As Baroness Deech has explained, we had a long debate on Tuesday on the Second Reading of the Public Bodies Bill. We rose shortly before midnight. Over 55 speakers participated. Had each taken the 15 minutes to which they were entitled, we would have gone on for several more hours. In the event, most speakers limited their contributions to ten minutes or less.
Some speakers focused on specific proposals in the Bill, not least those affecting particular bodies, but there was a clear theme throughout the debate: namely, that the ‘Henry VIII’ provisions of the Bill were unacceptable. Though speakers accepted the ends of the Bill, there was little or no support for the means. The report of the Constitution Commitee (see my earlier post) was frequently cited. There was a powerful speech by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, indicating that the inclusion of certain bodies in Schedule 7 of the Bill undermined the constitutional principle of the separation of the executive and judiciary. By the time he sat down, it was clear that the Bill could not survive in its current form.
I focused also on the constitutional aspects and why the Bill as presently drafted was inadequate and why Schedule 7 would have a chilling effect on the bodies listed and with the potential to undermine their capacity to operate independently of government. The need to be independent is essential, not least for bodies which may have to adjudicate in cases to which the Government is a party.
In replying to the debate, the minister, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, bowed to the inevitable and announced that the Government would be bringing forward amendments to the Bill to meet the concerns of the House.