This is entry No.6, first published on 24 November, of a blog on Public Bodies Reform. Click here to view the whole blog.
In a spirited 5 hour debate yesterday (here), the House of Lords left the Government in no doubt that, overall, it does not think that the safeguards proposed in amendments tabled by the Government go nearly far enough and that more needs to be done to circumscribe the powers of the Executive to make orders under the Bill
The scene was set by the publication, shortly before the start of proceedings, of the report of the 6th report of the Delegated Powers Committee (here). This is seriously critical of the Government's proposed amendments and formed much of the basis for the ensuing debate. More than 20 speakers then contributed to a debate led by Lord Lester and Lord Pannick on proposed Amendment No.1, a paving amendment to insert at the beginning of Clause 1: "Subject to section ...(Restrictions on ministerial powers)". This led into discussion of the contrasting approaches suggested by the Government, by Lord Lester and Lord Pannick and by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath for Labour, as to how to upgrade the procedures for making orders under the Bill and for ensuring the continued independence of those bodies listed in the sweep-up Schedule 7, or as Lady Andrews chose to describe them, those "on death row". As at Second Reading. Lord Taylor of Holbeach for the Government took a non-combative and conciliatory stance, promising to reflect further on much of what was said. Despite Lord Lester, in a gesture of loyalty to the Coalition, seeking to withdraw his amendment, this was then voted on and passed at 5.31pm by 235 votes to 201. In effect therefore, negotiations continue on the main issues, including the issues of independence, consultative and parliamentary procedures and the possibility of "sunset provisions" which will need to be returned to later in the Committee stage. However, the extent to which the Government will be prepared to offer more concessions remains to be seen.
In many ways the debate was more of a Second Reading debate than a Committee debate and rehearsed again many of the arguments then aired. As the many contributions from distinguished lawyers illustrated, underlying the central issue of the respective powers of the Executive and Parliament is a more general question of the extent to which legal concepts of due process ought to constrain political expedience. These are difficult but very important constitutional issues. Lord Lester did suggest at one point during the debate that this was "a remarkable debate that will be read long after we are dead". Whether that proves to be the case may depend on just how the remainder of the Committee Stage pans out.
Here is an Amendment Scorecard:
Amendments agreed: No.1
Amendments withdrawn: Nos. 2, 3A, 3B and 4.