Protection of Freedoms Bill – in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 6th February 2012.
Clause 40 : Adding safeguards to powers of entry
Amendment 35 had been retabled as Amendment 37ZA.
Amendment 36 had been retabled as Amendment 37ZB.
Amendment 36A had been retabled as Amendment 37ZC.
Amendment 37 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Lord Marlesford
37ZA: Clause 40, page 33, line 33, at end insert-
"(3) A further safeguard shall be that, unless explicitly provided for in the statute providing for the power of entry, all powers of entry shall be exercised by agreement with the premises occupier or by warrant."
My Lords, in moving Amendment 37ZA, and speaking to Amendments 37ZB and 37ZC, on powers of entry, I must say at once that, crucially, the three amendments all go together.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for circulating to us all on Thursday the Home Office view on my amendments. Normally one learns of objections only in the winding-up speech of the Minister, but this useful form of pre-debate negotiation has enabled me to meet at least two of the Home Office points with changes to my amendments. However, I did notice one rather surprising statement in the Home Office brief, and in fact if it were not in both the summary and the main argument I would have been tempted to see it as a misprint. The brief states:
"The Government supports action to remove necessary or unjustified powers of entry".
That is not what I seek. It is perhaps rather sad to note that the Home Office retains its historic belief in its own omniscience, which I well remember from my days in Whitehall, but it seems to be losing its reputation for accuracy.
The first amendment makes the main point that powers of entry should be used only by agreement with the occupier of premises or with a magistrate's warrant. The second amendment allows for exceptions where it is obviously necessary to continue with routine inspections and checks without notice being given. The third spells out specific areas where I am not seeking to change existing practice in the use of powers of entry: trading standards, the police and security services, protection of children and vulnerable adults.
The Trading Standards Institute explained to me why it needs its existing powers for its job of protecting consumers; for example, by checking goods in shops or the accuracy of a petrol pump at the petrol station, and so on. I am glad that the institute has been able to assure me and the Official Opposition that it is now content with the amendment, which would enable it to continue with its important and valuable work.
Although the essence of my argument is that powers of entry should be subject to the same constraints as the police who normally and traditionally have to have a warrant, the Home Office has helpfully pointed out to me that the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 has given constables certain new powers to enter without a warrant. That is why I have added Amendment 37ZC to cover the police and security services.
It is also, of course, necessary to continue to allow unannounced entry to those charged with responsibility for the protection of children or vulnerable adults. Thus inspecting old people's homes, checking on children at risk or similar crucial monitoring functions must be allowed to continue without either warrant or agreement. However, I feel I must emphasise the principle underlying my amendments and why I am doing this at all.
In our country, the right to privacy and to enjoy property or conduct legitimate businesses without state intrusion has been a long-standing freedom. Indeed, it has echoes going back 800 years to Magna Carta, which sought to protect individuals from the Crown and from officials of the Crown. The fact that the police cannot, in general, enter people's homes or businesses without a magistrate's warrant is a cherished freedom well-known to the public and has given rise to the ancient phrase, "An Englishman's home is his castle", which was coined by the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke, who was responsible for the Petition of Right in 1628.
The law should protect the individual and must never be defied. In 1977, that great icon Lord Denning quoted Thomas Fuller's 1732 dictum, "Be you ever so high, the law is above you". The lesson in that, of course, is the huge responsibility that legislators have to ensure that the laws they make enhance and enshrine liberty rather than erode freedom. This, of course, is what this Protection of Freedoms Bill should be seeking to do.
I was disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, that the Minister should have so completely rejected my first two amendments on powers of entry when they were debated, with support from all sides, in Grand Committee, but I am well aware that the Home Office expects to have the monopoly of any improvements to its legislation. However, it is a pity that Ministers in this coalition Government should not have seen their prime duty when this Bill was drafted as being to extend real freedom rather than seeking to protect the territorial rights of the bureaucracy.
For years legislation has surged liked a tidal wave. No Government seem to have the power or even the will to stem it. More and more laws have been passed which give officials of every rank and type the right to enter premises without so much as a by your leave to inspect, check, observe, search or test whatever perfectly honest citizens are doing in their own property. This is something that the public are increasingly aware of and apprehensive about.
The real hero behind my small attempt to reinforce our ancient liberties is my noble friend Lord Selsdon. Over a period of more than a decade he has been accumulating details of the legislation which justifies my amendment. In spite of starting with some obstruction rather than co-operation from Whitehall, he has succeeded in producing a dossier in which there are more than 1,200 separate pieces of legislation giving powers of entry, in most cases without the safeguards we have the right to expect and indeed demand. They cover every sort of issue, right down to demanding entry to a private house to see whether a TV is switched on or, where a person has left a child with the people next door while they go to the cinema, to check whether those people have got a child minder's licence. I hope that my noble friend will tell us something more about the legislative background to this debate.
Most of these provisions are in secondary legislation-statutory instruments-and it is only recently that Parliament has had the power to examine the merits rather than just the vires of statutory instruments. It does so through the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which was established in 2003. This supplements the Statutory Instruments Joint Committee of both Houses. The Merits Committee is doing an excellent job and, interestingly, it has had cause to draw the attention of the House to proposals for fresh powers several times during the past few months.
"going a bit too far", and suggested that,
"we want to look at all the powers we have and are asking all departments to do so".-[Official Report, 15/12/11; col. GC 379.]
With more than 1,200 pieces of legislation, noble Lords will realise how little progress would be made. Indeed, I anticipate that the bureaucrats would find a reason why powers should be retained in their existing form in nearly every case. There has been widespread support for my amendments from Liberty, which I much welcome.
I would remind my noble friends on this side of the House that the Conservative manifesto specifically undertook to,
"cut back the intrusive powers of entry into homes. Public bodies (other than the police and emergency services) will require a magistrate's warrant, and approval for such a warrant will be restricted to tackling serious criminal offences or protecting public safety".
