To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the assurance given by the Government of India that special funds for the support of Dalits and other scheduled castes were not used to finance the Commonwealth Games.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, I can assure the noble and right reverend Lord that we have been monitoring this situation carefully. Following earlier reassurances from Delhi that the Commonwealth Games were self-funding, the Indian Home Minister has subsequently acknowledged that some moneys earmarked for Dalits and scheduled castes were in fact used to contribute to Commonwealth Games infrastructure projects and that, in his view, this was both wrong and inconsistent with Indian Planning Commission guidelines. I understand that the Indian Government are now seeking to find ways of returning the sums involved to the scheduled castes plan and have appointed a task force to revise guidelines and their application.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for his reply, and I am particularly grateful that he has made the House aware that the assurance previously given by the Indian Government was in fact unfounded. In the light of that recognition, will Her Majesty's Government monitor the situation and perhaps also raise the question that, as has been widely reported, a similar diversion of funds has taken place in a range of states?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I will certainly follow the advice of the noble and right reverend Lord. I do not have any details on the other allegations but I will look into them. He might be interested to know that the sum diverted was £94 million. We are monitoring the situation very closely, and the British high commissioner is in discussion with the Indian National Commission for Minorities about these and other issues.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Dalits. Now that the Delhi state government have finally acknowledged this diversion of funds which
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Lord Howell of Guildford: I certainly recognise the validity of the noble Lord's introduction of the Commonwealth into this issue, and I think that the Commonwealth has a very valuable role to play. However, I am not so sure whether it is a question of drawing it to the attention of the Secretary-General and the Heads of Government Meeting or of drawing it to the attention of the Eminent Persons Group which is now looking at ways in which the Commonwealth monitoring and policing of human rights generally can be greatly upgraded. I suspect, on reflection, that it might be best to put it before the EPG. Either way, the concern of the Commonwealth in upholding, monitoring and strengthening human rights through all its member states, including the world power which India is, is very important indeed.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, would the Minister agree with Manmohan Singh,the Prime Minister of India, who has said that the caste system is a blot on humanity? Is it not the case that the way to end things such as manual scavenging, which has rightly been referred to, is by the promotion of education for Dalit people? Can the Minister say what access to education is being given to the Dalit people, especially in areas such as information technology, as a result of support being given by Her Majesty's Government?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am not sure I can say what has followed as a result of intervention by Her Majesty's Government, but one has to bear in mind that India is a sovereign, great and respected nation. Indeed, as I said just now, it is a world power. We must leave it to the Indian authorities to recognise pressures from outside, which certainly include pressures from us, and to respond accordingly. Generally, our high commissioner is in constant contact on these matters. The concerns of this House and the other place are constantly placed before our Indian friends, but in the end, we are friends, not lecturers, and we must have a good relationship with this great nation that is emerging as a major force in the world.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, now that the diversion of these funds from the special Scheduled Caste Sub Plan to the infrastructure of the Commonwealth Games has been acknowledged, will my noble friend ask New
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Lord Howell of Guildford:Yes, we will certainly ask for that information to be put forward. I possibly did not fully answer my noble friend Lord Grenfell who implied that India was perhaps not the best place to hold the Commonwealth Games. The Government would disagree with him about that. There were some undoubted hiccups, but in the end the Commonwealth Games went ahead very successfully, helped cement relationships and carried forward the value of the Commonwealth network, which is the one of the most powerful platforms of the 21st century for the entire globe.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, is to be congratulated for his persistence in pursuing this question in the way that he has. Is the Minister aware of whether any money from DfID was involved in this unfortunate use of funds that should have gone to the Dalits? I wonder whether the Indian high commissioner has been asked into the Foreign Office to ascertain whether any DfID money has been involved and, indeed, whether he is satisfied that DfID money will be used for the purposes for which the British Government provide aid to India and not for other purposes, as was the case in this instance.
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, we are aware of the situation, which is that no money from DfID has been involved in this situation or, indeed, has been given to the provincial Government of Delhi, although obviously DfID money goes to the federal Government, which is a different matter. No money at all is involved in this issue. As for discussions with the Indian high commissioner, we all see him from time to time and hold very fruitful discussions with him. I am not sure when he was last in the Foreign Office, but the noble Baroness can be assured that we are in constant contact.
Lord Howell of Guildford: No, I am afraid I cannot tell the noble Lord that. The composition of the Indian competing teams is a matter for the Indian Government, and we must leave it to them to have a proper proportion and proper balance. I believe they recognise the validity of world concerns about the caste system, which is a part of yesterday's world, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, but we must leave it to them to choose who they have as competitors in their team for the Commonwealth Games and other events.
To ask Her Majesty's Government how they will generate the increase in private sector jobs growth in the north of England to offset the employment impact of the Government's planned cuts in public expenditure.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as the chair of Cumbria Vision, the soon-to-be-abolished sub-regional partnership with the North-West Development Agency.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, we recently published our White Paper on local growth, which sets out our approach to rebalance the economy and to drive sustainable growth. Initiatives will include local enterprise partnerships that will see local business and civic leaders working together to create new jobs in their communities and the regional growth fund, which will support communities currently dependent on the public sector, helping them make the transition to private-sector-led growth and prosperity.
