I agree with Lord Knight’s assessment of the Public Bodies Bill. It is making slow progress through the House. This is in part because of time being taken by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill and also because peers are keen to discuss the bodies included in the different schedules of the Bill. A number are proving especially controversial. The attention given to the Bill’s provisions are entirely appropriate.
The Bill raises signficant constitutional issues, not least because of the provisions of Schedule 7. This constitutes a Henry VIII provision, a point I have developed in a previous post. It enables ministers to repeal primary legislation by order. In other words, a body established by statute – having been considered by Parliament in some detail – can be removed by an order moved by a minister, which may receive little or no debate in Parliament – possibly no debate in the Commons and debated but not voted on in the Lords.
The Constitution Committee, as Lord Knight, mentions issued a critical report on the Bill, one that largely shaped debate on Second Reading. Schedule 7 has few friends in the House. I have given notice of my intention to oppose it remaining the Bill. I have support from all parts of the House. Not only does it appear largely friendless in the House, it does not appear to enjoy glowing support from members of the Govermnment either. When Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, appeared before the Constitution Committee last month, we asked him about Henry VIII provisions. He made clear that he rather agreed with the criticisms of them expressed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and he referred to the quasi-judicial bodies included in Schedule 7 which the Government have now agreed to remove. However, not only did he concede that they should come out, but added: “I have already said that we have taken out of Schedule 7 a whole raft of bodies in my area that really should never have been there in the first place.”
For good measure, he also said: ” I would have thought that to put something in the schedule just in case some future Government wants to vary the statutory powers, with the wisdom of hindsight I would have said that you’ll never get that through the House of Lords. But there we are.”
With friends like that… Like Lord Knight, I suspect the Government may be close to conceding that the Schedule (and Clause 11, which gives effect to it) should be removed from the Bill. In respect of this Bill, I think the House is doing exactly what it should be doing.