My amendments seek to support and implement that commitment. I would have expected my noble Lib Dem friends, with their proud commitment to civil liberties, to be chasing the Government on this issue.
Following the principles of the 18th century Whig statesman Edmund Burke, I fervently believe in the role of the state to hold the ring: to protect the population from ill treatment or exploitation. Those who may need such protection include the old and the infirm, children, employees, consumers, savers, investors and many other groups. I would never deny to the state the powers that it needs to provide this protection, but many of the powers of entry as they exist today can intrude, intimidate and even oppress. That is why they need to be constrained.
As this will probably be the last occasion for a decade or so that we have a Bill which is tailor-made for this reform, I shall, if necessary, ask your Lordships to support me in the Lobby on what I hope we can all agree would be a significant step forward for the right of privacy, individual freedom and democracy. As always, the wording of my amendments may not be precisely what the Home Office needs, but provided I can get a commitment from the Minister to do so, I will be happy for the Government to tidy them up at Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as having been honorary president of the Trading Standards Institute, the trading standards officers' professional body, for a period of five years, since which I have also been one of several vice-presidents.
Secondly, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on two things. The first is his persistence, both through the work on this Bill and earlier, in questioning the rights and powers of entry by numerous public officials. He has correctly congratulated his noble friend Lord Selsdon on the massive amount of work that he put in over the years in working out how many powers of entry exist. The second thing I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on is his evident willingness, both in Committee, which I regret I was not able to attend, and at this stage, to compromise, especially by reference to trading standards officers, whose powers of entry are obviously in the public interest. The powers of entry of trading standards officers are, to my mind, a necessary complement to powers to prosecute traders of all kinds, big and small, for misleading claims and descriptions, including pricing and the selling of unsafe and counterfeit goods. Trading standards officers could hardly do a decent job for the consumer unless they were able to make unannounced visits. However, local authority trading standards officers are undoubtedly proud of the fact that good relations with traders in their locality enables them to make, by agreement, many visits and changes in the descriptions and so on of goods being sold. The power of entry-unannounced, from time to time-is a necessary complement to those occasions. I hope that trading standards officers' need to enter premises without previous agreement would be on a minority of occasions.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was willing to say that trading standards officers should not need the agreement of the occupier of the premises or a warrant if they could demonstrate that that would frustrate their powers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, also spoke in Committee, and I hope that we will hear from him in the debate this afternoon. He was rather less amenable to compromise than was the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and seemed to suggest that it was so easy to get a magistrate's warrant that there should never be any real problem-warrants would be forthcoming as and when they were needed. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, realised that trading standards officers would still be weakened in their work unless, today, on Report, a further concession or compromise was made-hence his new amendment. He realised that they are in a special position, as I have sought to indicate myself. He sets that out in Amendment 37ZC.
There is a slightly odd reference to a "Constable", with a capital letter. The noble Lord probably meant any police officer, not just someone with the honorific title "Constable of Dover Castle" or those who have capital letters to describe their particular job. If he meant a trading standards officer and any member of the police force or Security Service acting under legislation that permits a person to exercise power of entry, then that would have no restriction. My worry here is why trading standards officers have been picked out. As I explained in my declaration, I have a special interest in their consumer protection powers and so on. Most of us know that local authorities also have, for example, environmental health officers concerned with health and safety in their area. They have powers of entry and they are not specially mentioned.
I understand and value the real willingness of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to compromise, but reference to the Home Office to tidy things up before Third Reading does seem to have some merit. From what I know of trading standards officers-and I know them quite well-I have no doubt that they have been assiduous in discussing matters with the noble Lord. However, that does not necessarily suggest that they ought to be picked and others, thereby, just as obviously left out. I welcome what the noble Lord is doing but would not wish to support him in any vote that we might have today on the unamended, or not fully amended, version of what he has concerned himself with.
Before the noble Lord sits down, could he give the House an example of a situation in which a trading standards officer would need to enter premises without a warrant?
One has to examine the word need. Trading standards officers are given powers by various statutes for the public benefit-usually consumer protection-and the benefit of other legitimate traders who are not engaging in what appears to be illegal conduct. The trading standards officer wants to examine that. He needs to do it to fulfil his duty.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, has suggested that because magistrates are available literally night and day in order to get warrants when needed, there is no problem. However, the trading standards officer still has to prove something. No magistrate worth his salt is going to accept what a public official says without question in all circumstances. Therefore the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, seeks to introduce is good for trading standards. It might also be good for other equally legitimate work done by other public officials.
My Lords, this is an important series of amendments. In particular, the first proposed amendment seems essential to a country that believes itself to be governed by the rule of law. Your Lordships have heard 1,200 mentioned as the figure of the separate powers of entry on to private property granted by primary or secondary legislation. That figure is confirmed by the Explanatory Memorandum produced to accompany the Bill. Therefore, it is not a figure which is contentious or simply argumentative.
The 1,200 separate powers of entry were conferred by 580-odd pieces of primary or secondary legislation. The powers of entry are not simply powers of entry. They almost invariably include powers of search so those who enter can rummage through the premises in question. The powers apply not only to business premises where they may very well be needed, but also to homes-to domestic premises. The law of this country has developed so that it is well recognised that the police may sometimes need, without notice to the owner of the premises, to enter private premises to enforce the law and for the purposes of search and removal of material from the premises in question.
However, the powers of entry in the Bill are not the powers of the police; they are powers of officials and regulators in numerous areas of public life, conferred by various instruments of public law. The notion that officials can be given power to enter the premises of private people, search those premises and remove what they believe to be relevant to their regulatory function without any authority from a judicial body seems quite contrary to how the rule of law ought to operate. For that reason, I particularly welcome the first amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.
