency, of shouting at one of the members of my own Party, because I knew that he was probably—to use a nice euphemism—hard of hearing. I was particularly shocked at the indifference of those in authority because, as the House will understand, I did not fail to express my views on this subject. I was also astonished at the fatalistic attitude of the workers. Some of them, because their fathers had been deaf at 40, regarded it as a family complaint. Others were reluctant to complain for fear of losing their jobs.

While I am pleased that the noise of the aeroplane, about which we have just heard, and the other noises which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned, have received the sympathetic attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment, the unfortunate worker who is exposed to unremitting noise for eight hours a day has, I fear, few champions in high places. He is forgotten too easily, and he is reluctant to keep on complaining because, for some extraordinary reason, he regards it as a reflection upon himself as a man, as a male. This is something which he thinks he should suffer with a smile and not complain about. I should therefore like to remind the Secretary of State for the Environment, when he reads the Report of this debate, that there exists a close relationship between a man's working environment and his health. Of course, there is a relationship in other respects, but to-day we are dealing with noise. This is not a new subject, and over the years committees have been convened to examine the problem. But it seems to me, although many committees have sat for many years, the report having been made, the Minister having thanked the committee for their kindness and for the valuable and generous amount of time which they have given to the job, their efforts are usually consigned to the pigeon-hole. Little change has been made in the legislation. The Robens Commit- tee on Safety and Health at Work sat from 1970 to 1972, and dealt with the subject of noise in industry in a page and a half by simply referring to the various Reports that had been made. I doubt whether the Government will experience any sense of urgency at all on being told by the Robens Committee that the time is ripe to include basic requirements on noise control in occupational and health legislation. "Basic requirements" can be interpreted as the very minimum in legislative action, but this menace to our health is of such a magnitude that the Government should recognise that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible. No mention was made of it in the last Queen's Speech, so at least let us have it in the next Queen's Speech.

Another Report Hearing and Noise in Industry, was published in 1970. The investigation was undertaken by Professor Burns and Dr. D. Robinson. It established a system of predicting the hearing deterioration caused by industrial noise. This was a most valuable document, because it made quite clear to the employer that the hearing of the worker was deteriorating as a direct result of a certain process being operated in the factory. What has been done? Very little. Despite all these surveys, the workers are still exposed to a volume of noise which these studies have proved can be prevented by appropriate legislation. Having listened to the noble Lord tell of the misery he has at night, I would ask him—and I know he is absolutely sympathetic, so this is only a rhetorical question—how he would feel if he was compelled to endure unceasing noise throughout the day of such a kind that he could not hear a question put to him by a worker standing next to him, and had then to go home to a home which was also subject to the noise of heavy traffic and to noise from the air? This is the position of many industrial workers in this country, and I feel that they should all have our heartfelt sympathy.

Again, it is important to consider the psychological effect of these conditions upon workpeople, and whether the industrial noise unconsciously contributes to the desire to strike as an escape from intolerable working conditions. I know that if I had to work for eight hours a day in some of the noise I heard in my constituency, I would listen to any strike leader and be half with him before he finished the argument if I was told that, as a result of a strike, I might have a fortnight in the quiet during the daytime. These are very important factors in a worker's life. There are some people who regard the manual worker as somebody who, after many years, has become insensitive and who must be regarded as a person whose central nervous system is quite different from the central nervous system of a politician or of a sedentary worker. Of course, the opposite is the truth.

I recall that, in my constituency I was invited to a little dinner (I say "dinner"; in those days it used to be cold meat and salad, as we all know) at the fishermen's club. I was astonished to find a large membership of workers at such a club in an industrial constituency. It took me some time to recognise that the reason was that this pastime provided a relief to the nervous system of the man whose working life was spent in a world of unrelieved noise. I often wondered whether those men appreciated why this pastime, this quiet business of sitting on the hank with a rod, with not a sound except, perhaps, a little noise in the water now and then, gave them so much satisfaction. It was certainly not dependent for its popularity on the large catch, for they seldom caught much. Of course they knew it gave them satisfaction, but they had not analysed why it did. Perhaps if they had analysed it there might have been a strike on the subject.

