HL Deb 13 July 1993 vol 548 cc189-202

7.32 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It gives me great pleasure to help in bringing forward this extremely useful legislation. I am sure that we are all deeply grateful to the honourable Member for Basingstoke who picked up on some of the major recommendations put forward by the Noise Review Working Party in 1990, and who has drafted a Bill which I believe responds admirably to them.

The Bill is not over-ambitious. Noise is an extremely complex subject and there are many kinds of noise nuisance which a Private Member's Bill could not hope to solve. Instead, the Bill concentrates on particular areas of concern and provides a detailed and practical solution to them.

I turn now to the main elements of the Bill, of which there are four. First, there is noise in the street; secondly, loudspeakers in the street; thirdly, burglar alarms; and, fourthly, a more certain way for local authorities to recover the cost of abating statutory nuisances. The first element of the Bill is designed to tackle the problems of noise in the street. It may be helpful if I explain to your Lordships the reasons for that by outlining some of the kinds of noise with which the Bill seeks to deal.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives local authorities powers to deal with noise that is emitted from premises. Where noise arises on the street, however, the provisions of the Act do not apply. That means that there is nothing that local authorities can do about street noises such as vehicle alarms, noisy DIY car repairs, and noisy generators and refrigerator motors even though those noises can cause a great deal of inconvenience to many people. One of the main purposes of the Bill is, therefore, to extend the noise provisions of the Environmental Protection Act to include noise in the street in order to give local authorities powers to put a stop to those kinds of noise.

There are, of course, many kinds of noise in the street. No Bill could hope to catch all street noise, nor would it he right to try to do so. The Bill, therefore, deals specifically with noise emitted from, or caused by, vehicles, machinery or equipment. That will catch all the noises that I have mentioned, and in particular will include car alarms. There are commonsense exemptions—for example, noise caused by traffic, by the Armed Forces, and at demonstrations of a political or campaigning nature.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships an illustration of how the Bill's street noise provisions would work. Let us say that a car alarm has been sounding for some time in a residential street. The Bill gives environmental health officers (EHOs) a new power to affix an abatement notice onto the vehicle, machinery or equipment rather than having to serve it on the person responsible. That is a most sensible provision which will serve the dual purpose of allowing local authorities to proceed to take action where it proves impossible to trace the person responsible and of alerting that person, should he return in the meantime, that his alarm is causing a nuisance arid that the local authority is taking steps to trace him.

The environmental health officer will then be obliged to attempt to serve a copy of the notice on the person responsible if that person can be found within one hour. In order to find that person, I understand that EHOs should be able to seek the help of the police in obtaining information on the ownership of the vehicle. Where, however, the person responsible cannot be found within an hour, the Bill provides new powers for EHOs to take a variety of actions. If they need to enter vehicles, EHOs will be under a clear duty to cause as little damage as possible. They will no doubt, therefore, call upon the services of a locksmith and an alarm specialist. It will, of course, be a matter of judgment as to whether the noise is so great, and has been persisting for so long, as to warrant the use of force.

Where an EHO has taken action to de-activate a vehicle alarm, the Bill will require him to re-secure the vehicle. If that is not practicable, he will have to have the vehicle towed away to a safe place or to immobilise it. The EHO must inform the police both before any action is taken and afterwards if the vehicle has been towed away.

Those then are the main provisions for dealing with noise in the street. I appreciate that that is a very complex part of the Bill because of all the amending of the environmental Act which it seeks to accomplish. But I can assure the House that the Bill achieves the dual objective of making noise in the street a statutory nuisance while building upon and upholding the well-tested principles and procedures of statutory nuisance.

The Bill strikes a balance between respecting the rights of the person responsible for the vehicle, machinery or equipment and the right of residents to expect action to be taken to abate a nuisance, particularly at night. That balance of rights is most important. It would not be right for EHOs to have the power to break into vehicles immediately without making any effort to trace the owner; but nor is it right that an entire neighbourhood should be kept awake at night by a faulty car alarm.

