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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response, although I am disappointed by it. I appreciate that there are criminal laws in place whereby, if individuals go on strike knowing that they will endanger life, for example, they are committing a criminal offence. What if they are already out on strike when an unprecedented act takes place? That would mean that they did not have the mens rea to commit a criminal offence, to put it in legal terms, but the reality would be that they were already out on strike. In that case, surely it would be sensible to have some protection in place to ensure that those people were then brought back into operation.
I cite an example that I used in Committee and at Second Reading. Individuals working in the fire service use highly technical equipment, and they are the only individuals who know how to use it. Let us suppose that we had an act such as 9/11; for a start, it would be jolly hard to understand how we can talk about having a proportionate response to such an act. We would want to act with speed and efficiency, without the possibility that at that time we might be compromised by having people out on strike, who we could not feel that we could lean on to use equipment that might save lives. Maintaining the freedom to withdraw labour in such instances could seriously threaten lives in a way that is not per se criminalbecause an act might take place without any warning.
I wish that noble Lords who are not in support of the amendment had heard what I said with regard to the strike figures during World War II. It is depressing to think that just because the right to withdraw labour has been on the statute books since 1920, it should remain. Surely the point of the debate is that we are being told by the Government that for all sorts of reasons we must repeal that 1920 Act and other emergency legislationthat we need to be flexible, responsive and take account of the world that we are living in today. In that light, I do not understand why the Government feel comfortable ignoring the amendments. However, the hour is late; I will seriously consider returning with the amendment at Third Reading, but now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its 30th report drew to the attention of the House the new Section 22D(5)(d) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, now included in Schedule 2 to the Bill. The provision would allow an anti-terrorist traffic regulation order to provide that a constable may authorise an employee of a traffic authority to do anything that the constable could do by virtue of this subsection.
I explained in Committee that this provision was seen as affording a degree of flexibility in the partnership between the police and local traffic authorities in dealing with terrorist threats. However, in the light of the committee's comments about Section 22D(5)(d), I said the Government would review the need for it and table a suitable amendment on Report if necessary.
Although the proposed new paragraph would afford a degree of flexibility, we have been mindful in our further considerations of the Committee's concerns on the sensitivities of exercise of powers by employees of a traffic authority which are otherwise exercisable by a constable. Having given the matter some further thought, we have concluded that the provision is not absolutely essential and could be dispensed with.
"EXPIRY AND REVIVAL
(1) The provisions in this Act shall cease to have effect at the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which it is brought into force.
(2) The Secretary of State may by order provide
(a) That a provision of this Act which is in force (whether or not by virtue of this subsection) shall continue in force for a specified period not exceeding twelve months.
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(b) That a provision of this Act which is not in force (whether or not by virtue of this subsection) shall come into force and remain in force for a specified period not exceeding twelve months.
(3) An order made under subsection (2) shall not come into effect unless it has been laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment is quite evidently a sunset clause for the Bill. We on these Benches feel very strongly about this legislation. We are encouraged by the improvements in the Bill through the concessions that Ministers have made thus far. However, after all consideration, we believe it seriously important to have a sunset clause.
The powers in the Bill are not only far-reaching and wide-ranging, but contain the tools to increase those powers further and for the Government to allow themselves to pretty much do anything that they wish. Although I am concerned at giving any government such huge powers, I concede that the times in which we are living are dangerous indeed, and that this country is exposed to the threat of terror on a scale which we have not seen before. However, I sincerely hope that there comes a time when our children do not have to live under such a threat and when some of the provisions in the Bill are no longer necessary.
Of course I understand that there will always be the risk of a natural disaster occurring. If we are to believe some of the scientific reports being published, natural disasters may well be on the increase. I realise that for that reason we will always need some form of civil contingencies Act. With the amendment, I am saying that we are simply not sure that the Government are entirely right, and we are asking whether a civil contingencies Act need necessarily be this one.
On a different pointthis is envisaging a worst-case scenariowhat if the government of the day are very different from the one whom we have now? We have kept returning to this point, from Second Reading onwards. Some people might think us daft, but we in this House are being conscientious by contemplating a government in power, the type of whom we would rather not even conceive to be possible. But anything is possible. What if the government of the day are not working for the greater good and acting in the best interests of the country, as we all try to do? Notwithstanding that some will think that far-fetched, we know that it is possible.
Our amendment would allow Parliament to consider the Act contemporarily, and allow changes to be made should both Houses feel that they are necessary. We have drafted the amendment to, in a sense, mirror the sunset clause in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act. We are also recalling the Northern Ireland Acts, which it was mandatory to consider annually in both Houses of Parliament. If the Government have nothing to fear from this legislation, they should have nothing to fear with the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord McNally: My Lords, the hour is late for debating a sunset clause, but two points are worth making. One is that the Bill replaces legislation that was in one case 55
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or 56 years old, in another case 80 years old, and in a third case 90 years old. That is too long a period for legislation to lay on the statute book without Parliament considering its implications. Therefore, I think that there is a case for a sunset clause of some length. Perhaps it should not be an annual one, but a clause of some length would be worthwhile.
My second point concerns a recurring theme in the Billthat is, the rapid changes in technology which may change circumstances. I think that some provision should be built into the Bill to take account of that. I say that because of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, concerning the awesome powers that the Bill conveys to government, because of the changes in technology, and simply because we should not leave this kind of legislation on the statute book without an opportunity for Parliament to check on it. We think that a sunset clause is well worth considering, perhaps not tonight but at Third Reading.
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