Lord Liddle: I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer, but I sadly find her response inadequate to the challenge that areas like the north of England face. When will the Government understand that a combination of a growth fund worth £1.4 billion over three years, which is two-thirds only of what the RDA spent in each year, and an announcement of local economic partnerships, which so far do not cover, in the north, Lancashire and large parts of the north-east, and have no resources whatever from central government, at a time when the capabilities of the agencies are being abolished-
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, is something of an expert on this subject because of course he worked with the previous Administration to see how they could make the RDAs work. The RDAs spent £19 billion over 10 years and failed to make any impact on the imbalances in growth. Although I am delighted to hear what he has to say, I am not sure that I would take lessons from it. We do not yet know how significant the cuts in public sector employment in the north will be. As there is less money, it is important to ensure that our investments are well targeted. It is less money because we were left with no money.
Baroness Wilcox: Noble Lords may hear that many times, but unfortunately, it is what we have to base all our decisions on. Private sector growth is not just about spending money, it is about creating the right business environment-for example, cutting red tape-and making the United Kingdom an attractive place to do business in comparison to its international competitors.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, has the noble Baroness seen the recent statistic that home owners in the north-west have the highest percentage of negative equity of any UK region? Does she accept that that demonstrates the economic problems that could face that area and highlights the importance of attracting private sector jobs, particularly to the north-west?
Baroness Wilcox: I think that we are all aware of how difficult the situation is, particularly in the north. Over all these years, the previous Government were not able to bring together prosperity in that area. We believe that the new way of approaching this-moving power from central government down to local government, where people know what their problems are and what they will need-will mean that the regional growth fund will be available to support projects and programmes, which promote jobs and growth, and, in particular, to support areas that are currently dependent on the public sector to make the transition to private-sector-led growth. We hope then that things will improve regarding the ownership of homes.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Does the Minister believe that she has the support of Conservative and Liberal local authorities throughout the north-west region for the policy that the Government are undertaking?
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I am fortunate indeed to be part of a coalition. Because we are a coalition we are able to debate and discuss things between ourselves and to put together all the information that we have. Our economic ambition is to create a fairer, more balanced economy, which is not so dependent on the narrow range of sectors that were used in the past. We have great opportunities and this should be a good time to look forward to, if we can overcome the real problems we have in finance at the moment, which were left to us.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that the ICT and digital part of our economy now accounts for about a fifth of our entire GDP? It is the fifth largest sector of the GDP. Can she assure the House that every effort will be made to build on this growing part of the economy in the north?
Baroness Wilcox: I agree with my noble friend and yes, of course, we want to aid and help wherever we can through the mechanisms that we are putting in place and through pushing power back down to the people who know what they want. I come from Cornwall and I know what it was like to be under an RDA that
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Lord Barnett: My Lords, does the Minister at least accept that there is a distinct possibility that the private sector will not replace the jobs lost in the public sector and that, in those circumstances, growth will decline and so will jobs? Is she prepared to make the case for change with the Chancellor and to tell us what he says? She may have a better chance than me because she is a noble friend of his.
Baroness Wilcox: That was said so nicely that I got lost along the way. On support for the north of England, we have talked about the regional growth fund, local enterprise partnerships and the national insurance contributions holiday until 2013. There will be particularly strong new allowances to help these areas. I cannot emphasise that enough. There will be superfast broadband, the Green Investment Bank and, particularly, apprenticeships and support for science to take us forward into the jobs that we should be looking at all over the country. The north of England has a proud heritage of being able to adapt to changing circumstances and I am absolutely sure that it will do so this time too.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: Tourism has huge potential for growth. It supports 1.5 million jobs with visitor spend of nearly £90 billion each year. Deloitte estimates a direct and indirect value to the UK economy of £115 billion and suggests that tourism could be the fourth fastest growing sector over the next 10 years, indirectly and directly supporting a total of nearly 3 million jobs by 2020.
"Tourism presents a huge economic opportunity. Not just bringing business to Britain but right across Britain driving growth in the regions and helping to deliver the rebalancing of our national economy that is so desperately needed".
