HL Deb 19 October 2004 vol 665 cc716-64

7.7 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Geddes) in the Chair.]

Clause 19 [Meaning of "emergency"]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes)

The first two amendments, Amendments Nos. 87 and 88, were both, I am advised, pre-empted by previous agreement to Amendment No. 86C. I am therefore unable to call Amendments Nos. 87 and 88.

[Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 not moved.]

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 89:

Page 13, line 1, leave out "threatens" and insert "may be held to threaten serious"

The noble Lord said: The Committee has already had a substantial debate on Clause 19—when, for reasons that are not entirely clear, instead of finishing at the end of Part 1 last Thursday, it was decided to begin Part 2. As a result of the amendment that was made at the end of the proceedings last week, the definition of "emergency", on which the whole of Part 2 rests, has been altered so that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, explained, it does not include any event or situation which merely threatens serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom or a part or a region, but only, (c) war or terrorism". The Government recognised that the definition was too widely drawn. I hope they will agree, on reflection, that it should be further refined as suggested in Amendment No. 89.

The definition has two elements. First, there is an event or situation which, in itself, need not be of any particular seriousness; it is only what may or may not follow in the cases dealt with under paragraphs (a) and (b) that may be of a serious nature. Our Amendments Nos. 87 and 88—which, as the Deputy Chairman said, were lost by pre-emption, although that was not made clear by the Chairman in calling Amendment No. 86C on Thursday—would have made it clear that the emergency powers could be triggered only when the event that threatens serious damage to the environment or to human welfare is itself of sufficient magnitude to justify the interpretation placed on it.

I mention that as a prelude to saying that the principle can be applied also to subsection (2), which elaborates on the kind of event or situation which is to be treated as potentially threatening damage to human welfare.

Our Amendments Nos. 89 and 92 do two things. First, they align subsections (2) and (3) with subsection (1) so that both refer to "serious damage". It is clear that the event or situation referred to in these subsections is identical with the event or situation in either paragraphs (a) or (b) in subsection (1).

Therefore, the same language should be used in referring to their potential consequences. The additional words, may be held to threaten", reflect the fact that the event or situation does not threaten, human welfare … or … the environment", as the case may be, unless a Minister holds that it does, the conditions specified in Clause 21 having been satisfied. An event of the kind listed in subsections (2) or (3) obviously does not of itself pose such a threat as to come within the definition and that should be reflected in the wording. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe

I rise to support the amendment. It adds clarity. It makes sense and helps those who have to look at this Bill in the event of an emergency or perceived threat of possible emergency to be able to remind themselves that we are talking only about serious threats. At the risk of repetition—as the Government may respond—it is important that it is absolutely clear, as suggested and proposed in these amendments, that the word "serious" is included.

Lord Elton

I endorse what my noble friend just said: the important word is "serious". In effect, we had this debate the last time we were discussing the Bill, when we discussed defining the trigger for the effect of the Bill. At the moment it is left extraordinarily imprecise. I hope that the Government have had time to think since the last debate and have changed their mind.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for their remarks, but I regret to say that the Government cannot support these amendments and we will resist their inclusion. I would like to give a wider explanation for that.

I indicated during the last session that it was my desire to treat the House to a detailed explanation of the Bill and its arguments. I start therefore by saying a few words about the definition of "emergency" in general and that may help to clarify some of the issues. I know that this is an issue that has troubled a number of noble Lords who participated in the previous debate.

The starting point for Part 2 is a clear definition of the circumstances in which emergency powers may be needed. The definition in the existing legislation is, we respectfully suggest, outdated and does not reflect modern society and the risks and threats that it may face. Recent emergencies have highlighted that as a real issue. Emergencies are, by their nature, unpredictable and we need to ensure that those in the future, perhaps not even imaginable at present, fall within the definition if we are to ensure that they can be responded to effectively.

The modernised definition reflects the breadth and variety of the possible risks and threats that the United Kingdom may face at present and in the future and has been drawn up in consultation with stakeholders, including the emergency services and civil liberties groups. It is intended to cover all the potential risks and threats that may lead to a situation so serious as to create a need to use emergency powers. It is deliberately detailed in order to communicate more clearly the kind of situations in which the use of emergency powers may be contemplated. The range of possible emergencies is broad. Therefore, so must be the definition. However, it is limited by the safeguards set out in the Bill.

The definition is just the starting point. Any emergency would have to satisfy the safeguards laid down in the Bill in order for the powers to be available—in particular, the triple lock that I spoke about last Thursday. First, the event or situation would need to threaten serious damage. Secondly, temporary new legislation must be necessary and needed urgently and, thirdly, any regulations made must be proportionate and aimed at preventing, controlling or mitigating the emergency. That is the triple lock.

7.15 p.m.

We have refined and reviewed the definition in the light of the results of the public consultation and recommendations made very properly by the Joint Committee. We have removed, political, administrative and economic stability", and adjusted the definition of human welfare to make it even clearer. It is important, however, that the definition of threats to human welfare captures the full range to which we may have to respond. I emphasise that that is an important matter.

Clause 19 requires there to be a threat of, serious damage to human welfare … the environment or … security", before the situation can be deemed to be an emergency. That is before any emergency regulations can be made. Any regulations must be needed urgently and be both necessary and proportionate given the prevailing circumstances. With that background, I now turn to Amendments Nos. 89 and 92.

It is suggested that the Bill be amended to specify that situations listed in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 19, may be held to threaten serious". damage. The intention is to ensure that the list of matters do not in themselves automatically constitute an emergency. If I may respectfully say so, the amendments are not necessary. One case of human illness may meet the requirement at Clause 19(2) of being a threat to human welfare. It would not, however, meet the requirement at Clause 19(1) of being a threat of, serious damage to human welfare in the United Kingdom or in a part or region".

The clauses of the Bill must be read in context. They provide a list of situations or events in subsections (2) to (4) that can be considered to be an emergency for the purpose of the Bill only if they threaten, serious damage to human welfare … (the) environment … or security of the United Kingdom or a part or region", as outlined in Clause 19(1).

Amendment No. 95, would make any war, armed conflict or terrorism an emergency as it would remove the ability to establish—

Lord Avebury

I did not speak to Amendment No. 95.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I beg the noble Lord's pardon. The amendment was grouped with Amendment No. 89. If it has been regrouped, I will not comment further on that amendment.

Lord Avebury

I did not speak to Amendment No. 95 because I thought that it should also have been dealt with by the pre-emption, even though that was not made clear. It was an omission and Amendment No. 95, together with Amendments Nos. 87 and 88, ought to have been treated as though they had been pre-empted by Amendment No. 86C. However, that is a minor point.

To turn to the substance of what the Minister said, which is that we do not need to include these words in subsection (2), I do not understand. There is different wording now in subsections (1) and (2) and yet subsection (2) begins by saying: For the purposes of subsection (1A)". Similarly, subsection (3) says: For the purposes of subsection (1)(b). In my naivety I thought that the wording should be brought into line with the wording that the noble Baroness moved on Thursday last week. Obviously I am wrong because I do not pretend to be of anything like the legal calibre of the Minister. However, we shall take advice on what she has told us and, if necessary, return to the matter on Report.

Lord Elton

Before the noble Lord withdraws the amendment, I should like to comment further. I understand the triple lock mechanism, which the Minister explained, but the whole thing hinges not on the wording of subsection (2) but on the wording of subsection (1), which we have already agreed in principle at an earlier stage. But I hope that the Minister realises that the source of concern for myself and my noble friends is elsewhere in the Bill.

I refer to the draconian powers acquired by Ministers when the trigger activates. That is why we are still very leery of the words that have been inserted in subsection (1), because, for reasons which my noble friend made clear in our previous debate, the seriousness of the threat is not quantified; only the seriousness of the threat if it materialises is quantified. I know that that point slightly escaped the Minister when we discussed it before, but my noble friend was clear in pointing out that one can have a very serious threat of a minor disaster or a very minor threat of a serious disaster.

Clause 1 (1) says that in the first part of the Bill emergency means, an event or situation which threatens"— unqualified—"damage", which is qualified as "serious".

I hope that the Minister will return to that point between now and Report. I am sorry to hang this point on to the end of the debate, but it is a coherent part of the Bill and the matters should be discussed together.

Lord Avebury

I take seriously the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He is right in saying that what we are considering is not so much important in itself, but important because of what hangs on it—that is, the enormity of the powers that come into operation once the trigger has been set. Therefore, it is important to be precise.

When people look at the Bill, they will see that there is a difference between the wording in subsection (1) and subsections (2) and (3). In one case, following the Minister's amendment last Thursday, it is necessary to have a threat of "serious damage". In subsections (2) and (3), the Bill requires only a threat of damage; it does not have to be "serious". The inconsistency between subsection (1) and subsections (2) and (3) could create confusion, even if the Minister is correct in saying that it does not alter the meaning.

The fact of having different words in two places in the Bill would give rise to difficulties of interpretation, which are completely unnecessary. I hope that before Report the Government will give further consideration to the matter. Perhaps, if they do not, we shall take further legal advice from our experts and come back to it at that stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux)

I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that Amendment No. 95 is pre-empted by government Amendment No. 93A.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 90:

Page 13, line 8, leave out paragraph (f).

The noble Lord said: We come to the various matters which can be dealt with under subsection (1). I shall first deal with what I have to say about floods, although I know that the Minister is going to delete subsection (3)(b). That paragraph is illustrative of the point we are raising. As Members of the Committee will be aware, there have been many flood episodes in England and Wales, notably in 2000, which was the worst year for flooding since 1947, when many parts of the country were under water. At that time, there was no sign that the emergency services were unable to cope, or that anything more could have been done by authorities if the powers sought in the Bill had been available.

Accordingly, we believe that the event or situation which sets in motion the Government's consideration as to whether serious damage to human welfare is threatened should be one that affects a significant proportion of the population or region. Obviously, to the people of Boscastle there was more than a threat to their welfare, but it was not such that Part 2 of the Bill could have done anything for them beyond what was possible under existing arrangements. That is what the clause is about.

With regard to Amendment No. 92, we acknowledge that there is at present a situation threatening severe damage to human welfare and the environment in the form of a progressive and accelerating loss of biodiversity. According to the strategic plan adopted by the 187 signatories to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the, rate of biodiversity loss is increasing at an unprecedented rate, threatening the very existence of life as it is currently understood". One cannot imagine a much more serious threat than that. The plan goes on to say that the, maintenance of biodiversity is a necessary condition for sustainable development, and as such constitutes one of the great challenges of the modern era".

Declaring an emergency under this clause and passing regulations preventing, reducing or mitigating the effects of disruption to plant life or animal life is not the answer to the loss of biodiversity. We in the UK cannot solve global problems single-handedly, although we can and do make a significant contribution towards meeting the target of a substantial reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. If the event is confined to the United Kingdom alone, such as Dutch Elm Disease or myxomatosis and threatens only plant or animal life without causing direct harm to human beings, emergency regulations would be ineffective. What would be called for would be long-term scientific measures to deal with the particular threat.

On Amendments Nos. 90 and 91, we assume first that, if the disruption in question arises from armed conflict or terrorism within the meaning of Section 1 of the Terrorism Act, it would be dealt with under that part of the new subsection (1). The disruption envisaged under paragraph (g) is not that caused by the incompetence of train operators or track maintenance contractors, but that caused by industrial action, for example. That was the reason for the use of emergency powers during the period of the Heath Government between 1970 and 1974. It has not been necessary to invoke the powers at all during the 30 years since then, perhaps because legislation since then has made it more difficult for trade unions to call national strikes. In the unlikely event that, in spite of those obstacles, national transport systems were disrupted by strikes at some time in the future, at the same point the situation could involve or might cause "loss of human life" or "human illness or injury", and would therefore come under paragraphs (a) or (b).

