This is entry No.3 , first published on 15 November 2010, of a blog on Public Bodies Reform. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
With the committee stage in the Lords now programmed to commence on 23 November, amendments are being tabled and, last Friday (23 November), the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee issued its report on the Bill. Echoing concerns expressed in the Constitution Committee's report and by many peers during the second reading debate (stating in particular that the Bill "would grant to Ministers unacceptable discretion to rewrite the statute book, without adequate parliamentary scrutiny of, and control over.the process"), this further report goes on to document possible solutions but without making a recommendation as to which of these, or which combination of these, would be best. The options highlighted range from removing powers from the Bill, through inserting more detail, inserting limitations, removing bodies from the Bill (or just from Schedule 7), enhancing the provision for scrutiny of orders (by way of more provision for consultation, a form of "super-affirmative " procedure or provision to amend orders), to adding a "sunset provision". Whilst the Committee goes to some pains not to recommend a particular option, it appears nevertheless somewhat negative about opting either for super-affirmative procedure or some procedure to enable the House to amend orders once laid. In some ways, this might be thought a bit odd for, if it is alright for the Lords to amend primary legislation, why not also secondary and as long as adequate provision is made for scrutiny, why should proceeding by way of secondary legislation matter? As well as a general conviction that matters of principle should be dealt with at the primary legislative stage, maybe part of the underlying concern is a worry that there just isn't sufficient time or resources in the Lords to scrutinise the flood of orders that could flow from this Bill. Then again, maybe it is thought better to proceed on the basis of the principle earlier supported by the Merits Committee, which the Government was challenged to accept at Second Reading, that the convention under which delegated legislation is not voted down in the Lords should not apply to orders made under framework/skeletal legislation. Applying that principle, the Lords could vote down orders as they arise, were they to see fit.
It remains to be seen what proposals the Government will come up with itself for enhanced scrutiny but we may get a feel for these later this week as the deadline for tabling amendments for day 1 of the committee proceedings is this Friday.