Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Dalyell: There is the problem of the availability of people who are competent to deal with many of these complex matters. For example, if we consider the list of substances in the schedule, how many people are there who could make a judgment about Marburg virus or Variola virus and other complicated matters? Such people are few and far between. I have a terrible suspicion that it is one of those things that is easier said than done.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60

Power to require information about security of dangerous substances

Beverley Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 138, in page 29, line 30, leave out from "to" to end of line 32 and insert "—

(a) any dangerous substance kept or used in the premises; or
(b) the measures taken (whether by the occupier or any other person) to ensure the security of any such substance.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 32.

Beverley Hughes: Amendment No. 138 makes it explicit that, in their inquiries, the police will be able to require information relating to the substances themselves, not merely relating to the security measures taken with regard to those substances. That clarification is necessary because, although the police would not require a detailed knowledge of toxicology to carry out their duties, there might be circumstances in which different measures would be appropriate, so the police would need information about the actual substances.

In relation to amendment No. 32, the reference in clause 60 to "relevant premises" means places where dangerous substances are stored. However, to make the controls watertight, the provisions need to cover places where occupiers have notified their intention of keeping dangerous substances, or where they might keep such substances from time to time. The amendment gives clarification in that respect.

Amendment agreed to.

26 Nov 2001 : Column 729

Amendment made: No. 32, in page 29, line 41, at end add

'or in respect of which a notice under section 59 is in force'.—[Beverley Hughes.]

Clause 60, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 61 to 63 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 64

Denial of access to dangerous substances

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

Mr. Malins: I have a brief question for the Minister and a suggestion. Clause 64 gives the Secretary of State power to require that a specified person be denied access to dangerous substances or to the premises in which they are held, but the Secretary of State will be able to do so only where that is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety.

We think that there is a good argument for the Secretary of State to have power to forbid access to dangerous substances if they are likely to be used overseas—for example, in the United States—as well as in the UK. May I direct the Minister's attention to subsection 64(3) which states:

I suggest that the Minister's officials may like to consider with her whether it would be appropriate to broaden the provision slightly, perhaps by adding

I can see no practical harm in slightly widening the clause, with which we are otherwise in agreement.

Beverley Hughes: I need to take advice before I can give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer. I suspect—although I cannot be held to this—that the point may be covered by the definition of terrorism referred to earlier in that part of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make some inquiries, I shall write to him and clarify the position.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 64 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 65

Powers of entry

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

Mr. Malins: We recognise that this series of provisions is extremely important. As the Minister knows, they form a sort of package of new regulations that will require enforcement and attention. The various specialist organisations that deal with those substances should be made aware of the new requirements.

I have some questions about policing requirements as, in practice, they could prove difficult. Before I ask them, I draw the Committee's attention to the provisions on

26 Nov 2001 : Column 730

periods of notice in subsection (2). We are not clear whether in an emergency a period of notice of two days before the proposed entry would be satisfactory. Will the Minister comment on whether she could envisage circumstances in which there would be a need for much more rapid action?

In relation to powers of entry, a constable has to give notice under the provisions in the clause and can then enter "any relevant premises", so that clearly refers to the police.

It is true that under clause 65(5) the constable can

However, I wonder whether I can press the Minister a little further on this issue. We are dealing with some possibly very dangerous and specialised substances. Is not it the case that, as often as not, the military will accompany the constable? If so, are those in the military aware of that, and can the Minister confirm that they have sufficient specialised operatives to cover the matter?

7.30 pm

To return to the police themselves, under clause 65, on the powers of entry, and under other clauses a policeman's knowledge will have to be very specialised indeed. On entering a premises, he or she will have to react quickly in a specialised and very knowledgeable way, much more so than in the normal course of events when the police investigate crimes. First, can the Minister confirm, therefore, whether the police force has specialised groups equipped and trained to deal with such events? Secondly, if that is not the case, can she confirm whether, given the sensitive and important nature of such matters, the police will receive specialised training from now on?

I want to draw to the Minister's attention another point, which relates to the accompanying of the police by civilians. It is obviously important that clause 65(5) will allow the constable

However, I can envisage—can the Minister?—circumstances in which such a person will be drawn not from the military or the police but from the civilian world: he or she might be an expert chemist, or someone of that sort. This very important point relates to insurance. I do not want to stray from the subject, but I have come across circumstances in which a civilian, who was seconded by the military and was, to all intents and purposes, in the military domain, returned from the Gulf war with some very bad symptoms not covered under the usual military insurance umbrella.

I pause just to say that, in relation to clause 65, I envisage the possibility of the police having with them civilian experts whom they might call in to help to enter a premises and a diagnosis once on the premises. Can the Minister confirm—if not now, as soon as possible—whether the fullest insurance cover will exist in every case in relation to that civilian who accompanies the policeman as though that civilian were part of the police force? Those are my queries in relation to clause 65, which, as I say, is important. One or two of the matters that I raise with the Minister need a little more thought.

Mr. Gummer: I should like to turn to the two working days' notice and the interrelation between clause 65 and

26 Nov 2001 : Column 731

the legislation that governs the keeping of such materials. If in the normal course of events and irrespective of the Bill it came to the authorities' notice that there was a danger that such materials might be leaking into the atmosphere, no one would give notice of any sort. The authorities would intervene as quickly as possible to discover whether what appeared to be happening was happening and, if it were, to stop it. The suggestion that two days' notice should be given worries me significantly, not only because terrorism may be involved but because of the interrelation between the Bill and the legislation that covers such things in any other event.

If ever there were a situation in which the powers of entry ought to be stronger rather than weaker, this is it. As one who has criticised the Bill because it includes a series of provisions and powers that ought not to be included, it seems only right for me to tell the Minister that I hope clause 65(2) is contradicted elsewhere in the Bill, so that we do not get into that mess. If clause 65(2) is contradicted, perhaps it should include the phrase "two working days in normal circumstances". If such a contradiction exists, the provision should be changed so that it is not quite so obvious as it appears.

Next Section

IndexHome Page