Lord Elton

I wondered whether the noble Lord had cast his eye on Clause 23(3), which says that: Emergency regulations may not … prohibit or enable the prohibition of participation in … a strike or other industrial action". The power of the Bill is very much reduced in the circumstances to which he refers.

Lord Avebury

Then it is even more difficult to imagine what circumstances would give rise to triggering that subsection.

Paragraph (f) refers to the "other system of communication", presumably meaning the postal service, to which the same arguments apply as applied to transport. The postal strikes of last October caused huge disruption to business, and many small firms, in particular, suffered from the waiting period for cheques to come in. But it was not suggested that the emergency legislation then available should have been deployed. I am not sure, taking the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, whether under the previous emergency legislation a state of emergency could have been declared under the circumstances of the postal disruption that we suffered last year.

With regard to electronic communications, individuals, companies and public authorities are vulnerable to denial of service attacks, as Members of the Committee will recall from the discussions that we had on the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, in 2002, and from several references during the Communications Bill debates last year.

Ofcom's principal duty under the Communications Act 2003 is to further the interest of citizens in relation to communications matters. I suppose that that must include the promotion of security in relation to electronic communications. In fact, under Section 98 of the Act Ofcom has power to issue directions to a contravening provider where there is a serious threat to the safety of the public, to public health or to national security, while under Section 132 of the Act the Secretary of State has power to suspend a provider of electronic communications networks or services where it is necessary to do so to protect the public from any threat to public safety or public health or in the interests of national security.

7.30 p.m.

What the Secretary of State and Ofcom can do under the Act is, of course, limited to the providers, whereas the emergency regulations that could be issued under Clause 22 go far wider. Here again if the effects of the disruption are expected to endanger human life or health, as they might do, for instance, if we are talking about air traffic control systems, or the electronic systems of health service providers, if those were successfully attacked, paragraphs (a) or (b) could be invoked.

I certainly would not underestimate the capacity of malicious individuals to disrupt electronic systems by denial of service attacks, viruses or other malware, but to respond by making emergency regulations would be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The Government would do better to invest in network systems survivability on the lines of the programme which has been developed at Carnegy Mellon University in Pittsburg to strengthen the capacity of national high tech crime units to deal with emerging threats to networks. These paragraphs are unnecessary. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe

I had not intended to speak to Amendment No. 90 although the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just made a very good point and a very good case for it. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that I do not support Amendment No. 91. I believe that transport should be listed. I should encourage him by saying that we on these Benches will be working hard to remove Clause 23(3)(b)—the clause referred to by my noble friend Lord Elton—in relation to industrial action as we believe that that exception should not be on the face of the Bill.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in relation to Amendment No. 93. A considerable number of people are questioning why it is necessary to have the category, disruption or destruction of plant life or animal life". If the Government are successful in their attempts to ban hunting, would such a clause ever be invoked should individuals or groups of people decide to defy that ban? What kind of instances are the Government thinking of in relation to, disruption or destruction of plant life or animal life that make the case for having this category listed on the face of the Bill?

The Earl of Onslow

It would be helpful to some of us if we could be given examples of what Ministers think could constitute these emergencies. Someone must have thought of a reason for including them. Therefore, what is that reason? Can we be given some examples of hypothetical situations?

Baroness Masham of Ilton

As regards the plant life, what happens if a fire is started accidentally on a moor and it gets out of control? Who will be responsible and who will be at fault?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I say straight away that the triple lock about which I spoke earlier comes into play in relation to these definitions. I should like noble Lords to hold those issues in mind. I shall go through each amendment and describe why I think that some may not be acceptable. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has already indicated his pleasure at our proposed amendment in relation to flooding.

I start with Amendment No. 90. The noble Lord raised a significant issue. The effects of any severe disruption to communications on human welfare may be disastrous. All our major services rely on communication to function effectively, including, for example, the emergency services, the trains, including the Tube, and the healthcare providers. All businesses and service suppliers are dependent on effective communication whose disruption would severely impact upon supply given the predominance of just in time delivery methods.

To give but one example, as I have been asked, the National Health Service relies on effective communication between providers of care and suppliers in order to ensure that it can order and receive the supplies required for vital patient care. That is not to mention what would happen if banks and benefit providers were unable to function because they could not verify information due to communications failure. There is no question that disruption to communications so severe as to threaten serious damage to human welfare should be a legitimate reason for considering the use of emergency powers.

Having considered the matter the Government are minded to accept that the reference to methods of communication should, however, be simplified by removing the express reference to electronic means in both Clauses 19 and 22. The Government are now satisfied that simply referring to protecting and restoring any system of communication ensures that both electronic and non-electronic systems are covered. We therefore propose—

The Earl of Onslow

I am requesting information. Let us assume that the electronic system has gone down and the banks cannot function. What will the Government be able to do about that which the people who manufacture and make the relevant equipment will not be able to do? What kind of powers will be needed and what kind of regulation will the Government want to put in place? That is what I find difficult to follow.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I want to make it clear that often when emergencies take place a whole series of things go down. Communications go down. It may be a question of a pollutant or it may be a whole series of things. The Government will need to put in place all those remedial actions that will be necessary to deal with the emergency situation as a whole. The fact that you cannot get communications between the services may be of significant importance depending on the nature or the species of the emergency that arises. It is a matter of being able to capture all the things that we will have to put right in an emergency.

Unfortunately, historically emergencies have not come single-handed. In the past we have debated the possibility of an emergency style No. 1 arising along with an emergency style No. 2. I make it clear that in a number of emergencies a cluster of things will happen at the same time. We shall have to deal with that cluster. We want to be absolutely clear that the emergency service, which will have to respond on our behalf, does not consider that it can deal with one situation but not another. We need to be able to deal with all the issues all at once.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I have much sympathy with what the noble Baroness is saying but I see the force of my noble friend's question. I seek further elucidation. What will the Government be able to do to put these failed systems right that the present providers will not be doing as hard as they jolly well can?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

The most important thing is the planning. The clause is really an enabling exercise. We hope that all agencies will use their best endeavours—indeed, we will have to rely on the skills of the individuals involved—to assist us. The clause gives us the power to do what proves necessary at the time to deal with the emergency. It is very difficult to say with absolute precision that it will enable us to do A, B and C, but it will give us the ability to take the steps that may prove necessary.

Lord Lucas

I shall chime in third in a row on the same subject. I, too, find it very difficult to imagine what the Government can do—what is within the Government's capacity in the terms of this part of the Bill, which is about reacting very fast and doing something to solve an emergency—that will not be done anyway. Under subsection (c), to which we will come later, I can see that they can order cows to be shot. That is fine; we are all aware what that provision is about. However, if the communication system—the mobile-phone system—goes down, what can the Government do that the companies running the system cannot already do?

The Earl of Northesk

That is a desperately important point. Having lived through four hurricanes in the past six months in Florida, I have some experience of precisely the sort of emergency about which the noble Baroness is talking. What happens is that communications are lost, and the public and the services hunker down until the emergency has passed. I signally fail to understand what the Government's proposition is—what they can do at a central level that is not already done at a local level.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

individuals may have to be ordered to do certain things. People may say that it is not cost-effective to do A, B, C or D. However, it has to be done for national security and national reasons, so the Government may do that. It is not necessarily a question of the Government using emergency powers to fix the breakdown or the means of communication; that will obviously be done on the ground. However, it will be necessary to deal with the effect of that breakdown. Those are important issues.

If one were to follow what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and others, it would be a recipe for no action at all. If one were to say that all anyone would do was hunker down, we would all hunker down, not deal with the situation and hope that it would pass over. That is not the way. We seek to take those powers that may be necessary to assist us to deliver what we will need to have delivered on our behalf, to make sure that the situation makes sense.

Lord Elton

I shall court unpopularity for a moment by coming to the aid of the noble Baroness, as I can immediately think of two situations that might be relevant. One is where there is a massive breakdown in electronic communication. An awful lot of people on benefit would have no money at all very quickly. Something must be done to authorise payments or vouchers. Similarly, if there is a breakdown of communications, decisions of national importance have to be delegated to a much lower level. Both those matters would require regulation. My concern remains with the size of the emergency, not with the aspect that we are discussing.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as he is quite right. The issues are important, as we will have to take the steps necessary better to protect people in this country, and to make sure that they get the services that they need. That is why communications is an important issue, and why we may have to address it.

We cannot accept Amendment No. 91. It removes disruption of transport facilities from the definition of events that could threaten or damage human welfare, and would prevent emergency regulations being invoked if the damage threatened were serious. The 1920 Act recognises the potential scale of the effects of serious disruption to transportation, referring specifically to the means of locomotion in its definition of emergency—that is, the key facility for transport in the area. Omitting the reference to disruption of transport facilities would prevent, for example, a complete failure of the London Underground system leaving millions of commuters stranded in central London from potentially being classed as an emergency, until such time as the threat fell within another situation listed in Clause 19(2). By that time, action could have been taken to mitigate the situation.

7.45 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

The noble Baroness says that action could have been taken. Let us accept that there has been a complete breakdown of the London Underground service, a bad crash, an electricity failure and all such things. I do not understand what extra powers are needed to put that right. London Underground will be working its socks off to get it right; everyone will be trying very hard. There is nothing that requires emergency legislation that cannot be done later. I do not understand; perhaps I am being stupid.

Viscount Goschen

We are in Committee, which may assist the noble Baroness in responding to my noble friend's point. I ask her to cast her mind back two years or thereabouts to the fuel protests. It would be very helpful if she were to tell us whether the level of disruption caused then by the fuel protesters would constitute a serious threat to the transport system. On its own, would that trigger the emergency powers in the Bill?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

We come back to the test that has to be applied, which is a threat of serious damage to human welfare, the environment or security. The noble Viscount should ask whether the fuel protests were a threat of serious damage to human welfare, the environment or security. Then he would have to decide what would be proportionate. It is invidious to look back, but my assessment is that they would not fall within the definition. We are talking about emergency circumstances. I cannot say whether a future situation that may be significantly different from what happened two years ago would fall within the definition. The definition is clear and is there for very important reasons.

I would like to deal with the amendments. I thank the noble Baroness for her support in relation to Amendment No. 91 on retaining the inclusion of transport.

We cannot accept Amendment No. 93. Removing disruption or destruction of plant life or animal life from the definition of damage to the environment would mean, for example, that an outbreak of a serious infectious disease on a sufficient scale would not in its own right be capable of amounting to an emergency under Part 2. Similarly, a catastrophic release of pollutants could not trigger use of the powers, despite the fact that it might require measures that were possible only through the use of the powers, such as sealing off areas and requisitioning equipment to aid the clean-up.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, raised a question about a fire being started on a moor and who was responsible. I respectfully suggest that it would be highly unlikely to meet the criteria for an emergency. Once again, I invite her to look at how the triple lock would work in relation to the matter. The fire brigade would be the first responder, responsible for tackling a fire. I cannot really envisage a situation in which it would need emergency powers to do so; the matter is outwith the Bill.

I should speak about hunt protesters. The emergency powers are a last-resort option for dealing with the most serious emergencies. They must be used reasonably and proportionately, and only where existing legislation is insufficient. Although I know that the ingenuity of the hunting lobby is perhaps beyond my ken, given that it is difficult to envisage how the emergency powers could be used in connection with hunting, I cannot see it. I recognise the ingenuity of others to raise matters that are outwith my contemplation. But at the moment, I cannot see how that could be done.