I believe that the public will understand the need of the police to exercise powers of entry without warrant. Less well understood and certainly less acceptable to the public at large is the need for general regulatory officials to have those powers. My noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson said judicially in a case that was heard in 1991:
"Search and seizure under statutory powers constitute fundamental infringements of the individual's immunity from interference by the state with his property and privacy".
In my respectful opinion, those are incontestable statements of opinion. It follows that proper safeguards to be associated with the exercise of these powers of entry, search and seizure are essential if the rule of law is to be available to retain the respect that a healthy society requires.
Clause 40 has the heading, "Adding safeguards to powers of entry". For my part, I very much welcome that clause in that it addresses, I believe for the first time in comprehensive legislation, the need for there to be safeguards attached to powers of entry. Subsection (1) states:
"The appropriate national authority may"- and I draw your Lordships' attention to the use of the word "may"-
"provide for safeguards in relation to any power of entry or associated power".
Therefore, the provision of safeguards is discretionary only; it says not "must" but "may". The proposed discretionary safeguards are listed in subsection (2). Paragraph (d) lists as one of the discretionary safeguards,
"a requirement for a judicial or other authorisation".
What the "or other authorisation" is supposed to comprehend, goodness knows, but that the requirement for a judicial authorisation is recognised is clearly correct. But why should that be simply a discretionary safeguard? Why should it not be an essential, invariable safeguard, except in the rare circumstance where the time to go and get the judicial authorisation is simply not present, given the urgency of the situation?
Your Lordships have heard remarks about the obtaining of warrants. A warrant to enter premises to search and remove material found there of an incriminating character can be obtained ex parte-that is, without notice to the owner of the premises from a magistrate or, in some cases, a judge. There is no alerting the believed miscreant to the imminent entry and search. That seems a situation that ought to cater for any reasonable contingency other than the very rare contingency whereby the need for immediate steps is apparent. It is difficult to envisage a situation whereby the police would not in any event have the right to make an immediate search-with the pursuit of criminals, for example, or when life and limb was in imminent danger. In those situations, no one could object to a right for the police or any other well meaning people, regulators or otherwise, to enter premises for the purpose of saving the situation that would appear to have arisen.
Subject to that exception, I can see no case for not requiring a judicial authorisation always to be obtained. The notion that notice to the owner or occupier of the premises would alert the individual to what was afoot and lead to the removal of incriminating material is unreal. The warrant can be obtained from the magistrate without notice. In civil law, procedures have been evolved-and I think that their evolution is of relatively modern origin-under which a so-called search and seizure order, which used to be called Anton Piller orders, can be obtained from a judge enabling an applicant who believes that he has some civil cause of action against the owner of a premises to have a search of those premises for incriminating material to support his or her case-or its, if it is a company. The entry without notice is well understood in civil law, but only with judicial authorisation. Why on earth should that not also be the case in the criminal law? I cannot see the argument to the contrary, except in the very rare case to which I have already referred, namely where the imminent emergency and risk is so great that an immediate entry is required. Where that is the case, I cannot concede that the police would not have the right to enter anyway.
The indignation that people might feel, to have faceless regulators demanding entry and rummaging through their cupboards and papers without any judicial authorisation, would be huge, and justifiably so. That is not the way in which the law ought to operate. For those reasons, it seems to me that the first amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is thoroughly deserving of support and I would submit that the House ought to support it.
As to the second amendment, I am not so clear about that, because, as I say, I can see very little scope for the need for any other requirement than judicial authorisation, except in a case where the emergency is so acute that there would not be time to get to a magistrate to get the search order and then search the premises accordingly. I therefore feel a little dubious about the second amendment.
As to the sense behind the first amendment, I am wholeheartedly in favour of it. I support it and submit that the House should do likewise. The "may" in Clause 40(2)(d) ought in my opinion to be a "must". It is quite inadequate for the requirement to obtain judicial authorisation to be simply discretionary. For all those reasons, I wholeheartedly support these amendments.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Trading Standards Institute and of the Local Government Association. I wish to raise some concerns regarding Amendment 37ZC, which is in the name of my noble friend Lord Marlesford.
I share the anxieties of my noble friend and many others of your Lordships about the perception that is held by many people that too many officials have access to the homes of private individuals. I welcome the fact that he has amended his original amendment to try to deal with one of my key concerns, which was that trading standards officers could no longer enter premises unless they had a warrant. Unfortunately, this area of the law is remarkably complex. I am not a lawyer, but the proposed amendment would not be feasible, as trading standards officers are not defined in the law and therefore could not legally be made exempt. Technically, in the law, they do not exist.
Even if they did, the problem itself also relates to environmental health officers, who equally need access to premises for the same reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has said, councils use powers of entry to protect the public across a range of statutory activities. Powers of entry are essential in order for councils to carry out their responsibilities and to seek evidence to prosecute offenders, thereby protecting individuals and local businesses from harm. Without a routine power of entry on to business premises, council officers would not be able to carry out their basic day-to-day functions, protecting the public and their local communities. Officers would also not be able to act in a swift manner where necessary.
Councils cannot enter premises used solely as a private residence without a court order or the owner's permission, and only routinely have the power to enter business premises to collect evidence. Most existing legislation already contains safeguards to ensure that the existing powers of entry are not used inappropriately: for example, where premises are used solely as a private dwelling place, council officers can enter those domestic premises only with the consent of the occupier or when a warrant to enter has been obtained from a justice of the peace to do so. Council officers do not currently have, and have never had, a routine power of entry into premises used solely as a private dwelling place. Equally, should the premises owner refuse entry, the council must leave and seek a warrant before returning. In instances where the business premises are also a personal residence, councils will often obtain a warrant to ensure privacy is protected.
