Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dixon-Smith: We are not quite finished yet, I am afraid. The noble Baroness has not dealt with my secondary complaint that the Bill deals, in similar terminology, with both extension and discharge in one clause. I inquired whether the Government might consider it better, for the sake of clarity, to separate the two issues. In general, I am not in favour of adding words to a Bill. However, as the Bill is presently worded, it needs reading with considerable care

11 Sept 2003 : Column 461

otherwise you will end up in a state of confusion. I certainly did on the first two or three occasions on which I read it and I felt moved to complain about it.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I empathise with the noble Lord but I did not share that disability. But then, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, would say, we lawyers are extremely peculiar.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am tongue-tied at such a confession. However, returning to the substance of the amendment, I, too, am somewhat surprised that it should have provoked such an intense debate. It has been helpful. I shall certainly not attempt to sum up the debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. We shall need to think with some care about the wording of the clause at later stages of the Bill. Trying to do so in Committee is not a useful way of spending time and, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Hylton: Subsection (10) appears to be a statement of the blindingly obvious. Perhaps the noble Baroness will care to reflect on whether it is really necessary.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am certainly happy to reflect. Whether my reflections will result in any change, I cannot promise the noble Lord.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Reimbursement of costs]:

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 17:

    Page 6, line 31, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 17, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 18 to 21, which are grouped with it.

Amendment No. 17 has been tabled in order to tease out what Clause 8(4) really means. It looks to me like a whole lot of buck passing. If the police authority wants an order it must serve it on the local authority, and if the local authority wants an order it must serve it on the police authority, and, in any case, it must be served on the owner of the premises. What happens if the owner is in Australia and knows nothing about what is going on?

The point is relevant also to Amendment No. 19, which relates to Clause 10. This clause allows an owner to claim compensation for loss. But he has to satisfy a number of requirements, one of which is that he took reasonable steps to prevent use. This presumes that the owner was aware of the use. It is perfectly possible that the owner had no idea of the use to which the premises were being put, especially if he lives overseas. It would be much fairer if the requirement to take reasonable

11 Sept 2003 : Column 462

steps was coupled with knowledge of the use being made of the property. That is what Amendment No. 19 seeks to do.

Amendment No. 18, which is tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and myself, seeks to insert the word "negligent" into Clause 9 so as to avoid exempting police officers for liability for damage caused through negligence. Naturally there is likely to be damage done when entering property and it is right that individual officers are exempt from damages when acting in accordance with their duty and their orders. However, where there is negligence while performing a public duty is another matter. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will have more to say about the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are probing amendments to give the Government the opportunity to clarify for the Committee what happens to the common areas in a property in multiple occupancy. It is also not clear how subsection (10) would apply to a property of a local authority, such as a leisure centre or a youth club. Can the Minister clarify this? I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My name is attached to Amendment No. 18. I hope that the noble Baroness will not be disappointed if I do not add very much to what she said. The question of negligence should be included at this point. I am all for giving immunity to people acting in the line of duty when occasionally things go wrong, but the community, through those who give the orders, has some responsibility in certain circumstances. That is the reason for the amendment.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope that I shall be able to assist in this matter. As to Amendment No. 17, the whole point of the clause being so phrased is to ensure that there is not a multiplicity of claims in relation to costs and that each of the parties who may have an interest know what the others are doing.

Amendment No. 17 would have the effect that the police, the local authority and the owners of premises would receive no notice of, or information about, applications for the recovery of costs. If a claim for costs is made, for example, by the police, it is only right that the local authority and the owner should be informed so that they can make appropriate representations to the court and would avoid the possibility of multiple applications for costs being made. So everyone will know what is going to happen.

Amendment No. 18, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has also attached his name, concerns the exemption of the police from claims for damages arising from the pursuit of their duty. We have put into the Bill provisions similar to those in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. The terms of the clause mirror those that apply to the closure of licensed premises in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. That Act appears to have worked well. It appears to strike the right balance and we see no need to depart from it. It is a well understood, well appreciated principle. The police appear to have acted with perfect propriety in the discharge of their duties and the courts

11 Sept 2003 : Column 463

have been able to deal with the circumstances where that has not been the case. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will be reassured by the fact that we are not doing anything new.

The effect of Amendment No. 19 would be to include a requirement that the owner of the premises must have had knowledge of the use of the premises before being eligible for compensation. We have considered the matter carefully and we do not believe that this would be desirable. The clause as drafted already provides that compensation will be available in appropriate cases.

The noble Baroness is aware that one of the difficulties that we have concerns owners of properties who have abandoned them and do not take any interest in them at all. It would be unfortunate if owners who fell within that category and had been quite neglectful could subsequently say they should be compensated. The provision is carefully drafted; we think that the appropriate cases could be compensated as the Bill stands.

We have considered Amendment No. 20 and believe it to be unnecessary. We have attempted to ensure, within the power, that where there is a need for access to a public space or, indeed, another premises, that will not be affected by the closure order. It has been left at the discretion of the courts to order access. In Clause 2(8) and Clause 7 there is scope to exclude common areas from the scope of the notice where, for example, access is required. A blanket exemption from such spaces is, however, undesirable, as in some cases, in order to provide the necessary relief for the community, communal areas will need to be closed. That is the balance we have tried to strike.

As the noble Baroness indicated, Amendment No. 21 would remove the definition of an owner of premises from this part of the Bill. The definition is essential to the proper operation of Part 1 as it defines who is liable for damages, compensation, to access the premises and has the ability to appeal to the courts. The definition here includes the landlord where there is a lease of over three years and the freeholder in all other cases. I hope that with those explanations, noble Lords would feel content, and that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would not seek to press their amendments beyond today.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for her answer. On Amendment No. 18, is she saying that where there has been negligence in the performance of a police officer's duty, the courts have already found that they have sufficient powers to deal with it? That is what I assume she meant and that therefore the word "negligent" is unnecessary.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Negligence is not currently included in the way in which the courts have addressed this. They have accepted that where an officer behaves with propriety, those acts should not be capable of damages or complaint. The more restrictive framework that we have here has seemed to suffice. The noble Baroness is right that public

11 Sept 2003 : Column 464

authority and public servants should make every effort to behave with propriety and do as little damage as they can.

Negligence is a very wide concept. It would be very difficult in relation to these matters because we would not want unnecessary complaints being made by people who say, "This was not a necessary damage; you could have done it another way, and because of this you have been negligent". In addition, we do not want the police to be so anxious about the improper use of the broad issue of what is reasonable and what is negligent that they do not use this power for fear of claims being made against them.

The current rules appear to constrain behaviour so that propriety is adopted but do not allow those who wish to take adventitious advantage improperly of an opportunity to say that the police had been negligent to do so. We think that these provisions suffice to do the sort of things I am sure the noble Baroness would wish to be done, but it does not fall within the negligence issue.

1.15 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for her reply. I am very sympathetic to the practical application of what she has said about police officers in the operation of their duty. However, I am still not clear about something, and perhaps she could write to me to save time. What would happen if there was clear negligence? She does not appear to have answered that question.

On Amendment No. 19 and the issue of the absent landlord, I have some sympathy with what the Minister said. However, this is meant to be a piece of legislation that lays down under what circumstances people can claim compensation; it is not meant to be a judgment on how good a landlord somebody is. We all have an abhorrence of what negligent landlords do but that is not what the Bill is intended to address. Therefore, I still think it is a little unreasonable. However, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page