Regarding other matters that have been raised, I should like to speak to government Amendments Nos. 92A and 109A, which are grouped here. The Government, having looked in detail at the issues, are minded to remove the reference to flooding from the list of threats to human welfare in Clause 19(2) and the specific reference to regulations being used to prevent or mitigate the effect of floods from the scope of emergency regulations in Clause 22(2). Having considered the issues, the Government are content that any floods so serious that they would trigger the use of emergency powers would be caught by elements that are already present in the definition of human welfare—loss of human life, homelessness, damage to property and disruption to the named essential services and resources. Similarly, Clause 22 sets out the purposes for which any regulations might need to be made in such circumstances, without the need for a specific reference to flooding. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, can take a modicum of pleasure from that.

The provisions have been set out in this way to bring clarity and to brigade the sort of issues that are likely to give rise to an emergency.

Lord Lucas

I have no difficulty with the concept behind subsection (3)(c), but I find it difficult to understand why we should be worrying about disruption to plant life. This is the Committee stage. It is difficult to speak on such matters until one has listened to the Minister, as one might otherwise be wasting time, because she might have covered points that one wished to raise—particularly when they are small points, which these are. I do not know why we are worrying about disruption to plant life. Plants do not generally lead an active life.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

Some noble Lords may recall that in the 1980s there was substantial concern about the danger from nuclear winter. That concept was associated with a series of massive nuclear events that would create sufficient dust in the atmosphere, releasing radiation for significant periods of time, and would seriously disrupt plants and vegetation for several seasons. That would include serious volcanic eruptions, such as that in 1816.

In this House we have even debated near events of astronomic objects coming past the Earth. If the Bill is concerned with very extreme events, there are those that could completely eliminate plants and vegetation for several years. Presumably, this legislation is all-encompassing, so I am perfectly happy that there are situations which we have discussed that would be covered by the Bill.

Lord Lucas

All such events would fall under subsection (2), because they would have serious effects on the human population as well. I am not concerned about the provision for the destruction of plant life. A serious disease that is in danger of wiping out the wheat harvest would be a matter which would require swift action. But what is envisaged under the term "disruption" of plant life that would make it reasonable to have emergency regulations? It does not strike me that plants are living the type of life that we should worry too much about. One disrupts plant life by walking across a meadow. I suppose that a hunt could be said to disrupt plant life because it plants hooves upon the receiving earth in a brutal fashion. I cannot see why "disruption" of plant life should be a cause for emergency regulations.

It is difficult to see that disruption of animal life should be a cause for emergency regulations. I agree with the word "destruction", because if there is a disease out there which is fatal to animals, that would be fine. But why does the clause cover "disruption" to animal life? What is the Government's thinking. Can they give some examples of disruption to animal life that might reasonably give rise to emergency regulations?

My other quibble is regarding subsection (3)(a)(ii). Why is oil not a harmful chemical and kept separate in that way? Oil, as a chemical, is a reasonable portmanteau word that certainly includes any known oil.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

As I said earlier, we are trying to be as inclusive as possible. The Government consider that it is a significant merit in terms of transparency, in being as full and as forthcoming as possible, as to what kind of events and situations may trigger emergency powers. Thus, the Bill lists the full range of events where the Government consider that it might be necessary to exercise emergency powers. I endorse the comments made by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton in relation to fallout—particularly nuclear fallout and its effect on plants and other material. The Bill is designed to capture that. Damage to property may need to be of a serious or extreme nature. I have tried to make that clear. That nature could consist of damage to a nuclear reactor, or widespread or uncontrolled fire that could cause damage, before emergency powers could be exercised. Where human life is at risk, emergency powers may be exercised more readily.

A balance needs to be struck between the level and extent of the threat and the value being threatened. The balance to be struck would also depend on the value being threatened. It is not just a matter of disruption. Disruption could include destruction and a whole spectrum of activity. The Bill is designed to reflect that. While the Bill specifies exhaustively all the kinds of things that could constitute a threat to human welfare, the environment or security, the test is whether there is a threat of serious damage to human welfare, the environment or security.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has raised an issue regarding biodiversity, which I have not dealt with. The noble Lord said that threats to biodiversity may well pose a serious threat to the environment of the United Kingdom and how that falls within the definition of "emergency". I should make it clear that we consider that threats to the environment should be capable of triggering emergency powers in appropriate cases. But, for the reasons that the noble Lord gave when he outlined these matters, it does not mean that the current threat to biodiversity should or could trigger the use of emergency powers. It would not be necessary or proportionate to use emergency powers to address that point. Therefore, it is important to examine what the triple lock tells us. How can one unlock those keys? So the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, needs to reflect on how those matters, the type of examples given by my noble friend Lord Hunt, would have an impact upon our environment.

Perhaps I may conclude—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is anxious to get to his feet, but one bite at a time might be a good way to proceed. There have been threats of damage to the environment in terms of human welfare. First, it should be noted that disruption to plant life will not necessarily constitute an emergency. While the Bill provides that that threatens damage to the environment, the event itself must threaten serious damage. Also, many serious animal diseases disrupt disastrously rather than destroy life. We need to keep those matters in mind.

Oil may be a harmful substance. However, many oils are not; for instance, edible oils. None the less, a major spill of olive oil, for example, could lead to significant environmental damage. Bird life in particular would be affected. We have been inclusive, but once again one would have to apply the triple lock and see whether the situation presented the envisaged threat before it would engage this Bill.

Bearing in mind that Members of the Committee are so anxious, after speaking I will remain rooted until everyone has indicated that they have dealt with the matters they want to raise. I will then deal with the matters all at once. Otherwise, none of us will ever sit down.

8 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

Two things have arisen out of what the Minister has just said. The first is the nuclear power station scenario and the second is blue tits getting flooded by olive oil. I can assume an appalling situation. Two aircraft manned by suicide pilots crash into Sizewell B nuclear power station. That is obviously a serious disaster. It is hard to imagine worse. What will the Government do, apart from organising the police, the fire brigade and the Civil Service? I do not quite see what extra powers they need. If this were to happen now, I do not see that the Government would be completely handicapped. Secondly, the blue tits getting flooded by olive oil seems to involve totally glorious and unnecessary legislation to no possible purpose whatever.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I agree with my noble friend—I cannot help but think that olive oil is an irrelevance in this You would need such a flood of olive oil to invoke the damage suggested that it would be impossible.

I am concerned that we appear to have introduced a double standard. On the one hand, we take out flooding because it is covered elsewhere. If flooding were so serious as to invoke emergency regulations, it would be on a scale where it would threaten human life, homelessness and so forth. That I understand. But on the other hand, we mention oil and a series of exclusions. I accept the triple lock and that the situation must be sufficiently serious. But why do we need it? If the situation is that serious, it will also cause loss of human lives and threaten homelessness, damage to property and so forth.

We need to think seriously about the matter. The noble Baroness's argument would be consistent if the Government were not intent on removing flooding, but since they are, it is reasonable to remove one or two of these other issues which do not need mentioning.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

There is a good deal of suspicion about the Bill. Many people believe that the Government are taking unnecessary emergency powers, and they are therefore concerned about some of the items we are discussing. I have not so far intervened in the debate, but I decided to speak because nuclear power and power stations were mentioned.

I would be very surprised, frightened and worried if the powers to deal with a serious nuclear accident did not already exist not only in this country but also in France in particular. I believe that the Government already have the powers to bring in all kinds of emergency services, to requisition the materials which would clamp down on a nuclear explosion or leakage and to request the assistance of other countries, particularly the French, to deal with such a disaster.

The example given by the noble Baroness therefore brought me to my feet because if we do not already have those powers, this Government and every other government have been failing in their duty. Nuclear power stations exist and they constitute a threat should anything go wrong. All governments ought to have been ready to meet those threats at any time since the power stations were built. Therefore, I am suspicious of using a nuclear accident as an excuse for taking emergency powers because I believe that those powers already exist.

Lord Lucas

The noble Baroness will have to tolerate going backwards and forwards because this is a difficult piece of legislation and the powers attached are so enormous. Let us suppose that a couple of weeks before an election, the Hunting Bill having been passed, it becomes clear that various hunts intend to go out and chase a fox. That clearly comes under subsection (3)(c). There is the intended disruption of animal life. If the Government believe that the laws they have to hand are not sufficient to enable them to stop such action, they can do anything. They can take it in their mind to stop a pheasant shoot, or to stop people fishing, or to do whatever they want, albeit that ultimately they are likely to have to answer to Parliament. These are enormous powers. We are giving the Government the power to react in an astonishingly broad way to any situation that may arise.

I remember when the BSE crisis blew up. The first reaction of SEAC, the advisory committee, was that we must instantly kill all cattle in the United Kingdom. Under the law as it was then, we did not have the ability to go out and do that. We would have had to take the matter through Parliament. If this measure becomes law, the Government can just go ahead and do it. So long as they do it fast enough, that will be the end of the matter.

We are allowing enormous powers and I think that it is reasonable to look at subsection (3) carefully. I support subsection (3) on the basis that some things may cause disruption to the environment or to animal or plant life and, given time, they will develop into serious threats to human welfare, although they are not immediately threats to human welfare. It might be argued that a small outbreak of an extremely serious disease of wheat is a scenario too far away from the powers in subsection (2) to trigger them, but one might well want to destroy all grass within a five-mile radius in order to eliminate the problem. It would clearly be a proper use of the emergency powers if the situation was sufficiently serious and if we had scientists and a Minister for agriculture who were sufficiently awake, which is extremely unlikely.

I can see the reasons for the measure but, by having a separate section for the environment, we are starting to allow the Government to take action of an extreme nature in situations which we may feel do not justify it. I think that the matter requires a great deal of consideration.

My feeling is that, where contamination of land, flooding or disruption are ultimately a serious threat to human welfare or can be seen as a serious threat, that is fine, and those situations are covered by subsection (2). But in subsection (3) we are covering events that involve the environment or animal or plant life, which are not covered by subsection (2) and which are not a threat to human welfare. Why, under those circumstances, should we give the Government such unlimited power? I think that it is a very serious question and one that we should consider very carefully.

In the instances that I can think of, it would have been misguided to use the powers. There is much to be said for taking the proper time and giving the matter proper consideration. Where things are not so serious that they pose a serious threat to human welfare, I think that there is much to be said for taking things in the proper course and not being panicked into emergency regulations.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I take it that all noble Lords have now had their say. I emphasise that we are dealing with the effects of an emergency. Perhaps I should run through some of the issues as we see them. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the scenario that he paints of our using emergency legislation to stop people fishing, hunting or carrying out the most modest form of disruptive activity will not engage this legislation.

The clause must be understood in its proper context. Perhaps I may take the example of the hunt, which is obviously a matter in the minds of noble Lords opposite. Breaking a ban on hunting could hardly be considered a threat of serious damage to, the environment of the United Kingdom or of a Part or region". I hope that noble Lords will concur with that view. The breaking of a ban would be a matter for law enforcement agencies and the courts. I have already acknowledged to the noble Baroness that ingenuity may be greater than I can currently contemplate, but I cannot see that the breaking of a ban would engage emergency powers; nor could it be claimed that their use was proportionate or necessary.

I take the example of a Sizewell B crash and ask what emergency legislation might be needed. It might be necessary, for example, to put movement bans into place so that people did not go into the seriously irradiated areas; it might be necessary to restrict the movements of contaminated people and livestock without other authorisation; and it might be necessary to requisition equipment for the removal or disposal of the contaminated property.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, dealt with the next point. It is not a question of the Government using emergency powers to fix breakdowns but to deal with the effects—requisitioning alternative means of communication. For example, they might need to requisition fleets of additional ambulances from elsewhere and any material that might be needed.

