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   (a)   in paragraph 1(a) (which relates to light motor bicycles and motor bicycles), in the Table, after the row relating to item 5A, insert—

Item No.RegulationsAffecting
"5B99A and 99BAudible Motor Vehicle Alarm"

   (b)   in paragraph 2(a) (which relates to light motor vehicles other than motor bicycles), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B";    (c)   in paragraph 3(a) (which relates to motor cars and heavy motor cars), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B";    (d)   in paragraph 3A(a) (which relates to certain minibuses), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B";    (e)   in paragraph 4(a) (which relates to certain passenger-carrying and public service vehicles), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B";    (f)   in paragraph 4A (which relates to certain passenger-carrying and public service vehicles with forward-facing seats), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B";    (g)   in paragraph 5(a) (which relates to certain public service vehicles), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B";    (h)   in paragraph 5A(a) (which relates to certain public service vehicles), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B"; and    (i)   in paragraph 6 (which relates to certain goods vehicles), after the reference to item 4, insert "5B".'.

New clause 13—Audible motor vehicle alarms: amendment of the Goods Vehicles (Plating and Testing) Regulations 1988—

    '(1)   The Goods Vehicles (Plating and Testing) Regulations 1988 (S.I. 1988/1478) are amended as follows.

    (2)   In regulation 16 (fees for re-tests), in paragraph (6)(c)(i), for the words "and 16", substitute the words "16 and 16A".

21 Feb 2005 : Column 85

    (3)   In paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 (the prescribed construction and use requirements), in the Table, after the row relating to item 16, insert—

Item No.RegulationSubject Matter
"16A99A and 99BAudible motor vehicle alarm".'.

Norman Baker: I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce these new clauses. Those who pay particular attention to the workings of Parliament may note that there is a striking similarity between them and the Bill that I introduced which is due for a Second Reading on 18 March. I also record the fact that that Bill, which is replicated in the new clauses, has the support of Conservative and Labour Members of Parliament, and I hope that it will generate a response similar to the all-party support that I had for my motion on climate change two weeks ago. The Minister is not nodding now, but perhaps he will later on.

There is undoubtedly a problem with car alarms in environmental and noise nuisance terms. The Government have correctly identified the need to tackle noise nuisance through the Bill's proposals concerning audible intruder alarms. My colleagues and I broadly welcome what the Government have done on that issue. However, the Minister will also accept—he referred to it in an intervention on Second Reading—that there is a nuisance from car alarms. They can legally sound up to 120dB—the same level as a pneumatic drill or a rock concert. They tend to go off quite frequently, and they are assumed by those who hear them to be false alarms. When people hear an alarm go off, they do not say, "My goodness. A car has been broken into. I must telephone the police." Instead they curse the alarm, put pillows over their heads and try to go back to sleep. Car alarms are not even effective in what they try to do.

The new clauses have two aims. The first is to eliminate the environmental nuisance associated with car alarms and the second is to improve the security of motor vehicles. If people assume that a car alarm going off is a false alarm, it is obviously no deterrent. When I first raised the issue, one journalist to whom I spoke said that his car was broken into in the street in broad daylight, the alarm went off and the intruder just looked at passers by and said, "Bloody car alarm"—if I am allowed to use that phrase in the Chamber—and carried on with the theft of the car. All the people in the street simply walked by without responding. It is clear that car alarms are ineffective.

The Minister may be aware of the attempt made in New York to ban car alarms. If he has seen the evidence, he will know that 75 per cent. of 800 New Yorkers polled said that car alarms interfered with their sleep and 90 per cent. said that car alarms diminished their quality of life. More to the point in terms of the crime element, the New York police department, in a booklet that it produced, labelled audible car alarms as

    "an annoying and sometimes unbearable disturbance for residents in their homes".

It said:

    "audible car alarms frequently go off for no apparent reason"

and that such devices

    "invite both further disorder and serious crime."

