Clause 26 - Parliamentary scrutiny

Part of Civil Contingencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 10th February 2004.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 4:15 pm, 10th February 2004

In response to the hon. Member for Newark, I respectfully suggest that it is not the origin of the amendment that matters, but its merit. In that regard, I the Government may hope that the Committee will support later amendments—in a matter of minutes, in fact. Unfortunately, this amendment does not fall into that category, and the Government cannot support it. We resist its inclusion for several reasons.

The Government are sympathetic to the principle of wider consultation with representatives of key parties when emergency powers are to be used, but they do not believe that the amendment sets out the best way to go about that. The Committee will be aware of the long-standing convention that the Government should seek in times of serious emergency to build consensus across the political spectrum. The Prime Minister regularly briefs senior figures from all the major political parties on a Privy Council basis—most recently for the Iraq conflict. Those tried and tested procedures allow the Government to obtain the views of senior parliamentary figures in a flexible and efficient way, and that means can be tailored to the needs of the situation at hand. The amendment would not guarantee parliamentary oversight. Any Government seeking to use emergency powers for

anti-democratic reasons could simply cite the urgency caveat and dispense with the requirement in the amendment. The urgency caveat could be removed, but that would make the process inflexible, particularly for situations in which action is urgently needed, or in which it is impossible to consult the relevant Privy Councillors.

Ultimately, it seems most appropriate to rely on the clear requirements for parliamentary scrutiny in clauses 26 and 27, which provide for sensible, timely and well tested scrutiny. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.