Clause 47 - Dealing with noise at night

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 20 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Again, I can be brief. All our debates have covered particular problems at weekends and late at night. We have just discussed the involvement of senior people in local authorities. I understand that it is useful to have a clause that deals specifically with noise at night.

In this clause, which amends the Noise Act 1996, introduced by the previous Conservative Government, what sort of approach has the Minister in mind in relation to the 1996 Act, which says that

''sections 2 to 9 only apply to area of local authority if authority have so resolved or an order by Secretary of State so provides''?

Have the Government issued, or are they minded to issue, any guidance to local authorities about whether they should make such resolutions or, alternatively, has the Secretary of State any rules that enable him to decide at what point he might issue an order? I do not have a problem with the phrasing of the clause, but it would be helpful to have some indication from the Minister of exactly how the Government would extend the guidance that they give to local authorities under the 1996 Act.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

I think that it was during the Committee's eighth sitting, when the hon. Member for Surrey Heath was telling us of a constituent who had written to him about fireworks being used at inappropriate times of night, that I tried to intervene on the hon. Gentleman; but the Chairman called me to order. Had I been allowed to proceed, I would have said that fireworks are one of the chief causes of antisocial behaviour, as they can cause so much noise late at night. I have received not hundreds but thousands of representations on that matter.

I understand that clause 47 deals also with residential properties, and I wonder whether powers exist to deal with noise related to fireworks at night. My hon. Friend the Minister will appreciate that a private Member's Bill on that subject, of which I am a co-sponsor, is going through the House. I understand that the Third Reading debate will take place in a couple of weeks' time. Does the Minister's Department have any plans to deal specifically with the antisocial use of fireworks, either through that legislation or in some other way?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

Clause 47 is welcome, in that it gives local authorities more power to deal with noise at night. It deals with an issue that we have continually raised in Committee-the cultural change needed to ensure that the new powers are used, especially as we have trouble trying to get the authorities to use the existing powers. We ought to put a marker down that the Bill is a plea, by Parliament and the elected representatives of our communities to those responsible for implementing the law, that they should do so with a greater sense of vigour.

I have a couple of specific questions. Like many other Committee members, I am sure that noise at night is an increasing problem. We have to deal with an increasing number of complaints about noisy parties, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes reminds us, about noisy fireworks. The clause would impose a fixed penalty notice, but I am not sure how much it would be. I wonder also what is the process for issuing such notices. Would it be easy for the local authority to issue them? What sort of evidence would be required, and would the person responsible for issuing them have a professional responsibility to issue a notice simply because there was a problem with noise?

In other words, is it a quick fix to some of the problems that we have to deal with in our constituencies, or will the power to issue fixed penalty notices be a bureaucratic process, one that is not easily used by those responsible for implementing them? Clause 47 makes some welcome and strengthening additions to the law, but I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to address those practical questions.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:55, 20 Mai 2003

I rise to follow what the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has said so many times during the Committee's consideration of the Bill, which has been admirably wise. Whatever one's belief may be, the value of the Bill will lie in whether it makes any difference to the lives of ordinary people. The hon. Gentleman rightly talks about the increasing problem of noise at night. In his response to a point made by my hon. Friend, the Minister said that quite often the problem is that people do not know-

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:10, 20 Mai 2003

I always sympathised with hon. Members who were stopped in the middle of what they were saying. Now I know what it is like. I will have to remember what I was saying.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

All I ask is that the hon. Gentleman does not repeat what he has said.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Sometimes what I have to say is so brilliant that it deserves repetition. I am sorry that you feel the way that you do, Mr. Cran. However, I entirely accept your ruling and shall try not to repeat or even to deviate.

The point that I was trying make, without repeating it, is that the Minister said in relation to another issue that the problem is that powers are often not used. I believe that he was referring to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge about raves.

The hon. Member for Gedling touched on the problem of noise at night. There is nothing more frustrating for ordinary people than being afflicted by a problem, in this case noise at night, and being told by the bureaucracy-the local authority officials, whoever they may be-''Oh well I'm sorry, there is nothing I can do about it.'' I am sure that almost every Member has gone to Ministers and asked why we cannot change the law on that, and the Ministers have said, ''Civil servants have told me that there are all these powers. Why aren't they using them?'' That has happened under every Government, including ours. On Thursday, or perhaps later, we will be discussing travellers, which is another example of where the problem arises.

Let me stick to the issue of noise at night, as you will want me to, Mr. Cran. It is clear that powers exist, and I hope that what the clause proposes will improve matters. My reason for intervening is to ask the Minister to explain why he believes that it will make such an improvement, because my understanding of the clause is that local authorities, unless otherwise

ordered by the Secretary of State, have discretion as to whether to make the resolution, under section 1, to apply sections 2 to 9.