A further example of the effects of an emergency is that we might need to declare a bank holiday in order to suspend trading in the City as many transactions would be disrupted. All those situations would require emergency legislation. With regard to the Underground, one might have to requisition buses in order to move millions of commuters and take them home. It might be necessary to requisition buildings as rest centres and to restrict unnecessary movement into a given area. All those powers would have to be used.

To quieten the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, we now have many powers to take emergency action. The whole point of the Civil Contingencies Bill is to modernise and improve our ability to react effectively, quickly and successfully in the new situations that we envisage. This whole opportunity has been given a lot of support, although one forgets it, across the piece by stakeholders who are clear that the Bill is needed, appreciated and well looked forward to. We are doing all we need to do to ensure that if and when an emergency arises we have the ability to move quickly to meet the needs of our people. That is why we have crafted it in the way that I have just described.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury

I was interested to hear the Minister say that one of the measures that might have to be taken under the Bill as a result of an emergency is the declaration of a bank holiday, because that indicates the longevity of my grandfather's legislation, which was passed in 1871 and is still in force. It allows the Government to declare any additional days as bank holidays as may be necessary. I am sure he did not think when he was passing that legislation that one of the purposes to which it would be put would be to add to the armoury of the Government's measures to deal with an emergency of the kind we are discussing today.

We have ranged over a very wide area. When I saw the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, get to his feet I thought that he must be about to support the noble Baroness in her remarks on olive oil, which, ipso facto, presented a serious threat to human welfare because olive oil almost invariably comes from Europe and therefore must be tainted with the stink of Brussels. Instead, he talked about the nuclear threat as did a number of noble Lords. The noble Baroness gave a perfectly satisfactory answer to that: in the event of an attack on Sizewell or a nuclear incident of the kind which unfortunately occurred in other parts of the world such as Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, there would need to be directions to the emergency services and directions, perhaps, to people living in the area to move away from it. One remembers in the case of Chernobyl that there was a very big exclusion area from which all the inhabitants had to be moved. So, obviously, the powers are necessary. But that serves to emphasise that they would be invoked under the earlier parts of the clause, in particular those which deal with loss of human life, human illness or injury and, in the case of a large incident, perhaps homelessness.

That brings me to the argument used by the Minister in relation to the floods provision. She said that if a flood was of a sufficiently serious nature it would in any case be caught by the definition of damage to human welfare. That is what we have been saying about the other provision on which the amendments are based. Amendment No. 90 refers to the disruption of communication systems. As the noble Baroness pointed out, if health services were unable to link with their suppliers, because of the "just in time" system which prevails universally nowadays, they might not get essential and immediate supplies of medication and other things which are necessary to human health. That underlines the same argument. The point which applies to the floods applies to the communication systems. Immediately the communication systems went down there would be a threat to human life arising in every hospital because they would be unable to get deliveries of their supplies. So, I still do not understand why Clause 19(2)(f) would be necessary in those circumstances when paragraphs (a) or (b) could be invoked instead.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I do not know whether the noble Lord is inviting me to remove the concession. I think he makes a powerful argument for including flooding.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

I would support that.

Lord Avebury

I thought that the noble Baroness was very convincing. If the floods were of a sufficiently serious nature, they would enable paragraph (a) or (b) to be invoked. Precisely the same argument applies to the communication systems. If they were disrupted, supplies to hospitals would be affected. The other example given by the noble Baroness was that banks would not be able to pay social security benefits. Therefore people in receipt of those benefits would very rapidly run out of food and would perhaps suffer severe health problems in consequence. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, also made the point that if they did not get their benefits, it would be necessary to do something immediately for the sake of their health.

On Amendment No. 91, the example quoted was the failure of the underground system. The noble Baroness said, "We could not wait to act until it fell within some other provision". She would not have to, because the wording in the Bill is that it "threatens". So, if the underground system came to a stop, other consequences would very rapidly ensue and the Government would be able to invoke the provision that deals with the threat rather than the actuality of harm to human life.

On Amendment No. 93, regarding infectious diseases among animals, I think that we have provisions that will deal with infectious diseases. We do not need to invoke the sort of emergency legislation we have in the Bill unless we get to the point where human health is harmed. So, the same arguments that apply to the floods and to the communication system mean that we should be able to do without that provision. Obviously, however, we are not going to convince the Minister. We shall have to consider what has been said in all quarters of the Committee this evening and possibly come back to these matters on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 91 and 92 not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 92A:

Page 13, line 16, leave out paragraph (b).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 93 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel)

I think that there is a misprint in the next group of amendments and that the first amendment in the group should be Amendment No. 93A.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

It has been spoken to.

Lord Elton

If the noble Lord will forgive me, I am not clear that we have debated it.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I do not think that it has been debated.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

We thought that it was debated with Amendment No. 86C. Is it subsection (g) of Amendment No. 93A that we have not debated?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The "g" just shows that it is a government amendment. Amendment No. 93A is the first amendment in the group.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I think that we debated Amendment No. 94 with Amendment No. 86C.

Lord Elton

As I understand it, Amendment No. 93A is grouped with Amendment No. 94 and should in fact be the head of the group; and we have not discussed that group. I was looking forward rather keenly to hearing what was going to be said because it is grouped with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, to remove subsection (5), as I understand it. That is a debate we certainly have not had. Might I prevail on the noble Baroness to move Amendment No. 93A so that we can debate it?

Lord Archer of Sandwell

At the risk of being tiresome, Amendment No. 94 has already been debated.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I thought that Amendment No. 93A had already been debated. I was going to move it formally. I thought that it was debated on 14 October with Amendment No. 86C.

Lord Lucas


Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, affirming that Amendment No. 86C was debated with Amendment No. 93A on Thursday, 14 October. It was the last group. That is why I was proposing to move the amendment formally. I beg to move. Page 13, line 18, leave out subsection (4).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 94 to 96 not moved.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 97:

Page 13, line 23, leave out subsections (5) and (6).

The noble Baroness said: One of my concerns about the way in which noble Lords must scrutinise legislation is the requirement to address individual clauses in isolation. It diminishes our ability to influence the Government overall in the context of contributions that noble Lords have made on previous amendments, those that I hope will be made on this amendment, and the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, on Amendment No. 97A. Together these amendments and the previous ones try to address the deep concern about the enormously wide powers in the legislation—in the first group we are also talking about enormously wide powers. I therefore urge the Minister, in responding to this and other groups throughout Part 2, to bear in mind that in collectively considering Part 2 we are addressing each individual clause but saying that overall the effect is extremely draconian and of real concern, not only to noble Lords but to people outside the House.

Amendment No. 97 would delete subsections (5) and (6) of Clause 19, which allow the Secretary of State by order to state that a specified event or situation is an emergency which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or the security of the United Kingdom. Subsection (5) also allows the Secretary of State to amend by order Clause 19(2), which lists events that must be present in order for human welfare to be threatened for the purposes of subsection (1)(a).

I cannot stress enough how concerned we are about the powers given to Ministers in the Bill. Throughout the debate on Part 1 the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, sought regularly to reassure us that there were sufficient safeguards to ensure that the powers would not be abused. But we remain unconvinced, as amplified by previous debates. A Minister has the power to change many things in the Bill, admittedly after an order is passed by each House, but let us face it: such procedures take place in the dinner hour or on a Friday morning. The power in subsections (5) and (6) relates to, a specified event or situation, or class of event or situation". What does that mean?

In tabling these amendments I look to the Minister to reassure us that there is sensible thinking behind the subsections, and that it makes sense to have this extraordinary power basically to change everything that we have just been debating, by order, on a Friday morning or in the dinner hour, if a Secretary of State decides that that should happen. We must proceed with care. I am not convinced that the powers will not be abused. They may not necessarily be abused by the current Government—I am sure not—or by successor governments in the near future, but the Bill is intended to carry us well into the future. The powers in Part 2 are so enormous that we need strong reassurance on each of the amendments in the group. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

I remind the Committee that, in the event that the amendment is accepted, I cannot call Amendment No. 97A.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My amendment, Amendment No. 97A, refers only to part of Amendment No. 97. That is not because I disagree with the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe; I did not see it when I tabled mine or, at least, I did not notice it. I shall confine my comments to subsection (5).

Clause 21, which the Committee has just been debating, specifies the conditions that must be satisfied before a Minister is empowered to make regulations under Part 2. One of those conditions is that an emergency, has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur". As the noble Baroness said, it is important to get right the definition of an emergency. That is found in Clause 19. Whatever we may say about subsections (1) to (4), they are carefully drafted to ensure that we all know what is and what is not an emergency. No one should have power to make regulations if there is no emergency. The Committee has already expended generous time and care in debating the various elements of the definition.

The Joint Committee made recommendations to limit the breadth of the clause. To their credit, the Government agreed to quite a number of them. Then, having gone through all that, the Government have largely neutralised it all by including subsection (5). I say "including" because my recollection is—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that it was not in the original draft of the Bill. Subsection (5) declares that the Secretary of State may provide that any specified event or situation is to be treated as falling within any element of the definition. Having narrowed the definition, the Bill now says that anything may be included if the Secretary of State says so.

Of course, I take the point made by my noble friend that the situation must threaten serious damage, but the essential question is, "To what?". Serious damage to something that is of no consequence ought not to constitute an emergency. The Government can extend ad infinitum the provision that triggers their powers to make regulations.

In case that provision should somehow transpire not to be sufficient, the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, goes on to provide that the Secretary of State may declare that any disruption to a supply system, facility or service is to be treated as threatening human welfare and therefore as an emergency. The Secretary of State does not need to persuade anyone; he does not need to say that it ought to be included; or even to give a reason. All the reasonable and sensible concessions that the Government have made will be nullified if that proceeds. Cannot the Government trust themselves to provide in the Bill for the limitations that they accepted as appropriate? Are they afraid that they may have missed something? Have they no confidence in their own abilities?

Of course I take on board the triple lock, but what is the use of a triple lock if the very authorities that it is intended to confine are provided with a bundle of Semtex so that they can blast the three locks out of sight? I hope that my noble friend will explain the reason for the sudden bolt for cover. I am sorry; I did not intend that as a pun.

As my noble friend knows, I am the last person to deny the Government power to protect the public in an emergency. I fully accept that there is a danger that we criticise the Government when they fail to deal adequately with an emergency, yet we are in danger of begrudging them the powers to do so. But the Government are in danger of dissipating all that good will if they give the impression of seeking limitless powers. That is not only wrong in principle, it is unwise and counterproductive.

Lord Avebury

We have just listened to an extraordinarily powerful speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer: I agree with every word that he has uttered; there is very little that I can add. Subsections (5) and (6) are completely open-ended. They give the Secretary of State carte blanche to specify events or classes of event that are to be treated as coming within the definition of emergency and of adding to or amending the list of events or situations potentially threatening damage to human welfare.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, pointed out, although there is a requirement that your Lordships and another place approve whatever orders are made under the provision, that is not an adequate safeguard for such a far-reaching provision. As the noble Baroness said, we may have only an hour or so on a Friday morning or late at night to approve what may be extraordinarily drastic provisions.

I have a couple of points that I would like to add. First, is it really necessary, even accepting that there is a case for the provisions as a whole, to give the Secretary of State power to define events or situations that are to be treated as falling within subsection (1)(c), which deals with war or terrorism? If we are at war or if a terrorist situation arises that threatens the security of the United Kingdom, there is hardly likely to be any question of fact raised about whether the situation falls within the definition. So I appeal to the noble Baroness to justify the inclusion of paragraph (c) in the provision.