I turn now to the Bill's other provisions. Loudspeakers in the street can be a great source of noise and annoyance. They are currently controlled by Section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (COPA), but there is room for improvement. Loudspeakers can currently be used in the street (although not for advertising purposes) between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Clause 7 of the Bill would give the Secretary of State the power to amend that time band, although not in such a way as to allow the operation of any loudspeaker outside the existing time band. I understand that at present the Government have no plans to amend the time band, but the power could prove very useful should Parliament feel the need for it at some stage in the future.

Clause 8 of the Bill gives local authorities the power to adopt provisions enabling them to grant consents, where appropriate, to those who wish to operate loudspeakers in the street outside the national time band. Local authorities which adopt the provisions will not, however, be able to grant consents to the use of loudspeakers in connection with any election, or for advertising purposes. They will continue to be controlled under existing legislation.

I stress that only those local authorities that wish to do so need adopt the provisions. I envisage that they will be most useful in situations like charity events, or traditional festivals, where it is currently against the law to allow any loudspeaker to be operated in a street after 9 p.m.

The third element of the Bill deals with audible intruder alarms. We are all familiar with the deafening nuisance of intruder alarms which invariably seem to go off in the early hours of the morning, mine especially. These "false alarms" have become so commonplace as to make alarm systems far less effective for their proper purpose. Alarms do, of course, have an important security role. I am, however, anxious that something should be done to reduce the noise nuisance alarms can cause when they sound for no apparent reason. If this nuisance could be reduced, I am sure that the credibility of alarm systems in general could be improved.

London boroughs have been able, since 1991, to adopt provisions enabling them to require owners of alarms to fit cut-off devices and to supply the names of key-holders to the police. This Bill allows local authorities outside London to adopt similar provisions. Where local authorities adopt those provisions, this should reduce considerably the number of times that alarms sound for hours or even days at a time. Where, despite the fact that a local authority has adopted the provisions, an alarm continues to cause a nuisance, the authority will have special powers of entry into the premises. Before entering any premises, environmental health officers will need to obtain a warrant from a Justice of the Peace. Before a JP can issue a warrant, he must be satisfied not only that the alarm has been ringing for over an hour and is giving reasonable cause for annoyance to people living or working nearby, but also that the EHO has attempted, without success, to contact the registered key-holders. Even with a warrant EHOs will only be able to enter premises if they are accompanied by a police constable.

A power of entry into premises may seem controversial, although such powers already exist in the Environmental Protection Act. In the context of this Bill, it is important to appreciate that because of the chain of events that leads to the necessity for a forced entry, the number of times forced entry is required are going to be few and far between. Moreover, the Bill expressly requires the EHO not to cause more danger or disturbance than is necessary; and to leave the premises as well secured as he found them.

There are, therefore, as many safeguards in this Bill as the owner of property can reasonably expect given that his or her absence, and the noise of the alarm, may be keeping many scores of people awake in the small hours. The Bill contains a procedure of appointed days to ensure that once a local authority has adopted the provisions, everyone has sufficient time to comply with the requirements. This is important for home-owners and businesses alike.

I believe, then, that the Bill strikes an excellent balance between the right of owners to protect their property and the right of neighbours to enjoy peace and quiet in their homes. I believe, too, that it will enhance the security role of alarms by ensuring that the number of false alarms is reduced as far as possible.

The fourth element of the Bill is a small but important provision concerned directly with statutory nuisance law as enshrined in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Clause 10 in effect re-instates a power which local authorities used to have under the Public Health Act 1936. It allows them to recover costs incurred in abating a statutory nuisance by putting a charge on the premises where it is the owner of the premises who is, or was, responsible for the nuisance. In the past it has sometimes proved difficult for local authorities to trace the owners of premises in order to recover their costs after they have taken abatement action.

