Clause 22 - Inspections in connection with licences

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 24th January 2006.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:00 pm, 24th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in clause 22, page 12, line 7, at beginning insert ‘Subject to subsection (4),’.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 25, in clause 22, page 12, line 9, at end add—

‘(4)Subject to subsection (5), a Justice of the Peace may, on the application of an inspector, issue a warrant authorising an inspector to enter premises, if necessary using reasonable force, in order to carry out an inspection under subsection (1).

(5)The power to issue a warrant under subsection (4) is exercisable only if the Justice of the Peace is satisfied—

(a)that it is reasonable to carry out an inspection on the premises, and

(b)that section 46 is satisfied in relation to the premises.’.

No. 26, in clause 23, page 12, line 18, at beginning insert ‘Subject to subsection (4),’.

No. 27, in clause 23, page 12, line 20, at end add—

‘(4)Subject to subsection (5), a Justice of the Peace may, on the application of an inspector, issue a warrant authorising an inspector to enter premises, if necessary using reasonable force, in order to carry out an inspection under subsection (1).

(5)The power to issue a warrant under subsection (4) is exercisable only if the Justice of the Peace is satisfied—

(a)that it is reasonable to carry out an inspection on the premises, and

(b)that section 46 is satisfied in relation to the premises.’.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The amendments are designed to tease out from the Minister the relationship between clauses 22 and 46, because it is not clear to me, although it might be clear to everybody else. The amendments would ensure that an inspector with a warrant had access to a licensable premises that was also a private dwelling for the purpose of carrying out an inspection without necessarily giving 24 hours’ notice of entry. That would aid the enforcement of the law, which I think is desirable.

Clause 22(3) specifically excludes entry into a private dwelling, unless 24 hours’ notice is given. However, clause 46 sets out four conditions. Under the fourth condition, which is set out in subsection (5), it is permissible to secure a warrant without 24 hours’ notice where

“it would defeat the object of entering the premises, or ... entry is required as a matter of urgency.”

It is certainly my view that inspectors should be able to secure a warrant without the occupier knowing in advance, which is how I read clause 46, and also where the matter is urgent. That seems to be at variance with clause 22(3). These amendments attempt to correct that. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the relationship between the two clauses and specify exactly what the inspector’s powers are.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 6:15 pm, 24th January 2006

I have little to add to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. We are now entering into the important issue about who the inspector is, on what grounds he can gain entry and who can confirm that he has done that correctly. I put my name to this group of amendments so that the Minister can answer those probing questions. He can also tell us what the failsafe is if things do not work as they should and animals are either taken when they should not have been taken or destroyed when they should not have been destroyed because of some misunderstanding of the terms on which the powers are being offered to those who have to take these difficult decisions.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

Let me try to assist hon. Members. If I have misunderstood their queries about the clauses, I may have to write to them, but I am slightly mystified, as are my officials. Clauses 22 and 23 contain powers of entry to carry out routine inspections. They are not concerned with situations in which an animal is in   distress or in which an offence has been or is being committed. They are for routine, not emergency, inspections. I ask hon. Members to forgive me if I have got this wrong, but we do not find it easy to envisage a situation in which one would want to rush to a magistrates court for a warrant to conduct a routine inspection.

If there is a reasonable belief that an animal is in distress on the premises, the power to enter under clause 17 will be available. If one believes that an offence is being, or has been committed, on the premises, including carrying on a licensable or registerable activity without having licensed or registered it, a warrant for entry can be applied for under clause 20. In the absence of a need to act under clauses 17 or 20, we cannot see that the situation would be sufficiently urgent to require an ability to apply for a warrant.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Minister’s explanation has been helpful and has clarified matters. He will accept that spot inspections are often carried out under legislation. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 includes such a provision. Would he accept that, under certain circumstances, it is important that inspections can take place without notice and that that is currently prohibited under clause 22 as I read it?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I am not sure that that is the case, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman about that. Does he want me to finish reading my speaking note as it may help to clarify some of the other issues that he raised? I am not sure that I understood the point that he was making. I beg the Committee’s forgiveness.

The power in clause 24 was included on the basis that, in relation to farm premises, it may be difficult to satisfy the requirement of the clause, but that it would none the less be reasonable to conduct an inspection. A farmer may have had problems in the past, but on this occasion the inspector might not have a reasonable belief that an offence is being committed sufficient to satisfy the provisions in clause 20, perhaps because he had been denied access to the premises and the premises were sufficiently large that he could not see from a distance the condition of the animals. In that situation, it would still be reasonable for the inspector to inspect the premises.

In an equivalent situation on a licensed or registered premises, the inspector would have the additional leverage of threatening the withdrawal of the licence. This leverage is not available in the case of farms and it is important that the Bill fills that gap. This is where the difference between the clauses stems from. I hope that that has helped to clarify matters.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for being very honest in this regard. Let me describe the situation as I see it. On one occasion when I was out with RSPCA inspectors, we were refused permission to enter premises. The lady in question was a breeder. She admitted that, but she did not want to let the RSPCA on to the premises, because she felt that it was there because it had received complaints. She   wanted to know from whom the complaints originated before she would let the RSPCA on to her premises. I want to clarify whether, as a breeder, that lady would now have to be licensed. As a result, the RSPCA would have certain powers, although it would want to put neither itself nor the lady at risk. However, will my hon. Friend clarify whether the RSPCA would have additional powers to force the issue?

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

Inspectors will have the power to insist on an on-the-spot inspection. The definition of inspectors for the purposes of this part of the Act does not include the RSPCA. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the clarification that he seeks. The RSPCA has not sought extra powers, and we are not giving it any.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I should appreciate a line in the post about spot inspections. Doubtless, other Members would appreciate one, too.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am again grateful to the Minister for clarifying matters. Will subsection (3) allow for spot inspections of private dwellings? That is the point about spot inspections with which we are not entirely happy. However, given the time that we have spent on other matters, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 to 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.