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Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps I may simply say that 9 p.m. is when people 'phone the council and that midnight is when they try to find an emergency number for the local authority. With the comment that I share the concern that has been expressed on all sides of the Committee about value for money, which was the basis for my tabling these amendments, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 2.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 3 to 5 not moved.]

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) An order under this section must not provide for those sections to have effect before the end of the period of three months beginning with the making of the order.").

The noble Baroness said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Investigation of complaints of noise from a dwelling at night]:

Lord Elliott of Morpeth moved Amendment No.7:

Page 2, line 17, leave out from ("means") to end of line 18 and insert ("any continuous period of at least six hours but not more than eight hours, commencing not earlier than 11 p.m. and ending not later than the following 7 a.m., as may be designated by a local authority in respect of any locality").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may begin by declaring an interest. I have the honour to be the honorary chairman of Noise Council, which has a number of views about the Bill, some of which I should like to express.

Like the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, this amendment seeks to give local authorities greater flexibility than the Bill as presently drafted suggests. The hours fixed by the Bill (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) take no account of the different noise characters of different neighbourhoods or of festivals such as New Year's Eve. At the moment the Bill prescribes the same restrictions in Soho as in a rural district.

I suggest that the proposed hours are also inconsistent with other noise protection measures. Aircraft movements, for instance, are restricted only after 11.30 p.m. We are told that pubs are to be given longer hours. That will lead to noise not only from the pubs themselves, but in surrounding streets. There seems to be no point in placing controls on domestic noise which do not take into account other local noise sources. That can be done only if local authorities, in line with their discretion on whether to accept the proposed powers, are given a further discretion to tailor the minimum period of "night hours" to their own circumstances. If night hours are varied locally, everyone (wherever they live) will continue to be given the same basic protection under the Environmental Protection Act. The hours constituting night hours in any locality are comprised in the general effect of these clauses, namely, Clauses 1 to 9, and are required to be publicised in local newspapers by virtue of Clause 1(3). I beg to move.

1 p.m.

Lord Renton: One point in the amendment of my noble friend may provide further assurance. It should be borne in mind that if the local authority believes that eight hours is the required period for stopping noise, it can prescribe that.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The noble Lord raised some interesting points, but I believe that he has failed to take into account a number of matters raised at Second Reading. He mentioned aircraft and transport. Separate controls already exist for that type of noise. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that some areas were adversely affected by that noise. But I cannot agree with the noble Lord that there is no point in dealing with domestic noise without dealing with everything else as well. Powers already exist for dealing with other forms of noise and nuisance, but domestic noise can be extremely disturbing to people.

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The noble Lord mentioned celebrations and events of that kind. This was dealt with substantially at Second Reading. When I returned home to Oxfordshire that very weekend a letter was hand-delivered to me, which was quite masterly. I will read out a brief part of it:

    "You may have noticed in the last couple of days ...."
The letter refers to activities in an adjoining garden. It goes on to say:

    "The answer is that there is not an unexpected wedding or anything like that. Much more mundane I'm afraid. I have that sobering prospect of reaching 50 this year and we have decided to fortify ourselves with a gathering of friends old and new from near and far.

    As far in some cases means 12,000 miles away"--
the person who lives in this property is a New Zealander--

    "and as everyone will have their dancing shoes with them, we are not proposing an early finish in the small hours of Sunday morning.

    I do hope the exuberance of the band, and undoubted noise intrusion to you can be forgiven, on the grounds that such things happen only once in each of our lifetimes!"

I felt that this letter was very appropriate in view of our debate about neighbours having a degree of tolerance for what went on at special events. But the matter goes wider than that. Clause 2(4) gives environmental health officers great discretion as to whether or not to serve a notice. They would have the right to take into account that it was New Year's Eve, a special town celebration, or something that might cause them to view the event differently. If they adopt the provisions of the Bill they have power to investigate the noise. Having investigated it, they have discretion to say that because it is, say, a 21st birthday party, others should perhaps be willing to accept it. I believe that that point is already covered.

I pay tribute to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. I believe that that body already does a marvellous job in controlling nuisance and dealing with many other matters. This Bill will help that body in providing powers to make an objective assessment. Instead of having to prove nuisance there will be an objective measurement. While the noble Lord, Lord Elliott, raises some interesting points, I believe that they are already adequately covered. I shall read what has been said on this matter and perhaps discuss it with him further, but I hope he feels that he can withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I hope that I do not sound like a killjoy when I say that I do not believe that the Committee should place too much reliance on a local authority looking kindly on a special occasion. No doubt it will happen. However, it would be wrong if it happened too often without consistency. I can envisage occasions when complaints may be made, even to the extent of an application for judicial review, on the basis that a local authority has distinguished inappropriately between, say, New Year's Eve celebrations and celebrations by minority ethnic groups, or groups with particular religious cultural backgrounds, who celebrate on different days of the year. It may be alleged that the local authority distinguishes between 18 year-olds and 50 year-olds and so on. As a neighbour, one may be

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charmed by an eloquent letter such as the one read out by the noble Baroness--which is a very good way of stopping somebody from complaining--but the noise emanating from events such as those can still be disturbing.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: This amendment is also technically defective. Another difficulty is that it is not clear from the amendment whether the same hours will apply in all the different parts of the local authority or whether there can be a variable six hours in each different part of the same local authority. There is a risk that this may cause confusion.

Lord Lucas: I have little to add to what my noble friend Lady Gardner has just said, except to say that the intention behind the amendment appears to give local authorities extra flexibility. We feel that they already have that flexibility; indeed, rather more and better flexibility in their ability to control and issue guidance to their officers in enforcing the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that guidance will have to take into account different religious festivals, local festivals and the way in which people's private parties should be treated. That appears to us to give local authorities a great deal of flexibility in enforcing the Bill, and the flexibility accorded by this amendment would be much greater.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I thank my noble friend for his response to the amendment. The amendment is intended to give greater flexibility, which some of us do not believe to be adequate at the moment. In view of what the noble Lord said, and in the hope that with the review ahead all contributions during the course of the Committee stage will be noted, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 2, line 18, at end insert ("on such day or days of the week in such month or months of the year as the local authority shall have resolved.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 8 which provides that for the purposes of the Bill night hours are to apply on the day or days of the week and in the month or months of the year as the local authority resolves. I do not want to repeat the debates that have already taken place. I simply raise, by way of countering the argument, one matter. It has been said that certainty is not only useful but essential; in other words, that residents who are disturbed by noise should know their rights. I do not disagree with that. My amendment would not undermine certainty in each local authority area. However, in practical terms I believe that there is a limit to the importance of certainty. It is most likely that, troubled by a noisy party, a resident will call the local authority and the police but will not say, "Please will you exercise your powers under the Noise Act 1996".

Most local authority residents I know do not talk in quite those terms. Perhaps if the problem continues they

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will understand the particular detail of the Bill and the powers relating to nuisance and so forth which the local authority may have. However, it is not a real argument to say that consistency is required in the workings of the Bill. I beg to move.

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