HL Deb 05 March 1992 vol 536 cc982-4

3.18 p.m.

Lord Gisborough asked Her Majesty's Government:

To what extent the noise levels of discotheques and personal radios are likely to cause permanent damage to the hearing of the young and not so young; and whether this will result in any additional costs for the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, repeated exposure to loud noise can cause damage which may manifest itself in later life. That could result in additional costs to the National Health Service, although it is difficult to assess what they might be. For that reason we consider it important to educate people, especially young people, about the possible dangers.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that some nose and ear specialists consider that the noises at discos are nothing less than disastrous in that they can affect people's future hearing ability? Does the Minister agree that it is right that the Government should issue recommended maximum decibel ratings in order to avoid the situation where employees are returning to previous employers claiming damages for deafness when it was partly self-inflicted at discos?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I recognise that there is anecdotal evidence in this respect. The Health and Safety Executive is currently consulting on a draft guide to safety at pop concerts which includes recommendations on limiting sound levels for audiences. That is likely to be taken into account when, for example, discotheques are being licensed. The difficult aim is to balance people's right to enjoy leisure activities, which have some risk, with the need to make them aware of the risks and safety standards.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is estimated that up to 100 young people a year have their hearing impaired as a result of attending pop concerts? An article in the British Medical Journal pointed out that continual exposure to noise during these leisure activities is said to be equivalent to an 80 decibel noise level over a working life time. The noble Baroness referred to proposals in a guide. Is it not possible to deal with this problem by using the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 or those of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, which controls the licensing of public entertainment?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, on the latter point, there is no doubt that, as a result of the work being carried out by the Health and Safety Executive, these factors will be taken into account in terms of licensing and it will therefore be possible to tie them in with the existing legislative restrictions.

In terms of the estimation of the damage being caused, we are fully aware that the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the National Deaf Children's Society have produced studies on this subject and have issued information and leaflets about it. The National Deaf Children's Society produced a report in 1990 identifying potential risks. We have been active in co-operating with them, particularly with the RNID, and they are publicising the possible dangers. We are currently promoting with them a pilot project in Nottingham targeted specifically at school children.

Baroness Masham of Ilion

My Lords, is the Minister aware that loud music at discos encourages the taking of the so-called disco drug, ecstasy, which is now on the increase and is very dangerous? What are the Government doing about this?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, that is a separate question which I should be very happy to answer if the noble Baroness cared to put down a question on the subject.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that in the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital we have an outstanding audiological centre in this country? Can she say what information is being given to people about Walkman radios? If they listen through only one ear, that will at least protect the other half of their hearing.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I must say that I was not aware of that. I understand that some manufacturers, including Sony, already issue printed warnings with personal stereos and are voluntarily looking more closely at the hearing safety aspects. This is clearly something that the Government are pursuing in connection with consumer protection measures.