The Bill therefore provides local authorities with another, more certain way of effectively recovering their costs. The charge on the premises remains in force until all the costs, together with interest, are recovered. In this respect, it is completely in accord with the "polluter pays" principle, and I feel sure that local authorities will welcome it. This is a quiet little Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Earl of Shrewsbury.)

7.44 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on his clear exposition of the Bill and its contents. He spoke with his customary thoroughness. I shall not go into the details that the noble Earl mentioned but I wish to make a few observations about this Bill and about noise in general. I am quite sure that my noble friend Lord Meston will cover some of the more detailed parts of the Bill which have been mentioned by the noble Earl.

These days there can be few people, no matter what their age or standard of living, who have not at some time or another been extremely irritated, if not greatly disturbed, by noise. In urban areas of Britain various sorts of noise intrude upon the lives of people, particularly the old and the sick. It may be a question of an overhead aeroplane making too much noise or the noise coming from a drill in the street or from a car alarm going off. The latter matter is dealt with in this Bill. The cumulative effect of such noise on residents in its near vicinity can often be unbearable. This effect can turn distress into illness and in extreme circumstances it can lead to tragedy.

The kind of noise which creates distress, whether it is continuous or intermittent noise, can be caused either incidentally or deliberately. This Bill, although limited to noise arising in the street, deals in a way with both kinds of noise. Noisy road repairing equipment, aircraft noise and noise from inefficient burglar alarms is noise that we can safely consider arises from no deliberate intention to cause discomfort or distress.

However, noise from illegal car or motor cycle exhaust systems can be caused deliberately or may result from negligence on the part of the owner, or from a failure to repair old and defective parts. Sometimes a quite appalling volume of noise comes from cars which have large and expensive tape and disc players fitted. That noise can make the walls of a house shake and vibrate to an extent that is unmatched even by the passage of heavy articulated lorries. I realise that we are not dealing with that particular problem here, although I would be interested to hear any remarks that noble Lords may wish to make on that source of noise. It is usually caused deliberately and with the intention of drawing attention to the person who causes it for whatever reason. This behaviour is, of course, offensive in the strict meaning of the word and needs to be dealt with as much as any loutish behaviour which occurs on the street or pavement.

The Bill is simple and reasonable and I think it is overdue. I welcome it unreservedly, as it is a move in the right direction as regards attacking the whole problem of noise. I hope sincerely that other legislation will follow to address some of the wider problems which have been considered by the noise review working party. Excessive and unnecessary disturbance of this kind can be as damaging as many other kinds of pollution. It is right to refer to this kind of disturbance as pollution.

Your Lordships will be surprised, and probably even disappointed, if I do not mention motor cycle noise. As I have had new silencers fitted to my machine, I speak about this matter with a clear conscience, although I believe I am right in saying that one of the noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench opposite has heard the rich, throaty tones of my old silencer as he ponders his departmental briefs in his office. But, seriously, loud noise from vehicle exhausts, whether from cars or motor cycles, is quite unnecessary and of course it is illegal.

I can say without fear of contradiction that it is relatively rare nowadays for people to be disturbed by motor cycles but when they are the noise can be extremely offensive. That noise occurs because people make a deliberate attempt to tamper with exhaust systems, either by drilling holes in them or by fitting systems which are illegal to use. I stress the word "use" because it is not yet illegal to sell the kind of race systems which are widely advertised and which create a terrible noise and are illegal to use. This situation arises because the Government have not yet seen fit to implement the Motor Cycle Noise Act 1987. That is an excellent piece of legislation that was widely welcomed in both Houses. It was much needed. I have already asked the Department of Transport, through the Minister in this House, why that delay has been allowed. No convincing answer has been given as to why six years have elapsed before putting that legislation into effect—if it is to be put into effect. I fancy that the reason is departmental inertia and nothing more. However, the Government ought to do something about it, and quickly. It is absurd for people to be using illegally in the street systems which are sold and advertised regularly by suppliers.

