Clause 2

Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 11 Gorffennaf 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Power to impose new nationality requirements

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

We shall, I hope, be able to deal with the clause relatively briefly, because the arguments will be a counterpart of those that we had on clause 1. Clause 2 would introduce the power to impose the restrictions that we debated extensively during the more general debate on clause 1. It would enable Ministers to specify which jobs would be reserved and the circumstances that relate to those conditions. It could apply not only to the applicant, but to their relatives as well.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he did not wish to include in clause 2 a provision for parliamentary scrutiny of ministerial decisions in that respect?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

The short answer is that that would be wrong in respect of decisions about individuals. As I mentioned earlier, such jobs are set out in the European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 2007. They include jobs in certain departments of the security and intelligence services, including the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, Government Communications Headquarters, the diplomatic service, the Foreign Office and the Defence Intelligence Staff. The order specifically refers to

“access to intelligence information received directly or indirectly...access to other information which, if...misused, might control or decisions about immigration” and so on. The order gives a detailed list, and I understand that those sorts of rules will be brought into effect for the Bill.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I understand what the hon. Gentleman has said, but does he agree that Parliament should always have the final say and that one glaring omission from the Bill is that there is no provision for any parliamentary confirmation of the rules in force? If he is lucky enough to get his Bill through Committee, will he at least reflect on Report on whether we need a system of parliamentary scrutiny of the contents of the rules?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

Obviously, I shall reflect on what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He usually makes sensible points, although I would not go as far as saying that about his earlier comments on the European Union. I shall certainly reflect on what he has said.

Given how the Bill is constructed, it would provide the flexibility that the existing arrangements simply do not. The difficulty with the existing arrangements is that they have layered Acts of Parliament on orders on Acts of Parliament on other rules. That has created a complex tangle. If we have a simple system that can be tweaked, amended and brought up to date relatively easily, it will be an advantage. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point, on which we will be able to reflect as the Bill proceeds—if it does—to Report.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Ceidwadwyr, Wellingborough

Will the hon. Gentleman explain what subsection 4(b)—

“allowing any Minister or other...body to grant exemptions”— means?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

That effectively gives a counterpart to our current arrangements in respect of the Aliens’ Employment Act 1955, which was mentioned earlier. As I said, the 1955 Act deals primarily with MOD jobs. We shall have rules that will make all sorts of exclusions. I shall give a hypothetical example. Let us suppose that the intelligence services wanted to employ—subject to all the appropriate checks and balances, obviously—somebody from the United States Department of Homeland Security, or somebody equivalent from Israel, which has enormous experience of counter-terrorism. We might need to make an exemption, as we could now under the 1955 Act, for the very small number of individuals whom it could be to our advantage to employ in what would otherwise be  reserved jobs. We are talking about a belt-and-braces approach that would provide an exemption in such circumstances.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Ceidwadwyr, Wellingborough

I understand “allowing any Minister”, but I do not understand

“allowing any...other person or body to grant exemptions.”

How can any other person or body be included? That could be anyone, could it not?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

That effectively reflects the existing arrangements. No doubt, my hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong about that when she replies to the debate. As I understand it, it is the object of that part of the clause.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

To help the hon. Gentleman, is not that pursuant to clause 2(3)(b)?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

Of course. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which makes it clear, certainly in respect of delegation, that the proposal reflects the existing arrangements pretty accurately and gives effect to the restrictions, which we debated extensively in clause 1.

The only serious objection relates to terrorism. My answer to the question on terrorism is that the 7/7 bombers were UK nationals. The real answer was given by my hon. Friend earlier: we must ensure that the proper security checks are in place irrespective of nationality, which we do. The most important argument is that we are trying to create an inclusive civil service, which does not have unnecessary restrictions but nevertheless has restrictions that are relevant and needed to preserve those jobs in which our security is essential, and the Bill provides for that.

As I said earlier, there are a large number of Israeli people in my constituency. To suggest that Israelis are involved in such activities would be barking mad, but they are excluded, as are Americans, Japanese people and those from all sorts of countries around the world who are absolutely committed to the fight against terrorism. Yet there have been problems in the existing arrangements—I do not mean that in a generic way—with Pakistani nationals, who are entitled to join the civil service, as are UK nationals, who have been involved in terrorist activity. The argument about nationality and terrorism is a complete red herring in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead mentioned Nepalese people who were employed as Gurkha soldiers. To suggest that they should be excluded on security grounds is nonsense.

The Bill would give effect to the recommendations of the Public Administration Committee, which considered the issue some time ago, and it has the widespread support of organisations such as the civil service unions and the Commission for Racial Equality. I will not repeat the arguments advanced in clause 1, but I hope that the Committee will support clause stand part.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I wonder whether the Minister, when she responds, could deal with a point that relates to holding office in a civil capacity under the Crown in clause 2(1). Sensitive jobs that used to be done within  the civil service are increasingly being outsourced. However, we still want the people who do those jobs to be subject to proper vetting and security checks. As parts of Porton Down, for example, have been sent into the private sector, the people who work there may not technically be civil servants, but their work nevertheless requires security checks to be carried out. Can the Minister reassure the Committee that that will somehow be wrapped up in the clause and in the Government’s response to the matter?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

This clause is the most important part of the Bill. We cannot argue with its title “Power to impose new nationality requirements”, because if the House accepts the Bill, power will be needed to introduce new requirements. However, the drafting of the clause seems to flow against the tide of what the Government are trying to achieve.

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, who until recently was Leader of the House, played a very prominent role as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee and said that he wanted enhanced parliamentary scrutiny. That theme has been repeated by the new Prime Minister in his statements about giving greater power to Parliament and removing power from the Executive, which is to be applauded. Conservative Members wait to see whether he delivers what he promises—the jury is out in that respect—but at least he is making the right noises. The theme has been taken up by the new Leader of the House. I support the thrust that more power should be given to Parliament and that power held by others should be subject to scrutiny in this place, but the clause goes off completely in the other direction.

The hon. Member for Hendon, who is normally a powerful advocate, said that the reason behind the drafting of the clause is flexibility. He appeared to argue that we need to sacrifice scrutiny for the benefit of flexibility. I hope that I made it clear that logic is indeed on his side, but I am afraid that the argument is not. I take the opposite view—I would rather sacrifice complete flexibility for moderate, reasonable scrutiny. Scrutiny is needed whenever we give powers to change our law.

We are being asked to approve a framework that someone else will be able to tamper with and change beyond all recognition, and that someone includes not only this Minister, but others. Clause 2(3)(b) states that the rules may be made

“by any person or body to whom that power has been delegated by a Minister of the Crown.”

Even the power of delegation will not be subject to scrutiny by Parliament. That would give to a Minister the power to nominate anybody. It could be someone whose views are radical even by the standards of the hon. Member for Lewes and who takes an even more extreme view of the United States of America than him. There would be no mechanism by which that person’s decision could be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

It gets worse. Subsection (4)(b) would allow the Minister or any other person appointed under subsection (3)(b) to grant exemptions, which will also not be subject to  parliamentary scrutiny. I have real concern that the Bill goes too far in the direction of flexibility and sacrifices necessary parliamentary scrutiny.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch 10:45, 11 Gorffennaf 2007

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the clause would enable retrospective changes to be made in respect of existing employees without parliamentary scrutiny?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no indication in the clause that any rule changes or exemptions must be effective from a future date. They could indeed be backdated. I have real concerns about allowing others to make rules without proper scrutiny. I shall give an example from a totally different area, but the principle is nevertheless relevant to explaining my concerns.

Transport for London and the Mayor of London have the power under existing legislation to introduce a low-emission zone. Those who are concerned about clean air want to see that introduced, but TfL and the Mayor can choose whatever rules they like for bringing in the zone. They are talking about having a high threshold for commercial vehicles. As I understand it, until recently no one realised that that would prevent the use of vintage commercial vehicles, which are used in charity fundraising events throughout the Greater London area throughout the year, where they raise many hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity. Old fire engines, steam-powered commercial vehicles and others may be hit by the rules, because those who seek to impose them are not subject to the scrutiny of this place. I have no confidence that good law will result when unfettered power is given and is not subject to ongoing scrutiny.

I understand the promoter of the Bill’s point. He does not want the situation to be completely rigid and wants an element of flexibility. However, that could be achieved by a periodic review of the rules. The clause does not even contain a requirement that there should be parliamentary scrutiny after a certain period—for example, every 12 or 24 months. If he is going to insist on including the clause, I hope that he will seriously consider introducing an amendment at a later stage to address those serious concerns.

We are not a debating society, although it often seems that we are. We approve, or withhold our approval to, a change in the law, which affects all citizens in this country. We therefore all have a duty to get it right. We all have a duty not to say that the Minister knows best, although we have currently have a particularly good Minister. My concern is not with the Minister, but with what happens when she is moved on and we have another Minister, or—

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

It may be a Tory, but I do not assume, because I am a Conservative, that I can trust all of my right hon. and hon. Friends. [Hon. Members: “It could be you.”] Indeed, it could be me—I am not sure that I always trust myself. Trust is not needed, if there is proper scrutiny. Scrutiny is all the more important when the decision may not be made by a Minister, because even if the Minister is outwith scrutiny on a narrow decision, under our system, unlike the American system, Ministers have to answer to this House every single day.

Even if a Minister were able to give an exemption or to approve a rule which did not find favour in a part of the House, at least once a month that Minister has to come to the Dispatch Box and answer questions. To that extent, the Minister could be criticised. However, there is no such requirement on this mysterious

“any person or body to whom that power has been delegated”.

The Minister could quite easily give this power away and come to the Dispatch Box and say, “It is nothing to do with me. I have delegated the matter. I am not answerable now for this decision.” The gaping hole in the Bill is the lack of scrutiny on this point.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Ceidwadwyr, Wellingborough

As a new Member, will my right hon. Friend advise me whether, if the Bill passes into law, the rules would have to return to Parliament in a statutory instrument to be approved again? And would that be by the affirmative or the negative resolution?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

My reading of the Bill is that there is no such requirement. The Minister is given the powers to make the rules or, even worse, to allow someone else to make the rules and the exemptions without any requirement for us to have any further say in the matter. My hon. Friend, astute as ever, has put his finger right on the weakness that there is no requirement for us to re-examine how the rules have been drafted, implemented and applied and the range of exemptions that may or may not be contained within them.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful case and has certainly persuaded me that the clause is unacceptable. Does he agree that the situation is worse now than it would have been in the past, given the huge amount of quangos that have been created by the Government and that will no doubt have the power to interfere through the clause?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I remember many years ago when I was a law student speaking to a colourful and flamboyant Member of this House, the late Sir Gerald Nabarro. He explained to me that in his day, which was the 1950s and 1960s, all matters that reached the statute book were subject to scrutiny by this place. It is a rather modern development that those who draft Bills include a provision that regulations can be made later by the Minister. That is something that we did not have for 700 years, as in the case of the Act of Settlement. It is a modern development, which, I regret to say, started at the tail of the last Conservative Government. I am not making a party political point.

I think that the civil service saw a way of having flexibility without having to bother to get a time slot for the Minister to introduce legislation. Civil servants will have said, “Why don’t we put an order-making power in the Bill, Minister, then we will not have to come back to the House? Why don’t we give you a power to do this, Minister, then we don’t have to find another slot further down the line?” I can see why, for administrative reasons, it has been done, and I make no criticism of those whose responsibility it is to administer their Department. They are doing their best in the area on which they are employed to advise.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case and, as I have mentioned, I will be more than happy to reflect on that point should the Bill make progress. Personally, I would be happy to work with him outside Committee to see if we can find an agreed wording, should the Bill go on Report. He has reminded me of my own views on parliamentary accountability and has made a strong argument, and I hope that it will find favour with my hon. Friend the Minister.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

It is a very rare occasion that one makes a speech—no matter how powerful—and someone stands up to say that they buy the point and will bring forward an amendment accordingly. It has happened to me only once before. On the Licensing Act 1988, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) was the Home Office Minister. I moved an amendment to increase drinking-up time in public houses, which was then only 10 minutes. I argued that it caused big rows at closing time, because there were pubs full of rugby players who came in wanting a couple of pints, but staff were trying to throw them out after 10 minutes. I thought that I was on a hiding to nothing, but my right hon. and learned Friend stood up and said, “My civil service brief says ‘resist’.” He then threw the brief on the floor and said, “I accept the amendment.” The one thing that I have achieved in my political career—I hope that it is celebrated up and down the country—is giving drinkers 20 minutes drinking-up time.

I may also be able to provide the House with some scrutiny over where this legislation goes. I am grateful to the promoter of the Bill for his generous response. He said he thought that he had rather lost his Yorkshire accent. May I say that he is welcome to come to Bridlington in my constituency any time, and I will buy him a drink?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on another red letter day. He said earlier that sometimes he does not trust himself. Will he ensure that other members of the Committee are in on the discussions about the matter?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

It is only fair that those who have given their time to look at this issue should be involved in any discussions that take place. I thank my hon. Friend for congratulating me on a red letter day, which is only my second in 20 years.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend has got a possibly significant concession out of the promoter of the Bill on subsection (3). I will begin by saying that I am concerned that we might be at cross purposes. We have a situation where, as my right hon. Friend has said, the rules should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, but the Bill suggests that they need not be and that they can be made by a Minister of the Crown.

The Bill goes further, stating in subsection (3) that those rules do not even need to be made by a Minister but,

“by any person or body to whom that power has been delegated by a Minister”.

That goes even further from the principle of parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that in the discussions between my right hon. Friend, the promoter of the Bill and others, we will ensure that any reference to the Minister being able to delegate a rule-making power to somebody else should be removed completely from the Bill. That is potentially very dangerous.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 11:00, 11 Gorffennaf 2007

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is taking me with him. If the power to delegate the rule-making power is there, surely it is all right, so long as the delegated decision is still subject to scrutiny?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

With respect to my right hon. Friend, how will the decision be subject to scrutiny? If we were to approve the Minister’s delegating the taking of decisions on rules to somebody else, it would mean that when that somebody else took the decisions, they would not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. We would be giving that person complete discretion about how to implement the rule changes.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

To answer my hon. Friend’s point, one way to do it would be to say that the House had to approve the rules in an annual report or that a report had to be laid before Parliament, which Parliament could then approve or reject.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

It will not surprise you to know, Mrs. Humble, that I respect my right hon. Friend’s abilities in drafting and the fact that he wants to be flexible. However, we are talking about people who are in employment or who want to go into employment, so it is important, if we are to change the rules, that they are subject to parliamentary scrutiny in advance of the changes being made, rather than being subject to a rubber-stamping exercise after the event. Someone might be employed based on a change in the rules, only for the annual report to be produced and Parliament to say, “We don’t approve that change, as it happens”. That would put that person in a pretty difficult situation. I hope that when we have that discussion with the promoter of the Bill, we have a little more scrutiny of subsection (3)(b).

It may be that the provision has been introduced because the Government or the promoter of the Bill want to give a discretion relating to the making of rules to the royal household, because the Bill extends to the royal household and effectively removes its ability to set its own rules for the employment of staff. I am not sure that that is desirable, and the Minister effectively said on Second Reading that she has some concerns. She did not say so expressly, but reading between the lines, I got the impression that she would rather that the royal household was not included and that it could maintain its own employment practices. It does not need much imagination to recognise we cannot get much more serious security issues than those that involve people who have direct access to the Head of State. I would prefer to leave the royal household out, but if it is to be included, we should be able to have some oversight of any rules that are brought forward.

Clause 2(1) talks about rules being made

“imposing requirements as to nationality which must be satisfied by a person employed or holding office in a civil capacity under the Crown specified in the rules.”

It does not say, “about to be appointed to hold such office or be employed,” or “on the date of the appointment.” It means that the rules can be changed after somebody has already gone into employment. That means that if the present Minister—and Parliament, if our argument is accepted—were to agree to a change in the rules, the change would apply to all people working in the civil service. On the basis of that change in the rules, people might move into positions in the civil service. There might then be a change in the Government, security system or political approach. We might even leave the European Union—I hope that that comes about—and need to rethink our relationships, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is promoting.

All of those changes might come about, putting in jeopardy the position of someone who was employed or holding office in a civil capacity under the Crown. Effectively, they would be retrospectively removed from that job. Would that be right, and is it what the promoter of the Bill intended when he drafted clause 2(1)? Would it not be better if the rules applied when the person was appointed and could not be changed after they were appointed—in other words, through the duration of that appointment?

I fell out for a time with my own Front Bench over the retrospective element of the air passenger duty increase imposed earlier this year. This measure is potentially a power to make a retrospective change in the rules, because the person in an employed position would find themselves unable to carry on in that position. Would they be entitled to compensation, and would they be subject to immediate dismissal? We need that clarified.

We also need more precision in subsection (2). Currently, it specifies:

“The rules may also impose requirements as to nationality which must be satisfied by persons of a description specified in the rules who are related to, or living with, such a person.”

