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The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that we could introduce some ways of softening it with a super-affirmative resolution procedure. I am inclined to say that, given the agreement across the parties in both Houses on the need to look at the way we run quangos and how we adjust them over time, we might look at something more adventurous which enables us to review their work over time. What better role for this House? It could be rather good at that, and we ought to be considering things of that nature.
At the end of the day, as has been ably said, what is so troubling about the Bill is that the Executive are giving themselves enormous powers over parliamentary procedure. That is what we are rebelling against-all of us, I think, on both sides. We are saying that this is a dangerous encroachment on parliamentary procedure by the Government. It cannot be allowed to go on like that. All of us are saying that, with a couple of exceptions. About three people so far have given outright support to the Minister. He has three strong friends there, but if I were him I would not be listening to them too carefully. They may not represent the majority. It would be worth while him taking that on board.
I want to end with a question, which has run through several of the speeches and is referred to in paragraph 13 of the report of Select Committee on the Constitution. How can this House, whose primary role is as a revising Chamber, possibly revise if the Bill goes through in its present form? It cannot do so, as far as I can see. If the Minister has something up his sleeve which will enable us to revise and review this work after the Bill is passed, he has a duty to tell us tonight. If, as I suspect, the Government have not really thought this through, it would be better if they took it away and tried to get some cross-party agreement on a need for some form of constant review of quangos, which looks at what they do, how they do it, and how they are structured and funded. This reinvention of Henry VIII powers as a Bill is profoundly unhealthy to parliamentary democracy. I say to the Minister, please take the Bill away, if only for the sake of his own Back-Benchers, who look increasingly uncomfortable with it.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, at this time of the evening brevity is the only virtue. I will make three points-two general and one particular. The first general point was ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. This is by far the most important issue before the House this evening. We have heard this from the most learned and authoritative Members of your Lordships' House, and from the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on the Constitution. This is, constitutionally, a bad Bill that should not go through in anything like its present
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I feel rather like a good headmistress-of course, I was a headmistress. Along with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, I am disappointed that the Government have brought before us a Bill that exemplifies the worst features of some of the Bills that we have faced in the past decade or more. It is mistaken and must be put right. That is my first and, I should think, most commonly agreed general point.
Secondly, it is a mistake to assume, as some parts of the Bill seem to, that all arm's-length bodies, quangos or whatever we choose to call them, are the same kind of body. They differ widely, both in their relations with government and, importantly, with the Civil Service. As we have heard, they are often extremely useful, effective and genuinely non-political. The fact that they are not elected is irrelevant if the people who serve on them know what they are doing and are committed to being non-political, dispassionate and impartial. They also have time to devote to their particular subject matter and to considering evidence. The membership of these bodies is known and accessible to the general public. As I know well from my days as a quango member, one can be reached by the general public: they know who is trying to solve a problem. We need to take into account the very different nature of these bodies. Therefore, as has been said many times, we need time to go through, one by one, what it is that they do and whether they are out of date or are working.
Lastly on the particular issue, I ask for a stay of sentence on the HFEA. I would probably be expected to say that. I do not have time now to put forward a proper defence of this body. It is a highly specialist body that offers a form of protection against exploitation-this is what is most valuable about it-to a group of highly vulnerable people who are trying and failing to conceive. These people are liable to exploitation, which is why the regulatory and supervisory functions of the HFEA are so important. Apart from that, it has now become a unique research tool in a branch of medicine where research is still badly needed. As we have heard from other noble Lords, its database must be kept up and properly managed by a specialist body. I make a special plea for it: after all, it is one of my babies.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, given the tenor and content of many of the excellent speeches that we have heard in the debate so far-particularly those from the noble and learned Lords, Lord Morris, Lord Woolf and Lord Mayhew, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester-the Bill, in its present form, seems to be in trouble. I hope very much that when the Minister replies to the debate, he will accept that it needs significant changes and that we need more time, more detailed scrutiny and less confusion as to its purpose.
As others have said, this is a seriously important constitutional measure. We should, in the interests of good governance over the long term, take whatever time is necessary to get a creditable and workable solution to the problems that we all recognise affect the good governance of our arm's-length bodies. Our aim should surely be to build into our constitutional arrangements in this country a well-thought-through system which sets out clearly how, and under what conditions, arm's-length bodies can be created, funded, reviewed and, where necessary, dissolved. If we get it right, it can surely form another piece of the codified constitution which we really should be creating for this country and which, indeed, is the sub-text to this Bill.
Most of the noble Lords who have an association with a quango named in the Bill have argued-in some cases, rather persuasively-that it should be removed from whichever schedule it appears in. Rather perversely, and rather like the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, I should like to argue for a quango to be included in death row in Schedule 1 to the Bill. I refer to the UK Film Council, which, as your Lordships will be aware, was summarily abolished by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in July 2010. The Secretary of State must have known that this Bill was in preparation but, for some reason, he did not see fit to include the UK Film Council and therefore it does not appear in Schedule 1. Given that it is to be abolished, I respectfully suggest that it is not too late for it to be added to Schedule 1.
Abolishing the UK Film Council threatens one of the success stories of the past 10 years, as UK films have reached out to British and overseas audiences, and film has become a dynamic part of the creative industries and the creative economy. If the UK Film Council were included in Schedule 1 and the Bill were amended along the lines of the discussions that we have had today, we would have a chance to discover why it is being abolished and what plans the department has to ensure that the hard work and success of the past decade continue.
Today of all days, we should be celebrating with our film industry Warner Brothers' very welcome decision to invest in Leavesden film studios, the home of the "Harry Potter" films, but instead we are excluded from the process. We know nothing about what is in mind and we do not know how and under what conditions the vital functions undertaken by the UK Film Council, and the expertise that is currently employed there, will end up. Naturally, I hope that good sense will prevail and that they will eventually go to the British Film Institute, of which I am a former director. However, whichever body it is, it is vital that it is fit for purpose and can serve the needs of audiences and the British film industry.
I hope that my rather counterintuitive example of the UK Film Council has demonstrated that we lack a proper process-a matter about which other noble Lords have spoken. We need a properly constituted Bill and we need it now.
The Minister has been given a whole slew of advice today and, in the event that the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath falls,
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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, like others, I have no problem with the declared ends of this Bill, but I have a fundamental objection to the means.
I declare an interest as a member of the Constitution Committee, like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. Many speakers have already referred to our report but perhaps I may remind the House of paragraph 13, which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Soley:
"The Public Bodies Bill ... strikes at the very heart of our constitutional system, being a type of 'framework' or 'enabling' legislation that drains the lifeblood of legislative amendment and debate across a very broad range of public arrangements. In particular, it hits directly at the role of the House of Lords as a revising chamber".
We go on to say that the Bill,
My noble friend Lord Blackwell thinks that we should be denied such opportunity because it would take too much time. That does not follow at all. One Bill can make specific changes to a number of Acts.
The crucial point is one of principle. Our report makes clear the objection to the Henry VIII provisions contained in the Bill. I am conscious that Parliament has variously granted such powers before, but that is not an argument for extending their use and certainly not for accepting them on the terms embodied in this Bill. If they are to be used, there has to be a compelling case; if they are employed, they need to be subject to rigorous parliamentary scrutiny. Neither condition applies in this case.
As Liberty notes in its briefing on the Bill, amendments to legislation should be properly debated and considered by Parliament with the ability for amendments to be proposed and implemented. As it says, secondary legislation should not amend primary legislation in relation to anything other than the most minor details. We are not dealing here with the most minor details. We are dealing with a measure which directly affects bodies established by statute. We are dealing with a measure which not only creates the basis for some of those bodies to be abolished, merged or have their functions modified, but also provides for a great many to be subject to a form of living uncertainty. The principal argument for drafting the Bill in this way is not one of principle but rather one of convenience in that government may not have the time to get individual measures through in the future. That is insufficient to overcome the basic problems inherent in this measure. My noble friend Lord Blackwell described it as a "bold Bill". I regard it as a lazy Bill.
The safeguards that it embodies are inadequate. For orders made under the Human Rights Act and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, there is at least some degree of parliamentary supervision. There
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There are also limited safeguards in respect of Ministers contemplating orders under Clauses 1 to 6. The presumed safeguard in Clause 8(2), itself limited, has to be read in conjunction with Clause 8(1) under which Ministers must have regard to the need to achieve increased efficiency, effectiveness and economy in the exercise of public functions. In short, change may be driven by executive assessment of effectiveness. There may be a case for that, but it should not come under the rubric of a safeguard. Various safeguards included in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act are omitted.
Given the debates we had on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill and before that on the Regulatory Reform Bill, it is remarkable that the Government have sought to rely solely on the affirmative resolution procedure. Also, given Section 3(6) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, it is surprising that officials appear unaware of the constitutional import of what is proposed.
I turn to Schedule 7. I was going to say more, but many noble Lords have dealt with it in some detail. Again, constitutional principles are engaged, not least, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said in his powerful speech, the constitutional separation of the Executive and the judiciary. The schedule includes bodies that the Institute for Government refers to as independent public interest bodies, bodies which require statutory independence from government to fulfil their duties with public confidence. They fulfil roles where impartiality is not only required but needs to be seen to be exercised. The institute gives various examples, as indeed does Justice in its briefing on the Bill. These bodies have to operate at arm's length from government and may indeed have to adjudicate in cases to which the Government are a party.
