An axe to the Public Bodies Bill?

lordknight

It is tempting to blog on how the conventions in the Companion are being ripped up by the Government by not allowing time between the committee and report stages of the Parliamentary Bill.  But I suspect interest in that legislative marathon is waning.

As we wait and see whether a credible deal will be done on the Parliamentary Bill, we don’t know whether we will have time to debate anything else next week.  If we do we are scheduled to return to the Public Bodies Bill where we are still on Clause 1 after 7 days in committee.

In this case no one is being accused of a filibuster.  This is the bill to get rid of all the arms length bodies and it is proving a most unpopular bill, poorly conceived and requiring extensive scrutiny as a result.

Risk to rare wildlifeTop of the list of controversial elements are the proposals relating to forestry.  The public reaction should have been predictable.  The response on BBC’s Question Time showed how angry people are.  Like the inclusion of some other bodies in the bill, it seems either ideological or solely for appearances sake that the forests should be privatised.   It is now clear it won’t raise any money.

People like to walk in the woods.  They like trees.  They want to retain their access and retain protection of threatened natural species like the red squirrel. They can see no reason to privatise the trees and plenty of risks.

I spent a year as Biodiversity minister aware of how potent a political force the biodiversity lobby of the combined membership of the National Trust, the RSPB, and the wildlife trusts could be.  The government will have to change its mind.

The Government has already responded to the powerful concerns of the judiciary and backtracked on some of the reforms to the public bodies working in the criminal justice system.  They will have a massive fight on their hands of they don’t also listen to the concerns of Baroness Deech and others on the HFEA and the HTA.  But it also looks increasingly likely that a bigger axe may fall on the Bill.

Beyond the detail of individual bodies coming or going, some of the biggest objections to the way this bill works has come from the constitutional experts.  The Constitution Committee and the Lord Chief Justice have been particularly scathing in their criticism of the use of Henry VIII powers in Schedule 7 of the bill.  Henry VIII powers are where the government takes powers to amend primary legislation by executive order – thus depriving Parliament of the powers of thorough scrutiny.  Schedule 7 is a very long list of public bodies that the Government proposes being able to move into any one of the other lists for abolition or amendment by order.

The Government is probably realising that even if it manages to resist an amendment to remove the list, it will then take a long time to debate the future of all the bodies listed.  The Committee stage could last much longer than the 17 days we took on the Parliamentary Bill.

I think they are planning to bow to public pressure and remove Schedule 7.

The best evidence is in the Education Bill published just over a week ago.  The Bill includes measures to abolish four education bodies that are in Schedule 7 of the Public Bodies Bill – the General Teaching Council for England, the Qualification and Curriculum Development Agency, the Statutory Support Staff Negotiating Body, and the Training and Development Agency for Schools.  It also legislates to change the powers of another Schedule 7 body, Ofqual.  This is to be welcomed.  Both houses can now debate and amend the bill around the transfer of the powers of these bodies.  That is what Parliament should be able to do for all the others on the Schedule 7 list.

I hope I’m right, the Bill would be much healthier after removing the diseased branch of Schedule 7.

10 comments for “An axe to the Public Bodies Bill?

  1. Carl.H
    05/02/2011 at 3:10 pm

    Who is watching the watchers ?

    I’ve some real problems in looking at this bill. I’m all for not selling the Forests, haven’t we sold enough enough of our assets most of which I’m sure are now owned by Nations other than our own.

    My problems lay in the dealings I’ve had with a couple of the bodies and the appearance they weren’t independent at all but had an unhealthy relationship with those they were there to administrate. There should be administration without doubt in a lot of the cases but who is best to do that.

    They have lovely websites telling you all the right things but when push comes to shove you appear to find they’ve been holding hands too long with those over whom they are the authority. It’s a bit like most schools where you find the board of Governors are not independent at all and Joe Public ends up with no recourse.

    Getting past the autonomy of these administrations is impossible, they are the law and I cannot be sure in 100% of the cases that they are all independent enough.

    Sure Clause 7 is wrong, a Minister over seeing who is worthy or not is not right it would be like handing Mandie carte blanche for the internet.

