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The Earl of Lytton moved Amendment No. 99:

Page 13, line 43, after ("Wall") insert ("etc.").

The noble Earl said: This amendment to the short title is necessary because, strictly speaking, Clause 6 does not refer to party walls as such; it refers to excavation and construction within certain degrees of proximity to an adjoining owner's building. However, it has been long accepted practice in Inner London and under the London Building Acts that excavation and construction

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adjacent to another property necessitates notice. That is now covered by the "etc." which will appear in the short title.

The proximity test is an important safeguard for construction and it is equally important that the title of the Bill reflects the scope of what is contained within its pages. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Lytton moved Amendment No. 100:

Page 13, line 44, leave out from ("force") to end of line 46 and insert ("in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State by order made by statutory instrument.
(2A) An order under subsection (2) may--
(a) contain such savings or transitional provisions as the Secretary of State thinks fit;
(b) make different provision for different purposes.").

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 100 deals with commencement. It enables a more considered approach to be adopted in providing an opportunity for discussion with professional bodies and others regarding transitional arrangements.

It is important that building owners with work in progress when the Bill comes into force have the necessary time to adapt and that the introduction of the new measures for England and Wales should be as smooth as possible. It would be a terrible shame if measures with such an honourable and efficient reputation and heritage in the London Building Acts were not brought in as smooth and as trouble-free a fashion as possible. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: Should this Bill receive Royal Assent, officials will discuss with appropriate bodies the need for any savings and transitional provisions. They will also give consideration to the date on which the Bill will take effect.

As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, that will allow a more considered approach to be adopted which will take into account the views of professional bodies. We are content that the amendment achieves that objective.

The Earl of Lytton: I thank the Minister for that response and commend the amendment to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 20, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Offences and Fines]:

On Question, Whether Schedule 1 shall be the first schedule to the Bill.

The Earl of Lytton: As I explained in the context of Amendment No. 89, Schedule No. 1 is now unnecessary. It therefore does not need to be included in the Bill.

Schedule 1 negatived.

Schedule 2 [Repeals]:

On Question, Whether Schedule 2 shall be the second schedule to the Bill?

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The Earl of Lytton: This second schedule is also rendered unnecessary, as I explained in the context of Amendment No. 98.

Schedule 2 negatived.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Noise Bill

9.29 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In doing so, I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate my honourable friend Mr. Harry Greenway on his work in guiding the Bill through its stages in another place.

It may be helpful if, before describing the Bill in detail, I set out some of the background to it. I am sure that many of your Lordships will be aware of the growing concerns relating to the problem of environmental noise. The number of complaints of noise from domestic premises to local authorities in England and Wales continues to rise steadily. They account for more than two-thirds of all noise complaints made to local authorities. In 1993-94, the total stood at 131,153 complaints, which represents more than a threefold increase in the past decade. Of additional concern is the fact that less that 0.3 per cent. of those complaints led to a conviction.

This is not just a question of steeply rising complaints. Domestic noise, particularly at night, can lead not only to the disruption of everyday life through lost sleep and illness, but also directly to tragic cases of murder and suicide.

At present, the main responsibility for dealing with noise complaints rests with local authorities, using the statutory nuisance controls under Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. That can involve a time-consuming process which can be unsatisfactory both for the complainant and indeed the local authority. I am sure that we all know personally of cases to which this applies.

Concerns about the way in which the system was working--or rather not working--led to the establishment by the Department of the Environment of a review of the effectiveness of neighbour noise controls. The report of the working party made a number of recommendations, including the possibility of the introduction of a specific offence of making excessive noise at night and clarification of the powers of local authorities to seize noise-making equipment. This Bill takes up these important issues.

Excessive noise can be distressing for those who are being disturbed, particularly during the night hours. The Bill aims to address excessive noise during those hours and to deal with complaints in a speedy manner. However, in aiming to provide a more efficient service, the different requirements of local areas must be recognised. It is right, therefore, that local authorities should be able to adopt the powers where they believe it will be of benefit to the local residents.

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I shall now turn to a more detailed examination of the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 is relatively straightforward, providing that local authorities shall choose to adopt the new offence. Where the local authority decides to adopt the new offence it will be required to advertise its decision in a local newspaper. That will help to ensure that local people are made aware of their authority's decision.

There was much discussion in another place about the adoptive nature of the new offence. My honourable friend the Minister undertook that a review of the workings and take-up of the new offence would be carried out after two years. He also said that the Government would accept an amendment to provide a reserve power for the Secretary of State. This would allow him to require the introduction of the new offence, should that be appropriate in the light of the review. I shall be considering this matter further before bringing forward a proposal.

Clause 2 requires those authorities which have adopted the new offence to investigate complaints which relate to excessive noise from a dwelling during the hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The Bill defines these as "night hours". Local authorities already have a duty to investigate complaints relating to possible statutory nuisances. However, this clause provides, in those areas where the powers are adopted, that the local authority has to investigate complaints about excessive noise from dwellings at night. As part of the investigation, the officer will initially make an assessment of whether the noise exceeds, or is likely to exceed, the permitted level. He may then serve a warning notice in respect of the noise--I shall come back to that later--and decide whether to measure the noise.