There have been plenty of documents on this subject, and I am quite sure that the noble Lord who is going to answer this debate is very well briefed, because so much material exists that one could keep on quoting for many hours. But I want to address myself now to only two things. First, the 1971 edition of the Factory Inspectorate's booklet Noise and the Worker. This was encouraging, and one hoped that the Factory Inspectorate would prod in the right places and say that something must be done. But, no: it was an excellent document, but nothing has been done. Secondly, the Department of Employment has published a Code of Practice. My Lords, what on earth is the good of a Code of Practice which is not practised? The legislation which would, of course, make this Code an important document is not forthcoming. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who I believe has these things at heart, will perhaps tell us tonight—I hope he will—that at long last the Government are considering introducing legislation which will make this Code of Practice compulsory. Inevitably, only a few employers feel compelled, for example, to monitor and record levels from specified processes, and implement the recommendations.

Undoubtedly, an important precedent was established in 1971 when, for the first time in Britain, a court awarded damages for deafness caused by noise at work. I agree that this was very important. But I have always felt that noise in industry, and the effects of noise in industry, should be a prescribed disease; and, this case now having been heard and damages given, surely cases of this nature should provide sufficient evidence for noise-induced hearing loss to be included among the prescribed diseases for the purpose of the National Insurance (Industrial Diseases) Act. This would be a very important step forward because through the National Insurance (Industrial Diseases) Act we should be establishing for everybody—for those who suffer from the noise of the 'plane and for those who suffer from the noise of the discotheque—that this noise is harmful to the ear.

However, my Lords, compensation is not the primary objective. The measure of the grave failure to introduce legislation to protect the workers is the fact that this form of deafness is preventable. We are here talking about a complaint which is a serious disability and which is preventable, and yet thousands of defenceless men and women are exposed to this risk throughout their working lives. I believe that no sum of money, however big, can compensate them for a disability which can, after all, deprive them of the very joy of living.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to endorse all that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has said about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, which I found full of wit, interesting and thoughtful. I am quite sure that all your Lordships will be hoping to hear from the noble Lord again on many occasions.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the question of noise. I want to intervene only briefly in this debate to draw attention to an aspect of what might be called the national state of noise as it now pervades a large part of national public amusement. The introduction and the development of the microphone, with its extensions through the amplification system—transistors, tape recorders, television—means that the media reaches out, and can and does penetrate into everyone's ears everywhere all the time. The whole media has developed and achieved a miracle, through its many systems, in electrical refinement, to bring into the reach of anyone who wants to listen a vast amount of worldwide performance of every conceivable kind, as they all happen, all through the 24 hours of every day. It has made possible a highly sophisticated extension of what His Master's Voice Telephone Company in this country and Edison Bell Records Company in America started years ago—the continued building up of a vast recorded library of incalculable value both for the world's public, as well as for future historians. But, being a complicated electrical machine without a human brain, it remains totally unselective. It can and does record and amplify the very best and the very worst, and everything in between. In our modern world of entertainment it plays an all-important part. But in reaching the degree of technical excellence it has also gathered to itself the ability to produce a volume of noise that apparently knows no bounds.

Those who have happened to go to the theatre fairly recently may have noticed long oblong boxes slung on the proscenium arch on each side of the stage. In the bigger theatres there are others placed in various parts of the house. These are amplifiers attached to microphones placed sometimes in the footlight trough or in other convenient places round the stage. In theatres where the acoustics are bad they enable every one of the audience to hear every word spoken on the stage without the actors having to project to their limits. They are also a boon and a blessing to those performers whose voices are not too strong, or who do not know how to sing, or how to speak a line, as without their aid they would not be heard over the orchestra rail or the front row of the stalls. In days gone by it was not an unheard of incident when at the end of an operetta the heroine—always a soprano—had to bring down the final curtain on a high C. Should she falter, slip to a B sharp or even a B natural, the unfortunate lady was promptly drowned out by a fortissimo blast from the brass section of the band. It is possible that the amplification system may be a modern way of coming to this sort of rescue.

