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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, it is interesting that there has been a lot of legislation on environmental pollution over the years, the latest being the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, and yet at no stage—or at least I have not read it in Hansard—has anyone seemed inclined to move that piped music should have been included, to enable local authorities or others to take action if there are complaints.

If I have understood the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, he is talking about situations where people have no choice but to listen to piped music. There is no way to get the wretched stuff turned off or to stop the television blaring at you in the train; if you are sitting in a doctor's surgery or elsewhere, you have the choice to leave; and you can decide to walk out of restaurants and never go to them again; but we are dealing with where you are absolutely pinned down and can do nothing about it.

I have done a lot of research on this. I gather that there have been polls on piped music, which have shown a great deal of dissatisfaction. Gatwick Airport has stopped piped music since it discovered that 43 per cent of the people it surveyed disliked it, though it does not say how many there were in the survey. Thirty-four per cent said they liked it, and, unusually, 23 per cent had no opinion. In November 1998 a national opinion poll showed that 34 per cent disliked piped music, and only 30 per cent liked it. In 1997 a poll for the Sunday Times asked people what single thing they most detested about modern life, and third on the list was piped music. So there is some public reaction to the matter and one would have thought that somewhere along the line someone might have included it in legislation to enable action to be taken against it.
 
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My honourable friend Robert Key introduced in another place a 10-minute rule Bill on this matter in March 2000. His Bill would have excluded the playing of piped music in a limited number of public places, including those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont: the public parts of hospitals, doctors' surgeries, public swimming pools, bus and railway stations, airports and public highways. So attempts have been made to do something about the matter. Unfortunately, I gather that that Bill was not proceeded with as an earlier debate overran, which sounds a bit like parliamentary jargon for somebody talking it out. The Bill did not go any further although it might have been useful had it done so. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, who suggested that he might introduce a Private Member's Bill, might find that he has more support for that, here and elsewhere, than he anticipated. It would have been helpful had someone raised at least the possibility of the Government extending by regulation the terms of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 so that this matter could have been dealt with by local authorities. Clearly, that has not been done. Perhaps the Minister will give us some news on that front.

6.46 pm

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this very important topic. The contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, were extremely interesting. I shall comment on their speeches later.

When I first heard about the debate I went straight to Google and discovered that under the two words "piped music" there are 1,110,000 entries. As I flicked through—obviously, I did not look at all of them—one major thing emerged: the huge division of opinion on this subject. On the one hand I read about the organisation, Pipedown, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, which produces an extraordinarily interesting analysis of piped music—what is wrong with it, why it should not be used and why it should not be there. Other organisations say, "Stop it. Get rid of it. Ban it all". There are thousands of references to reference books on pubs and restaurants in Britain without piped music and a huge number of organisations which say that piped music is bad and that we ought to be able to get away from it. On the other hand, there are tens of thousands of hotels whose websites present piped music as a positive benefit for someone going to stay in the relevant hotel. They say, "Come to our hotel. We have wonderful swimming pools, air conditioning and piped music". I came across a hotel in Arizona that—this is extraordinary—has piped music both inside and outside. The mind boggles on the implications of that.

Speaking for myself, I loathe piped music. I find it intrusive and pointless. I totally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that piped music is played in libraries. Before I came to this House I was chairman of the Library and Information
 
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Commission. If the noble Lord produced one bit of evidence that piped music was played in any municipal or public library in the UK, I would be amazed.

I was in a sushi bar with my son on Friday and, with this debate in mind, I asked him, "Why do you think they are playing piped music?". It was very loud and intrusive. He replied, "So that people don't have to talk to each other". There is an awful lot in that.

The Department of Health's general advice on piped music is that there is no convincing peer-reviewed evidence that exposure to piped music causes significant harm to health, and that goes some way to answering the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. We recognise that for those with hearing aids, those particularly sensitive to noise or those who simply prefer silence, background music can be extraordinarily irritating. It is also accepted that people who are hard of hearing may find it more difficult to converse when piped music is playing.