Let us take the Information Commissioner. He may have the strength of character not to be influenced by the prospect of an order being brought forward to transfer his office to another schedule. Yet imagine what may happen if in a particular case he finds in favour of the Government and decides information held by a department does not have to be disclosed. Critics may then say, "Well, he would reach that conclusion, wouldn't he? He's worried that otherwise the Government may move to abolish his office". So long as the Information Commissioner is listed in Schedule 7, that danger will always exist. I know that the Government have no intention that such functions should be affected by government review. However, for a Minister to say that that constitutes the Government's intention is inadequate. Current intentions do not
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I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that we should be looking for solutions to problems, not simply identifying problems. The prime mischief in the Bill is to be found in Clause 11 and Schedule 7. The Government need to consider as a matter of urgency the use of super-affirmative resolution procedures, utilising other safeguards embodied in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act and, as recommended by the Institute for Government, removing independent public interest bodies from Schedule 7. I regard those as the minimum necessary changes. I am not yet persuaded that Clause 11 and Schedule 7 should remain in the Bill.
There is an alternative to the Schedule 7 approach. The Government plan to have a triennial review of non-departmental public bodies. The more appropriate approach would be to have a public bodies Bill in each Parliament, thus enabling concrete proposals to be put before Parliament and given proper scrutiny by both Houses. That would avoid the objections that attach to the Bill.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Minister will not by now be surprised or unaware that many noble Lords and, indeed, many organisations, believe that there are some fundamental problems with the Bill. There are two main problems. One is the constitutional issues, which have been referred to by many noble Lords today. The Minister has to satisfy the House as to why the Government need such draconian powers to abolish or alter so many organisations that Parliament has spent time scrutinising at length over the years. The Bill allows any Minister to abolish or alter any arm's-length body without proper recourse to Parliament. Secondly, apart from the constitutional limitations of such a course of action, there are very serious implications for the independence of many of those organisations.
If the Bill proceeds, I think that the Government will need to explain to the House with some evidence why-to use as examples-the HFEA and the HTA and other health and social care bodies are included on the lists in the schedules, particularly when we already know that at least one, if not two, health Bills are coming down the track in the next year. The HFEA and the HTA are very good examples of where the Bill fails. When the Human Tissue Authority was being discussed by the House, my noble friend Lord Warner said, when he opened the Second Reading debate:
"This Bill will provide a comprehensive statutory framework needed to ensure the appropriate use of human organs and tissue".
The Bill was remedying and brought forward as a response to the scandals revealed by the Alder Hey and Bristol inquiries. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, who was then the Opposition health spokesman said:
"I have no hesitation in welcoming the Bill; and I welcome in particular its emphasis on informed consent and on unambiguous regulation of the uses of human tissue" -[Official Report, 22/7/04; cols. 366 and 422.]
The Bill spent almost 50 hours on the Floor of both Houses, and that does not involve pre-legislative scrutiny, Select Committee and other debates which we know took place around that emotive issue. The HTA was created to deal with hugely sensitive issues, and ones in which the public need to have confidence. What has changed since the Bill came into being?
The HFEA was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and others. The two Acts which created the human fertilisation and embryology framework clocked up between them a total of more than 100 hours on the Floor of both Houses of Parliament-again, not counting any pre-legislative scrutiny debates or Select Committees involved in that, and the most recent HFEA Act had pre-legislative scrutiny. In the Second Reading debate, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said:
"While the opinions expressed by noble Lords have been wide-ranging, we can all agree that as a House of Parliament we have been tasked with addressing issues of the utmost gravity, which the British public rightly expect us to examine forensically and with due sensitivity".-[Official Report, 21/11/07; col. 862.]
He was, of course, completely correct. In both these cases Parliament was doing its job properly. This Bill does not allow us to do our job. I agree with my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley that it is, indeed, an insult to this House.
Most recently I was involved in the Equality Act, and again we created extra time to discuss the Bill on the Floor of the House, with agreement across the House. As a result we gave the Equality and Human Rights Commission many new duties for the disabled, for women and for other groups. I cannot think how the Government can think it acceptable to try to alter or abolish parts of the UK equality framework by affirmative order which cannot be properly debated or discussed. I know the Minister has said that there will be consultation with interested parties on any of the proposed changes, but that is to be expected-that is a minimum. It is not a substitute for parliamentary scrutiny.
I realise that it is customary to welcome Bills and to look forward to discussing and improving them in their passage through your Lordships' House, and like other noble Lords I acknowledge the need to look at arm's-length bodies and to ensure that they are fit for purpose. But this Bill does not do that. If it did, we would not actually have a Bill; we would be having a series of reasoned discussions. Some of it might require legislation and some might not. Some of it might lead to changes or the cessation of work of some of these bodies. That is a sensible, democratic and reasonable way to proceed. Unfortunately, the Government have decided to take, as it were, the flamethrower approach.
Like other noble Lords I have every respect and affection for the Minister, but I regret that I do not welcome this Bill. It is deeply flawed. Along with other noble Lords, I shall be supporting the amendment to be moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt. When we get the Bill back from the committee, or indeed if we proceed to the next stage after this evening, I shall be joining others to challenge the principles in the Bill, and I shall be asking for a full discussion about all the arm's-length bodies about which I have a particular interest and knowledge.
Lord Greaves:My Lords, in the 10 years that I have been a Member of this House I have been used to seeing Bills, some of them good, some of them bad and quite a few of them what I call curate's egg Bills. I wish that this was a curate's egg Bill. It seems to me to be at the very end of the spectrum, and it is not the good end. Like my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, I support the Bill's aims in many cases. I am not a fan of quangos. Where they are needed, they should be as lean as possible, and they should be kept to areas where they are necessary But the way in which this Bill proposes to deal with quangos is undemocratic and entirely unacceptable. It requires very substantial changes if it is to go through its parliamentary process.
It now seems quite a long time ago that the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Blackstone, questioned why some organisations are in the Bill while others are out. In many areas it does seem to be quite arbitrary. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, pointed out that the Audit Commission-which has been told that it will be abolished with great alarums, which I support, unlike the noble Lord-is not mentioned in the Bill. I have been through the Bill time and again looking for it; I am astonished-it is not there. I can only assume that that is because there is primary legislation coming along, in the form of the localism and decentralisation Bill that we are expecting in Parliament soon, in which it can be included. So it seems that the question of which of these organisations will be subject to proper democratic parliamentary scrutiny, as will be possible in that case, and which will not-as it stands at the moment, these will be plonked into Parliament in an entirely unsatisfactory and unamendable way-is arbitrary and random.
I was interested in the amendment to be moved by the Labour Party about sending the Bill to a Select Committee. Again, in the 10 years that I have been here, I have not come across a Public Bill Select Committee, although there have been one or two, so I looked in the Companion to see what it says. Paragraph 8.119 reads:
"A public bill ... may be committed to a select committee ... when detailed investigation is considered desirable or when the hearing of evidence is considered necessary".
There is a strong case to be made as far as this Bill is concerned, particularly in view of the reaction all around the House that this might be a good idea. Paragraph 8.121 reads:
"When the committee has completed its deliberations, it makes a report to the House on the provisions of the bill, recommending whether or not it should proceed ... If it considers that the bill should proceed, the committee reports it with such amendments as it thinks fit, and the bill is then recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in the form in which it has been reported".
The suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill that such a committee might confine itself to the constitutional and procedural aspects rather than going into every detail of every organisation listed would be a way forward because, even if it did that, I believe, unlike my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that there is no way in which a great deal of debate on a lot of the organisations can be avoided when it comes to this House because this will be our last chance to debate them properly if they then go through into this Bill.
If the Bill goes to a Select Committee, it will provide a period of time before it comes back to this House-not too long, one hopes-which will give the Government a chance to explain and, as some noble Lords have suggested, to set out in the case of each of these organisations, what they believe ought to be done about it, what they intend to do if the Bill is passed and why that is necessary. That has not been done, and if it is not set out in this way by the Government, I can see the Committee stage in this House taking many weeks because people will naturally want to consider in great detail what might happen to national parks, for example, or to Natural England or the proposals for British Waterways, which are interesting and, in my view, desirable, and deserve debate. I remember many hours in this House debating the Home and Communities Agency when we set it up not very long ago. There is also the Environment Agency. These are not piddling little organisations that can just be changed, modified, merged or closed down at the whim of a government Minister; they are major parts of the governance of this country that demand proper debate and proper scrutiny. We also require the ability to make amendments and, at the very least, to ask the House of Commons to consider them.
It has been suggested that the super-affirmative procedure might be a way forward. It is a rare procedure and I think that, so far, it has been used only in the case of one Act, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said we should build on it. The opportunity, certainly in the case of organisations such as the ones I have listed and many others, to consider amendments to what the Government are proposing, which will inevitably be complex and complicated in some cases, is absolutely necessary. It seems to me that some hard thinking needs to be done to look at the super-affirmative procedure as it exists in one case to see how it might be amended if it is to be used in the case of the proposals in the Bill, including the opportunity for this House to amend it. We need something between the present procedure for affirmative resolutions and the present procedure for Bills, perhaps a one-level system in which amendments can be moved and where true scrutiny and true changes in Bills can take place. It seems to me that this is not something that should be left to the Government. Again, I take the view of my noble friend Lady Scott that, in many ways, this is an issue of Parliament as opposed to government and who has the right to decide parliamentary procedure. Perhaps this matter might be sensibly considered by the Procedure Committee of the House in parallel to whatever other discussions and changes are taking place.
