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Lord Campbell of Croy: I rise to speak briefly as a member of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, to which my noble friend referred. Its 14th report on the Bill was published only on 21st July, the day we went into Recess.
I have been a member of that committee since it was created two or three years ago and on the occasions on which the committee has drawn attention to matters for the consideration of this Chamber the Government have almost always acknowledged the points and then taken action, proposed amendments or made changes. That has been gratifying. The action taken, to which my noble friend referred, is also encouraging because it is clear that during the Recess my noble friend and other Ministers have been looking at the points raised by the committee. Like my noble friend Lord Windlesham, I shall be interested to hear how far the amendments go in meeting the points raised in the 14th report.
Lord Renton: In recent years there has been a growth of ministerial documents which are non-legislative but which purport to have legislative effect; for example, codes of practice, guidance offered under statute, departmental directives and, as in this case, schemes. Unless we are very careful, Parliament has no control over those ministerial documents.
Of course, if those documents are merely administrative or explanatory of legislation which has been approved by Parliament, that is all well and good. But if they purport to have a legislative effect of which Parliament has not approved, then we must be extremely vigilant. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Windlesham on his vigilance.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Committee will be pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on his introduction of these important matters and to acknowledge, as he does, the extent to which the Government have taken heed of the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which are extremely welcome.
As the noble Lord said in his opening speech, the issue of affirmative resolution appears from the later amendments to Clause 10 to have been covered very thoroughly. It is also the case that consultation has taken place. Indeed, the Minister was good enough to see me towards the end of last month and I know that the Minister and her colleagues have been accessible to quite a wide range of organisations concerned with the principle and details of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
I am not sure that the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, which deal with the commencement and transitional provisions are not rather severe. They would require that the new scheme should come into force within a month of Royal Assent. That may be rather tough. Personally, I am reasonably satisfied with the indication that the new scheme should come into force on 1st April of next year. Although I fear that my later amendments have been tabled in the wrong place, they are intended to achieve that effect. No doubt we shall reach a suitable resolution of that final issue which exercised the minds of the members of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was kind enough to say that I had agreed not to move Amendment No. 1. However, he did not say that as an experienced ex-Leader of the House. He made it clear that, if I did not so agree, he would move a manuscript amendment before Clause 1 which would pre-empt me. I do not think that I can get round the noble Lord that easily and I should not dream of trying to do so.
The implication of the debate on this series of amendments must be that on these issues the Government have been amenable to persuasion and reason in their consideration of the Bill. I cannot say the same about later amendments because it would be a mistake for the Committee to be given the impression that the Government's flexibility went so far as to cover a wide range of detailed amendments which we have tabled and which we shall debate over the next two days.
Of course, it is valuable for the detail of the tariff and the scheme to be subject to affirmative resolution. But I remind the Committee that, in itself, that is of very limited value because there is no opportunity for amendment. These are extremely detailed, amendable issues. From these Benches in this Chamber there is no opportunity to overturn the Government on an issue of delegated legislation. That is why we have tabled amendments to be considered in Committee which either bring on to the face of the Bill the enduring elements of the scheme without amendmentthat is, when we agree with themor which propose to bring them on to the face of the Bill with the amendments which we consider necessary. That will provide the House with an opportunity to debate all the details of the scheme. Therefore, the Committee stage of the Bill will no longer be a Committee stage of an enabling Bill. I hope that the Committee will recognise that the effort which we have put into the detailed consideration of the extremely complex elements of the scheme which have been published is essential to parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that the Government will be as flexible in
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: There is always a danger in being prematureanticipating the speech of a Minister and assuming that what one wishes her to say will indeed be said. But I too welcome the amendments that are proposed by the Minister and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on having the perspicacity to table the amendment and thereby encouraging the Minister in the course that she has adopted.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in regard to the shortcomings of affirmative resolutions. But it is certainly better that an affirmative resolution should be laid before the House rather than having no opportunity whatever to discuss the matter. I noted his caution, although expressed in a round-about way, about the idea of amending affirmative resolutions and, most important, occasionally voting against them. In due course I hope that if the House feels fit it will exercise that power, if necessary, on the right occasions. But I say that without prejudice to the welcome which I give to the steps which the Minister has apparently taken.
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Windlesham for his introduction of the amendments. I hope that my reply will help to reassure my noble friend and others who have spoken. Perhaps I may say also, as a Minister speaking at the Dispatch Box, how much I value the work of the scrutiny committee because it makes us think very carefully about some of the reservations held by that committee. I believe that that work probably smooths the procedure of work through the Chamber.
The scrutiny committee seemed generally satisfied with the Bill's delegated powers, but drew the attention of the House to four points. I shall consider each of those in turn. First, the committee felt that the Minister might wish to give an undertaking to the House that the transitional period between Royal Assent and the start of the new tariff scheme will be kept to a minimum. I can give that assurance.
Our intention that the new scheme should start on 1st April 1996 has been known for a long time. That will allow just sufficient time for, among other matters, Parliament to approve the new scheme. That process will require the affirmative approval of both Houses; for the new authority and complementary appeals panel to be established; for the authority to prepare the accompanying guide to the scheme; for the authority to arrange the printing and distribution of the scheme, its accompanying explanatory guide, and all the new forms which will have to be brought into use; for the authority and appeals panel to arrange appropriate training for their staff and members; and for getting the computer system and other administrative procedures ready for the new scheme.
