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Lord Renton: I, too, support Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. Indeed, what I have to say applies with, I hope, equal force to Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 16. Perhaps that will save me from speaking to them later.
I am sure that we are all in favour of doing more in our legislation to protect people, animals and property from the damaging effect of fireworks. Over the years too many people have been injured. But I have to say that the Bill is a classic outstanding example of how not to legislate. Indeed, it is an unprecedented leap into the unknown--unprecedented in peacetime. When emergency legislation was needed in wartime at short notice, power used to be given to a Minister. But in peacetime we do not legislate like that.
I invite attention in particular to the effect of doing so. Under Clause 11 we find that courts are given power to punish people for offences which are to be defined by regulation. They are not defined in the Bill. Until those regulations have been approved by Parliament, we shall not know for what it is that people will be punished. We do not legislate like that. In effect, we shall be giving power to the courts to punish the unknown.
The speech of my noble friend Lord Rees drew attention to the valuable work undertaken by our Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I expect all noble Lords have read what the committee said. It has sometimes made exception in favour of a Henry VIII power where it is very limited. It has sometimes made exception in favour of giving power to Ministers to make regulations. But this Bill seems to me to be unprecedented, and not only in recent times. I have to confess to Members of the Committee--I am not ashamed to do so--that I have been at the Bar for 65 years and in Parliament for 53 years and I have never before seen a Bill quite like this.
Lord Henley: Like my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Kimball, I accept that there is need for a degree of control over fireworks. That is why the Bill is before us. That is why we made it clear at Second Reading that we did not intend to oppose such a Bill. As we all know, too many people are injured every year by fireworks. It is right that there should be regulations of one kind or another to ensure their safety. However, like many of my noble friends, I have considerable concerns about aspects of the Bill. Perhaps I may address my remarks in particular to Clause 1(2). It is a clause which--dare I say it?--is the purest Henry VIII clause that I have ever seen. It gives the Secretary of State power, as my noble friends have made clear, to amend primary legislation; namely, in subsection (1) of the Bill.
I daresay that I might myself be guilty of having tried to press Henry VIII clauses on this place in the past. I accept that there are occasions when what we term Henry VIII clauses are necessary in legislation. However, I have considerable doubts, as I expressed at Second Reading, as to whether a Henry VIII power of this kind is right and proper in this Bill.
I viewed with some sadness the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. My noble friend Lord Rees thought that it was one of the most damning reports that he had ever seen. I have to say that I do not think it was in any way damning enough in that, in its recommendations, it in effect suggested to the House that such Henry VIII powers as we see in Clause 1(2) should be permitted. I say this much more in sorrow than in anger: it is sad that the delegated powers scrutiny committee should have so decided, and should have thought that a mere ministerial undertaking, as my noble friend Lord Astor referred to it, would be enough to reassure this place. I am certainly not reassured, and I doubt whether I shall be reassured by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, who sponsored the Bill. I shall be interested to hear his response. I shall also be interested to hear the response
I accept entirely the point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in relation to Amendment No. 13. I accept that that amendment is not grouped with this one. However, if the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, or--dare I say it?--the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, is not prepared to accept these amendments, at the very least they ought to be prepared to accept Amendment No. 13 which we shall discuss later. It might be useful, certainly in view of the time that will be taken on this Bill, if they could address that question when responding to this amendment.
Having said that, I offer my support to this amendment. I am sad that the delegated powers scrutiny committee was not prepared to take a stronger line. In parenthesis may I say that I am grateful that in relation to the education Bill that we discussed earlier the committee has taken a much stronger line. I hope that it will take a strong line on all such uses of powers in the future and will bring them to the attention of this place. On those occasions when the committee does not do so in quite so strong a manner as we believe necessary, it is right that this place should express its concern and should decide accordingly.
Lord Haskel: Before I speak to the detailed amendments, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and his colleagues on the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation on their thorough consideration of the provisions in the Bill.
Lord Haskel: Having set the right tone, let me say that the committee identified several issues to which it thought it right to draw the attention of the House. We agree with the committee. At the end of this debate I will respond to those issues. I hope that the assurances I shall give will be acceptable to the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, may find those assurances unacceptable. However, I think that noble Lords will find that the ministerial undertakings are couched in such a way as to satisfy the Select Committee.
Some noble Lords have suggested that these powers are unprecedented. The fact is that when dealing with these technical issues it has been thought right to use wide secondary powers. The best example is the Consumer Protection Act 1987, introduced by the previous administration.
I now turn in a little more detail to the specific amendments. The amendments on Clause 1 concern the definition of "fireworks". The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State cannot amend that definition. As noble Lords have pointed out, the powers in Clause 1(2) of the Bill for the Secretary of State to amend the definition of "fireworks" are also referred to in paragraph 7 of the Select Committee's report. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, asked for assurances. I am happy to confirm that this is indeed a power that we should expect to exercise only narrowly to make marginal adjustments to reflect the understanding at the time of what a firework is.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not realise that that is so much--I was about to say waffle. It is meaningless. It has no legal protection or efficacy whatsoever.
Lord Haskel: As I said, I assure your Lordships that this power would be used only in the most restricted circumstances. Such circumstances would arise if it became clear that the definition of fireworks included in any future British standard was defective for UK legislative purposes, or new types of firework, perhaps with types of composition not catered for in the British standard, became available.
We need to ensure that the Bill can deal with new types of firework which may be developed in the future. Naturally, in exercising any such power we should be constrained by the need to stay within what the ordinary person would regard as a firework.
Lord Mancroft: Perhaps the noble Lord will be kind enough to give way. I note that the Bill quotes the date as 30th November 1988 when this British standard specification came in. I wonder whether, by way of illustration for the Committee, the noble Lord can say how many fireworks have been introduced in the 10-year period from then to now which would not have fitted into that definition. I think that most noble Lords would have a pretty good idea of what a firework was
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