I am particularly concerned about several of these organisations. There is not time to detain the House any longer, except to say that I agree entirely, I think, with what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said about national parks. From memory, the only proposal in the coalition agreement in relation to national parks is to make them more democratic and to have elections. I should say that the national park authorities- national parks are extremely democratic organisations-should be made more democratic by direct elections of the, at the moment, indirect council representatives. If that is a serious government proposal, it can be
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I substantially agree with the comments about forestry made by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. It is very odd that there is a separate section in the Bill just about forestry. It is not clear why that is there. When one reads it, it is also not clear what it means in terms of outcomes. No one who has been trying to find out what it means seems to know either. As regards forestry and Henry VIII, Henry VIII was pretty good at setting up royal hunting forests. It would be sad if Henry VIII powers were used now to do away with some of the national forests.
In relation to regional development authorities, it is absolutely right that there should be a proper debate. I agree substantially with the narrow points made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, about RDAs in the north of England where what is happening is seriously worrying. The other area about which I am quite concerned is the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, a very important body in protecting the conditions and wages of agricultural workers. If that happened, simply relying on the national minimum wage would result in many agricultural workers' wages going down. There will be plenty of time to discuss these matters as the Bill progresses, however it progresses.
If my noble friend puts his amendment to the vote, I shall certainly support him. It seems to me that whatever view you take on the Labour amendment, it is a sensible safeguard to add to it before the vote takes place. I have never in my 40 years on public authorities voted against instructions from my party, not least-but not always-when I have been giving the instructions. I have never done that. I am minded to vote for the Labour amendment because it is common sense. I do not regard it as being disloyal to the coalition Government. Sometimes Governments have to be rescued from their own lack of common sense. In being minded to vote for that amendment, I hope that some members of my party will join me in doing so.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am beginning to feel very sorry for the Minister. When I came back to the Chamber I thought that perhaps he would have gone for a sustaining meal or, even better, to consult his business managers and was advising them to accept my noble friend Lord Hunt's amendment. But he has stuck it out, for which I commend him. However, he must understand that the range of opinions and concerns over different organisations in this House make it impossible to proceed with this Bill in the normal way. The sooner we agree to my noble friend Lord Hunt's amendment, the better it will be for the coalition Government, as well as for the authority of this House and its ability to scrutinise properly.
At the beginning, the Minister said that this Bill came out of a "coherent, cross-government assessment". I am afraid that he is wrong on all three counts. There is no assessment, no rationale and no mechanism for establishing value for money. It is not coherent. Alphabetical lists, with some bodies appearing on several lists, is not particularly coherent, let alone the
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I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Environment Agency, which appears in the list in Schedule 5 and the list in Schedule 7, and also in Clauses 14 and 15 in relation to Wales. More pertinently, I am also the chair of Consumer Focus, which is for abolition-although it is not really abolition according to the officials of our sponsor department, BIS, because abolition is a technical term and our powers will pass elsewhere. It does not feel technical to the staff and those who support it. However, it is an example. I retire from the chair at the end of this year and therefore I will have no pecuniary benefit from it lasting longer than the Government envisage. However, I am concerned that a body that was set up only four years ago and which came into being only two years ago with the merger of the National Consumer Council, which went back to Lord Young of Dartington in the 1970s, and the bodies that were set up to look after energy and post when they were privatised and liberalised, is going to disappear.
Most or some of its powers-it is not clear-will pass to Citizens Advice. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, Citizens Advice is an effective body but is different from the kind of body that goes in for consumer advocacy at the policy level and engages in depth with the regulators and the companies in, for example, the energy sector. It may be able to deliver that expertise but you will not find Citizens Advice on this list.
Nor will you find some of the bodies which went into the assessment by BIS dealt with in the same way because they are in other departments. There ought to have been a coherent approach across government to both competition and consumer affairs to produce a rationale which was clear to the House. We would probably have ended up with fewer bodies, but certainly with clearer remits for those bodies. My noble friend Lord Borrie reported on what was happening on the competition side of that equation-we probably will end up with one Monopolies Commission-but it is also clear that some of the things taken away from the OFT cannot be dealt with at a local level, either by Citizens Advice or by trading standards.
That is a microcosm of what is wrong with the Bill. Taken sector by sector and organisation by organisation, the reason why particular quangos are in particular boxes is not at all clear. If the Bill goes to a Committee of the Whole House and we go through it line by line,
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If we were starting again on a matter of such constitutional importance, as the Constitution Committee has pointed out, I would have advocated a Joint Committee of both Houses. To be faced with such a clear Henry VIII Bill is a unique experience, and the wording in the Constitution Committee's report, as other noble Lords have said, is unprecedented. We need to take that very seriously and we need as a result to take this Bill through a different procedure. Like other noble Lords, I am not opposed to reducing the number of quangos, I am certainly not opposed to finding value for money from them and merging and reconfiguring them. I think there ought to be a process whereby we review them from time to time.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He made a powerful point about Citizens Advice and the consumer body of which he is chair. Is it not also the case that Citizens Advice is a charity? It is quite outside the control of the state and it is not actually open to any Government to require an independent charity to do this or not to do that.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, this is an added difficulty. I think Citizens Advice was as surprised by the decision as we were, from the other end of the spectrum, as it were. It is possible that you could do this. I am not in principle opposed to the functions that Consumer Focus currently carries out being done in the third sector but I think it is difficult. We have very substantial powers, particularly powers to require information from commercial companies. There are questions as to whether it is appropriate to transfer those powers outside a government body. I have great respect for Citizens Advice and we may find a way of doing it, but we have not got there yet. There are other bits of the jigsaw we need to get in place before we do.
This is, in effect, a Henry VIII Bill. However, when Henry VIII actually proposed the dissolution of the monasteries he asked his mate, Thomas Cromwell, to produce a report on each individual monastic house. He needed to do that in order to convince the barons and the powers that be that it was a sensible policy. Those reports were, on balance, pretty prejudicial and the level of debauchery that these people found certainly would not have been found in Consumer Focus. However,
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Even Henry VIII went further than this. We can at least do as well as Henry VIII did. I am not saying that a Select Committee or a super-affirmative resolution would necessarily have prevented the dissolution of the monasteries, but it would have been worth a try. I think it is incumbent on this House to try to find a way in which we can make sense of this procedure. At the moment we are not there and I plead with the noble Lord to accept the alternative procedure and take us down a more sensible road for dealing with this Bill.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, this has been a long and interesting debate and I am sure that the Minister, who has listened patiently and carefully throughout, understands why your Lordships feel so strongly on this issue. I hope that his business managers have been listening carefully as well. Maybe they ought to offer him some support.
What I think is so surprising about tonight's debate-I am sure that the Government have recognised this-is that the principle of reducing the number of arm's-length bodies or quangos is one with which few people would disagree. The last Government published Smarter Governmentin December 2009 and, in an announcement made, I think, in March before the last election, two-thirds of the bodies that this Government are now proposing to abolish were proposed for abolition by the previous Government. The principle of abolishing bodies and of streamlining or amalgamating them is not one that many of us in this House can disagree with. Successive Prime Ministers and Governments have merged and abolished quangos, but they have also brought in new ones. Despite the Government's rhetoric on this issue, they plan to do exactly the same. It is a fact of life that some quangos will come to the natural end of their life and others will be needed.
The Minister made me feel a little overwhelmed with good advice. There is little to be gained by repeating the concerns that have been expressed time and again from all sides of the House. This is not opposition for opposition's sake. This is a genuine desire to improve the Bill. I think that Members of your Lordships' House are genuinely shocked by the Government's efforts to ride roughshod over parliamentary scrutiny.
Rather than dwelling on the specific issues and matters of principle that have already been raised-we are all clear, I think, about the views of your Lordships' House-I want to raise specific concerns and questions in relation to Clause 11 and Schedule 7. For example, among the bodies that report to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the information published by the Government on 14 October includes three examples of bodies that will be retained. On the Committee on Climate Change, the document states:
"Retain on the grounds of the need to act independently".
On the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the document states:
"Retain on the grounds of performing a technical function".
On the Civil Nuclear Police Authority, the document states:
"Retain on grounds of impartiality".
All those crucial organisations deal with energy policy, which we are told is at the heart of the Government's aim to be the greenest Government ever. All those bodies have great expertise, and the Minister told us on 14 October that they would be retained. Why are all three now listed in Schedule 7 to the Bill? If Ministers cannot make the case now for the change, merger or abolition of such bodies, they should bring the legislation back to the House when they can, so that proper scrutiny can take place.
For those bodies that the Government have said need to be retained on the grounds of their impartiality or independence, to leave this sword of Damocles hanging over them, whereby the body could easily be swept away, challenges that very independence and impartiality. Are Ministers now having doubts about the ability of those organisations to fulfil their stated functions? I worry that there is a touch of Sir Humphrey or Mr Jim Hacker in Schedule 7, which is there so that Ministers can, in certain circumstances, in the fullness of time, notwithstanding any other considerations, decide that they wish to abolish the bodies listed. I would be grateful for any enlightenment that the Minister can give-I see that he is champing at the bit to respond-and I look forward to his answer. Furthermore, on the Minister's opening comments about Channel 4, which I know were intended to be reassuring, whatever he might say, if the Bill becomes law the bodies listed in Schedule 7 will be far easier to abolish without reference to this House. Those bodies will also feel under threat the entire time.
One body mentioned in Schedule 1 is Consumer Focus, to which my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, have referred. One of the biggest issues for consumers is the cost of energy, whether of gas or of electricity. Consumer Focus was created as the voice of the consumer to protect the consumer in energy and other areas, including postal services. Consumer Focus saves consumers 15 times the amount that it costs to run. As we have heard, Consumer Focus, which has an eminent and esteemed chair, is a statutory body with a board and a chair appointed by the Secretary of State. It is answerable to Parliament and is audited by the NAO. Consumer Focus has legal powers contained in statute. As we have heard, that is a very different kind of organisation from Citizens Advice, which is a charity.
