Burglar Alarms (Control)

– in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 9th May 1989.

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Photo of Mr Hugo Summerson Mr Hugo Summerson , Walthamstow 3:33 pm, 9th May 1989

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the manufacture of burglar alarms to ensure that they do not ring for more than thirty minutes after being set off. Burglaries, assaults and break-ins are far too common. Many citizens today take steps to protect their security, and they take them in many different ways. They may acquire a large dog; they may even acquire the amplified voice of a large dog, which I gather is rather cheaper. They may join the local neighbourhood watch scheme. They may also obtain a burglar alarm.

When you come to think of it, Mr. Speaker, the burglar alarm is a rather selfish way of protecting one's property. By definition, when people decide to defend their property they are frequently away. They do not think it wise to leave their property unprotected; accordingly, they set the alarm and off they go. They may go to the Pas de Calais or to the Bois de Boulogne; they may go further still, to the uttermost ends of the world. They may go down to Antarctica. In any event, if someone breaks into their property and the burglar alarm rings, they will not be there to hear it.

All the local people, however, will be there to hear it. I am talking about entire neighbourhoods. I encountered two instances in my constituency the other day. One was in the Higham Hill area, where a factory owner set his burglar alarm and went away for the weekend. Off went the alarm on Friday night, and it rang for the whole weekend, disturbing—by my calculation—at least 1,000 people.

It can be even worse than that. Relatives up from the country may be staying, and they will not be used to such sounds. Their repose may be disturbed for the entire weekend. Again, there may be a sick infant in the house, or an elderly friend or grandparent. Perhaps they will be light sleepers; certainly they will not be used to the sound of alarm bells ringing throughout the weekend.

It does not stop there, however. I am talking not only about immobile property, but about mobile property. Just the other day I walked past a car and the alarm went off. I give the House my word that I had neither touched nor even looked at it: it was a particularly nasty modern Japanese model, and nothing would have induced me to go anywhere near it. Perhaps it took grave exception to me. Anyway, the alarm went off.

I went and had a good dinner. When I came back, three hours later, the alarm was still ringing. What is more, I noticed that several more windows were alight in the neighbouring block of flats than when I had walked past earlier. All those people had been roused and disturbed.

I am sure that we have all heard of people being driven mad by such alarms and taking the law into their own hands. I have heard of someone taking a 12-bore shotgun and shooting the alarm off the wall—although that is not to be recommended, being rather a dangerous practice. Others have been forced to acquire expertise in dealing with the alarms. They have mounted stepladders armed with spades or shovels—I gather that the old-fashioned coke shovel is best—to scoop the alarms off the walls. That is what people have had to resort to in their desperation.

I have discussed the matter with the Metropolitan police, and the House will be as horrified as I was to learn that according to their reckoning about 98·4 per cent. of times when they are called to deal with burglar alarms it is a false alarm. The alarms have not been set off by criminal activity. They may, for example, have been set off by a sudden gust of wind. It has been known, in country areas, for a herd of cows to wander past and set off an alarm.

Today I heard of the case of some people who bought a pet, a hamster in a cage. Playing on the little wheel in its cage, the hamster set off the burglar alarm. On that occasion not only were the police called but the RSPCA as well.

I have also discussed the matter with the National Supervisory Council for Intruder Alarms which has been most co-operative and has drawn my attention to the BS4737 with which all the best burglar alarms comply. The standard provides for automatic cut-off after 20 minutes and also that the burglar alarm should be regularly serviced and maintained.

The main thrust of my Bill would be to ensure that people installed high-quality burglar alarms and ensured that they were properly maintained and serviced in the full knowledge that if they were not, and the Bill becomes law, they would find themselves hauled before the beak and dealt with summarily. The amount of disturbance caused by alarms has got competely out of hand and should be stopped. If the Bill becomes law, the police will know in future that if a burglar alarm goes off there is a cat burglar, and there should be fewer cries of "wolf".

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hugo Summerson, Sir Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Keith Speed, Mr. Norman Hogg, Mr. Keith Vaz, Mr. Menzies Campbell, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. David Martin, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. James Cran and Miss Ann Widdecombe.