That is all very laudable, but does my noble friend realise that tourism faces a double whammy? First, there is a 34 per cent reduction in the funding to our national tourist board, VisitBritain, and then-this has been referred to earlier-the abolition of the regional development agencies, which significantly supported many tourism projects in the regions, often on a match funding basis, and also supported the destination management organisations? There is no way that local enterprise partnerships will have the coverage or the resource to replicate this.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question and his kind words of welcome. I pay tribute to his expertise and to his support for the tourist industry. Some of the issues in this Question have been touched on already in the previous Question. The regional development agencies have made magnificent efforts to benefit the tourism industry, but they have been variable, with no two models alike. They are due to be wound up by March 2012 and we anticipate that, as their role recedes, the destination management organisations will be formed, to good effect, through existing local tourism support bodies. The future structure will be two-tiered, with Visit England providing public sector support in the transition period.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the arts and culture contribute very significantly to the success of tourism in this country and that that is in no small measure due to the significant investment in the sector made by the previous Government? Does she also agree that the sector returns more to the Exchequer than it takes out and that the cuts being made in that area are likely to have a significant impact, not only on the arts and culture but also on the tourism industry that they support?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, we agree that the arts and heritage play a very significant part in national life and provide a great draw for tourists to our country. We hope that in the run-up to the Olympics, when the country will be getting widespread coverage internationally, more tourists will be coming into the country and will be adding their support and their financial help to some of the treasures that we have in this country.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, will the Minister consider setting up a committee to look into the ridiculous situation of air passenger duty, particularly bearing in mind the forthcoming Olympics? It really is grotesquely unfair in relation to other European countries. I declare an interest as my home tries to be a tourist attraction.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the Treasury advises that aviation is relatively undertaxed, paying no fuel duty or VAT on tickets, so it considers that the reform of air passenger duty ensures that aviation contributes fairly to public services and strengthens the environmental signal of the tax. Of course, it falls more heavily on those who are not flying standard class.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister think that a large amount of tourism at the moment is due to our weak currency and that those people who come for shopping particularly love to come because they think they are getting very good value? How will the Government ensure that when our currency strengthens, as we wish it to, we can still provide value for money?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I hope that people are coming here to spend money not just because the currency is weak, although I acknowledge that that may be an added attraction. We hope that as the economy picks up so the attractions of coming to this country will be even greater, even if it costs people a little more when they come here.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: The noble Lord of course makes a very valid point on VAT. However, the UK applies a zero rate of VAT to most food and public transport and other parts of the spend of people in the tourist industry.
Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if tourism has a beneficial effect on the national economy, the £14 billion to £15 billion a year brought into the rural economy by tourism has proportionately an even more beneficial effect on rural communities and therefore deserves the special attention of the Government?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the rural economy is vitally important in this. There is a tourism strategy being developed by the tourism and heritage Minister-it is with the Prime Minister at the moment. We will be looking at all these particular aspects of tourism and hope to be consulting and reporting back very soon. Certainly, the rural economy will be one of the aspects that we would want to look at very carefully.
The Earl of Glasgow: My Lords, at the moment it seems that red tape and language insensitivity are actually discouraging Chinese tourists from coming to this country. In fact, about eight times more Chinese tourists go to France than come to Britain. Have the Government any plans to try to rectify this situation?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, that is a very timely question given the deputation that is currently in China led by the Prime Minister. His current visit there will raise the profile of the UK as a tourist destination for the Chinese. We are looking very carefully at the barriers that may prevent Chinese tourists coming here. The visa system is one: the cost of £70 is a barrier and because we are not part of Schengen, if Chinese tourists go to other European countries they have to apply for a second visa to come to us. We are looking at a simpler online system and at accepting applications in local languages-currently all applications have to
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To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the recent report from the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs on the harmful effects of different classified and non-classified drugs, they will reconsider the present system of classification.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, the Government do not intend to review the drug classification system established by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The criminal justice system expects-and the Government must provide-a stable and enduring system. The current system continues to serve that purpose.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, this recent report is perhaps the most thorough analysis of the impact of different drugs not only on users but on others in society at large. If the Government believe in evidence-based policy, is it not obvious that, in light of this report and of many other reports that have reached similar conclusions, the present classification-with ecstasy in class A and cannabis in class B-is in no way based on evidence of either the physical or social impact of drugs?
Will the Government further accept that they would be utterly irresponsible and failing in their duty to society if they did not provide much stronger disincentives to the indulgence of the abuse of alcohol, which comes top-by miles-of all other drugs in its impact on society as a whole?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, on the whole question of drugs classification, there is clearly no consensus about what constitutes evidence. The Government simply do not agree that a system of a sliding scale of harms, such as is suggested in the Nutt report, constitutes a good basis for government policy. We do not believe that structuring drug-harm classifications in the way that the recent report does would be better than the current basis for government policy.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Mr Fedotov, who is the new executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is urging Governments to put away their policies that criminalise drug users and to replace those policies with health policies? In the light of that advice from the United Nations, what plans does the Minister have to review the Misuse of Drugs Act?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the Government certainly take seriously the need to engage the community in reducing the level of drugs misuse. Later this year, the Government will produce a drugs strategy to reinforce that side of their policy, but they do not agree that it is right and proper to decriminalise all use of drugs.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we tax alcohol, we regulate tobacco use and we criminalise drug use. The Minister may not want to use words such as "hypocritical" and "cynical", but is there a consistency in this approach?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, we believe that all drugs that are classified on the list are extremely harmful to society; we do not believe that alcohol taken in moderation is harmful to society. Clearly, there is alcohol abuse, but the Government already have a strategy-and we will add to it-on reducing the possibilities of that abuse. This Government are taking measures that are rather more stringent than those of the previous Administration.
