Arms Control and Disarmament (Inspections) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 28th October 2003.
This clause raises in some ways the most important issue in the Bill. It empowers Governments to make future changes to the Act by statutory instrument, rather than by bringing them before the House. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire said that, on this occasion, we would not oppose such a move, he made it clear that it was stretching our good will, as we regard such procedures as inadvisable. I fully appreciate that future changes to the treaty may prove necessary, and that they will in turn have to be incorporated into UK law. However, the passage of the Bill has not yet detained either House for very long, so bringing future changes before the House would not exactly overburden us.
We seek again a clear and unequivocal reassurance from the Government that they will not cite the Bill's exception to the rule that treaty matters are for primary legislation as a precedent for future modifications to other treaties. As my hon. Friend said, we remain convinced that primary legislation is the correct way to deal with treaties and I hope that the Minister will unequivocally state that that is his view, too.
This debate is a re-run of the points that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire raised on Second Reading. Statutory instruments must be used to allow small changes to technical rules to apply to inspection regimes in the UK. I do not think that many members of the Committee or hon. Members in the House at large believe that primary legislation would be needed each time such changes were required. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has confirmed that it considers that level of delegation of control to be appropriate. As the clause sets out, the power to allow future amendments to the Act to be made by Order in Council rather than by primary legislation will be limited to amendments relating to inspections only.
I assure the Committee that the so-called Ponsonby rule, under which the House will be informed 21 days in advance of any proposed statutory instrument measures, will apply. We do not want to sneak through ratification or introduce anything that the House cannot properly consider.
In all honesty, I cannot definitively say what this or any future Government's position will be on
international treaties when they are transposed into domestic law, whether by primary or secondary legislation. However, I give the Committee my assurance that the secondary legislation that may be necessary to give effect to changes to the Act will be limited to amendments relating to inspections only.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.