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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) A local authority may at any time revoke a resolution to apply sections 2 to 9 or to vary the definition of "night hours" applied to their area.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment perhaps I may at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5, which are all in my name. They are to some extent related to Amendment No. 6 which deals with the definition of "night hours". We shall come to that later. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if my point trespasses a little on the argument in support of that amendment.

Amendment No. 2 is to allow a local authority either to revoke its resolution at any time or to vary the definition of "night hours" which it desires to apply to its area. I do not want to weary the Committee by unnecessary repetition. I believe that local discretion and flexibility are important for a power which I understood was being introduced as a supplementary power for situations where the existing powers of environmental protection are insufficient. Given that it is a supplementary power--and both noble Lords have used the expression "heavy handed"--it might be a little heavy handed to impose this power in every case, even where a local authority may regard its current powers as adequate. It may have anxieties about the powers which are currently available, but in reviewing its priorities for local expenditure it may take the view that this matter is not at the top of the list.

We are well aware of financial stringencies. One of the anxieties rightly expressed by those involved in the local government world is the decreasing amount of discretion which local authorities have these days, given the obligations that may be imposed on them, as well as a reducing and capped expenditure.

The exercise of these powers might be regarded by a particular local authority as worth while, but it will have to accept the expenditure involved with night hours in maintaining a Rolls-Royce service--because that is

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what this Bill provides--seven days a week for 12 months of the year. We shall come to the definition of that.

Against that there are considerations concerning the maintenance of a given number of teachers, social workers and so forth. I dare say that the Committee will think that this is a very minor service compared with education and social services, but I do not believe that it will be cheap to run. Officers will only have to be on call; they will not necessarily have to be out on the streets every night of the year. However, they have to be available, which involves cost.

A local authority may regard it as necessary to have more than one officer available. The point has been made to me that where considerable noise is coming from premises where perhaps a lively party is going on, a local authority official may not be very enthusiastic about braving the situation by himself. The police may co-operate. But, almost by definition, if a local authority has to be called out to deal with noise it means that the people creating it are not going to be easily persuaded that the noise should be abated. Even serving a notice on them may be something that a local authority decides requires more than one person. I would support the local authority if it felt that the security of its officers required that.

In these amendments I am arguing that it would be appropriate to allow discretion to local authorities to enable them to assess the need for the exercise of this power as against other local needs. I beg to move.

12.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas: As the noble Baroness said, her amendments cover two subjects. There is, first, the question of revocation. A simple power of revocation would clearly be in immediate conflict with the Secretary of State's power to make an order that a local authority takes up. One would not want to have in a Bill a situation where the two sides begin playing ping-pong with each other, with the Secretary of State making orders and the local authority immediately cancelling them. If this has to be done it will have to be done in another fashion. Doubtless the noble Baroness will talk to my noble friend about her anxieties in this area.

As regards hours, I am aware of the anxieties of some local authorities about applying the night noise offence legislation during the entire night-time period currently specified. Equally, others would argue that the offence should apply for a longer period; for example, during the evening when children may be studying and young children are trying to get to sleep. We believe that the current period represents an appropriate balance of interest. The 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. period covers the hours during which people are most likely to be disturbed.

I ask the Committee also to bear in mind that one of the major anxieties expressed about existing controls over noise problems is the variation in the standard of service provided by local authorities when dealing with complaints. However, we believe that there is sufficient flexibility within the terms of the Bill for local authorities to decide the exact form of the service required to investigate complaints during particular

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hours of the night. Perhaps I may point out two particular aspects of that to the noble Baroness. Presumably, the local authority will issue guidance to its officers on how these offences should be dealt with. If they have particular anxieties about being over-zealous between 11 p.m. and midnight, that can be dealt with through that sort of guidance.

The exact form of the response that should be available from a local authority is not specified. If the small hours of the night--that is, between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.--generate only occasional trouble, they may be dealt with on a stand-by or fall-back basis unless or until complaints in that time slot or in a particular area of the local authority become frequent. We think that there is a lot of flexibility in the Bill which will allow local authorities to adapt their responses to the enforcement of its provisions to suit their circumstances.

Baroness Hamwee: That is helpful. I was not suggesting that a local authority should not be zealous, and I share the concerns that were expressed on Second Reading about the problem. However, I am anxious that local authorities should not be required to be zealous in providing a service at a level that is not required.

On the question of revocation, I too can think of people with whom I might prefer to play ping-pong--I am not sure whether that would be the Secretary of State--at any given time, but assuming that the amendment which the Committee has just agreed remains in the Bill, can the Minister explain the position with regard to revocation? Is an order once made an order for ever?

Lord Lucas: I presume that once an order has been made, the local authority has adopted the provisions of the Bill and I see nothing in the Bill which allows a local authority to shed its responsibilities once accepted. I believe that that is one of the points that my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes has made.

Baroness Hamwee: Yes, and it is a point worth reinforcing. Having decided to apply the service, a local authority may find itself required to continue to provide that service when its provision may not be necessary--demographics alone may mean that the situation has changed--even to the point where the Secretary of State, had he determined the situation 10 years on, would have determined that it was not appropriate to require that local authority to bring in the power.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The noble Baroness raises some interesting points in particular on the question of revocation. Much as we would like to have it, I do not think that at the moment anyone can foresee a noiseless society.

The noble Baroness rightly raised the matter of financial priorities. Local authorities will always have to determine their financial priorities. However, at the outset local authorities will not be obliged to adopt the provisions of the Noise Bill. They will have the right to stand back and not adopt them. If, however, they do adopt the Bill, they must implement it thoroughly. If a local authority is worried about finance or thinks that the provisions will not be required in its area, it has the

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right not to adopt the provisions at present. The noble Baroness said that many local authorities may be satisfied with their existing powers. If that is the case, I would not expect them to adopt these provisions. However, where a local authority thinks that there is a need, it will adopt them. We are leaving local authorities with that degree of flexibility.

This group of amendments seeks to provide a power so that local authorities may revoke a resolution to adopt the provisions and to provide a power whereby local authorities may vary the definition of "night hours" during which the offence will apply. No doubt local authorities will have to consider the circumstances in their own areas--it is right that they should do so--but if they adopt the offence, that means that they have decided that they want to maximise the opportunities to control neighbourhood noise problems. I imagine that once a local authority has adopted these provisions, its council tax payers will be reluctant to see the powers disappear because complaints about noise are constantly being made and noise can make life almost unlivable. That is why I believe that local authorities will find that their council tax payers will be reluctant to see them give up such a power.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that it is important to have a more consistent approach on the question of hours of operation. It is difficult for people to know their rights if the hours are not fixed. It would be easier if people could know that "sleep time" is normally considered to be between, say, the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and that that is the period covered by the noise provisions. Later amendments may vary those hours. However, if the hours were fixed, people would not run to the 'phone to complain at, say, 9 p.m. unless there was an element of nuisance--and those provisions will remain. People should be aware of the hours of operation. I believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness suggests such a wide degree of flexibility that it might cause chaos, so I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that she can withdraw it at this stage.

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