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Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 30 January 1979

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I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 12, line 47, at end insert—

'(2A) If and so long as any books or documents which have been seized under this section are not required as evidence in connection with proceedings which have been begun for an offence under this Act, the enforcement authority by whose officer they were seized shall afford to the person to whom the books or documents belong and to any person authorised by him in writing reasonable facilities to inspect them and to take copies of or make extracts from them'.
I promised a change in the enforcement provisions so that if the books of an estate agent were taken away the estate agent would have the ability to obtain access to those books and to obtain copies. This amendment meets that promise. I said that I would consider the problem of the residential flat above the estate agent's premises. The Committee was rather concerned in case someone quite innocent, and quite unconnected with the estate agent, had his premises searched on a warrant relating to the estate agent's business. I have looked at this, and I am assured that if there were a letting of that sort it would be a separate occupation for the purposes of the Bill and that, therefore, a warrant of powers of search and enforcement would not extend to those residential premises. As a result, no amendment is necessary.

I welcome the amendment, but I am a little concerned at the wording "not required as evidence". Does that mean that if the books are required as evidence the estate agent would not be able to get or take copies? As to premises above an estate agent's premises, what the Committee was concerned about was estate agents who occupied the flat above their premises. Would that be searched, or would a warrant have to be required to search his residential premises if he lived above his business premises?

If the estate agent lives above the premises, the powers of enforcement will extend to the premises in which he lives, because it would be only too easy to remove the books from the business part of his premises, take them to the residential part and escape any form of enforcement or detection.

As to whether the books are required in evidence, the words are included so that the ability to have access to the books is not one that can be exercised in such a way as to interfere with the course of a prosecution.

In other words, if the books were needed as evidence, the estate agent could still take information from them?

The amendment uses the words

"which… are not required as evidence in connection with proceedings which have begun".
During the investigation stage, clearly the estate agent would be able to take copies.

Amendment agreed to.