Clause 26 - Parliamentary scrutiny

Part of Civil Contingencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 10th February 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark 3:45 pm, 10th February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 113, in

clause 26, page 17, line 18, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

'(a) these regulations shall be put to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament consisting of members of the Privy Council chosen to reflect the political balance of the House of Commons (to be known as the Emergency Powers Committee), before their acceptance, to provide an initial parliamentary check.

(aa) a senior Minister of the Crown shall then, as soon as is reasonably practicable, lay the regulations before Parliament, provided that he believes on reasonable grounds that he has used his best endeavours to consult the Emergency Powers Committee.

(ab) a senior Minister of the Crown may dispense with the requirements of paragraph (a) above if he thinks it is necessary to do so by reason of urgency.'

The amendment would replace the phrase in subsection (1)(a)

''a senior Minister . . . shall as soon as is reasonably practicable lay the regulations before Parliament''

with the phrase

''these regulations shall be put to a Joint Committee of both Houses''—

hereinafter referred to as the emergency powers committee—

''consisting of members of the Privy Council . . . to reflect''

the membership of the House of Commons

''before their acceptance, to provide an initial parliamentary check.''

It is clear that if a traumatic disaster of the sort that we are trying to legislate for overcomes the country, speed will be extremely important. We understand from the Minister and from the way in which the regulations have been articulated that speed is crucial.

The purpose of trying to establish an emergency powers committee is that proposed ministerial regulations could be investigated quickly and, when necessary, the committee could act as a proxy for Parliament. That should provide a quick but effective check in the hands not of a senior Minister, but of a picked number of extremely experienced, thoughtful and practical people who, if the Government nominate them beforehand, train them and give them due warning, could act as a most useful democratic check in such circumstances.

It is particularly useful to see what happens in the United States, albeit that its constitution is completely different from ours. Had such a committee been available to Mr. Bush in the aftermath of the attacks on 11 September, he would have found its advice and the necessary checks and balances imposed by such a committee extremely useful. That is why we have come up with this concept—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—