Baroness Garden of Frognal: The Secretary of State is currently considering all the responses to the consultation and will make a statement after the Recess. He is following a full quasi-judicial process in a fair and even-handed way. It will be his decision. I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that at this stage I can talk about the process but not the detail.
Lord Dykes: With thanks for that Answer, can I none the less suggest to the Minister that, since there are still very widespread and serious doubts about the non-UK-taxpaying Murdoch dynasty acquiring such extra media power over an already large empire in the UK, it is right that the only outcome here should be referral to the Competition Commission for a serious independent investigation?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the issues of competition and market power were ruled on by the EU Commission on 21 December 2010. I hear what my noble friend says, but the Secretary of State will have options at the end of the consultation: to accept the undertakings, to reject them and refer them to the Competition Commission, or to consult on a revised set of undertakings.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, following the statement that was made on the consultation, I asked a question about how the independent directors of the new company would be appointed? In response to that question, I received a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in which she said that,
Baroness Garden of Frognal: I thank the noble Lord for that. The criteria for the independent directors are listed in great detail in the articles here, which set out the connections that they must not have and the sort of people they must be. They must not, for instance,
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Lord Fowler: My Lords, does this case not show that there is an urgent need to reform the process to which the Minister referred? The decision rests with the Secretary of State but in the past few months one Secretary of State has accepted the assurances of Mr Murdoch, while his predecessor said:
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, a great degree of independence is built in to the decisions that are taken. My noble friend is absolutely right: it is the Secretary of State who will ultimately take the decision, but it will be based on wide-ranging consultation, and will have the agreement of Ofcom and the other bodies that regulate the media.
Lord Myners: My Lords, I am sure that the Secretary of State will come to regret the very unconventional route by which he has approached this, which has not exposed this very complicated but important matter to a full competition inquiry. However, if the Secretary of State persists in his plan, can he at least give an assurance that the independent directors will be truly independent, the shareholders will not be under any influence from Murdoch and, indeed, that the company will remain an independent company and not see its other shares acquired by a party sympathetic to Murdoch?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the independence of the shareholders and the fact that they will not all be members of the Murdoch family are written into the undertakings. The competition aspects were ruled on by the EU Commission, so at the moment issues of plurality rather than competition are to be discussed. However, if the Secretary of State has any misgivings, he can refer the matter to the Competition Commission.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is a rule of the House that for it to be in order only one person should be on their feet at one time. I am sure that noble Lords on all Benches wish to abide by that. I am aware that my noble friend Lord Fowler has recently spoken. Perhaps we should hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, before we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Grade, unless another Member of the House wishes to speak first.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My noble friend asks another key question on this. Certainly, the Secretary of State has indicated that there is a potential weakness in media plurality. The forthcoming Bill will indeed provide an occasion to consider this again.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recognise the weight of opinion against the proposed acquisition? Not only does the latest opinion poll show that 64 per cent of the respondents think that it will give News Corporation too much power, all the media organisations are opposed to it, and virtually all media commentators are against it. Following the consultation, who actually is in favour of this acquisition?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has conducted this matter in a totally transparent way and has published all the documents that he could at the time that they could be published. It has been out to consultation and more than 40,000 responses have been received, most of them through an internet campaign. My right honourable friend is considering all those responses, after which he will make a statement. He has not gone into this with a closed mind; he is open to the views that will come in.
Lord Grade of Yarmouth: I have watched dealings between different Governments and News International for 30 years and wonder whether the Minister agrees with me that the process we are going through is one of the most transparent and independent that there has ever been. In reaching a final settlement, what guarantees will the Government seek on the commercial viability of Sky News as an independent entity?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: I thank my noble friend for that question. I do, indeed, agree with him. The guarantees of financial independence are underpinned by the carriage licensing for 10 years, which will guarantee funding and brand licensing for seven years. Those have to be approved by the Secretary of State. We have underwritings throughout this process to ensure that Sky will remain independent and financially viable.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, building on the work done for the elections held in May 2010 by the noble Lord,
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Lord Wills: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response about the referendum vote. I hope he will agree that the many service voters who want to vote by post in all elections should be enabled to do so. However, he will recognise that deployment in remote areas, particularly in conflict zones, can create serious problems with achieving the timely dispatch and return of postal votes. Can the Minister tell the House whether his Government have continued the work set in place by the previous Government and agree, with the Front Benches of both the Conservative and the Liberal Democratic parties when they were in opposition, to consult on options for addressing such problems with a view to bringing in any necessary legislation by 2012? If they have not set up such a consultation, why not and when will they do so? If they have been consulting, when did the consultation start and when will they be publishing the results?
Lord McNally: My Lords, we continue to build on the work initiated by the noble Lord. However, as he recognised, there are no simple solutions to the difficulty of servicemen voting in remote areas in battlefield conditions, et cetera, which is why we continue to advise servicemen to use proxy votes where possible as the most efficient way of being able to vote.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, does the Minister agree that what we really need is a slightly longer timetable for conducting our elections in this country, one that would allow a slightly greater time for people to register to vote, to apply for a postal vote and for postal votes to be dispatched and received? That would significantly benefit members of our Armed Forces serving overseas and enable them to participate to a greater degree in our elections.
Lord McNally: My Lords, there is a lot of common sense in what my noble friend says. My honourable friend Mark Harper is considering these issues and the Government will put forward proposals when he has reached conclusions with colleagues. However, as I say, I think there is a lot of sense in allowing more time for elections to be processed.
Lord Soley: Does the Minister accept that he did not actually answer the Question put by my noble friend Lord Wills? I know that there were several questions, but will he answer them and put them in the Library? One of the most important ones was whether the Government are consulting and, if so, when the consultation started and when it finished. I think an answer in the Library would be very helpful because it is a very important matter.
Lord McNally: I am sure it would be and I look forward to reading it. Whether we have followed exactly the consultations initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, quite frankly I am not sure. Nevertheless, we are following all the initiatives that he brought in during that time and some new ones as well. I do not doubt
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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, at the last general election, of the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, only 500 were able to register a vote either by proxy or postal vote. This is totally unacceptable.
Furthermore, can we have some consistency in the length of time between, say, nine, 10 or 11 days for a nomination for a general election until polling day, and 25 days for others? Can we work very hard in the immediate future to make sure that we have the same length of time between nomination, close of nominations and polling day?
Lord McNally: My Lords, the call for consistency, which I think was also made by my noble friend Lord Rennard, is exactly the issue that Mr Mark Harper is looking at at the moment. As I said before, I think that there is a lot of sense in getting that kind of uniformity.
As to the turnout by troops serving in Afghanistan the last time, perhaps there were problems in getting to vote, but there is also a low propensity to vote among servicemen. That is something else that we are trying to address in terms of encouraging initiatives in the services by responsible members of each unit.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, does the Minister not recall that in the Committee stage of the AV and constituency-gerrymandering Bill, this side tabled amendments that would have extended the time for the distribution and return of ballot papers by servicemen and others? However, those amendments were rejected by the Minister-if he was there; he might have been ill at the time, but they were certainly rejected by the Government-and by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. Is that not the case?
Lord McNally: I do not remember us discussing the Bill that he described. A word in the noble Lord's description was wrong. As I have said twice in response, these matters are being looked at, and the Government will bring forward proposals. As for the AV and constituency boundaries Bill, the noble Lord lost on most issues, as he will remember.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord and his department are consulting on these issues. Can he guarantee that a new system will be in place at the time of the next election, be it 2014 or 2015, because on all Benches we naturally wish to ensure that our service men and women have a greater opportunity to vote, if they wish to?
Lord McNally: My Lords, this is certainly the Government's intention. As the noble Baroness will know, we are in the process of carrying through a whole raft of constitutional reforms, and I am quite sure that any proposals on this matter will be as successful as the proposals that have been carried, thus far.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Major Matthew Collins and Lance Sergeant Mark Burgan, both from the 1st Battalion Irish Guards. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
The Government are fully committed to providing our Armed Forces with the resources needed to carry out operations, as has been demonstrated in Afghanistan and more recently in Libya. The strategic defence and security review, while addressing the imbalance in defence that we inherited from the previous Government, established the policy framework for our Armed Forces and the capabilities that they will need to meet future challenges and to achieve success on operations.
Lord Lee of Trafford: From these Benches, I join my noble friend's tribute. In the light of today's remarks by the Chief of the Air Staff, is it not clear that we have gone from overstretch to critical stretch, and that the defence cuts have been too draconian? Libya, of course, exemplifies the unexpected. Does not the nation expect that a Conservative-led coalition will put defence as a number one priority? Is not spending 2 per cent of GDP just too tight, as many of us have been saying?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Government's primary responsibility is to ensure national security. Without healthy finances, we cannot create the public services or the national security we need. The SDSR established the policy framework for the Armed Forces and the capabilities that they will need to meet future challenges. Events in Libya have proved how right we were to design adaptability into defence so that we are able to be flexible as strategic threats change. The outstanding work of our Armed Forces demonstrates that Britain remains a key player that is able to project power and influence on the world stage.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, from these Benches, we associate ourselves with the Minister's words of tribute to Major Matthew Collins and Lance Sergeant Mark Burgan of the Irish Guards. We too offer our sincere condolences to their families and hope that their pain will be eased a little by the knowledge that, in the eyes of the nation as well as of this House, Major Collins and Lance Sergeant Burgan are brave and courageous heroes.
