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Clause 54

Volume 24: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1982

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Regulations And Orders

I beg to move amendment No. 62, in page 57, line 35, after '(2)', insert

'subject to subsection (2A) below'.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 63, in page 57, line 38, at end insert—

(2A) The Secretary of State shall not make any orders under section 27(1) of this Act unless a draft thereof has been approved by both Houses of Parliament.'.

This is a reference back to clause 27(1), which gives the Secretary of State power to create new fixed penalty offences or to remove certain fixed penalty offences from that category. We had a considerable debate in Committee on a wider issue about whether the orders should be by affirmative or negative procedure. I do not want to repeat that argument in full.

It is interesting to note that if the Secretary of State wishes to extend the functions of traffic wardens under the 1967 Act, he has to proceed by affirmative order. We believe that moving offences into or out of the fixed penalty system should be done with some consistency and that consistency should be taken into account.

There are difficulties with the negative procedure, the most obvious one being lack of time. The House NA ill recall that during 1971–72 a Joint Committee of both Houses considered delegated legislation. I shall not go through the report, but there was considerable criticism about a number of prayers that were not taken. There have been changes since then and it is now possible to consider statutory instruments in Committee. But that is no guarantee that a matter will be debated in time.

The Department is open to criticism on this score. My attention has been drawn to the occasion when the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) prayed against an order dealing with right-hand sidecars on motor cycles. In Committee, the Government were defeated, but the then Under-Secretary of State, the hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is now the Minister for Health, refused to accept the decision of the Committee on the ground that the debate had taken place one day out of time. When a Department cannot arrange to take matters in time, it does not inspire us with confidence in the negative procedure. It is even worse than that, because the then Secretary of State declined to take the matter on the Floor of the House so that the view of the House might be taken. That does not inspire confidence in the negative procedure.

In Committee, we debated penalties as well as offences. It was a two-pronged debate. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), said that she was open to further enticement. The hon. Lady is not on the Government Front Bench to be enticed. We understand why she is not present and we make no complaint about her absence. I hoped that, following the end of our deliberations in Committee, the hon. Lady had been able to persuade the Secretary of State to accept the amendment. I await the Under-Secretary of State's reply with confidence.

I regret that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will be disappointed with my reply. He was right to say that this issue was discussed at some length in Committee. The question whether such orders should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure was considered fully. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the negative resolution procedure that we are proposing for the order to remove from or to add to the list of fixed penalty offences. Hon. Members need not be worried that we shall want to start including serious offences, such as drinking and driving, in the fixed penalty offences. Any offence which involves the possibility of disqualification could not be included because of the need for a court hearing. However, experience of the system may show that some offences should be taken out or that others should be included.

6.30 pm

Things do change. New offences may be created which may subsequently be thought suitable for fixed penalty treatment. In some circumstances the procedure advocated is appropriate, but it is time-consuming and by no means simple. It is not warranted for the type of order that we envisage. This is a matter of judgment.

There are other considerations. There is no advantage in including an offence if the fixed penalty procedure is not suitable for it. The motorist would probably object and not accept a fixed penalty notice, and the police, too, would not take advantage of the benefits offered by the system.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has given the matter much thought since it was discussed in Committee. He remains of the view that what we propose is adequate and proper. Therefore, I ask the House to join me, if necessary, in resisting the amendment. However, I hope that, in the light of my explanation, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

I regret that the Minister regrets that he cannot accept the amendment. I would have been happier if he had come to the Dispatch Box and explained that, although the matter arose before he went to the Department of Transport, he could give an absolute assurance that the Government, in the form of the Secretary of State for Transport, would ensure that prayers were not delayed beyond the time that they were due to be debated. That would have been a great reassurance, but the Minister has not said that.

The Minister put forward a fallacious argument about convenience. What is convenient for the Government is not important, but what is convenient for the House is. It is true that the negative procedure is more convenient for the Government because, once the orders are laid, they lie there unless someone takes action against them. I did not suggest that the Government would act irresponsibly by taking things out or putting them in, but it would be perfectly proper for the Government to use the affirmative procedure. That would mean that they must find time for debate and that the changes could not be effected until the debate had taken place.

This is a House of Commons matter. I do not wish to delay the House any longer. I am prepared to give way if the Government will give an assurance that they will play the game on the negative procedure. I shall be delighted if the Minister springs to his feet—it rather worries me that he does not—and says that the events which I have described will not happen again.

Any procedural mishap would be regretted. I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has said. I do not know enough about the facts of the matter, but I assure him that the Government would want to avoid the repetition of such a procedural mishap.

Since we appear to be in a friendly mood today, I will go so far as to accept that there was a mishap on the previous occasion, but I have some suspicion that it was not. In view of the assurances that I have finally managed to wring out of the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.