As was said so eloquently by the noble Earl, a great deal of the responsibility for noise abatement action necessarily involves local authorities in some, if not a good deal, of expense. It is never a good time for local authorities to have to consider further expense, but I am sure that public opinion is such that the actions against noise defined in this Bill will be welcomed by the majority of the electorate. I trust that its provisions will be implemented without delay.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury on the lucid way in which he introduced the Bill to your Lordships' House this evening. I shall try not to make too much noise, but I cannot guarantee not to be a nuisance to my noble friend.

This is a very welcome measure, but I do not believe that it goes far enough, as the noble Viscount said. It does nothing to address the question of enforcement of emission standards and prevention of noise nuisance from moving vehicles. As the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, covered that point, I shall not dwell on it. However, one must be grateful for small crumbs when they are offered.

My noble friend is the first person in either House to explain the purpose of the Bill and how it will affect the public at large. The Second Reading in another place was formal; the Committee stage lasted 52 minutes, and during that stage no fewer than 38 amendments were introduced—which suggests that the original drafting was questionable; the Third Reading on 4th May lasted 18 minutes, when one more amendment was tabled. In all, the Bill was considered for one hour and ten minutes, with 39 amendments. I have to ask my noble friend: have you got it right and will it work?

Not so long ago I was told by Westminster City Council that all alarms must be fitted with a 20 minute cut-out device, otherwise a fine of up to £5,000 would be imposed. I was also told that that covered private dwellings, shops and offices, as well as car alarms, as my noble friend said in his introduction. I take it that the Bill will enable other local authorities to take similar action. I hope that they will do so with great haste since I, like others and as my noble friend mentioned, have suffered when a bell goes off and the keyholder cannot be found so there is no way of stopping the noise. That keeps everyone up all night as well as making one irritable.

My second question to my noble friend is this. What is the situation if an authorised person gains entry to premises with a warrant and a police officer, turns off the alarm but cannot reset it, leaves the premises securely locked but in an hour or less the premises are burgled and valuables stolen? Who is responsible?

In the same context in relation to Schedule 3, how long will it take from an alarm going off, if the officer cannot gain entry and so must leave a notice, has to apply for a warrant and then has to find a police officer before using reasonable force to gain entry? That could take some time: perhaps 24 hours or more.

My third and last question to my noble friend concerns noise in rural areas. Does the Bill cover excess noise such as church bell-ringing practice? What about lawnmowers? Do we all have to have a meter to determine the noise level of a mower? Some can be very noisy, as my noble friend Lord Oxfuird can testify.

As I said at the outset, I welcome the Bill. I congratulate my noble friend and wish the Bill a speedy passage. I hope that local authorities will enact it as soon as possible. It does not go far enough, but I hope that it may be the forerunner of a further Bill to deal with other noise nuisance.

7.54 p.m.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, the House must be grateful to my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury for introducing the Bill and giving us the chance to support it. I must admit that as I entered the Chamber this evening a noble Baroness suggested to me that all those who are to speak in the debate suffer from one form of deafness or another.

Noise is not a subject on which we can all agree. For me some external noise can be a true delight. My noble friend Lord Brougham mentioned the sound of church bells. I think particularly of my own village, St. Mary Bourne, on a Sunday. The joy of beautiful music can also cause comment. E.M. Forster wrote in 1910: It will be generally admitted that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man". More controversially, and in my view rather cheekily, the New York Herald Tribune wrote on 9th March 1961: The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes". I shall leave the last, and probably the most appropriate quotation, to His late Majesty, King Edward VII. His various biographers differ on the piece of music to which he was referring but agree that one evening towards the end of his reign, at Covent Garden His Majesty was overheard on turning to his secretary, Sir Frederick Ponsonby, to exclaim: Good Lord, Fritz, that's the fourth time we've been aroused by this infernal noise". Enough of quotations. We have before us a Bill which aims to improve the lives of the whole community by tightening up the regulations on excessive noise and nuisances, mainly those in the street. The vast majority of the wording of the Bill seems clear and unambiguous, but I would like to pose a couple of questions to my noble friend, mainly for clarification.