It might be helpful if your Lordships had some examples of just how these investigations take place. I should like to refer to events in North Yorkshire County Council, where the trading standards team receives around 260 reports of doorstep crimes a year: namely, traders cold-calling at the homes of consumers-most often elderly and vulnerable people-offering to carry out property repairs such as roofing or gardening work, or to sell products such as fish or mobility aids. Given the number of incidents and the fact that many of the offenders target a specific area and then rapidly move on, the service introduced a rapid response service to incidents. Two officers are therefore on call every day to immediately attend incidents where offenders are still at the home of elderly victims, still in the vicinity or are due to return to collect payment. Often, multiple offences are committed, such as: failing to issue the householder with a notice of their cancellation rights; and making false, misleading statements regarding what work is required or what a reasonable price for the work is.
When a call is received by the rapid response unit to attend such an incident, officers will often want to carry out a search of the vehicle being used by the offenders. In such circumstances, a vehicle is defined as "premises". A search will be conducted to identify and seize evidence relating to the business or to other potential victims, et cetera. Officers are solely reliant on their powers to enter the suspect's vehicle as "premises" to do this. The need to attend such incidents immediately is very clear; if suspects were aware that a report had been made to the police or trading standards, they would just disappear.
There is no time in these situations or in a situation where a vehicle has been stopped to consider an application for a warrant. It is also extremely unlikely where suspects often deny any connection to the alleged offence that any permission would be given to carry out a search with consent. Removing the powers of entry for enforcement staff in such situations would thus be seriously detrimental to their ability to tackle such offences, which often involve elderly and vulnerable victims being targeted for their life savings, often on a repeat basis.
Multiple complaints were received by the trading standards team over a number of months from consumers regarding a business that operates a council tax refund service. The complainants alleged that they had not been provided with copies of any paperwork by the firm; they were not told what percentage of any rebate recovered would be taken by the company, or that VAT would also be charged by the company. Repeated efforts were made by the council's business advice team to get the company to comply with its legal obligations. However, complaints continued to be received. Action under the Enterprise Act was then commenced, but that did not prevent numerous further complaints being issued.
A decision was taken to institute an investigation into the company, and the files were passed to the fraud and financial investigation team. Warrants for the registered offices of the business were obtained to facilitate the seizure of paperwork and because it was anticipated that the company would obstruct any investigations. During the warrant executions, it became apparent that the firm was also making use of a further unit in the same building. Officers therefore used their statutory powers of entry to access the unit, which was not covered by the original warrant, and seized relevant documentation. It also became apparent that company staff were keeping documents in their vehicles and at their home addresses, including copy contracts. As a result of the definition of "premises" including any vehicle, again officers were able to use their statutory powers to enter the related vehicles and homes to seize relevant documentation. This would not have been possible without the power of entry. Had they required further warrants to access these additional premises, it would have given the company and their employees an opportunity to remove or destroy relevant evidence in the period of time required to obtain warrants.
The evidence seized during the use of powers and the warrant application has substantiated the claims made by consumers regarding the companies' failure to comply with their statutory duties and proved that multiple offences have been committed. This would not have been possible without the use of these powers. I welcome the wish of my noble friend Lord Marlesford to address the needs of these services by this amendment but, regrettably, it would not solve the problem. I hope that he and the Minister will be able to reach an accommodation and understanding of his concerns and find a solution.
My Lords, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We reported on this Bill last October. I do not know to what extent Members of the House have had a chance to read that report. I do not think that it has been referred to in previous debates on this subject, but we dealt with this issue in chapter five of the report. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, have reminded us of my next point. It is ancient common law that there should be effective protection of our right against arbitrary search and seizure. For me it goes back at least to Entick v Carrington in the days of George III and the famous statement of principle by Lord Camden, which was adopted last week by the American Supreme Court in interpreting the Fourth Amendment to its constitution. Everyone knows that the sanctity of the home and the right to be protected against arbitrary search and seizure is enshrined in our common law. It is also enshrined in our constitutional law through the Human Rights Act and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 guarantees the fundamental right to be protected in respect of one's private life, one's home and one's correspondence. That has been repeatedly interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights as giving effective safeguards against abuse of the powers of search and seizure. Section 3 of the Human Rights Act requires all statutes, including this one, to be read and given effect, if possible, so as to comply with that convention right. Therefore, we are not legislating in a vacuum.
The Human Rights Act ensures that anything in this Bill which becomes law is subject to the right of protection in Article 8 of the convention. In addition, Section 6 of the Human Rights Act requires every public authority-this would apply to a police officer, a trading standards officer or anyone else exercising public powers-to use those powers in a way that is compatible with the convention right in Article 8. Therefore, the fears that have been raised in this debate should be understood in the context of the safeguards that have been put in place across parties by the enactment of the Human Rights Act.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights drew attention to that in its report. Paragraph 116 states:
"We welcome the recognition in the Bill that powers of entry should be strictly limited to those circumstances in which such a power is justified, necessary and accompanied by appropriate safeguards. The decision to review all existing powers of entry is a welcome one ... We consider that a review of existing powers of entry offers a clear opportunity to identify where powers of entry continue to be justified, proportionate and necessary".
We also consider that it would provide greater legal certainty. We said that,
"at a minimum, each power of entry should be strictly defined, including clear limits on the circumstances when the power may be exercised and the identity of the person or body exercising the power".
That, of course, would be a way of giving more concrete support to what is already in the Human Rights Act and the convention. I should be grateful if the Minister were able, even though I have not given him notice, to deal with this in his reply. We regretted,
"that the review of existing powers was not completed", before this Bill was introduced, and in paragraph 118, we said:
"We are concerned that since the review has not yet been completed, the legislation proposed is overly broad and creates a risk that delegated legislation may be used in future", in ways that are basically against the public interest.
It would be helpful to know, if possible, the Government's response to that review. Nothing that I have said leads me to support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, even though I understand his reasons, which I fully respect, for tabling them. I do not think that they are very well drafted or necessary. I think that the safeguards referred to are sufficient but I would be grateful to know more about the review that we asked for as long ago as last October. If the House were asked to divide on this, I would have to vote against the amendment.
