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Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 2A:

The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 2A standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who has been unavoidably detained. This is a probing amendment relating to closure notices. Clause 1(4) provides details of what is contained in such a notice, on whom it must be served and its effect. The amendment seeks to clarify who can go into a property after a closure notice has been served in respect of it.

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Often, especially in cities, three people are interested in a house or flat: first, the person who habitually lives in it; secondly, the freehold owner; and, thirdly, an intermediate landlord, often with a long lease of 99 years. It is not clear from the clause as drafted whether the real landlord, the person with whom the tenant has a tenancy agreement and day-to-day dealings, will have the right of access to the premises when a closure notice is served. Surely, he or she ought to have that right.

My noble friend Lord Phillips and I are interested in what the Minister has to say. Is he able to clarify the matter? I beg to move.

Baroness O'Cathain: For clarification, will the provision also encompass the agent of the landlord? The noble Baroness has given a list of people who have the right to enter a property, but she has omitted the agent of the landlord.

Baroness Walmsley: We would like clarification on all those who have a financial interest in the property.

Lord Hylton: I support the general thrust of the amendment but from a housing management point of view. We all know that from time to time, or possibly regularly, some flats are used as crack houses or for distributing illegal drugs. It is most desirable that that use should be brought to an end, but one does not want the flat to be unusable for a long period. I hope that the Government have considered that and have in mind ways and means by which residential flats can be returned to that use with the minimum possible delay after the drugs, drug pushers and distributors have been removed.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have a charmingly brief note on this amendment and I hope it satisfies the noble Baroness. It states simply that the amendment is unnecessary as the owner is defined for the purposes of Part 1 in Clause 11. My reading of Clause 11 suggests that subsection (10) defines the owner of premises. I hope that that answers the point.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Phillips will study Clause 11(10) with great interest and return to the matter if he is not satisfied. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Closure order]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 3, line 3, at end insert "or"

The noble Lord said: The purposes of the amendments in this group are similar to those we discussed at the beginning of our proceedings. A magistrates' court may make a closure order only if three conditions are satisfied. This series of amendments is designed to probe whether that is appropriate and whether all three factors are essential. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 take away the need for all

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three conditions to be satisfied. That will streamline proceedings and allow action to be taken more easily in a situation which is fraught with difficulty. Unacceptable behaviour in public is a subjective issue and it is a problem. We therefore thought it would be useful if the Government were to explain why they believe all three conditions must be satisfied. If the Minister will answer that question, it may be that I shall be satisfied. I beg to move.

Lord Elton: We discussed this issue in the first group of amendments and I support this amendment for the same reason.

The Earl of Listowel: Will the Minister write to me when he writes to noble Lords who have previously spoken? Having listened to the debate, I am concerned about young people who are used to run drugs—13 and 14 year-olds who can make a lot of money that way—and the protections which exist to prevent that.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: This is a probing amendment, but it would undermine the test the court must use to issue a closing order. There are three tests, as the noble Lord said: first, the use, the production and the supply of class A drugs; secondly, the occurrence of disorder and serious nuisance; and, thirdly, the fact that the order is necessary to prevent further disorder. Amendments Nos. 3 and 5 would mean that the order could be issued if any one of those tests were passed. Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 would remove all but the drug-related tests.

We believe that these amendments would remove all the checks and balances created in the power to prevent a repeat of the problem with the extension of Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act. We are most focused on that concern. The potential effect could be that a person using Class A drugs could end up being made homeless which would be a far greater penalty than the approach undertaken through the Misuse of Drugs Act, which seeks to impose fines alone for simple possession and to encourage such persons into treatment. Homelessness for possession would cause them harm and cause, as I argued earlier, greater harm within the community. Those are the reasons why we feel that we need to resist the amendment. It is important that those tests are in place and that they are given careful consideration.

Lord Dixon-Smith: We are back in the business of levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. I hear what the Minister has said; one might easily express a different view and both opinions would be valid. For now I shall accept the opinion of the Government and study it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 6 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 7:

    Page 3, line 7, at end insert—

"( ) The making of the order will not seriously diminish the quality of life of any resident of the premises who the court is satisfied was not involved with the unlawful use, production or supply of a Class A controlled drug."

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The noble Lord said: We now come to a matter on which it may appear that I am switching to the other side of the fence. The great thing about working in Committee is, among other things, being able to test the intellectual integrity and strength of the Government's proposals.

The possible difficulty in closing premises relates to the definition of premises. If a house has multiple occupation, with people occupying individual rooms, and one occupier operates his room as a crack house, are the premises the room, the floor of the building, or the total building? We need to know the answer to that question. If "premises" means the individual's room and that is closed, that would be fine. No innocent third party would be involved and we could be clear that the closure is appropriate. If the floor of the building were to be closed, there might be half a dozen or 10 innocent parties who would be affected by the closure and if the building were closed the effect could be far worse.

There is a more delicate situation than that. What would happen if a person, a member of a family, operates one room of a house as a crack house and is so dominant over the members of the family that they can do nothing about it? The family could be living in a detached house. As the provision is worded it would be appropriate to close the house. One would then have a homeless family whose position would be seriously damaged. There are serious questions about whether, in that kind of circumstance, the closure would be appropriate.

We were moved to table this amendment to try to tease out the answers to those kinds of dilemmas. It is a serious issue because one has to be very sure when dealing with all these cases that one does not fortuitously and by accident seriously upset the lives of totally innocent parties who might otherwise be affected. I hope that the Minister will be able to make the position clearer so that we can be satisfied on that. I beg to move.

11.45 a.m.

Baroness Walmsley: I support the amendment, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and myself. I shall return to some of the issues that he raised under some later amendments standing in my name. My main concern under this amendment is children or elderly relatives or even spouses who may be quite innocent and ignorant of what has been going on and probably quite powerless to do anything about it. Clause 1(4)(b) allows access, but it is difficult to see how someone could remain in a property that is under a closure order. An elderly person, who is reliant upon care services, would be deprived of them because those not living in the premises are banned from entering. How could such people manage?

Naturally, those who commit these offences should be dealt with, but if the elderly person is caused to become homeless or to lose essential services, another way should be found to deal with the matter. So far I am not

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convinced that the Government have addressed how such innocent people should be dealt with. Perhaps the Minister can explain.

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