This is entry No.28, first published on 1 March 2011, of a blog on public bodies reform. Click here to view the whole blog.
In what is a remarkable turnaround, Lord Taylor of Holbeach announced at the start of the resumed Committee proceedings on the Public Bodies Bill yesterday (see here) that the Government is agreeing to the deletion of clause 11 and Schedule 7 (being the provisions which would have enabled a wide range of public bodies to be brought by order within one or more of the other Schedules that allow abolition or change by order). He went on to indicate that "a small number of amendments" to move some bodies listed in Schedule 7 into other Schedules to "ensure that all reforms announced as part of last year's review of public bodies can be implemented" will be made "at a later stage in the bill's passage" (a phrase that suggests that this could be in the Commons).
Lord Taylor also confirmed that discussions are ongoing, particularly with Lord Lester of Herne Hill and Lord Mackay respecting amendment 175 and its proposals for bolstering the parliamentary procedure for scrutiny of orders made under the Bill, Lord Lester indicating that in his view the House will need to be quite sure that the safeguards in amendment 175, or something very close to them, are in place before the Bill leaves Committee.
Together with the prospective deletion of the forestry clauses from the Bill, which the Government formally confirmed its agreement to during the debate, the Bill is now set to become a shadow of its former self, with the more extreme elements of its "Henry VIII" style powers effectively removed.
Early on in the debate, Lord Taylor of Holbeach also made an interesting assurance respecting charities: "I make it absolutely clear that the Government have not considered , nor would they ever consider, using the Bill to transfer functions to charities without their consent or make consequential changes to their consitution without such consent".
Yesterdays debate also involved discussion of the fate of NESTA, ie the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (to be re-constituted as a charity), the Railways Heritage Committee (proposed to be abolished and its power of designation transferred to the board of trustees of the Science Museum), the RDAs (still due to be abolished) and the Securities Industry Authority (to be replaced by a new self regulating industry regime but not before the 2012 Olympics). Given continuing concerns from various peers, the fate of NESTA, the RDAs and the SIA are now likely to be returned to on Report.
In a separate development (see here), Richard Benyon announced by way of a Written Statement that the Government is convinced that there is a compelling case for a national trust for the waterways that includes the British Waterways and the Environment Agency navigations but that it wished to proceed by way of a phased approach, with the Environment Agency navigations being transferred in a phase 2 if sufficient funding can be found in the next Spending Review to enable the charity to take on the liabilities associated with them in 2015-16, and subject to the agreement of the charity's trustees.
Here is a revised Amendment Scorecard for the Bill:
Amendments agreed: Nos.1, 26 and 47
Amendments disagreed: No.17
Amendments not moved: Nos. 5, 9-14, 16, 16A, 21, 24, 32, 34-36, 40, 42, 45, 50-58 and .
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 and 59.