The Government take noise at work seriously and recognise that it can have significant health implications. Loud noise at work can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Industries such as construction and engineering have significant noise health risks. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked what work had been done on acceptable noise levels. There is good evidence of a hazard to hearing from prolonged exposure to noise at levels down to 85 decibels over an eight-hour average. There is only some residual risk below that. At levels below 80 decibels—for example, from a speaker in a lift or lobby—there should not be a health and safety issue. We therefore need to keep piped music in perspective when set against major occupational noise health risks. That reflects the relative priorities for people dealing with noise at work and that there is no evidence of a health and safety risk from piped music—I wish there were.

My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath launched the new Control of Noise at Work Regulations and supporting guidance on 11 October 2005. The regulations aim to eliminate new cases of occupational deafness. They contain a general requirement to control noise at work to as low a level as is reasonably practicable, but the priority in terms of control measures is clearly the noisiest and therefore high-risk sectors. I commend the regulations as a proportionate way of managing the risk of deafness. They should also lead to fewer civil claims and less staff turnover.

Piped music is unlikely to come under existing noise legislation unless it affects people outside one building and in another. Operators of buildings create the atmosphere that they want or that they think their users and visitors want. Sometimes piped music masks other, more undesirable, noises. Far more effective than legislating against piped music, which would be heavy-handed and difficult to enforce, would be for those people who dislike piped music to communicate that dislike to the operators of those buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made the point that various organisations, such as Tesco, have stopped using piped music because people who went there said, "We really do not want to shop in a place like that".
 
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More generally, noise is part of the Government's cleaner, safer, greener and respect agendas, and can be an example of anti-social behaviour. The biggest source of neighbourhood noise is noisy neighbours. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned some statistics on that. Research conducted in 2003 showed that two in three people—63 per cent—heard noise from their neighbours to some extent and were annoyed by it. Therefore, it is toward neighbourhood noise, and ambient noise from transport and industry, that government resources are directed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which will, from 6 April 2006, give local authorities more powers to deal with noise from audible intruder alarms and more flexible noise enforcement options as part of a range of measures to improve local environmental quality. The Government are committed to the development and launch of strategies on neighbourhood noise and ambient noise from transport and industry by the end of 2007, and we will be consulting this year.

The Government run a comprehensive research programme to inform noise policy—a point that was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Recent research includes a much acclaimed methodology for assessing low-frequency noise—another issue besides piped music on which the UK Noise Association has expressed concern—and advice for local authorities and dog owners on barking dogs; research into a protocol for assessing noise from licensed premises to support the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 will be undertaken.

The Government plan a campaign this summer aimed at particular segments of noise makers and sufferers to encourage behaviour change, many of whom may not realise the impact of their behaviour on others. The Government are keen to promote sensible
 
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regulation and sensible management of risks to health and safety. In a speech to the Health and Safety Executive's UK presidency conference on 18 October 2005, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said:

There is no evidence of a significant health and safety risk arising from piped music.

It is said that there are many areas, such as transport terminals, trains, hospitals, workplaces or similar environments, where individuals such as in-patients, travellers and workers may not feel able to escape from piped music—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. But it is also clear that where surveys have been conducted or the views of passengers, workers and users have been made known, the owners of those premises have often been persuaded to reduce the volume of piped music or to get rid of it altogether.

In conclusion, the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Hampton report and the HSE is focusing on those health and safety risks that cause the greatest injury or ill health. There are new regulations to control noise at work and to help employers control significant occupational noise risks. The Government will this year consult on noise and the environment with regard to noise strategies on neighbourhood and ambient noise. Finally, the Government advocate sensible regulation and do not support moves that would take us nearer to a nanny state. Regulation is suitable only where there is sound scientific evidence of risk and where current law does not adequately cover that risk. On balance, while piped music may certainly be an irritation, it is not an area in which the Government intend to regulate.

I am grateful for these discussions. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, and I wish him well in his campaign.


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