Your Lordships may also have noticed that recently, where they are playing musical shows, there is an increasing tendency to turn the thing up to the full, and for most if not the whole of the performance. It is now getting to be nearly, if not quite, impossible to distinguish what tune—of indeed there is a tune—the band is playing, or hear the lyrics—if there are lyrics—that the singers are trying to "belt out". All this may be just a deliberate way of hiding or covering up deficiencies in the writing and composing of the show, or the lack of ability of some of the performers. I have been told by someone who knows this side of the threatre business very well that a large section of the public who go to musical shows do not think they have had their money's worth unless there is a maximum of noise throughout. Also, when their favourites appear on the stage they want to hear them sound just as did on their television, radio sets or their recorders. This could presuppose that such audiences play these media in their homes at full blast. One hears many cases of people living in flats who complain bitterly of the noise of their neighbours' radio or television sets.

But for sheer concentrated noise—just noise—I recommend the average discotheque. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, made considerable mention of this. Personally, I have often enjoyed going to discotheques, but recently I have found the noise almost unbearable and overwhelming. Conversation of any sort is out of the question. All this goes on without a break until closing time. The public here are largely what is known as young people. But so is the audience at the Proms. In fact, they pack the Albert Hall. The programmes at the Proms offer an enormous range of music played and sung by the finest singers and instrumentalists. The young people applaud them to the echo. But these performances at the Proms, my Lords, are not amplified. It may be that the pop music, its bands, and its singers are only acceptable to their public if they are amplified almost out of recognition. If you listen to Radio 2 at any time, apart from the noise there is an all-pervading curious monotony, a never-ending African drum beat. I would defy anybody to pick out a melody or a lyric.

I am told on good authority that there is serious concern in medical circles that sustained subjection by the young to this cacophony of amplified noise may likely produce serious troubles in their hearing when they reach old or even middle age. The noble Baroness, Lady Surnmerskill, brought out more than amply the question of noise and the damage medically to the hearing of everybody. So it seems that one half of us is concerned with subduing noise while the other half is bent on producing, selling and enjoying it. Is there no middle selective way?

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to join with all the other speakers in this debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for giving us this opportunity of discussing the subject we are examining this afternoon. May I also say what a very great pleasure it is to take part in a debate in which we have heard a most distinguished maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, and to wish with others that we will hear him on this and other subjects on many future occasions.

That said, my Lords, what is my interest in noise? I am the son of a partially deaf father, and with what the noble Baroness said in her closing remarks about the fact that no conversation can really take place without a sense of hearing I would wholeheartedly agree from my experience of family life. I think that from this point of view alone it is sufficient argument for taking part in the debate. My father lost his sense of hearing at the age of 40 in the trenches in the first World War. He partly recovered the sense of one ear, but when he came to your Lordships' House he said it was the easiest place to hear of any chamber or any room he knew because the amplification was so good. I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, in what he said on the subject of amplification.

My Lords, the particular aspect which I should like to discuss with your Lordships is transport noise, in the two fields of road transport and aircraft. In this connection there was a debate in your Lordships' House only a week ago on transport which I felt was particularly germane. What was said on that subject in regard to the development of a silent motor I would have thought was deserving of the closest attention of the most erudite scientific and mechanically minded experts in this country, that is to say, the linear induction motor on which at present Professor Laithwaite is experimenting at Imperial College, London. The future will indeed be bright if we plan for silent motors for road and rail transport and, if possible, silent or more silent motors for aircraft. But surely we must cope with the present noisy ones. That is perhaps the most immediate fruit of this debate, although we might perhaps draw the Government's attention to a number of areas in which noise may be abated.