I raised these issues a week ago in a debate-I know that the Minister was present at it-but I have not yet had answers. Tonight, let me raise just one of these points, to which I hope the Minister will be able to respond. Given that Citizens Advice is a charity, does the Minister intend that Consumer Focus's legal powers should be transferred to a charity? I raise that point not particularly for the sake of that organisation but because the example highlights the flaws in a Bill that has been made in haste. The issues seem not to have been thought out, given that I have been unable to get an answer for more than a week.
Many questions remain unanswered about the Bill. I find it disappointing that a policy that in principle should have the support of your Lordships' House is the subject of such debate and concern today. It is really quite an achievement on the part of the Government that they have managed to unite such opposition to their policies. I think that tonight's debate has shown the real value and strength of your Lordships' House. The expertise, the knowledge and the concern that have been expressed have shown genuine scrutiny in the best traditions of this House. The Minister would delight your Lordships' House tonight if he accepted the amendments before us, given not only the issues involved but the genuine strength of feeling about the value of your Lordships' House.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I wish to raise problems relating to the charity commissioners. I am encouraged by the fact that my noble friend talked about their impartiality and integrity, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords. However, I worry about the charity commissioners because I feel that they have shown prejudice and partisanship, particularly with regard to independent schools. I confess to an interest, in that I spent all my professional life in independent schools. I was master in charge of the scholars at Eton and headmaster at two other independent schools. I feel that the Charity Commission has started to show a political bias, which has actually been unnoticed in the whole of its history since it was set up by statute in 1853.
The fact is that very few independent schools have large endowments, but it has been acknowledged since 1601 that education is a charity and a charitable act. In consequence, every independent school that I know subsidises poor pupils with scholarships and bursaries. They do this by taking money out of their total income. The advantage given by charitable status is used to give these scholarships and bursaries. For example, at King's School Canterbury, where I was headmaster for 11 years, there were no endowments whatever. It took 13 per cent of its mainly fee-paying income to subsidise scholarships and bursaries. Eton, where, as I say, I taught, had of course large endowments, but it used them to assist poorer scholars.
One reason why it was always hard to integrate people from the state sector into the independent sector was the teaching of languages. In the independent sector, languages are taught from eight onwards. This is a problem that Eton faced when it tried to bring people from the state sector into the school. How Eton resolved that problem was to admit people at 10 to preparatory schools, where it paid the fees and then guaranteed them a place at Eton until they were 18. As you can imagine, that was an enormously expensive operation, which still goes on today-and it is done on the basis of its charitable status.
The present charitable administration is questioning the commitment of independent schools to their charitable status. That is quite wrong and prejudiced and ought to be questioned. It could have an effect on the ancient universities, taking away their independence. As noble
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Everyone has looked at all sorts of charities and we have talked of the integrity of the Charity Commission, but I have the audacity to question that. The Charities Act 2006 went through without too much questioning-and I plead guilty myself, as I was ill at the time. The Charity Commission has turned very general clauses into a way of questioning the whole business of charitable education, particularly in independent schools. That is wrong and should be questioned. It is wrong that political activity should enter into such an organisation and I shall certainly be raising the issue later.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, given the lateness of the hour, I shall say less than I would have done had my name appeared earlier on the speakers list. However, I start by thanking the Minister for his good humour and patience in our debate today and for the meeting that he convened for all Peers interested in this Bill last Wednesday. I am not quite sure what he expected from that meeting but it was a remarkable occasion. Virtually every noble Lord who attended, while supporting the principle that non-departmental public bodies which had outlived their usefulness should be wound up or merged with others, expressed outrage at the way that the interests of Parliament and of the ordinary citizen are being sacrificed in this Bill. The Minister heard, over and again, complaints about the almost complete lack of consultation. Bodies which have served the community well, without a breath of scandal attached to them, which were seen by those who deal with them daily as helpful and supportive, which were in many cases established by an Act of Parliament after extensive debate in this House and in another place, and which were fulfilling a role which cannot be performed as cost-effectively or efficiently by others are all being tossed on to a bonfire with little more than a sentence in a departmental press release.
Those views, expressed at last week's meeting, are put even more strongly in the report of the Constitution Committee, which many noble Lords have referred to today. Let us consider some things that the committee says. "They"-that is, the Government-
The conclusion in paragraph 14 was:
"The Public Bodies Bill ... is concerned with the design, powers and functions of a vast range of public bodies, the creation of many of which was the product of extensive parliamentary debate and deliberation. We fail to see why such parliamentary debate and deliberation should be denied to proposals now to abolish or to redesign such bodies".
It really will not do, my Lords. The powers being taken by Ministers in this Bill to close down, to merge or to move organisations into partnerships with others go far beyond anything we have seen in legislation before.
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I well remember, of course, that the noble Lord's new friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches had no such reservations about that in the previous Parliament, or indeed in the two before that, but they voted against statutory instruments secure in the knowledge that their chances of winning such a vote were remote, because the Conservative Front Bench steadfastly and consistently refused to support them. Honestly, the Minister's offer of a draft statutory instrument-a constitutional novelty, in my view-sounds little more to me than offering a condemned man the choice of hanging or execution by the electric chair. The decision had already been taken by the time that the statutory instrument had been produced and, as a result, would be a formality.
I was going to make a speech about a public body in which I have a particular interest and which I had the honour to chair until 2009, standing down when I became a Minister in the Government Whips' Office: the Railway Heritage Committee. It is a body which has a link with Henry VIII because, as your Lordships may recall, Benjamin Disraeli predicted as long ago as 1845, in his novel Sybil,that the railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries did. This is a debate which I want to have on another occasion and in Committee with the Minister.
However, I make the point now that that is a committee with a budget that costs the taxpayer little more than £100,000 a year. That can be reduced further, but that budget would have to be enhanced because the National Railway Museum will in future have to spend at least that amount of money on buying the artefacts and records which, at present, it gets for nothing. It is staffed entirely by volunteers-there is only one paid employee-and works with the grain of the railway industry and the heritage railway section. It was established by three separate Acts of Parliament, two passed by Conservative Governments and one, most recently, by the Labour Government in 2006. It is a body which fulfils the functions that were set out by the Minister standing at the Conservative Dispatch Box in 1996, to the letter, and has never attracted any criticism or scandal. It was abolished, or at least it is facing abolition, as the result of a single sentence in a Department for Transport press release, with no consultation whatever. The only warning that the members of the committee and the industry had that something was coming was the leak in the Daily Telegraph on 23 September. As a consequence of that, over 30 individuals, ranging from some very high-profile in international organisations-the Heritage Railway Association itself, the Keeper of the Records of Scotland, Sir William McAlpine and others-all wrote to the Minister begging her to think again before including it in the list for abolition. To no avail, though; that organisation is in Schedule 1 of the Bill. I hope that it will be possible, when we get into Committee, to do
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I do not want to speak any more tonight other than to say that I hope that my noble friend's amendment will meet with approval in the House. It is important that we have more time to look at these proposals and redress, at least to some extent, the scandalous lack of consultation that has led to the Bill in its present form.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, this debate has been both extremely interesting and rather paradoxical. There is general agreement that something should be done about public bodies but no agreement at all about the way in which at present it is proposed, so we are left with two ways forward. One is that my own Front Bench comes forward with some proposals that seem to noble Lords to represent a reasonable way forward, and the other is that the matter is referred to a Select Committee. My own preference is that we should decide and not delay.
In this debate there have not been any criticisms of the inclusion of the bodies in Schedules 1 to 6 that could not be dealt with in the normal Committee and Report procedures if they were to go forward on the Bill. There are some 60 to 70 bodies in those schedules; when we get into the question of 481, or some other enormous number, we should remember that in Schedules 1 to 6 there is a much smaller number. I think there would be general agreement that a lot of those bodies have worked their time out.
I am reminded of a conversation that I had with a fellow tenant of the National Trust about her National Trust district secretary. I asked her, "How do you get on with the district secretary?". She said, "Oh, he's perfectly all right as long as you don't make any sudden movements".
Schedule 7 is a sudden movement; there is no doubt about that. It came upon us as a surprise-certainly it did to me. If it were not this late, I would be talking to your Lordships about Kew Gardens, of which I was the chairman; the Commonwealth Development Corporation, of which I was the chief executive; the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, will remember well; and several other bodies. I once got a letter from Anthony Crosland thanking me for being on a body that I was never on.
I am therefore minded, at this hour, to follow my noble friends Lord Lester and Lord Norton and suggest that what we need is a solution, not to keep going around the same track. We need to take the Bill seriously because we are not in disagreement about the policy, and the detail of that part of the Bill that is acceptable to this House needs to be debated. There is a role and a place for secondary legislation, although it may well be that the safeguards are not enough. I was, for my sins, a member of the Merits Committee for quite a long time. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that we turned down home information packs and the big casino in Manchester, so it is not that that has never happened. I agree that this House
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There are, however, some things that would greatly help us to take the Bill forward, having committed it to a Committee after Second Reading. First, we should drop Schedule 7. It is such a big unknown and it has upset your Lordships so badly-why do we need to keep it in the Bill? The second thing that would help would be the addition of a sunset clause, saying that those things under Schedules 1 to 6 have to be dealt with within a definite period, and that if they have not been dealt with in that time the matter should be dropped. This would hold the Government's feet to the fire. If they mean what they have put in Schedules 1 to 6, they will carry it out. Then, as policy develops-we have been told many times that policy will develop in detail-we can have a second public bodies Bill. It did not take the Government long to prepare this one, so I do not suppose it will take them long to prepare a second.
If we were to do those things, where would the problem be? I have not heard any serious analysis of a real problem in Schedules 1 to 6. It is Schedule 7 that has caused all the trouble. All that needs to be done is to drop it.
Lord Wills: My Lords, as noble Lord after noble Lord has demonstrated, this is not a good Bill. It exemplifies the dangers of concocting a headline and then back-filling policy into it. As so many noble Lords have pointed out today, as has the Constitution Committee, the Government as a whole-not the Minister, I hasten to add-are behaving like constitutional hooligans who are marauding through the public bodies of this country. After today's long debate, I hope the advantages of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt will be rather clearer to the Government than they perhaps were at the beginning of today's proceedings. In the mean time, following other noble Lords, I should like to express my sympathy for the Minister, who appears personally blameless for this debacle but still has the thankless task of taking it through this House.
Although I recognise that the Government are not going to think again about the overall wisdom of passing the Bill into law, I offer the Minister some constructive suggestions, following the plea by the noble Viscount who has just spoken, about two bodies that are particularly important to the cultural vibrancy of this country-the Public Lending Right Office and the Film Council. Before doing so, I draw the attention of the House to my registered interests. I am the author of two novels published by Hodder Headline. It is possible, although sadly not very probable,
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The public lending right scheme was the outcome of a long campaign by some of our most distinguished authors. Apparently unnoticed by Whitehall and Westminster, it has been a tremendous success. The Public Lending Right Office distributes more than £6 million a year to 23,000 authors. More than 200 authors receive the maximum possible payment of just over £6,500. Of those, 80 per cent said in a recent survey that the annual payment from the Public Lending Right Office is core to their income. Very few authors write bestsellers but that does not make the rest any less valuable to our cultural life. The public lending right is a critical part of our cultural infrastructure. It is administered by the Public Lending Right Office in Stockton in an operation which is widely recognised as capable and efficient. It has reduced its staff by half in the past 20 years while still maintaining high standards. It is an exemplary public organisation, yet now we learn that, as with so many other public bodies, it is to be disbanded and its functions allocated to another public body. However, I hope that the Minister will think very carefully about how this is done. The administration of intellectual property rights is complex, demanding and requires specific skills. Experience developed over time is invaluable. Disrupting a successful organisation, however small, is always perilous. Wrecking this resource would be devastating to many of the writers who do so much to sustain the cultural life of this country.
There are two things that I think the Government could do to mitigate the potential damage of this change which are still consistent with the overall policy framework. First, they could ensure that the current team, which has done such an excellent job, is kept together and in the same location, which is a low-cost area of the country, so avoiding all the disruptions of any move. Can the Minister give such an assurance and, if not, why not? Secondly, the Government could guarantee that the public lending right will not be decreased as a result of this move. Can the Minister confirm this? In particular, please can he confirm that any cost of the organisational change will not come out of the already stretched resources of the Public Lending Right Office, damaging the essential income and support that it provides to authors? If the Minister cannot respond to that point tonight, I should be grateful if he could write to me with the Government's latest thinking on the most cost-effective and least disruptive home for this organisation.
My second area of concern is the Film Council. It, too, is a national institution that has proved its worth to the cultural life of this country and to our economy. In just 10 years it has been extraordinarily successful in developing the British film industry. It has helped to treble its turnover. It now returns more than £1 billion a year to the Exchequer. The Film Council has backed more than 900 films, shorts and features, which have entertained more than 200 million people worldwide and has helped to generate around £700 million at the box office. For every £1 of lottery money invested, £5 has been generated at the box office, allowing the Film Council to reinvest that straight back into new
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The Film Council has been fortunate in attracting such talent. Its remarkable record attracts the talented, skilled and experienced people who work there. It is essential not only to retain that talent and expertise but, if we are to avoid jeopardising years of hard work and success, to retain it in one place and under one roof; otherwise, some of the most exciting entrepreneurial talent in this industry will haemorrhage from the public sector and we risk losing that and precious creative talent overseas where they might feel more appreciated. This is a mobile industry and it is very important that we keep it in this country. The ecology of such organisations is fragile and can easily be destroyed without anyone necessarily intending such an outcome.
I suggest that there are four measures the Government could take to help avoid such damage which are still consistent with their overall policy approach. First, they could guarantee that the sums available for public funding of films will be ring-fenced, not used to plug funding holes in other organisations or to meet any transitional costs. Can the Minister give such an assurance and, if not, why not? Secondly, wherever the Film Council ends up, its current remit must be retained and not disaggregated or marginalised. In particular, its present commercial and industrial activities must not be compromised. Can the Minister give such a guarantee and, if not, why not?
Thirdly, the administration of lottery funds, as many noble Lords know, requires particular skills, and it would be wasteful of public money to seek to build up such experience in this area from scratch when the capacity already exists within the Film Council. Can the Minister guarantee that when it is decided where the Film Council is to end up, a fundamental review of the governance of that body will be conducted to ensure an effective incorporation of the Film Council into it and, in particular, to ensure that the ability to administer lottery funding effectively is entrenched in the new structure?
Finally-this request should be even easier than all the others that I have asked of the Minister-will he secure appropriate accountability for the new organisation? After all, the Government tell us that accountability is at the heart of the Bill. The board and management of the new organisation must be directly accountable to government, and through government to the public. Such accountability must include ensuring that all board appointments are governed by the DCMS and
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As I have said, I accept, regretfully, that the Government will proceed with these changes. I hope that they will change the process through which they go about those changes, as so many noble Lords have urged them to do, but how much of a disaster the changes will be will depend crucially on how they are implemented. I hope that I have been helpful to the Minister in suggesting practical measures for two important institutions and I hope that he can give me some comfort on them.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, it has been said that there are good quangos and bad quangos. It is time for some root-and-branch reform and it is the job of the powers contained in the Bill to distinguish between them. The art is to find the right criteria to enable us to reform or remove those quangos that are a hindrance, and preserve those that meet the right criteria, including cost, accountability, representativeness, impartiality and the ability to establish facts that enable good government to go forward.
Why have quangos become so unpopular? There are issues with salaries, people, language, mission creep and politicisation. One of the issues that have affected the standing of some quangos is salaries. Some are very high and it is important that the people who sit on the quangos should be representative of the population they serve and be well regarded for their expertise and impartiality.
John Kay, the economist, has said that there is a modern class of "quangocrats" who glide effortlessly from committee to committee. Some of your Lordships may include me in that category. Reluctant though I am, it has been said in the past few years that if it moves, I am called upon to regulate it. However, successful quangos are those that give real authority to people with specialist skills-judges, medical professionals and so on-where relevant to the committees. As your Lordships will know if you check your pigeonholes, there are far too many glossy brochures produced at great waste, not least of carbon emissions. When such publications emanating from quangos make less sense than they should because they shroud real meaning in a cloud of inappropriate business speak, one knows that there is something amiss. "Drill down", "delivery", "KPIs", "going forward", "robust", "transparent" and "stakeholders" are all terms that I try to keep out of my office's documents.
Others have commented on the constitutional issues arising from the power in the Bill to enable Ministers to set aside legislation without even a duty to consult. I support every word of the criticism made of the operation of the Bill. I am pleased that my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries and my noble friend Lady Warnock, who have such experience and expertise in this field, have said all that I could say about the need to keep the HFEA; and others have spoken about higher education. It is not right to roll in
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I will confine myself now to legal regulation and declare an interest as chairman of the Bar Standards Board. It is arguable that the legal profession is overregulated and is paying the price for the way in which solicitors did not handle complaints in the past. The Legal Services Act 2007 drew the barristers' profession into the maze of regulation that it introduced, although there was little evidence to place the Bar under the same regime as solicitors. As chair of the Bar Standards Board, one of my serious concerns is the possible undermining of the professional standards, service and independence of the profession by the cult of consumerism. Consumerism is a major issue in the decisions about bodies listed in the Bill. It could be argued that the Legal Services Board Consumer Panel, whose existence has been said in newspapers to be under threat, fails to meet the criteria for retention. There is duplication of its work. The Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority have consumer engagement strategies and panels. Much market research on this has been carried out, special reports have been commissioned on all sorts of areas relating to law, and there is no need for more. Not least, the cost of all this falls on the legal profession, which of course passes it on to its clients. When legal aid is being cut, I hope the Government will bear in mind the need to keep down those costs.
I welcome the proposal to study and merge the consumer organisations into one, and to end the tyranny of consumerism, as it has been called. Over the decades, the word "consumer" has become something of a Trojan horse for the import of the social policies of whatever Government are in power-a way of insisting that a certain line should be followed, sometimes without regard for the wider meaning attributed to the term "consumer" by the legal profession, which goes beyond the normal meaning to encompass duty to the court and the rule of law, and the engagement with judges, government departments, businesses and solicitors. My views accord with those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, who said in a speech three days ago:
"It is of fundamental importance that, particularly when it comes to the professions, above all the legal profession, society does not adopt what might be called a form of unreflective consumer fundamentalism".
"Consumer" is no longer equivalent to impartial or independent. Far from protecting the profession, it could be seen as a political threat. Even students are called consumers. They certainly are not: they are participators and learners. Education, like legal services, is not a good that is delivered and received passively for a price. Education is an investment, not something that is to be consumed. The provision of legal services is not equivalent to the servicing of a gas boiler.
