Lords signals its intent to change controversial section of Public Bodies Bill

Last week I wrote about the Public Bodies Bill and the power grab it makes to let the government change the law in future without proper Parliamentary control, similar though on a smaller scale to what Labour proposed previously with the so-called Abolition of Parliament Bill. David Howarth echoed these concerns at the weekend:

The Public Bodies Bill might not presage the end of parliamentary democracy in the way the 2006 Bill did, but it is a sloppy, lazily drafted bill that assumes, just as the 2006 Bill did, that those in power are all good chaps who would never abuse the powers assigned to them. It must be radically amended before it becomes law.

Yesterday, in an unusual sequence of events, the House of Lords showed its own dislike of the proposals, as Lord Norton has reported:

Lord Lester of Herne Hill [a Lib Dem] moved a pavement amendment for a later amendment to limit ministerial powers. In the light of the minister’s assurance that he would look again at the issue, Lord Lester sought to withdraw his amendment but as some peers objected, the question had to be put. In the event, the amendment was carried by 235 votes to 201.

The procedural process all ended up rather topsy turvy but there is good news in the widespread hostility in the Lords to the provisions, especially in the light of the report published yesterday that the government amendments on this issue so far do not yet go far enough:

The House of Lords Delegated Powers Committee Sixth Report on government amendments to the Public Bodies Bill, published today, has found that Government amendments brought forward so far to the Public Bodies Bill fail to address concerns about parliamentary scrutiny raised in its earlier report.

The Committee draws attention in the report to the ‘exceptionally broad nature’ of the powers proposed to be delegated to Ministers and finds that the Bill ‘has not been amended effectively to specify or limit the purposes for which the powers in these clauses may be exercised.’ The Bill therefore ‘remains a skeleton Bill, despite the enhanced procedural requirements,’ the report states.

The Committee has particular concerns about the proposed power in clause 11 which covers 150 bodies or offices. The report says, ‘If the House can find no over-riding reason or exceptional circumstances which justify the inclusion of clause 11 and Schedule 7, the Committee recommends that they should be removed from the Bill.’

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  • Perhaps now we can slow down on legislation and get it right. Good for the Lords.

  • It’s early days but there is evidence that the Government is moving under pressure (1) internally within the coalition from the Liberal Democrat team on the Bill led by Anthony Lester (Lord Lester of Herne Hill) and Bob Maclennan (Lord Maclennan of Rogart) and (2) from all sides of the House including some Tory backbenchers such as Lord Norton of Louth, the Labour opposition led on this Bill by Philip Hunt (Lord Hunt of King’s Heath) and a lot of furious cross-benchers, not least all the lawyers.

    The debate in the first day in Committee was mainly about procedures, constraints on Ministers making orders, and consultation processes. It’s fascinating stuff if you like this kind of thing and can be found at
    – three separate chunks altogether yesterday.

    The Tory Minister taking the Bill through the Lords (it started here) is John Taylor (Lord Taylor of Holbeach). Yesterday he said amongst “I am determined to knock this Bill into shape in this House” – an extraordinary thing for a Minister to say!

    We resume on Monday (and next Wednesday) and we’ll be getting on to the lists of bodies affected – several hundred of them. Almost every one is the subject of an amendment to leave it out and most will be debated separately. Goodness knows how long it will take. The list I will append to this posting gives a flavour of them (and these are only the bodies with connections to DEFRA and DECC).

    Tony Greaves

    Schedule 1 (Power to Abolish)
    Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances
    Advisory Committee on Pesticides
    Advisory Committee on Pesticides for Northern Ireland
    Agricultural dwelling-house advisory committee
    Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales
    Agricultural wages committees
    Commission for Rural Communities
    Committee on Agricultural Valuation
    Environment Protection Advisory Committee
    Food from Britain
    Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee
    Regional advisory committees established under section 37(1)(b) of the Forestry Act 1967
    Regional and local fisheries advisory committees

    Schedule 3 (Power to modify constitutional arrangements)
    Broads Authority
    Internal drainage boards
    Joint Nature Conservation Committee
    National Park authorities

    Schedule 4 (Power to Modify Funding Arrangements)
    Chief Inspector of Drinking Water and other inspectors appointed under section 86 of the Water Industry Act 1991
    Marine Management Organisation
    Natural England

    Schedule 5 (Power to modify or transfer functions)
    Broads Authority
    Environment Agency
    Internal drainage boards
    National Park authorities

    Schedule 6 (Power to authorise delegation)
    Broads Authority
    National Park authorities

    Schedule 7 (Power to add to other Schdules – ie 1 to 6)
    Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment
    Agricultural Land Tribunals
    Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
    Animal Procedures Committee
    Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    Broads Authority
    Chief Inspector of Drinking Water and other inspectors appointed under section 86 of the Water Industry Act 1991
    Civil Nuclear Police Authority
    Coal Authority
    Committee on Climate Change
    Consumer Council for Water
    Environment Agency
    Forestry Commissioners
    Internal drainage boards
    Joint Nature Conservation Committee
    Marine Management Organisation
    National Park authorities
    Natural England
    Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
    Oil and Pipelines Agency
    Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal
    Regional Flood and Coastal Committees established under section 22 of the Floods and Water Management Act 2010
    Sea Fish Industry Authority
    Sea Fish Licence Tribunal
    United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
    Veterinary Products Committee
    Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT).
    I’ll add at the end of this posting a list of some of the organisations affe

  • Tony Greaves 26th Nov '10 - 12:59pm

    How interesting that the most draconian attack for years on the powers of parliament (as against the government) gets no interest at all from people here.

    Have we as a party lost our inner soul?

    Tony Greaves

  • “How interesting that the most draconian attack for years on the powers of parliament (as against the government) gets no interest at all from people here.

    Have we as a party lost our inner soul?”

    It certainly appears so especially when you consider all the ‘other compromises’ as well, although I don’t believe it was lost but rather ‘sold’ to the Conservatives for the small sum of a referendum on AV (it’s not the full PR either)

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