    I’d like to see those who use the services with a great deal more power or at least say in the bodies. I think the bodies themselves become specialised and isolationists and perhaps that’s why they tend to grow closer to those they administrate. They’re the only ones who understand me !

    We cannot obviously do the old Union/Labour trick of having six men watch one dig a hole each watching each other but we do need an Ombudsman,Committee or Minister the public can turn to that has real power over these bodies. And of course firstly we need to know which bodies are in fact viable and working.

    People will have differing opinions on different bodies based on their experiences and needs. The Lords and Parliament’s opinions maybe different to that of the people but might I suggest that the House of Lords with it’s expertise in many fields and it’s ability to exist outside of politics alone has a better view than the Commons.

    A cross party committee of members of this House who hear evidence appears the way to go BUT there must be regulations, there must be limits. We cannot go on proliferating bodies as we have done Lords, limits must be set and this committee must also oversee and administrate any complaints against these bodies to ensure independence.

    Lastly going to back to forests, at a time when the Prime Minister is saying multiculturalism doesn’t work that we need a definitive British identity should we really be thinking of selling off the last of our natural kingdom to those you know will NOT be British entities.

  2. Raj
    05/02/2011 at 7:00 pm

    criticism of the use of Henry XIII powers

    Nit: I think you mean Henry VIII here.

    • lordknight
      05/02/2011 at 8:00 pm

      School boy error! You are right will change

      • Gareth Howell
        09/02/2011 at 3:45 pm

        criticism of the use of Henry XIII powers

        Nit: I think you mean Henry VIII here.///

        School boy error! You are right will change

        So that is how you lost your hair! I did wonder. Surrounded by all those children was bound to have an adverse effect!

  3. Michael Parker
    05/02/2011 at 9:15 pm

    Ref your opening paragraph: the idea that there should be a minimum interval between (amended in) committee and report only dates to the mid 1970s and isn’t a standing order (unlike the “no two stages on one day”, which is a standing order and dates to about 300 years ago). Plus it is only a recommendation which has been ignored so often it has its own form of notation on the order paper.

  4. Maude Elwes
    06/02/2011 at 2:24 pm

    This idea of selling off ‘our’ forests smells strongly of the old Millennium Dome hoopla. Put a lotta money into the trousers of our friends syndrome. And lift the tax payer out of a fortune.

    First of all, why try to fix something that isn’t broken? There has to be a money spinner here somewhere and not for the suffering people!

    I suspect it’s the old insider trading game. We all know the futures market can be an overnight billion maker. Sell it off today at a low price to our mates in the know and when the price looks hot, a few years down the line, or, sooner, they sell at an outlandish profit. Nobody will invest in something that will lose them money. It is already undervalued.

    And until the culprits feel the pain of being true outcasts for pulling off such a ruse it will repeat itself as often as it took one T. Blair to make himself treacherously comfortable with our permission.

  5. JM
    06/02/2011 at 10:38 pm

    A pre-action protocol for judicial review of the Public Bodies bill can be viewed at http://www.worldcourtofhumanrights.org/case99834.html

  6. syst55555
    08/02/2011 at 9:16 pm

    Can the houses together remove schedule 7?
    It must be in place for a reason, so my question then is:
    What is the purpose of schedule 7? More to the point, what would be the consequences of removing it.
    Surely those who benefit from such an act would be in an uproar if it were to be removed. It could divide the people and that could make things worse latter on, no doubt it would lead to several other issues.

    • lordknight
      10/02/2011 at 8:52 am

      Schedule 7 is a list of public bodies. Removing it from the bill, along with the relevant clause, simply means that the Government must either decide now to abolish or merge each of the bodies on the list, or allow them to continue, or use primary legislation, like the Education Bill, to decide their fate.

  7. Carl.H
    10/02/2011 at 10:57 am

    “Like the Education Bill”

    Dare I go there, this ill-thought out, unresearched,rushed rubbish piece of propsed legislation that will cause more damage to our schools than ever before ?

    No, I’ll save it for the noble Lord to blog on but boy will I rip it to shreds because of the gross negligence and lack of common sense and knowledge.

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