Lord Deben: Will my noble friend take very great care before she takes seriously the recent report of this independent committee on drugs? Its judgment is based on a methodology that to most of us, when looked at carefully, is shown to be entirely flawed.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the Government have confidence in the independent advice given by their own statutory commission and we trust that advice. I am inclined to agree with the comments just made by my noble friend.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the proposal that Professor Nutt and Professor Blakemore put forward in the Lancet and in the recent report is based not only on their own evidence but on peer-reviewed evidence? What evidence does the Minister have to say that the misuse of alcohol and tobacco, which appear in the top quartile of the list in that report, is less harmful and creates fewer deaths than the rest of the drugs in the classifications A, B and C?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I suggest that there is a real difference between alcohol and tobacco, which taken in moderation are not harmful to society, and the drugs on the classified list. I am afraid that there is no consensus between the conclusions reached by Professor Nutt and the evidence that he took.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, would the noble Baroness care to reconsider that last answer and separate alcohol from tobacco? There is no safe use of tobacco; all government advice that has ever been offered on the subject is that, when tobacco is used in accordance with manufacturers' instructions, it is a killer. Therefore, it is treated differently from alcohol.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I accept the trend of that comment from the noble Lord. It is indeed the case that tobacco is harmful, as he has just
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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the Minister and her colleagues for examining policy in this area, but will they consider very carefully the pricing of alcohol, particularly in consideration of the young people who binge drink and the association of criminality with the heavy intake of alcohol? Pricing might discourage that.
Baroness Neville-Jones: As the noble Earl may know, the Government are introducing policies that will prevent the sale of alcohol below cost, and will toughen the penalties for those who engage and persist in selling alcohol to underage consumers.
This is an important Bill, as the Speakers List recognises, and this is an important day. I shall use this speech as an opportunity to introduce the Bill and to explain why we are bringing it forward.
The coalition Government, following manifesto commitments of both coalition parties, are committed to the creation of a more transparent and accountable system of government in the United Kingdom. As part of this process, we are committed to making substantial reforms to the public bodies landscape. These reforms are long overdue. While we recognise the excellent work done by public bodies and their staff, we equally recognise the widely held view that what is often referred to as the quango state can add unnecessary complexity to public life, diluting the proper accountability of Ministers to the electorate.
The quango state has in the past suited both government and politicians. It has never suited the British public, who expect clarity and, as taxpayers, insist, rightly, that Ministers ensure that every pound the Government spend is spent efficiently and effectively. In 2009, £38.4 billion of public money was spent by public bodies; it is our duty to ensure that this expenditure is properly focused and that all public bodies are fit for purpose.
To guide this vital reform process, the Government have conducted a review of 901 public bodies, making a coherent, cross-government assessment of whether their functions were still required, and where and how these functions could best be exercised. Technical functions and those requiring independence or the provision of impartial advice would continue to be delivered by a public body. That remains the yardstick for these reforms and will continue to be the means by which the Government assess their commitment to public bodies-technical functions, the need for independence and the provision of impartial advice.
As a result of the review process, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office announced in another place on 14 October that the Government proposed to abolish, merge, or substantially reform 481 bodies. The Public Bodies Bill is a crucial element of the delivery of this programme. It would create a transparent legislative framework that will allow many of these reforms to be implemented. In addition, it would clarify in statute those bodies which the Government intend should be subject to future review processes, and would create a power to enable subsequent changes. In summary, the Bill would enable the Government to deliver what the public rightly expect: a public bodies landscape which is accountable, effective, and efficient. I hope that these are principles on which noble Lords on all sides can agree.
The numbers speak for themselves. The speakers list shows why this Bill was not a Lords starter by chance. The expertise this House contains will be borne out by our debate today and by subsequent days in Committee. The Government are keen to take advantage of this expertise to scrutinise this Bill with thoroughness. This is why we cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. This Bill is not overly complex or technical and does not seek to radically overhaul our constitution, in contrast to the last Bill to be subject to such an amendment in this House-only the second instance of such a procedure since 1917. On the contrary, a Committee of the whole House is precisely the venue for detailed consideration of this Bill. Many noble Lords have an interest from a variety of perspectives; we will hear many of these perspectives today. I do not see what a referral to a Select Committee would add to that process, beyond an inevitable delay to the passage of the Bill and a consequent delay to a series of reforms which, in many cases, are uncontroversial and enjoy wide cross-party and public support.
I therefore ask noble Lords to consider carefully the implications of obstructing the Bill in this way, particularly given the practical difficulties inherent in seeking to implement these reforms through primary legislation. I also remind the House that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt
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Today, he asks noble Lords to push at those limits on this Bill which, while undoubtedly of significance, does not have the exceptional impact on this House that the Constitutional Reform Bill had. I do not need to remind noble Lords that that Bill substantially altered centuries-old constitutional arrangements and the composition and role of this House. The Public Bodies Bill would have no such effect, and there is no justification for treating it in an analogous manner.
I do not wish to imply that I am in any way dismissive of the concern of noble Lords. I have met noble Lords from all sides of the House, listened to their concerns and suggestions, and intend to continue to have an open door on this Bill during its passage through this House. I think noble Lords know me well enough to know that this is not an empty gesture. Specifically, the Government see some merit in the suggestion that an order made under the Bill could be published in draft to enable a period of consultation with interested parties. We intend to consider this further.
I have noted the report of the Constitution Committee on the Bill. I thank that committee's members for their work on this report and assure those present that I will respond in due course and engage constructively with the committee to address its concerns. In response to their complaint that the Government have not made their case for the Bill, I ask them to consider today's debate as the beginning of that process.
I turn to the Bill itself. It would confer on Ministers a set of order-making powers to make changes to public bodies and offices via statutory instrument, providing a coherent and efficient procedure for change across government. All the main powers in the Bill would be subject to the affirmative procedure, ensuring that Parliament is able to scrutinise the detail of all changes as they are brought forward.