Aircraft noise, it has been said, affects perhaps 10 per cent. of the population in its most extreme form. Obviously, 100 per cent. of the population are affected in a minor form, but those who live in close proximity to aerodromes suffer it to the very worst extent. Here I feel that the number of people caught in the noise nuisance net when Concorde takes to the air will in years to come be very much greater. Surely, any noise abatement in this field of aircraft engine design is going to be of the greatest public concern. I recommend most heartily what has been said on the subject of research and development into quieter motors and quieter aircraft engines and the degree of priority that should be accorded to it for the future.

In the traffic noise zone, certainly over 90 per cent. of the population must be concerned and involved. I would wholeheartedly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, said in that connection. We can take action here, and we must take action in the area of noise law. We have discussed noise law in your Lordships' House on many occasions. May I suggest to your Lordships that there are certain areas in which quite simple and straightforward procedures could be adapted: regulations could be framed and it would not require a new Parliamentary Bill to enable this to take place. I refer especially to the noise law in regard to traffic, and in this particular connection the noise tests currently being conducted or currently applied by the Ministry of Transport. Regulations in years to come should be revised, but surely we can give this matter a much greater degree of priority as a result of pressure to do this much sooner.

As your Lordships are well aware, at present the official test is carried out in the open air at 25 feet range for a vehicle travelling at 30 miles an hour, and it must not exceed the generation of 80 decibels. This is a very impracticable test because the noise level, if the test were taken down a street with tall buildings on either side, might so easily increase to over 100 decibels without the speed of the vehicle altering. Surely we need to construct a different method of measuring noise. Would it not be an excellent plan that universities which conduct experiments in this connection should give their advice? Do we not need a static test which could be easily applied—requiring a sort of car-wash, enclosed contrivance into which a vehicle would drive and be subjected to a test at certain revolution rates, and the engine would be measured accordingly? I do not feel that with our current knowledge this would be difficult, and I suggest that some research and development in this field should take place. We want realistic measurement under simple conditions.

In regard to offences under the road traffic law, as the law stands at the moment it is extraordinarily difficult to achieve prosecution of noisy vehicles, but the annual number of cases prosecuted by the police under the Road Traffic Acts is about 14,000. As I understand it, these prosecutions are based on opinion and not on fact. In other words, the vehicles are not subjected to a test. It is in the opinion of the police officer that the vehicle was making too much noise and there is no specific proof; therefore, it is the opinion of the police officer which is often accepted by the magistrate or recorder concerned. May I draw your Lordships' attention to the cost of prosecution? My information is that a conservative estimate is in the nature of £200 per case. As I have men- tioned to your Lordships already, no fewer than 14,000 prosecutions are dealt with by the courts in a year at the present time. On conviction, fines amount to around £5. Surely this is a hopelessly uneconomic system.

We should re-examine the position in line with a scheme now approved and agreed by the Association of Chief Constables, which is to adopt a quite different procedure. This involves setting aside prosecutions and agreeing that traffic wardens, the police and public health inspectors should be equipped with a noise torch or similar device. Then, when a vehicle which they believe to be generating more than 80 or 85 decibels passes them on a spot check, they should report it. Now that the Central Vehicle Registry is set up, or will shortly be operating from its headquarters in Swansea, with a computerised system, it will be easy to send in a standard written form saying that a vehicle with such-and-such a registration number gave a reading of such-and-such a number of decibels. The Registry will send to the owner of that vehicle, who will be checked upon with very great ease, a report saying that the vehicle would be subject to Ministry of Transport test at the earliest opportunity. "The earliest opportunity" would probably be some time ahead when the licence was clue to be renewed. This would be a better sanction. Not only would the insurance companies be most likely to co-operate with a system of this kind, if it has already been approved by the chief constables, but this is an area which would not require further legislation. It would require merely further Regulations by the Minister. I feel that if a sense of imagination were put into practice in this field it could do a great deal of good.