We now have commitments in Libya that were not anticipated or even contemplated in the recent rushed strategic defence and security review, which has not survived its first encounter with reality. As a result, we
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The SDSR states explicitly the need for an adaptable posture to defend our interests in the world. As a result, we have structured and resourced our forces to give us flexibility to conduct operations such as the one in Libya. The SDSR correctly predicted that we would need to carry out civilian evacuations, and rightly assessed that we could mitigate capability gaps resulting from the SDSR through working with allies, overflight and basing rights. We are continuing to develop and refine the SDSR, but it will not be reopened. Finally, the additional costs of operations in Libya will be fully met from the reserve.
Lord Stirrup: My Lords, in his answer to a question on 15 February, the Minister said that the Ministry of Defence was planning on the basis of a flat real-terms budget after 2015. In his Statement on the defence review made in the other place on 19 October last year, the Prime Minister said that the outcome of the review-the 2020 structure-would be affordable only with real-terms growth in the defence budget after 2015. It seems that the Chief of the Air Staff was merely agreeing with the Prime Minister. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Ministry of Defence is planning on a lower level of capability than that set out in the defence review, and will he tell us what that is?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Prime Minister has been very clear that the defence budget will have to increase in real terms beyond the current spending review period to deliver the Future Force 2020 structure set out in the SDSR. Our aim over the next four years will be to put our forces in a position to reach that ambition, given real growth in the later part of the decade. However, we cannot guarantee what the budget will be under the next Government. Spending post-2015 will be a matter for a new spending review and the next SDSR. Until then, the department will need to plan carefully for those new commitments that will entail significant additional expenditure beyond 2015.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, it is quite clear how uncomfortable the Minister feels about giving these answers. When the Minister looks at events across the whole Middle East, the ratcheting up of tension off the Falklands with statements made about oil prospecting, tension in Korea and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, is he really saying that the NSC will
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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, of course we all want more money for defence. However, if we have financial difficulties in the MoD, we know where they came from. We went 12 years without a proper defence review. We are spending £120 million every day just to pay off the interest on the previous Government's debt. Every department must make its own contribution to deficit reduction, and the MoD is no exception. We have to put the economy on the right track for the sake of our national security, and across government we will do it as a team.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the NHS operating framework 2011-12 set out that, to retain effective management capacity in all PCTs until their abolition in 2013, subject to parliamentary approval, PCTs should form clusters managed by single executive teams. This clustering arrangement will support PCTs in preparing for and transitioning functions to GP consortia.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that too much reorganisation is more than the health service can stand? What on earth is the point of abolishing PCTs and re-establishing them in clusters two years before they are going to be abolished? It makes no sense at all unless the Government are going to change their mind about the main legislation.
Earl Howe: My Lords, when we went out to consultation on the White Paper last summer, concerns were raised that the transition could lead to too much disruption and a decline in the quality of services, as well as a loss of accountability, so the department decided to expand the approach to managed consolidation of PCT capacity and establish the clusters nationwide. That has been done already in London and the north-east and will pave the way for the NHS commissioning board to develop its roles. It will maintain accountability and grip during 2011-12 and the subsequent year, once strategic health authorities have been abolished. We are using existing legislative powers and it will help to oversee delivery in the coming two years.
Lord Kakkar: Is the Minister able to confirm that the future GP commissioning consortia will be constituted in such a way that they are obliged to conduct their responsibilities according to the Nolan principles?
Earl Howe: That is a very interesting question. GPs should already be subscribing to the Nolan principles. They are attributes which they would wish to demonstrate in their working lives anyway-having said which, it is the responsibility of every public body to ensure that it takes account of the Nolan principles. Consortia will be public bodies, ergo they will have to take account of the Nolan principles.
Earl Howe: We are assigning particular staff to pathfinder consortia. Those staff will remain within the PCT clusters. They will not transfer officially to the consortia because the consortia are not officially in existence yet. The point here is to have staff who are dedicated to supporting the emerging consortia over the next few months. This is already in train.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, given the progress that has already been made in dismantling the PCTs and the strategic health authorities ahead of legislation, and the millions given to GP consortia to establish their role as commissioners, are the Government not in danger of pre-legislative implementation? Does it not beg the question as to where the role for pre-legislative scrutiny, or indeed any meaningful scrutiny in the House, might be on the matter? Will the Minister assure the House that, when we eventually receive the Health and Social Care Bill, reorganisation will not have progressed beyond the point of no return?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that her own party's plans included a 30 per cent reduction in administrative and managerial costs throughout the health service. We agree with that and we have got on with it. It is right that, when a Government come in and announce their intentions, as we did, expectations should be managed, as we are doing, and uncertainties should be allayed. The way to do that is to get on with the process.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: Can the Minister tell us how the clinical governance arrangements in primary care will be safeguarded during a time of transition, particularly because clinical decision-making can be adversely affected when people are concentrating on many management restructures?
Earl Howe: My Lords, we are clear that the essential functions of the primary care trusts should continue. That includes monitoring clinical governance within primary care. Having said that, I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that clinical governance in the primary care context has not been all that it might be, which is why we believe that the new arrangements will considerably strengthen that governance.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it was common knowledge that PCTs needed reorganising because they were not meeting patient needs? Furthermore, doctors themselves found that the PCTs were getting in the way of treating their patients properly. Frankly, had not PCTs also created
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Earl Howe: I agree with every word my noble friend said. It is illustrative of the truth of his remarks that, in the final year of the Labour Government, the administrative costs of the NHS rose by no less than £220 million. The rise in administrative costs was exponential. My noble friend is right: at the moment we largely have an NHS that is managerially and administratively led, rather than clinically led. We want to reverse that balance.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Will the Minister give the House two assurances? One is that the Government have done nothing that is not legal in anticipation of the Health and Social Care Bill being passed. Secondly, although he may not have the figures with him, what are the relative administrative costs of private healthcare providers and the NHS?
"(1) A Minister may make an order under sections 1 to 5 only if the Minister considers that the order serves the purpose of improving the exercise of public functions, having regard to-
(c) economy, and
(d) securing appropriate accountability to Ministers."
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, government Amendments 60A, 69A and 69B in this group are an important contribution to the Bill. They are designed to respond to the criticism of the Delegated Powers Committee that the Bill as drafted did not sufficiently define the purpose for which orders might be brought forward. In challenging the Government to provide such purpose, the committee sought a safeguard against the abuse of the powers that the Bill would grant to Ministers. I am happy to be able to respond to that challenge.
Amendment 60A establishes a purpose for the use of the main order-making powers of the Bill by amending Clause 8. If the amendment is accepted, Ministers will be able to make an order only if they consider that it,
While I appreciate that the purpose as defined in Amendment 60A is relatively broad, I trust that noble Lords will appreciate why this is the case. During the numerous debates in Committee and on Report on the bodies listed in the Bill, the Government have demonstrated their intent to take forward a wide
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Amendment 61ZA, tabled by my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, would require that Ministers could bring forward an order only if they were satisfied that it met one of the objectives in subsection (1). I am not able to support this amendment because, as I have described, there is a single overarching objective in that subsection. However, I can assure my noble friend that Ministers will be required to have regard to each of the matters listed in paragraphs (a) to (d) of the subsection when making an order.
Amendment 60B, tabled by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, would remove efficiency from the list of matters to which a Minister must have regard when considering whether an order would meet the purpose specified in Amendment 60A. I understand the noble Lord's argument that, in practice, efficiency and economy are closely linked. None the less, the Government envisage circumstances in which an order might increase efficiency in the exercise of functions while not producing a significant economy. For example, the merger of the Pensions Ombudsman and the ombudsman for the board of the Pension Protection Fund will not produce a significant cost saving, as the bodies already to all intents and purposes operate as a single entity. However, their formal merger in statute will support a more efficient public bodies landscape by streamlining the legislative basis for their retained functions.
Amendments 69A and 69B provide a mechanism through which the Government would be held accountable for meeting the requirement in Amendment 60A. They add a requirement to the procedure set out in Clause 11 that will require the Explanatory Note accompanying any order to explain why and how the Minister considers the order to meet the purpose described in Amendment 60A. I hope that these amendments will assist the committees of both Houses in considering whether the orders made under this Bill fit the criteria that the Bill now describes.
Amendment 60AB has been tabled by my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree. I am afraid to say that my noble friend is not very well and cannot be with us today, but I hope that the House will excuse me if I address the issues that he raised because I am sure that he wants to know the Government's reactions to his amendment. The amendment's intentions are laudable and, as the noble Lord pointed out in Committee, at the heart of the coalition Government's approach. The amendment would add fairness, openness, transparency and justice to the list of matters to be considered under Clause 8(1). I remain unable to support the amendment's inclusion in the Bill simply
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Put simply, we do not concede either that a Minister would not consider these issues in some form when deciding whether to make an order or that the consultation and procedural requirements that we have already built into the Bill will not ensure that Ministers are held to account in relation to the fairness, openness, transparency and justice of their proposals. Ministers will be required clearly to explicate the reasons for an order in the explanatory documents that will accompany it and Parliament will have ample opportunity to scrutinise these explanations. I do not, therefore, consider that the additional burden that the amendment would create would add value to the order-making process.
I make a similar argument in relation to Amendments 60AA and 60C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, each of which would direct Ministers to consider the existing functions and aims of a body affected by an order. As I stated on 23 March, the amendments that the Government have proposed to Clause 8 make it inconceivable for a Minister, when considering making an order, not to have considered the aims, objectives or functions of the body concerned, both whether they remain necessary and whether any improvement could be made in their delivery. The amendments proposed by the noble Baroness also do not appear to take account of the fact that an order could in itself alter the aims or objectives of a body or office.