I shall deal first with the excessive noise from malfunctioning burglar alarms. There is nothing that concentrates the mind more than a series of burglaries in a local area. Prior to such dramas in my own village, alarms which had been set off inadvertently were allowed to run on, to the annoyance of all. But today, following a recent spate of burglaries, people react positively. They call out the police and enlist the support of the able-bodied in the population to investigate. Only last week my wife returned home to find an assembled crowd, headed by a policeman, after our own burglar alarm had gone off.

I should like to pose a question to my noble friend. What happens in the case mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brougham if the environmental health officer deactivates a burglar alarm and the house is burgled subsequently? What is the position regarding insurance? Have the Government had any dialogue with those responsible in the world of insurance? That is an important aspect.

Another point which worries me concerns music from motor car stereo systems. Is there currently any law preventing people from playing very loud music in their motor cars?

I assure my noble friend that I ask those questions from the most constructive of motives and not in any way to try to detract from the acknowledged virtues of this proposed piece of legislation. Surely the real point is this. Will the Bill change matters? Will it enrich our environment and make life more pleasant for the whole community? I believe that it will and therefore I support it.

8 p.m.

Lord Meston

My Lords, I join in expressing gratitude to the noble Earl for his introduction of the Bill. In principle, it is a valuable measure which we should support. However, it has to be said that the Bill is a further illustration of the piecemeal and ad hoc manner in which our environmental protection legislation develops. But at least it can be said that it does develop. Noise alone is covered by several Acts of Parliament dealing with noise in general—from aircraft, and from motorcycles to which my noble friend referred. In addition, there is a substantial body of secondary legislation and codes of practice such as those introduced in 1981 relating to intruder alarms and ice cream van chimes. Inevitably, there are also now European directives and initiatives. Indeed, I read that a Minister recently had said with some pride that he had addressed something called Euro-noise—which I assume is nothing to do with what we have been enduring for the past few weeks.

Evidence indicates that the objective expressed in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 has not been achieved. That objective is integrated control of pollution generally. However, the Bill provides a measure of integration. Having said that, there is still an undesirable geographical fragmentation, not simply as between England and Scotland, to which some of the Bill applies, or as between England and Northern Ireland, to which none of the Bill applies, but as between London and elsewhere, and local authority and local authority.

I wish to concentrate for a moment on intruder alarms. Clause 9 and Schedule 3 deal with intruder alarms, but the provisions do not relate to London. One can discover with some difficulty that alarms in London are covered by Section 23 of the London local authorities legislation of 1991. I question why we have to have separate provision for London, making the law inaccessible even for lawyers. I hope that there might be a more serious attempt to integrate and consolidate the law.

Clause 9 and Schedule 3 are welcome so far as they go. I am clearly not alone in having been afflicted by burglar alarms. I understand that about 98 per cent. of burglar alarms which go off are indeed false alarms. They go off at night, having been set by one's neighbours who have gone away and whose nominated keyholders live some distance away. In a built-up area noise reverberates, usually just after a conscientious father has got a baby off to sleep. However, that said, why are the provisions in Clause 9 permissive only? In other words, Clause 9 provides no more than that a local authority may resolve to apply Schedule 3 to its area. Why is it necessary to make it simply permissive? What incentive will there be for local authorities to adopt the provisions of Schedule 3? There appear to be few financial incentives if one reads the financial effects of the Bill set out in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum.

Likewise, I question why there are limitations within Schedule 3 which ensure that the provisions of that schedule apply only to newly installed alarms or to new occupiers arriving after the appointed day. The problem of alarms going off when they are not meant to is probably greatest with the more elderly alarms which are poorly maintained and to which the Bill would not apply unless and until there is a change of occupier. Presumably in that situation, the old law, such as it is, will apply.

