HC Deb 21 June 1976 vol 913 cc353-6W
Mr. David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will list every different circumstance in which officials of his Department, and of all public bodies ultimately answerable to himself, have search and entry powers into either the homes or the business premises of British citizens, with in each case reference to the appropriate statutory authority for the exercise of such powers.

Mr. Benn

The information as it relates to the nationalised energy industries is as follow:

Electricity boards have powers to enter premises for the following purposes:

  1. (i) To ascertain the quantity of electricity supplied, to inspect their apparatus, or disconnect the supply (Section 24 of the Electric Lighting Act 1882).
  2. (ii) To instal a meter if required to do so by a consumer (Section 52 of the 354 Schedule to the Electric Lighting (Clauses) Act, 1889).
  3. (iii) To remove, test, inspect or replace a meter owned by a consumer (Section 54 ibid.).
  4. (iv) To remove, test, inspect or replace a meter owned by the board (Section 56 ibid.).

British Gas Corporation has power under Schedule 4 to the Gas Act 1972 to enter premises as follows:

  1. (i) Any authorised officer of the corporation may at all reasonable times enter any premises in which there is a service pipe connected with the gas mains of the corporation in order to inspect the meters, fittings and works for the supply of gas, or for the purpose of ascertaining the quantity of gas consumed or supplied. (Paragraph 24 of Schedule 4.)
  2. (ii) Where a supply of gas to premises is no longer required or has been cut off, an authorised officer, after giving 24 hours' notice, may enter premises at all reasonable times for the purpose of removing any pipes, meters, fittings or apparatus through which gas supply was given to the premises. (Paragraph 25(1) of Schedule 4.)
  3. (iii) Where the corporation has reasonable cause to suspect that gas is escaping, or may escape, in any premises, or has escaped and entered any premises, an authorised officer may enter the premises in order to carry out any work necessary to avert danger to life and property. (Paragraph 25(3) of Schedule 4.)

For both gas and electricity these rights are restricted by the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act 1954, under which, except in an emergency, no right of entry is exercisable except with consent given by or on behalf of the occupier; or under authority of a warrant granted under Section 2 of the Act by a magistrate.

United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

Any person authorised by the Secretary of State—on production of an authenticated document of authority—may enter any premises where he has reasonable grounds for believing that work is being carried out for the purposes of, or in connection with, the production or use of atomic energy, or research in connection with it; or that there are any of the prescribed substances on the premises—uranium, thorium, plutonium, neptunion, or their compounds, or anything else the Secretary of State prescribes as a substance usable for atomic energy; or that there are any minerals from which such substances can be obtained; or that there is any plant there designed or adapted for the production or use of atomic energy or for research into it. Having entered, he may inspect the premises or any articles there; copy drawings etc., or remove them, subject to returning them within seven days. No magistrate's warrant is needed, and no notice of intention to enter, etc. (Section 5(1) of the Atomic Energy Act 1946).

The National Coal Board have the following powers in relation to the working of opencast coal and to carry out remedial measures in connection with possible damage to land due to mining subsidence.

  1. (a) Power of entry on the land for the purpose of facilitating the working of coal by opencast operations following the confirmation of a compulsory rights order made under Section 4 of the Opencast Coal Act 1958. A compulsory rights order cannot be made in respect of a building the whole or part of which is occupied as a dwelling house, nor in respect of certain land within 50 yards of such a building or, in certain circumstances, land which has been taken for opencast purposes under emergency powers—Section 9 of the Act. Compensation is payable in respect of entry into land and damage caused.
  2. (b) Power of entry on to land for the purpose of prospecting for coal workable by opencast methods following a direction that land be so prospected given by the Secretary of State for Energy under Section 39 of the Opencast Coal Act 1958. Compensation is payable in respect of any damage caused as a result of such entry. The power does not extend to any land covered by a building. It is an offence to obstruct a person acting in accordance with a direction.
  3. (c)Powers to survey and enter any land to carry out remedial measures in connection with possible mining subsidence damage to land which could give rise to drainage problems
as are conferred on the appropriate drainage authority by the enactments relating to land drainage".—Section 5(6) of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957.

(d) Power to enter upon, inspect and execute work on premises for the purpose of any of the provisions of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957—other than in respect of damage affecting land drainage—conferred by a magistrates' court or, in Scotland, the sheriff. Section 13(9) of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957.

Oil Refineries

Section 37(2) of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipelines Act 1975 contains a right for an inspector appointed to assist in the execution of the refinery controls to enter on land for the purpose of inspecting an oil refinery either existing or under construction.

Submarine Pipelines

Under Section 27(2) of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipelines Act 1975 the Secretary of State may make regulations with respecet to the powers or duties of inspectors appointed by him, including powers to enter premises, etc., used in connection with submarine pipelines. Under Section 27(3) of the Act regulations may be made enabling public enquiries into accidents concerning pipelines. Such regulations may include powers of entry and inspections.

Energy Emergencies

Section 5(2) of the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Act 1973 applies for the purposes of that Act Schedule 1 to the Emergency Laws (Re-enactments and Repeals) Act 1964. This provides that where there is reason to suspect that documents relating to an undertaking, required to be produced for the purposes of the Act but not in fact produced, are on any premises, a magistrate may issue a warrant empowering a constable and any other named person to enter the premises to search for the documents.