Clause 5 - Funding for pension purposes

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 25th February 2003.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 3:15 pm, 25th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in

clause 5, page 3, line 12, at end insert 'reasonably'.

My amendment is designed to do something straightforward. It would alter new section 10(1A) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. New Subsection (1A) currently states:

''The Board shall submit to the Secretary of State such other information relating to the estimates submitted under subsection (1) as he may require.''

We have been round this course before—it is a hoary old argument, but I make no apologies for raising it in this Committee, as I have raised it many times before. I know the lawyer's argument, but that has never satisfied me in the past, and I suspect that it will not do so this time. I do not like legislation that states that the Secretary of State ''may require'' something. I do not like it in principle, whether or not it is couched in the way that I want.

We come back to the point about government by dictatorship. The Secretary of State can say this, that or the other, with no recourse to Parliament and no democratic debate, about what he shall require. I fully accept that issues have been resolved in that way by Governments of all political persuasions, so on this occasion, I am chastising not a dreadful Labour Government, but all Governments.

It is reasonable to insert the word ''reasonably''. If we are to give the Secretary of State powers, he should use them in a reasonable way. That is all that the amendment is designed to achieve. I do not see any difficulty about that. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that the Secretary of State is a reasonable person and will always behave reasonably. If that is true, why not include the word in the clause?

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is trying to be reasonable, as he assures us he always is, but the word ''reasonably'' would be superfluous in the provision. Not only is the current Secretary of State reasonable, but we would contend that all Secretaries of State are reasonable. If the Secretary of State made an unreasonable request, he would be subject to judicial review, whether or not the word ''reasonably'' appeared in the legislation. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

My prediction was correct. I have heard that argument before, it has never satisfied me in the past, and it does not satisfy me now. If the contention is that the current Secretary of State and all future Secretaries of State will behave reasonably, what is wrong with saying so? I do not think that in the past I have ever persuaded anyone that they should take that argument on board, but at least I am consistent—consistently wrong. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.