There is one further noticeable difference between the Bill and other London legislation. In the London legislation there is a specific requirement for alarms to have a 20-minute cut-off device. That is conspicuous by its absence on the face of the Bill which simply refers to prescribed requirements. Why is there no 20-minute cut-off device stipulated in the Bill? What requirements are likely to be prescribed? When can we expect the Secretary of State to prescribe them?

As has been explained so clearly by the noble Earl, in the same context there are abatement remedies. Inevitably they must be cumbersome because there has to be a balance between respect for private property and the peace of the neighbourhood. But it is rather depressing to read in the Bill that the right of entry to premises does not arise until the alarm has been ringing for at least an hour. I can well understand that that will simply add to the mythology that robust self help is permissible after a stipulated period. Certainly in London it is widely believed that one can take an axe to an offending alarm after about 20 minutes. Sadly, that is not true.

I have a depressing feeling that in practice much of the Bill, in particular in relation to burglar alarms, will be ineffective. The nuisance will be greatest at night when local authority officers cannot reasonably be expected to be around. I cannot help feeling that the measure will prove little more effective than by-laws against fouling by dogs.

While the Bill passes through your Lordships' House, I hope that some thought can be given to ways in which it could be made more effective to deal with those who are selfish enough to have defective alarms creating the misery of noise nuisance and also wasting a great deal of police time. I would hope to see some indication of more positive incentives. The local authorities clearly will not be encouraged to take up the enabling provisions of the Bill without resources. I question how many of the local authorities within London already governed by the existing legislation have implemented the provisions of the London legislation.

I should like to see some further encouragement given to insurers to give discounts for those who have properly maintained alarms, and encouragement to landlords to stipulate within leases for the proper maintenance of alarms. That is all in the hope that prevention is better than the remedies provided by the Bill.

Some noble Lords have already referred to the separate problem of vehicle alarms. I am glad to see that the Bill covers vehicle alarms. Car alarms can be just as annoying when they go off at night. I express some sympathy with the views that have been indicated. Anxiety has been expressed about how the measures in the Bill will work in practice. Likewise, I am sure that I am not alone in having received briefing material suggesting that the Bill could be used to gain some indication from the Government: as to their policy with regard to improved roadside testing. That is clearly a subject to which we may have to return in Committee.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brougham, observed, the Bill received fairly scant attention in another place. It was a little under an hour in Committee. Most of the amendments were of a technical nature or otherwise concerned with the use of loudspeakers by politicians. I am glad to say that that is not a concern which is paramount in your Lordships' House. I hope therefore that we shall take a little time on the Bill. I do not suppose that we shall ever see my particular panacea of the return of bells to fire engines and whistles on trains. Nevertheless, I hope that some strengthening of the Bill will be permissible before it leaves your Lordships' House.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, we on this side of the House, like other noble Lords who have spoken, welcome this modest Bill which will go a small way towards enhancing the quality of life in our cities by creating to some extent a more peaceful environment. On the whole the provisions for enforcement seem reasonably sensible and attempt to achieve a careful balance between the rights and duties of neighbours and other people who live on the same street. We all know how disturbing street noise can be. The Bill provides for some control of street noise caused by car alarms, machine equipment, loudspeakers and intruder alarms which can now, under the Bill, be dealt with as statutory nuisances.

We also welcome the recognition by the Government that local authorities investigating or attempting to enforce the legislation will be put to additional costs. Some of the administrative costs may be recoverable through fees for licensing the use of loudspeakers, but this will clearly not go the whole way to covering the cost of possibly having additional enforcement officers. I hope that this additional burden on local authority resources will be recognised by the provision of additional money—real money—to accompany the legislation when it is enacted and not just by a recognition that at least £500,000 extra will be placed on local authorities.

