Clause 14 - Obstruction, etc. of officers

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 8 February 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I want to get the balance right between the need to empower enforcement officers, so that they carry out their work properly, and the need to protect those on the receiving end of such enforcement. I am worried about the way in which the Bill is drafted. It will be difficult to determine and prove whether a person has intentionally obstructed a duly authorised officer under subsection (1)(a), which is based heavily on subjectivity. It is a matter of one person's word against another's.

It will be impossible to determine and prove whether a person has failed to comply with a requirement made of him by an officer without reasonable cause. That takes me back to an earlier debate on the difference between

``has no reason to suspect''

``could not reasonably have known''.

Whether a cause was reasonable will be difficult to prove. Can the Minister cite examples of what would be a reasonable cause for failure to comply with a requirement made by the enforcement officer?

To understand how the provision would work in practice, I tried to think of some examples. It will be a big cultural change for our nation to adjust to thinking in terms of being alert to whether something is a tobacco advertisement and who has responsibility for its display. What about a tobacco advertisement that is displayed on an office building, which may not be the offices of a company that is in the business of promoting tobacco? Can an enforcement officer search that building?

Would an authorised officer have the right to enter the office of someone who, for example, had a Marlboro poster on the wall? That is not an unusual occurrence. I do not have one on my wall, but I gather an attractive Marlboro man poster is particularly popular with young women whose smoking prevalence is increasing—and which we are trying to reduce. If such a poster was displayed in an office, would the enforcement officer have the right to enter it and seek to prosecute someone? That individual may not primarily regard that as tobacco advertising; but we might accept that such a poster is banned from advertisement on billboards and other places where it might encourage smoking, and its continued existence might promote tobacco consumption among colleagues in the office. I am unclear about the practicalities of the clause. How on earth can the defendant claim that obstruction was unintentional, and what constitutes a reasonable cause for failure to comply? Perhaps the Minister would illustrate that for us.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

How does an individual know that another individual is authorised to require information to be given? The problem is that we set up all these Acts; we are the only people who read them; even we probably forget about them as soon as we leave the Committee; and then, lo and behold, somebody knocks on the door and says, ``I am authorised to do X, Y or Z.''

That may sound theoretical—people do not try to assume powers that they do not have—but I am told that since the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was passed, there has been a flood of police inquiries to internet service providers for information about various people. On many, if not most occasions, it has been discovered that police officers, who are duly authorised people, are asking for information that they are not entitled to receive, and the matter has not been sensibly dealt with.

In order to try to resolve that problem, it has been agreed by the National Criminal Intelligence Service that when people ask ISPs for information about telephone tracks and information going across the internet, each constabulary should have a single officer to handle all inquiries, so that the officer can check that the proper information is being asked for in the proper, authorised manner. It is important, when introducing a new criminal offence setting up a police force to police words and thoughts—we actually have a thought police here—to make it clear how people will be authorised.

It would be extremely helpful if there were a provision to ensure that individuals were given an appropriate form showing them their rights and responsibilities before they could be said to have caused obstruction. In other words, if somebody knocks on the door and an individual is obstructive or gives false information, the person claiming obstruction should be required to show that he or she had handed the individual an appropriate document showing his or her powers and the responsibilities of the individual for dealing with the matter. It is easy to say that virtually nobody is ever prosecuted under such clauses, but, willy-nilly, we put them into Bills, placing additional requirements on members of the public who have no real reason to be knowledgeable, though ignorance of the law is no defence. I hope that the Minister will give us the reassurances that we need to support the clause.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I must support my hon. Friends. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, trading standards officers are not always the best loved people in local communities. They generally do a good job, but, as in the case of weights and measures involving pounds and ounces, and kilograms and grams, there is often a certain resistance to dealing with trading standards officers. That resistance may be especially prevalent among the class of people who will be caught by the Bill.

The lack of requirement of proof of identity in clause 13 makes me nervous, as does the fact that there is no requirement to produce the warrant to prove that people are authorised to conduct the entry. This clause contains no defence that would provide someone who had reasonable grounds to doubt the identity of the person with the ability to refuse entry or co-operation.

The Government might think of introducing an additional defence in subsection (3), for when the individual whose premises were entered had reasonable grounds to doubt the identity of the person seeking entry. Without such a defence, the clause is a snoop's charter. More defences must be offered to citizens who could be subject to such powers of entry. The Minister did not want to introduce a requirement for greater proof at the time of entry into clause 13. Will she at least put an additional defence into this clause, to help to protect the rights of our citizens?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 11:00, 8 February 2001

Again, this is a standard clause, which establishes an offence of intentionally obstructing

``a duly authorised officer of an enforcement authority''.

The clause is necessary to ensure that the enforcement authority has the proper powers to enforce the measures.

Clause 13 states:

``A duly authorised officer of an enforcement authority has the right, on producing, if so required, his written authority'' to enter the premises. The clause therefore contains that requirement.

The provisions are standard ones that equally apply to parallel legislation, such as the Consumer Protection Act 1987. There should not be a serious problem with the clauses to which the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire referred, as they operate in the same way as those in previous legislation. Clause 14 rightly uses the words ``intentionally obstructs'', because it would be wrong for the clause to cover unintentional obstruction, given that it establishes a criminal offence.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

My understanding is that it is not an offence for a shoplifter, for example, who has been caught by a police officer, to claim that he has not stolen anything and obstruct the officer in his investigation of the crime. A criminal would normally lie, and it is not an offence to do so; the police officer cannot prosecute someone for being unco-operative in the detection of a crime.

The clause does not seem to be standard, because it makes it a prosecutable offence to tell a lie and say, ``It wasn't my advert, guv'nor.'' If that is standard clause, I am a Dutchman.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

This is a standard process for enforcing legislation, along the lines of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, and other such measures. It is right and appropriate to have such provisions in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.