More Criminal Sanctions Against Music and Parties
Squall 13, Summer 1996, pg. 46.
Private parties are to set become the latest target of cultural control, courtesy of a private members bill currently blasting its way through the parliament.
As SQUALL goes to press, the Noise Bill has just completed its passage through the House of Commons. Only a short whisk through the House of Lords and a perfunctory third and final reading in the Commons stands in the way of the creation of a new criminal offence of playing music between 11pm and 7am.
As covered in SQUALL 11, the Department of Environment Neighbour Noise Working Party published its report on noise control in March 1995. The recommendations contained within the report included the creation of an immediate criminal offence of creating too much noise and the confiscation of the offenders hi-fi equipment.
Subsequent to the report, Harry Greenway, Con MP Ealing North, authored the Noise Bill, which not only incorporates the strictest recommendations from the DoE report, but goes several steps further. Despite the news spin implicit in the name Noise Bill, the parliamentary debates surrounding it demonstrate that music is its intended target.
The Bill’s author, Harry Greenway, said during the report stage debate: “All Hon. Members will recognise that music systems are much louder and cheaper than they were 10 years ago, and therefore more pervasive. I remind the House that the type of music that is now most popular is very different from the music of 10 years ago. I am talking about dance music, which is characterised by a heavy, loud, repetitive bass drum beat. Not only is this music almost invariably played at an excessively loud volume, but the beat has a strong reverberation which passes easily through neighbouring walls in houses and neighbouring ceilings in flats. Is this music a passing trend that will not be with us in a year’s time? No. The music is played widely in clubs around the world and, as a genre, it is now indisputably the nation’s favourite. It is so popular that different branches of the music have been developed, including jungle, handbag, hard core and techno. [laughter.] One has to have some knowledge of these things. This music and a sophisticated hi-fi operated by a selfish soul are a devastating combination.” (Hansard 16/2/96 Cols 1246-1247)
What sort of democracy do we have when music that is “undisputably the nation’s favourite” becomes the object of criminal sanctions? Greenway seems unaware of the significance of his own words and the measures contained in his bill are severe.
Subsequent to a 10 minute warning, a court fine of up to £1,000 or an on-the-spot fine of £100 is to be levied on the offending music makers together with the confiscation of hi-fi equipment. The sound level threshold at and above which these criminal sanctions will be used is at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Environment, though the level suggested in parliamentary debate is 35 db, about the level of a normal television set.
Full government backing has been given to the bill, so ensuring it will proceed to statute. Furthermore, Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, has offered Labour Party support for the measures contained within the Bill, so ensuring there was no significant parliamentary opposition to its package of severe measures.
The rhetoric upon which these measures have been both introduced and received cross party support, is best summed up by Harry Greenway’s ‘thank you’ list delivered during the report stage of the Bill on May 10.
“I am grateful for the support of hon. Members... The Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard [who] have highlighted stories of elderly ladies having to sit outside in the cold and rain, or to hide in cupboards, to escape the noise of a ghetto blaster being played upstairs or next door. ” (Col 561 Hansard 10/5/96)
The Noise Bill
(as amended in standing committee) “to make provision about noise emitted from dwellings at night; about the forfeiture and confiscation of equipment used to make noise unlawfully; and for connected purposes.”
Clause One: States that implementation of the bill is at the discretion of the local authority and that the authority must give prior and proper notice of the bill and its effects (including publication for two consecutive weeks in a local newspaper at least two months before commencement).
Clause Two: States that if a local authority adopts the Bill it must investigate complaints of noise. Although this clause states that for an offence the noise must exceed a permitted level by measurement made within the complainant’s dwelling (between 11pm and 7am), it also states that it is up to the local authority’s officer to decide whether or not to use a measuring device and where to use it. The term “would or might exceed the permitted level” is also used.
Clause Three: Warning notices may be issued in the case of excessive noise covering the period from ten minutes after issue until 7am. Excessive noise within this period is an offence. These notices maybe delivered to anybody that the local authority officer considers suitable orit can be just left at the “noisy” dwelling.
Clause Four: Ignore the warning notice, and unless you’ve got a reasonable excuse then an offence is committed, finable up to a £1000.
Clause Five: Empowers the Secretary of State for the Environment to set the permitted decibel level and to fix “different levels” for “different circumstances”.
Clause Six: The minister also determines the type of measuring device and the manner of its use. Evidence of sound levels must come from such an approved device.
Clause Seven: Covers formatting and handling of evidence. Correct conditions must apply, the evidence must be signed “by the officer” and it must indicate the offending address. Any such evidence must be presented to the defendants at least seven days before trial and the officer must attend trial if given three days notice by the defence.
Clause Eight: Allows for the issue of an on-the-spot “fixed penalty notice” levying a £100 fine to be paid within fourteen days. Equipment cannot be confiscated if a fixed penalty notice has been issued.
Clause Nine: There is to be only one fixed penalty notice per night but other action may be taken for that night (ie a court fine and/or confiscation of equipment). The minister may raise the £100 fine and gets the cash thus collected.
Clause Ten: Details the conditions for the seizure of equipment. This may be done upon transgression of a warning notice, using a warrant issued by a Justice of the Peace (To be carried out by force if necessary). The officers must leave the premises as they found it (apart from seized equipment) but obstruction of such action is finable by up to £1000.
Clause Eleven: Covers definitions of, a) ‘local authority’, and b) ‘dwelling’ - which includes gardens and outbuildings and even unoccupied dwellings. Again the Secretary of State may make “different provisions for different circumstances”
Clause Twelve: Protects local authorities from liabilities.
Clause Thirteen: Directs costs of enactment to the public purse.
Clause Fourteen: Names the Act and states that it is not applicable in Scotland. It also lists variations for Northern Ireland.
The Schedule: Concerns seized equipment which may be retained for 28 days, until court, or until charges are dropped. The equipment may not be retained if a fixed penalty notice has been given or paid.
Charges may be levelled for the return of equipment (again rates to be set by the Secretary of State). If charges are unpaid, or the defendant is convicted then the equipment may be retained, otherwise the defendant has up to six months to reclaim the equipment if innocent of an offence. The Secretary of State decides about the disposal/sale of the eqiupment and how the proceeds should be spent.