Finally, on vehicle registration, I would draw your Lordships' attention to one fact brought up in the debate we held a week ago. I would quote from col. 1210 of the OFFICIAL REPORT Of the debate on Transport on Wednesday, March 7. In that debate the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, said this: Secondly, as regards the increased volume of traffic carried by heavy lorries is it not correct to say there has been an increase of 817 per cent. in the number of lorries over eight tons in the last six years? That statistic was challenged only by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who suggested that the figure was about 400 per cent. rather than 800 per cent., and surely that statistic is a very alarming one. The growth in the number and size of "juggernaut lorries we well know about, but surely that statistic in particular should impel the powers-that-be to take action on this important subject.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise first for putting down my name to speak and then withdrawing it and now speaking, but yesterday I did not think I should be able to attend your Lordships' House to-day. However, I am extremely glad and happy that I have been able to attend to-day, first because it was a great pleasure to listen to the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird. With other noble Lords, I hope we shall have the pleasure of listening to him again on many occasions in the future. My Lords, living as I do in a rural area I am fortunate not to be unduly affected by traffic and aircraft noise or, for that matter, the noise of "pop" music and transistor radios, but I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for initiating this debate, for it gives me an opportunity of bringing to your Lordships' notice a small noise problem of which I have some knowledge.

I imagine that to many farmers one of the sweetest sounds of all is that of the steady roar of a tractor as it is ploughing. I must confess that I derive considerable satisfaction from watching and listening to a tractor. In the past I have spent many days driving tractors, but I can no longer do so. I feel sure that the intolerable noise level inside some of the present day safety cabs would drive me insane. Our agricultural workers are a superb lot of chaps. They are interested in their job; they love the land on which they work and they are prepared to work hard and long hours. I know of dedicated men who have worked long hours on a tractor in order to get a particular job done while weather conditions were right. Now these men long for knocking-off time in order to obtain relief from the overpowering and incessant din within the tractor cabs. Some men are refusing to work in this type of cab and I do not blame them, for I could not do so.

I know of men who have been hospitalised with damage to their ears or have been affected mentally; and who knows what the long-term effect may be? The engine transmission whine is accentuated in these cabs and the drumming noise is intense, and I do not feel that our workers should be subjected to this misery. I entirely endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has said regarding noise in industry. Surely it is not beyond our technological skill, either to quieten the tractor transmission and engine, or to construct cabs which do not accentuate the noise. I believe that some manufacturers supply ear muffs for the drivers, but this appears to me a most inadequate and unsatisfactory method of solving the problem. I believe that if these ear muffs are worn for any length of time they become hot and uncomfortable, and also I understand that their continual use can result in an ear infection.

At one time I considered putting down a Question to the Minister asking whether the regulations regarding safety cabs could be relaxed until such time as further research had improved them and made conditions tolerable. I decided against this, for these cabs have undoubtedly saved lives. There was a tragic accident in my district a short while ago in which a young man died. Probably he would have lived had the tractor he was driving been fitted with a safety cab. These tractors and cabs are an expensive piece of equipment. Much has been done to increase comfort for the driver in the way of improved seating and heaters et cetera; but no one seems to have worried unduly about the noise affecting the poor chap who is driving. I am certain that the Government were right to bring in legislation regarding the compulsory use of safety cabs, but could we not now legislate to make the working hours of the people whose lives we have protected more worth living?

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for moving this Motion which draws our attention to the problem of noise, though I think we are all agreed that it is a problem which draws itself to our attention only too often. We are glad also that this has provided an opportunity for us to hear my noble friend Lord Kinnaird for the first time. Although there are a number of things we shall be talking about of which we should rather hear less, we are all agreed that we look forward very much to hearing more of the noble Lord in the future.

