Maddened by more than seventy distinct and intolerable assaults on their ears, the people who have been sending despairing letters to Mr Rupert Speir, the member for Hexham, will no doubt burst into a chorus of praise at the news that his Noise Abatement Bill has passed its second reading with Government approval.
Choruses of praise were about the only noises, human or inhuman, that escaped condemnation during the Commons debate yesterday, possibly because nobody happened to think of them. Among the ones that did not escape notice were barking dogs, pneumatic drills, portable radios, slamming car doors, “Music While You Work” blaring above the noise of machinery through the open windows of factories, clattering typewriters, electioneering loudspeakers, ice-cream chimes, church bells, and bagpipes.
“A noble instrument”
“Bagpipes?” a Scottish voice inevitably protested. “A slur on a noble instrument.” None of the others, even the pretty ice-cream chimes, found a defender. The debate suggested that a two-way noise neurosis sharply divides the nation. There are those who can scarcely bear to listen to any noise at all and those with a compulsive urge to make as much noise as they can.
At one extreme was the Speaker, who could not even stand the chuntering of model motor-boats on park lakes, and Mr John Eden (Sir Anthony’s nephew), who wanted to prohibit whistling. At the other, we heard of people who remove mechanical silencers provided with great ingenuity by public-spirited manufacturers, and of factory workers – Mr Hynd, a Sheffield member, mentioned these – who sometimes co-operate in making what he called “malicious noise” because residents have complained. This, no doubt, could be called a choral effort of sorts, and opens up a wide new field in industrial psychology.
The last word in neurosis was about people who leave their burglar alarms ringing when they go away for the week-end. As for the worst noises of all – from aircraft and motor-cycles – it was hard to see how this measure can affect either. Air noises are already protected by law, while motor-cycle noises are supposed to be limited by other legislation which appears to be scarcely ever used.
One thing that the debate did achieve, however, was to enable members from the London Airport belt to voice something of their constituents’ dismay – despair may be the truer word – about their sleepless future in the screaming jet age. Sir Keith Joseph, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, soothed them as best he could by saying that a great deal of research was going on and no doubt the Wilson Committee would be looking into the matter.
The Tory member for Heston and Isleworth, Mr Reader Harris, did not look very soothed. A national scandal he called it. Life was becoming impossible for something like a million people. But Sir Keith has quite a way with him and manages to give the impression that something or other (who knows?) maybe done some day, while also saying all the correct things about the Government’s anxiety not to invade privacy too much. That – the expression on Mr Harris’ face seemed to say – is exactly the point about the screaming jets.