Public Bodies Bill: report stage, day two

29 March 2011

The House of Lords voted in favour of 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, defeating the Government, during the second day of report stage of the Public Bodies Bill on Monday 28 March

An amendment to limit the power of ministers to modify Welsh television channel S4C’s constitutional arrangements was defeated.

A third day of report stage is scheduled for Monday 4 April.

Youth Justice Board for England and Wales

Members of the Lords agreed to the amendment, moved by Lord Warner, by 225 votes to 162 – a defeat for the Government by 63 votes.

Introducing amendment 20A, Lord Warner said that across the benches Members of the Lords were saying that the Government was wrong to seek the abolition of the Youth Justice Board: ‘A series of independent reviews have said that the Youth Justice Board has done a good job, with the PAC [Commons Public Accounts Committee] recently saying that there was no foundation to the Government's case for abolition.’ The Ministry of Justice may decide to manage the youth justice system differently following consultation on the Green Paper ‘Breaking the Cycle’, Lord Warner said: ‘But, until that discussion has been held, and until the operation structure to sit alongside the announced policy structure is confirmed, it makes little or no sense to do away with the body that should not only play a key role in those discussions but which has been responsible for introducing the acknowledged success stories.’

Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and the Civil Justice Council

The House of Lords also voted in favour of Amendment 26, which seeks to retain the functions of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council by adding it, along with the Civil Justice Council to the list of bodies to be merged. The Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council had been in Schedule 1 – public bodies to be abolished; the Civil Justice Council had been in Schedule 7 – organisations that could be added to any of the other lists of public bodies that will be abolished, merged or reformed.

Moving the amendment, Lord Newton of Braintree stated:  ‘Although the Ministry of Justice now takes what are labelled as administrative justice decisions, the responsibilities for those run right across government.’ The Cabinet Office has responsibility for ombudsmen, not the Ministry of Justice, yet Department of Communities and Local Government proposals in the Localism Bill concerning ombudsmen had ‘enflamed the entire ombudsman world.’ Lord Newton said he doubted the Ministry of Justice would have any influence on those proposals. He did not believe the Ministry of Justice could ‘do what it says on the tin.’

Lord Newton said that the Civil Justice Council has a ‘50-year-plus’ track record of bringing about improvements in justice between the citizen and the state: ‘Hundreds of thousands of social security claimants, people claiming disability benefits, people who are under compulsory orders going to mental health tribunals,’ he said. ‘Why is this the Cinderella? Given that we are talking about the interests of many of the least articulate and most vulnerable people in our society.’

Members of the Lords agreed to the amendment by 198 votes to 191 – a defeat for the Government by 7 votes.

The House of Lords agreed without voting to amendments 32 – to remove the Civil Justice Council for the list of bodies whose constitutional arrangements Ministers have power to modify; 37 – to add the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and the Civil Justice Council to Schedule 4 – bodies whose funding arrangements ministers have power to modify; and 45 to 47, which adds the two Councils to Schedule 5, the list of bodies whose functions will be modified or transferred.

Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C)

Lord Wigley moved an amendment which sought to limit the power of ministers to modify the constitutional arrangements of Welsh language television, Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C). 

Moving Amendment 29A, Lord Wigley said, ‘The independence of S4C will be critically undermined.’ It will be ‘beholden to the BBC Trust for the bulk of its funding, which the Government, without prior consultation, have moved to the licence fee.’ Lord Wigley said S4C's independence would be further eroded by ‘the Minister's indication that BBC staff will sit on S4C's management board – not just on the authority, but on the management board.’  S4C competes against BBC Wales for television rights for sporting and other events. How was it to do so if BBC staff are locked into its management. Although Lord Wigley wanted S4C to be removed from the Bill, he urged Members of the Lords to support his amendment if Amendment 34B – to add S4C to Schedule 3: the list of public bodies whose constitutional arrangements ministers have power to modify – was agreed to. 

The House of Lords defeated Amendment 29A by 197 votes to 162 – a Government majority of 35. Members of the Lords agreed without voting to Amendment 34B.

Other amendments

The House of Lords also agreed without voting to amendments 22, 28 and 42 to remove some restrictions on ministerial powers to merge bodies; 25 to add the Competition Commission and Office of Fair Trading to Schedule 2: public bodies to be merged; 44 to add the Advisory Council on Public Records to Schedule 5: public bodies whose functions will be modified or transferred; 51 to add the Keeper of Public Records to Schedule 5; 53 to remove the National Park authorities in England from Schedule 5; 55 to add the Public Records Office to Schedule 5; 57 to leave out Claues 6: power to authorise delegation; 58 to leave out Schedule 6: public bodies whose functions could be delegated; 59; and 60.

Amendment 60, moved by government minister, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, gives ministers power to remove organisations from the schedules they are listed in when making orders under Clauses 1 to 5.  

Report stage: day one

Members of the Lords voted against amendments to prevent the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, the National Consumer Council and Regional Development Agencies on Wednesday 23 March.

Amendment 7 sought to remove the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales from the list of public bodies that could be abolished.

Moving the amendment Baroness Quin said the continued retention of the Agricultural Wages Board when the other wages boards had been abolished recognised the fact of the unique circumstances of agricultural employment where workers ‘might be quite isolated from other workers in the same industry’. Baroness Quin was concerned that abolition of the board would have the effect of driving wages down, particularly in the grades above minimum wage; the lowest grade of agricultural worker wage was just three pence above the minimum wage. ‘There is far too much reliance on the minimum wage legislation,’ she said. ‘There are other grades that recognise skills within the agricultural industry, and the precedents are not good when wages boards have been abolished in the past.’

The House of Lords voted against the amendment by 249 votes to 194.

Amendment 13 sought to remove the National Consumer Council (NCC) from the Schedule 1 list of public bodies to be abolished and place it on Schedule 5, the list of bodies whose functions are to be transferring its functions to another organisation.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who moved the amendment, expressed concern about the Government’s intentions despite plans set out to merge its functions and duties under Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland and the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. Baroness Hayter said the NCC had a statutory duty to ‘demand information from across all sectors of the economy’ and to ‘represent consumers across all four nations by having a presence there.’ It was more appropriate for the NCC ‘to belong in Schedule 5, not in Schedule 1,’ she said.

The amendment was defeated by 12 votes – 182 not contents to 170 contents.

The House of Lords also defeated Amendment 16A, moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, which sought to keep the eight regional development agencies (RDAs) by removing them from Schedule 1. The amendment was defeated by 151 votes to 87.

Further information

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

The Bill completed committee stage – line by line examination of the clauses and schedules of the Bill – on Wednesday 10 March. The House of Lords disagreed to Schedule 7 which listed organisations that could be added to the other lists of public bodies that may be abolished, merged or reformed. Clause 18 on the powers to allow the Secretary of State to change the constitutional arrangements of the Forestry Commissioners was also disagreed to. The House of Lords also agreed to set new limits on the powers of Ministers to merge or reform public bodies.

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

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 2010 and 8 March 2011. The Constitution Committee published a report on 3 November 2010.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's Eleventh Report welcomed changes made to the Bill by the Government during committee stage, but expressed continued concern about the ‘exceptionally wide delegated powers’ which remain.

Image: Press Association

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