I think it probably true to say that most of the more widespread noise nuisance with which we have to deal stems from variations on the internal combustion engine: the diesel engine which drives our lorries, the petrol engine which drives our cars and the jet engine which drives our aircraft. It is estimated that one way or another one-fifth of the citizens in our towns and cities suffer from and are annoyed by traffic noise while in their homes. It is not thousands, as my noble friend Lord Kinnaird estimated, but some 2 million people who are annoyed and disturbed by the noise from Heathrow Airport alone. As the noble Lord has indicated, there are numerous other sources of disagreeable noise, in factories and elsewhere. I will refer to them in a moment. It is true to say that here we have a major nuisance which must be tackled more vigorously, and as this mini debate is running well within its time, I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I deal with the subject fairly comprehensively.

I think there are four strategies in dealing with noise. The first and best is to throttle it at source. The second is to send it away from people. The third is to plan matters so as to ensure that noise and people are kept apart, and the fourth and last resort is to insulate and protect people from noise when all the other methods have failed. It is that framework that I propose to use for my remarks. I turn to the measures that can be taken to throttle noise at source, which is the best strategy of all in the long run. Some of the earliest powers of control that we have, have been on the Statute Book since 1912—the controls over the exhausts of vehicles. In 1968 a limit was prescribed on the amount of noise that an exhaust system was permitted to make. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned this briefly and my noble friend Lord Sandys dealt with it extensively, and I am glad that he did so. I was glad that he mentioned that prosecutions are running at a scale of 13,000 or 14,000 a year and I would entirely agree with him that anything that can be done to make enforcement simpler, cheaper and easier for the police is something which we must consider carefully, because the police have many other claims on their manpower and time. I am glad to be able to tell my noble friend that the Noise Advisory Council has already recommended static tests of the type he was suggesting. They are being considered and my noble friend's remarks will be considered in conjunction with them.

The earlier controls on the use of motor vehicles have been progressively strengthened. They apply also to horns and I hope that they apply to the kind of horn which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kinnaird. It is now an offence to use a horn at all in a built-up area between 11.30 p.m. and 7 a.m. The most important development in this field has been since 1969 with the introduction of regulations prescribing noise limits for classes of vehicles in use and providing that from April, 1970, new vehicles have to meet separate and lower noise limits. We were about to introduce limits of our own, but with the advent of our entry into Europe it was decided to seek for more stringent limits within the wider context of the whole European Economic Community. There is a five-year research programme, sponsored by the Government and manufacturing industry, which aims at the development of a heavy goods vehicle which would be half as noisy as the current generation of heavy goods vehicles. I am sure that will be welcomed by my noble friend Lord Sandys.

By 1970 progress in the design of aircraft engines enabled the International Civil Aviation Organisation to agree on a scheme for the noise certification of future types of commercial subsonic jet aircraft. The Air Navigation Noise Certification Order 1970 which implemented that scheme in this country requires new aircraft operating in the United Kingdom to be about half as noisy as current jet aircraft of the same weight. The prospects which this development holds out are already becoming apparent as the new and quieter aircraft such as the DC10 and the Tri-Star with the Rolls-Royce engine RB211 come into service and are heard in this country. My noble friend Lord Sandys was quite right to introduce into the debate the possibility of linear motors and any other kind of motor which makes far less sound than the internal combustion engine.

I now turn to the abatement of noise at source in the urban scene. A working group of the Noise Advisory Council has examined the working of the Noise Abatement Acts and the general question of noise in urban situations, and its report, entitled Neighbourhood Noise, suggested legislation under four heads to improve the general living conditions of people in towns. The first head was to speed up and strengthen the procedures under which legal action could be taken to abate causes of noise nuisance of all kinds —and under this category will come chain stores, transistor radios, discotheques, bird scarers, barking dogs, pneumatic drills, amplified music and all the other things which noble Lords have mentioned. In connection with discotheques, which was concerning the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, and other noble Lords, I can say that there is a special working group of the Noise Advisory Council looking into that problem.