There is a perception that the Legal Services Board Consumer Panel may fail the test of impartiality and expert evidence. After a freedom of information request,
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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I find this an extraordinary attack on the concept of consumerism or consumer representation within legal regulation. Your Lordships may recall that when the Legal Services Act passed this House, there was a barrage of resistance from lawyers of various descriptions on various Benches in this House to a consumer voice being built into it. After much persuasion, the Front Benches of all political parties accepted that there should indeed be a consumer panel, and I regret that some members of the legal profession now find it too onerous to observe the normal courtesies to their clients, as members of any other profession are required to do.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, there is no doubt that the voice of the consumer needs to be heard, but much turns on how one defines "consumer" and how that voice is heard and dealt with. It is very hard to overlook the scandal that occurred when sick miners were deprived of much of the damages that they should have had because the firm of solicitors that was tied to the union by referral fees creamed off much of the money for itself. The system of referral fees is flawed and it is very hard to understand how a consumer panel can support what looks like the interests of solicitors firms and unions rather than those of consumers. Therefore, I think that there is an element of politicisation in this. It has not worked out in the way that was intended, and it would be right to refer the Bill to a Select Committee for careful examination of the quangos listed, category by category, and for us to think afresh about who sits on them and what their job should be.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and especially to have the Minister in charge of this Bill performing as he has done. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor
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Lord Graham of Edmonton: I dug myself into that one. I very much hope that the Minister has some latitude-possibly not to say tonight what he might feel, but he cannot be other than impressed by the majority of opinion, which is against the Bill. So far as I am concerned, it is against the Bill on specific points and not on ideological grounds, because many of my colleagues have spoken in the debate tonight and, as I believe my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon pointed out, two-thirds of the quangos that are to be abolished were created by the Conservative Party. As with many other things, the question relating to quangos is how they are set up and dealt with.
Quotations have been read out and I think that they can be repeated. This is from the Select Committee report:
"When assessing a proposal in a Bill that fresh Henry VIII powers be conferred, we have argued that the issues are 'whether Ministers should have the power to change the statute book for the specific purposes provided for in the Bill and, if so, whether there are adequate procedural safeguards'. In our view, the Public Bodies Bill fails both tests".
I do not have the confidence to comment in detail on that but, when the Government realise the power and strength of that committee, surely they will realise that they should have reflected and consulted on the matter. This issue is not a party matter. It has been turned into a party matter by the arrogance of the Government in dealing with it.
I was in this House in the mid-1980s, 25 years ago, when the GLC and ILEA were abolished because they were causing a nuisance. Ken Livingstone was the king of County Hall and he got under the skin of Margaret Thatcher. Instead of trying to ameliorate or change or improve, the answer was to say, "Off with their heads"; they were murdered. I very much fear that people who are volunteering their time and money to various bodies to support them will be cast aside. I do not think that is right.
I come from the region of Tyneside and One North East is a very successful quango. It regularly invites parliamentarians from the north-east for consultations which impress me, and we get documents which also impress me. I know that others in the Chamber will be closer to the action than I am, but I do not think it is right that bodies which are genuinely open to improvement are simply cast aside. The Government should think again and take into account the almost universal reticence of this House on both sides to agree to what is on paper.
In my view, the solution is the amendment to be moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt. During the debate it has been said that time is important and of course it is. We all know, as political animals, that there is a timescale in which the Government wish to get this Bill and beyond which they will not. The Government have to think twice: either they accept the need for change in consultation with everyone else,
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Lord Selsdon: My Lords, for more than three or four decades I have had the pleasure of speaking either before or after the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Sometimes we sing from the same hymn sheet. In the spring of last year, I think that we both asked the same question about non-departmental public bodies at the same time.
I am confused, and even more confused today, as I cannot work out why we have more people speaking on this topic than we have in the defence debate on Friday. I thought that maybe it has something to do with money, so I asked myself, "What are we talking about?". We are talking about 21 government departments, employing 528,000 civil servants, responsible for 192 non-departmental public bodies. The word "quango" was dispensed with many years ago; some of us tried to get rid of the "q" when we chaired various bodies that became autonomous non-governmental organisations, which probably would have been the secret for most of them.
Those 192 non-departmental public bodies employ about 111,000 people and they have around 18,000 appointees. The figures are difficult to determine, but they spend approximately £46 billion a year. To put that into context, the defence budget is £32 billion a year and the health budget is £105 billion a year. Here is £46 billion of public money going somewhere and the question is where, for what, how and why. I should explain that in the past I chaired one or two bodies in this field, but we had the great advantage that many of them were created to bring in unpaid people from the private sector who served for free without large amounts of bureaucracy.
Now that the change has come, no one is quite sure what these bodies are and what they do. I thought that the best thing to do would be to start asking Parliamentary Questions, which I did in 1999, with the objective of determining which Members of the House of Lords served on these bodies, because that would provide additional expertise to your Lordships' House. What then happened was a sort of collapse of stout parties. It was normally, with noble Lords opposite in power, that, with regret, they did not know the answers. Instead of trying to find the answers, they would give the standard reply: "The information is not centrally available", or, "To get that information would be too costly". They could not answer at all. I asked again and again-a total of 55 Questions.
I have a roll of honour here of those to whom I asked those Questions who gave the most unsatisfactory Answers-beyond 11-plus: the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath-he was twice on the list, actually-the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, the noble Lords, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Lord McKenzie of Luton, Lord Myners and Lord Patel, the noble Baroness,
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Then on to the scene came the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. Do you know, my Lords, he caught the same disease? He said, "The information is not centrally available", or whatever. He wrote one of the naive, even less than 11-plus Answers, and I wrote him a rather nice charming letter-or a nasty charming letter-saying that he did not know what he was talking about.
Before we debate the subject, we should know what we are talking about. Your Lordships will know that the annual NDPB report that has just been issued for the period ending March 2009 is way out of date, so the figures in it make no sense whatsoever. At the moment, it seems that we are debating without any knowledge or understanding with Ministers who have no clue what their departments have been or should be doing. Perhaps we just need one simple report that updates the current figures. We had the figure of £43 billion in 2008-09 and we have gone up to £46 billion. We have had 11,000 more employees in that period. If we get it up to date-why can it not come up to right now?-on what all these bodies are, we might get somewhere.
In the anticipation that we might have a Conservative Government, naturally, I wrote to David Cameron last year and sent in the same sort of questions. He passed this on to Francis Maude and said that he would be in touch with me. Neither of them has been in touch with me. I have reason to believe that I probably have more information on these bodies than anyone else on the planet.
I could suggest that rather than having another ango-or something like that-the Government should just say to me, "Malcolm Selsdon, can you put the Act together?". I believe that I could, because the civil servants themselves know the answers. The difficulty here is that there is a mutual protection society that wants none of them to be abolished.
The first question to which I would still like to know the answer is: how many Members of your Lordships' House serve on these bodies? I then put the question, "And what is the remuneration?". That was not to try to say that they were being funded illegally or overpaid in some way or another; it was to demonstrate that being on those bodies provides extra knowledge for this House. As I analyse those within the House who have served or serve on NDPBs, I think that we probably have enough expertise to put together a reasonable report. So why do we not set a date, that within 14 or 20 days from today we will have a report and then reconvene? I think that it would make a lot of sense.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who makes an excellent tea companion. I am sorry that he came away none the wiser. At this stage in the evening, with most points covered so eloquently, I do not intend to make anything other than a short intervention.
The Minister is viewed with respect and affection in this House, and it is in that spirit that I say to him that he and his Government have definitely bitten off more than they can chew when it comes to this rather unloved and illiberal Bill. It must have looked like a cracking quick win to an incoming Government: "quangos", so it goes, "equal unpopular, unnecessary bureaucracy". The Labour Government had already done a good deal of the preparatory work in their Smarter Government report of December 2009, as my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon said, and the TaxPayers' Alliance had been lobbying for years. The time for a cull had come. It would not cost anything to execute it-it might even gather in a tidy sum for the Exchequer. What could possibly go wrong?
Let me make it clear: I am not interested in the survival of NDPBs or their nearly 19,000 board members just as a general principle. That would be both ridiculous and indeed irresponsible. Any Government would be right to look at how the system could be reformed for the better.
As noble Lords have said, there is also churn-always churn-when it comes to NDPBs, as their usefulness and their relevance waxes and wanes. In fact under the Labour Government of whom I was a member, the total number of NDPBs fell by nearly 8 per cent from a high point in 1996-97. However, given that so much of the machinery and delivery of government services to the public is tied up in the public bodies regime, it is incumbent on government to undertake a proper cost-benefit analysis of the scale and the consequences of such radical dismantling of this regime before the bulldozers are brought in. Accountability is being held up as the prime motivation for the Government's approach to public bodies, as my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere said. Mr Francis Maude said:
"Today, the Government have taken decisive action to restore accountability ... to public life".-[Official Report, Commons, 14/10/10; col. 505.]
If that is the case, it is for the Government to demonstrate their newfound conversion to accountability and transparency by instigating an open, public process of consultation and dialogue with those public bodies, both advisory and statutory, affected by the Bill. Even at this late stage I would call on the Government to demonstrate their commitment to that accountability and to Parliament.
I wish briefly to address two specific areas before drawing my remarks to a close. The first is the fate, sealed before this Bill was even published, of the Women's National Commission, an advisory NDPB. I had the privilege of chairing that commission between 1999 and 2002, and I pay tribute to the wonderful work of my predecessors from all sides of the House and to my successors in that post, the noble Baronesses, Lady Prosser and Lady Gould of Potternewton. As noble Lords will know, the commission's role began
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The second and last point I wish to make is as president of the Trading Standards Institute, a body supported and respected across this Chamber. Trading standards officers work as local authority officials and keep rogue traders at bay, protect the public from loan sharks and assist local businesses in their legitimate growth. The announcement by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Vince Cable, that trading standards is a crucial front-line service along with Citizens Advice and will be strengthened by the new model set out in his consumer landscape review is, of course, to be welcomed but, and it is a very big but, handing over highly significant consumer and competition responsibilities through the Bill at a time of austerity-led local authority funding settlements is a move that has to be extremely carefully thought through because consumers-members of the public-must not be left less safe and more vulnerable with less opportunity and far less advice and choice in their lives. There is also the fact that while local government has broad shoulders and no doubt relishes these new challenges, consumers and markets are global as much as local these days and new governance models for trading standards and CABs must reflect those market and consumer demands, whatever the localist versus centralist politics of the day.
