Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Bid to scrap right of entry laws

Honey bee on yellow flower
Follow that bee: Ancient right of entry laws could still be in force

"You can't touch me, I followed a bee in here."

It may sound like a Monty Python sketch - but an ancient law allowing people on private land without a warrant if they are following a bee might still apply.

The law, aimed at protecting honey supplies, is one of 1,208 powers of entry in dozens of different Acts of Parliament unearthed by a Tory peer.

Lord Selsdon recently launched a fresh bid to curb wide-ranging powers for officials to enter private homes.

He called for a code of practice to put strict limits on entry powers for all cases except those involving suspected serious crime or terrorism.

Introducing his Powers of Entry Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Selsdon said he had been pursuing the issue for more than 30 years but was not going to let it drop as "it has got into my blood".

Foreign bees

He told peers the problem was that no one knew exactly how many powers of entry there were.

"Worse than that, the householder has no idea either. The householder feels more and more insecure. He fears the knock on the door."

If you find a bee taking pollen in your garden or on your land, it is, of course, taking raw material from your land
Lord Selsdon

Researchers working for the peer and the home office found there were 1,208 powers of entry, in 295 acts and 286 statutory instruments, which do not have to be debated in Parliament.

They include dozens of recent laws covering everything from anti-terror, environmental and consumer protection and anti-social behaviour.

Older pieces of legislation with powers of entry include the 1950 Distribution of Germany Enemy Property Order and the 1952 Hypnotism Act, according to Lord Selsdon's research.

But some modern legislation, such as the 1980 Bees Act, is based on laws dating back to Roman and Norman times.

Lord Selsdon said the right of Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs officials to enter private land under the Bees Act was important to allow them to check for potentially dangerous diseases.

But he said it might also still include a Roman law on following bees - something he said he was first alerted to when he took part in a Noah's Ark project to transport bees to the Falkland Islands.

'Inflexible'

He told peers: "The fun in the Bees Act is that it gives rights that still possibly apply.

"If you find a bee taking pollen in your garden or on your land, it is, of course, taking raw material from your land...if you follow that bee and keep it in sight, you may go onto any other person's land, without permission or court order, and when you find its nest you may take a share of the honey because the raw material came from you.

"This probably no longer applies, but it is one of the ingredients in the history of all these powers of entry that may cause concern."

Under Lord Selsdon's Bill, entry would have to be authorised by a judge or magistrate and the householder would have to agree to it.

A maximum of four officials would be allowed in, only between 0800 and 1800 on Mondays to Fridays, or between 0800 and 1300 on a Saturday.

Government spokesman Lord Brett said it was too "inflexible", although ministers recognised there were "difficulties" with the current system that needed to be addressed.

The Bill was given an unopposed second reading in the Lords but without government support is unlikely to become law, but Lord Selsdon told BBC News he was confident a future government would take the necessary action.



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