I emphasise to the House that the powers in Clauses 1 to 6 are limited in their application to the bodies listed in the corresponding schedules. Similarly, Schedule 7 limits the bodies to which the powers in the Bill might apply in the future. The Government wish Parliament to have clarity about the types of change that the Bill can enable, and these mechanisms secure that clarity. It would not be possible, for example, to use the Bill to effect changes to a body not listed in Schedules 1 to 6. While it is possible to move a body from Schedule 7 to a different schedule to enable such a change, this move would itself require a distinct statutory instrument.
By way of illustration, I shall give the House a number of examples of the changes we propose to make, and why they are necessary. Clause 1 gives Ministers the power to abolish a body or office; this power is relevant where the functions of a body are no longer required, or can best be carried out elsewhere. In some cases, such as British Shipbuilders, functions have already been wound down or transferred, and an
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The intention of Clause 2 is to allow groups of bodies to be merged, drawing together their assets to ensure that public functions are discharged efficiently and effectively. It is for this reason that the Government intend to merge the Pensions Ombudsman with the Pension Protection Fund Ombudsman, simplifying current arrangements under which the two bodies, which already provide a coherent service, exist as separate statutory entities.
Clauses 3 and 4 give Ministers the power to modify respectively the constitutional and funding arrangements for bodies. For example, the Government intend to improve the accountability of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to Ministers and Parliament by requiring it to lay its annual business plan before Parliament, and to emphasise the importance of effective internal governance by placing the EHRC's Audit and Risk Committee on a statutory footing.
Clause 5 allows for a body's functions to be modified, and for the transfer of functions to an eligible person. In the case of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, the Government plan to remove the Secretary of State's role in relation to the annual levy determination, reducing the Government's involvement with horserace funding by devolving greater responsibility to the parties concerned.
The final principal power is to authorise delegation. The Government envisage that this power would be used to give bodies the flexibility to improve efficiency by delivering some functions through a third party-for example, empowering citizens by delegating some functions to local groups.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will the Minister clarify the position in relation to United Kingdom bodies like the Forestry Commission or the Security Industry Authority should the Scottish Government disagree with the United Kingdom Government? How would the matter be resolved?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: There has been a dialogue with the devolved authorities throughout the course of the Bill. This is a continuing process. There is a separate chapter on the Forestry Commission; I will speak to that shortly. It is a matter of debate. There is no division of view between the United Kingdom and the devolved authorities on this at this stage.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: It is my understanding that the Scottish Government are of a different view from the United Kingdom Government in relation to both the Security Industry Authority and the Forestry Commission, so this is not a theoretical problem. I am asking the Minister not what discussions have taken
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To continue, the remainder of the Bill provides for several supplementary and associated functions. Clauses 13 to 16 would give Welsh Ministers specific powers to reform environmental bodies in Wales. These powers have been requested by the Welsh Assembly Government to enable changes following their current review of environmental regulation.
Clauses 17 to 19 concern forestry. The Government are exploring a new approach to the ownership and management of woodlands and forests, with a reduced role for the state and a bigger role for individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and local authorities. I assure the House that this Government will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests, including our historic woodland. Measures will remain to preserve and enhance the vital public benefits that our forests provide. The Government will consult widely on their future plans and invite views from a wide variety of stakeholders.
Clauses 20 to 22 place specific restrictions on the use of the powers in the Bill. These clauses complement the additional protection in Clause 8, which prevents a Minister making an order that he or she considers will infringe an individual's rights. Clauses 23 to 25 confer powers to create transfer schemes and provision about taxation in relation to the powers in the Bill. Finally, Clause 26 amends the Superannuation Act 1972, clarifying rights of participation in the Civil Service pension scheme for employees of some public bodies.
I know that Members of this House will wish to scrutinise the Bill thoroughly, with regard both to its structure and its implications for specific bodies. I recognise that there are understandable concerns among staff who work for bodies where reform is proposed. I assure the House that the Government are committed to doing all we can to make changes in a manner that is fair and consistent. I also reassure the House that the fact that a body is named in Schedule 7 to the Bill should not be misconstrued as constituting an intent to abolish or otherwise reform. It simply indicates that the body concerned was within the scope of this year's review and may be within the scope of future review programmes reported to Parliament.
I would agree with noble Lords that many bodies named in Schedule 7 perform crucial public functions with which the Government have no wish to interfere. For example, we will not do anything to undermine the vital organisational and editorial independence of Channel 4, one of the country's most highly valued broadcasters. However, as a public corporation with statutory functions, it is right that it should be listed alongside other bodies that have undergone the recent review process. There are certain functions that the Government intend should remain outside the scope of future reviews and the powers in the Bill. These include the economic and network regulatory functions
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I look forward to the debates on this Bill and to the wide-ranging expertise which noble Lords will bring to these discussions. I have committed to consider the concerns of colleagues about any aspect of the Bill, and I say again that this is a sincerely held commitment. But in making this commitment, I ask noble Lords again to reflect on the vital and sensible purpose of the Bill. As my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office stated in a Written Statement in another place on 14 October:
"The landscape for public bodies needs radical reform to increase transparency and accountability, to cut out duplication of activity, and to discontinue activities which are simply no longer needed".-[Official Report, Commons, 14/10/10; col. WS 27.]
