Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Third Report


9 July 1997

By the Select Committee appointed to report whether the provisions of any Bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny; to report on documents laid before Parliament under section 3(3) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and on draft orders laid under section 1(4) of that Act; and to perform, in respect of such documents and orders, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.



The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997

  1.    This bill continues where the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 left off and extends the ban on handguns to include small-calibre pistols. Section 16 of the 1997 Act requires the Secretary of State to make a scheme providing compensation in respect of firearms and ammunition banned by that Act. Section 17 contains similar provisions in respect of compensation for ancillary equipment. Section 18 requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a draft of a scheme under section 16 or 17 and provides that he may not make the scheme unless the draft has been approved by both Houses. These requirements apply equally to any alteration to a scheme (subsection (3)).

The present bill

  2.    Clause 2(5) of the present bill makes amendments to section 18, the result of which is to exclude from the affirmative procedure a scheme (or alteration of a scheme) which is limited to small-calibre pistols and equipment designed or adapted for use in connection with such pistols. A scheme which is so limited has instead to be laid before Parliament after it has been made. This does not attract negative procedure and so there is no Parliamentary control over compensation schemes relating to small-calibre pistols.

  3.    The Home Office memorandum (printed in the Annex to this report) justifies this change by saying that the existing scheme (approved by both Houses) covers 80 per cent of firearms and the scheme under the bill would follow the same principles. The requirement to lay the new scheme will assure Parliament that the Government has fulfilled its stated intention.

  4.    In the Committee's view, this argument is unconvincing. It is anomalous that Parliament should have no control over the making of compensation schemes under the bill, since even minor variations of the main scheme remain subject to affirmative procedure but the scheme under the bill as drafted will not even be subject to negative procedure. Furthermore, the scheme is, in terms, virtually the same as the original scheme, which was subject to affirmative procedure. The firearms and, in some cases, equipment referred to are different and so, therefore, are the sums involved in determining their values. But the basis on which values have been calculated is the same. The Committee can see no reason why the provision of Parliamentary control - or its total absence - should depend on the calibre of the weapon.

  5.    Apart from the illogicality of the bill as drafted, the Committee has also borne in mind the fact that this issue is a controversial one, and one which has attracted considerable debate both in and outside Parliament. In the light of these considerations, the House may wish to consider whether the bill should be amended to made the new scheme subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

  6.    Section 51 of the 1967 Act confers a power to make transitional, consequential etc. provisions (including modifications of legislation). Regulations under this section are subject to negative procedure. Clause 2(6) extends this power to include provisions consequential on the bill.

  7.    The wide commencement power in clause 3(3) and (4) is not subject to Parliamentary procedure.

  8.    There is nothing else in the bill which the Committee wishes to draw to the attention of the House.


  9.    This bill sets out a new framework for plant breeders' rights, so enabling the United Kingdom to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.

  10.    There are many delegated powers in the bill. These are identified in the Ministry's memorandum which is annexed to this report. The power in clause 50(2) to extend the bill by Order in Council to any of the British Islands and the commencement power in clause 51 are not subject to Parliamentary control. The Henry VIII power in clause 9(11) is subject to affirmative procedure. All other powers are subject to negative procedure (clause 45(3) and paragraph 13(2) of Schedule 3).

  11.    Clause 9 contains special provisions about farm saved seed. Subsection (11) contains a Henry VIII power allowing the Ministers to amend by order the clause to make it correspond with the provisions for the time being of the law relating to Community plant variety rights about farm saved seed. Parliament will be given control by the affirmative procedure, which the Committee considers appropriate.

  12.    Subsection (1) of clause 11 limits the duration of plant breeders' rights (30 years for potatoes, trees and vines; 25 years for other plants). Subsection (2) allows the Ministers by regulations to specify longer periods for particular plants. This could be regarded as equivalent in impact to a Henry VIII power. Clause 45(3) provides for negative resolution procedure, which the Committee considers appropriate.

  13.    Part II of the bill continues in existence the Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal. Its jurisdiction is to be found in Parts I and II of the bill and in the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964 and the Seeds Act (Northern Ireland) 1965. Paragraph 13 of Schedule 3 to the bill allows the Lord Chancellor to make procedural rules for the Tribunal including provision as to the circumstances in which the Tribunal need not sit, or are not to sit, in public; as to evidence; and as to securing the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. The Committee considers that the negative procedure provided for is appropriate.

  14.    There is nothing in the bill which the Committee wishes to draw to the attention of the House.


  15.    Section 33 of the Electricity Act 1989 provides for the imposition of a "fossil fuel levy" on electricity supplies. The money collected is then used to subsidise the generation of electricity by "green" methods, e.g. wind power. The levy at present is imposed only on electricity generated from fossil fuel or by a non-fossil fuel generating station in pursuance of qualifying arrangements. Unless the Act is amended, electricity generated by nuclear power stations will cease to attract the levy when the Primary Nuclear Contract expires on 31st March 1998. The Bill amends section 33 to provide two options - the extension of the levy to nuclear power or the extension of the levy to all electricity however generated. The second option would involve the making of regulations under the power inserted by clause 1(3).

  16.    Regulations under the new subsection (9) inserted by clause 1(3) would omit all reference to "leviable" in section 33, so extending the levy to all electricity. This is a Henry VIII power which, in common with all regulations under the 1989 Act, is subject to negative procedure. The Department argues that this procedure provides adequate parliamentary control, as the power is "closely defined". The Committee agrees, and considers that the negative procedure provided for is appropriate.

  17.    There is a commencement power (allowing transitional provisions) in clause 2. This, as is customary, is not subject to Parliamentary procedure.

  18.    There is nothing in the bill which the Committee wishes to draw to the attention of the House.


  19.    This bill is intended to provide a solution to the problems which can arise when a local authority proposes to enter into a contract and doubt is expressed about the width of the authority's powers to do so.

  20.    There are delegated powers in clauses 1(5), 3, 4(4), 9 and 11(2). Apart from the simple commencement power (clause 11(2)), the powers are subject to affirmative procedure (regulations under clause 4(4) - see clause 10(2) - or negative procedure (clause 10(3)).

  21.    Clause 1(5) allows regulations to amend the list of "assets" in clause 1(4). The Department's memorandum explains that it may be necessary to be able to amend this list to clarify that the bill extends to contracts involving a particular sort of asset where any doubt arises as to whether or not the asset in question falls within clause 1(4). The power is subject to negative procedure, which the Committee considers appropriate for a power with such a limited purpose.

  22.    Subsection (4) of clause 4 allows regulations to amend subsection (2) or (3) of that clause. Those subsections define the types of contract to which the certification procedure of clauses 2 and 3 apply (see paragraph (c) of clause 3(2)(c)). The Department's memorandum explains that it may be necessary to amend the description of the type of contract that may be certified; for example, a minimum value or term may need to be specified. The importance of the power is recognised in clause 10(2) which applies affirmative procedure, which the Committee considers appropriate.

  23.    There is nothing in the bill which the Committee wishes to draw to the attention of the House.



  24.    There are no delegated legislative powers in these bills.

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Prepared 11 July 1997