Clause 27 - Parliamentary scrutiny: prorogation and adjournment

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

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

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I am curious whether clause 27 will not be out of date before it comes into force. When I looked at the red Annunciator screen earlier, it told me that the Lords Chairman was on the Woolsack, yet subsection (4) refers to the Lord Chancellor. I assume that that refers to the person who is the Speaker of the House of Lords. Can clause 27 stand?

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

I have a brief question. Clause 27(2) states:

''If when emergency regulations are made under section 19 the House of Commons stands adjourned to a day after the end of the period of five days''.

If there is an emergency, would not it be wiser to have a period of less than five days, as we will need to move extraordinarily quickly? Might not 48 hours be more suitable?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 4:30 pm, 10th February 2004

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Newark, it strikes me that a substantial part of what will be section 27 should also be incorporated in the Standing Orders of the House in the interests of completeness and clarity. That is where the proposal properly belongs; however, it should at least be cross-referenced.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I feel drawn to try to answer the charge laid at my door by the hon. Members for Newark and for Orkney and Shetland before I respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam. Hon. Members could raise many concerns, but it is not reasonable to say that we failed to consult on this measure. We published a draft Bill in July; there was then a period of public consultation that lasted 10 weeks, until 11 September. After that, we moved on to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee. With colleagues from Scotland, we are well versed in pre-legislative scrutiny, but it is not a process that has a long track record at Westminster. Those of us who were involved in it are, however, minded to view it as an exemplar of how effective it

can be. If it leaves the Minister with fewer sausages for the Committee stage, given the degree to which one has been able to anticipate its appetite, so be it.

The idea that there was once merit in introducing vast numbers of amendments in Committee or in the other place, as distinct from getting the Bill right in the first place as a result of effective pre-legislative scrutiny or drafting, may simply reflect the need for us all to update our thinking on when is the appropriate stage for amendments, concessions or points of clarity.

Notwithstanding all that, we continue to be open to points made in Committee. As evidence of that, I will respond to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam, who raised a reasonable point, not least given the appearance of one of my distinguished ministerial colleagues on ''Newsnight'' last night to discuss the role of the supreme court and the Lord Chancellor. If those reforms find full expression, it will be necessary for us to revisit the position in respect of the Lord Chancellor. The reference to the Lord Chancellor as Speaker of the House of Lords may need to be changed following future constitutional developments. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which I accept.

The hon. Member for Newark mentioned the time scale. Five days reflects the time scale set in the 1920 Act, which was the precedent for the Government's proposal. In the spirit of open discussion and candour that we have established, at least on this clause, I will be happy to consider the hon. Gentleman's point.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.