UK: Public Bodies (Reform) Blog 29: Public Bodies Reform Gathers Pace

Last Updated: 14 March 2011
Article by Paul Thompson

This is entry No.29, first published on 8 March 2011, of a blog on public bodies reform. Click here to view the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

In a wide ranging debate yesterday (see here), starting just after 3pm and extending until just after 1am, the Lords managed to complete consideration of Clauses 2 to 4 , Schedules 1, 2 and 3 and much of Schedule 4 to the Public Bodies Bill.

Bodies discussed included the General Lighthouse Authorities (out of Bill now that Schedule 7 has been deleted), the Victims Advisory Panel (to be abolished), the Youth Justice Board (functions to be transferred to the Ministry of Justice), the UK Film Council and BFI (outside scope of the Bill), the Central Arbitration Committee and Certification Officer ( to be merged), the Gambling Commission and National Lottery Commission (to be merged), the Theatres Trust (appointments by Secretary of State to be removed), the DWI (new powers proposed to enable recovery of costs from the water industry), the Broads Authority and National Park Authorities (constitutional changes possible but subject to ongoing consultation), the Church Commissioners (outside scope of the Bill), the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) (to be reformed following consultation), Internal Drainage Boards (possible transfer of functions to them, and the Environment Agency to take over responsibility for determining non-contentious changes to areas, amalgamations and main river designations), the Joint Nature Conservation Council (to be streamlined), the Marine Management Organisation, Natural England and Ofcom (improved charging powers).

Whilst there were no divisions, it looks as if the Government's position on the Youth Justice Board in particular will be further tested on report (ie the next stage of the Bill in the Lords).

The debate also saw discussion of the group of amendments in the name of the Lord Whitty which, as summarised by Lord Taylor of Holbeach for the Government, would require that, before laying an order under Clauses 2 to 6, a Minister must lay before Parliament a report setting out the reasoning for any change in the status of a body or bodies he or she proposes to make, with the said report being subject to debate and approval by resolution in each House; amendment 119 then introducing an additional requirement for a report where an order affects a body or office within a particular set of categories. Though ultimately withdrawn, the whole subject of parliamentary scrutiny remains at large and will be returned to, in particular when amendment 114, 118 and 175 is reached at the next sitting.

Two assurances given during the course of the debate, being reiterations of earlier assurances given, were also particularly noteworthy, namely:

In relation to the CEHR,: "The Government made it clear in their announcement of 14 October that they intend to retain but substantially reform the commission, refocusing it on its core functions of regulating equality and anti-discrimination law in Great Britain, fulfilling EU equality requirements and being a national human rights institution under the United Nations. We also intend that it should provide better value for the taxpayers' money spent on it-something that it has so far failed to do."

In relation to Ofcom: " As I said at Second Reading-I am happy to reiterate it-the Government intend the economic and regulatory functions of bodies such as Ofcom and Ofgem to be excluded from the powers of the Bill for precisely this reason. I do not believe that it is necessary to place such a requirement in the Bill, because the Government expect Ministers to consider such issues as a matter of course and because our Amendment 118,which requires Ministers to produce an explanatory document with a draft statutory instrument setting out the reasons for an order, will provide another opportunity to inform Parliament of such matters."

The Committee next meets tomorrow, 9 March and the committee stage may then be completed. See now the 9th marshalled List of Amendments (here) the new amendments 114 (consultation) and 118 (procedure) in the name of Lord Taylor of Holbeach being of particular note.

Meanwhile, in the Commons yesterday, Bob Neill indicated that from 1 April 2011, the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation's planning functions in the London Riverside area will be returned to the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, and for part of Newham.  He indicated that "This important first step towards complete localisation will be effected by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (Planning Functions) (Amendment) Order 2011 which I am laying before Parliament today."

Today has also seen the publication of the 11th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, on the government amendments to the Public Bodies Bill (see here). Its key conclusion is that:

"In conclusion, the Committee welcomes the further amendments which have been tabled by the Government. However, these further amendments do not meet the concerns that the Committee has already reported about the exceptionally wide delegated powers which remain in clauses 1 to 5 and 13 of the Bill. The Committee therefore remains of the view that, as the Bill stands, those clauses are not appropriate delegations of legislative power. The Committee also invites the House to consider carefully the Government's revised "enhanced" procedure for orders under the Bill."

Further afield, it should be noted that the Yes vote in the referendum in Wales held on 3 March (517,132 to 297, 380) means that the Welsh Assembly will be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for, without needing the UK Parliament's agreement. This fundamentally affects how public bodies reform will now proceed in Wales.

Here is a revised Amendment Scorecard for the Public Bodies Bill:

Amendments agreed: Nos.1, 26, 47, 64, 68, 72A, 74A, 76 and 79A
Amendments disagreed: No.17
Amendments not moved: Nos. 5, 9-14, 16, 16A, 21, 24, 32, 34-36, 40, 42, 45, 50-58, 60A, 67A &B, 69, 69A, 74, 74B and 75, 77 77A-79, 80 and 81 .
Amendments withdrawn: Nos. 2, 3A, 3B and 4, 6, 7A, 8, 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 23A., 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31,33. 36A,37,39, 41, 43, 44, 46,59 and 61, 62, 63, 65, 65A, 66, 66A, 67, 70, 70A, 71, 72, 73 and 82.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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