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Lord Clinton-Davis: The Minister is right!

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Nevertheless, I hope that the noble Lord appreciates that there are good reasons for this, not least the interests of those who work for AEA Technology, to which regard must be had before any precipitate change is made.

Lord Haskel: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him why the arguments that he has given this evening apply to this privatisation but have not applied to other privatisations. In other privatisations a considerable amount of restructuring took place before the businesses were sold. For instance, the electricity industry was restructured into supply companies. The Water Act 1989 created a number of water and sewerage companies to succeed the regional water boards. As a result, Parliament knew what was to happen. However, in the case of AEA Technology we know nothing. AEA Technology as a company does not even exist yet.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Given the scale and nature of what is to be privatised, I believe that these are very different animals. I have indicated to the noble Lord that when we return to this Bill for further consideration at a later stage we hope to be in a position to indicate rather more clearly the intention of the President of the Board of Trade. I would hope then that if noble Lords were concerned that insufficient explanation had been given to Parliament as to what was proposed, that concern would be allayed. It may well be that the way in which we wish to privatise this undertaking will be in the very form that the noble Lord has been urging upon us this afternoon.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Those words are not exactly Delphic. We thank the Minister for his response. He has not given an undertaking, and we understand that. We have a new and rather more caring, at least in the terms of Parliament, President of the Board of Trade. What do they do about industry? The Government are always dropping industry. That is typical, is it not? It seems that the new President of the Board of Trade will consider the representations that have been made. That is good news.

The Minister said that I was asking too much when I asked him to condemn his own Whips' Office in another place. I suppose that I was, but I did not think that he would respond to that. I wanted to make the point, because I think it was worth putting on the record.

There is no point in prolonging this discussion. My noble friend Lord Haskel made a powerful point. There seems to be an exceptional situation which did not apply in relation to other privatisations. All the arguments adduced in this and another place could perhaps have been anticipated by the Minister. They have at least caused a little ripple in the Department of Trade and Industry. In those circumstances, we look forward to the spill-over in the autumn and to the Minister coming

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forward with amendments along the lines we have contemplated here. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: Perhaps I may say one word in relation to Amendment No. 18. In the light of the hopeful, if not promising, tone in which the Minister has responded, I am sure that in October my noble friend Lord Ezra will be here to give his considered reaction to whatever the Minister says.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that what I said was not in any way misinterpreted. I was not offering to bring forward amendments. What I was indicating, as I have done on previous occasions, is that what has been urged upon me is that the appropriate mode of disposal is in a unitary form. I said that we should look at that matter in the autumn, because if that were to be the preferred model many of the concerns expressed from the Opposition Front Bench would fall away.

Lord Peston: I had interpreted what the Minister said as being that in the autumn he would try to give us some more information. Is not that right?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Yes.

[Amendments Nos. 19 to 21 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 2, line 44, leave out subsection (8).

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 22 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 23 and 24. The amendments raise a matter of some seriousness. The essential amendment is Amendment No. 22. It is an attempt to discover why Clause 2(8) is there. My honourable friend the Member for Kirkcaldy in another place referred to this point. He referred to the Atomic Energy Authority Bill as one in which the Secretary of State may do whatever he likes to facilitate this. That echoes the point made by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis on the previous group of amendments. This is an enabling Bill which allows the Secretary of State to do whatever he likes.

I speak as someone who is always studying drafting and trying to understand the law. This is one of those bizarre clauses. First, it tells us that the Secretary of State may exercise his powers. I do not understand the nature of the legislation if one has to say in the middle of it, having given the Secretary of State his powers, that he is allowed to exercise them. That strikes me as being most strange. Then, in lines 12, 13 and 14 we get the bit that really puzzled me. It is:

    "whether or not the exercise of those powers, the giving of that direction or the doing of that thing is consistent with promoting or controlling the development of atomic energy".

I was completely mystified by that, because the Bill is called the Atomic Energy Authority Bill. It appears that the Secretary of State can exercise his powers whether or not they have anything to do with atomic energy. As far as I can see, under this provision he could decide to reform the football Premier League, or anything else he dreams of. One sits here saying, "What is this all about?"

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Then one has the Notes on Clauses, a document which becomes increasingly useless. I say "increasingly useless" because nowadays Notes on Clauses do not seem to be notes on clauses but just the clauses themselves repeated. If one looks at page 4 of the Notes on Clauses it says that subsection (8) makes it clear that the Secretary of State may exercise his powers under that clause. It goes on and on and on. Then it explains that that is so whether or not it is consistent with promoting or controlling the development of atomic energy; that is, his general duty under Section 1 of the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1946.

The upshot of all that is that the Notes on Clauses throw no light on the subsection. The Bill is mystifying as to why the provision is needed. Even if one does not have a suspicious disposition, one asks oneself why it is there. The next thing one can do is to turn to the Minister's statement in another place. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary—I do not know whether he is still the Parliamentary Under-Secretary—in the middle of a reply, most of which had nothing to do with the amendment—I believe I am allowed to quote the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, am I not?—said that it is intended to avoid any argument that the transfer to the private sector of any activities carried on by the authority might be inconsistent with the duty placed on the Secretary of State under Section 1 of the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1946 to promote and control the development of atomic energy.

One presses the point because it all seems very strange in terms of the drafting of legislation. Either the legislation is drafted correctly, in which case no problem can possibly arise, or somehow it has got itself drafted incorrectly so that this blanket provision has to be added: "Well, if we have made a mess of it, then we add the following excuse that it does not count". It is like what we used to do as children when we played games. If we did not like the outcome, we just invented a new rule.

I seek two things. First, I should like an explanation of what this is all about, and if I have a point—I have a strong feeling as a layman that I do—it has nothing to do with undermining the Bill or anything like that; it is to do with good legislation. If I do have a point, I should like the Minister to go away and think about it and come back with at least a better answer than the one his honourable friend gave in another place.

I agree with the point made earlier by my noble friend when he quoted Tory MPs in another place. We do things much better here, as we all agree. We also have the great benefit that when your Lordships sit as a Committee we debate the things we want and we do not have any arguments as to who is on the Committee and what amendments we debate. We do things in a sensible way. This is an example of where we have a responsibility to try to clarify what the Government mean. It reads as if the Government are somehow worried about the Bill, so they think that they had better throw in the extra clause just to be on the safe side. I ask myself whether it would not be rather better if the Bill were drafted properly in the first place. I beg to move.

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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I appreciate that in advancing his amendment the noble Lord is not trying in any sense to wreck the Bill. Similarly, perhaps I may reassure him that there is nothing suspicious about the provision. Clause 2(8) is designed to put beyond doubt the ability of the Secretary of State to exercise his powers under the Bill. It is intended to avoid any possible argument that the transfer to the private sector of any activities carried on by the authority might be inconsistent with the duty placed on the Secretary of State under Section 1 of the Atomic Energy Act 1946 to promote and control the development of atomic energy. The provision makes it clear that the Secretary of State is entitled to exercise his powers under the Bill, irrespective of any constraint arising from that duty.

Once upon a time I had responsibility for the drafting of legislation. Therefore, I can understand the argument that the provision is unnecessary. However, I think that I had better leave that to those who have responsibility for drafting now. As I said, I can understand the noble Lord arguing that it is unnecessary, but we have to be careful even though our caution may seem to the noble Lord to be excessive. Nevertheless, I assure him that there is nothing sinister about the provision. Indeed, it is appropriate to have such a provision in the Bill.

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