In the case of paragraphs (a) or (b), it is remotely conceivable that some new supply system, facility or service, not at present even imagined by science fiction writers, might emerge that was so vital to our existence that it would need to be separately listed. The Explanatory Notes do not give any indication of what these systems might be. I suggest that the timescale for their development is such that it is unnecessary for the Government to have that power in secondary legislation. When the moment arrives, if ever, there will be years if not decades of warning before the system becomes so vital to our existence that it needs special protection in emergency legislation over and above what it would already have in any case under subsections 2(a) and (b).

Perhaps I may just suggest that the Government should set a competition for science fiction writers to define a hypothetical system that would justify the use of the amending power under subsection (5)(b). If it turns out that no one can think of a plausible idea that would fit—obviously it would have to be outside the field of communications, which is already covered—we would be even more reassured that subsection (5)(b) is unnecessary.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

Like other noble Lords, I find subsection (5) chilling, frankly. I look to the Minister to reassure me on two points. The first has already been mentioned by noble Lords; that is, this subsection seems to give the Secretary of State the right to say, whenever he chooses, what words shall mean. Secondly, am I right in imagining that that right, in effect, will remove the operation of this Act by the Secretary of State from the scrutiny of the courts? If that is true, the matter is extremely serious.

It is perfectly understandable for the Government to seek powers to deal with emergencies and to protect the public, but there is a safeguard of the liberties of the subject and against the rousing of popular fears, which is easy to do, if it is always possible for someone to apply for judicial review, albeit in emergency session, of the decisions of the Secretary of State. If under this legislation the Secretary of State has the right to define what is an emergency, then it would seem that there can be no appeal to the courts against his decision. That is very serious and I hope the noble Baroness will be able to show that I am mistaken in that interpretation.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I, too, support the amendment. This surely must be the Henry VIII clause to end them all. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, were in his place this evening, he would speak for at least three-quarters of an hour on this amendment.

As other noble Lords have pointed out, we have here two new clauses which can nullify the previous clauses that have already been agreed or at least discussed; we may disagree with them later, on Report. Moreover, the Secretary of State can add further powers provided that he makes an order. What worries me, as it does the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is that such orders would go through almost on the nod.

One used to have a great deal of confidence in the other place, but the Bill passed through that House without this part being discussed in Committee, on Report or at any other stage. That is why this House has to spend so much time on it. In my experience of politics, and in my thinking, I have always believed that it was for the elected House to scrutinise Bills to see to it that their constituents would not be put at a disadvantage or endangered. So when we talk about orders, we ought to look at the behaviour of the House of Commons and the way in which the Government are running that House.

Noble Lords may say that it "could not happen here", not under our present administration or any possible future administration, but it is happening already—and this clause proves it. The behaviour of the House of Commons, the Government and, I am afraid, of the Opposition in agreeing to timetable a Bill of this sort without making provision for discussion of its most important part really does undermine one's confidence in our political process, as well as in our political parties.

This is a very important amendment and I hope sincerely—although I do not see how—that the noble Baroness will be able to convince us that these two clauses are good and that the amendment is unnecessary because it does not mean anything.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Elton

When the Minister comes to reply, in particular to the point made by the right reverend Prelate, she may be tempted to rely on the provision in subsection (6)(b) that no order may be made, unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament". That is a shaky proposition in any case. I hope that she will resist that temptation.

In my view, this is the subsection that protects the Secretary of State from the courts. Were it not there, the Secretary of State could be the subject of a judicial review saying that what he had done was unreasonable. But that will not be the case because, as a result of the operation of subsection (6)(b), it will be the law of the land, de facto.

As to the wider question of the effect of the protection of subsection (6)(b) and the protection of Parliament, beyond what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, powerfully and relevantly put, I remind the Committee that we are not only providing for civil emergencies and civil conditions that we cannot foresee, but also for parliamentary conditions that we cannot foresee.

We have already had an object lesson on the way in which Parliament can be persuaded that something drastic must be done, later to discover that that something did not have to be done on the grounds that had been advanced at the time. That instance lasted over years; we are now talking about something that might last three days. It is very easy to rush a group of legislators—particularly a small group of legislators isolated from their Front Benchers who have all gone away for the weekend, or whatever—into thinking that an emergency exists, and thereupon this whole panoply of possible repression exists.

As I say, the political conditions of the day cannot be foreseen, but I wonder how many of the dictatorships of the western world have emerged from the declaration of an emergency.

The Earl of Onslow

I can help my noble friend Lord Elton on that question: there was one chap knocking about Germany who had a funny moustache and waved his hand in the air. He claimed emergency powers and persuaded Hindenberg to sign them.

I find the clause quite repellent. I also find the idea that this Government would not go down that route extremely difficult to stomach. We have seen the Government take powers which should offend against all libertarians. They have tried to tamper with double jeopardy; they have tried to introduce the use of people's records in criminal trials; they have banged up people in Belmarsh, without charges or witnesses against them. The Government's record on human rights and protecting the individual liberty of the subject is absolutely appalling.

Lord Elton

That is the very smallest part of the issue. We are talking about a succession of governments, years ahead, who may be far more extreme than any we have thought of.

The Earl of Onslow

I completely agree with my noble friend, but I am starting from here. I thought that we were in Parliament to stop governments doing something like this. I feel terribly strongly about the issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has got it right: these timetable Bills in the Commons are voted against by the Opposition, bulldozed through and away they go without proper consideration. We now have carryover, something to which we should not have agreed.

All the checks by Parliament on the executive have been whittled away by this Government. For them to ask us to trust them with these, not Henry VIII but Henry DCCC powers is an affront to Pym, to Hampden, to Walpole and to everyone who fought for the liberties of the Commons, the liberties of the British people and the liberties of the subject under the law. The noble Baroness should be ashamed of having to defend it—and I know how much she likes the law and how good she is at it.

Viscount Goschen

I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Buscombe and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. Everyone who has spoken this evening on these amendments has been of one voice. The Minister showed the tiniest element of exasperation during the last group of amendments when the Committee wanted to take some time on the detail. One can understand why we would want to because subsection (5) suggests that although we spent all that time discussing subsection (2) none of it really matters because the Government can get round it in any event with subsection (5).

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, spoke of Henry VIII clauses, but this is not the biggest Henry VIII clause in the Bill. I recommend that that prize goes to Clause 22 (3) (j), which states that we can, disapply or modify an enactment (other than a provision of this Part) or a provision made under or by virtue of an enactment". That is fairly broad.

The powers that the Government are requesting are very broad and draconian. They do not even believe that the low hurdles that they have put in place in this Bill are sufficiently easy to overcome, so there should effectively be a "Get out of jail free" card in Clause 5, allowing the Secretary of State to determine what will happen. There is no question that the Government should have access to emergency powers in the event of a genuine—potential or actual—catastrophe, but by asking for too much, the Government undermine the credibility of the legislation.

Lord Lucas

I find subsection (5) (a) dishonest in its expression because it is saying that the Government may by order say that the language—and we can understand the language used in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1), as now amended—may mean anything. If the Government wanted to approach this matter honestly, we would be looking at powers to allow them to add further grounds for an emergency to subsection (1) (a), (b) and (c). However, the only purpose of subsection (5) (a) is to allow as an emergency something that is not included in subsection (1) (a), (b) or (c), not by adding it but by twisting the language. I find the approach chilling and I fear that it reflects somebody's intention in the drafting.

I share the noble Lord's inability to imagine what we might be talking about in subsection (5) (b). In any event, if there is a real need to make a change, we can actually make it faster by primary legislation than by secondary legislation. We can get primary legislation through both Houses in a few days whereas this proposal could require rather longer. All we are getting by this clause is a lack of scrutiny and a complete lack of check on anything that the Government may oppose to destroy the definitions that we have all spent a great deal of time polishing—and will spend further time polishing—in this Bill. I can see no justification for keeping or defending this clause.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I believe that I am the only member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee present in the Chamber this evening. We considered this issue in relation to Clause 19, just as we had previously considered it in the case of Clause 1(5). We thought that in the case of Clause 1(5) the powers were appropriate. In the cases of Clauses 19 and 20, we thought that the matter was very wide and that it was therefore for the House to decide whether it was acceptable. In those circumstances, we were effectively making it possible for the House to have the debate that we have just had on the breadth of the powers.

I have to say that, in discussion within the committee, we were of the view that the nature of the powers being sought implied, or could imply, as my noble friend Lord Lucas has just said, that it would not be irrelevant for the Government to come forward with a short Bill in primary legislation to define what extra power they were seeking or what extra definition of an emergency they were seeking to introduce.

We understood that the Government were seeking to future-proof the legislation; we understood that there were aspects of the Bill not contained in the Emergency Powers Act 1920, so we were not as firmly against the Government as Members of the Committee have been in this debate. But my noble friend Lady Buscombe did say, in winding up on the amendments to Clause 1(5) to which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, replied, that we would have to consider the matter seriously before Report, and might well wish to come back to it.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I regret that this part of the Bill has caused such consternation. I shall say straightaway to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer that I hope that I shall be able to quieten his beating heart in relation to this matter. I shall take some time to go through some of the anxieties that Members of the Committee have expressed.

First, I cannot accept the caricature of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, of what has actually happened to Part 2 and the way in which it was scrutinised in the Commons. It was scrutinised in detail in Committee in the Commons, having already been considered by a Joint Committee following a full public consultation exercise. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, for bringing to the Committee's attention that when the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee considered the matter it did not in fact find objection to it.

In considering the power in Clause 1(5)(a) to specify that the event or situation falls within the definition of emergency in Part 1 of the Bill, which is virtually identical to the Clause 19 (5)(a) power, the committee noted that the exercise of the power cannot amend the Bill but, can particularise, so far as is consistent with what is in the bill". The committee considered that to be appropriate, and that the affirmative procedure provided also seemed appropriate.

The committee went on to say in relation to the definition, in considering the limited power in Clause 1(5)(b) to amend the definition of "emergency" in Part 1—which is analogous to the power in Clause 19(5)—that it considered, the case for this Henry VIII power for Part 1 is sufficiently made out by"— the memorandum submitted by the Cabinet Office, and that affirmative resolution procedure provided was appropriate.

In commenting on the power in Clause 19(5), the committee said, we find the delegated powers acceptable".

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

The Minister did not quote the words that come immediately after the phrase that she has just quoted. We also said that the context was "more significant".

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I shall go on to say why we say that the context in this event is quite similar. In fact, we believe that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee approach was the correct—one and I shall explain why.

I know that it is late, but I do take strong exception to the caricature of the Government given by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. I remind him that it was this Government who introduced the Human Rights Act and the freedom of information legislation. It is this Government who have been assiduous in ensuring that the rights of individuals in our country are properly represented. Each of the matters which the noble Earl raised were properly and extensively debated in both Houses of Parliament before they were passed. That is our democratic approach. I bow to no one on the way in which this House and, in matters of importance, the other House, scrutinise with rigour legislation, as we are doing tonight. Therefore, I disagree entirely with the way in which the noble Earl seeks to besmirch the good name of the Government in this regard.

9 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

What about the people who are banged up in Belmarsh Prison without being charged and without seeing the witness against them? I gave examples of what has been forced through by this Government. I personally think that they are extremely illiberal and verging on the tyrannical. If the noble Baroness does not like that, that is bad luck.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

We have had a number of debates on the emergency legislation, the Terrorism Act and the Criminal Justice Act. We have had extensive discussions about whether we have put in place appropriate measures. On this occasion we are discussing the emergency legislation. I regret to tell the noble Earl that I could not simply accede to the statements he made, with which I frankly cannot agree.

I turn to the powers that we have in place. It is important to remember that the emergency legislation exists to provide the legislative safety net. In part it is a recognition that legislation may become out of date as time goes by. If the definition for when it can be used becomes outdated itself, it will no longer be able fully to perform this function.

