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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord makes a good point. More particularly, we are talking about a different set of scenarios. The one that I have used as an example is probably the more likely circumstance.
I have listened very carefully to what has been said. Perhaps, between now and Report, I will try to provide those who have contributed to the discussion with some more hardened examples. We are all searching for ways to ensure that this works in practice.
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his reply. I hope that he will more than think about other hardened examples, and think about a number of the questions raised and statements made by noble Lords which encourage me seriously to consider returning to this point at Report. I do not want to dwell on it now but I believe that we are talking about a very serious issue. I am not persuaded that oral direction is appropriate for the very reason that oral directions are so often open to interpretation.
As my noble friend Lord Lucas has also pointed out, we are talking about civil protection herewe have not reached Part 2 yet. So the incidences where an oral direction could ever be appropriate are hard to think of.
This does not make sense. When we are in government, after the next election, I believe that we would much rather be in a position in which we would have to write down everything that was done in relation to civil protection and emergency powers because otherwise the repercussions could be very greattoo great.
Again, I refer to a point I made earlier which was also made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Look what happened with regard to the Butler report. We
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still have not got to the bottom of what happened and what was said. Not enough was written down. But for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 56, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 70. They concern Clauses 7(4)(c) and 8(4)(c) respectively. The current drafting of the Bill states that where a Minister uses the powers given under Clauses 7 and 8, the direction shall cease to have effect at the end of the period of 21 days. Amendments No. 56 and 70 would add the words,
The amendments would give more flexibility to both clauses. The Bill as drafted will ensure that any directions would stay in place for 21 days. However, there may be situations in which regulations may only be relevant to a smaller time frame. I beg to move.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I have a question for the Minister. In Part 2 of the Bill, which contains what I would call parallel powers, the duration of the order can be 28 days for some reason. I cannot help but feel that for the sake of tidiness and consistency it would be better if Part 2 of the Bill were consistent with Part 1 in that regard. Will the Minister undertake to look at that at this stage, which might give him a chance to deal with it favourably when we reach Part 2?
Amendments Nos. 56 and 70 would provide that any urgent directions given would cease to have effect when the Minister accepted that the emergency had ended. I can obviously accept the thrust of the amendmentI think that we would all agree with it. Given the nature of the powers, one would not wish urgent directions to remain in force when they are no longer needed.
However, the amendments are perhaps based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of Clause 7. Directions may be given when there is no emergency. The Minister has to be satisfied only that "there is an urgent need to make provision". Such a need could arise in advance of an event occurring; for example, where there is a threat
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of a terrorist attack which requires urgent preventive action. Equally, urgent directions may be required in the recovery phase, once an emergency has ended.
The amendments could give rise to serious practical difficulties, which could hinder the effective management of an emergency. First, there may be disagreements as to when the emergency has ended, leading to uncertainty whether a direction has ceased to have effect. Secondly, even where a direction is issued in the midst of an emergency, there may be a need to maintain the direction in force after the emergency has ended to ensure that the recovery phase proceeds in the right way and that a full recovery can be effectively managed.
I agree that a direction should be revoked as soon as it is no longer required. To this effect, Clause 7(4)(b) already provides that the Minister must revoke the direction as soon as is practicable. In practice, that will be because it has been possible to make legislation in the ordinary way or because the urgent direction is simply no longer required for the effective management of a challenging event or situation.
The core of the Government's argument is that the Bill already provides the protection that the amendments seek. In view of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendments.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Before the Minister sits down, can he give the House an example of an order that he might give in anticipation of a terrorist event? If I was a terrorist, I could have a lot of fun with Ministers on that basis and cause a great deal of administrative chaos to boot.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: A situation might arise where an order had to be made to close roads or send traffic in a different direction because one thought there might be an imminent terrorist attack. One might need to deal with those kinds of situations.
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