Specifically, I am resistant to Amendment 60AA on the grounds that the Government envisage that the purpose of improving the exercise of public functions may require a broader interpretation. For example, an order might abolish a body or some or all of its functions on the grounds that the Government had decided that those functions were unnecessary as currently set out in statute. Alternatively, an order may form part of a broader policy in which related changes, such as the establishment of new bodies or functions, are taken forward in a separate piece of legislation but are dependent on the order for their implementation. In such circumstances, the noble Baroness's wording would make it difficult for a Minister to demonstrate that the order itself improved the exercise of public functions, even though such an improvement would clearly be the intent of bringing forward the order. I assure the noble Baroness, however, that I acknowledge the thrust of her amendments and consider that our drafting of Clauses 8 and 11 ensures that the functions, aims and objectives of a body will receive due consideration.
Again, I have no issue with the spirit of my noble friend's amendment; the Government have been clear throughout the passage of the Bill that they do not intend to remove the necessary independence of those public functions that require it. However, I believe that the aim of this amendment is better addressed through
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The government amendments in this group build on the improvements that we have already made to this Bill during its passage through the House. They clarify the purpose of the Bill's delegation of powers and they provide a mechanism through which Ministers can be held to account for their actions in this regard. I beg to move.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the Minister, because this Bill has improved enormously since Second Reading. We have obviously lost Clause 11 and Schedule 7. I think that we might have achieved what my earlier amendments in Committee and on Report sought to achieve: namely, that in using these powers in the Bill the Minister should have regard to the purpose for which any bodies that are going to be abolished or changed were created in statute. I therefore very much welcome government Amendment 60A, which lays out that powers may be used only,
However, perhaps there should be a couple more tweaks. Amendment 60AA, the first of the two amendments in my name, might appear to be about drafting, but its intention is to make it clear that the "public functions" that are to be improved should relate to the bodies that are going to be covered in those orders. That might be the case, but I seek a little more assurance about what is in the Bill, otherwise it is not clear; it could mean any "public functions" of a government or anything else. I think the purpose is meant to be the purpose of the bodies that are being merged or amended or whose funding is being changed.
I have reiterated a number of times that I do not believe that every body must exist for all times in the same form. In the words of the legal draftsmen, I think it concerns "having regard to" rather than being an essential part of what the Government are doing. Will the Minister therefore confirm whether what I regard as the objective of "having regard to" really is covered by the words "public function"? I shall give a couple of illustrations, to which perhaps the Minister could respond. First, something of the overall purpose
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Secondly, Consumer Focus has statutory powers to demand information across all sectors of the economy. Is that a public function? If not, again there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that those statutory powers remain. Thirdly, a duty is placed on Consumer Focus to promote sustainable patterns of consumption, an area of growing importance given the Government's targets on carbon reduction. Noble Lords will be well aware of the work done by Consumer Focus-for example, on smart metering and the Green Deal. Again, is that duty a public function? If not, it would need Amendment 60C to protect it. Fourthly, does the statutory duty of Passenger Focus to represent the interests of the travelling public count as a public function?
Finally, I am pleased that, after some hesitation, Ofcom has agreed to its communications consumer panel continuing until at least April 2012. However, the uncertainty that surrounded its future for many months, and the consequent risk of an advocacy gap for consumers, shows how important it is that during the passage of the Bill, but also when it becomes law, there should be no weakening of vital protections for consumers. I hope that the new formulation will ensure that there is never a lacuna between the ending of one body and the start-up of its functions elsewhere. Will the Minister give those assurances and consider, particularly on funding, whether certain things could be retained without having regard to the objectives set down in statute? I beg to move.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 60A. I am a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which has given considerable thought to this. However, I speak for myself and not the committee-as is always the case, of course.
"If these expansive powers are to be delegated by Parliament to Ministers, it is important that, as a minimum, the general purposes for which Parliament expects the powers to be used should be set out on the face of the Bill, and this is not currently the case. The Committee therefore concludes that, as they stand, clauses 1 to 5 remain inappropriate delegations of legislative power".
Quite rightly, the Minister has indicated that that is what Amendment 60A seeks to address. I am sure that he has put his usual effort into it, because I agree very much with my noble friend Lady Hayter that the Minister has gone a long way to improving this Bill-not least with the sunset clause, as the Delegated Powers
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I always wonder how courts cope with things like this. Presumably if a body, an organisation, or an individual for that matter, chose to challenge a decision, it would first have to show that it was focusing on one of these issues. Then, if the court were asked to adjudicate, it would have to adjudicate on that basis.
"It is for the House to consider whether Amendment 60A provides an effective indication of the purposes for which Parliament will expect Ministers to use their very broad powers under clauses 1 to 5".
without either giving up in the face of a stronger government position or challenging it in court. I do not think that I am not alone in having concerns over many years, and over many Governments, about this increasingly blurred area between what Parliament says and means and the courts having to interpret it, which gets harder by the day.
could be used in almost any circumstance. You could put it into almost any Bill, stand by it and say, "This is what the Government have decided and we will now have the powers delegated to us to carry it out in the way we think fit". We should remember that when we delegate powers in this way, we are handing very broad powers to Ministers, which was the issue that concerned the committee. I would also argue that these powers are not clearly defined, so I would like a little more explanation from the Government. Indeed, I wonder where the words,
came from. I have a sneaking suspicion that, having read the 11th report, the Minister or his staff decided that they had to come up with something better. Since there is nothing in the Bill, the best they could manage to come up with is this phrase. Again, it could appear in almost any Bill, but if we go down this road we will start producing Bills that will hand over even more power to the courts to interpret. It is a bit late in the day, but I wonder whether the House is really happy about Ministers having this much power delegated to them in increasingly difficult areas of definition.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 60B. I cannot resist following up the compliments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Soley, but when I recall that my noble friend Lord Taylor comes from Holbeach, he is now known for ever in my mind as the "Lincolnshire poacher" because he is the man who took the wretched Schedule 7 right out of the Bill. I thank him for that.
My amendment is designed to try to make the addition to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, a little more manageable for the user, if I can put it that way-and I am not thinking of the judges. My noble friend anticipated what I might say by giving the example of two pensions bodies for which he felt the proposal might be efficient but not economical. He studiously avoided referring to the other epithet to be found in his amendment: "effectiveness". My claim is that "effectiveness" covers precisely the point that he is seeking to maintain.
I am concerned about the duplication created by the words "efficiency" and "economy". Indeed, I looked up all three words in the dictionary, and "efficiency" is part of the meaning of "effectiveness". Given that the law of the land is that Parliament does nothing in vain, I wonder whether we are not creating a problem in the repetitive nature of "efficiency, effectiveness and economy". Instead of eliminating "efficiency", I suppose I could have eliminated "economy", but I feel strongly that this is a bit like saying of the Minister that he is strong and powerful and effective. Someone reading those attributes might say, "Well, it is the sheer muscle power that must rule the roost in that description of his virtues". What concerns me a little is that the same sort of approach may be taken not by a court but by a Minister himself or herself: namely, that efficiency and economy are the overriding requirements. In fact, I believe that effectiveness is always the most important virtue of the three. Effectiveness surely goes to the achievement of the purposes to which the effectiveness relates. You can be as economical and efficient as you like, but effectiveness is key.
I shall not labour the point, but I would like the Minister to consider what I have said about the example that he gave and, if he can-here I challenge him-to come up with an instance in which the elimination at Third Reading of the word "efficiency" or, if he prefers, "economy", would in any way encumber a Minister in what he or she has to do under this very important clause. I beg to move.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): It might be of assistance to the House if the noble Lord would choose whether to move his amendment at the appropriate point. At the moment we are still considering Amendment 60AA, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, as an amendment to Amendment 60A.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, I will intervene briefly on Amendment 60A to add to the paeans of praise from other noble Lords on the way that the Minister has promoted the Bill. I was deeply concerned about the way that it was originally drafted, not least from the point of view of many judicial or quasi-judicial bodies that could have come to a summary end if amendments
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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I would like to add my words of appreciation to those that have already been made to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. When a Bill of such complexity and importance is produced early in the lifetime of a Parliament, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the drafting would give rise to great concern. That concern has been reflected in the reports of committees of this House. Those committees-the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee-are due warm appreciation because, although there was no prior, pre-legislative scrutiny, they have given it most careful scrutiny. I am particularly grateful for the 12th report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which set out the matter that is to some extent covered by Amendment 60A, moved by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach.
The Minister referred to Amendment 61ZA standing in my name and to which I draw the House's attention. That was intended to respond to the observation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that certain matters set out in Clause 8 are simply ones to which the Minister must have regard or consider. It was a particular criticism based upon the wider concern that the purposes of the Bill and the powers to be used by Ministers had not been adequately set out, and that this was a power of delegation to be embodied in the Bill which needed greater justification in terms of its purposes. I am grateful for what the Minister has said. The language of his amendment appears designed to tackle this gap, at least in part. There are certain differences between the drafting of my amendment and Amendment 60A.
Lord Elton: It may be of some interest to noble Lords who have the same print of the Marshalled List as I have to know that Amendment 61ZA to which the noble Lord refers is the one immediately after the withdrawn Amendment 61. I think that the number, 61ZA, has not been printed.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for making that clear. There is a difference; in fact, there are at least two differences which may be of some significance, between government Amendment 60A and my Amendment 61AZ. The first is that in my proposal the Minister should be permitted to make an order only if he considered that,
That embodies two points; first, that there should be an expectation on the part of the Minister that the power, "will achieve" one of the purposes; and, secondly, it does not require all the purposes to be achieved by the use of the power.
is a collective, not a single test, or even one to be applied to two of these criteria. Therefore, I felt that the amendment that I had tabled was, in some ways, more realistic because it is quite often the case that effectiveness and economy are not necessarily the same and not necessarily both achievable by a measure of government. That is, it is desirable that they should all be achieved, but it cannot be certain and if there is a choice, it ought to be possible for the Minister to make that choice.