One has only to consider how much things have changed since 1920. The rapid development of, and our ever growing dependence upon, new technology, changes in lifestyle and patterns of employment, the growth of new means of production and the networks of supply and delivery that have developed since 1920 are startling. In those days, before the National Health Service, it is unlikely that disruption to health services would in itself have been considered so serious as to trigger emergency powers. The same could be said of disruption to systems of communication or the supply of money. With the pace of change seemingly ever increasing it would be irresponsible not to allow for the updating of the list of specified means of supply, systems facilities and services to ensure it reflects future developments whose disruption may threaten human welfare. Clause 19(5)(b) allows for that and only for that, not for wholesale changes to the definition of the emergency to be made. Any changes made would require the approval of Parliament.

Clause 19(5)(a) allows a specified event or situation, or class of event or situation, to be treated as falling or not falling within the definition of human welfare, environment and security. If a catastrophic event is expected, this allows the Government to make clear that it could be a candidate for use of emergency powers and allows Parliament to debate that in advance. For example, the Government may have wished to specify that the worst case scenario effects of the millennium bug should be treated as falling within the definition of a threat to human welfare. It would not necessarily mean that emergency powers would be used if and when the event occurred—that would depend on the particular circumstances—but it would allow the Government to indicate that they were considering their use if the worst happened, and allow Parliament to discuss the issues in advance. The Government would see that as a helpful way to build a consensus across Parliament and to ensure that any pertinent issues were raised that might inform any future legislation.

I hear what the noble Lord said about affirmative resolutions. Certainly I have been involved in some very trenchant debates on affirmative resolutions when this House has made its position absolutely clear. The beauty of affirmative resolutions is that if single issues are involved each House has a choice. We can strike it down in its entirety if we do not wish it, and it cannot be brought back during that Session, or we can affirm it. It is not a toothless bulldog. Affirmative resolution procedure is capable of being very effective if used properly by Parliament. I, for one, have confidence that this House and the other place would take such a resolution very seriously indeed, no matter what time of day it was put on our agenda. The Government do not therefore see the issue as being as threatening as many Members of the Committee have felt.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I have been around affirmative resolutions many times, and am particularly concerned about the power that this House has over them, which some people would like to remove. I remind the noble Baroness that whenever this House threatens to dare to disagree to and throw out an affirmative resolution, it is always threatened—it has been under all sorts of governments—with reprisals. Therefore, the check and balance in this House does not exist in reality. The Government make threats—Mr Blunkett is always doing so—against this House and its powers. I wish that she would not place such reliance on affirmative resolutions.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I hear what the noble Lord says but, frankly, my experience from this Dispatch Box is that the House has a tendency to be absolutely fearless. If it thinks that there is a matter of merit, this House deals with it in the way in which it deserves; so one would expect.

The Earl of Onslow

Can the noble Baroness tell me how many affirmative resolutions have been thrown out since the war?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I do not know the figures. The noble Earl will know that not only can affirmative resolutions be thrown out but, quite often, if it looks as if there is real difficulty, they can be withdrawn and be brought back on another day. I shall certainly be happy to inquire and see whether, within reasonable limits, we cannot find the answer that he seeks.

The Earl of Onslow

I may be able to help the noble Baroness. The answer is one—the 1968 Rhodesian sanctions order, which killed the first effort at changing this House. But I think that is the only one that has been thrown out since the war.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

The noble Earl and a number of Members of the Committee have been present at the most trenchant discussions on how we get through such matters, which have been dealt with appropriately.

Clause 19(5)(a) does not enable an amendment to the definition of emergency in the wholesale way feared. Clause 19(5)(b) confers a very limited power to amend the list of supplies, systems, facilities or services, disruption of which constitutes an emergency. In effect, the power can be used only to amend Clause 19(2)(e) to (h).

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, about the effect that the provisions will have on the courts' ability to scrutinise. It is simply not the case that the order would not be scrutinised. It will still be made by the Secretary of State. His actions can be challenged in the normal way. There are a number of precedents in which statutory instruments approved by Parliament have been struck down. We will write to the noble Lord giving examples of when that has happened.

Viscount Goschen

Are there any provisions in the Bill that would remove access to the courts?

Lord Elton

The noble Baroness does not like getting up and down too often, so I would like to come back on what she said to me. Judicial review is not much protection anyway in a situation that may have completely expired and done frightful damage in only a week or two.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

That is why we return to the fact that the triple lock will apply to anything to which these emergency powers apply. I understand that the noble Lord is anxious. I have tried to explain that the way in which it will operate will enable us, just as we have with the 1920 Act, to update, as we must, because things have moved on. It allows for that situation. It is not intended to be used as a wholesale revision of the clauses. That is why we have pursued the matter carefully, trying to be as comprehensive as we can.

Baroness Buscombe

My noble friend Lord Elton is trying to point out, as have other noble Lords in relation to redress to the courts, that, in the event of an emergency, reference to the triple lock comes too late. Redress to the courts will come too late. That is the problem. No matter how brilliant the triple lock might be, in the event that a Secretary of State decides to change or add a category under subsection (5), any redress in terms of access to the courts would be neither here nor there. It would be too late. The damage would have been done.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I should say, first, that the fact that the matter would have to go before both Houses of Parliament is an important fact that will ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise these powers before they come into force. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the right reverend Prelate asks whether we are excluding the courts. We are not. Barrier number one is Parliament. I believe in Parliament. I believe that we are robust in dealing with such matters. I do not see us as the ineffectual implement that many noble Lords suggest. We have a powerful scrutinising role. If this matter comes before either of our Houses for scrutiny, it will be scrutinised. We have the powers if we wish to avail ourselves of them.

It is important to understand that the Clause 19(5) power is not intended to be used in an actual emergency. It is designed to keep the definition of "emergency" up to date. In an emergency there is unlikely to be time to obtain a Clause 19(5) change. The prior approval of both Houses will be needed. Perhaps I may use the millennium bug as an example, or that we may be threatened by some missile or other matter, and it looks as if the threat is coming towards us over a period of time. There would be time to obtain emergency powers to include that threat in the definition. That would enable Parliament to decide whether the consequences of, for example, the millennium bug should be included in the definition. It is not something that the Government would be able to use in an emergency. We would be able to amend the definition in good time, so that matters that may have changed can be taken into account.

Let us suppose that in 50 years' time we no longer use petrol, but all our energy is solar. Or, say, we no longer use food as we do now, and we ingest it in tablet or some other form which we have to control. We could amend the definition to take that into account.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Up to this point, I have listened carefully to her comments, which I have found persuasive. But if she is saying that a situation may change in 50 years so that the legislation may become out of date, would one not need a clause such as this in every statute that had ever been passed?

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Let us say that something turns up not in 50 years but in one or two years' time. I will stick with the millennium bug-type issue which we do not yet know about. This legislation gives us an opportunity, through affirmative resolution, either to exclude something or to include it. That is the kind of model I am talking about.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

I thank the Minister for giving way. I want to take further the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. I found the Minister's words reassuring in the sense of the stated intention. The difficulty with which I am left is that I cannot see where that is stated in the Bill.

I still have the fear that it is not unknown for senses of emergency to be generated. This Bill does not preclude the introduction of these changes in the midst of an emergency and I fully accept the Minister's good faith in saying that that is not the intention. But if it is not the intention, would she review the provisions of the Bill in such a way as to see whether at a later stage there can be some safeguard against what I can see as extremely dangerous; that is, the right to introduce new kinds of emergency in the middle of them?

Lord Avebury

Perhaps I may also ask the Minister a question to save her getting up twice. She mentioned that the specified supply, system, facility or service referred to in subsection (5)(b) was not meant to be some unimagined facility or service, as I had thought was the intention, but that it was only one of the services referred to in paragraphs (e) to (h) in subsection (2) of the clause. Will she therefore agree that if we table an amendment replacing the words specified supply, system, facility or service with the words services referred to in paragraphs (e) to (h) of subsection (2) of this section", the Government will accept it?

Lord Lucas

Perhaps I may keep the noble Baroness seated for a little longer. She rightly took me to task at an earlier stage for confusing an event with the consequences of the event and pointing out that this Bill deals with the consequences. Then she commits the same crime herself by talking about the millennium bug. The millennium bug is either significant or not because of its effects. Whether its effects, or the effects of anything else, fall under subsection (2) is the question we should be asking, not what the latest misguided craze will be for our civilisation ending.

The events we are setting out in subsection (2) have a permanence to them—they have a pace of change which belongs to primary legislation. There may be something to add to them in 50 years' time and there probably will be in 500 years' time, but I jolly well hope we shall maintain a reasonable pace in keeping our legislation under review. Primary legislation is where that kind of timescale belongs.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I have tried to clarify why we believe that the provision is robust. I can see that Members of the Committee are confirmed that the current drafting is not as clear as they would like. I am more than happy to consider the drafting to see whether we can bring clearer definition to bear. I confess that at the moment I cannot see how that can be done, but I am sure that it is important that we look at it to ensure that this matter is right. Furthermore, the annotated notes which will go with the Bill can be used, together with what has been said by us in Parliament, to give clarity to interpretation of intention.

I can reassure the right reverend Prelate that we have in mind his concerns. I hope that I have reassured people that the courts are not excluded and that these matters can be properly challenged. Ministers will not be able to behave unreasonably in enacting an order specifying that a particular event is an emergency. Each Minister's action could be challenged. Similarly, if a Minister's judgment of an event poses a threat of serious damage to human welfare, environment or security, it can be challenged in the courts. Therefore, I hope that I have been able to say clearly that noble Lords' concerns about that situation are not well founded, although I understand why the concerns have been expressed.

I hope that I have now dealt with all the points that arose in relation to this matter. I see the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, shaking his head as though I have not dealt with his points. I think that I dealt with the question which he raised about 15 minutes ago but which he may have forgotten. I am happy to give way if he thinks that I have excluded something from my response that he would like me to answer.

Viscount Goschen

I asked the noble Baroness whether there was any power within the Bill that could be used to remove access to the courts.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

No, there is not. There is no provision in the Bill which removes access to the courts from those who wish to make a challenge. I hope that that reassures the noble Viscount.

Viscount Goschen

I shall make a severe attempt to intervene less as we proceed. However. Clause 22 states that any Act of Parliament may be set aside. Surely the rights of a citizen to access to a court is laid down in statute and that statute, whatever it may be, could be temporarily set aside. Is that not right?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I know, for example, that concern was expressed about the Human Rights Act, and we shall bring forward a provision in order to make it clear that the Human Rights Act will bite in relation to these matters. For the purposes of the record, I am saying that the courts are not excluded and we do not propose to add anything to the Bill which would exclude them or which would be implied or deemed to exclude them. That is not our intention.

Lord Lucas

I remember the story of the dean of an Oxford college who was able to circumvent the rules banning firearms by deeming the firearm in question to be a cat and therefore to be permitted as a pet. I have been reading subsection (5)(a) in that kind of spirit. It seemed to me to be a measure without limitation but, when the noble Baroness addressed us, she said that what could be done under that subsection was severely limited in some way. It is not clear from the wording that it is limited but she is saying that somehow it is. Can she write to me to tell me how? I suppose that these limitations must be set out somewhere but they are certainly not on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I shall be more than happy to write to the noble Lord. Indeed, bearing in mind the nature of the concern that this matter has given rise to, we shall seek to clarify what I must confess we thought was a modest provision. It had been given the assent of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and we thought that your Lordships would be content also. Bearing in mind that our intent is honourable, we shall look at the provision again to see whether we can bring to it any further clarification. But I assure your Lordships that we consider this provision to be very modest.

