Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: It is not only sleep that can be disturbed by noise. I dare say that there are other Members of the Committee who have had to study and work on something which requires great concentration until the early hours of the morning. I must confess that I often had to do so when I was in practice at the Bar.

With deep respect to my noble friend, because I understand the point he makes, I believe that we should give protection to that minority of people who may have to sit up very late doing mental work which requires great concentration. If we narrow the provision to apply only to people in bedrooms, we may not achieve that purpose.

Lord Swinfen: I am wondering what is the meaning of "bedroom". There will be occasions when someone who has suffered an injury may not be able to get up the stairs to his accustomed bedroom and may have to sleep in a living-room on the ground floor, at any rate for a temporary period; or there may be a case where people have guests staying in a house and they are allowed to sleep in a living-room on a piece of furniture

14 Jun 1996 : Column 1996

which will convert to a bed. Therefore, one would need to define the word "bedroom" if this amendment were to be accepted.

Lord Lucas: This is not an amendment with which we feel comfortable. We agree with my noble friend Lord Renton that other activities are undertaken within a house where the person undertaking those activities may feel entitled to do so in quiet between the hours of 11 and seven. We believe that we can rely on local authorities' discretion, the guidance that they will give and the quality of their officers to make sure that, in practice, the measurements are made in the most appropriate place in the house.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I believe that it would be wrong to restrict this to a bedroom. The bedroom might be tucked away in a quiet corner of the house but, because of the noise level one may not be able to enjoy normal living with friends and family or even just watching the television in another part of the house.

My noble friend Lord Elliott said that the environmental health officer would be looking round the house trying to choose the appropriate room in which to make the measurement. I do not believe that that would happen because environmental health officers are extremely practical and used to such matters. Secondly, the complainant would have very definite views on where they were when suffering the intolerable noise. Therefore, the complainant would say, "This is the room in which I am trying to sit and read but cannot do so because of the intolerable noise".

Another point which may have been overlooked by my noble friend Lord Elliott is that the noise must be 10 decibels above the local level of noise. This point was raised on Second Reading. A higher level of noise will be tolerated in a noisy, residential area because, as I say, the noise must be 10 decibels above the local level. Therefore, we need not worry about the consistency of measurement. I believe that this proposal would be unnecessarily restrictive. I appreciate the points made by my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Swinfen which are extremely relevant. I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: I return to my opening phrase in moving the amendment. Measurement should be related to disturbance. But I take the points which have been made that this may be too restrictive. In consequence, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I should like to comment on this clause because it has been considered by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I must put before the Committee the comments which it made.

I am aware that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee raised two questions about the use of such powers within the Bill. The first relates to Clause 5. The committee asked for justification for the procedure by

14 Jun 1996 : Column 1997

which the Secretary of State is to fix the permitted level of noise and a variety of other matters for the night noise offence.

The Bill provides that those are set by directions in writing issued by the Secretary of State. There is good reason for that approach. The measurement of noise can be a complicated and highly technical matter. As indicated by Clause 5(3), it is likely that the permitted level may need to be defined by reference to other levels of noise. That may involve taking more than one measurement; for example, we are considering setting the permitted level by reference to background noise, so that the permitted level--a level which the noise must exceed for an offence--is, say, 35 decibels, provided that the noise also exceeds the background level by 10 decibels.

The directions may include matters involving the location and period of measurement and also mathematical calculations. It may well be necessary, especially in the early days of the operation of the provisions, to make fairly frequent changes to some of those matters in the light of experience and developments in the field of noise measurement. These may also need to be made promptly. In those circumstances, we consider that directions, rather than a statutory instrument, would be the best way of providing for those matters.

I should like to draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the schedule contained in the Control of Noise (Measurement and Registers) Regulations 1976, which is also concerned with the measurement and calculation of noise levels. Although this is not exactly equivalent, it gives an idea of the complexity of the issues involved. Experience with that order has shown that a statutory instrument is not the most appropriate means by which such technical matters are specified. In view of those remarks, I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Renton: Although I am one of the many Members of this Chamber who are against Henry VIII clauses and giving unbridled power to Ministers to change the law, I realise that there are certain, rather narrow exceptions in which it would be undesirable to have to wait for a matter to be approved by Parliament when the circumstances really require, even experimentally, a relatively minor change to be made. Therefore, I agree with my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes on the matter. I hope that the Committee will accept Clause 5 as it stands.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.

1.30 p.m.

Clause 8 [Fixed penalty notices]:

Lord Elliott of Morpeth moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 4, line 38, leave out ("is committing or has just") and insert ("has").

The noble Lord said: In moving the above amendment I shall, with leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 12 to 16. The purpose of this group of amendments is to face up to the enormous difficulty

14 Jun 1996 : Column 1998

which could possibly be encountered by enforcement officers in a very rowdy and dangerous situation. If an offence is in the course of commission and still going on, because the noise which exceeds the permitted level is continuing, an offence has in fact already been committed. Therefore, the phrase in Clause 8(1) is a tautology.

Taken with subsequent references to giving fixed penalty notices, the words in subsection (1)--

    "is committing or has just committed",
are clearly intended at least to imply that a penalty notice must be served immediately. Indeed, the Bill's promoters in another place gave much publicity to "on-the-spot" fines. However, as I see it, there is no practical necessity for that, although it might be very desirable from a complainant's point of view. There is some concern that such intention could place the safety of local authority officers, who, in a sense, will already have primed offenders by the service of a warning notice, in considerable danger. At the very least, it is likely to lead to more calls for police protection for those officers. That situation could be avoided by the proposed amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: We understand that there is concern that the Bill imposes an obligation on local authorities to serve fixed penalty notices immediately and that that could place officers in physical jeopardy. However, we consider that the amendments are unnecessary; and, indeed, that they would not achieve anything different from that set out in the Bill as it stands. Perhaps I may explain. I should emphasise, first, that the decision to give fixed penalty notices is entirely at the discretion of the local authority. Therefore, where the officer considers that the offender is likely to be violent or abusive, he may well decide that prosecution is the best course. In any event, we would not expect local authorities to elect to use the fixed penalty provisions where the noise was of a serious nature, because, in most cases, the penalties imposed by the courts are likely to be more suitable.

The deletion by the amendments of the words "is committing" [an offence] would be unfortunate. In the context of the Bill, those words are not tautologous; indeed, they make it quite clear that, where a local authority officer finds that noise above the limit is still being made, he is able there and then to give the offender a fixed penalty notice. It is important that that power should not be lost as I anticipate that, in the less serious noise cases, the giving of such a notice will have immediate effect.

However, where it seems likely that the offender will be violent or abusive, the officer will be able to conclude that it is not reasonably practical to deliver the notice to the offender. In those circumstances, Clause 8(2)(b) will allow the notice to be given to the offender by leaving it at the premises. As I have already said, I cannot see how the amendments would alter the position in any way. My further concern is that, by allowing the notice to be issued to the offender at any unspecified time after the offence has been committed, the sense of immediate action would be lost.

14 Jun 1996 : Column 1999

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page