As far as it goes the legislation is welcome, but as the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, has said, it is unambitious in its scope. There are other noises which people find very disturbing. As has already been mentioned, there are road traffic noises on streets which are specifically exempted from the Bill. However, those can create particularly grievous forms of disturbance. For example, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, who is clearly an expert on motor bikes, mentioned, motor bikes which have had their baffles drilled or removed from their silencers can produce extremely painful noise levels, especially when they appear to be quite deliberately and aggressively accelerating away from one. That creates all the more aggravating a nuisance because the act appears to be deliberate. I therefore heartily endorse the comments of the noble Viscount and ask the Minister when he proposes to enact the relevant legislation.

Heavy lorries that regularly park in residential streets and start up in the early hours can also be a considerable nuisance to people who are trying to sleep. I wonder whether the Government have any plans for restricting such lorries during the night hours. There are other noises that people find very disturbing. I, too, have received briefing material on a variety of different noises that disturb people, particularly at night. Those of us who live in West London under the flight path out of Heathrow are very concerned about proposals to relax to some extent the regulations about night flying in respect of aeroplanes which are allegedly quieter than other aeroplanes. But at night, when you do not even have the background rumble of traffic, any aircraft noise is extremely intrusive and can wake people even from sound sleep. I would urge the Government not to relax the current restrictions on night flying.

I have also had briefing from residents living near Paddington railway station who have been very concerned by the night work on the railway lines for some considerable months. The Minister, who is nodding his head, has no doubt also received letters and representations about the continuous working throughout the night which has disturbed people's sleep. Therefore, although welcoming this modest Bill which will help to some extent to control street noise, I would hope that the Government might have some more ambitious plans in the coming Session. Rumour has it that there will be no environmental legislation during the next Session. I would ask the Minister whether, perhaps beyond the next Session, there might be some remote glimmer of hope for some further control on the nuisance of noise which so disturbs us in our large cities.

8.14 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this Second Reading debate on the Bill brought forward by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury. I am very grateful to him for the way in which he introduced the Bill. I am grateful, too, for the way in which other Members of the House spoke, generally speaking, in favour of the Bill. I join my noble friend in congratulating my honourable friend Andrew Hunter who introduced the Bill as a Private Member's Bill in another place.

I was particularly attracted to what the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said on motorcycles and to his responsible attitude towards their use. He expressed the desire that people should keep their exhausts in correct order. The noble Viscount and indeed my noble friend Lord Oxfuird asked an important question on the law preventing people from playing very loud music in their cars. I can tell the House that, although the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 contain no specific reference to car stereos, Regulation 97 makes it an offence to use a vehicle on a road in such a manner as to cause any excessive noise which could have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable care on the part of the driver. I understand that Essex police have been serving fixed penalty notices on those who operate car stereos so as to create excessive noise. The penalty is currently £20 and the driver's licence is not endorsed. In addition, the Control of Pollution Act 1974 makes it an offence to operate a loudspeaker in a car for certain purposes between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. if the loudspeaker gives reasonable cause for annoyance to persons in the vicinity.

The noble Viscount also asked a question on motorcycle exhausts. Perhaps I may draw his attention to the requirements of EC Directive 89/235 and the latest British Standard, both dealing with replacement exhaust systems. Under our Community obligations these two provisions, appearing soon after the 1987 Act, introduced unavoidable delays in completing the regulations. In addition, the requirements do not easily fit into the corpus of British road traffic law. Consequently, drafting has been a long and involved process. The amendment to the 1986 regulations is to all intents and purposes now complete. We propose to press ahead with the regulations to be made under the 1987 Act.

My noble friend Lord Oxfuird started his speech with various quotations, which was interesting. My noble friend went on to ask a question, as did my noble friend Lord Brougham, on what would happen if a house was burgled. What I can say on this subject is that the Government consulted the insurance industry on its own proposals in June 1992. The industry was broadly supportive of the proposals that have now been introduced in the Bill. We will of course consult the industry again before this part of the Bill comes into force to make sure that the industry and Parliament are in agreement.

