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Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, demonstrated brilliantly that this is a case of the Secretary of State legislating on the hoof. That is what he did as regards the introduction of the new A-levels. I would not wish to be Mr Blunkett's successor. If Parliament approves any measure which completely emancipates a Minister from parliamentary control, it relegates itself to museum status. I like museums, but we need a Parliament as well.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I regret to have to say this, but I should feel ashamed if I were a member of any government who brought forward a provision of this character at any stage of a Bill, let alone at Third Reading. It reeks of arrogance, as much for Parliament, which makes the law, as for the people who have to comply with it and who are subject to it. I make a protest against the conduct of the Bill at all stages. It is bad enough for the Government to introduce major amendments at a late stage in the other place and then to guillotine discussion on them. That can, at least to some extent, be remedied by this House doing its duty by fulfilling its proper revising role and taking as long as we like.
The character of this provision has been amply described in speeches already made. When the Government proposed the provision they prayed in aid the very latenessfor which they themselves are responsibleof,
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I associate these Benches with the remarks about the principle that lies behind the proposals and I support the amendment. It is particularly important, when passing legislation affecting very vulnerable people, that the powers of government and of Ministers are carefully and clearly defined in the Bill. However excellently Ministers may perform and carry out their role, it is vital, in defence of vulnerable people, for the Bill to set out how those powers will be exercised. A wide-ranging and general power of this sort is open to deep question when it relates to people with the sort of vulnerability who are dealt with by this legislation.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I have been in Parliament for 57 years and I have never known any provision that went as far as this one. I warmly support my noble friends. I ask noble Lords to bear in mind the fact that the only control that Parliament has over the vast power given by the new clause would be to have an order annulled by either House. That is merely a negative power. Even if it required an affirmative resolution, which it does not, there would be no power to amend the Secretary of State's order. That is constitutionally unacceptable, especially when we bear in mind the wide, far-reaching and fundamental power that the Secretary of State's order may contain. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will not move or will withdraw Amendment No. 121. Doing that would save him and the Government much trouble.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, I rise briefly to support what has been said by those on these Benches about Amendment No. 121, which is the provision that we are really talking about. We are concerned about the use of that new clause in relation to various parts of the Bill. As I understand it, the Government are saying that, having had in this House long and careful deliberations in Committee and on Report, and having had to go back to refer to Committee various new clauses that were brought in at a later stage, they want to introduce a clause that says, "In case we have got those matters wrong, we will have the power to change them without full parliamentary scrutiny". With respect, surely Amendment No. 121 goes further than that. The new clause proposed by the Government is intended to apply to all parts of the Bill, not only to those parts that were brought in late. It states that the Secretary of State may, by statutory instrument, attempt to amend that which this House has passed.
Are we not in the end saying that we are in effect doing away with the purpose of primary legislation? We are saying that it should be possible for the Secretary of State to amend that which has been passed and that which has been a matter of scrutiny merely on an order that is subjectI accept thisto the affirmative resolution of both Houses without any chance of any consideration in Committee or on Report. The new clause, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, goes far wider than any power that we in this House should allow to a government.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, as a former immigration Minister, but not an immigration lawyer, I want to say a few brief words in support of the right reverend Prelate. It is important, when considering the Bill, to remember that we are talking not about dangerous dogs or how many cigarettes or how much beer one can import duty free from the Continent but about the lives and futures of thousands of people a year who apply for asylum in this country.
We all know that the numbers are too large and that a number of people are bogus asylum seekers. When I was immigration Minister, the problem was to try to find those who really had justification: those who had a well-founded fear of persecution in their own country and therefore had a reason to apply for, and be granted, asylum. We all appreciate that that is a very difficult area; it is not in any way a party political issue. Because it is so difficult, we have had an immigration Bill or a nationality Bill virtually every two or three years for the past 20 years.
Such a provision, requiring that future changes should be made only by secondary legislation, is not unknown in other legislation. As was said by my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the provision should not have been brought in at the very last stage, when there is no possibility of discussing it at any length. We will discuss it for a few minutes in your Lordships' House. If we agree to reject the Minister's amendment, it will go back to the House of Commons, where it will be quickly discussed. If it throws out our change, the provision will come back here to be discussed again in a maximum of three hours next week. Is that really suitable for a Bill of this importance? We have a humane and historic duty to try to identify and to be generous to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution.
I note that the Home Secretary announced on 7th October that the Government would seek to amend the Bill in substantial ways. Others have already said that that would be done on the last lap of this legislation. It is surely totally wrong that an amendment of this sort should come within the purview of those words of the Home Secretary and be introduced when we have only a few hours in which to consider it. I therefore very strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Kingsland.
As I said, I am rather troubled by this issue. I propose to abstain on the matter. Why will I not support the Opposition? Because I do not believe that they are entirely unblemished in this regard. So far as I am concerned, I am deeply troubled by what my noble friend has said. But will he answer this question? What discussions has he had with bodies that are significantly involved in this issue, such as the Refugee Council, and so on? It is incumbent upon him to give the information about this issue to the House.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I take it that the Minister is about to speak to his amendment, which is the subject of this whole debate. We have not yet heard his defence of it. I am a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. There are at least two members of that committee in the House, including the chairman, who are very much wiser than me. I do not know whether either of them intends to speak.
However, it might interest the House to be reminded that it was sheer chance that the committee met yesterday morning and was able to consider this amendment. It was a complete fluke, and the committee owes that to the alacrity with which the Clerks, the legal advisers and others in the House are able to produce reports. By that means, the House is able to see not only the opinion of the committee but, above all, the Home Office's memorandum explaining why this clause is thought to be necessary.
I am sure the Minister will tell us that there are similar clauses in other Bills. That is what we were told in the committee. There is one in the Adoption and Children Bill, although it is differently worded. The committee has a narrow remit and it did not believe that it should say that it considered the text of the amendment to be a mistake because the text is similar to that accepted by the House in other terms.
But my own feeling is that the committee was right to say that, in the context of the late amendments that have been tabledthere are about 100 government amendments today, and Third Reading is the last stage of the Bill in Parliamentit is completely wrong to ask the House to sign a blank cheque and to say that the Government may change not only this but any Act of Parliament in relation to the matters contained in this Bill. It seems to me that this is a moment when the House should, on constitutional grounds, put its foot down.
The Government intend to make transitional alterations in the Bill so that the arrangements will operate until the rules are made. Has the Scots Parliament agreed to the transitional alterations being made? Has there been a Sewel Motion? I believe that, by now, the Government should know that we ask such questions in this House, and I hope to have an answer to that now. If not, I should like to receive a letter on the matter, but it will be too late if things go wrong in Scotland.
I do not believe that this should be a party-political matter. I feel very strongly about that. It is a constitutional matter. We have 100 amendments at Third Reading and we had many on Report. We had the whole Summer Recess when the Government sat on the amendments. We were given new promises on Report, and we have been through recommitment. Now the Government say that, because we have not got the matter right, we must have this new clause. I hope that this will not be allowed by the House.
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