MPs to preserve EHOs' powers of entry
MPs have rejected proposals put forward by the House of Lords that could restrict council officers’ ability to gain access to private homes or businesses in the event of a public health emergency.
The CIEH called on MPs to overturn amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill that would prevent officers including EHOs from gaining entry to premises unless they have the owner’s permission or a warrant. Amendments to the bill are being considered by Parliament before it receives Royal Assent.
Arguing against the amendments at a House of Commons debate, Home Office minister James Brokenshire said: ‘We all agree that powers of entry, particularly as they relate to peoples’ homes, should be subject to proper safeguards, but we believe that the blanket approach taken by the amendments is misconceived and, as such, could hamper legitimate enforcement activities and put lives at risk.’
Mr Brokenshire added that one of the amendments would ‘simply create confusion and uncertainty’ as it would lay councils open to legal challenges.
Despite being rejected by the Commons, the amendments were supported by some MPs. Mr Brokenshire said that a review of all powers of entry would be completed within two years of the bill receiving Royal Assent.
In a briefing sent to members of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Environmental Health ahead of the debate, CIEH head of policy David Kidney said current powers of entry exercised by EHOs were ‘proportionate to the risks to human health’ and that there were already ‘reasonable’ safeguards in place to prevent misuse of those powers.
He said: ‘The CIEH supports the overturning of the Lords amendments because of the unintended adverse consequences in terms of public protection.
‘It would be worrying to contemplate an inability to gain entry immediately in a case of a serious health threat during an outbreak of a deadly communicable disease, a case of pollution of drinking water, or a case of leaking gas or carbon monoxide in a flat within a block of flats.’
The Parliamentary group is chaired by Labour MP Joan Walley, who is also a CIEH vice president.
The briefing also contained a number of real-life examples of where EHOs use their powers of entry to protect the public.
These included responding to noise nuisances, pest complaints and dealing with rotten trees that pose a risk from falling. It also pointed to a potential growth in the number of people operating catering businesses from home that may fail to meet food hygiene and storage requirements.
In each case a separate piece of legislation grants EHOs powers of entry.
• CIEH briefing