Members of the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment to place restrictions on ministerial powers to merge or reform public bodies granted by the Public Bodies Bill. The Bill started its committee stage – line by line examination – in the Lords on Tuesday 23 November.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill introduced the amendment, which was the first in a group of amendements requiring ministers to exercise their powers to abolish or restructure bodies in a way which was compatible with judicial independence and with human rights and freedoms. In addition the amendments require ministers to exercise their powers so as to preserve the independence of certain public bodies or offices.
Lord Lester explained that his amendments would 'set clear limits' on the exercise of the wide powers deligated to Ministers by the Bill.
Issues raised in the discussion of the amendment included the findings of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report, which considered the delegations of legislative power to ministers contained in the Bill 'inappropriate'.
The amendment was agreed to – a defeat for the government by 235 votes to 201.
Members continued to discuss further proposed amendments to the Bill. The committee stage continues in the Lords on 29 November when further amendments will be discussed.
Proposals for amendments to a Bill are published in a marshalled list of amendments one day before the Bill stage takes place.
The Public Bodies Bill has been the subject of reports by two House of Lords select committees. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published reports on 15 and 23 November. The Constitution Committee published a report on 3 November.
The Public Bodies Bill grants new powers to allow Ministers to abolish, merge or transfer functions of public bodies.
The committee stage of a Bill involves the detailed line-by-line examination of the separate parts – clauses and schedules. Any Member of the Lords can take part.
Committee stage can last for one or two days to eight or more. It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.