Turning to the Bill, I am sure that all those who spoke and indeed the whole House will regard the Bill as extremely good news to all those who have suffered from the problems that are caused by noise in the street and noise from burglar alarms. My noble friend mentioned the many kinds of noise nuisance in the street that were highlighted by the Noise Review Working Party in 1990. These include vehicle alarms, noisy generators and noisy DIY car repairs. I am particularly delighted that the Bill addresses the problems caused by vehicle alarms, because I know that they can cause considerable annoyance to all those unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. We should also recognise the care that has been taken in the Bill to balance the rights of owners of vehicles left unattended in the street against the reasonable expectations of those living and working in the vicinity that a noise nuisance should be stopped as quickly as possible.

Modern sound equipment is capable of creating a deafening and ear-damaging effect. I am therefore delighted that the Bill also addresses the question of loudspeakers in the street. I think that the provisions introduced by my noble friend strike just the right balance between flexibility and ensuring greater control.

The Control of Pollution Act 1974 has proved to be a sound piece of legislation for dealing with loudspeakers in the street. This Bill seeks to improve it further by providing the order-making power for the Secretary of State for the Environment to introduce a more restrictive control over the time that loudspeakers may be used in the street for non-advertising purposes. But the Bill also provides flexibility at the local level by giving authorities the opportunity to adopt powers to consent to the playing of loudspeakers outside the times permitted under the 1974 Act if they wish to do so. This seems to me to be a thoroughly sensible and pragmatic proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, asked why the provision was adopted. It depends on how large a problem exists in each local authority. It would not make sense for a local authority to have these powers if the loudspeakers were not necessarily a problem in their area.

My noble friend and other noble Lords mentioned the considerable problem that can be caused by burglar alarms that misfire in the small hours. Quite apart from the aggravation their misfiring creates, it also defeats their purpose. It is therefore in the interests of the owners of premises, the manufacturers and installers of alarms and residents at large that all is done that can be done to ensure that intruder alarms disturb people only when a crime is being committed. As with the loudspeaker proposals, the powers in the Bill relating to burglar alarms will also be subject to adoption procedures; and that, I am sure, is a sensible way of ensuring that only those authorities who feel that they can usefully use these powers need apply them.

Clause 10 of the Bill will, I am sure, be welcomed by local authorities. It will provide them with a more certain way of recovering the expenses that they have incurred in the course of their duty to abate statutory nuisances. I thoroughly welcome this proposal.

I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, for broadly welcoming the Bill. I know that the noble Baroness, and to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Meston, felt that the Bill did not go far enough. But we are dealing in the realms of the possible. I believe that a small step taken at this stage will have larger benefits in the future. The noble Baroness asked what effect it would have on local authority expenditure and whether the Government would be making funds available after the introduction of this Act. Of course it is important to recognise the financial background against which local authorities can commit resources to services such as environmental health. It is for each authority to determine its own priorities in the light of its statutory responsibility and its own interpretation of local needs and circumstances.

My noble friend Lord Brougham said that in another place there were a number of amendments. He asked whether we have got it right now. I understand that in another place nearly all the amendments were of a minor nature and they tidied up the Bill. My officials have advised me that the Bill is now in a good state and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury will be able to confirm that.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, complained that perhaps in another place it was not given quite enough attention. It is of course entirely for the other place to decide how it conducts its business, but I am glad that so many noble Lords have felt able to speak this evening. On that note, I commend the Bill to the House. I can assure noble Lords that it will receive full government support in its implementation.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this excellent subject. Noise is a very difficult arid highly complex problem. It affects all of us at one stage or another. However, my task has been made an enormous amount more simple tonight because I had felt that I had to answer all the questions which my noble friend on the Front Bench has just replied to. He has covered all the points which noble Lords have mentioned and which were addressed specifically to me on this Bill. I thank all noble Lords for taking part. I commend the Bill to the House.

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

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.24 to 8.30 p.m.]