HC Deb 02 December 1953 vol 521 cc1164-5

3.39 p.m.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the exercise of statutory rights of entry by or on behalf of Gas Boards and Electricity Boards, and for purposes connected with the matter aforesaid. This Bill which I am seeking the permission of the House to introduce is on one very simple point. It seeks to regulate the exercise of statutory powers of entry by Gas and Electricity Boards. It provides that, except in cases of emergency, forcible entry shall only be exercised by the Boards after a warrant has been obtained from a justice of the peace, and signed, after sworn information has been given in writing.

Incidentally, this procedure was embodied in the Water Act, 1945, and if the Bill which I am introducing becomes law, the procedure set out in it will provide adequate safeguards both for the public and for the officials of the Boards themselves. I think it will be generally agreed that it is wise that no one should have powers of entry in excess of the powers already held by the police.

It may be within the recollection of the House that, in 1951, an official of the Eastern Gas Board made a forcible entry into a private house. The official first of all produced an authorisation document from the Eastern Gas Board to a neighbour of the owner of the house into which he intended to make the forcible entry. That, in itself, I think the House will agree, is not a very satisfactory way of proceeding. The premises were unoccupied, and when, in due course, the owner of the property returned, he took proceedings against the Eastern Gas Board, claiming that their officer had illegally entered his property.

He lost the case in the court of summary jurisdiction and again lost when he proceeded to appeal. Subsequently, the North Thames Gas Consultative Council considered the implications of the legal actions against the Eastern Gas Board, and decided to make a recommendation to the Minister of Fuel and Power that the Gas Act—and it follows, of course, the Electricity Act—of 1948, should be amended in the way outlined in the Bill which I am now seeking permission to introduce, and which I commend to the House. The recommendation of the North Thames Gas Consultative Council to the Minister has received, I understand, favourable consideration.

I always like to pay tribute to anyone who stimulates me to take action, and I should like to say that I took an interest in the recommendation of the North Thames Gas Consultative Council because the "Star" wrote a very interesting leader on this whole question. A very considerable consumers' machinery having been set up, I feel that when a consumers' council makes a practical suggestion to a Minister, it is in the interests of the public that practical recommendations should receive legislative action. I therefore followed up the recommendation of the North Thomas Gas Consultative Council, and had my Bill drafted.

I hope that the Minister of Fuel and Power feels that it is an acceptable Bill. I have also consulted the Opposition, and, although I always think that it is very unwise ever to prophesy about anything in political life, I am hoping that, as the Bill is practical, I shall be permitted by the House to introduce it today.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Ward, Sir Fergus Graham, Viscount Lambton, Mr. Palmer, Mr. Speir and Mr. P. Williams.