Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Henry VIII, the House of Lords and the quangos

The House of Lords last night gave a second reading to the Public Bodies Bill, which aims to give legislative powers for ministers to abolish or merge public bodies - the so-called 'bonfire of the quangos'.

The Bill is controversial due to what is known as an ‘Henry VIII’ provision: that is, ministers being given power to amend primary legislation by order.

In a report last week the cross-bench Lords Constitution Committee warned:
"The Public Bodies Bill strikes at the very heart of our constitutional system, being a type of ‘framework’ or ‘enabling’ legislation that drains the lifeblood of legislative amendment and debate across a very broad range of public arrangements."

"The Public Bodies Bill is concerned with the design, powers and functions of a vast range of public bodies, the creation of many of which was the product of extensive parliamentary debate and deliberation. We fail to see why such parliamentary debate and deliberation should be denied to proposals now to abolish or to redesign such bodies."
Opponents of the Bill as drafted argued that it would enable ministers to change at the stroke of a pen arrangements that had been carefully debated and scrutinised by Parliament when the arms length bodies were first established. Many participating in the eight and a half hour debate supported the aims of the Bill, but argued that the executive should be required to account to Parliament for the details of how the functions of the deleted bodies would be taken forward.

Promises of a whole series of concessions from the minister Lord Taylor averted defeat and the Bill received its second reading with a majority of 37.

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