Clause 10 - Orders

Armed Forces – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 24th February 2004.

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Amendment made: No. 14, in

clause 10, page 3, line 33, at end insert—

'( ) An order under this Act may make different provision for different purposes.'.—[Mr. Caplin.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

I should like briefly to introduce clause 10, which establishes how the Secretary of State's enabling powers will be used to support secondary legislation—in other words, through the statutory instrument process. That process is consistent with other public service schemes and provides a greater degree of parliamentary scrutiny than is available under the current pension arrangements for the armed forces. I consider the best approach to be one of

practical balance of parliamentary scrutiny and the need for regular updating of obscure rules—we discussed those at length under clause 1. I believe that the alternative approach that would, for example, demand more parliamentary time, would be more likely to result in delaying the improvements that we want to introduce.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 10:45 am, 24th February 2004

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation and for his ritual protestation that the scrutiny of the new arrangements proposed under the Bill will be more extensive than that under the current arrangements. I take that point entirely on board. However, I do not think that he dealt with amendment No. 14, and it would be helpful if the Minister could give some indication of what he had in mind in that amendment. It is yet another sweeping generality; that is a characteristic quality of the Bill, on which I might have more to say later.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

For a moment, I thought that I was in a parallel universe. I recall that we debated amendment No. 14 under, I think, clause 1. I am sure—I will go through Hansard in a moment—that I put the details requested by the hon. Gentleman on the record at that time.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

We will all have enjoyable lunchtime reading to remind ourselves of the events that took place at the outset of the Committee, which was a full two weeks ago. We will be able to refresh our memories.

The substance of the matter goes to the heart of some of our complaints. The Minister has said that a greater degree of transparency and of scrutiny will be made available to Parliament than has hitherto been the case. Nevertheless, he knows that there is widespread concern that everything is being done by secondary legislation and that very little is on the face of the Bill.

Subsection (5) states, quite rightly, that an affirmative resolution is required in the House for anything that

''adds to, replaces or omits any part of the text of an Act'' and that a draft of the instrument has to be laid and approved by an affirmative resolution of the House. However, so little is explicit in the Bill and the powers granted to the Secretary of State are so extensive that it is hard to imagine any textual amendment that might be required that would give rise to an affirmative procedure. We really need to consider subsection (4), which states:

''A statutory instrument containing an order under this Act is to be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.''

In other words, it will be subject to the negative procedure. I am at one with the Minister that such detailed legislation cannot be encompassed in every detail on the face of the Bill, but we are disappointed that no cardinal points are included. The clause illustrates the practicalities of what will happen when

the Government finally table in an appropriate legislative form the detailed schemes that they have already provided in the form of the framework documents.

It is disappointing that we could not have had some cardinal points enshrined in the Bill and that those cardinal points could not be subject to the affirmative procedure. Something as fundamental as the early departure scheme, which we will discuss later on, should have been on the face of the Bill, along with a number of key points, the variation of which is regarded by many of us as a material issue.

Even at this late stage, the Government would be well advised to think about how they might address that issue when the Bill comes before the other place. In the other place are the serried ranks of gentleman whose rank exceeds that even of the Minister himself. They have huge experience and are unconstrained by obeisance to him—they have left the services, gone to the other place and are now completely free agents. I suggest to him that, in anticipation of what might happen at the other end of the Corridor, the MOD might consider drawing up some of the cardinal points—I would not call them the immutables—that could be subject to change in due course, but, ideally, only after proper debate in the House under the affirmative resolution procedure. If he does not do that, I fear that the serried ranks of generals, air marshals and admirals might get to work on the proposals and say that they want further protection, notwithstanding the fact that such protection has not been available in the past.

The Bill is new, the Government are proposing a new scheme and we face a new beginning. That is why they would be well advised to take the position that I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 11 and 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.