The second heading which the Noise Advisory Council have considered for legislation is the creation of noise abatement zones with the object first of holding steady the noise level within a particular zone and then progressively bringing about an improvement. The two other heads are the arrangement of the control of noise on construction and demolition sites, and the power to enforce the quietening of noisy machinery. I am glad to be able to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that the Government have accepted in principle these recommendations, and have indicated their intention to introduce new noise legislation in the lifetime of the present Parliament.

I turn now to another strategy, that of removing the source of noise away from people when it cannot be effectively throttled at source. My noble friend Lord Sandys rightly mentioned the possibilities here under transport and traffic control legislation. I am grateful to him for his suggestions. This is a good moment to consider them, and I am glad to assure him that they will be considered. Local authorities have powers under a number of Acts to restrict and prevent access of heavy traffic, or traffic of any sort, on a number of grounds, including amenity. But there is now a Private Member's Bill being introduced by Mr. Hugh Dykes into another place, entitled the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Control and Regulations) Bill, which is seeking to provide local authorities with the power positively to specify through routes for heavy vehicles, and to prohibit or restrict use in zones on certain roads in order to preserve the amenity of the area: and, of course, quietness is an element of that. The Bill would also require local authorities to put forward specific proposals for action by January 1, 1977. Here, once again, I am glad to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that that is legislation which the Government are supporting.

I pass now to removing the source of noise in the form of aircraft noise. The Government now have comprehensive powers for the control of noise at any aerodrome in the United Kingdom designated for that purpose. It is this that has enabled such steps to be taken as the banning of night jet aircraft takeoffs between the hours of 23.30 and 06.00 at Heathrow during the summer from 1972 onwards, and the reduction of the number of night jet movements at Gatwick, Luton and Manchester which are to be allowed this coming summer. So much for steps that can be taken under that strategy.

I turn now to the strategy of planning for people and noise to be kept apart. The Government's decision to build the Third London Airport at Maplin was based not only on the need to provide additional airport capacity to meet increasing traffic, but also on the need to bring relief at the earliest possible date to the people who are at present annoyed by noise from Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton. My noble friend Lord Kinnaird opened his speech by dwelling on this particular form of noise nuisance. More recently, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has firmly refused to allow further development at Luton Airport on the grounds that such development would increase the degree of public inconvenience and distress already caused by noise from that airport. But most of what needs to be done to keep noise and people apart, and to plan accordingly, is in the hands of the local planning authorities. To help them with what they need to do, my right honourable friend has issued to them a new circular entitled Planning and Noise, and also a pamphlet prepared by the Noise Advisory Council entitled A Guide to Noise Units, by which noise of various kinds can be measured, because if planning and noise are to go together we must work by agreed criteria.

Planning, in a wider sense, can also help to mitigate the adverse effects on new development of those public works which are necessary in the interests of the community as a whole, but highly detrimental to the public interests of many other people. Here what I am thinking of, in particular, are new highway proposals and urban motorways. The Government have fully accepted the Urban Motorways Committee's recommendations that the planning and the design of new major roads should be fully integrated into the planning process. We have the Land Compensation Bill, which is shortly coming to your Lordships' House and will provide highway authorities with the power to design and construct roads to minimise the adverse effects of noise arising from them. So much for planning in order to keep noise and people apart.

But, my Lords, we need to have recourse to the final strategy to deal with the situation where all the other strategies have failed; and then we are left with the need to insulate and protect people from noise—and we come particularly later to the matter which the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, raised. I should like first to deal with the protection and insulation of people from noise in their own homes. Since 1966 grants have been available for the installation of sound insulation against aircraft noise round Heathrow. The terms of this scheme were approved last year. Arrangements are also in hand for bringing a similar scheme into operation at Gatwick, and at Luton and Manchester the respective corporations also intend to introduce schemes. The Land Compensation Bill, to which I have already referred, will not only establish an entitlement to the provision of sound insulation where properties are affected by excessively high noise levels as a result of public works, including roads and airports, but will also provide entitlement to compensation for injurious affection where property loses value as a result of new public works, such as highways, and the noise emanating from the traffic using it.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord a question before he leaves the matter of traffic. He has dealt with new roads, but a great deal of traffic has been diverted off highways into residential roads. What is proposed about that?