That represents a great deal of detailed work which will have to be undertaken quickly and efficiently. There is no realistic prospect of compressing that timescale; indeed, if Parliament were to delay, or even withhold, approval of the new scheme it could not be met at all.
That is why it would be quite impracticable to accept the third and fourth of my noble friend's amendments. They would effectively require us to bring the new scheme into force within one month of Royal Assent. If we did so, we could not continue to operate the current scheme. I am afraid that that would leave the victims in limbo. I am not sure that we could even continue settling residual old scheme cases already lodged. But we certainly would not be able to accept new applications because there would be no scheme in operation under which they could apply. I am sure that my noble friend would not want to be held responsible for such a state of affairs, particularly, as he said, as he is president of Victim Support.
Secondly, the scrutiny committee commented that the House may be satisfied that the Bill sufficiently defines the essential elements of the proposed scheme, although important elements of the legislation and its administration will fall to be included in the scheme itself.
We think that we have achieved the right balance, particularly in view of what I shall say next. As Members of the Committee are aware, the Bill is essentially enabling legislation which enables the Secretary of State to make, subject to parliamentary approval, a scheme for compensating the blameless victims of violent crime. As the committee will have seen, the Government have tabled amendments to Clause 10 intended to give Parliament rather than the Executive the final say over all aspects of the scheme.
As the Bill presently stands, certain key elements of the proposed new arrangementsrelating to the tariff itself and bearing on quantumwill be subject to prior parliamentary approval before they can be incorporated into the scheme. Our proposed amendments go much further. They will require the whole scheme to be approved by the affirmative resolution procedure. Subsequently, any changes to the more important or key features of the new scheme would require prior parliamentary approval by the affirmative resolution procedure, while changes to any other features would require prior parliamentary approval by the negative resolution procedure. The Executive would no longer be free to make any changes whatever to the scheme without the prior consent of Parliament. I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that this represents a most significant change in the proposed control arrangements, giving Parliament the last word.
Thirdly, the scrutiny committee commented that, given the significance of the delegated powers, this Chamber may wish the Bill to require the Secretary of State to undertake a process of consultation before he can proceed formally to lay his proposals before Parliament in draft.
The Government have in fact already undertaken a process of consultation on the proposed new arrangements. We issued a draft of the proposed new scheme towards the end of August. That set out clearly, and in detail, the proposed rules and procedures of the new scheme. That draft had a wide circulation. It went to Members of both Houses of Parliament who had taken part in earlier debates, and a copy was placed in the Library of the House. It also went to the Law
Given that extensive consultation process, I do not think that there is any need to consult yet again in the way the scrutiny committee suggested or in the way that my noble friend's second amendment would require. We would be unlikely to receive any comment that had not already been made under the current consultation exercise, and a further consultation exercise would eat further into the time available to get the new scheme up and running by next April. As I explained earlier, that timetable is already a tight one. However, I can give my noble friend the assurance that he sought; namely, that any changes would be notified to Parliament.
The fourth point that the scrutiny committee made was that the Committee might like to consider the case for allowing the delegated powers to be exercised by a scheme which was not contained in a statutory instrument. But the scrutiny committee went on to say that this Chamber may consider that Clause 10 confers an appropriate degree of parliamentary control of the exercise of delegated powers.
As I have just explained, since the scrutiny committee reported we have tabled amendments which would extend the Clause 10 powers and require the whole scheme to be subject to prior parliamentary approval by the affirmative resolution process. Again, I can confirm to my noble friend the fact that any subsequent amendments would also require parliamentary approval by either the affirmative or the negative resolution procedure, depending on whether or not they affected key elements of the scheme. I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that that confers the appropriate and necessary degree of parliamentary control.
I should perhaps say here that we see no compelling need for the scheme to be set out in a statutory instrument. We want the scheme to be easy for victims to understand, without recourse to legal advice which could be expensive and slow down the process. As far as possible, therefore, we want to use every-day terms that are readily understood. That would be less easy if we had to draft in the legal language and format necessary for statutory instruments. In doing so, we might inadvertently circumscribe any capacity for exercising common sense or a degree of discretion where that was appropriate and quite likely be to the victim's advantage.
However, I can assure Members of the Committee that not only will the negative and affirmative resolution procedure be used, but all the appropriate consultation in advance of any changes would also be followed. I hope that the Committee will share the view and agree that my noble friend's first amendment is neither necessary nor appropriate for a scheme of this nature. I also hope that Members of the Committee will agree that we have given most careful consideration to the
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: I wonder whether I can persuade the Minister to take her argument just a little further. I must say right away that I am personally most grateful to the noble Baroness for sending me a copy of the scheme during the Summer Recess. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, it has been customary through the years for Parliament to establish such a scheme and then, after the scheme has been established and approved by Parliament, to appoint the authority.
I should like to persuade the noble Baroness to give some thought to appointing the authority, if not the appeals panel, as soon as possible and then consult the authority which will be responsible for operating the scheme about the scheme itself. I accept the fact that the Minister and her officials have consulted widely. But would it not be a good idea in this particular instance if the authority were to be appointed as soon as possible and then consulted about the scheme? In that way, we could get away from the custom that Parliament has developed down through the years whereby the scheme is first introduced by Parliament and then the authority which will administer it is appointed. I hope that the Minister will give some thought to that aspect of the matter.
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