Baroness Buscombe

Where to begin? I shall be brief because we have had a good debate on Amendments Nos. 97 and 97A concerning this extremely important area. Ultimately, much of this comes down to trust. Perhaps I may beg to disagree with the Minister. I do not believe that these are modest provisions; I believe that they are enabling powers. They are powers that will require this Government or a future government to act reasonably.

Bearing in mind very much what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said this evening, I regret that I do not share the Minister's confidence in, in particular, the Members of another place and their ability to scrutinise properly this important legislation. I do not agree with the Minister that this legislation was properly scrutinised in another place. It was brief in many areas and, indeed, some clauses of the Bill were not considered at all.

I entirely agree with all the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. It is deeply depressing that it is the Members of the elected House who are now leaving it to us, the unelected Members, to do their job. This is perhaps a debate for another day but I am sure that many noble Lords feel as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, does, and as I do, that that means that we have a diminished democracy. That is a sad fact of life in today's Parliament.

The words "chilling" and "repellant" were used by noble Lords. The Minister has worked hard to try to reassure us all that these are modest provisions, but I am not convinced. That said, I shall read with care in Hansard what has been said by the Minister. I am grateful, as I am sure are other noble Lords, that the Minister has agreed to take this away and look again at the drafting. In so doing, I am sure that the Minister will respect our deep concerns that the powers are too wide, that the checks and balances are insufficient.

One point made by noble Lords that I should like to reiterate is that, if Clause 19(5) were to be passed, it is the kind of provision where primary legislation would make a lot more sense. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas when he says that the list within subsection (2) has a permanence about it. It is very hard to envisage what it is that would require an extension to that list. However, enough said. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 97A not moved.]

Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 20 [Power to make emergency regulations]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 98:

Page 14, line 3, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c) and insert "or (b) one of Her Majesty's principle Secretaries of State, whose sole responsibility relates to civil contingencies

The noble Baroness said: Clause 20 is concerned with the power to make emergency regulations. As currently drafted, the Bill allows many people to exercise the power to make emergency regulation. A "senior Minister of the Crown" may exercise these powers and in this part a "senior Minister of the Crown" is the Prime Minister, any of the principal Secretaries of State and the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury. In our view, that is too many people exercising too great a power. Our amendment would ensure that only the Prime Minister would have the power to make emergency regulations or a Secretary of State whose sole responsibility relates to civil contingencies.

Perhaps I may explain our thinking in tabling the amendment. Thankfully, this country has not had to deal in recent years with a crisis on the scale that befell the United States of America in the dreadful attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. I know that it is the sincere hope of everyone that we shall never have to deal with such a large-scale disaster. However, America now has the experience that such disaster brings. It has learnt the lesson of what works best in such a situation and what is needed. The Americans have now chosen to establish one Minister, one Secretary of State, one director, to be in charge should such an emergency occur again. It has learnt that what is needed in times such as those is clear leadership and orders from top down, not a number of people who could be making very difficult, life and death decisions.

We believe that what is needed is a clear chain of command and one person in charge. Our amendment is a compromise with the Government. It would allow the Prime Minister and one other person who deals with civil contingencies on a daily basis—a Minister for homeland security—to make such decisions. Do the Government envisage appointing such a Minister?

Our amendment would ensure that there would be no confusion at a time when every second may be vital. It would ensure that everyone would know who they should look to and take orders from. It is clear common sense in our view and I look forward to the Minister's response. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

I am embarrassed to ask this question. Will the noble Baroness in her reply enlighten me as to who are the current commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury?

Lord Garden

I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, had an elegant way of promoting part of her party's policies in terms of the establishment of a Minister responsible exclusively for homeland security. I support the concept that we need to have more clarity about who has ministerial responsibility in this field. In all these different emergencies you get so many departments involved; in the end it comes down to the Secretariat taking the coordinating role rather than an accountable Minister that one can go to.

I disagree that it is necessarily sole responsibility, in the sense that one could identify a senior Minister who could have this among his portfolio. Then there is the question of how many Ministers we need to give these powers to. If we were to accept this amendment, we might end up with too few Ministers and find ourselves in a state where no one was available to take the decision.

On the other hand, as the Bill is constructed at the moment, almost anybody can take on these powers. That sounds like too many in one particular respect; it seems to me that, when we talked about whether we would bring in Secretaries of State to have some responsibilities under the Bill, the Government were not desperately enthusiastic.

I hope that there will be some form of regular training in crisis management for the Ministers who will undertake these duties. This is not a simple day-to-day activity that we are talking about, yet we are expecting Ministers to be able to react at a moment's notice to an unprecedented event.

So, while not endorsing the noble Baroness's amendment, I think that it sparks a useful reconsideration about how many Ministers should be given these powers and then subsequently, but outside the Bill, how you would keep them trained and ready to use those powers.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I agree with that. I think that, bearing in mind that these are important emergency powers, the provision may very well have to go rather wider than that. Our government does not simply exist on the Government. There are other parties to be considered. In matters of emergency we might start thinking about the right of the Opposition to be consulted as well when emergencies are in the offing. That is something I throw out which we might like to consider.

However, I am intrigued by these three people who will exercise the power. I spoke about it on 14 October when we discussed the Bill. I am intrigued in the first place because I find that when I was a Lord Commissioner I was a senior Minister. I have been promoted to a senior Minister. I think that I have a claim for some back pay because it is quite clear that the amount of money the Treasury paid me as a Lord Commissioner did not warrant my duties being considered to be senior. I would have had considerably more money than I did, so perhaps I have a long-term claim against the Treasury for underpayment.

I am also intrigued as to how this Lord Commissioner, who is a glorified senior sort of Whip, will exercise his power. He will exercise it on behalf of the Treasury. Why on earth he will exercise it when we already have the First Lord of the Treasury able to exercise it, I simply do not know.

What are the circumstances? A Lord Commissioner has no departmental responsibility, no department and no office in Whitehall—other than, perhaps, No. 12 Downing Street; but I do not know whether the Chief Whip still has an office in No. 12 Downing Street; I think that it has been filched by No. 10 by now. As far as I know, he receives no advice—he is not entitled to receive advice—from civil servants, or anyone else, for that matter. So how will this Lord Commissioner exercise this extreme power of agreeing that a matter is an emergency? I simply do not understand it.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the Commissioners of the Treasury are to be given that enormous power. No Minister of State, such as the noble Baroness, will be given such power. But a mere Lord Commissioner will have more power than the noble Baroness, who is a Minister of State.

Lord Elton

I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me that I am right in my suspicion of who the Lords Commissioners are. I thought it so unlikely that I wanted confirmation. In fact, however, the definition is not "a Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury", it is "the Commissioners". Senior Minister of the Crown means: one person, First Lord of the Treasury; one person, any of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State; or, the Commissioners—plural—of Her Majesty's Treasury. That is a drafting point, but a genuine one that needs to be taken into account if the Bill is to remain as it is.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Perhaps the noble Baroness can answer that point. I took it that any Commissioner of the Treasury could be called on to do that job. I do not know how many commissioners there are—I think that there are about six—or whether they would meet in conclave to have a long discussion. If the matter was of some urgency for an emergency, it might be difficult to come to a conclusion. I should be interested to know how those Lords Commissioners will exercise that power. I return to the beginning: when emergency powers are to be exercised in a modern society, our system demands that the Opposition have a role. Perhaps we ought to start thinking about finding a role for them.

Lord Lucas

The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, are immensely important. We will have very few people in a position to make these regulations. Unless they are well rehearsed, all sorts of mistakes will be made. Presumably, they will be backed up by some kind of dedicated Civil Service team. None the less, they themselves will need rehearsing and I am not aware that, at least in this country, the Prime Minister spends half his time playing golf. My impression is that the Prime Minister's diary is already pretty full. Loading down senior Ministers with the requirement that they should be well rehearsed and well versed in how to deal with emergencies immediately, without that task being capable of being delegated to a more junior Minister, seems to me something that we should think about.

There is also the question of why, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, we should be extending these powers to people who have no ministerial experience, no experience of running a department, very little experience of legislation and who are merely party apparatchiks. There are a lot of experienced and capable Ministers who would have a better claim to that position.

How robust is the structure? Next year, we have the 400th anniversary of Guy Fawkes. Interestingly, we do not intend to celebrate that in any way; it is not politically correct to celebrate the anniversary of Guy Fawkes. Let us suppose that A1'Qaeda chose to support that anniversary, and succeeded, with a nice barge full of explosives on the Thames in the middle of Prime Minister's Question Time. Would we be left with somebody who could perform the roles set out in this paragraph? What is the process for creating a Prime Minister, a senior Secretary of State or the Lords Commissioners? What is required still to exist by way of personnel and offices to make that happen? In the event of the near-destruction of Parliament, with perhaps a few ill MPs the only survivors, how would one create the office that enabled the holder to make emergency regulations? How robust would this provision be in the event of a serious terrorist attack?

Lord Dixon-Smith

I wish to raise a slightly different point. Subsection (1) provides that: Her Majesty may by Order in Council make emergency regulations". Subsection (2) provides: A senior Minister of the Crown may make emergency regulations". Subsection (3) states: In this Part 'senior Minister of the Crown' means— (a) the First Lord of the Treasury"— that is fine— (b) any of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, and (c) the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury". I see no limitation whereby only one person can exercise the power at any one time.

My noble friend Lady Buscombe makes a serious point when she talks about a Minister for homeland security. That is not necessarily the appropriate solution, but, for any system to work, it is fundamental that there is a chain down which availability goes, with only one person on it at any time who can exercise the power, otherwise there would be chaos. I should be most grateful if the Minister would deal with that issue, because so far as I can see, the current wording of the Bill does not.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

We had a paving debate on this subject during our debate on Amendment No. 48, which related to Clause 7, the last time this Committee sat, as reported at cols. 460 to 468 of Hansard. But there is a difference between that paving debate and this one: Clause 7 referred simply to a "Minister of the Crown" whereas Clause 19 refers to a "senior Minister of the Crown", which is clearly intended to differentiate. We know that it is intended to differentiate because "senior Minister" is defined whereas Clause 7 did not define "Minister of the Crown"—it was not needed because we all know what a Minister of the Crown is. However, "Minister of the Crown" includes members of the Government Whips Office, who do not have to be a departmental Minister.

Before agreeing with the latter part of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Buscombe, I have one query. The amendment eliminates everybody except the First Lord of the Treasury as having the ability to declare an emergency, and adds, one of Her Majesty's principle Secretaries of State, whose sole responsibility relates to civil contingencies". I realise that the spelling of "principle" is a typographical error, and an upper case "P" is needed, but that is by the by. The fact remains that she has defined very precisely the alternative to the First Lord of the Treasury, since the person's sole responsibility as the Secretary of State will have to relate to civil contingencies. The implication is that we will have a new Principal Secretary of State for homeland security, who will be preoccupied with that one subject.

The Explanatory Notes indicate that any reference to, any of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State", relates to the Home Secretary, because of his responsibilities and duties, and I understand that that is so. However, there is the fall-back of any of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State.

9.45 p.m.

With some diffidence, I ask the Minister to remind me which are the Principal Secretaries of State. There used to be league 1 and league 2 Secretaries of State, league 1 being those who ran full-scale departments and league 2 being people such as the Secretary of State for Air or the Secretary of State for War, who were under the umbrella of the Secretary of State for Defence. Although they had discrete responsibilities, they did not carry what might be described as the role of Principal Secretary of State.

Those are my observations on my noble friend's amendment. We must have more than the two people envisaged in the amendment to have a fall-back position to cope with an emergency.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I seem to recollect being told as a student that, in constitutional theory, there is only one Secretary of State. It is normal draftsmanship to refer to "the Secretary of State", without specifying which Secretary of State.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I do not disagree with that for a moment. The noble and learned Lord is right. There was, until recently, the exception of the Minister of Agriculture. He could not be included and could not serve as a Secretary of State, because he was not one. He was deliberately something else. The noble and learned Lord is right about the drafting convention. The Minister may reply that all Secretaries of State are Principal Secretaries of State. It would be helpful to have that confirmed.

