Public Bodies Bill completes report stage

05 April 2011

The Public Bodies Bill completed report stage in the House of Lords on Monday 4 April. The House voted against three amendments which sought to increase the level of scrutiny of the use of Ministerial powers under the Bill. A number of Government amendments were to agreed without voting.

Third reading – a final chance to amend the Bill – is scheduled for Monday 9 May.

Amendment 60A to Clause 8 sought to define the purpose for the use of the order-making powers in the Bill.

Moving the amendment, Lord Taylor of Holbeach said: ‘Government Amendments 60A, 69A and 69B in this group are an important contribution to the Bill. They are designed to respond to the criticism of the Delegated Powers Committee that the Bill as drafted did not sufficiently define the purpose for which orders might be brought forward.’ He said he hoped Members of the Lords would appreciate why the definition ‘remained broad’ in the context of a wide range of reform: ‘What links these otherwise disparate reforms is the Government's clear imperative to create a rationalised public bodies landscape in which necessary functions are delivered in an appropriate and effective manner. The purpose of Amendment 60A is to articulate this goal and to ensure that an order cannot be brought forward for a purpose outside the intended scope of the Bill as debated fully in Parliament.’

Amendments 60A, 69A and 69B were agreed to without voting.

The House of Lords voted against Amendment 65, which sought to introduce formal public consultation whenever an order is used under this Bill.

Moving the amendment, Lord Hunt of Kingsheath said: ‘Notwithstanding the many safeguards that have now been built into the Bill, many organisations are listed over which a Minister will have considerable authority because of the order-making power that the Bill gives them. Because of that, there should be a clear statement in the Bill that there must always be public consultation.’ It would provide for ‘greater confidence in the Bill,’ he said.

The amendment was defeated by 199 votes to 212.

Amendment 69, also moved by Lord Hunt of Kingsheath, and also defeated, sought to introduce a higher level of scrutiny of orders made by Ministers under the provisions in the Bill, through the use of a ‘super affirmative’ procedure that would allow for changes to any order and require the express approval of by the Lords and the Commons. Moving the amendment Lord Hunt said: ‘Under the Bill, many organisations doing public work can be affected by the use of ministerial power. Parliament needs and deserves the most stringent scrutiny powers possible’

The amendment was defeated by 189 votes to 206.

Amendment 71, moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, was also defeated. The amendment sought to increase the level of scrutiny of orders made to amend schedules 1 to 6 – the public bodies listings.

The House of Lords also agreed without voting to amendment 63, 64, 73 to 79, 80, 81 and 82, 84 to 86, 86A, 87, 88 and 89B, 90, 90A to 90C, 91, 92 to 94, 95, 98 to 103.

Further information

The Public Bodies Bill grants new powers to ministers to reform, merge or abolish public bodies.

The House of Lords agreed to amendments to remove the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales from Schedule 1: public bodies to be abolished, and to add the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and the Civil Justice Council to Schedule 2: public bodies to be merged during the second day of report stage on Monday 28 March.

Report stage gives Members of the Lords further opportunity to consider all amendments to the Bill.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's 12th Report, published on Wednesday 30 March on the Government amendments tabled for the third day of report stage. The Report reiterated concern about the use of the ‘very broad powers’ granted to Ministers under clauses 1 to 5 in relation to Amendment 60A to Clause 8. 

The Report welcomed Amendment 72 which provides for a ‘sunset clause’ emptying schedules 1 to 5 – the public bodies listings – after five years.

The Public Bodies Bill has been the subject of previous reports by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published on 15 and 23 November 2010, and 8 March 2011. It was also the subject of a report by the Constitution Committee published on 3 November 2010.

Image: iStockphoto 

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