Guillotine the Lords!

Prescott and his mob in the House of Lords must not be allowed to hold the Commons to ransom.

No one won the 2010 general election, but one thing is certain: Labour definitely lost. It would appear, however, that the hobnail-booted, ermine-wearing bovver boys in the House of Lords didn't get the memo. Perhaps it's because they can't vote! They do not seem to pause to consider the irony of an unelected chamber holding up proposals to modernise the electoral system.

Instead, Labour's lords believe they can carry on as they did when in government, as if nothing happened last year. Not even Ed Miliband can control their wrecking-ball tactics on AV legislation – something Miliband personally supports, unlike Tony Blair, who had no time for it, or Gordon Brown, whose deathbed conversion convinced nobody.

Labour's wrecking-ball tactics, however, might end up smashing the House of Lords instead. Perhaps this is "Lord" Prescott's brilliant and ingenious kamikaze strategy to destroy from within the House of Lords, though I suspect not.

The result of all this: we must introduce a guillotine on the debate in the Lords. As Gary Gibbon says:

The government has got the Lords' clerks to draft the equivalent of the nuclear weapon – a timetable motion, a guillotine by any other name.

For those of us who believe that Labour should have fulfilled its endless manifesto promises long ago and reformed the place, this is not a big deal.

But, for many in the Lords, this changes the very nature of what the upper house is there for, and moves it from being an "amending" to a "legislating" body. This is causing concern among the crossbenchers and some of the Lib Dem Peers, especially the lawyers among them.

So, how else will this stalemate be resolved?

The Lib Dem Voice editor, Mark Pack, points out that Lords Tyler and Rennard on the Lib Dem side have been working to ensure there are compromises.

The two changes are ones that the Liberal Democrat peers Paul Tyler and Chris Rennard have been pushing for, namely giving greater consideration to existing constituency boundaries and to ward boundaries.

It is likely that this will not be enough for Labour, however – especially for peers like John Prescott who are so adamantly opposed to a change in the voting system in the first place. Surely this is the moment for Ed Miliband to step in and drive forward something he believes in?

This bill has now been discussed for 14 days and nights – more than just about any other in the House of Lords' history. Two lords have been hospitalised from exhaustion. This is no civilised way to scrutinise legislation. It is time for the business managers to call their bluff. Go for the guillotine. Manage the timetable so that nothing else is discussed between now and mid-February.

Prescott and his mob must not be allowed to hold the Commons to ransom from an unelected post. He should have thought of that when he dragged his heels on reforming the place for the past 13 years.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.