The Public Bodies Bill grants extensive powers to Ministers to abolish, merge, and modify the constitutional arrangements of, a very significant number and range of public bodies.
The Bill also gives Ministers the power to modify the bodies funding arrangements and transfer their functions. Many of the bodies included in this were originally set up by primary legislation but could now be abolished by simple Ministerial order.
The Bill vastly extends Ministers’ powers to amend primary legislation by order. Such powers are commonly referred to as ‘Henry VIII’ powers. Where the use of these powers has been proposed in the past, the Committee has argued that the powers must be clearly limited, exercisable only for specific purposes, and subject to adequate parliamentary oversight.
The Committee has also argued that where fresh Henry VIII powers are to be introduced the key question to be answered is whether Ministers should have the power to change the statute book for the specific purposes provided for in the Bill and, if so, whether there are adequate procedural safeguards. In the Committee’s view, the Public Bodies Bill fails both tests.
The report concludes that the Government has not made out the case as to why the bodies affected by this Bill should be abolished, merged or modified by force only of ministerial order, rather than by ordinary legislative amendment and debate in Parliament.
Baroness Jay of Paddington, Chairman of the Committee, has said:
"We are very concerned about the way in which the Government are proposing in this Bill to reform such a vast range and number of statutory bodies by ministerial order alone, particularly given the lack of any proper public consultation.
"Our report does not determine whether these public bodies should be abolished or modified. However, we consider that Parliament should be given the opportunity fully to debate any reforms. I do not believe that this will be possible unless reforms are implemented through primary legislation, not ministerial order.”
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