This is not a form of words, as I understand it, which just bows in favour of motherhood and apple pie; it is, as I see it, an opportunity for the Government to indicate, in the report that they will produce before Parliament considers the legislation, what it is that is moving the Government. I think it reasonable that, if they could demonstrate greater efficiency, greater effectiveness or greater economy, they should be able to say so and not necessarily have to tick all four boxes. However, this is probably a matter for construction by greater legal brains than mine and consequently, I hope that the matter might be reconsidered at a later date. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for the changes he has proffered to the House, which are a substantial improvement on what went before.
Lord Pannick: My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the amendments brought forward by the Minister. I, too, associate myself with all the tributes paid to him. I hope that the praise from your Lordships' House does not cause him any embarrassment back at the ministry. I am a little disappointed, however, that he did not feel able to respond positively to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, who all noble Lords will wish to see back in his place as soon as possible. That amendment would add fairness, justice, openness and transparency to the list of factors to which the Minister must have particular regard. The Minister suggested in his opening remarks that to add such concepts to the clause would impose what he described as an "abstract evidential burden". I am sure that on reflection he will recognise that the concepts introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, are no more abstract than the concepts of efficiency, effectiveness, economy and accountability that are included in his own very welcome amendment. I ask him to reflect further on the criteria in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Newton.
The answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is that this clause is important not just, or indeed primarily, for what would happen in court if
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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayter, specifically Amendment 62. I do not want to dissociate myself from the general praise for the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor; he has been the most flexible of Ministers that we have yet seen in this coalition Government, and we are all extremely grateful to him, not least for his Amendment 60A. However, it is still slightly lacking; if the Minister is now the Lincolnshire poacher, where does that leave the gamekeeper? Parliament is the gamekeeper, but with the whole of the Bill Parliament is letting go the central principle that primary legislation can be amended only by other primary legislation. If we are to do so-and I understand the logic and the safeguards that are beginning to be built into the Bill-then we need to be quite explicit about how we are letting it go.
My noble friend Lady Hayter's amendments make it clear that, when the aims and objectives of a particular body are specified in existing primary legislation and when any Minister wants to activate one of these mergers, abolitions or changes in function, then as part of the process the Minister must go specifically through those aims and objectives and explain how they will be achieved in the absence of the body or after the proposed changes to the nature of the body have been made. In the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that means a bit more discipline. It requires Ministers to put before this House what the original primary legislation required of the body and how that will now be carried out. If that is to be transferred, that needs to be explicit; if that is to be merged with the requirements of another body, that needs to be explicit; if that is to be transferred to a private body, that needs to be explicit, with the other complications that arise from that; if that is to revert to the Minister, that needs to be explicit; or, if that is to disappear into the ether, Parliament needs to be clear what is happening. When we agree to these safeguards-and the Constitution Committee has now accepted that, broadly speaking, these safeguards meet the criteria-we need to ensure that the process runs through a check of what was set out in the original legislation. My noble friend's amendment would take us a significant way towards achieving that and exerting that degree of discipline on the future use of this legislation by Ministers.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I add my praise to the Minister, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, expressed so well. Even so, some tweaks might be provided, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was saying. I entirely agree with him. I speak particularly in relation to Amendment 62 tabled by the noble
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is my turn now to pay tribute to the Minister. This is a greatly improved Bill and it is with grateful thanks to our Minister in this House that those profound changes have been made. Amendment 60A is a testament to one of the big changes in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, was right to point out that many of the problems relating to the Bill came from the speed with which it was introduced. There was no excuse for that because the Bill should not have been introduced so expeditiously. I in no way blame the Minister for that and he has been exemplary in the way in which he has engaged with Members on all sides of the House.
We believe that to be particularly important but I still think that improvements could be made. It is clear, as my noble friend Lord Soley and others have said, that there is still a nebulous area over which more discipline could be exercised and which could feed the fees of lawyers and be long debated in the courts. It would be good if there could be a little more clarification.
"It is for the House to consider whether amendment 60A provides an effective indication of the purposes for which Parliament will expect Ministers to use their very broad powers under clauses 1 to 5".
I think the House will probably agree that the noble Lord has met the necessary criteria. However, as noble Lords have said, perhaps one or two tweaks could be made. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, who we miss greatly today, because I think he has done a fabulous job on this Bill; not just because he happens to have agreed with some of the things we have said but because he has been courageous to be a Member of the government Benches and to stand steadfast on things in which he passionately believes. His amendment, which we are discussing
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In relation to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Hayter, she has also done some sterling work during the passage of the Bill. Something that she has pressed for throughout is for Ministers to have regard to the purpose for which the bodies were created in statute. The Minister has moved a long way towards that and it has largely been accomplished. I, too, have received some excellent briefing from the World Wildlife Fund, especially in relation to its concerns on behalf of the Marine Management Organisation. We should like to have further clarification from the Minister on that point.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Unfortunately, I was not able to be here when the Minister spoke. Therefore, strictly I am being unmannerly in saying anything at all, but if he and the House will permit me to make a couple of brief remarks, I would be grateful to do so. No one is looking cross, so I will continue, briefly. I regard Amendment 60A as an important step forward. I do not think that Amendment 61A on independence will be necessary in the light of the changes that we made in Committee and the safeguards that we put into Clause 16 on restrictions on ministerial powers. Those deal with the necessary independence criteria and seem to be adequate.
it is intended to mean the functions as defined in the legislation creating the body. If that is right, then it seems that what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is seeking to achieve, with which I agreed at Second Reading, is achieved. The Minister, in making the order, will have to have regard to the aims and objectives of the body as they are specified in legislation. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission's aims and objectives are defined in the Equality Act 2006. I assume that, when any change is made in relation to that body by delegated legislation, the Minister, in having regard to improving the exercise of the commission's public functions, will have regard to those public functions as prescribed in the equality legislation. It could not really be otherwise because the functions are those defined by Parliament in that Act. If he could clarify that that is so, I do not think that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, would be necessary.
On Amendment 60AB, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, again, it seems that openness and transparency are meant to be dealt with by the super-affirmative procedure itself and the requirements that
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I did not want to object to my noble friend contributing to the debate but I felt like asking him whether he was going to be helpful. However, he has been helpful, and so have all noble Lords who have spoken. This debate has been illustrative of the discussions we have had on the Bill and gives me an opportunity, in winding up, to answer some of the questions that have been raised. I am pleased with the general welcome that has been given not only to changes made to the Bill, for which I am extremely grateful and modestly so, but also to the amendments that we are considering today.
The Bill team has been much exercised about the changes to Clause 8; it has not been an easy thing to get together. There is always a gap between precision on the one hand and abstract concepts on the other. We do not want the clause to be a prison which makes it difficult for the Bill to be used to reform public bodies, which I think is desired across the House, nor do we want it to be open to challenge. I have a slight interest in music. I always like triplets; they add something to things. This triplet of alliterative words can be seen as being a duplication of meaning or as being an extension of meaning across a range of measurable indicators to which Ministers will have to have regard. That cannot be said of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree, in which he introduced his more abstract concepts. There is a difficulty in that sense in that the definitions would be harder to pin down and more open to challenge than would be the case with those enshrined in Amendment 60A. It is true to say that even these are broadly defined precisely because the Government are proposing a wide range of reforms. However, the important point to note is that Ministers will be required explicitly to set out in an explanatory document accompanying any order why they believe the order will improve the exercise of public functions. I think the House agrees that that is very important and a great step forward.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was disappointed that we were not seeking to adopt my noble friend's amendment but the breadth of the definitions involved would complicate the exercise of functions under the Bill. The most important thing is to ensure that, in exercising functions, we have the right checks so that Parliament can judge the issue using more measurable indicators. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that the measure does indeed impose an abstract evidential burden. However, there is a discipline on Ministers, and that is very important. The key here is the explanatory document in which a Minister must justify why he considers that the order meets the objective in Clause 8.
I hope that I have explained to my noble friend Lord Phillips why I would like to keep in all three
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I would say to my noble friend Lord Maclennan that we do understand that he believes that any one of these things is sufficient. However, the fact that the three together have to be accounted for to Parliament in any order is the key to why we believe that Amendment 60A is sufficiently highly defined to assist Parliament in judging the orders when they come along.
I think the most interesting amendment to debate is the one tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. Indeed, I, too, received the briefing from the World Wildlife Fund. I have been on its mailing list ever since I challenged the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and, before that, on the Climate Change Bill. He and I know all about the Marine Management Organisation. It was something very close to my heart. Were the Marine Management Organisation to make an unreasonable decision that was not consistent with its aims and objectives-for example, if it showed bias-like any public body it would be subject to judicial review. My noble friend Lord Henley is here with me. I know that Defra does not propose to make sufficient changes to the basis of the MMO's funding. Any changes made would be subject to the processes that the Bill sets in place. This would include, for example, any changes to the MMO's funding.
The noble Baroness asked about functions in connection with Consumer Focus. Public functions are defined in Clause 25 as the statutory functions or functions under a royal charter. The order on Consumer Focus under Clause 1 will relate to its functions, including its statutory functions. Therefore, the purpose set out in Amendment 60A will apply. The Minister must consider,
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Clearly we are not worried about what present Ministers will do to the funding of the MMO; it is what any future ones might do that we distrust. However, I am grateful for the assurances and explanations that the Minister has given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, in moving the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor, I shall speak also to Amendments 64, 73 to 82, 84 to 87, 88, 89B, 90, 92, 93, 95 and 99. I understand that within this group we will also debate Amendments 83 and 87A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands.
