This is entry No.9, first published on 2 December 2010, of a blog on Public Bodies reform. Click here to view the whole blog.
Yesterday (1 December) saw the 3rd day's debate in committee on the Bill but relatively little progress. Questions were asked and explanations given by the Government for the proposed abolition of the 17 Agricultural Dwelling-House Advisory Committees, the Agricultural Wages Board, the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Arbitration Tribunal and the British Shipbuilders Corporation. A probing amendment to include the BBC Trust amongst Schedule 1 bodies capable of being abolished also got debated leading to Lord Taylor of Holbeach indicating that this Bill was not the time nor then place to deal with non-statutory bodies and affirming that the Government has no intention of bringing the BBC's charter to an end before its designated end date of 2016.
The most interesting part of the debate was in relation to the Audit Commission which Lord Warner, in what was described by the Minister as a teasing rather than a probing amendment, had proposed for inclusion in Schedule 1.
Lord Taylor, responding for the Government, indicated that changes regarding the Commission "require power changes to pieces of legislation which are outside the scope of the Bill" and that is why the Commission did not feature in the Bill; rather it will be the subject of separate primary legislation which will deal with its disbanding, the transfer of the in-house practice into the private sector and the setting up of the new local audit regime in a comprehensive and integrated way. Lord Taylor explained that the Commission's responsibility for overseeing and delivering local audit will stop, its research activities will end and its in-house audit practice will be moved to the private sector, and that the Government is considering a range of options for doing this. Councils will be free to appoint their own independent external auditors from a more competitive and open market, and there will be new audit arrangements for local health bodies All local audits will be regulated within a statutory framework, with oversight roles for the National Audit Office and the profession. As a result, the Audit Commission's in-house practice will be transferred out of public ownership. A range of options are being considered for moving the audit practice into the private sector and the Government is aiming to have the new regime begin to come into effect during 2012-13.
The Committee stage next grinds on in the week after next, on Tuesday 14 December. A further days' debate has also now been pencilled in for Tuesday 21 December, with the committee stage then likely to continue after the Christmas recess which extends from 22 December until 10 January.
It remains to be seen how many of their Lordships will have the appetite to continue detailed debate on the miscellany of public bodies which still feature in amendments yet to be reached. However, there are big issues on the Bill which remain to be returned to and which may yet see some sparks fly. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath warned during Wednesday's debate: "The problem is that at the moment we do not find the Government willing to hear the voices around this Chamber or to understand that at some point they will have to make some movement, as it is pretty plain that this bill will not get through your Lordships' House in its present form".
For the full debate, see here
Here is a revised Amendment Scorecard:
Amendments agreed: No.1
Amendments disagreed: No.17
Amendments not moved: Nos. 5, 9-14, 16, 16A and 21.
Amendments withdrawn: Nos. 2, 3A, 3B and 4, 6, 7A, 8, 15, 18, 19, 20, 22,23 and 23A..