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Noise Bill

12.28 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Strabolgi) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Adoption of these provisions by local authorities]:

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 7, at end insert ("or an order made by the Secretary of State so provides").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 6. These amendments introduce a power for the Secretary of state to make an order applying Clauses 2 to 9, which relate to the new night noise offence, to the area of a local authority. The order cannot have effect until a three-month period has elapsed from the date on which the order was made. As it is an order rather than a direction, it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, the amendment has been brought forward in those terms because of the comments made at Second Reading to the effect that it would be desirable to have the matter returned for parliamentary decision.

There was much debate in another place as to whether the new night noise offence should be mandatory in at least some local authority areas--that is, that application of the provisions should not depend on their being adopted by local authorities. While appreciating the intention behind such a requirement, it was acknowledged that the controls would not necessarily be needed in every local authority area. Indeed, that point was made very clearly at Second Reading.

I believe that the provision of this power provides a useful back up. In the course of the Bill the Government have indicated that they will review the operation of the offence after two years. In the light of that review, the Secretary of State will be able to make an order for those local authority areas where it is considered that the night noise offence should apply. I commend the amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: There is virtual unanimity in both Houses on the need for the Bill but something puzzles me. Hitherto, I have been under the impression that this is an additional power to be exercised by each local community through its local authority. I am trying to understand under what circumstances central government would make an order against the wishes of the local community. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, is as well experienced as I am in local matters and is fiercely jealous of the right of a local council to determine what it wants. Should it decide in its wisdom that it does not need the additional powers, what are the circumstances in which, regardless of whether the local council wants it, the order will be made? Clauses 2 to 9 apply to the area of a local authority only if the authority has so resolved or an order by the Secretary of State so provides. I am genuinely seeking after truth. Under what circumstances

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would the ministry consider that there was such a need for some action which was not being taken by the local authority that the order was required?

Baroness Hamwee: My point is similar to the point appropriately raised by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. There is perhaps an implication of flexibility, which on closer scrutiny of these amendments does not really exist. Not only will the introduction of the powers become a matter for the Secretary of State rather than a decision by the local authority, but, as the noble Baroness said in introducing the amendments, controls are not needed in every area. I have amendments down that deal with powers which are not quite as proposed by the Bill, including the question of the areas to be covered. Can the noble Baroness confirm that in bringing forward an order it will not be possible, as the amendment is framed, for the order only to apply to part of a local authority area? The noble Baroness referred to controls not being needed in every area. However, I think that by that she must have meant the whole of each local authority area.

It is important to have on record the circumstances under which the Secretary of State would use these powers of direction and indeed any other information that the Government might be able to give at this point.

Lord Lucas: I am a little puzzled by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, because one of the main motivations for bringing forward the amendment was to respond to points raised by the noble Lord's colleagues in another place who wished to see this offence made mandatory and wished to see whether they could move the proposers of the Bill in that direction. As I understand it, the amendment has been produced at least partly in response to comments made by Mrs. Bridgit Prentice and Ms. Joan Ruddock in another place. Therefore, the noble Lord's questioning puzzles me to a certain extent.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Good!

Lord Lucas: My noble friend has outlined the purpose of the amendments. I should like to emphasise that in another place my honourable friend the Minister made a commitment that after two years there would be a review of the working and take-up of the night noise offence. The exact format of the review remains to be decided but I would envisage the consideration of a variety of issues, including the number of authorities that have adopted the offence and the type of areas they cover, together with operational aspects and the outcome of complaints dealt with under the offence. The findings of the review would assist in establishing how far a common approach from local authorities across the country is developing in relation to the handling of noise complaints. If, as a result of the review, it appears that Clauses 2 to 9 of the Bill have not been adopted for an area of a local authority but nevertheless those clauses should apply, these amendments will enable the Secretary of State to make an order applying those clauses to that authority's area.

I do not think I can be more specific about our intentions than that. Everything will depend on the review and its outcome. The amendment will give the

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Government the power to do something about the review if the review shows things that should be done. At present, we have no indication that anything needs to be done that would make us need to use these powers. But if we did not have these powers we would be pretty toothless if the review said that something needed to be done.

Baroness Hamwee: Without wishing to undermine the points I normally make about Henry VIII clauses and so on, it seems to me that the Government will not have very much scope for taking decisions as s result of this amendment. They will simply be able to bring the Act into effect for the particular local authority area. That is not very much of a response to a review. All that is doing is saying, "We disagree with X, Y or Z borough council". It is not allowing the Government any more input than that.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: One of the difficulties is that in this House we are very keen on local authorities having as much flexibility as possible. In the other place they are very keen on this being brought in as a heavy handed, mandatory Bill right now. What we are looking for is a compromise which means that those local authorities which feel the need for this power immediately will have the choice to adopt immediately. Others which are more reluctant, either on financial grounds or because they think they do not have a problem, will have the opportunity to wait and see.

After two years there will be a review. As I understand it, it will not just suddenly say that the provisions have to be brought in nationwide. But it may be that one local authority is causing great trouble for all adjoining local authorities. I quote as a parallel car parking. When there are car parking restrictions in one borough every car moves just over the border and life becomes hell for the people living there.

I understand that if one's life is disturbed and one lives over the borough boundary one will still be covered under the Bill. But it may be that the problem becomes so extensive because one borough, say in London, of all the boroughs is not implementing the provision while all the other London boroughs think that is wrong and that it should be London-wide. The Secretary of State would then be able to bring the matter back to Parliament.

I discussed with both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Graham, whether or not the order should be subject to resolution of the House. While varying views came to me on that, I personally think that it should be so, because I would not like to have the Henry VIII power referred to by the noble Baroness. What is proposed gives the element of discretion. I hope that it will also be a compromise acceptable to Members of another place because the Bill is an important one and we want it to go through. I hope the Committee will agree to accept the amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may say that this five-minute exchange has been valuable. There is no doubt that "something must be done". But, having said that, we are painfully conscious that we do not wish to

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be so heavy-handed that Parliament gives the impression that it is interfering too much with a power which a local authority needs to determine. In the first instance it will determine whether it wishes to adopt Sections 2 to 9 of the Act. I understand what the Minister has said; namely, that the review may very well throw up further evidence which may be sufficient two years after the review to show that local authorities are reluctant to do something that should be done. In that case the power to issue an order will deal with that situation.

I was puzzled about the kind of local authority that has a problem in its area which is so obvious to the ministry that it needs to make an order of its own volition, although the local authority has not had the gumption to take the necessary steps in the first place. The local authorities and councillors I know do not need the ministry to tell them what should be done. However, I accept that there may be circumstances where that is required. I am perfectly satisfied with the explanations.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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