When the subsection refers to persons “related to”, I presume it means a blood relative, although it is not spelled out. Such a relationship cannot change—once a blood relative always a blood relative, for better or worse. However, when it comes to a person living with someone else, that is a relationship that can change from one moment to another.

In a recent case, somebody who was already married entered a civil partnership and then, much to my delight, realised the error of their ways and reverted to their marriage, thereby demonstrating that civil partnerships are not necessarily all that they are cracked up to be. That is an example of a rapidly changing scenario, relating to persons living with each other or with somebody else.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, my hon. Friend is making a powerful case against the flaws in the clause. Will he comment on a contradiction between clause 2 and clause 1? It seems that the purpose of the Bill, as set out by the hon. Member for Hendon, is to ensure that all and sundry have the opportunity to work in the civil service. In clause 2, however, he seems happy to give the power not only to prevent that from happening, but further to restrict entry into the civil service.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

My hon. Friend has made a powerful point. Effectively—I suppose this conforms to the old doctrine of spin—the hon. Member for Hendon is saying that he does not like the existing rule-driven arrangements, because there are certain anomalies that either do or could result in perverse outcomes, which we all accept. However, he wishes to remove the rule-prescribed arrangement and introduce arrangements that will not be subject to scrutiny by this House. Those arrangements will include as yet unspecified rules that may be more draconian than the existing rules or, if we have heard him correctly, more liberal. Although they may not be wholly satisfactory, we know what the existing provisions are, but the Bill takes us to a point at which we would not know what is set out in the rules.

My hon. Friend is right in saying that clause 1 would be beneficial to the people identified by the hon. Member for Hendon and others, but clause 2 could well take away from such people more than they have, depending on how it is implemented. My hon. Friend has reinforced my concerns and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire about clause 2.

Subsection (2) should spell out “the rules” not only on blood relationships, which obviously do not change, but on past relationships. Who a person has lived with in the past is relevant, but the Bill would deem cohabitation relevant only if it were current at the time of employment. I feel that that is the wrong way forward; it would be better if the words “are related to” were followed by the words “or are or were”

“living with, such a person”.

That would be a tighter formulation.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I do not wish to go further up the garden path, to use an earlier metaphor, but it strikes me that the phrase “living with” is open to interpretation. The hon. Gentleman takes “living with” to imply cohabitation of a sexual nature. Of course, it could simply mean sharing a flat, as I did with my best friend when I left university. I was not “living with” him in any sense other than that we were living in the same flat, but, legally, we might be classified as living together. “Living with” is a loose phrase unless—the Minister may tell us—it has a specific legal meaning.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. The only way to sort out the matter is to ensure that the clause is amended to clarify the meaning of the loose expression “living with” on Report. Obviously, when we discussed the Civil Partnership Act 2004, there was concern that a particular type of relationship was being given recognition by the law, but other relationships were not—for example, the relationship between two elderly spinsters who live together. The issue also relates to inheritance tax legislation. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to another instance of loose and imprecise drafting. I hope that the Minister will be able to help us, because the measure will probably commend itself to a Government amendment.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire has addressed subsection (3) in some detail. I do not feel the need to repeat his arguments, although he made some important points. In responding to the debate,  however, I hope that the promoter of the Bill will indicate the criteria that would be applied in relation to making those rules and perhaps give us some examples of the application of those criteria.

We have heard from the Minister, or perhaps it was the promoter of the Bill, that the European Union is drawing up some rules, which are currently contained in a statutory instrument. Does that represent the full extent of the rules that could be made under the clause?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon 11:15, 11 Gorffennaf 2007

Just to correct the hon. Gentleman, the rules have not been drawn up by the European Union; they have been drawn up by the UK to give effect to the St. Andrews agreement. They specify in a lot more detail than has been used before what the reserve posts will be.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting me right. As far as I understand it, however, the St. Andrews agreement covers relationships between the UK and Ireland.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

One of the terms of the St. Andrews agreement, as the hon. Gentleman would know if he had been present on Second Reading, was that the Government would legislate to correct the anomaly as it particularly applied to Irish nationals, but in doing so the Government corrected anomalies relating to the European Union generally. That is why there is this other anomaly, which we cannot correct, about spouses. However, if the hon. Gentleman looked at the measure, I think it would all become relatively clear to him.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I must admit to being at a disadvantage, because I do not have the rules before me; that all goes back to the fact that I was rather taken by surprise by finding myself as a member of this Committee.

