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Lord Lucas: As I said in respect of previous amendments, we understand the kind of flexibility for which the noble Baroness is aiming. However, we believe that in practice the flexibility already in the Bill is right. The person who has a complaint to make should have the certainty of knowing that between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. he is entitled to get a local authority officer out of bed to come to listen to his complaint and see what should be done. However, the local authority has the flexibility to tell its officers that if such a complaint is made on New Year's Eve they should be nice to the complainant but tell him to go and put a pillow over his head or adopt some other course of action which can be easily defended before the electors.

The flexibility exists for a local authority to set policies which recognise the fact that on some days of the year there is likely to be noise after midnight and that that would be usually acceptable. The discretion of the local authority officers on the scene is total. We believe that that is the right way to apply discretion to the circumstances of a particular case.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I have considered the amendment most carefully but I believe that the situation would be made even more confusing. In this instance, one would not know whether it related to Monday and Tuesday, or Saturday and Sunday, or whether there was an exemption on a Friday week. People would not know where they stood as regards noise control. The situation could be so variable. It might even reach the point where people would apply to the local authority to exempt certain hours and days. The local authority might have to set up some great bureaucratic system to consider whether to give a licence for noise exemption on a certain day. I believe that the proposal goes too far. I hope that, in view of our debates, the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: It would be inconsistent to press the amendment, not having pressed the others. However, perhaps I may say to the Minister that he should be careful when giving advice such as putting a pillow over one's head because he is likely to find himself on the front page of his local newspaper. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Warning notices]:

Lord Elliott of Morpeth moved Amendment No. 9:


Page 3, line 8, leave out ("emission") and insert ("generation").

The noble Lord said: Under the Environmental Protection Act the person responsible for a nuisance can include the owner of the structure where the nuisance is occasioned, not by an unreasonable amount of noise being generated within it but because structure fails to

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provide an adequate level of sound insulation. The owner may be an absent landlord, a housing association or a local authority. The use of the words "act, default or sufferance" imports the same wide responsibility.

Such a situation is not contemplated by the Bill, which is aimed at the generation of unreasonable noise by occupiers. I submit that the amendment makes that clear. Without it investigating officers will have to consider the contribution made by a structure to the emission of the offending noise in order to establish responsibility for it. That responsibility can be a joint one, shared by the occupier and the landlord. It could require a multiplicity of notices to be served. It could cause delay. And it provides an opportunity for legal dispute, not least if the landlord fails to pay a fixed penalty. Moreover, it leaves the tenants of local authorities in a greatly disadvantaged position since local authority enforcement officers cannot serve statutory notices upon their own employers. I beg to move.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Renton: Some legislation is unavoidably technical but this is not. Indeed, it will have to be obeyed by ordinary people, if there are such people. Therefore, I would have thought that we need to simplify the wording of subsection (5). The provision would be better if it read:


    "For the purposes of this group of sections, a person is responsible for noise coming from a dwelling if he is a person to whose act, default or sufferance the making of the noise is wholly or partly attributable".
I must confess that I have not tabled amendments to that effect but I believe that the proposal is worth thinking about. We have a duty to try to make our laws as easily understood as possible by those who have to obey them.

Baroness Hamwee: I must exercise a self-denying ordinance and allow the Committee to carry on, but I considered the matter as the noble Lord was speaking. Arguably, the clause could impose liability on the person producing and fitting materials to a part of the house which the owner expects to contain noise. If one wishes to play loud instruments or to run a small recording studio in one's home--I know people who do so--one will rely on experts to install proper sound-proofing. Where will the responsibility lie if one believes that effective sound proofing has been installed but in fact it has not?

Lord Lucas: Perhaps I may deal with the first issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Clearly, if the fault is concerned with the building the local authority will not try to use this Act to deal with it because it is worded and structured in a way which does not make that easy or appropriate. Under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 the local authority will serve an abatement notice on the owner

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of the property requiring him to upgrade the sound insulation to an appropriate level. The notice can stipulate what the level might be and a reasonable time scale for such action to be taken. That is how one would expect a local authority to deal with such a matter.

As regards the point raised by my noble friend Lord Renton, yes, on reading the part of the Bill with the benefit of his words I believe that it might be to the advantage of my noble friend Lady Gardner and the Government to look at it again without commitment. I hope that that gives my noble friend some comfort.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The noble Lord, Lord Elliott, presented his case clearly and well, and I was interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. The night noise offence is intended to deal with those who, through their inconsiderate action, allow noise to be emitted from their dwellings which disturbs their neighbours. The Bill concerns itself with the noise experienced by people rather than the noise generated by people. It is a question of whether someone is suffering from the effects of the noise. I believe that the person suffering from the noise will not be worried about where it is coming from but with the noise itself. Therefore, the Bill places the emphasis on the sufferer and provides a method by which the noise can be measured in the complainant's home, which is highly significant. It seems to be slightly off the track to consider whether it is a question of the emission or generation of noise. However, I have thought about this matter and I have listened to the comments made by my noble friend Lord Renton. I had considered whether this amendment would be simple to implement because it makes clear that it refers to the person who is generating the noise rather than any fault in the building. But there are problems in relation to that. The first is the problem of parliamentary draftsmen. The word "emission" is used throughout the Bill. Therefore, although the comments of my noble friend Lord Renton make such sound sense, it may not be possible to give effect to them because, as I say, the word "emission" is used throughout the Bill.

However, the Bill does seek to deal with the person responsible for making the noise. But there is provision already in the Bill to deal with a situation in which, if the person responsible for making the noise is not actually in the building, notice can be served on the building itself. I am not sure how that part of the Bill will fit in with this proposed change because the individual would have to be identified.

Those aspects require further consideration and, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, we must look again at this matter. On those grounds, I hope that my noble friend Lord Elliott will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: On the suggestion that this useful amendment may lead to further consideration being given to the point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Permitted level of noise]:

Lord Elliott of Morpeth moved Amendment No. 10:


Page 3, line 25, after ("within") insert ("a bedroom of").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to attempt to deal with the measurement of noise related to the disturbance. It is extremely important for the credibility of the Bill that there should be a consistent and reasonable approach taken by local authorities in relation to its enforcement.

Whereas permitted noise levels and measurement devices which may be used are to be specified, the Bill leaves open and quite uncertain the question of measurement locations, which, I understand, is to be left to guidance from the Department of the Environment in due course. However, it is clear that the choice of a measurement point could affect the results obtained. The Government have announced already that they intend to base their definition of excessive noise on the level determined by the World Health Organisation as necessary for the process of sleep. Therefore, it is no more than logical that measurement should be required to be made within bedrooms. Within reason, higher noise levels are tolerable for activities undertaken in other rooms.

If the proper location for measurements is agreed accordingly, there is no reason why that should not be written into the Bill. Not to do so invites speculation that measurement points will not be prescribed; in other words, no consistency will be required in relation to measurement methods. That raises the spectre of enforcement officers scuttling round the house looking for the most advantageous measurement points or being accused by occupiers of failing to do so. In turn, that could provide grounds for legal wrangling. I beg to move.


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