My Lords, I would have wanted to vote for the noble Lord's first amendment, but I can see that there are difficulties and that maybe more time for thought is required. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, that a report has been produced that emphasises the sovereignty, as it were, of the human rights convention, which intrudes-I mean that in a good sense-into earlier legislation and the rights and the protection that are not visible there.
My concern is that the ordinary man or woman in the street does not understand the scope of the Human Rights Act and would be outraged to hear that there are 1,200 instances when officials can enter your house-your home-and certainly your business and would wonder how that could have arisen over the years. In the absence of a ministerial explanation, I would be inclined to infer that it would become a habit that if you wanted a power that might be useful one of these days for some of your officials, you stick in a power of entry. Parliament is bereft of any power either because that power is in a statutory instrument and we do not amend statutory instruments, or it is in a bit of primary legislation that goes through with that clause unattacked.
Something clearly has to happen as a result of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the research by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, which has produced the figure of 1,200, and 500 separate pieces of legislation, as I understand it, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. My present state of mind is that I am very anxious to hear what the Minister has to say and what amelioration of the situation can be produced. It is not satisfactory at the moment and some quite sweeping amendments will be required, no doubt making due reference to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
My Lords, I, too, have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Marlesford's amendment in principle. At the same time, I also observe that the review to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred a few moments ago is not required by statute until after this Bill is passed. It is in Clause 42 of the Bill, and Secretaries of State then have two years in which to review the 1,200 powers or however many it turns out to be. It would be helpful to your Lordships' House if my noble friend the Minister could tell us whether the review is already in progress and how many of the 1,200 powers have so far been reviewed in addition to the 15 that are due to be knocked out by Schedule 2. Clearly, the review has reached 15 of the 1,200 in a negative sense, but how many of the others have so far been reviewed?
My Lords, I am sorry not to be able to support what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has described as his package. Reference has been made to individual amendments, but he rightly put them forward as a composite. I know the effort that he has applied over a long period, along with the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. I have been privileged to observe him in the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, conducting with great assiduousness what I can only describe as a campaign against rights of entry that continue to crop up in statutory instruments on which we are asked to comment.
I wrote down "presumption" in the non-legal sense; I agree that every power of entry should require a warrant, and my noble friend has reminded us of both the common law and the Human Rights Act. I welcome what is in the Bill, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to it, because I think we have rather tended to overlook what is proposed for our consideration.
I welcome Clauses 39 and 40. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, may not be a veteran, as some of us are, of the continuing debate over "must" and "may". I also welcome Clause 42. To pick up the terminology used by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I am certainly one who would normally chase the Government-I tend to be on the rather cynical wing. However, I take the two years for the completion of the review at face value, particularly as we can assume that the reports required of Ministers-a duty under Clause 42-will include not only a conclusion but an explanation for each decision, and Parliament will be able to debate these. I note of course that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is not seeking to delete these clauses.
I add one short point. I have another difficulty with the drafting of the second amendment. It would require an authority to,
"demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought".
I am not entirely sure that I know what is meant by "demonstrate", but I suspect that we could be heading down a road to judicial review, which would mean that the High Court rather than magistrates became involved in many of these instances.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has mentioned environmental health officers; I think we have the Environment Agency. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, that like her I found the examples from the Local Government Association very powerful and helpful. However, I must agree with other noble Lords that this work cannot be allowed to rest.
My Lords, I want to add only a small footnote. I begin by expressing our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for the diligence that he has shown, not only on this occasion and in this context but because he is constantly on the lookout for failures or delays by government departments or other public bodies. He has made rather a specialisation of taking the opportunity to raise these in this forum. Currently, as always, it is an interesting and not entirely straightforward problem that comes before us.
My noble friend Lord Henley circulated a note last week on a possible exception to the requirement to demonstrate that entry would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought. He argued that the Home Office considered that such an exception would be unworkable. I would be very grateful for more explanation of what "unworkable" means in this context.
My Lords, first I apologise to the House for arriving late; my train was very late. I was particularly anxious to come to what I regard as an extremely important debate on fundamental freedoms. I join those who congratulated my noble friend Lord Marlesford on what he has done. It is apparent that the Minister, too, is sympathetic. However, his solution of a review carried out by the departments that have these powers is rather like asking a druggie to prescribe his own dose. Knowing the Civil Service, I predict that it will simply perpetuate the status quo. Frankly, that is not good enough. I suggest to the Minister that when he sums up, he should promise to strengthen the review mechanism so that other eyes, outside the quangos and departments concerned, can look at the necessity of the rights of entry and bring fresh thinking to the matter.
My Lords, I hope that I may be able to help the House. This has been a 10-year journey for me. Three Private Member's Bills have gone through the House. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Having worked in one of the biggest bureaucracies in the world-Midland Bank-I enjoy the relationship with bureaucrats.
Those who work in trading standards are great people. I have written to them many times. A few days ago they sent me an e-mail at 4.13 pm. When I rang back at 4.30 pm they had gone home. However, we are good friends now and I am inviting them all to tea. If a trading standards officer goes into a restaurant or food shop, they go in either as themselves to buy something or, if they are going in to inspect, they have to be completely schizophrenic.
I wanted to see if I could help. As a Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, knows well, and will probably let us know in his response, exactly how many powers of entry his department has at this time. There was a problem when Ministers did not know what their powers of entry were and numerous Parliamentary Questions failed to get an answer. Finally, with the great help of the party opposite, we got the final part of the Bill through. It was difficult because no one really knew what it was about. I then thought we should have a period of consultation. I had not raised the matter before. I wrote to the LGA, every local authority in the land, every bishop and vicar and everybody at a local level, saying that we had a new private website and that if they wanted to know what the powers were they could contact the website. We did that with considerable difficulty. I also got in touch with Citizens Advice.