Nevertheless, I am still a little confused because the St. Andrews agreement, as I understand it, was a UK-Irish agreement. I do not understand how legislation that purports to implement that agreement can also have the much wider implication and ambit that the hon. Gentleman has described.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

At the risk of perpetuating this discussion, in annexe B to the St. Andrews agreement, there was a commitment that we would

“bring forward separate legislation before the end of 2006 to reform entry requirements to ensure access for EU nationals to posts in the Civil Service.”

That was one of the terms of the agreement.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I notice that the agreement said:

“before the end of 2006”.

We are now in 2007. So, if the hon. Gentleman’s Bill does not make any further progress in this Session, perhaps we will find out this afternoon if it will be part of the Government’s legislative programme for next year.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

The 2007 order did that, but it did not correct the other anomaly.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his sedentary intervention, and I am sure that we are all wiser as a result.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

I can assure my hon. Friend that I am none the wiser after that exchange between two lawyers, but I am sure that he will be.

The issue that I want to explore, which the hon. Member for Hendon may have addressed but I simply did not understand, concerns the European Union—my ears pricked up when the European Union was mentioned, because it is always meddling in things in which it has no need to meddle. Given that so many powers have been delegated—given away—from this country to the European Union, if the European Union chooses to pass those powers on and delegate them to an EU-wide body, would clause 2 allow that body to make changes to employment rules in this country, if the European Union were involved?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

Somebody is saying no from a sedentary position, but the way that the salami slicing of our sovereignty has been executed by our so-called European partners gives me and I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley little confidence that this particular measure will not be the subject of salami slicing in the future.

We can see in the explanatory notes that, regarding clause two:

“Any rules made under this power would have to comply with the requirements both of the European Communities and of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

That makes me wonder whatever happened to subsidiarity. I cannot imagine anything that is more appropriately a matter for national sovereign Parliaments, and for individual nation states, than the eligibility of people to be employed in the royal household of the Head of State.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

Then why are we putting forward a proposal that would allow the European Union to dictate the terms on which our royal household can employ its staff? That is another example where the consequences that flow from the provisions of clause 2—they may be intended, as far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned—are unintended and undesirable.

I think—my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire has made this point—that subsections (4)(a) and (b) go far too far in giving unfettered power to exempt a person of one description from the rules. Returning to my earlier point, that reinforces the fact that unless a rule change were to introduce an exemption for existing employees, they would not be protected against the retrospective loss of their jobs and their right to be employed in a particular position. Rather than having the exemption clause in subsection (4)(a), it would be better to alter subsection (1) in the way in which I suggested earlier to make it clear that  such changes could apply only at the beginning of somebody’s employment, and that it could not be used to remove them from employment after the event. I would have thought that that would be against the European convention on human rights, but it seems implicit in the way in which this has been drafted that it would not be at odds with the convention.

Photo of John Austin John Austin Llafur, Erith and Thamesmead

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the European convention of human rights, which emanates from the Council of Europe. He is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where he would have to make his points within four minutes. Does he not think that there are some merits in some of the European institutions?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

The interesting thing about the procedures in the Council of Europe is that is possible to move amendments, but it is not possible to group them. The current Standing Orders of the Council of Europe stipulate that each amendment can be moved, that the proposer of an amendment can speak for one minute and that somebody can speak against the amendment for one minute. That process can be more elongated than the process in our House, where we try to have proper scrutiny. I am confident that asking these questions and hoping for a response from the  Minister and the promoter of the Bill will ensure that the debate on Report will be better informed and more focused.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the comments made by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead, which seek to undermine parliamentary scrutiny, go to the heart of the clause? We are trying to include more parliamentary scrutiny in the Bill, so does he agree that, judging by the hon. Gentleman’s comments, the Labour party is not as keen on parliamentary scrutiny as was indicated by the hon. Member for Hendon to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am not sure. All of us who serve on the Council of Europe are parliamentarians. The importance of that body is that only parliamentarians are eligible to serve on it. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead, who intervened on the issue, is an assiduous attender.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Llafur, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

Order. As the Committee has not agreed a sittings motion, I am appointing Wednesday 18 July at 9.30 am for the next sitting.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o’clock,The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till Wednesday 18 July at half-past Nine o’clock.