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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I note a reference under "senior Minister" to Commissioners of the Treasury. I understand that they are senior Whips. What possible role have they to play in the matter?
Mr. Alexander: Parliamentary counsel's advice has been sought about that. The description of the Treasury that appears in most legislation is replicated accurately in the Bill. It therefore reflects common practice in describing the Treasury in legislation.
The Bill overhauls the safeguards against misuse in the 1920 Act. By and large, they were express limitations such as prohibiting emergency regulations from providing for military conscription or interfering with criminal procedure. The measure significantly
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Alexander: I have been generous and I fear that other hon. Members will not be able to make their contributions unless I press on.
The triple lock is the foundation of the safeguards, but we have also replicated and enhanced the express limitations of the 1920 Act. Emergency powers cannot prohibit or enable the prohibition of participation in or activity connected with a strike or other industrial action. That limitation existed in the 1920 Act but has been strengthened. The effect of the new wording is broader than that in the 1920 Act.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): Before the Minister passes on from clause 21, I would be grateful he dealt with subsection (3)(j). It apparently enables the regulations to
Does that include the Human Rights Act 1998? I appreciate that the explanatory notes say that it does not, and mention parliamentary counsel, but I can see nothing in the Bill that precludes the making of regulations that do away with the 1998 Act. Will my hon. Friend let us know the reasoning behind any opinion that he has been given on that?
Mr. Alexander: My hon. and learned Friend refers to the safeguards on the powers created in the Bill. We have sought parliamentary counsel's advice on exactly that point and are assured that, in the triple lock that I was about to describe, the necessary precautions are in place. It was put to us that we should consider including a specific debarment of any change to legislation of a constitutional nature and, again, advice was sought from parliamentary counsel on that. However, because of the unwritten nature of the British constitution, there are considerable difficulties in defining in such a Bill exactly what constitutional legislation is. We are confident that the safeguards that are in place through the triple lock address that point adequately, and that they should be sufficient for hon. Members who are concerned on that point.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Clause 10 of the Government's Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill contains a provision that makes the remedial part of section 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998 subject to certain provisions in that Bill. There is no reason, therefore, why there could not be such a provision in this Bill.
Mr. Alexander: I have of course signed a certificate to the effect that the Bill is compatible with the European
As I have just described, the Bill is compatible with the ECHR, and, as the Minister responsible, I have signed the certificate to that effect. If the Government made emergency regulations that did not comply with the ECHR, we would be committing an unlawful act and the regulations, and action taken under them, could be challenged by the courts. Although some sections of the press may have speculated that emergency powers could breach or suspend the Human Rights Act, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) has just suggested, that is simply not the case. The Bill must operate within the confines placed upon it by that Act.
Under the Bill's provisions, it will be possible for the first time to use emergency powers on a regional or devolved Administration basis. That will ensure that any special temporary legislation will apply only in the part of the United Kingdom affected by the emergency, leaving other areas unaffected.
Mr. Hogg: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Alexander: I will not, because I have been generous to hon. Members on both sides and I must make my concluding remarks so as not to prevent others from contributing.
I turn to parliamentary scrutiny. Clause 26 sets out that emergency regulations, once made, must be laid before Parliament as soon as is practicable. Parliament will then have seven days to approve them, with or without amendment, or they will fall. Senior Ministers will answer in Parliament for the content of the regulations, explain why they are necessary and set out the use for which they are intended. In making emergency regulations, the Government will be conscious of the need for parliamentary approval. If each House passes a resolution that emergency regulations shall cease to have effect, they shall cease to have effect. Parliament may also amend the regulations.
Mr. Shepherd: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Alexander: No, I am not going to give way further because I must make more hasty progress.
The Bill also provides clear arrangements for managing situations in which Parliament stands prorogued or adjourned.
Emergency regulations provided for in the Bill will be subject to judicial scrutiny. The courts will be able to review action taken using emergency powers in the usual way. For example, if a Minister exercises a discretion conferred on him by the emergency regulations in a way that breaches the Human Rights Act, the individual affected will be able to raise the matter in the courts. If the Secretary of State makes emergency regulations in
That amounts to a much more comprehensive and coherent set of safeguards than that which exists under the 1920 Act, and it better reflects important elements of the current constitutional settlement including devolution and, as I have said, the Human Rights Act. We might hope never to use emergency powers, but experience tells us that at some point they will be required. The strength of these powers means that the clear safeguards are necessary, and the Government believe that the balance we propose is the right one.
In addition to the efforts at a local and central level, the Government have put in place a new regional civil protection tier in the legislation. That is not a judgment in any way on the effectiveness of existing local response arrangements. Rather, it reflects a recognition by central Government that they need to build a stronger bridge with the local level and provide clearer support.
Since last April, teams in each of the Government offices have led work to establish regional resilience forums, bringing together key players from the public and private sectors to co-ordinate resilience efforts. In the event of emergencies, those regional teams and forums would provide support and advice to central Government and to local government, co-ordinating effort if necessary and acting as a conduit for information.
The Bill clarifies the position of the devolved Administrations. Essentially, it will establish for the first time a common civil protection framework for the United Kingdom as a whole. As I have made clear, the Government have undertaken extended consultations with the devolved Administrations. The Welsh First Minister and, as I have said, the Scottish Deputy Minister for Justice both gave evidence to the Joint Committee. I pay tribute to the constructive and thorough way in which they and their colleagues have approached the subject.
The Bill grants powers to Scottish Ministers in areas that are devolved, which would in England and Wales be exercisable by UK Ministers under part 1. It sets out when Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales must be consulted. In Northern Ireland, local devolved administrative arrangements make it impossible for part 1 to apply to Northern Ireland in the same way as it applies to the rest of the UK. It applies to certain bodies in Northern Ireland that exercise non-devolved functions. In addition, Northern Ireland Ministers will ensure that devolved organisations act in line with the duties set out in the Bill. Concordats will be drawn up with the devolved Administrations setting out their role.
I know that hon. Members will raise a number of matters in the debate, but let me turn to a specific issue that has been raised before I move on to the point about funding raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). First, there has been interest in how central Government themselves will be held to account under the new framework.
It has been suggested to the Government that one way to achieve that would be a duty on central Government analogous to that which the Bill places on local government. The Government do not agree. It is difficult to see how such a sensible, meaningful duty in this area could be imposed on central Government by way of statute. However, that is not to say that more cannot be done to improve the transparency of central Government frameworks.
Within the Government, we are exploring what options there might be for some structure of reporting on the arrangements. The one caveat I would add is that, again, the balance has to be struck between ensuringif it were deemed appropriate to Parliament and the peoplethat the transparency is achieved, but not at the cost of the need to ensure that those who do not have the interests of the UK at heart do not gain information that would be damaging to the interests of the country.
As I have already said in response to one observation, the Joint Committee also had particular concern about the possibility that the part 2 powers would be used to amend constitutional enactments during the emergency. I merely repeat that, having taken parliamentary counsel's advice on how the normal principles of the construction of delegated powers would apply to this particular provision, we cannot currently envisage any circumstances in which that power would lawfully enable us to make a substantive amendment to a constitutional enactment.