In effect, the clause is saying, ''Never mind. You won't have to make the resolution. It automatically applies to you.'' However, that still leaves it up to the local authority to decide whether to apply it. The local authority still has the discretion to use it. I do not for a moment advocate that local authorities should therefore be told to apply it, because I do not believe that we should tell local authorities that they must have that discretion as part of delegated powers. I am interested to know why the Minister believes that the change will make any difference to whether the powers are actually used.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

Does my hon. Friend agree that a justifiable excuse for not using the powers may be the lack of resources? Local authorities or the police want to deal with these things, but with more and more things being heaped on them, they simply do not have the resources.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I am a very emollient sort of person, as he knows, and I am not going to blame the Government for the lack of resources available to local authorities, however true that might be. However, I am certain that lack of resources is part of the problem, but I must also say, after several years in this place, that I am convinced that resolve is as important as resources.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Llafur, Erewash

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a difference in performance between local authorities that cannot be explained simply by resources or lack of them? It is more a question of resolving to exercise available powers rather than the simplistic explanation given by the hon. Member for Uxbridge.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. I allowed the hon. Lady to get the point out, but I shall not allow a general debate on the performance of this, that or the next local authority.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:15, 20 Mai 2003

You are very wise, Mr. Cran. But there is a variation because local authorities have not taken the option to use these powers. Even removing the need for that first resolution does not mean that they will use them any more than they do at present. Why does the Minister think that it will make any difference?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

I have a confession to make. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath referred to previous Ministers and previous legislation. I was the Minister who took the Noise Act 1996 through the House. This debate brings back to mind our debates about the adoptive nature of the power and the reasons why it should not apply to the whole country. My hon. Friend asked exactly the right questions and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. The Government appear to be applying the Noise Act throughout the whole country, without the requirement for a local authority to adopt

it. However, they are lessening the duty that local authorities are put under because they do not have to provide the full night-time service under subsection (3).

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I did not know when I introduced the stand part debate that my hon. Friend was the Minister responsible. He will be glad to know that I mentioned that it was the previous Conservative Government who introduced that excellent piece of legislation. I am delighted to be reminded that my hon. Friend was the Minister.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

Although it was a good piece of legislation, we would all have liked it to go further. If the Minister will tell me that this measure will go further, he will get plaudits from me rather than brickbats.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If we wanted to be cheap and party political, we could say that the hon. Gentleman introduced a piece of legislation that is so underused that we now have to put it right. But we would not want to do that. The hon. Gentleman made his confession and highlighted the central point. That shows how hard it is to legislate in this area and to do what is best. All the points that have been made are valid. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling talked about making it more usable. That is exactly what we are trying to do. The hon. Member for Uxbridge talked about resources and that is another issue that we are trying to address. We want to give local authorities a power that they can use without necessarily applying resources in areas where they do not want to.

Clause 47 amends the Noise Act to end, for England and Wales, the previously adoptive character of sections 2 to 9. Under these proposals, it will apply those sections directly to all local authorities. Under the current adoptive regime, only 14 local authorities have adopted those sections. That is because only 14 have been prepared to provide the kind of facility that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) was trying to encourage them to provide. From now on, all English and Welsh local authorities will have the power to investigate complaints for excessive noise at night, giving warning notices in respect of such noise and, where noise remains excessive after the service of a warning notice, either prosecute or, more likely, issue a fixed penalty notice. Therefore, whether or not the power is usable, a person will be able to give a notice. If the nuisance or noise does not cease within a reasonable period, which in many circumstances will be 10 minutes, a fixed penalty notice could be issued to the individual involved. The fixed penalty is set at £100. We are not changing any of that. We are freeing up local authorities from the need to provide a 24-hour service in order to be able to access the fixed penalty regime.

We are aware that the restrictions that accompany the formal adoption of the Act have been preventing its widespread use. Some local authorities, after reviewing local needs and available resources, cannot justify providing an 11 pm to 7 am noise response service seven days a week. As a result to date only 14 local authorities have adopted the Act and can

therefore issue noise fixed penalty notices. Accordingly, while applying sections 2 to 9 to all English and Welsh local authorities, clause 47 will relax the requirements governing a local authority's response to a complaint of excessive noise, permitting that to be more discretionary.

Night noise fixed penalty notices can be useful for dealing quickly and effectively with inconsiderate noisy neighbours. Such notices confront the noisemakers with the stark choice of shutting up within 10 minutes or facing a fixed penalty of £100. At night, the quick resolution of noise problems is vital. Making that useful tool readily available to all local authorities could make a real difference to the quality of life of people troubled by noisy neighbours. The Government intend to do that when-[Interruption.] What on earth does this note say?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

Having heard the Minister's explanation and while he applies himself further to his notes, may I endorse the sentiments that he has expressed? It was the intention in 1996, and is certainly the intention now, that more action will be taken to deal with the problem of noisy neighbours. That will come about in due course.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

What the hon. Gentleman tried to do in the Noise Act-in effect to provide a carrot and stick-was right. If someone is prepared to provide a service seven days a week to cover the night-time period, they have access to a quick and readily available remedy that they can impose on people who are imposing themselves on their neighbours. However, that has not worked. Many local authorities have found that they do not want to provide such a service. We could argue all day about whether they were right to decide that. We are relieving them of the responsibility. They can provide the service as a discretionary service if they wish to do so. They can still access fixed penalty notices. We are not changing the rules with regard to the decibel levels or the measuring of noise levels that is required to prove a nuisance. As I said, we are freeing up local authorities from the requirement to provide the service described.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.