Skip to main content

Public Officials: Powers of Entry

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many categories of public officials, for whom Ministers are responsible, have the right to enter private property without a warrant; and how many of these categories have been so empowered in the past 10 years.

My Lords, there is no central record of all the categories of public officials who are entitled by law to enter private property without a warrant. We are considering if and how it would be possible to rationalise powers of entry and associated powers, and have announced a review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Part of this process will involve an audit of existing powers of entry, and their potential to be identified at a central point with public access.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. What has happened to the old doctrine of “An Englishman’s home is his castle”? Has all that gone out of the way, with everything else?

My Lords, certainly not. This House and the other place are privileged to debate, as each power is asked for, whether it is right and whether it should be granted. Parliament has its say.

My Lords, can the Minister not answer the Question, or does she not know the answer? My noble friend Lord Trefgarne asked how many had been introduced by the Government. The Minister says that she does not know. Is that how the whole Government have been working for 10 years? Do they not know whether they are coming or going, or what Acts they are putting on the statute book?

My Lords, that is not the answer. The noble Earl will remember that, in 1980, when noble Lords opposite were in power, the Mitchell report looked at the issue and came up with 700 different powers. We have about 650, but that is not a complete list. You have to go through the legal database and see how many powers are extant and how many are not. That is why, in accordance with the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, we shall see whether there can be better synergy and whether we can do a little better. The noble Lord is right to raise the Question; I have a great deal of sympathy with him.

My Lords, although the need for powers of entry is clearly related to public safety, are the Government satisfied that the guarantee of privacy in the Human Rights Act 1998 provides an appropriate remedy for either inappropriate entry or one which is not proportionate to the object?

My Lords, these are proportionate measures. One of the advantages of the Human Rights Act is that each provision must be HRA compatible. With the energy with which this House scrutinises Bills, we can guarantee that that is the case.

My Lords, if there really are 650 people with a right of entry to any householder’s house, how is the householder to know which has a right and which does not?

My Lords, we are seeking to address that question. The figure for the past 10 years is about 105. As I said, in 1980, when noble Lords opposite were in power, it was about 700, so we have come down since then. The whole issue is that we have to rationalise whether each of these powers of entry is necessary and how it works. That is why we thought it would be a very good idea, when we undertake the PACE review, announced last summer, to look again at whether we can do that. That is what we intend to do; a consultation on that process is imminent.

My Lords, I have indicated that the consultation is imminent. If the noble Lord had asked his question a day later, I would perhaps have given him a fuller response.