I kept coming back to try to give advice to people. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, does not accept advice willingly because he sees the end game very quickly. He has a very quick mind and found me rather a nuisance. Therefore, I introduced a few amendments in Grand Committee but have decided not to introduce any now.
The main objective of the three Bills was to promote the introduction of legislation after the election that would prevent officials from entering people's homes, land or places of work without permission or a warrant, and would introduce a suitable code of practice. We drafted such a code; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, will remember it. The Minister does not seem to want a code of practice at the moment. He just says, "We'll put one in". If we do not have a code of practice now, we will have a problem with powers of entry.
The second thing I asked for was a list. The Home Office stated that it could not put this into the Bill because by the time it was put in, a piece of secondary legislation might have changed it. I said, "Can we not have a list?". We could not really have a list, so I thought of another solution. In preparing the Bills I had great help from a professor at Lincoln University. With Oxford University Press, he regularly publishes the laws of search, seizure and entry. A new edition is coming out. They have agreed to co-operate with the Home Office, which has already been in touch with them. Naturally, I am not necessary in the loop. However, we will have an official publication that will be updated from time to time, and a website. I would like to be able to put that in the Library. It is, however, extraordinarily difficult, as a Back-Bencher is not allowed to put anything in the Library. The only person who can do so is the Minister. If I do get these things together, could the Minister arrange for me to have permission to put it in the Library? Could he also agree that there will be a code of conduct and that he will produce it before this Bill is finished?
This has been a most interesting time. I have bored to death not everyone-because there were not a lot of people around-but I have certainly bored Hansard. Again and again one has to re-type every Bill. Being on the Information Committee, I have the benefit of PICT. In the latest list I managed to transpose three Bills, but the Home Office has not picked up which ones they were.
I am very grateful to all those who have helped on this. I support my noble friend Lord Marlesford because I support him on almost everything he does. I am extraordinarily grateful to the party opposite for raising some serious problems. They looked at me with a certain cynicism to begin with, but I think we are good friends.
The point about passing at least two of these amendments is that at least we can come back and tidy them up at Third Reading, because certain people have criticised their wording. If you do not pass them now there is no pressure to put anything in at Third Reading. This happens quite frequently and stalls the whole thing.
The whole point is that householders need to know what their rights are. They cannot possibly begin to know if there are thousands of different powers of entry, so there need to be some very simple rules that apply universally, which is what we have to come up with eventually. I support the first two amendments in particular.
The first amendment is about giving permission for entry, which I fear slightly because there is always a danger of people being bamboozled on the doorstep or being threatened by "If you don't let us in we know you are guilty" and letting them in out of fear. Amendment 37ZB is therefore particularly important. It states what we understand the position to be in common law and in other things, but why not restate it? These are the things that must be taken into account when powers of entry are being examined and there is no harm in restating something when people have clearly forgotten. People expect a warrant unless there is a very good reason why not. To my mind that is quite reasonable and I cannot see why it is a problem.
I was most intrigued by the third amendment because it reserves certain powers and I could not understand why the noble Baroness started off by saying that trading standards officers did not exist, then said what a good job they did and then said that she disapproved of this amendment as it reserved powers to these non-existent people. I could not understand why the amendment was not a good idea because it would keep the powers of these people-whoever they might be-as they were. Although the amendments have defects, we should pass them and the Government can tidy them up at Third Reading.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who raises a very important issue in relation to the use of these powers. I note what he has said and his excellent work leading to the very welcome safeguards that are already in the Bill but would certainly not be there without his work. However, I must tell him that I think he is being a little tough on the excellent people from the Trading Standards Institute. I am sure that, while one person was at tea at 4.30 pm, the majority of them were out doing their business at that time.
They telephoned me back and were extraordinarily helpful. We are going to meet. I had not realised the depth of their experience and knowledge.
It is important to recognise the rights of premises owners and occupiers when it comes to the use of these powers and to ensure that they are exercised, in the absence of the consent of the owner or a warrant, only when truly necessary. The noble Lord has introduced very important safeguards into his amendments. Last week, I was extremely anxious about the amendments that had been tabled because, like many other noble Lords, I had been contacted by the Trading Standards Institute, for whose work I have long-standing admiration, and was very worried about its concerns. The amendments which have been retabled by the noble Lord have assuaged many of my fears and the Trading Standards Institute clearly now feels comfortable with them.
The amendments leave a number of outstanding issues, the first being, as I believe the noble Lord himself said, as did the noble Baroness, that "trading standards officers" is not a recognised term. Therefore, the amendments would have to come back to the House at Third Reading because there would have to be some sort of tidying-up exercise.
I am also concerned about whether the amendments would hamper the legitimate use of these powers by local authority officers who are not currently provided with an exemption by the amendment, such as environmental health officers. I listened very carefully to the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Having said that, I believe that the noble Lord includes important safeguards in his amendment which specifically allow for the use of those powers when it can be demonstrated that the purpose of their use would be frustrated by having to seek permission from the premises owner or to apply for a warrant, which is a jolly important safeguard.
I am therefore in a bit of a difficult position here. I heard the discussion about the review. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, was right to say that the review mechanism must be strengthened. I wonder why the review is taking so long, and I would like to hear from the Minister. I will be interested to hear the Government's response to these amendments and, specifically, whether the Minister believes that the amendments provide sufficient safeguards to enable, for example, environmental health officers to undertake their work. I have to say that I am inclined to support these amendments, especially as it is clear that they will have to come back to the House at Third Reading in order to be technically correct. That would give Members of the House another opportunity, if necessary, to bring forward another amendment in order to safeguard the powers of, for example, environmental health officers.
Is the noble Baroness not satisfied that the Human Rights Act, which her Government introduced, ensures that all these powers have to be prescribed by law in a legally certain way and that they must be exercised in a proportionate way in order to protect our rights of personal privacy, home and correspondence? Why is that not good enough as a general standard which applies to future legislation as well as to past legislation?