The Bill has raised many serious constitutional questions, as we read in the report by the Select Committee on the Constitution. The dreaded Schedule 7 -a quango version of Room 101-is there in front of us placing a cloud of uncertainty over highly significant public bodies, many of them esteemed partners of trading standards, such as the OFT, the Competition Commission, the Health and Safety Executive, the Local Better Regulation Office and many others. Can the Minister explain the necessity for and the reasoning behind Schedule 7? Will he look again at it given the strength of feeling and the rational argument across this Chamber tonight? Reform local bodies by all means, but do not recklessly dismantle them. I urge noble Lords to support the amendment to be moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate and I have listened to most of it. I think that the Minister can take some
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The debate has demonstrated something else to me. It is that even when people agree with the policy intent, they all have their little lists of complaints about bodies that they want to protect. They say, "In principle, it's really great; in practice, not in my backyard". I have my little list as well. In 2007, I took part, as did the Minister, in the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill proceedings when we set up the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. It took office in 2008 but is now in Schedule 1, so its days are numbered. I have great doubts about this. I moved an amendment to create it as an executive agency, as opposed to a non-departmental public body. Now the logic, the Ministers and the Government have changed and suddenly it is coming back to the Department for Work and Pensions. I am absolutely convinced that, in spite of this being the right thing to do in principle, issues such as this need to be looked at carefully. The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission is likely to cost more and to lose its focus. It is also likely to be much more difficult to run the collection of arrears that are so important to so many families in the United Kingdom.
The policy intent is agreed. We will all have our complaints and we will all have our little lists. Therefore, the question of the time that will be needed to deal with this Bill adequately is going to be a difficulty for the House, even absent the questions of process, to which I will turn in a second.
My great and much missed friend, Sir Clement Freud, used to make a lot of money on "Just a Minute" because he would always win the competition-without hesitation, deviation or repetition-by falling back on lists. Any time that he wanted to waste time in order to win the competition, he always resorted to lists. This Bill is full of lists. Noble Lords will speak without hesitation or deviation, but I think that repetition is out of order. I look forward to trying to help the Government, even absent the procedural issues, to get the Bill through in good order and in reasonable time, but that is a big ask.
I have listened to this high-quality debate on an issue about which people have thought a lot. I give the Official Opposition credit for this not being opposition for the sake of opposition. There have been some pretty robust speeches from Her Majesty's Opposition, but I do not get any sense that there is a full-frontal assault to bring the Bill down, which I welcome. However, there are two problems that the Government will have to solve if they are not to put this Bill at risk, which would be a shame.
First, I do not think that the statutory instrument procedure that we have at the moment is adequate. That is clear to me. It was encouraging that colleagues
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Secondly, Clause 11 and Schedule 7 are in the same category. My noble friend Lord Norton came up with a good idea, which I had not thought of, of having a public bodies Bill in every Parliament. We now have five-year Parliaments and in each you could have a sensible public bodies Bill, which would be related to specific organisations. They would know which they were and we would be able to get proper scrutiny of them as time went on. Over the term of the Parliament, and over a period of time, there would be a systematic way of dealing with these bodies that makes sense and gives this House a proper and serious role, as well as the ability to amend the proposals in front of us.
I recognise and acknowledge that Clause 11 is an attempt at transparency. However, another way of drafting Clause 11 and Schedule 7 would be just to take the general power that was necessary and to leave the list out. Indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made a similar suggestion, which would get you to the same place. However, the Government took the view that the honest thing to do was to put the names that they had in mind in the Bill. That has had the unintended consequence of making matters worse and I hope that the Minister will recognise that it has been counterproductive. The Minister will have to satisfy the House on those two matters before we can attempt to judge whether or not the proposal for a Select Committee is worth pursuing.
Another question that the Bill will need to address in the fullness of time is that, because of the way in which it is drafted, new functions are capable of being created in the process of some of the changes that the Bill envisages. I hope that I am wrong about that, but there should be provisions in the Bill to ensure that it cannot happen. Such a reassurance is also important.
I say to my noble friend that the Bill is very important for a series of reasons and it is essential that we give it the best shot possible in trying to get it through the procedures of the House. He will facilitate that process if he can give reassurance on the two issues that I have mentioned: Schedule 7 and the process for dealing with statutory instruments. If he can do that, he might carry the House; if he does not, he will have difficulty in doing so this evening. That would be a great shame, because it would prejudice the future progress of the Bill.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it has been a long, impressive and important debate. It is important because the Bill will impact on many facets of public
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The Institute of Government believes that public bodies are now fundamental to the running of the British state and, yes, the Opposition believe it is right that the efficiency, accountability and purpose of these bodies should come under the microscope. That is what the previous Government were doing. I succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Warner, at the Department of Health and inherited his excellent arm's-length body review programme. As my noble friend Lady Smith said, we built on this work, culminating in our March strategy. Yes, we had a target to reduce the number of bodies over a three-year period, but we also had a robust, rational and acceptable process for so doing. The Government's approach is anything but that. They have failed to have genuine consultation; they have failed to give more than a paucity of information about the criteria they are using; and in the regulatory impact assessment they failed to provide any factual information.
In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who we all admire, referred to the need for efficiency. I agree. Indeed, in the Queen's Speech we were promised huge savings from this policy. An announcement was made from Downing Street at the time of the Queen's Speech which suggested that £1 billion would be saved. However, since then the Government have become rather coy about that. Indeed, there is more than a whiff of suspicion that the costs may be greater than the savings. I ask the Minister: what savings do the Government envisage over the next spending review period?
In fact, the argument has moved on: now we hear that it is about accountability. We are being told that it is being done in the name of accountability. Can the Minister tell me how abolishing transparent, independent bodies and bringing their functions into central government departments can possibly increase their accountability? I have in mind here particularly the health and scientific advisory committees. I should like the Minister to assure me that these advisory committees will continue to be able to give robust, independent advice. Will that advice be published? Will Parliament be told when Ministers reject such advice? Some of the decisions the Government have made are puzzling. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. They spoke about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, as one example. It is an internationally respected organisation. Indeed, it was the respect in which the organisation was held which persuaded this House, after an eight-hour debate, to extend its remit to approve research in relation to stem cells. Why on earth do we undermine that work? It is essential to keep, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said.
There are many other organisations we could name. There is just one I would mention. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that to take the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission back into the Department for Work and Pensions just when the signs are that it is beginning to get to grips with the
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I want to turn to the process. The Government have essentially introduced a skeleton Bill that would grant fundamental powers to individual Secretaries of State, thereby significantly reducing parliamentary scrutiny of executive action. The Bill gives Ministers the power to abolish or fundamentally change the operation of an arm's-length body on a mere whim through an affirmative order. Schedule 7, as we have heard, is particularly worrying as it continues to hold a body under the knife of an individual Minister-facing trial, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, put it. How is a body such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission intended to operate independently of political pressure from Government when the Minister has the ability significantly to cut funding, change the constitution of the commission, or even abolish it?
My noble friend Lord Borrie referred to Ofcom, which is currently looking at the bid by News International for the remaining shares in BSkyB. There were also the wise comments of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about the credibility of the Information Commissioner and the chilling effect of being listed in Schedule 7. There are the judicial bodies mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf: the Civil Justice Council, the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee, the Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman, the Legal Services Board, the Legal Services Commission and above all, the Judicial Appointments Commission. No wonder the noble and learned Lord spoke of his grave concern about the constitutional implications of the Executive being able, under this Bill, to abolish the independent appointments commission.
I ask the Minister whether this Bill is consistent with Sections 3 and 4 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which is a guarantee of continued judicial independence. Have the senior judiciary been consulted by the Government? Have the Government law officers had any input into the drafting of the Bill? Will the Minister respond to points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the Equalities Commission and the inconsistencies in the bodies listed in Schedule 7?
It was important enough to establish such bodies in primary legislation to start with. As the Constitution Committee report says:
"The Government has not made out the case as to why the vast range and number of statutory bodies affected by this Bill should be abolished, merged or modified by force only of ministerial order, rather than by ordinary legislative amendment and debate in Parliament".
The noble Lord, Lord Norton, was very clear on that point. Indeed, I have rarely seen a Select Committee of your Lordships' House so trenchant in its criticism of a Bill. I say to the Minister that the House tonight deserves a response to that committee's report. It is not good enough to say that we should wait for Committee stage, as the Minister implied in his opening remarks.
On the Government's response generally, the Minister offered some concession over consultation. That is of course welcome, but he could have gone further. He could have acknowledged that the Bill would have been much the better for pre-legislative scrutiny. He could have promised a proper impact assessment before we proceed to Committee. He could have agreed to publish the full costs and benefits of the proposed changes before we move to Committee. He could have promised that the Government would accept amendments from these Benches to ensure that the super-affirmative procedure will be used in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, made great play of the fact that statutory instruments under the Bill will be affirmative, but he could have confirmed that the Government accept, without any hesitation, that the interpretation of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee on the best definition of the conventions applicable to secondary legislation is that contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions. I remind the House that the report stated that,
Will the noble Lord confirm that the Government accept the interpretation of the Merits Committee published in a report only last month?