All the main parties have acknowledged that this is a necessary task and the Public Bodies Bill is an essential part of this process. By creating a framework to make changes to a broad range of bodies, the Bill before this House represents a real opportunity to make lasting reforms to the business of government, and I commend it to the House.
Lord Richard: Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I could ask him a question. He has given us his view on how proud the Government are and has said that this is a considered decision, about which they have thought a great deal. If my arithmetic is right, the Government have been in office for about 150 days. Taking out weekends and the Summer Recess, they were left with about-being very generous-120 days in which they could have considered this. They are supposed to have considered 900 instances in 120 days which, if my arithmetic is right, is seven and a half per day. Does the noble Lord really think that that is a proper consideration? Can he give us some inkling of the names of the people who are so remarkable that they can do that?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We will have plenty of time to discuss the question which the noble Lord has asked. It is reasonable for him to understand that this has been a cross-government review in which all departments have been engaged. It is a single, co-ordinated attempt by all of government to make a more efficient and effective public body sector.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed exposition of the Bill and for the constructive discussions that we have already had on it, which I know will continue in the future. I do not doubt his sincerity one bit. I thank him, too, for the concessions that he has indicated, although I do not believe that they are sufficient for the Bill.
We need constructive discussions because this is a bad Bill. It is badly thought out, badly structured, badly executed, bad for the constitution, bad for public bodies and bad for government. We will oppose the
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At the beginning of the debate, I want to draw to the House's attention the recent report on the Bill by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution and add my thanks to the committee for its work on the Bill. The committee's report is one of the most devastating critiques of a government Bill that I have ever seen a committee of this House deliver. I am sure that distinguished members of the committee who are down to speak in today's debate will detail the committee's report. However, for the moment, I should like to quote one of its most compelling conclusions. It is as follows:
"The Public Bodies Bill [HL] strikes at the very heart of our constitutional system, being a type of 'framework' or 'enabling' legislation that drains the lifeblood of legislative amendment and debate across a very broad range of public arrangements. In particular, it hits directly at the role of the House of Lords as a revising chamber".
We want to oppose the Bill constructively and reasonably. The amendment that we are proposing, which my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will detail later, is both constructive and reasonable. It is not obstructive in any way. It simply seeks to refer the Bill to a special Select Committee of the House for fuller and proper consideration ahead of its Committee stage. This is exactly the approach proposed for the Constitutional Reform Bill in 2004, when my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton brought forward measures to reform the office of the Lord Chancellor and to create the Supreme Court. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, proposed putting the Bill to a special Select Committee of the House, and the House agreed that that was a proper and appropriate step. It is not telling tales out of school to say that we as a Government did not want to take that step. Perhaps that is the Government's position today, but my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer was the first to admit that the Bill, after it had been considered by the special Select Committee, was improved-indeed, greatly improved-by the process. I urge the Government today to heed that judgment and agree that this Bill should take the same route. To do so would improve-indeed, greatly improve- the Bill.
We on these Benches believe that arm's-length public bodies, the subject of the Bill, play an important part in our public governance and public life. Many carry out vital and sometimes essential functions. However, they must be effective and efficient, as the Minister said. Like the noble Lord, we do not believe that these bodies should be set in aspic; we do not believe that they should be preserved at all costs. In some instances, they come to the end of their usefulness or natural life. In some cases, other bodies or entirely different means are better at addressing the issues that the arm's-length bodies were established to consider. That is why, earlier this year when still in government, we proposed and began our own review of arm's-length bodies.
The Benches opposite like to present this party as a quango creator, but, in fact, when we came to power in 1997 there were some 1,230 arm's-length bodies and, even by the time we began our own review, we had cut the number to some 750-a cut of 40 per cent. By contrast, since coming to office, the coalition Government have created 20 new bodies. We are not die-in-a-ditch defenders of arm's-length public bodies, but we oppose what the Government are doing in the Bill and how they are proposing to do it.
The first point is that the coalition is proposing to abolish or change fundamentally any or all of the bodies listed in the schedules to the Bill. These are, in fact, largely statutory bodies, although some are constituted by royal charter. Many Members of your Lordships' House will, I am sure, raise particular concerns about individual organisations specified in the Bill. I, too, wish to do so.
I share the concerns of many Members across the House about particular organisations, but my own concerns relate specifically to Clauses 17, 18 and 19, on the powers in relation to forestry. I grew up in the Royal Forest of Dean, an area of great beauty, history and heritage. I live there still. Foresters are immensely proud of their ancient rights and traditions, but also of the environment and the flora and fauna and of our contribution to being part of the solution to the problem of climate change. The forest is protected and well managed, but it is also a place where people have free access to walk, picnic, ride or swim in the ponds.
Clause 17(2) enables the Secretary of State by order to amend the Forestry Act 1967 to modify the purposes, objective or conditions by which the Forestry Commission disposes of land, manages and uses it or lets or grants rights or interests over it. The Secretary of State may exercise such a function for "any purpose or unconditionally". Those are chilling words. This appears to allow the Secretary of State to order the disposal of any Forestry Commission land in England, or its use for some other purpose. It is hard to conceive why Ministers want such draconian powers, unless it is the Government's intention to dispose of much or all of the Forestry Commission's land. I have no idea why the Government would wish to do that. Perhaps the Minister could tell us.
