HL Deb 16 October 1989 vol 511 cc647-9

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the nuisance caused by burglar alarms being activated unnecessarily for prolonged periods in built up areas, they will introduce legislation to make this an offence and to make it obligatory for cut-off devices to be fitted.

Lord Reay

My Lords, local authorities have powers under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 to control noise nuisance from premises. This may include requiring an alarm holder to have an automatic cut-out device fitted in cases where key holders are repeatedly unavailable or repeated false alarms occur. Local authorities are assisted in exercising this power by a code of practice on noise from audible intruder alarms issued by the Department of the Environment in 1982.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that noise can be as much of an environmental nuisance as litter and air pollution? Does he also agree that the code of practice to which he referred which was issued in 1982 is almost totally ignored? I have made considerable inquiries in the City of Westminster. I am told that the local authority officials are quite incapable of taking action against those who misuse their burglar alarms. Therefore, as a result of continued public complaint, should not the code of practice be converted into a mandatory obligation to limit the intrusive effect of these alarms?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Government acknowledge that there is a problem. We are willing to look at it. The present civil procedure may no longer be adequate to deal with the situation. As a resident of central London, I am very familiar with the problem that the noble Lord describes and extremely sympathetic towards his aims.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, are we not badly in need of burglar alarms which actually work, and which work only when burglars enter houses? Would my noble friend be surprised to know that my premises had an alarm which worked only when I entered the lavatory?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am not sure that my noble and learned friend is not asking for too much.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, in this heavily political question, despite what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and others have said, is it not a fact that too emphatic a cut-off in burglar alarms is more likely to assist burglars than neighbours?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord. It is a complicated question. There are two sides to it. The question of whether to make a cut-off point compulsory was considered at the time that the code was adopted and was rejected. One of the reasons for so doing was the security aspect were it to become too widely known that this was a characteristic of all alarms.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, has any burglar ever been caught by one of these alarms when they go off day and night and over whole weekends? Can the ordinary citizen ring up the local authority? The police seem unable or unwilling to do anything. What is the ordinary citizen supposed to do to stop these alarms?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I regret that I have no figure of how many burglars have been caught through burglar alarms. On the second question of the noble Lord, my advice is that any person should contact the environmental health officer of the local council. Detailed guidance on the noise complaints procedure is contained in the Department of the Environment's booklet, Bothered by Noise?—What can you do about it, which is available from local council offices, citizens' advice bureaux or the Department of the Environment.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is this not another example of why the security industry, together with alarm suppliers, should be properly registered with government? We should not then have an example such as we had in Deal. Everyone would be registered with government and activities would be exactly known. The alarm companies are a clear example of private people operating in an area where they are not sure that they have the right tools for the trade.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I dare say that that can also be considered. The Government have an open mind on this matter and are willing to listen to all arguments.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, my noble friend has suggested that one contacts an environmental health officer when faced with this problem. Can he advise the House how one contacts such an officer on a Saturday or a Sunday?

Lord Reay

My Lords, no. My noble friend has a very good point.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, much of the criticism that we have heard is justified. However, to be absolutely fair, does the noble Lord not agree that there are some British firms involved in security whose efficiency is admired in both this country and in the United States of America?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am sure that that is true.

Lord Somers

My Lords, the Government seem unwilling to introduce legislation on a simple subject like this. I hardly think that a little Bill of the kind needed would cause the House to sit until 20 minutes to five in the morning.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Government have no plans to legislate at the moment.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, can the Minister say what remedy a citizen has against car owners who fit alarms on their cars and seem quite unable to open the car door without activating their own alarms either in the early hours of the morning or at night?

Lord Reay

My Lords, with car alarms the situation is somewhat different. Under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 burglar alarms on vehicles must be fitted with a device to stop them sounding continuously for more than five minutes. They must also be maintained in good working order. Contravention carries a maximum fine of £1,000.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can the Government remember that once upon a time there was a body called the Noise Council? It sat under ministerial chairmanship. Difficult questions of this nature could be referred to it. It would then come up with wise advice about what governments could do.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reminder.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, did not my noble friend give the answer in one of his earlier replies? If every person who had an alarm made sure that the police knew who the key holders were when he or she were absent, would that not solve the problem?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am sure that that is desirable. That does not always happen.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is a conflict of interest? The Control of Pollution Act permits a fine of £400 for noisy alarms. However, the vast majority of insurance companies stipulate that alarms may not have a cut-off point because of this situation. The intruder goes in, sets off the alarm, scuttles off to security, waits to make sure that nobody goes in, and goes back a second time when he knows that no alarm will go off. How does the Minister see the resolution to this somewhat Gordian knot?

Lord Reay

My Lords, it is a consideration that must not be forgotten and must be weighed against the other factors that have been mentioned.