The Bill contains a number of clauses that confer powers on Welsh Ministers. These clauses have been requested by the Welsh Assembly Government to enable them to give effect to possible institutional changes flowing from their ongoing review of how environmental policies are delivered in Wales. This review is linked to wider policy proposals to develop a more integrated ecosystems approach to managing the natural environment in Wales.
These proposals were set out in A Living Wales, the Welsh Assembly's natural environment framework, which was subject to recent public consultation. The consultation specifically raised the issues of reviewing institutional arrangements. The Assembly Government rightly want to ensure that they have the most effective and efficient institutional arrangements in place to deliver the proposed new policy approach. More than half the responses to the consultation addressed the question of institutional arrangements and the majority of those responses were supportive of a much more integrated delivery approach, including the possible establishment of a new environmental delivery body.
The Assembly Government have looked at a range of options as part of the initial stages of the review and have now asked for more detailed work to be undertaken on the purpose and function of establishing a single environmental body for Wales and assessing the benefits and costs of establishing such a body. Any final decision to implement changes to the way in which environmental policy is delivered in Wales will be a matter for the incoming Assembly Government, following the National Assembly elections in May. However, I assure the House that it is the Welsh Assembly Government's intention to hold a full public consultation on any proposals to revise delivery arrangements. Amendment 88 places a duty on Welsh Ministers to consult on orders under Clauses 12 to 14.
I turn to the detail of the amendments. A number of them serve more accurately to reflect the boundary between devolved and non-devolved matters. Amendments 87 and others widen the circumstances in which the consent of the Secretary of State or another UK Minister will be required. They also constrain Welsh Ministers' powers in Clause 12 to
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Amendments 73, 77 and 79 serve to extend Welsh Ministers' order-making powers in Clauses 12 and 13 to regional flood and coastal committees whose areas are wholly or mainly in Wales. This would allow the Assembly Government to modify or transfer the functions of these committees in light of the conclusions of the Assembly Government's review of environmental bodies.
Amendment 80 aims to give Welsh Ministers order-making powers in relation to a short list of bodies that are wholly or mainly in Wales-namely, agricultural dwelling house advisory committees, agricultural wages committees, the Environment Protection Advisory Committee, regional and local fisheries advisory committees and forestry regional advisory committees. The amendment also provides Welsh Ministers with powers to modify the funding arrangements of drinking water inspectors and powers to modify or transfer the functions of internal drainage boards that are wholly or mainly in Wales, as well as powers to modify their constitutional arrangements. This is necessary in respect of the Welsh devolution settlement, because the bodies listed exercise devolved functions and are constituted in Wales or relate to areas within Wales. These powers are equivalent to those of United Kingdom Ministers under Clauses 1 to 6.
The intention is that those Welsh bodies will be abolished at either the same time as their English counterparts or in accordance with any programme initiated by Welsh Ministers as a result of the review that I mentioned of the principal environmental delivery bodies in Wales-the Environment Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and the forestry commissioners. The purpose of the power to modify the funding arrangements of the Drinking Water Inspectorate is to enable inspectors to establish a charging scheme to recover the costs of its regulatory functions from water companies, while the powers relating to internal drainage boards are linked to the outcome of the review of environmental delivery bodies. It may, for instance, be the case that, if a new environmental body were established, the functions of the boards might be transferred to that body.
Amendments 63 and 64 are necessary to reflect the outcomes of the referendum on Assembly powers. They ensure that United Kingdom Ministers have a duty to seek the consent of the National Assembly for Wales when they wish to make orders under Clauses 1 to 6 of the Bill that may encroach on the Assembly's legislative competence. Amendments 88 and 89A build in the same safeguards to the exercise of the powers of the Welsh Ministers as apply to the corresponding powers of Ministers of the Crown-that is, the duty to have regard to certain objectives and to consult on the exercise of order-making powers. Finally, Amendment 89 establishes a procedure for the National Assembly for Wales to consider orders of the Welsh Ministers that
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These new clauses and amendments have been developed in close consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government. Furthermore, the National Assembly considered and agreed a legislative consent motion for the Bill on 8 March, noting that it is content for Parliament to legislate in areas of its devolved legislative competence. I beg to move.
Lord Rowlands: My Lords, I will speak to my amendment, which would delete Clause 13, and to Amendment 87A, which suggests that parliamentary consent should be added to that of the Secretary of State for powers under the clause. I will preface my remarks by saying that my record shows that I have been a fervent supporter of transferring legislative competence to the Assembly through the procedures that we have had in the past. I refer to the legislative competence orders that were in Part 3 of the Government of Wales Act and to individual framework clauses in Bills that have come before the House in the past two or three years. I supported them because this was an important and useful way in which to transfer legislative competence until the referendum decided that the Welsh Assembly and Government should have full legislative powers. I am not an opponent of such transfers.
However, when I saw Clause 13, I thought that it was a step too far. This House has many times reflected deep concern and uneasiness about sweeping, ill defined powers granted to Ministers. The report of our Regulatory Reform Committee stated that the powers in Clause 13 were "insufficiently limited". The committee made the same objections that it had made to Clauses 1 to 6, which was that Minsters were given,
There have been many changes to the Bill, but the fundamental issue of the sweeping nature of the powers in it has caused serious concern. Henry VIII looks like a parliamentary democrat when one considers the powers that we are giving to Ministers in the Bill. I still feel extremely uneasy that an Act of Parliament is bestowing these powers on Welsh Ministers. This should be the National Assembly's responsibility now that it has the power to do so after the referendum; that would have been a better process.
My second point, to which the Minister made no reference even though it is the reason for yet another new clause in the Bill, is that our Regulatory Reform Committee also drew attention to an extraordinary aspect of Clause 13. The committee states:
"The net result of what is proposed here is that Parliament should delegate to Welsh Ministers the power to amend Acts of Parliament in matters as respects which Parliament has not delegated to the NAW the power to amend Acts of Parliament by enacting measures, and all subject to no Parliamentary control at Westminster whatsoever".
In other words, we were seriously blurring in Clause 13 the division of responsibilities between devolved and non-devolved powers. I accept that, since then, amendments have been made that clearly define the
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What is remarkable is that here we are, post referendum, with power having been transferred to legislate in Cardiff on this and other issues, yet in a Bill of this House we are writing out in detail the procedures that Welsh Ministers have to go through to justify and consult. In other words, we are writing into Welsh Ministers' responsibilities the super-affirmative procedures that we are applying to UK Ministers. Putting aside the general merits of the issue, I think that it is quite extraordinary that at this moment in time we are seeking to write into a Bill a remarkable clause that lays out in great detail the responsibilities of Welsh Assembly Ministers to consult. Again, I respectfully suggest that that should be the decision of the Assembly.
The Minister's reply is that on 8 March we suddenly had an approval of all these proposals by the Assembly. Although the powers in Clause 13 have been evident since last October, it is quite clear that Assembly Members have not endorsed the original clause. That is why I have sought to remove the clause. I accept that since then there have been changes. Obviously the conversations that have gone on between Welsh Ministers and UK Ministers and officials have clarified the position in a number of important respects since I tabled my amendment, but I think that we ought to be wary about offering such powers at this stage to Welsh Assembly Ministers. They should seek them themselves from their own Assembly. Having said that, I accept that at this stage in the proceedings it is going to be difficult to turn back. Miss Jane Davidson, the Environment Minister, has fulfilled that portfolio with vision and commitment. She has now retired but I understand her desire to have these types of powers.
Finally, I hope that, if nothing else, the Minister will accept my Amendment 87A. Changes to these bodies will have consequences across the border. Quite rightly there is a provision that the Secretary of State has to consent to any changes made, just as consent has to be sought from the Assembly Ministers and the National Assembly to any orders that could affect Welsh devolved powers in relation to these bodies. However, in this case, only the Secretary of State's consent is required. I accept that that consent is necessary on any cross-border issues, but surely both Houses here should approve such changes as well. Just as Assembly Ministers and the National Assembly are expected to confirm their consent to changes that might be made by a UK Government, I honestly believe that we should also insist that both Houses of
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I accept and understand that now, because Clause 13 has been transformed and additional safeguards have been put in place, there is a clear distinction between devolved and non-devolved powers in the Bill, but I press the Minister to agree to Amendment 87A, if nothing else, so that this House and the other House have to approve the consent of the Secretary of State in relation to the clauses.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, I pick up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, which will no doubt exercise the House again in future because they touch on the lack of symmetry with regard to devolution. The powers in Scotland and Northern Ireland are different from the powers in Wales, even after the referendum that took place on 3 March. One of the arguments in favour of the changes that came through that referendum was transparency: people must be able to see clearly where responsibility lies so that the Government taking the decision can be judged and held to account. As the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, said, anything that blurs that question undermines the intent of the devolution settlement.
There is also the more general question of the way in which orders are used to effect changes. When one has the capability in democratic fora, such as the National Assembly for Wales, to do things more openly and transparently than when everything is done by order, that should be used. None the less, I take the noble Lord's point that some concessions and changes have been made to try to meet some of those points as the Bill has progressed.
I believe that Ministers in the National Assembly are broadly content with the provisions and that the Presiding Officer, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is likewise content. I have not tabled any amendments, but two or three issues would benefit from further clarification. First, can the Minister give an assurance that in every instance where matters are devolved, it is the Ministers in Wales who have the full powers with regard to any implementation of the Bill applying to Wales? I believe that that is the case, but I would be grateful if we could have that confirmed from the Dispatch Box.
