Clause 78 - Warrant to enter premises by force

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 27th January 2005.

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Following what the Minister said on a point of clarification, that a warrant is required and that evidence of the warrant must be shown under clause 78, would it not be normal for a warrant to enter premises by force require the identification of an authorised officer—meaning that the officer should be wearing uniform—to distinguish the powers of entry under clause 78 from those under clause 77? Clearly entering by force carries with it more severe powers and penalties than did the previous measure.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The simple answer is no. Let us take a proportionate response to the clause. It relates to a situation in which an

''alarm has been sounding continuously for more than twenty minutes or intermittently for more than one hour'' and in a location where it is likely to cause annoyance to persons living or working in the vicinity. Anyone who lives in the vicinity of a repeater alarm will know exactly what that means. The clause also stipulates that in a designated area

''reasonable steps have been taken to get the nominated key-holder to silence the alarm'' and that entry to the premises without force is not possible.

So, the context is reasonable. Anyone who has experienced that irritating problem will be unamused that the hon. Lady does not support the proposal. It is not a new power. Under current law, a local authority officer can enter premises by force to silence an alarm. The clause makes the procedure simpler and faster. I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I seek clarification. As the Minister points out, the powers have existed before. However, there have been considerable complaints, by the Noise Abatement Society and others, which say that the time before one can get into a premises and silence the alarm is too long. In his remarks, the Minister said that the procedure would become faster. For clarification, and to give us hope, will he say how long it would typically take to get into a premise using the powers?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I said, at the moment, the procedure is a lengthy one. It can take from three to six hours. Under the procedure proposed in the clause, an   officer who decides that he cannot silence an alarm without entering the premises by force can go to a magistrate immediately. He leaves the notification on the premises and returns as soon as the warrant is obtained to silence the alarm. The procedure for getting a signature from a magistrate does not take long. It can be faster in the hours of darkness, when the poor magistrate is tucked up in bed. I have been approached in those circumstances. The proposed procedure can happen extremely quickly and will avoid the present delay.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.