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Mr. McNamara: The point that I am making is that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone tabled a question that cast aspersions on the cost of the questions that I had tabled and on my activities as a Member of Parliament, in tabling those questions to check the Executive. I thought that that was in my power. That is my response to the hon. Gentleman's latter point.
As for the hon. Gentleman's first point, he did not inform me that he would table a question about me. It is common practice for hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, to say that they have referred matters to the Registrar. I should have thought that such referrals are a matter of public knowledge.
I am still in correspondence with the Registrar, on the basis of her reply. I think that it is proper, under the rules of the House, to say that registered interests must be declared when a question is tabled, and that a man who receives from the Police Federation of Northern Ireland money, to the extent of £4,000 annually, to help him in his research, and who is a former B special--
Let me deal, first, with the latter point, raised by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), on the number of parliamentary questions that are tabled by hon. Members. I cannot give a ruling on that matter. I have no responsibility whatsoever to restrict such questions. I am sure, however, that hon. Members will use their discretion in the matter, knowing full well the cost of such questions.
I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) raised the original point of order, as it dealt with a matter that has troubled me very considerably. There is nothing in the rules of the House that prevent an hon. Member who complains to the Parliamentary Commissioner about a colleague from informing the media. However, I have to say that I regard such actions as discourteous, unjust and unfair. In particular, it can give credence to accusations that subsequently turn out to be unfounded, by which time the damage has been done and cannot be repaired.
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. As many of us were disgusted and rather saddened by the use of the unparliamentary and inaccurate epithet that was hurled from the Opposition Benches, have you received any representation on the subject from the hon. and gallant Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan)?
Madam Speaker: Let me reply to the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith). I shall not take the course of action that she suggests and ask the Leader of the Opposition to take up the matter. This afternoon, the Opposition Benches were particularly crowded and noisy, and I clearly heard an unparliamentary word. I did not know which hon. Member uttered that word. Had I done so, I would have immediately asked him to withdraw it. When I attempted to find the hon. Member responsible, as the House saw, no one admitted using that word. However, I have noted what the hon. Lady said and I have some indication of the area--I shall leave it at that--from which the word was uttered.
Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Secretary Cook, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Jane Kennedy and Mr. Paul Boateng, presented a Bill to establish a National Probation Service for England and Wales and a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service; to make further provision for the protection of children; to make further provision about dealing with persons suspected of, charged with or convicted of offences; to amend the law relating to access to information held under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1988; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 91].
The Bill is not anti-music. Nor is it anti-recorded music, though it is certainly pro-live music. I am passionate about music. Music has always been of huge importance to me, both as a listener and as a singer. I have been privileged to sing with some of the great choirs of this country including the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the Monteverdi Choir. I must have sung in hundreds of live performances with them and made a fair number of recordings.
My taste may not be your taste, Madam Speaker, and I would not wish to impose it on you. Music is an intensely personal thing. Much as I love Mozart and Handel, there are moments when I crave Ella Fitzgerald, Queen or, just maybe, All Saints.
Piped music, muzak or canned music is increasingly disliked and despised. All music is devalued if it is treated as acoustic wallpaper. People mind if they are trapped with no chance of escape from someone else's choice of music on a plane, in a bus, on a train, in a restaurant or pub, during otherwise decent television programmes, while held in a queue on a telephone or while sitting worrying in a doctor's surgery or a hospital.
The Bill would exclude the playing of piped music in a very limited number of public places. Places such as pubs, shops, restaurants and hotels would not be affected, because there is a choice--we can always walk away--but the Bill would exclude the playing of piped music in the public parts of hospitals, doctors' surgeries, public swimming pools, bus and railway stations, airports and public highways.
Perhaps the ultimate affront is the playing of piped music in the streets, as is done in many French towns, especially on market days. There have been one or two attempts to do that here. I notice that, for example, Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge jingles into the street at Christmas time. Busking is entirely different, although I draw the line at amplified busking in the street.
People might be surprised to hear that muzak is invading our hospitals. I have seen anguished letters from patients in Grimsby hospital; Nelson hospital, Merton; St. Richard's hospital, Chichester; and the Royal eye hospital in Kingston.
A patient from Barnstead had day surgery on his hand last year. In the ward where he was prepared a radio was playing loudly. He was delayed in going in for the operation because his blood pressure was too high. He said that he would be far calmer if the wretched machine
What are the facts? Gatwick airport carried out a survey of travellers' attitudes to piped music. Of the 68,077 who replied, 43 per cent. said that they disliked piped music, 34 per cent. said that they liked it and 23 per cent. had no opinion. Gatwick airport has since discontinued playing such music.
A November 1998 NOP poll that showed that 34 per cent. disliked piped music and only 30 per cent. liked it. Among those aged over 45, a majority hated it, and, even among young people, one in five disliked it. In January 1997, a poll for The Sunday Times asked people what single thing they most detested about modern life. Third in the list of most hated things was piped music. The first two were other forms of noise.
All unwanted noise raises the blood pressure and depresses the immune system. A survey of blood donors at Nottingham University medical school in January 1995 found that playing piped music made blood donors more nervous before giving blood and more depressed afterwards. The NOP poll of 1998 found that among deaf people--nearly one in five of the population have hearing problems--86 per cent. disliked piped music. The Royal National Institute for Deaf People now backs a campaign against piped music.
Blind people, who rely on background sounds to help to find their way around, find piped music upsetting. Musicians of all sorts loathe piped music because they find acoustic wallpaper offensive. Of course, piped music does not come free. It is an extra that has to be paid for with every meal, drink, book, ticket and piece of clothing. Incidentally, there is no objective evidence that customers in shops either like piped music or spend more because of it. In fact, Tesco, the John Lewis Partnership--including Waitrose--Sainsbury's and the Wetherspoon pub chain have all decided not to install it.
A guide to muzak-free pubs, "The Quiet Pint", has been produced by the campaign for freedom from piped music, known as Pipedown, which has its headquarters in my constituency. It is supported by a galaxy of stars. The patrons of Pipedown include Alfred Brendel, Tom Conti, Antonia Fraser, Stephen Fry, Lesley Garrett, John Humphrys, Julian Lloyd Webber, Joanna Lumley, Peter Maxwell Davies, George Melly, Spike Milligan, Simon Rattle, Prunella Scales and many others.
Piped music is pollution: a pollution from which there is no escape. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health reports that noise complaints rose from 200 per million of population in 1971 to 5,051 per million in 1997. The commonest type of offending noise is not pneumatic drills, cars or aircraft but music.
Noise remains the least recognised form of pollution. Sufferers from noise pollution--the victims--are inherently quiet people who do not like protesting. Of course, the pollution leaves no mark the moment that it stops, except on the shattered nerves and health of its victims. Unwanted noise raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increases muscle tension and induces hormone secretion among sufferers. It can also intensify hearing problems and may trigger attacks of tinnitus among vulnerable people.
The dangers of passive or involuntary listening are only beginning to enter the realm of public awareness. Noise pollution is often seen as unpleasant but inevitable. It is not. The Noise Act 1996 increased environmental health officers' powers to deal with noise, but 94 per cent. of local authorities have decided not to implement the Act, and only 10 authorities have done so.
Of course, I would be far happier if my Bill were not necessary. Is it too much to hope that, by my raising the issue in this way, people will think twice before installing muzak? An old proverb, thought to be of oriental origin, has it that speech is silver but silence is golden. There is a Hebrew equivalent--if a word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two. That is all true. But as Spike Milligan put it, "Tranquillity lubricates the soul, piped music destroys it."