My Lords, the Human Rights Act is an extremely important Act which provides the safeguards that the noble Lord suggests. However, I think that when some of these powers are being exercised, they are not always exercised according to the standards that should be imposed by the Human Rights Act. I also know that the very fact that there are these countless powers gives a lot of people concern that their very rights are being infringed. We have to look at all these things in the round.
My Lords, we return to an issue that my noble friend discussed in some detail in Committee. He has brought forward his two amendments, Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB, marginally amended in that he has, I think, changed from "owner" to "occupier", which is probably an improvement in the amendment, and has added Amendment 37ZC, which disapplies the restrictions imposed by Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB in particular circumstances; I will get to that in due course.
I made it quite clear to my noble friend in Committee that I have some sympathy with what he is trying to achieve in dealing with the 1,200 or so powers of entry that we have. We agree-my noble friend and I, and others-that there is a need to add further safeguards to the exercise of those powers of entry. That is why, as part of our coalition agreement-I emphasise that this is part of that; this is a coalition desire-we brought in Clauses 39 to 53 to provide some safeguards relating to the exercise of powers of entry. Where I differ from my noble friend is over his general approach; in particular, we continue to question the wisdom of adopting what would be a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach, which is what he is seeking to do.
I believe that the provisions already in the Bill offer a better way forward. Clause 42 places a duty-I stress that this is a duty-on the responsible Ministers to review each and every power of entry within two years of Royal Assent. I appreciate that there were some complaints from my noble friends Lord Cope and Lord Vinson about just how long that was going to take, but I have to make the point that there are some 1,200 of these powers of entry-of which getting on for half were introduced by the party opposite, the party in which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was such a luminary, and therefore I find her remarks on this subject somewhat interesting.
It is important that we review those powers of entry carefully and go through them and we have given ourselves the job to do that within two years of Royal Assent. Clause 40 enables new safeguards to be added to particular powers of entry by order. Again, I make no apology for that, but I remind the House that many of these powers-the majority of them-will already have in them a need to obtain a warrant or some other consent. The idea that all these powers are giving unnamed officials broad powers of entry without having to seek a warrant is just not the case. The majority of them already require that. My noble friend and others have expressed a degree of scepticism that that review will be undertaken. However, I can assure him that it is down there in the Bill; it will be a requirement on us to make sure that review is done within the two years, and that is why it has been written into legislation.
My noble friend Lord Lester also worried about the fact that we were bringing in various Henry VIII powers to make amendments, and felt that that was not in line with what the Joint Committee on Human Rights had asked for. I should make it clear to my noble friend that we responded to the Joint Committee's report in November last year, and in that reply we pointed out that the Delegated Powers Committee had made no recommendation in respect of those delegated powers that we are assuming. Clause 40 allows us to add safeguards, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, in appropriate cases, and we will certainly do that.
I will focus my detailed remarks on Amendment 37ZB, as it was in respect of this amendment that my noble friend's arguments were, on the face of it, the most seductive. This amendment offers persons exercising a power of entry three options: first, they can obtain the consent of the occupier; secondly, they can obtain a warrant, usually from a magistrates' court; thirdly, the power may be exercised without a warrant or the agreement of the occupier in any case where it can be shown that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought.
I hope that there is general agreement that we cannot, in every case, demand that entry is effected only with the consent of the occupier or on the authority of a warrant. To illustrate that point, the House will recall the outbreak of foot and mouth disease where, had requirements such as these applied, I fear the consequences for livestock may have been much greater. Obviously, consent could have been withdrawn, and that carries its own risks.
To take another more recent example, the new Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act contains a number of powers that grant constables the right to enter and search premises without warrant. For instance, there is a power to enter and search premises if a constable has a reasonable suspicion that the individual who is subject to a TPIM has absconded. In such circumstances, the police clearly must act quickly to check whether the individual has absconded, and if he has, to try to find evidence to help locate him. The law is designed to protect our national interest and provide security to the public but could very well be frustrated by these amendments.
We must also consider the very serious questions of delay, where the exercise of overcaution or prolonged deliberation by the authorities might place at risk the health of animals, individuals or the wider public. Similarly, the need to obtain a warrant or, for instance, locate the occupier of the premises in question in order to get their permission to enter could lead to the loss of valuable time in some cases.
That is not to say, as I made clear at the beginning, that we do not support the use of warrants and seeking consent where that is appropriate. However, as we are all aware, there are a large number of powers of entry that exist today, and operational imperatives differ widely. We do not want to impede an authority's ability to respond to matters effectively and to take decisive action, and so we consider that such operational decisions are best taken by the relevant authorities. My noble friend has argued that his Amendment 37ZA caters for such circumstances by providing a let-out in stating that,
"where the authority using the power can demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought".
However, I do not accept that this provides the answer.
It is not entirely clear to whom any urgent or unannounced need to enter premises should be demonstrated and proven. The approach taken in this amendment could lead to endless, time-consuming and expensive litigation, with aggrieved persons challenging the lawfulness of the exercise of a power of entry in a particular case, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee made clear. Such a challenge could be mounted on the grounds that the public authority in question had not demonstrated that the given exercise of the power of entry would have been frustrated if the agreement of the occupier had been sought or a warrant obtained. I hope that was not what my noble friend was intending when he drafted his amendments, but I fear that it could be the likely outcome.
I appreciate that there have been concerns, expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and my noble friend Lady Eaton, relating to the Trading Standards Institute and the Local Government Association, which raised some concerns about Amendment 37ZA and 37ZB along the lines that I have set out. I appreciate also that my noble friend Lord Marlesford was trying to deal with those concerns by tabling Amendment 37ZC. In a sense his amendment makes my case for me, because at its heart is an acknowledgment that one size does not fit all, and that there must be exceptions to the blanket restrictions that my noble friend is seeking to impose by means of his Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB.