Ministers may speak about the big society, as they do on the Defra website. I am in favour of the good society, but I do not want my forest, or other woodlands and forests that are well managed and cared for by the Forestry Commission, at a cost to the Exchequer of a mere £10 million last year, to be sold off. Mrs Thatcher's Government, in accepting amendments to the Forestry Bill of 1981, recognised that,
I will do everything in my power to ensure that this situation continues. Friends of my local MP, who as a government Minister clearly supports the Bill, criticised my support for the Forest of Dean, as I am against a corporate buyout of the forest. The forests of this country are and must continue to be a national asset, where trees are managed, where biodiversity is protected
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The second point concerns how the Government propose to do what they seek to do. Through the Bill, they propose a fundamental shift in who controls these bodies. It will not be Parliament; it will be Ministers. The whole scheme-and a skeleton scheme at that-is built on the Government's supposition that it is better to have a process where Ministers make the decision about the life or death of an arm's-length body and fast-track the parliamentary process. As the Select Committee points out, the issues raised by this approach transcend politics and go to the heart of Parliament's role in scrutinising legislation and deciding whether fundamental government proposals in respect of these bodies should be enacted into law.
The architecture of the Bill includes a series of Henry VIII clauses, which enable primary legislation to be amended by simple affirmative order. Henry VIII clauses are devices that Governments need to deploy with care. Some people see them as rare and unusual beasts that strike at the heart of parliamentary supremacy. The Constitution Committee clearly states:
As noble Lords will be aware, in the normal course of affairs this House does not overturn draft orders that are subject to the simple affirmative procedure. However, the procedure that the Government are proposing so overloads the practice and principle of secondary legislation that we give them fair notice that the circumstances of the Bill are such that it may well be right in this instance not to follow that approach. In this we are in line with the conclusions of the most recent examination of the convention carried out by a Joint Committee of both Houses, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling. The Joint Committee's report, approved by all parties in both Houses, states that the House of Lords should not regularly reject statutory instruments but that in exceptional circumstances it may be appropriate for it to do so. One exceptional circumstance mentioned by the committee is when a parent Act was a skeleton Bill and the provisions of the SI are of the sort more normally found in primary legislation. This is exactly the circumstance that we are in with this Bill. It is precisely this kind of provision in the Bill that a Select Committee would be best placed to consider.
A Select Committee would be best placed to consider the inclusion of Schedule 7 to the Bill, and the organisations covered by it, over which the Government propose to station permanently the sword of Damocles, throwing their current operations and future prospects into doubt and confusion. A Select Committee would
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I stress one point in particular. We are aware that it is being suggested that we are playing politics with the Bill and are proposing a Select Committee simply to make things politically awkward for the coalition. This is not so. Certainly, we are opposing the Bill and this includes political opposition. However, we believe that proposing that a Select Committee consider it is the best way forward for the Bill, just as it turned out to be the best way forward for the Constitutional Reform Bill when, to the great benefit of the Bill, this House sagely referred it to a Select Committee. This is not playing politics but simply trying to make a bad Bill better-a Bill of huge importance to the many organisations cited and to the people whom they serve, protect and employ.
Therefore, as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will detail, we are entirely content to accept the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, in the bipartisan spirit in which it is offered. We believe that, just as with the Constitutional Reform Bill, which was with the Select Committee for about the same length of time, three months is ample for the Select Committee of your Lordships' House to consider and propose improvements to the Bill before it comes to the House for a Committee stage. I look forward to the debate that we are about to have-
Lord Martin of Springburn: Perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene to voice a big concern that I have about quangos. The east end of Glasgow is the poorest area of the city and the west end the wealthiest. Most people whom I know on quangos live in the west end, and I think that the same would be true for many cities throughout the United Kingdom. I am concerned that, when we wring our hands and say that we want to do more for the poor communities, we never invite people from those communities to be on our quangos.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very valid point. I do not know whether such an issue would come within the scope of the Bill, and that is entirely a question for the Minister to answer. However, it is a very good point and one that we should take into consideration when thinking about the future of these non-departmental bodies, because they should reflect the needs and desires of the whole community.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: The noble Baroness was talking about the Select Committee and the kinds of matters that it would deal with but, as she spoke, the list became quite long. Does she think that in three months it would be possible to look, for example, at all the bodies listed in Schedule 7? I could understand it if she were saying, "Keep it narrow. Keep to procedure and safeguards", but is she considering something wider than that?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I think that it should be a fairly narrow committee and that it should meet regularly. I do not think that it would be appropriate or possible, for example, to invite people to give evidence in relation to every single body mentioned in Schedule 7, but it would be appropriate for the committee as a whole to consider the entire schedule. It is a vast schedule listing a jumble of different organisations and I think that some order needs to be put into it. The Select Committee would provide an opportunity to take evidence from some of the most important quangos, if I may put it that way, included in Schedule 7.
