In a report issued today (see here), the Human Rights Committee, which is a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament chaired by Dr Hywel Francis MP (Aberavon), issued its own critical report on the bill.
It raises three concerns in particular:
- The inclusion in the Schedules of the bill of bodies which serve a function as part of the institutional machinery for the protection of individual rights in the UK.
- The abolition or reform of other bodies which serve a particular decision-making function.
- The excessive use of delegated powers which it says may reduce the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny for human rights compatibility of proposed legislation.
Whilst welcoming the Government's decision to remove some bodies from Schedule 7, the Committee goes on to state that, in its view, as a minimum the bill ought to be amended to provide the safeguards proposed by Lord Lester of Herne Hill and Lord Pannick rather than those proposed by the Government. It explains that by this it means that clear restrictions should be introduced to safeguard independence, the rule of law and the UK's human rights obligations. Those restrictions should be binding and subject to judicial review. Together with greater provision for public consultation and parliamentary oversight, it indicates that this proposal goes some way to meeting its concerns.
The Committee also joins in the chorus of those, including the Constitution and Delegated Powers Committees in the Lords, who conclude that the breadth of delegation proposed in the bill is wholly inappropriate. What it wants to see in particular is a fuller explanation of the Government's decision to use a framework bill to achieve its objectives in this case, including an explanation of:
- the roles of the bodies covered by the bill;
- the Government's related current policy intentions and reasons for including particular bodies in the bill; and
- the Government's view that, where necessary, adequate safeguards have been provided to protect the independence of public bodies in practice.
The Committee stage on the bill resumes next Tuesday.