21 Feb 2005 : Column 86

In other words, alarms not only fail to arrest crime, but generate it. The report pointed out that in Williamsburg during the year in question, two cars were purposely set ablaze because their alarms kept being triggered. There have been other stories of cars being vandalised because alarms have spontaneously erupted, so we can assume that car alarms create crime, rather than preventing it.

7.30 pm

A better way forward would be for manufacturers to stop using 1960s technology—that is essentially what car alarms are—and move towards more effective crime prevention measures that are also less environmentally intrusive. The Minister will be aware of alternative existing technologies, such as immobilisers, which prevent a car from being driven away. He will be aware of pager alarms, which replace the siren in conventional alarms by instead sending a signal to the mobile phone, pager or landline telephone of the car's owner. He will also be aware that tracking systems are up and running that allow a signal to be sent from a car that has been taken, to its owner. That technology has the benefit of not only returning the car to the owner, but identifying the criminal who takes the car. Other systems that are currently available include anti-carjacking systems, so plenty of technologies exist that are far more effective than conventional alarms at detecting crime and preventing car theft, and much less environmentally intrusive.

The Minister might be aware that Val Weedon, the secretary of the UK Noise Association, wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 10 February. The letter read:

    "I am writing to ask whether the recent Private Member's Bill on audible car alarms, presented in parliament yesterday by Norman Baker MP, could be incorporated into the new Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, presently making its way through parliament? I understand a similar thing was done with the Anti Social Behaviour Act and a Private Member's Bill on fireworks."

I am pleased to say that the letter went on to support my Bill. Incorporating my Bill in the Government's legislation would be an excellent idea, so the new clauses make that possible. I hope that the Minister agrees that alarms are ineffective and "alarmingly useless", to use the phrase of a pressure group campaigning against them. I also hope that he will take the view that manufacturers should be encouraged to replace traditional audible car alarms with devices that prevent crime more effectively and eliminate the noise nuisance that currently exists.

It seems to me that insurance companies are the driving force behind the continuing use of car alarms. Although I do not wish to misquote the manufacturers, they tell me that insurance companies require such alarms to be fitted. Insurance companies should examine whether there are more effective ways of preventing car theft and change their policies accordingly.

Train horn noise is not directly addressed by the new clauses, but it is germane to the matter that we are discussing because it leads to people suffering an intrusion similar to that caused by car alarms. Train horn noise is also about 120 dB and new trains require louder horns than the old slam-door rolling stock. I am disappointed that the Government have not addressed
21 Feb 2005 : Column 87
that problem. Individual hon. Members of all three parties have been required to put pressure on the relevant rail companies and we are making a little progress. The Bill addresses intruder alarms sited at a fixed point, but it singularly fails to deal with alarms on mobile technology—if I may call cars and trains that. The new clauses would limit the maximum sound emitted from a car alarm to 55 dB, which is the equivalent to background traffic noise, and would set a maximum sounding time for a car alarm of 90 seconds.

The Minister responded to a point about the matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) made on Second Reading by citing the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993, which states:

    "noise that is prejudicial to health or a nuisance and is emitted from or caused by a vehicle, machinery or equipment in a street"

can be dealt with. He also pointed out that local authorities can

    "enter or open a vehicle, if necessary by force, to silence a car alarm and to remove the vehicle from the street to a secure place."—[Official Report, 10 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 121.]

That is undoubtedly true, but the legislation is not working. Not all local authorities operate 24-hour services, and those that do will not respond within 90 seconds, which under my private Member's Bill would be the maximum time for which a car alarm could sound. In practice, local authorities come out only if an alarm has been sounding for two, three or four hours, by which time an entire neighbourhood could have lost its sleep.

The new clauses plough the same furrow as the Government's attempt to limit noise nuisance. The Government have identified the problem of noise nuisance, and although they have addressed stationary alarms in the Bill, they have missed a trick by not dealing with car alarms. It is not sufficient to hope that manufacturers will adopt modern alarm systems, because they are relying on 40-year-old technology instead. I hope that the Government will give a sympathetic hearing to the new clauses, because they are an attempt to make life better not only for car owners, but for those who suffer from the noise nuisance caused by car alarms.

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