Clause 79 - powers of entry: supplementary

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 27th January 2005.

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Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question again proposed.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 2:35 pm, 27th January 2005

I cannot with any honesty say that I remember with clarity what I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted at 11.25 am.

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

May I assist the hon. Gentleman—it is not meant entirely as a threat—in that I can remember exactly what he was saying?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I sought guidance and wondered whether Hansard was readily available so that I could seamlessly carry on, but I am told that we may have to wait a day or two. I am not going to ask you, Mr. Forth, to suspend this sitting while we wait, so I shall press on with what I think I was last up to, which is to ask the Minister why,

''so far as is reasonably practicable'', is mentioned in the Bill at clause 79(5)(b). I agree with clause 79(6), which states that

''the officer is not required by virtue of subsection (5)(b) to re-set the alarm'', because alarms are different. It is reasonable not to expect officers to be able to do that.

Subsection (7) states:

''Any expenses reasonably incurred by the local authority in connection with entering the premises, silencing the alarm and complying with subsection (5) may be recovered by the authority from the responsible person''.

In certain circumstances, the authorities will be protected if they enter the premises and cannot reasonably turn off the alarm. They might not have the key or the code that is needed to turn it off, so they might cut the electricity to the alarm or, indeed, smash the alarm off the wall. If they were to do that, I assume that they would be protected in that the owner of the alarm would not then be able to come back and say, ''Hold on, you've caused damage to my alarm: it cost   £500 to replace and I want that money from you''. I assume that clause 79(7) is designed to give them protection.

If the authorities have abused their power in either entering or not properly securing the premises, which they are duty bound to do under subsection (5)(b), I assume that the owner would be able to go to court if he was unhappy that the authorities had not complied with the provisions in the Bill.

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

Hon. Members have shown great imagination in discussing the clause and considering a number of circumstances that might arise. Those who drafted the clause have covered all the circumstances that have been raised. The clause describes what authorised officers of local authorities may do to silence an alarm further to their entry on to premises pursuant to clauses 77 or 78.

The clause makes it clear that the authorised officers may have other people with them and I was asked who they might be. One example might be an electrician or an expert in dealing with alarms who might, for instance, be able to find a simpler and less dramatic way of dealing with an alarm than tearing it from the wall in the way described by the hon. Gentleman. It might involve a carpenter who might be able to effect entry through a door in a tidy way that would keep damage to a minimum while ensuring that the work of silencing the alarm could go ahead. It might be a locksmith, who might be able to gain entry without physically damaging the premises at all.

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

Would it be possible to have a list on Report? Will the Minister comment on the fact that not only alarms but smoke bombs, which could completely disorientate the person entering the premises, are increasingly used as deterrents to intruders? A situation may be envisaged in which such devices could disorientate the expert entering the premises to deactivate the alarm.

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

I think you, Mr. Forth, would direct me fairly quickly were I to start to deal with issues other than audible intruder alarms, which is the precise problem that we are dealing with in this part of the Bill. A list would not be appropriate because of how the technology changes with varying circumstances and the type of development to which the hon. Lady referred. That might be dealt with in other legislation. It might be that officers of the local authority need different types of support in their work and it would not be appropriate to include in the Bill something that might either be left to the discretion of local authorities or, if there is a need for it, dealt with simply in guidance that indicates what a local authority ought to consider in deciding who does the work.

Clause 79 also allows local authorities to reclaim reasonable expenses arising in connection with entry to premises and provides protection from liability for   the authority and its officers for anything that is done in good faith. That is sensible; officers need to be protected so that they can do the work that the clauses allow in a reasonable way and without placing themselves at risk by doing so. Subsection (6) makes it clear that the officer is not required to re-set the alarm, and subsection (5)(b) states that the officer must

''leave the premises (so far as is reasonably practicable) as effectively secured against entry as he found them.''

Were those words not in the Bill, it would require the officer to leave the premises precisely as well defended as they were before he entered, which may not be possible, given that he has had to enter forcibly. That is what the clause is about.

To put it the other way round, the clauses ensures that officers are not required to do what is unreasonable or impracticable. It is simple, straightforward and logical. By and large the words take the ordinary English meaning, which local authorities and the courts are used to applying. It gives a detailed indication of what can and cannot be done and provides practical arrangements for dealing with extreme situations, which I hope will be unusual because of the power in the clause. If those who create or commit a nuisance know that if they do not sort it out themselves their premises may be broken into in the public interest, the use of the clause may be extremely unusual or, indeed, exceptional.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 79 ordered to stand part of the Bill.