Clause 46 - Closure of noisy premises: supplemental

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 20 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I can be brief on this matter. It seems to me that clause 46 follows on from clause 45-[Laughter.] Perhaps that was a statement of the obvious. It not only follows numerically but makes common sense of clause 45.

I have a query about the use of environmental health officers. Subsection (2) allows the chief executive to authorise an EHO to exercise any power or duty under clause 45(1). That is sensible, but will the Minister tell the Committee whether guidance will be issued as to the seniority of the EHOs who may be used? In small councils, someone who is newly employed and relatively young can be a junior member of an environmental health department. One would not want to see junior local government officers put in a position where those organising noisy events might put them under threat.

We heard in the previous debate how events can get rowdy and out of hand. Does the Minister propose that guidance should be given so that junior members of staff cannot be landed in difficulties? I am sure that any responsible chief executive would not want that to happen. Nothing in the Bill addresses that matter. If the Minister is not able to issue guidance, perhaps he will state clearly for the record, so that it can be understood by people who read the account of our proceedings, that the chief executive should delegate only to somebody quite senior.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge 3:45, 20 Mai 2003

I want to raise a couple of points. One matter that the Minister touched on worries me a little. Someone who is attempting to close down one of those events must, I imagine, have some form of police assistance. The event may be late at night, alcohol may have been consumed and tempers may be raised. That is apart from the obvious problem, which I shall not pursue, that at that time of night the police are often stretched and feel that they cannot provide sufficient numbers to cover a possible breach of the peace. Such instances sometimes occur when illegal encampments of travellers are to be moved on, and the police say that to do that they need more staff than they have.

Then there is the issue of economics. Resources might have to be bought in from neighbouring forces. I am concerned that there might be a problem in that, if the powers existed, a local authority could ask for closure, but could be told that there was insufficient police cover for it to proceed. I do not know how we can address that issue; but I thought that I should raise it. Perhaps some guidance can go out to police forces. Just to bring my constituency into it-in case anyone has forgotten it-Uxbridge often suffers because if incidents occur towards the centre of London, officers are moved off our division and further in. If anything then crops up, they are short staffed. However brilliant he is, I do not think that the Minister is able to resolve that, but I thought that I should highlight the problem.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is good to see that the ex-Whips mutual appreciation society continues. The issue raised by the hon. Gentleman-the appropriate delegation of the powers-ties in with that mentioned by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. I thought that we had covered the position: rather than giving powers that can be exercised by all environmental health officers, the Bill allows chief executives to delegate, in the hope that such executives will delegate to appropriate people who are able to make judgments about when they are able to act alone and when they need the support of police officers. Therefore, we had not intended to issue guidance. I shall think further about whether it is necessary. I am stepping on dangerous ground: the idea that my chief executive might be out at 2 o'clock in the morning enforcing such orders herself suggests that she does need guidance to be able to decide who should do it on her behalf. It is a serious issue, and I shall give it some thought.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.