HC Deb 18 May 1988 vol 133 cc1010-2
Mr. Atkins

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 9, line 39 after 'make', insert— '(a)'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 16.

Mr. Atkins

Although we are dealing only with amendments Nos. 15 and 16, those amendments, together with amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 20 are consequential on the detailed investigations that have been carried out by my officials to ensure that no necessary provisions have been overlooked in terms of maintaining the status quo when the changes take place. Therefore, they are technical amendments.

The small extension to clause 16(2)—provided in amendments Nos. 15 and 16—seeks to ensure that the subsection provides a comprehensive safeguard, in case we have omitted or overlooked some necessary provisions in relation to one of the very many pieces of subordinate legislation that affect the corporation.

Mr. Gould

The Minister spoke, in effect, to all five of the Government amendments. He will want to move the second group formally when the time comes, but I can say straight away that we do not have a problem with that. However, there is a small question mark in our minds about the first group of amendments.

The addition to clause 16 seems a widely drawn provision. For that reason, I should like to ask the Minister what precedents there are for such a provision.

For example, I notice that in clause 83 of the Airports Act 1986, which is often prayed in aid by the Government as establishing the precedent for various provisions in the Bill, follows more or less the structure of clause 16 and that there is no equivalent provision to the addition that is proposed in the Government amendments. Perhaps the Minister owes us a slight explanation of why the amendment is required, given that, as I have said, it is drafted so widely.

We should also like to know the limitations on the ability that the Secretary of State would be given by that provision. For example, does the Secretary of State's ability extend to the ability to amend primary legislation or is the omission of any reference to that point deliberate? What is the time limit? One assumes that the purpose of the provision is to provide for the possibility of exercising that power after the appointed day—and that power goes on for ever. It is certainly true that the provision, as drafted, speaks in terms of saving or transitional amendments. However, that may not be a substantial safeguard against what appears to be a widely drawn power.

Therefore, while we do not believe that any great issue of principle is at stake, we should like a slightly fuller explanation of why the additional provision was thought necessary.

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman has asked several specific questions. At this juncture, I can only tell him that this follows the precedent of a number of other Acts. I shall endeavour to find out the detail of all the Acts to which he refers, but, as he will understand, there are probably many.

Mr. Maxton

That means, "Wait and see."

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) makes a sedentary intervention. He should recognise the amount of technical work done by officials to review all the possible loopholes. He is making suggestions, conveniently while he is not in a position to know exactly what his hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham ( Mr. Gould) is asking, let alone what I am about to reply. That does not help us to get to the point.

The simple answer to the question is that this provision follows the precedent of other Acts. My officials have spent considerable time combing through all the legislation on which orders are made and which protects the position—

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

It is coming—the information is coming.

Mr. Atkins

Yes, all the officials have been working extremely hard to ensure that every possible loophole is filled. It is amazing what one can do if one tries. The relevant legislation is section 58(4) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, section 34(4) of the Dentists Act 1983 and section 13(5) of the Anatomy Act 1984. Those are the precedents for this provision. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Member for Dagenham.

Mr. Gould

I am grateful to the Minister for his recital of that largely meaningless list of precedents. Can he now tell us what the provision is about? What is it meant to achieve?

Mr. Atkins

I can answer those questions. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that under most Acts there are provisions for statutory instruments. We have to ensure that in the event of something being missed—I do not anticipate that anything will have been missed, judging by the amount of work that officials have put in, as they always do, in combing through all the legislation that is affected by enabling legislation such as this—we can save a statutory instrument that has been repealed inadvertently by virtue of an Act being amended, consequent upon this legislation. That is the precedent that we have followed previously and we shall endeavour to do so here.

The hon. Member for Dagenham was right to spot that there is nothing particularly exotic about the amendment. It is a technical amendment. As ever, he has bowled a quick one, I have flashed and, I hope, not snicked the ball.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 16, in page 9, line 44, at end insert— '(b) such transitional or saving provision as appears to him to be necessary or expedient in connection with the coming into force of any provision of this Act; and any provision of an order made under this subsection after the appointed day may be made so as to have effect as from that or any later day.'.—[Mr. Atkins.]

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