Secondly, where there are cross-border issues, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, referred, can we be assured not only that, when there is an initiative in Wales, Welsh Ministers should consult first with their Westminster counterparts, but that, likewise and equally, when Westminster Ministers propose changes that have a cross-border implication, they, too, will consult Welsh Ministers before taking any action? That again concerns symmetry and transparency and ensures that there is harmonious co-operation on such issues.
Thirdly, when Bills or orders before either Chamber in Westminster have an implication for Wales in matters that are devolved, can we have an assurance that consultation will take place much earlier in the process as the Bills or orders proceed through their scrutiny in
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This applies not only to matters that are devolved; there are also matters that are not devolved or not fully devolved where there is specific relevance for Wales. I would imagine that, in the spirit of the co-operation described in the amendments, there will be full consultation on those matters also. I press that any such consultation should take place as early as possible so that there is full engagement and the response to consultation can be built into that process. With those few comments, I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
Baroness Gale: My Lords, first, I thank the Minister very much for explaining in detail how we reached the amendments, the redrafting of several clauses and the addition of five new clauses. I understand that all of these new clauses are in relation to the powers of the environmental bodies, the consequential provisions and delegations, the restrictions on ministerial powers and cross-border issues. Like other noble Lords, I am glad to learn that there has been consultation with the Welsh Assembly Ministers. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, consultation is important and the earlier we can have it, the better. I understand that the consultation involved Jane Davidson, the Environment Minister, who is retiring. As my noble friend Lord Rowlands said, she has been an excellent Minister and has the environment at heart. She is stepping down from the Welsh Assembly, but I am sure that she is going on to other things. I wish her well in the new journey that she will be undertaking. She played a big role in the environment and in these discussions.
The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Rowlands is what Welsh Ministers have been asking for. It gives Ministers in the Welsh Assembly the tools to do the job in matters relating to Wales. The changes clarify where responsibilities lie and certainly make it clear what the responsibilities are at the Welsh level. This Bill and the amendments before us enhance the way that the Assembly will be able to work in future. It is another step on the devolution journey, giving Welsh Assembly Members the power to act for the people of Wales on these matters.
Amendment 87A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Rowlands, is an amendment to Amendment 87. It is similar as the Secretary of State's consent is required for an order under Section 12. Should there be a requirement for the approval of both Houses similar to that in subsection (11) in Amendment 89? What does the Minister feel about that? I support what my noble friend is saying in that amendment. We welcome the Government's amendments. They respond to the wishes of the Ministers in the Welsh Assembly.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I start by making an apology to the House and correct something that I said in my opening remarks. I misspoke when I referred to Amendment 89A; I meant Amendment 86A. When I referred to Amendment 89 I meant Amendment 89B. I say this just for the sake of the record. Because so many amendments have been withdrawn and then redrafted, it is rather easy to make mistakes of this sort. I hope that the House will accept that apology and that minor correction.
I am relatively new to Welsh matters, but as always it has been a joy to be taking part in this debate. I hope that I can satisfy the various concerns that have been put forward by noble Lords. I will start with the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands. I accept that he is not averse to transferring greater powers to the Welsh Assembly Government, but does not like Clause 13. He feels that it goes too far and gives too much to the Welsh Assembly Government rather than to the Assembly. He also talked about a blurring of the lines but accepted that some of our amendments improved on that. I assure him that there has been considerable consultation between us and Welsh Assembly Government Ministers. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, I pay tribute to Jane Davidson, who is retiring. I met her only recently on cross-border issues, and I wish her well in her new role.
There has been a great deal of consultation on these matters, importantly not just between us and the Welsh Assembly Government, but also the National Assembly itself. As the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, will be aware, that National Assembly passed a Legislative Consent Motion for the Public Bodies Bill on 8 March, to which I referred. Such a Motion is required because some of the provisions of the Bill come within the legislative competence of the National Assembly rather than of Welsh Assembly Government Ministers. In passing the Motion, the National Assembly has indicated it is content for Welsh Ministers to have executive powers on the lines proposed in the Bill.
I do not quite understand the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, objecting to the Welsh Assembly Government gaining too much power, but he also appears to object to certain constraints placed upon them by this Bill. These matters have been discussed and we believe, as does the National Assembly, that there is a degree of agreement.
The second amendment of the noble Lord, Amendment 87A, requires the approval of both Houses of Parliament following the consent of United Kingdom Ministers under the new clause that will come in under new Clause 14. This is unnecessary because of the procedures already outlined by my noble friend. I hope, therefore, that he would feel able to withdraw or not move that amendment.
I turn to the various concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who raised three points. The first was the question on devolved matters and whether that would be a matter for Welsh Assembly Government Ministers; I can assure him that he is correct. Secondly, on cross-border issues, he asks whether there will be consultation between us and the Welsh Assembly Government Ministers, or the other way around. I can assure him there will be consultation going both ways
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From what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, I have the impression that these amendments meet a great many of the concerns that have been put forward. I therefore hope that noble Lords will accept these amendments, which set out in greater detail the powers and duties of the Welsh Assembly Government Ministers in dealing with these matters.
Lord Rowlands: I listened to the Minister's reply with great interest and I would like to put two points to him. First, on consent, Clause 9 provides that when UK Ministers want to make orders which could encroach on the Assembly's legislative competence, they must seek the consent of the National Assembly for Wales, not just Welsh Ministers. If an Assembly Government issue orders which change or alter the law relating to those bodies and affect the cross border, is it not reasonable that not only should the Secretary of State's consent be sought but also the consent of both Houses? If Clause 9 requires the approval of the Assembly, rather than the Ministers in the Assembly, would it not be a sensible procedure to require the reverse procedure? If, where the Assembly is making orders which could have considerable cross-border effects on the operation of that organisation and which therefore quite rightly require the consent of the Secretary of State, surely it should also require the consent of both Houses in just the same way.
My noble friend Lord Wigley asked about it. As he will see under Clause 9, there is a two-way process. UK Ministers have to seek the consent of the Assembly if they wish to bring in orders which could affect the performance of bodies in Wales. I would still like to press him on my Amendment 87A. I accept the changes that have now been made in relation to the other issues that I raised. He said that he could not quite understand why I seemed to object to the super-affirmative resolution. My objection is one of the principle of legislating in detail on the way in which Welsh Ministers should consult, when that should be determined by the Assembly. He says that that is covered by the 8 March decision. Before we conclude, perhaps he could tell us whether that decision included the reference to super-affirmative resolutions, because this clause has been introduced very late. Was it put before the Assembly? Was it part of the approval of the legislative consent process on 8 March? Before I decide what I will do about my Amendment 87A, will he respond to those points?
Lord Henley: My Lords, we are at a relatively late stage of this Bill. I appreciate that there is one further stage, Third Reading, and that there are limitations on what we can and cannot do. It probably would be right if I took away the points that the noble Lord has made on Amendment 87A and his secondary point. I am
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On his point in relation to Amendment 87A, it might be worth the noble Lord, colleagues in the Welsh Office and me having further discussions. I do not think that what he is looking for in Amendment 87A is necessary, so I make no promises. In the light of his generally very reasonable behaviour on these matters, I will give him those assurances for the moment. Therefore, I hope that he will accept that we can press forward with the amendments as they are.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, earlier in our debate noble Lords paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for his conduct of the Bill, which I would certainly echo. He has brought forward some welcome amendments, which have strengthened the effective scrutiny of the Bill. I urge him to go one step further and respond positively to my amendments in this group. There is no doubt that, with Clauses 8 and 16 and the strengthening of Clause 10 on "Consultation", there have been welcome additions. Will the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, agree to strengthen the Bill a little more as regards Clause 10? Essentially, what I would like to see is that, when a Minister proposes to make an order under Clauses 1 to 6, under Amendment 65, the public must always be consulted. Under Amendment 66, in relation to Clause 10(1)(a), I am suggesting that the body or the holder of the office to which the proposal relates ought to include staff and trade unions. In this Bill-despite the modifications that the noble Lord has brought, including one or two that we have voted upon-considerable powers still rest with Ministers to deal with the bodies contained in Schedules 1 to 6. In view of that, it is right that there should always be formal public consultation when an order is used under this Bill.
We have discussed this matter in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, took issue with me. He said, at col. 1722, that my amendment, as it would apply, would not be proportionate in relation to any proposed
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I fully understand the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is making, but the circumstances have changed. We have a Bill that lists a whole raft of public bodies and, through an order-making power, the Minister can make considerable changes to those bodies. When one reads down the list of organisations and sees those that are to be abolished and those that are going to be merged or have their constitutional arrangements modified-and that means that a Minister can decide to change the constitution of such a body, or to modify their funding arrangements-it does not seem unreasonable to me that there ought always to be public consultation in relation to the use of an order. In respect of the staff of those organisations, I would have thought that, since they are likely in some cases to be very fundamentally affected by the use of an order, it would not be unreasonable for us to put in the Bill that they, too, ought to be consulted.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, this group of amendments touches a matter that has been very extensively discussed. I hope that there will be an open mind on what can be done. I realise that we have now reached a late stage in the deliberations of the Bill, and the Government have given a great deal of thought to this. It appears that part of the concern about explicitly requiring public consultation is that it may lead to unnecessary overkill in involving a great deal of expenditure, but that depends on the way that the consultation is carried out. I recall a debate that a number of Members in this House will perhaps also recall prior to the dissolution of the previous Parliament, in which the responsible Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, laid out the work of the Cabinet Office in respect of public consultation. It was clear that, notwithstanding a code for public consultation, there were enormous variations in the way it was conducted. The issue requires to be readdressed not only because that debate revealed that the code was not being followed in terms of the time being taken to reply and the great variety of practices between departments, but also because in some cases a much longer period for consultation is appropriate than in others. I hope that the Government will give some positive and practical thought to how that might best be achieved.