However, in providing exceptions purely for trading standards officers-undefined, as my noble friend Lady Eaton said-constables and members of the Security Service, or in pursuance of the protection of a child or a vulnerable adult, Amendment 37ZC simply highlights the fact that there will be other circumstances where the exception should apply. What about the powers of entry under the Gas Safety (Rights of Entry) Regulations 1996? I carefully took an example from a previous Conservative Government rather than from the previous Labour Government. These regulations offer powers of entry to premises for the purposes of preventing gas escapes, surely something that is very important-it would be necessary to move very quickly and there might not be time to obtain a warrant.
What about the powers to enter and search for evidence on premises occupied or controlled by a person who is under arrest for an indictable offence? Such powers are not just exercisable by constables but also by customs officers, immigration officers and members of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. To give another example, what about the powers of firefighters under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 to enter premises without consent for the purposes of protecting life and property? I put it to my noble friend and to the House that the exception should apply equally in those cases.
I could provide more examples-I am sure there will be others-but until we have conducted the review I have promised, and which the statute makes clear will happen, it will be impossible to say with confidence that these amendments would not seriously inhibit the ability of law enforcement officers and others to protect the public.
As I have indicated, we wish to achieve an aim similar to the one my noble friend suggests. The new Home Office gateway has already removed in some cases-I can give this assurance to my noble friend Lord Cope-the right to enter private homes unless accompanied by a warrant. These include regulations relating to forestry law enforcement, wine manufacture and inspecting animals for disease. We have said that notice must be provided where it is reasonable to do so and appointments must be made with home owners and businesses before powers are exercised.
As I have mentioned, we will be reviewing all 1,200 or so powers of entry, and Clause 40 allows us to add necessary new safeguards on a case-by-case basis. The new code of practice, about which my noble friend Lord Selsdon was cynical, will be introduced under Clause 47 and will govern the exercise of powers of entry and set out further safeguards to protect the rights and civil liberties of individuals and businesses.
I put it to my noble friend that this is a preferable approach which provides greater legal certainty. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment. However, if he should seek the opinion of the House, I would encourage your Lordships to reject the amendment.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this interesting and useful debate. I was drawn to the clarity with which the legal mind of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, approached the issue; there is much attraction in it. However, the concessions I have made, which have been referred to, were intended to meet some of the points raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, was able to produce many arguments about why, in some way or other, the proposal had not gone far enough-even in the case of trading standards officers, who have expressed complete satisfaction with what I have done.
I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lady Eaton, who gave a full account of a case in Yorkshire. I am sure it was an important, useful and maybe typical case, but I found myself thinking that had the people involved needed to get a warrant they would have been able to execute the case every bit as effectively as they did without one because the timescale she described would have made it perfectly possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, made a good point. The tendency at the moment, which has grown up over the years, is that if you want an extra power of entry you just stick it in. That has been the culture which, in a sense, we are trying to counter.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, produced, as he so often does, the human rights legislation as being the solution to it all. I would remind him-well, not remind him because he knows it as well as I do, as do most of your Lordships-that human rights legislation, although desirable in theory, is about the slowest and most expensive route for correcting wrongs as can be imagined. The European Court of Human Rights is absolutely bunged full and is years and years behind. I would strongly recommend that we find a better route for anything which depended on using it. I see that the noble Lord is about to make a further defence of the Human Rights Act. I give way to him.
I was not going to do that; I was going to point out that the remedy is in our courts, not in Strasbourg, to get an injunction or compensation under the Human Rights Act.
Of course, if people do not like what our courts say, they go to the European Court of Human Rights. Most astonishingly trivial cases have been put to it. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister had some phrase for the multitude of cases going to the European Court of Human Rights. With the greatest respect and affection for my noble friend Lord Lester, I suggest that we do not use the European Court of Human Rights as a solution to these particular problems.
The Minister produced the same arguments as last time. He expressed a degree of sympathy but he did not answer in any detail the concerns of my noble friends over the progress of this review. All this debate has done, in a sense, is illustrate the way in which people will always find some ingenious argument or other to support a position. I remember my noble friend Lord Hurd, when he was a junior diplomat in Beijing-I think it was his first posting-writing a letter, which I was shown, to a certain noble Lord about a visit to Beijing of a senior politician who he described as being inclined to take up an impossible position and then cast around for clever ways of supporting it. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, saw this as the sure mark of a second-class mind. I thought that was pretty damning but there is a danger of trying to find arguments against this. I do not feel that any substantial argument has been put forward.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, got it right when he said that if we do not pass this now, nothing will happen. We have had years of nothing happening. I was grateful for the support of the Leader of the Opposition when she said that we must at least get the Government to come back at Third Reading with something. Otherwise, this whole issue will clearly go to sleep again. Over the past few years we have had a surfeit of ill prepared legislation. It is our duty to improve it, whatever the Whips may say. Otherwise, it is hard to justify the survival of your Lordships' House. I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 37ZB and 37ZC
Moved by Lord Marlesford
37ZB: Clause 40, page 33, line 33, at end insert-
"(4) A further safeguard shall be that, notwithstanding the statute providing for the power of entry, a power of entry may only be used without warrant, or without agreement with the occupier of the premises to be entered, in cases where the authority using the power can demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought."
37ZC: Clause 40, page 33, line 33, at end insert-
"(5) The safeguards set out in subsections (3) and (4) above shall not apply in any case where the authority exercising the power of entry is-
(a) a Trading Standards Officer acting under any legislation which permits the Officer to exercise such a power;
(b) a Constable or a member of the Security Service acting under any legislation which permits such a person to exercise such a power; or
(c) doing so in pursuance of the protection of a child or a vulnerable adult."
Amendments 37ZB and 37ZC agreed.