My Lords. I think this all bears very much on the Land Compensation Bill, and I hope we shall be able to deal with it in that context. The other part which does not is the part about which I have been speaking under the use of the powers under the Transport Acts and the Traffic Regulations Acts, where the legislation on which we are pinning the next advance is the Bill that has been introduced into another place by Mr. Hugh Dykes.

I should like to deal now with the protection from noise of people at their workplace: this is the matter on which the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, chiefly concentrated. I was pleased that she did so. Up to now, the chief items of legislation have been the Factories Act 1961, which contained powers to protect people from bodily injury, and the Shops and Offices Act 1963, under which steps could be taken if workers' welfare was likely to be adversely affected. The Factory Inspectorate, working under those powers, have made some progress, but the noble Baroness mentioned the work of Professor Burns and Dr. Robinson and their publication, Hearing and Noise in Industry. Their work takes us a considerable step forward. Up to 1970, the date of their publication, the information that was available as to the precise effects of noise on the health of workers had been quite inadequate.

As the noble Baroness knows, the Secretary of State for Employment was able to publish last year a Code of Practice for reducing the exposure of employed persons to noise. It is early days, therefore, to look for actual achievements under this Code, but I am able to give her one or two examples of the steps already taken. For instance, the British Steel Corporation have made significant noise reductions by sound-proofing booths in their strip mills. Another firm has done away with compressed air as a method of moving materials about, and has replaced that with electro-magnetic devices, which of course are soundless. In another case, management and union representatives have agreed that the wearing of hearing protection in noise hazard areas should be a condition of employment; and in the wool industry a special team of consultants has been commissioned to advise on the modification of the machinery itself. I am also glad to be able to say to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that the Minister of Agriculture has been consulting the industry and other interested parties about the noise level in the safety cabs of tractors, and there is shortly to be an announcement about the new regulations, based on the advice that the Minister has received.

Reverting to the Code, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, this sets out much more fully than ever before what needs to be done to protect those at work from noise that is great enough to produce a serious risk of deafness. It applies throughout industry. Advice on the application of the Code is being given by the Factory Inspectorate on every general inspection, and in addition during the eight months since the introduction of the Code, 1,400 special visits have been made to selected factories with a serious noise problem, in order to study the problem on the ground. I also understand that the question of whether noise-induced hearing loss satisfies the conditions for prescription under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act is currently being considered by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, who will shortly be reporting to the Secretary of State for Social Services.

My Lords, I apologise for speaking at such length, but this is a wide-ranging subject. I should like to conclude by mentioning specifically the Noise Advisory Council, which is proving to be such a valuable agency in this field. It held its first meeting in April 1970. It was set up to review progress made in preventing and abating the generation of noise, and to advise Ministers generally. It is doing this work splendidly. The Secretary of State for the Environment is the Chairman, and the membership consists of a broad cross-section of lay and expert opinion. The Council has carried out a number of studies of speci- fic problems, some of which I have mentioned already. One of its projects is to provide a forward look over the trends and likely problems of the current decade.

May I say that I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and other noble Lords who have spoken, for giving us the opportunity for a debate on this subject and for an opportunity to discuss the problems involved, together with their solutions. I am glad of your Lordships' encouragement to press on with the programme to which we have set our hands.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, with whose maiden speech I am sure we were all very much impressed. Like other noble Lords, I very much hope he will often speak again. I should particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for what seemed to me one of the most encouraging replies I have ever heard him make. It is obvious that the Government are not unconscious of the problems which exist in this field. I was also very glad that the noble Lord noted in particular the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, about identification by the police of noisy traffic on the roads.

I believe this has been a constructive debate. I sincerely hope that all the work which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has mentioned will eventually bear its fruit and that we shall thus live in a far more silent and pleasant land. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.