So far as public consultation is concerned, with modern methods of communication, particularly the availability of a website, it is possible that it could be done involving quite limited public expenditure. Of course it could lead to a deluge of replies, but that is unlikely in the case of some of the bodies we have considered in the course of our debates, which have not functioned for perhaps five years.
Although the Bill and the amendments are quite specific in indicating who should be consulted, referring in particular to people who appear to be representative
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We are making good strides in respect of consultation, but I think that there is scope for a little more reflection and I hope, before the Bill is enacted, that such reflection will be given. I hope that the Government will not feel that this is an attempt to stymie their measures or simplify the process unreasonably. Rather, it is to avoid the possibility of these important matters being introduced to Parliament with the opinions of those who could suggest useful improvements being left out of the consideration. As a consequence, I am broadly supportive of Amendment 65 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give some practical thoughts about it in his reply.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I support Amendment 65 moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and in doing so I shall speak to Amendment 67 tabled in my name, although I will not move it separately. This amendment, along with all the amendments in this group, seeks to improve the consultation process that holds Ministers to account by Parliament. Amendment 67 would place a duty on Ministers to consult with the relevant local government body and any relevant local authority. Who could be against that? I do think that Clause 10(1)(b) and (g) are specific enough on their own because they leave too much in doubt about what is happening. You could say that we are being left sitting in a ministerial fog when what we need is clarity. My amendment would give that clarity by placing a clear and unambiguous duty to consult local government where those functions which are going to be subject to an order have a bearing on local government.
I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I think that my amendment will help the Government along towards working more closely with local government and should cause no problems. It could even be said that it moves the Bill a bit further along the localism road that the Government say they are so keen to promote. I shall leave it there. I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in saying that I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, will feel able to move a little on this point.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Lord Colville of Culross. Lord Colville was serving on the Merits Committee when I joined it some five years ago. I am not serving on it now, of course, because I did my four years and then got cycled off. Lord Colville taught me an enormous amount about consultation. It was his subject: he knew it from A to Z.
The Merits Committee of your Lordships' House considers more than 1,000 orders every year. It looks at the Explanatory Memoranda. I can tell you for sure that the members of the committee usually go first to paragraph 8, the consultation paragraph. There is an enormous amount of expertise in your Lordships' House in assessing not only whether consultation has been properly done and whether the 12 weeks were sufficient but also what has been left out or might have been elided. Noble Lords are extremely skilled in going back to departments and questioning the presentation of these paragraphs. That also applies to the paragraphs in the impact assessment, if there is one required.
I imagine that the orders in the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be submitted to a committee of this House as well as, presumably, to a committee of the other place-that is clear from the language in the Bill. This clause includes, as well as paragraphs (a) and (b), paragraph (g), which says,
If I am allowed from the Back Bench to give an assurance, I can give noble Lords a little Merits Committee assurance that, if a committee of your Lordships' House considers that the Minister has missed out on who it is appropriate to consult, then his department will be pretty sharply told. I hope that we do not underrate the capability of this House to make sure that consultation is done in a really workmanlike manner. Of course, it is never satisfactorily done because there are winners and losers at the end of consultation. Nobody is completely satisfied for ever that the consultation has been properly done but if there is a way of monitoring consultation it certainly exists in your Lordships' House.
Lord Pannick: My Lords, I support Amendment 65, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for three reasons. First, these remain very broad and extensive powers to abolish or modify a public body. It seems essential that there should be the broadest of consultation obligations so that the Minister is properly informed before a decision is taken. Secondly, public consultation does not require considerable expenditure if modern methods of communication are used-the point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart.
Thirdly, if these powers are to be exercised in relation to public bodies-we are talking about public bodies-surely it is right and proper that the Government should consider the comments of all sections of the public who feel that they have something to say. Indeed, if there were to be no specific consultation duty in relation to members of the public and nevertheless a member of the public, knowing of the proposal, submitted representations to the department, then I assume that the department would consider them and take them into account in reaching its conclusion. With respect, I do not share the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who drew attention to Clause (10)(1)(g), which provides that the Minister must consult,
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt and indeed the one referred to by my noble friend Lord Kennedy but I want to speak specifically to Amendment 66. First, I thank the Minister. At the last stage in this Bill, I moved an amendment relating to TUPE procedures. I had a quite lengthy meeting with the Minister and his officials and received a fairly clear letter, given that this is a complex area of law. Although there is still a bit of a grey area, I will the leave the issue of the exact procedures at that.
Amendment 66 relates to the staff of the public bodies we are referring to here and to the trades unions that represent them. However amicably we deal with the Bill, the Government must recognise that there is a suspicion out there that this Bill, which relates to quangos, is part of a more general attack on public sector employees, their terms and conditions, and their organisations. The Minister may deny that, but pronouncements by some of his colleagues and the media which support the present coalition give at least some justification to that concern. Therefore, a straightforward clause which makes it clear that when we are changing the nature of these bodies, there will be consultation with the staff and their recognised trades unions before the proposal is brought back to Parliament, would be a wise precaution. Like the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I do not think that the general formulation effectively covers the need to ensure specifically that there is consultation with the employees and their representatives.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate that has built on the progress that we have made since the Government started tabling amendments in Committee, way back in November when consultation was first discussed. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for moving Amendment 65 to set up the debate and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for his amendment on local government.
In speaking to Amendment 65, I will also try to deal with the other amendments in this group, Amendments 66 to 68. Amendment 65 would insert a requirement that the public are consulted on all proposals before an order is brought forward under the powers in the Bill. The Government support the principle behind this amendment, which is to ensure that the public are given an opportunity to make their views heard on the reform of public bodies. In many instances it will be entirely appropriate and desirable for the public to be consulted on the reforms that we are delivering using the powers in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will know from first-hand experience, the Government publish guidance for departments on best practice in consultation, the current code having been issued under the previous Administration, of which he was a part.
The one-size-fits-all approach in Amendment 65 would not result in a better deal for the public. Where a full public consultation is appropriate, the Government will undertake one. Clause 10 does not preclude public consultation, which will be undertaken where the Government consider it appropriate, followed of course
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However, the noble Lord cannot in all seriousness claim that it would be appropriate or proportionate for a full public consultation to be undertaken on the announcement and detailed implementation of the proposal to abolish Food From Britain, with all the associated costs of ensuring that such a consultation was accessible, widely distributed and adequately publicised, in line with best practice. That is why the Government believe that there should be adequate discretion in Clause 10 for the Minister to be able to carry out a consultation that is proportionate for a particular reform. I am not advocating complete discretion, and the Government have made it clear repeatedly in Committee and on Report that the powers of the Bill should be offset by clear and meaningful standards. Clause 10 plainly sets out these safeguards by defining a statutory minimum that the body or office-holder, and where appropriate the devolved Administrations, and the Lord Chief Justice must all be consulted.
My noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart rightly emphasised the importance of this consultative process. The Minister must comply with the Clause 10 requirements, and the details of the consultation must be included in the explanatory document that accompanies the draft order and proposal for Parliament to scrutinise. This is the point that my noble friend Lord Eccles made when he acknowledged his debt to the late Viscount Colville in the scrutiny of statutory instruments in the Merits Committee. It is not absolute discretion but, importantly, it builds in sufficient flexibility to ensure that on defunct bodies the Government are not compelled to run meaningless public consultations that incur unnecessary costs when we can least afford it.
Amendment 66, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, runs into two similar issues in that it would put into statute something that in many cases is unnecessary. First, there are cases in which consulting staff would not be appropriate, such as where the proposal is a change to constitutional arrangements that would alter the name or method of appointment of the chair. In this case, Amendment 66 would add an additional burden without producing a meaningful improvement in the consultation process.
Secondly, the noble Baroness's amendment cuts across existing requirements to consult and inform in specific circumstances. This includes TUPE and redundancy-the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to the discussions that we have had on these-where there is already a requirement to consult trade unions, which was designed to build in a statutory guarantee for the situations in which such a requirement is
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It is a similar story with Amendment 67 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. There would be clear cases in which the groups and organisations captured by his amendment should and would be consulted. However, that does not mean that putting such a provision into the Bill would change the instances in which such groups or organisations are consulted in practice.
Amendment 68 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Greaves-neither the noble Lord, Lord Judd, nor my noble friend are here, and I continue to wish my noble friend a speedy recovery-would require a Minister to publish the proposed reform on their department's website, in the event that a full public consultation was not required.
I do not believe that such a requirement is necessary in the Bill. There are a number of ways of seeking input from interested parties that may or not include publication on a departmental website. It would obviously be a very effective way in a major consultation, but it would be likely to vary over time. It is therefore not possible or appropriate to place these as a statutory duty in the Bill. The code of practice-the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is very familiar with it-encourages departments instead to,
and further guidance supporting the code provides useful information on alternative forms of engagement that extend beyond simple publication on a website and that may be seen as a soft option when active engagement with stakeholders is preferable.
Consultation is an important issue and one about which the Government feel strongly. We believe that the amendments tabled and adopted in Committee, and which now make up Clause 10, represent a sensible and proportionate way to manage the diverse array of reforms that are being facilitated by the Bill. The amendments in this group, each in their own way, reduce the flexibility of the way in which consultations can be run, in many cases without substantively improving the quality or breadth of consultations.