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, could have said that the Government would withdraw Schedule 7 to the Bill and accept my amendment to his Motion. The practice of committing a Bill to a Select Committee has been very rarely used in respect of government Bills in recent times. The most recent occasion was for the Constitutional Reform Bill in 2004. The noble Lord said that the form of the Constitutional Reform Bill was of a different order and of great constitutional significance-and so it was-but I believe that, in its way, this Bill is of constitutional importance, too, and would merit being dealt with in the same way. I was immeasurably strengthened in that view by the interventions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and my noble and learned friend Baroness Scotland. They did not doubt the constitutional significance of the Public Bodies Bill.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, said that all Governments are affected by Henry VIII-type clauses. That is of course right, and this House has made its displeasure known whenever Ministers have fallen into such temptation. What is so worrying about this Bill is, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, its industrial scale. The use of Henry VIII-type provisions is so blatant that, in the words of the Constitution Committee:
"The Public Bodies Bill [HL] strikes at the very heart of our constitutional system ... In particular, it hits directly at the role of the House of Lords as a revising chamber."
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, suggested that my amendment was aimed at obstructing the Bill, but that is not so. The Opposition support efforts to improve the efficiency of these public bodies. I am quite content with the objectives in Clause 8(1). I see my amendment as being a reasonable and constructive course of action
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We have no interest in delaying the Bill's progress, but I suggest to the Government that a little more time spent on the Bill now would save a huge amount of time likely to be lost if the Bill went through in its present form. The Minister should listen to his noble friend Lord Greaves. I can testify to the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to keep the debate going day after day after day. But to reinforce this point about time and to reassure the House, I am very happy to accept what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, says about timing. I certainly believe that the committee should be able to achieve its completion by 28 February 2011, as he suggested.
At the general election, the Conservative Party manifesto promised to restore the balance between government and Parliament. The Liberal Democrat manifesto promised to strengthen Parliament to increase accountability. If I as a member of the previous Government had brought forward this Bill, it would rightfully have been torn to shreds by this House. If as a Minister I had had to listen to the devastating speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I would have known that the game was up.
As my noble friend Lady Andrews said, this is a real test of this House's ability to scrutinise legislation effectively. I hope that we will meet that test by agreeing to the establishment of a Select Committee.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this has been a good debate on a very serious subject in which people have expressed themselves seriously and with passion. If I have been on the receiving end of much of that, I should tell noble Lords that I am actually encouraged by this debate. As my noble friend Lord Kirkwood pointed out, there has been some agreement about the objectives of the Bill, even if there has been some criticism of the mechanism that the Government have chosen to implement it.
I thank all noble Lords who have participated. It has been a good-natured debate despite the seriousness of the subject. Contributions have been thoughtful and constructive and indicate a commitment to the principles of scrutiny and due process of which this House should be proud. As a Member of your Lordships' House, I share these principles, and I have reflected carefully on the points that have been expressed today. I apologise in advance that I shall be unable to address them all specifically in the limited time available. I have in particular taken note of the general concern regarding the order-making mechanisms in the Bill, particularly as they relate to the bodies listed in Schedule 7.
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It is my firm belief, particularly given the quality and breadth of the contributions to today's debate, that the appropriate venue for detailed scrutiny of the Bill is in a Committee of the whole House, supported by the detailed and expert scrutiny of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Delegated Powers Committee. The Constitution Committee has already made such a contribution, detailed in its report and expressed eloquently today by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Norton of Louth. That report has been the focus of much of today's debate and, as such, I take it extremely seriously.
I take equally seriously the concerns raised by a number of noble Lords about ensuring the independence of bodies charged with delivering important public functions, and those regarding the scope and nature of Schedule 7. Accordingly, I wish to make clear my intention to bring forward amendments in Committee to address these issues constructively. I accept the Constitution Committee's concerns and the need to meet them by devising a parliamentary procedure that will ensure proper public consultation and enhanced parliamentary scrutiny before any proposals to act under the legislation are approved.
We will also seek to amend the Bill to include safeguards to give independence to public bodies against unnecessary ministerial interference when performing technical functions, and when their activities require political impartiality and the need to act independently to establish facts. Finally, we will consider whether some of the bodies need to be removed entirely from Schedule 7. As part of these considerations, we will seek to address the concerns of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, which were echoed by many other noble Lords, including the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, about bodies that deal with matters relating to the judiciary or otherwise to the administration of justice.
There have been questions raised about the scope of Schedule 7 and the reasons for the inclusion of bodies in that schedule. There has been the suggestion that there is no rationale for the list. This is absolutely not the case; the bodies listed have all been included in the recent review and will be subject to future reviews. The Government do not believe that public bodies should remain, as a matter of course, in perpetuity or that their functions, remit or status should never again be examined. There will therefore be a triennial review process.
Schedule 7 omits some bodies included in the review and in future reviews because they do not have a statutory function. A small number of bodies have also been excluded because they are being taken forward in alternative legislative vehicles. For example, some proposed changes are out of the scope of the powers in the Bill, such as to the Audit Commission. In other cases, proposed reforms fit better with the wider legislative and policy objectives of a particular departmental Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, asked why two orders are required to remove bodies from Schedule 7 and then to effect changes using the powers in Clauses 1 to 6. We should remember that moving bodies from Schedule 7 might also be to merge them or to change or fulfil their functions under those clauses. I believe that it is important for the House to have the opportunity to approve the principle of the use of the powers in relation to a particular body. As she points out, there would need to be a separate order to approve the details of that change. If beneficial for scrutiny, these orders could be published in draft simultaneously.
The Government are committed to substantial reforms to public bodies aimed at enhancing their accountability, efficiency and effectiveness. The Government are further committed to continuing to review the public bodies landscape in future, ensuring that it remains fit for purpose. I suspect that most noble Lords agree with that strategy.
I am gratified to note that many noble Lords across the House have expressed their support for this policy in their contributions today. It is a programme that the voters and taxpayers of the United Kingdom expect us to deliver without delay. It is that objective that underpins the Public Bodies Bill.
I agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Blackwell, who applauded the principle of the Bill and expressed his hope that it had been brought forward with the intent to deregulate and simplify. I confirm to him that the Government are committed to a simpler, more transparent public bodies landscape, and that the Public Bodies Bill cannot be used to create new public bodies except as the result of a merger of existing bodies. I am happy to discuss with my noble friend how best to ensure that the Bill supports the principles of the regulations. I also note my noble friend Lord Kirkwood's concerns about new functions.
I believe that there is broad agreement in this House about the policy behind the Bill, and that leads us to two sets of questions. The first is about mechanisms. With regard to this question, I hope that I have reassured the House of our intentions by making a commitment to bring forward amendments in Committee. I reiterate again my commitment to working with the House to address its remaining concerns.
The second set of questions is about the implications for specific bodies and functions. The noble Baronesses, Lady Stern and Lady Finlay, both express concern about the proposal to abolish the office of the chief coroner and the implications of that for bereaved families. The decision regarding the coroner was not taken lightly, and the abolition of the office does not indicate that we are not committed to an improved coroner system. We remain committed to improving the coroners' service for bereaved families and those who work within the system. Our proposals, such as introducing a charter for the bereaved, will do exactly that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, and the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, expressed their concern regarding the provisions relating to forestry. I hope that they will permit me to respond to some of their detailed questions in writing. However, I offer my reassurances that there are numerous safeguards
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I appreciate that many other noble Lords have expressed concerns about bodies that I have not had time to mention. I offer my apologies and give an assurance that I will seek to remedy this, either in writing or during future stages of the Bill. Once again, I thank noble Lords for their contributions today and for their constructive comments both inside and outside the Chamber. I reiterate my commitment to continue to work with colleagues to improve the Bill and to address the specific concerns about the processes that it sets out.
However, I do not believe that the Bill should be committed to a Select Committee. As I stated in opening this debate, it is right and appropriate that our deliberations should continue in a Committee of the whole House, which has today demonstrated its capacity to give this Bill full and considered scrutiny. The time between now and then can be used productively to address remaining concerns relating to the structure of the Bill. It would enable me to bring at an early date to the whole House sitting in Committee those amendments that we believe this debate has asked of us. It is for this reason that I hope noble Lords are persuaded not to commit the Bill to a Select Committee.
It is absolutely right that the House should scrutinise this Bill, and do so with its customary rigour. It is not right that the House should seek unnecessarily to delay a reform programme that is a coalition commitment, that reflects manifesto commitments and that the public rightly expect to be delivered without delay. I commend the Bill.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have had an extensive debate. I know that the House will now want to come to a speedy conclusion. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has said that he has listened carefully to the debate. He has certainly promised to bring
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The Minister has not met all the constitutional concerns that have been raised tonight. He has said nothing about costs and savings. He has not agreed to put safeguards in a new clause at the beginning of the Bill. He has not said that the Government will agree to the super-affirmative procedure. He has not given a guarantee to take the judicial bodies mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, out of Schedule 7. The Minister has not responded to the concerns raised in this House by many Members. I beg to move.
At end to insert "; and that it be an instruction to the Committee that it should report the bill to the House not later than 28 February 2011".
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, in the light of the assurance that has been given by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that the proposed Select Committee, if set up by this House, would complete its work not later than the end of February, and of the assurances by my noble friend to attempt to meet the concerns that have been expressed in this Second Reading debate, I shall not move my amendment.
Amendment to Lord Hunt of Kings Heath's amendment not moved.
Division on Lord Hunt of Kings Heath's amendment to the Motion.
Contents 151; Not-Contents 188.
Amendment to the Motion disagreed.
Motion agreed and Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
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