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It being more than two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the remaining Question required to be put at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].

Lords amendment No. 56 agreed to.

Clause 1

Meaning of "emergency"

Lords amendment: No. 1.

Ruth Kelly: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to deal with Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 6, 29 to 36, 39, 40 and 48.

Ruth Kelly: All these Lords amendments streamline the definition of emergency, sharpening the drafting, rather than making substantive changes. They were
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warmly welcomed in the other place, and I hope that hon. Members will agree that the definition is clearer and more concise as a result.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 2

Duty to assess, plan and advise

Lords amendment: No. 8.

Ruth Kelly: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 9.

3.45 pm

Ruth Kelly: The amendments relate to the role of the voluntary sector in contingency planning. The Government now accept that there is merit in capturing in statute the role of voluntary organisations. This, we believe, will create a climate of expectation that their skills, resources and expertise should be used to the full. The Government have worked closely with the voluntary sector to get the text of the amendments and the package of supporting regulations and guidance right. I therefore recommend the amendments to the House.

Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to the Minister for bringing forward the amendments. They represent a breakthrough. The voluntary sector was disgracefully neglected earlier and, in Committee, we could make no progress whatever with the Government on this point.

The work done by my noble Friend Lady Buscombe should be acknowledged. Her team has worked tirelessly and, at last, we have recognition for bodies such as the British Red Cross and others which have seen the example set by the Spanish Red Cross after the incident on 11 March. I am delighted that the Government have seen sense on this point.

Mr. Allan: I simply wish to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) that it is very welcome that the Government have recognised the position of the voluntary sector. I know that it was a contentious and difficult issue, with different views being expressed within the voluntary sector. Bodies such as the Red Cross have been effective in keeping the issue alive, and the amendments reach a sensible compromise in making sure that the Bill formally recognises issues with which the voluntary sector will be intimately involved.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): I am delighted that the Minister has reflected on what was said in Committee and on Report, but it is not good enough to accept that the voluntary sector is now part of the Bill unless the Government are also convinced that resources should be forthcoming to help the voluntary sector deliver on its side of any arrangements that it may come to. It is not good enough simply to write the sector into the Bill and then deny or refuse applications for the
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resources that will be needed by many organisations in the voluntary sector. I hope that the Government and the Minister will take that point on board.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 9 agreed to.

Clause 7


Lords amendment: No. 10.

Ruth Kelly: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this we will take Lords amendment No. 18, Lords amendments Nos. 37, 38, 43 to 45 and the Government motions to disagree thereto, Government amendments (a) to (e) in lieu thereof, Lords amendment No. 47 and the Government motion to disagree thereto, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu thereof.

Ruth Kelly: The Bill originally required decision makers to think that provisions of emergency regulations were in due proportion to an emergency or that an urgent direction was needed. Concerns were raised about that approach in both this House and the other place, and their lordships have replaced those provisions with an objective test. In other words, their amendments provide that an urgent direction must be needed, and that urgent directions or emergency regulations must be in due proportion to the situations that they address.

We have re-examined the matter in the light of their noble lordships' concerns and worked hard to find a compromise position to which I hope that both sides of the House can sign up. Under parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, when determining whether there is an urgent need to dispense with the requirement to consult the Council on Tribunals, the maker of urgent directions will make judgments of fact or near fact, so he will be deciding whether there is an urgent need to issue a direction or whether there is insufficient time to consult the Council on Tribunals. We believe that that approach is appropriate, so we will accept the relevant Lords amendments.

We do not accept that it would be appropriate to apply such an approach to decisions made about the kinds of provision that should be included in emergency regulations made under part 2. Any decision made about the necessary scope of emergency powers, for example, will be more subjective. There will inevitably be a question of judgment. We think that it is appropriate for the Bill to recognise that fact and to indicate clearly who will be responsible for making such a judgment call. However, we think that we should raise the threshold of the test in such cases. We have thus tabled an alternative amendment that will raise the threshold from "thinks" to "is satisfied". That will require the maker of regulations not only to think that the provisions of regulations are appropriate, but to be satisfied, or pretty sure, of that fact. I urge the House to accept the compromise package.

Mr. Heald: Ministers in this House and the other place have gone a considerable way towards improving
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the nature of the test in part 1, which we welcome. References to Ministers thinking appear throughout the Bill, so I am glad that the inclusion of an objective test in part 1 is acceptable.

Part 2 of the Bill provides for draconian actions, so although the nature of the test in that part is more important, the Minister has not been able to go as far as we had hoped. We have argued that the proper way to deal with the matter would be to require belief on reasonable grounds. That would have included an objective element, but it would have also required the relevant Minister to justify his actions. The Government's proposal that a Minister would to have to be satisfied that something were appropriate rather than only thinking that represents a slightly stronger requirement, but it is not strong enough. We shall continue to support Lords amendment No. 37 because we are dissatisfied with the Minister's approach on the matter, although some improvements to the Bill have been made.

Mr. Allan: Liberal Democrats in this House and the other place shared concerns similar to those expressed by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), and we made such arguments in Committee and on Report. However, on balance, we are inclined to accept the Government's proposal. The Minister has made the case that a Minister's judgment will ultimately apply, because we cannot avoid the fact that Ministers will make judgments for which they will be held to account about whether conditions prevail to such an extent that emergency regulations should be brought into play.

If we come to challenge a Minister through the legal process or in the House, it is important that the test is genuine so that he or she cannot say, "I thought the measures were appropriate, so you can't do anything to me. If I thought wrongly then tough luck." The threshold of the test is important, but we think that the new wording is satisfactory. The inclusion of the word "appropriate" in the Bill will mean that we will have something to get our teeth into when we come to testing a Minister. Although there are several ways in which the provisions could be phrased to give us more certainty, we must strike a balance somewhere. We think that the Government have conceded enough at this stage of the Bill's passage to satisfy us that the test will be sufficiently robust.

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