Amendment 65 specifically requires that all consultations are full public consultations, regardless of whether such a consultation is necessary. It would therefore guarantee that all consultations incurred substantial costs without providing any meaningful improvement to the legislative scrutiny process. Clause 10, as drafted, provides a proportionate obligation to consult on the proposals to reform public bodies. I hope I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that it also provides that Ministers are accountable for that consultation process in the Explanatory Memorandum that they lay with any statutory instrument.
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. My noble friend Lord Whitty made some very important points about staff and trade unions, as did my noble friend Lord Kennedy about local government.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to the Merits Committee. As the first chairman of the Merits Committee I echo his remarks and the tribute he paid to the late Viscount. I recall that looking at the consultative process undertaken by departments was a very important part of that scrutiny. I certainly take his point that any order that a Minister wished to make under this Bill, when it becomes law, would go through scrutiny by committees of your Lordships' House. His argument would have more power were the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to intimate that he is prepared to accept my later amendment on the use of the super-affirmative procedure, but, alas, I do not see the noble Lord quite ready to intervene on that point.
The noble Viscount is certainly right about Clause 10(1)(g). It allows a Minister to consult "such other persons", but should that be left to ministerial discretion? As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, the powers contained in the Bill are considerable. As a result, there need to be safeguards. I believe that automatic public consultation is one of those safeguards.
The Minister said that he supported the principle behind my amendment and that in many instances it is entirely appropriate and consistent with best practice, but he also said that there may be circumstances in which public consultation is not appropriate, and he instanced an organisation that may have been in abeyance. Surely the response to that comes from the Minister's friend, the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who say that consultation in those circumstances can be proportionate. Therefore, there could be a very modest public consultation in those circumstances.
My point to the Minister is this; notwithstanding the many safeguards that have now been built into the Bill, many organisations are listed over which a Minister will have considerable authority because of the order-making power that the Bill gives them. Because of that, there should be a clear statement in the Bill that there must always be public consultation. In some instances it will be a major consultation, but in others it will be very modest. The Minister would find that there would be greater confidence in the Bill, and in the process of review, if there were always public consultation. It is something that we should test in your Lordships' House.
"( ) Where the responsible Minister considers that the changes proposed do not warrant a full public consultation under subsection (1), the Minister must publish a copy of the proposal on the website of the relevant government department or make it otherwise publicly accessible."
Lord Pannick: I support the noble Lord's observation. The Minister, in his response to the previous amendment, agreed that a full public consultation would be highly desirable in many, if not most, circumstances, but in some cases it would not be appropriate to have a full public consultation, and it seems to me that Amendment 68 deals precisely with that point.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I am under instructions to resist-I think that is usually the phrase that is used. However, I understand the arguments that have been put forward by noble Lords to have a requirement, where public consultation does not take place, that at least the proposal is put on the website. I think that the Government are in a position to consider this and, if necessary, will bring forward an amendment at a later stage.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we come to a very important group of amendments that is concerned with the procedure-making processes in Parliament when it comes to an order. As we have already debated, it is very important, when a Minister seeks to make an order, that it enjoys stringent parliamentary scrutiny. We welcomed the Minister's amendments to introduce greater scrutiny than was envisaged when the Bill was first drafted. There is no doubt that what he describes as extensive parliamentary scrutiny is an advance. However, I want to encourage him to go a little further.
The Minister will, of course, be aware of the advice that your Lordships' House has received from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which reported to the House on four occasions. I refer noble Lords to the committee's report of 7 March that reminded the House of the key differences between the noble Lord's amendment that has been made to the Bill and my amendment. The report said that there are two key differences between the Government's enhanced procedure and the provision in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 that introduced the super-affirmative procedure on which my amendment is based.
When we discussed this matter in Committee, at col. 1723, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, essentially said that because Schedule 7 had been removed, the scope of the Bill had been significantly narrowed and a more restrictive scrutiny procedure was therefore required than that in the regulatory reform Act. I understand where the Minister is coming from, but I do not agree with his conclusions. Even with the safeguards that the Minister has introduced and the removal of Schedule 7, the Bill still gives considerable powers to Ministers. When one looks through the Bill, the powers to abolish, to make changes to the financial arrangements, and to change the governance arrangements are considerable. The use of the super-affirmative procedure is, therefore, entirely appropriate.
I know that the noble Lord's department has said that it believes that the super-affirmative procedure that I propose would risk derailing the Government's reform programme, but I want to make it absolutely clear that I support the regular review of these public bodies. I have never had any difficulty whatever with the principle of the Bill. No public body should believe that it is entitled to exist for all time. It is right that public bodies should be reviewed. I have no problem at all with that principle in the Bill. However, we come back to the point of ministerial powers. I remember being reminded, when I was sitting or standing where the noble Lord is sitting at the moment, that ministerial powers need to be fettered. Under the Bill, many organisations doing public work can be affected by the use of ministerial power. Parliament needs and deserves the most stringent scrutiny powers possible. The super-affirmative procedure is not new. It is used within the confines of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act.
The noble Lord says that if we were to pass such an amendment, it would have an impact on the other place and its procedures. My argument is: let us see. Let this House pass the amendment, agree to the super-affirmative order and see how the other place responds. We are not at the last point of this Bill's journey through Parliament and it would not be unreasonable for noble Lords to express the view that orders under the Bill should be considered under the super-affirmative procedure. I beg to move.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will forgive me if I do not go down the path of discussing his amendment in detail, as I am the chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. However, I will say that this group of amendments gives us the chance to
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The House should not try to pin down the Minister today on exactly how scrutiny under the Bill should be conducted, particularly as the other place has yet to consider the Bill. However, it is important to set out a few questions that should be asked at this stage. Under the Bill, every draft order has a 40-day period during which a committee of either House looks at it. This committee must report on the order within 30 days. Under the revised Bill, the committee can require an order to undergo a full, enhanced scrutiny procedure. At present, the Lords committee charged with looking at all orders coming before the House is the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which has been spoken about a lot this afternoon. It may draw orders to the attention of the House either because they may be of interest or because they may imperfectly achieve the policy objective. The committee is already busy and meets nearly every week. The first question might be whether this is the right committee to look at orders made under the Bill, whether under the enhanced scrutiny procedure or not.
In the Delegated Powers Committee's fifth, sixth and 11th reports, the enhanced scrutiny procedure on orders under the Bill was compared, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, to the super-affirmative procedure in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. As this is the nearest procedure to the one we are discussing, it may be worth restating that legislative reform orders come before the Delegated Powers Committee, but are significantly different in character from orders under the Bill. The two main differences are that the LRO procedure is not used for highly controversial matters, and that if a committee of either House recommends that no further proceedings are taken on a draft order, then proceedings are automatically stopped unless the House decides otherwise. The committee has looked at only 12 LROs since the 2006 Act.
However, the Bill is likely to generate a lot of work-and, at some point, an entirely new procedure. Therefore, it must be decided quite soon which committee should undertake the enhanced affirmative procedure if it is required. Although this will, of course, be a matter for the Procedure Committee and ultimately for the House, I believe it is worth thinking about now.
There are some fundamental questions to be asked about how a committee should carry out its work before either House decides on a suitable committee structure. Should it simply review the evidence taken during the consultation? Should it take evidence itself? That could be an expensive process. The only purpose in the Bill is, as we heard this afternoon, to improve the exercise of public functions, although it must have regard to the objectives of achieving increased efficiency, effectiveness and economy-the Minister's triplet-and securing appropriate accountability to Ministers. Suppose the committee decides that the broad purpose of improving the exercise of public functions is not met, will the Minister think again? After all, he only has to have regard to a committee's recommendations. Obviously the order will have to be passed by both Houses and
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Turning very briefly to the procedure in the other place, the two Houses have different ways of looking at statutory instruments and different committee structures from each other. The only joint committee in this area is the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which just looks at the vires of an instrument with the parent Act. Although a superficially attractive idea, a joint committee is very difficult to establish. I understand that this is too early for any hard-and-fast decisions on how orders made under this Bill are to be scrutinised by Parliament, but it is not too early for Parliament to be thinking hard about the implications of the proper scrutiny of the delegated powers in this Bill.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, my Amendment 69AA is the second amendment in this group. I think that there has been some inadvertent misgrouping in this complicated Bill and I suspect that this amendment would have appeared more happily in the first group of amendments, alongside government Amendment 69A. However, with your Lordships' indulgence, and since I have no intention of putting this to the vote, I will proceed to seek to persuade the House that this small amendment would serve a large purpose.
In the first group of amendments, the Minister laid great stress on the fact that no order can be made unless there is an Explanatory Memorandum produced so that Parliament can judge what is going on with regard to the order. Earlier today, the Government got through this House with approbation Amendment 60A, which changes Clause 8 and introduces various specific qualities that must be met by any order before it can be enacted: effectiveness, efficiency, economy and securing appropriate accountability to Ministers. Those are quite expressly, by the provisions of Clause 11, to be included in the Explanatory Memorandum. Not included in the Explanatory Memorandum, but a fundamentally important aspect of the protections in this Bill, are the provisions of Clause 16(3). I will read it because it is quite short. It simply says:
I do not think that anybody sitting here tonight will need convincing that proportionality is one of the most important pillars on which good legislation is built, but there is no reference to proportionality in the provisions of the Bill dealing with the Explanatory Memorandum.
That is still the case after the amendments have been read into Clause 11. Clause 11 as amended requires the explanatory document to introduce and give reasons for the order. The first of those in the earlier government amendment is that,
There is no reference to Clause 16(3). In simple terms-I do not think that this is contentious; indeed, it seems to me to be an improvement in the Bill, whichever way one looks at it-I want a requirement that the Explanatory Memorandum must also include the Minister's justifications in terms of proportionality
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