Clause 2 enables the local authority to deal with complaints where the affected dwelling is in its area, but the noise coming from the dwelling could be heard in another local authority area. I believe that that is quite a valuable point because so often boroughs tend to view themselves as complete entities. People can be adversely affected on borough boundaries. That will ensure that the complaint can be dealt with as though both authorities were in the complainant's local authority area.

Clause 3 deals with the service of a warning notice. Where an officer of the local authority has made a decision to serve a warning notice, it is clearly most desirable for that notice to be served on the person responsible for the noise. However, we must realise that it will not always be possible to find that person. That could be due to something as basic as the door remaining firmly shut or else it may be that no one is willing to admit responsibility.

Recognising the potential difficulties in the service of a warning notice, it can be served on the premises from which the noise is being emitted where it is not possible to serve it on the person responsible. The warning notice cannot come into force less than 10 minutes from the time of service and it remains in force until the end of that night period, that is, the following 7 a.m.

Clause 4 details the new night noise offence. In a situation where a warning notice has been served and the noise from the offending dwelling has continued

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above the permitted level--and this is a major problem in many cases now--the person responsible for the noise under this Bill is guilty of an offence. Where a person is found guilty of an offence that person can be fined up to level 3 on the standard scale, which is currently set at £1,000. I would like to emphasise to your Lordships at this juncture that there is a defence for a person charged with an offence to show that there was,

    "a reasonable excuse for the act, default or sufferance".
This would ensure that, for example, where the person who would be liable for the offence was not present at the time the noise occurred, he or she would have the ability to make his or her defence to the courts. It could also be a possible defence in cases where the noise came about because essential works were having to be carried out to the property. This is an important safeguard.

Clauses 5 and 6 enable the Secretary of State to establish the permitted noise level and approve devices for the measurement of the noise. This is the first time that a definitive level will be set for the assessment of neighbourhood noise complaints. One of the major benefits of using an objective standard against which the noise can be assessed, is that it will help to provide a simpler route for the speedy assessment of complaints about excessive noise at night.

To assist in the assurance of regularity in the assessment of noise at night, Clause 6 provides for the approval of noise-measuring equipment. Approval of noise-measuring devices by the Secretary of State will ensure that they are capable of carrying out the measurement procedure as defined and providing evidence to prove that an offence has occurred.

That leads me to Clause 7 which provides for documentary evidence of an offence under Clause 4. Included in this is a requirement that the measurement of the noise has been carried out in accordance with any procedure which might be defined and with an approved measuring device.

Clause 8 provides for a fixed penalty scheme. Where an offence has been committed under Clause 4, the local authority may serve a fixed penalty notice on the person responsible for the noise. The level of the fixed penalty is initially set at £100. I should like to emphasise that the fixed penalty is just one option for dealing with offences under this legislation. Local authorities will be able to prosecute offenders where they believe that would be a more effective option.

Clause 9 is supplementary to Clause 8, allowing the form of fixed penalty notice to be specified by order. Where a fixed penalty notice has been served on breach of a warning notice, the local authority cannot serve another fixed penalty for a further breach. In such circumstances, however, the person may be convicted of the further offence. This clause also enables the Secretary of State to amend the level of fixed penalty.

I shall now move on to the other major area of the Bill--the power to seize noise-making equipment. Clause 10 and the schedule allow local authorities to seize noise-making equipment where it is believed that the equipment is used in the commission of an offence.

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Where required, a Justice of the Peace may issue a warrant allowing entry to the premises, if necessary by force.

As a Justice of the Peace, now on the supplementary list, perhaps I may say that it is important that local authorities know where to locate their local Justices of the Peace and when they are available. Frequently, local authorities have the addresses of people who are never available at the weekend or on public holidays although those are often the times when most offences are committed.

The power of seizure will also be available for use where a local authority considers noise to be a statutory nuisance under Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and it decides that seizure is the best option to secure abatement of the noise. The schedule provides for the retention and return of noise-making equipment and allows a court to order forfeiture of the equipment. It provides safeguards for third-party rights in noise-making equipment, so that equipment can be reclaimed where appropriate.

The remaining clauses of the Bill are technical. Clause 11 provides definitions and an order-making power. Clause 12 provides protection from personal liability for local authority members, officers and any person authorised to take action on behalf of the local authority. Clause 13 relates to financial matters. Clause 14 provides the short title, deals with commencement and extends the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland.

This Bill aims to deal with what can be the most disturbing and distressing types of noise. It will provide local authorities with an additional power to deal with complaints about noise at night. This will be in addition to the existing statutory nuisance controls which will remain available to all local authorities at all hours of the day and night.

I should emphasise that the aim of the Bill is not to encourage killjoys. I do not wish to stop people having a party to celebrate a 21st birthday or a wedding anniversary, for example. Nevertheless, I think that there is a need to strengthen the law. Although most people are tolerant of a single event it is the persistent noise from some adjoining properties which is often just too much for people to tolerate. Indeed, looking across at the noble Lord, Lord Graham, perhaps I may mention the Pink Elephant. I am sure that he will not have forgotten that nightclub, although I understand that it has long since gone.

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