Having made the remark about convenience, I come to the choice of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury as the alternative, if none of the other Ministers defined in the clause is available. I mention it for a variety of reasons, some of which follow what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. The board of the Treasury was set up in 1677 and met with absolute regularity until 1827. It met reasonably regularly until 1856, when Lord Aberdeen left office. Lord Liverpool had departed in 1827. The board continued to meet very occasionally until 1919, since when it has met once—in 1983 for special and particular reasons.

Despite the convenience of having the Lords Commissioners available to sign things—I once signed for £49 billion, in conjunction with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, as he then was not—it is difficult to see them as senior Ministers for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, gave: they are paid less than the most junior Parliamentary Secretary. We cannot call them senior Ministers. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said: perhaps he and I were underpaid when we fulfilled those roles. Whatever happens, the Government must tidy up the wording of the clause, even if they do not accept the views of my noble friend Lady Buscombe.

Lord McNally

All I can say is that the Committee is lucky that we no longer have Lord Russell with us; if we did, we would be back in the 17th or 18th century by now.

As I listened to this interesting debate, it struck me that, in 1940, when France faced catastrophe, it was a junior Minister in the French Government who took control of the Free French: de Gaulle. More recently, there have been attempts to kill the Cabinet—in Brighton and in the rocket attack in Whitehall. The blue powder that was thrown by the disgruntled father could have been something else, something far more deadly. Whatever the solution, we are talking about emergencies and thinking the unthinkable, and any emergency powers should be proof against an attack that decapitates the decision-making power of government.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I respectfully say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that he makes a very powerful point. It is for that very reason that they are so described. We just need to get the historical context right.

Lord McNally

I forgot one point. If catastrophe did befall us, I could think of far worse places for power to rest than the Whips' Office.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I am sure that that will be warmly welcomed. Perhaps I should describe why Her Majesty's Commissioners are so described in the Bill. By virtue of the Treasury Instruments (Signature) Act 1849, action must be taken by at least two commissioners. One commissioner cannot act alone. There are seven Lords Commissioners, including the Chancellor and the Prime Minister as First Lord of the Treasury. As Members of the Committee have already said, the others are Government Whips. But the Prime Minister is mentioned in his own right in the Bill to ensure that he can act alone. Wherever your Lordships see the Chancellor mentioned, he is never mentioned as the Chancellor, he is mentioned in the way that we have defined. That is the appropriate, accepted way of describing that role.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, talked about first and second division Secretaries of State. We are in the happy position now of having only first division Secretaries of State. So all our Secretaries of State are Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State and are so included. So it will be the Prime Minister, all the Secretaries of State and the commissioners in terms of the Treasury.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, made a very good point about the nature of the threat that we face. It will be important to say that, of course, Her Majesty the Queen will be the first port of call. I must stress that it would only ever be the Queen who exercises these powers other than in the very unlikely situation that she is unable to do so. That would cause a serious delay, as defined in the Bill.

The Crown, as Members of the Committee will know, is highly resilient. Such a situation has never occurred in the past. It is extremely unlikely in practice that anyone other than Her Majesty would ever make emergency regulations under the Bill.

Lord Elton

In such an extraordinary situation, who would make the regulations if there was only the Queen to sign the order?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

It would be made in terms of Her Majesty acting in Council, which is what the first provision says. The second provision relates to who, if the Queen was not available, would be able to act: then there would be the senior Ministers. In the event of serious delay, those powers may be exercisable by the Minister with the most relevant policy responsibility in line with the lead government department principle.

In practice, if it were the Queen who was acting, it would formally be the appropriate lead Minister advising her. Having them act in her stead where she cannot act is therefore most in keeping with existing constitutional arrangements. It would be unrealistic to expect any single Minister to have the necessary in-depth knowledge of all the policy area issues and implications and the full range of possible emergencies that would allow them to take properly informed decisions about the content of all possible regulations in all possible scenarios and answer to Parliament in a meaningful way.

Allowing only a single Minister to use emergency powers where the Queen cannot would not only confuse the division of responsibilities and dilute the expertise within government, but also create a single point of failure should this Minister be affected by emergency. It would be an unnecessary bureaucratic invention that would risk a delay by, in practice, forcing the lead Minister to act through a proxy rather than directly. Of course, I will give way.

The Earl of Onslow

Let us take this assumption: we are now assuming a Brighton that has succeeded. It is during an election period when there is no House of Commons. The Cabinet happens to meet and is destroyed by a terrorist act. The only time that happened—the mention of Lord Russell reminded me of it—was with the flight of James II when there was no House of Commons. Because it is never dissolved, this House produced the functioning part of government.

I know that this is hyperbole, but it is just within the bounds of conceptual possibility. What would actually happen if the Government were wiped out in a terrorist act or an act of war? Presumably the only people to take over would be the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury if they were still there; that is, junior Whips. Am I right?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

That would assume that Her Majesty had gone as well. If Her Majesty was still there, she would be able to act in Council, as she is able to do under the Act, and there would be Her Majesty's Commissioners of the Treasury.

The Earl of Onslow

In this case, modern constitutional theory states that the Crown acts only on advice. If the source of that advice has been "spifflicated", how do we get around that problem? We are discussing here the absolute worst case scenario.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

The second rank, if I may so describe Ministers of State, many of whom are already Privy Counsellors, would take the opportunity to make up the group of Ministers entitled to act. However, Her Majesty would be entitled to work in Council, and that would be the route used. Obviously, if Her Majesty's Commissioners of the Treasury were still in being, any of them could be so constructed.

Our current civil contingency provisions enable Ministers to develop models to show precisely what would happen in terms of which responsibilities are delegated to whom in the event of the primary or principal Secretary of State having been removed. Contingencies of that sort are matters which are capable of being discussed and provided for when preparations are made. Clear outlines are given in the revised edition of Dealing with Disaster of how the day-to-day management of these issues would be provided for. Provision is made for the way in which lead departments would work and what would be expected of them. For example, paragraph 7.14 on page 59 states that: Departments must move into action immediately an emergency arises where they are designated as having the lead. Normally this will be contained within the Department's own contingency management arrangements. But where the LGD identifies a potential or actual civil emergency that poses a major disruptive challenge to the UK and where the Civil Contingency Committee of Ministers (chaired normally by the Home Secretary) may have to be convened to provide central oversight, then it will need to: What would happen is set out in sub-paragraphs (a) to (i).

The Civil Contingency Committee has been in being for a significant time. It plans precisely how these matters should be dealt with and some Ministers have participated in practice to cover precisely how these issues will run. This is very much the bread-and-butter type of contingency planning that would be done. It covers what would happen, who should take control and who would step in as the next in command. Indeed, all these matters are considered by the committee. The detail not contained in the Bill is set out in Dealing with Disaster, a fourth edition of which is on the way. Noble Lords may find it helpful to look at the document because it deals with much of the day-to-day detail of how these issues would be dealt with. So, noble Lords will see that the reason for adding the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury reflects the provision made in the 1849 Act. That is how they are described and how it has been dealt with.

10 p.m.

As to Amendment No. 99, it has always been the Government's intention that the fall-back option should be available only in situations where the balance of evidence suggests that there is likely to be a serious delay. The judgment as to whether it should be used will be based on an assessment of the magnitude of the damage such delay may cause.

There may be cases where the probability of the delay resulting in serious damage could be in doubt but, given the potential damage that the balance of evidence suggests, the fall-back option should be used. For example, a warning that a number of nuclear devices had been planted in key cities may require the making of emergency regulations as quickly as possible even if the credibility of the threat is in doubt. If the Queen was on official business in northern Scotland, it may not be possible for her to act quickly enough. The likelihood of delay resulting in serious damage may be in doubt but the implications of inaction would simply be unacceptable. Those are the kind of situations we envisage.

All the Ministers involved and named in the Bill would have specific duties, especially if they were in the lead department responsible for the kind of incident involved. I have already indicated the fall-back principle that, in the event of anything else happening, the Secretary of State dealing with such matters will of course be my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

Lord Lucas

I accept the resilience of the Crown but, in terms of the Bill, is the Minister saying that our current constitution still permits the surviving monarch to appoint her own counsel, to choose her own advisers, so that in whatever state Parliament finds itself we will end up with a functioning government? This might give even the Liberal Party some hope that they will once again have a Prime Minister.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Clause 20(1) states explicitly: Her Majesty may by Order in Council make emergency regulations if satisfied that the conditions in section 21 are satisfied". Noble Lords will know that, in the usual way, it is the senior Ministers in Her Majesty's current Government who make up the members of the Council and who act with her. In extremis, of course, failing there being any, I suppose it would always be open to Her Majesty to invite such members of her Council who may be surviving to attend her and assist her in that regard. I know that a number of noble Lords who sit on our Benches may be called upon in extremis.

Lord McNally

It is one step at a time for us. I am more interested in the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that the Official Opposition should be involved, because that is our first stage.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I should reassure the noble Lord that, in the normal way, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition are consulted on emergencies, are kept fully informed of what is happening and participate fully. That is the way in which we have always operated and that will continue. I acknowledge the aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to be so consulted.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I thank the Minister for her account of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, though the Bill she quoted was written within seven years of the Board of the Treasury ceasing to meet regularly. That would suggest that that was about the last time they could reasonably have been described as senior Ministers.

Significant power is being given to what is described in the Bill as a senior Minister. The current drafting goes straight from the First Lord of the Treasury and the Principal Secretaries of State to the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, leapfrogging all the Ministers of State, all the Parliamentary Secretaries, the Second Lord of the Treasury (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), the Paymaster-General, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord President of the Council, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, who has served in Cabinet recently—all of which are Cabinet appointments. I still wonder whether a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, except for the purposes of convenience, can really be described as a senior Minister.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I hope that I have made clear that, because of the way in which our law has been constructed hitherto, the way one describes—if I may put it that way—the Chancellor of the Exchequer is as your Lordships see it in the Bill. He is never described simply as the Chancellor of the Exchequer because of the way in which the rules operate. He operates with the other Lords Commissioners. It would be churlish in the extreme to use this as an exception to disapply that which has been applied so well and with such utility for so long. Among our current Government Whips in the Treasury, we have some exemplary people, who I am sure could be properly described as senior.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for her full response to my amendments and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been extremely instructive for me, as one who sadly has not had the experience of being in government. Therefore, it is news to me that there used to be different leagues of Secretary of State.

I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke and other noble Lords for assisting me in testing the Government about whether it is appropriate that the seven Lords Commissioners of the Treasury should take precedence over other Ministers. I am not sympathetic to either my noble friend Lord Brooke or the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, when they questioned why they were underpaid as Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. They should try being a shadow Minister in Opposition in this House. We are not paid at all, so that falls on deaf ears as far as I am concerned.

I am grateful to the Minister for her response and sorry that your Lordships are not rushing to support the amendment in the sense of enabling us to have one Minister in sole charge. However, I take on board the reasons why that should not happen. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said about the difficulty of having one person in charge, for all the reasons mentioned by other noble Lords who contributed to this debate—that it might be difficult if that person was not available or was struck down by this unprecedented act. What the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said about regular training in crisis management and so forth is important. The debate points up the need to think about how things will work in the event of an unprecedented act—what the chain of command will be and who will be in charge.

I hope that all those lucky enough to become the First Lord of the Treasury, one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State or a Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury will read what has been said this evening in Hansard and understand where they might fit within this legislation. However, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.