§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, leave out lines 8 to 12.
I hope that we can deal with this matter very quickly. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), the Bill's promoter, has gone to extraordinary lengths to deal with the questions raised by my amendments. I do not want to delay the House; I simply want to raise a matter that bothers me considerably.
The Bill states:If … an order under subsection (1) above would be treated for the purposes of the standing orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument, it shall proceed in that House as if it were not such an instrument.Because of the diligence of the promoter of the Bill, it just so happens that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), wrote to try to reassure me that that would not necessarily happen. For the sake of completeness, I shall read out an extract from his letter so that the details are clear to all. I hope that that is an acceptable way of proceeding.
The letter says:Your first amendment would remove the provision in the Bill making it unnecessary for an order to follow the hybrid instrument procedure in the House of Lords. In fact, it is unlikely that the Secretary of State will make an order under the proposed power which would be subject to the hybrid instruments procedure. We envisage that any order would affect public authorities, their functions and contracts across the board. However, in the unlikely event that an order were made in respect of an individual local authority, I believe the provision in the Bill is necessary in order to avoid delay in its implementation. Moreover, the requirement in the Bill to obtain the approval of both Houses to a draft order is in itself a sufficient safeguard against any abuse of the power to make an order.The Minister seemed to be saying that it was unlikely that the measure would need to be used. That is a matter of judgment. He then said that he still wanted the power to be available. The promoter explained to me that she thought that it would be necessary to allow the running of pilot schemes to demonstrate what the Bill is intended to do.
In the context, that makes some sense, but whether we should accept the last sentence in that passage from the letter —the requirement in the Bill to obtain the approval of both Houses to a draft order is in itself a sufficient safeguard against any abuse of the power to make an order" —as the reassurance offered is a matter of judgment.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
I must confess that I had paid no attention to the point until I saw my right hon. Friend's amendments on the amendment paper, which forced me to read the Bill again. 868 The provision seems extraordinary to me. In the extensive research that I am aware he conducts on such matters, has my right hon. Friend come across any other examples of clauses in Bills with words to the effect of "Notwithstanding the fact that the Bill", or order, "may be hybrid, it is given carte blanche to be treated as if it were not hybrid", thereby obviating the need to use the procedures of the House?
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
The provisions that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to amend are fairly normal in such cases. Recent examples include section 79(4) of the Airports Act 1986, section 34(4) of the Police Act 1996 and section 87(9) of the Environment Act 1995. I shall not continue, but there are several other examples.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to the promoter of the Bill, who obviously does her homework, too—extraordinarily thoroughly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) can see.
I was about to conclude my remarks on the subject by saying that it is for right hon. and hon. Members to judge whether they should accept the safeguard that the Minister offers us—the need for the approval of both Houses for a draft order. From the Opposition Benches now, looking at the size of the Government's majority and the way in which they use it, at the attitude of Ministers and at the Government's proposals for the upper House, all I can say is that I leave it for others to judge whether the safeguard offered is sufficient.
§ Mr. Maclean
When a Bill or order is regarded as hybrid, is there not a special procedure whereby representatives of the private interests that may be affected can appear before a special Select Committee to put their case, as happens with private Bills? If the Bill goes ahead with the wording in the clause unchanged, that would not happen in some cases. We shall have to look at the precedents in the Acts that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) mentioned. I cannot recall their being brought to my attention when they went through the House.
§ Mr. Forth
I suspect that my right hon. Friend is right. I have received assurances and, thanks to the promoter of the Bill, I met someone from the private sector who assured me that he and the rest of the private sector were fully satisfied that the Bill would help them in tendering and contracting for local government. He did not seem unduly bothered about the provision.
The letter so kindly transmitted to me by the Minister at least attempts to answer the question about hybridity, and I thought that the House should be aware of what it said.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) pointed out the number of times that orders have been made. The right hon. Gentleman is obviously concerned that there should be no abuse of power. The Bill requires the approval of both Houses before a 869 draft order can be made, so that is a sufficient safeguard against any abuse of power. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment.