‘for a period of 10 days’.
The clause relates to the conditions for the granting of a warrant and sets out four conditions, any of which would satisfy the granting of a warrant. Those conditions are relatively sensible. However, in respect of the third condition in subsection (4) there is no time limit set on the leaving of a notice in a conspicuous place on the premises. As a matter of good law, time limits ought to be set so that those who have premises understand what the time limit is and any court, in determining whether the third condition is met, would be able to state sensibly whether 10 days—under my amendment—had passed.
The absence of a time limit seems to leave open a defence that the notice applied to the premises was inadequate and therefore the condition was not met. It cannot be the Government’s intention to provide such a let-out.
I said 10 days, because that is a reasonable amount of time that appears elsewhere in the Bill. I have no objection if the Minister wants to say that that period should be five or 28 days, or another number, but a time limit needs to be set, and there is not one here.
We are not sure that the amendment is necessary, for the following reason. If a constable, for example, suspected that a disused barn was the scene of an animal fight the night before, should he or she really have to wait 10 days before searching for evidence? We appreciate that the provision deals with premises from which the occupier is absent, as well as those that are unoccupied. It would certainly be wholly inappropriate in the case of unoccupied premises to require notices to be left for 10 days before access could be granted.
As to premises from which the occupier was absent, I do not think that a court would grant a warrant in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about. If it was clear that the premises were usually occupied but that the occupier was temporarily absent, a court would inquire how long the notice had been left, and how long the occupier had been away, specifically to deal with the possibility that someone had gone away for a short time.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but we are not happy about tying the courts’ hands in that way. We think that they should exercise judgment in granting warrants. When judging whether to grant access to unoccupied premises they would need to consider whether those were likely to remain unoccupied. The hon. Gentleman spoke of other legislation, but similar warrant conditions exist in other Acts. For example, the Animal Health Act 1981, as amended in 2002, contains conditions for the granting of warrants, but imposes no minimum time limit for the leaving of a notice at unoccupied premises. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
I hear what the Minister says and understand his logic, although I do not entirely agree with it. Part of the reason for leaving a notice for a specified time is to provide clarity to the courts. It is also, frankly, protection for the owner. A visit might take place, and it might well be concluded that premises such as a barn were unoccupied, or that the occupier was absent, without the owner being aware of that. The placing of a notice for a set period would make what was happening clear to the occupier, if there was one, who might be there despite being thought to be absent.
A parallel situation would be a car that was believed to have been abandoned on a local authority highway, to which a notice was appended stating that it would be removed within a certain number of days if no action was taken. That would give the owner the opportunity to point out that it was not abandoned, as the local authority might have been led to believe, but was a car in regular use. Similarly, under the amendment, a notice would allow the owner, who might have been absent temporarily, and who returned to find a notice, to take action to demonstrate that the premises were not unoccupied. The Minister has not considered that aspect and I ask him to consider the point again, although, in the spirit of making progress, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.