HL Deb 21 November 1985 vol 468 cc654-7

3.10 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures have been taken by the Government to enforce control of noise from motorcycles.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, day-to-day enforcement is of course a matter for the police. Noise limits on new motorcycles have applied from 1970 and were most recently tightened in 1983. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport introduced regulations last year which require replacement silencers for motorcycles first registered from the start of this year to be marked to show compliance with a British standard.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that Answer. There appear to be sufficient legal restraints. Is he convinced that these are enforced sufficiently rigorously to dissuade offenders? Could he recommend the setting up of noise control points similar to those employed for controlling speed?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, enforcement of noise on motorcycles is a matter for the police and, among all their other duties, I think that they undertake this one very well. With regard to noise meters similar to other items, it is very difficult to track the noise of a motorcycle properly, given all the other traffic and noise that is going on around. This has proved to be a difficulty that the police have found. We are looking into various ways in which enforcement can be strengthened and improved.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that police duty is very difficult? Could he tell us whether there has been a single prosecution in the last 12 months for any motorcycle which is making too much noise? If so, I should like to hear the details that have been publicised.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know the figures for the last 12 months, but the most recent figure that I have is that 2,800 prosecutions took place in 1983.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a large number of motorcyclists would encourage any legislation to decrease the noise for they are fed up with the antics of one or two "cowboys" who spoil the whole name of motorcycling? Would not a most effective measure be for the police to have powers to stop and impound motorcycles, and then release them when they are proved roadworthy so far as sound is concerned?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that noise can be a nuisance. With regard to the extra work that he would like the police to undertake on this matter, I should like to discuss that with my noble friends in the Home Office.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Earl recognise that it is not really solely a matter for the police? While prosecutions must be brought by the police the collection of evidence could be delegated in the first place to a number of voluntary organisations, who would simply stand by the road and say, "That sounds a bit loud"—then take the number of the vehicle concerned and send it to the police, who would then contact the alleged offender and prosecute.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can see difficulties in going down that route.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Sub-Committee G of the Select Committee for EC Commission directives recently considered a proposal on this subject, that it is quite a major cause of nuisance not only in this country but throughout Europe, and that it really does depend for checking entirely on enforcement? There is no other way. Would my noble friend ask his department to look at this matter seriously, with a view to the police setting up check-points with adequate noise meters—this is the only way—which will really catch more of the worst offenders?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the subcommittee's report in May was very useful and we are very grateful for all the work that was done by noble Lords on that. With regard to the suggested check-points, I am absolutely in agreement, but we must first of all devise a system which will be effective to entrap the person who is making a noise above the stipulated decibels.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that there is general satisfaction and agreement with the regulations that were introduced for standardising exhausts on new machines and also replacement exhausts? However, as was mentioned when this matter was raised in the House some time ago, there is a problem over modification or "jazzing up" by riders. Is the Minister aware that the motorcycling organisations themselves are very worried about this, and also that there are more complaints about motorcycle noise than about almost any other matter connected with motorcycles?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, yes, indeed I am aware there is much concern about motorcycle noise. With regard to general agreement on existing legislation and regulations, I would disagree with the noble Lord because we are seeking to make the regulations even more stringent so as to reduce the noise level. As I am sure the noble Lord and others of your Lordships will be aware, there are regulations before us in the Community and we want to reduce the decibel level below even what is suggested in the regulations.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, could my noble friend encourage the police to perhaps inspect motorcycles when they are parked or garaged, in order to see whether the silencers have been tampered with, or even disconnected? That is an easier and quicker way than trying to catch them on the high road, which has its complications and difficulties.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, if I may, I will take up my noble friend's point and discuss it with my honourable friends.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, would the noble Earl explain why he says it is so hard to detect the people making this noise? How is that so, when anybody and everybody living in any street or road can tell exactly who did it? Why is it so difficult for anybody else?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the difficulty is in actually proving that the noise is above the stipulated decibels. It might sound loud to us but, given the other noise that is going on in a roadside situation, it has sometimes proved very difficult for the police to pinpoint the noise at that stage. Once you take the person concerned round the corner on to a straight bit of road where there is no other traffic, he can control the motorcycle in a different way so as to make less noise.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that there is no technical problem whatever? Fifty years ago BSA produced a speedy machine which was less noisy than any of the machines on the road today.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is right on that point, but the problem comes with somebody who deliberately flouts the law with a smaller machine. It is not the big machines that are the worry; it is the smaller machines, of under 250cc.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is absolutely right? The real nuisance at night from motor-bicycles comes not from machines which are technically outside the law, but from the revving up of machines when young riders start off from cold? That is what produces the horrifying roar which wakes up and annoys everyone.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, yes, indeed. I am grateful to my noble friend. We appreciate that that is one of the problems.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, would it not be easy to do as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, suggests and prosecute those who take deliberate steps to make their motor-cycles noiser than they need be?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think we also ought to prosecute those who let their machines fall into disrepair.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, as the Government seem entirely unable to enforce any law relating to motor vehicles, what guarantee have they that they will be more successful on this occasion?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, wrong. There were 2,800 successful prosecutions in 1983.