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Lord Avebury: I was interested to hear the Minister say that one of the measures that might have to be taken under the Bill as a result of an emergency is the declaration of a bank holiday, because that indicates the longevity of my grandfather's legislation, which was passed in 1871 and is still in force. It allows the Government to declare any additional days as bank holidays as may be necessary. I am sure he did not think when he was passing that legislation that one of the purposes to which it would be put would be to add to the armoury of the Government's measures to deal with an emergency of the kind we are discussing today.
We have ranged over a very wide area. When I saw the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, get to his feet I thought that he must be about to support the noble Baroness in her remarks on olive oil, which, ipso facto, presented a serious threat to human welfare because olive oil almost invariably comes from Europe and therefore must be tainted with the stink of Brussels. Instead, he talked about the nuclear threat as did a number of noble Lords. The noble Baroness gave a perfectly satisfactory answer to that: in the event of an attack on Sizewell or a nuclear incident of the kind which unfortunately occurred in other parts of the world such as Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, there would need to be directions to the emergency services and directions, perhaps, to people living in the area to move away from it. One remembers in the case of Chernobyl that there was a very big exclusion area from which all the inhabitants had to be moved. So, obviously, the powers are necessary. But that serves to emphasise that they would be invoked under the earlier parts of the clause, in particular those which deal with loss of human life, human illness or injury and, in the case of a large incident, perhaps homelessness.
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That brings me to the argument used by the Minister in relation to the floods provision. She said that if a flood was of a sufficiently serious nature it would in any case be caught by the definition of damage to human welfare. That is what we have been saying about the other provision on which the amendments are based. Amendment No. 90 refers to the disruption of communication systems. As the noble Baroness pointed out, if health services were unable to link with their suppliers, because of the "just in time" system which prevails universally nowadays, they might not get essential and immediate supplies of medication and other things which are necessary to human health. That underlines the same argument. The point which applies to the floods applies to the communication systems. Immediately the communication systems went down there would be a threat to human life arising in every hospital because they would be unable to get deliveries of their supplies. So, I still do not understand why Clause 19(2)(f) would be necessary in those circumstances when paragraphs (a) or (b) could be invoked instead.
Lord Avebury: I thought that the noble Baroness was very convincing. If the floods were of a sufficiently serious nature, they would enable paragraph (a) or (b) to be invoked. Precisely the same argument applies to the communication systems. If they were disrupted, supplies to hospitals would be affected. The other example given by the noble Baroness was that banks would not be able to pay social security benefits. Therefore people in receipt of those benefits would very rapidly run out of food and would perhaps suffer severe health problems in consequence. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, also made the point that if they did not get their benefits, it would be necessary to do something immediately for the sake of their health.
On Amendment No. 91, the example quoted was the failure of the underground system. The noble Baroness said, "We could not wait to act until it fell within some other provision". She would not have to, because the wording in the Bill is that it "threatens". So, if the underground system came to a stop, other consequences would very rapidly ensue and the Government would be able to invoke the provision that deals with the threat rather than the actuality of harm to human life.
On Amendment No. 93, regarding infectious diseases among animals, I think that we have provisions that will deal with infectious diseases. We do not need to invoke the sort of emergency legislation we have in the Bill unless we get to the point where human health is harmed. So, the same arguments that apply to the floods and to the communication system mean that we should be able to do without that provision. Obviously, however, we are not going to convince the Minister. We shall have to consider what has been said in all quarters of the Committee this
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evening and possibly come back to these matters on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Elton: As I understand it, Amendment No. 93A is grouped with Amendment No. 94 and should in fact be the head of the group; and we have not discussed that group. I was looking forward rather keenly to hearing what was going to be said because it is grouped with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, to remove subsection (5), as I understand it. That is a debate we certainly have not had. Might I prevail on the noble Baroness to move Amendment No. 93A so that we can debate it?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, affirming that Amendment No. 86C was debated with Amendment No. 93A on
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Thursday, 14 October. It was the last group. That is why I was proposing to move the amendment formally. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness said: One of my concerns about the way in which noble Lords must scrutinise legislation is the requirement to address individual clauses in isolation. It diminishes our ability to influence the Government overall in the context of contributions that noble Lords have made on previous amendments, those that I hope will be made on this amendment, and the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, on Amendment No. 97A. Together these amendments and the previous ones try to address the deep concern about the enormously wide powers in the legislationin the first group we are also talking about enormously wide powers. I therefore urge the Minister, in responding to this and other groups throughout Part 2, to bear in mind that in collectively considering Part 2 we are addressing each individual clause but saying that overall the effect is extremely draconian and of real concern, not only to noble Lords but to people outside the House.
Amendment No. 97 would delete subsections (5) and (6) of Clause 19, which allow the Secretary of State by order to state that a specified event or situation is an emergency which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or the security of the United Kingdom. Subsection (5) also allows the Secretary of State to amend by order Clause 19(2), which lists events that must be present in order for human welfare to be threatened for the purposes of subsection (1)(a).
I cannot stress enough how concerned we are about the powers given to Ministers in the Bill. Throughout the debate on Part 1 the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, sought regularly to reassure us that there were sufficient safeguards to ensure that the powers would not be abused. But we remain unconvinced, as amplified by previous debates. A Minister has the power to change many things in the Bill, admittedly after an order is passed by each House, but let us face it: such procedures take place in the dinner hour or on a Friday morning. The power in subsections (5) and (6) relates to,
In tabling these amendments I look to the Minister to reassure us that there is sensible thinking behind the subsections, and that it makes sense to have this extraordinary power basically to change everything that we have just been debating, by order, on a Friday morning or in the dinner hour, if a Secretary of State decides that that should happen. We must proceed with care. I am not convinced that the powers will not be abused. They may not necessarily be abused by the current GovernmentI am sure notor by successor
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governments in the near future, but the Bill is intended to carry us well into the future. The powers in Part 2 are so enormous that we need strong reassurance on each of the amendments in the group. I beg to move.
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