Public Bodies (Reform) Blog: Second Reading in the Lords

Author:Mr Paul Thompson
Profession:Bircham Dyson Bell LLP

The blog will focus in particular on the Public Bodies Bill and will follow the Bill through to its enactment and implementation whilst commenting on related legal and policy developments over the coming months. It is being written from a non-partisan stance and, insofar as it contains criticism of what is proposed, is intended to do so from the point of view of a detached observer. Whilst the blog appears in my name, it is being written with the assistance of colleagues here and I happily acknowledge their considerable help in what is very much a collective effort.

The debate on Second Reading took place in the House of Lords yesterday (November 9), culminating after eight and a half hours, just before midnight, with the Bill then being given a Second Reading and referred to a Committee of the Whole House in the usual way. The alternative opposition proposal in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that the Bill be referred, as the Constitutional Reform Bill had been in 2004, to a Select Committee, was rejected by 188 votes to 151.

Speakers, and over 50 peers sought to contribute, were almost uniformally critical of the skeletal nature of the Bill and the proposed order-making powers, with much of the debate focusing on the trenchant criticisms of the Henry VIII clauses in the Bill made in the Constitution Committee's report. Comments such as "institutional vandalism", "flamethrower approach" and "as sharp a piece of legislative practice" peppered the debate, reflecting very real unease from many quarters with the constitutional import of the Bill. Particular criticism was reserved for the Schedule 7 list which sweeps up various public bodies as potential candidates for substantive reform, the Schedule being described by Baroness Crawley as a quango version of room 101 but with perhaps the most telling contribution coming from Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, who warned of the danger of interfering with the independence of bodies concerned with the administration of justice in particular, said that he believed that the Bill was not consistent with the Constitutional Reform Act in relation to such bodies and...

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