I urge the Government to heed the wise words that we are about to hear in the debate. I also urge them to take full account of the genuine and extensive concerns of this House's Select Committee on the Constitution and to take the opportunity to improve the Bill, as is sorely needed.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, this Bill has immense importance and the House, in its committee structure, has not yet concluded its deliberations on it. I understand that the Human Rights Committee will be addressing it and that the committee on delegated legislation is also to produce a report. That is entirely appropriate, as indeed was the consideration given by the Constitution Committee of this House, which produced what was certainly a solemn report. I have not in my time in this House, or indeed in another place, seen such a trenchant argument about the constitutionality of legislation.
It is, however, the case that all parties have recognised that public bodies can reach the end of their usefulness and that the previous Government had also considered the winding up of a substantial number of public bodies. When the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Mr Francis Maude, announced his intentions on 14 October this year, Liam Byrne said that this was, in a sense, carrying on the work of the Labour Government. Whereas 20 per cent of the public bodies had been considered suitable for winding up by the Labour Government, 25 per cent were considered suitable by the present Government.
Consequently, it appears to me that we are talking not so much about the ends of this legislation as the means. As these bodies are widely recognised to touch on the life of the nation, and the life of almost every individual in the nation, we should not act precipitately or without due regard to the consequences not only for those who serve in such bodies, of whom there are at least a handful sitting in this House today, but also for how it will impact on the wider public which, up to this point, have not been invited directly to contribute their views. It seems to me that we ought to proceed with due deliberate speed.
I am grateful to my noble friend for indicating, when introducing this Second Reading, that the Government are thinking very carefully and deliberately about possible responses to criticisms which have been made and which, no doubt, will be made when the Bill goes into Standing Committee, as it undoubtedly will. It is not the practice of this House to reject government legislation at Second Reading and it is not even intended to put that to the test today. However, it is appropriate to give a proper opportunity to the public and to the bodies themselves to animadvert on the consequence of what is being done. It is also appropriate to consider how we would go about winding up these bodies. It seems to me that change to what is proposed in the legislation is necessary in that to deliberate for an hour and a half on the winding up, on the restructuring or on the refinancing of some of these bodies, with no choice about amending the proposals, is not really an appropriately democratic way to proceed.
The role of this House to proceed according to the terms of the Bill is also called into question. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned, the convention is that this House does not reject, except in the most exceptional circumstances, a statutory instrument passed in another place. I do not think that we would wish to see that principle seriously diluted. Time for deliberation is required. Already there have been so many representations made by those who have been directly consulted, no doubt, in the internal review which was conducted in many departments of state, which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, thought had taken too short a time. We have received representations from bodies such as the Law Society of Scotland about how it will affect the union when matters that are devolved or partially devolved come up for consideration. We have received representations from those who are deeply concerned about the independence of quasi-judicial bodies-tribunals set up to determine, without pressure or influence from elected representatives, matters on factual grounds-that the procedures advanced by this Bill are inappropriate.
In introducing the debate my noble friend referred specifically to Channel 4. Channel 4 is a body which now has an axe hanging over its head. It will no doubt be very gratified to have heard what the Minister said about it today, but it remains a rather strange entry in Schedule 7 in view of the fact that it is not a public body in the sense that it receives any public moneys. Why, then, should it be so considered?
All these issues and many more particular cases will inevitably be discussed in Standing Committee, and that is entirely appropriate, but I am most troubled about the position of the quasi-independent judicial bodies, which I believe will find it extraordinarily difficult to operate if they have to satisfy the Government about their existence. There is undoubtedly a case for rationalising competition bodies; no doubt that was in the minds of Members on all sides of the House. But while that process is going on, it must be a matter of acute difficulty to deliberate, for example, on the matters that this House debated last Thursday: the possibility of News Corporation acquiring the remaining 61 per cent share of BSkyB. Ofcom is one of the listed bodies. Ofcom is now looking at that matter as a result of a reference from the Secretary of State last Thursday.
In tabling the amendment to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which would follow a Second Reading of this Bill, it has been my purpose to ensure not the frustration of the purposes of the Bill in rationalising, reorganising or bringing to an end public bodies which have passed their sell by date but a focused consideration and structured debate on how best to bring that about, bearing in mind the normal democratic procedures. Many of those bodies have been established by primary legislation and were subject to a great deal of argument before they were set up. Many of them are subject to scrutiny by, for example, the Public Accounts Committee or the National Audit Office-both of which exercises I played a part in over a period of more than 17 years in another place.
If we are to refer the Bill to a Select Committee-I have not made up my mind whether that is entirely necessary, although I think it is appropriate-a great deal depends on the attitude of this place. I look forward to listening very closely to what contributors to the debate say. If it is to be referred, if that is the decision of the House, it is appropriate that we should indicate very clearly what we are asking such a committee to do. We are not asking it to look at the merits of each of the 481 public bodies which are under scrutiny as a result of the publication of the Bill; we would be asking it to consider the broad ways in which different types of bodies could be considered. I suggest that we should ask the committee to recommend by the given date the appropriate ways to implement the objects and purposes of the Bill to ensure that public consultation takes place before the Government's proposals are laid before this House. If the committee is set up by the will of the House, it should also have the power to recommend appropriate parliamentary proceedings to achieve those results. That is a quite focused inquiry, and it seems to me that it would not necessarily delay the consideration of the Bill beyond that which may take place if we go through it clause by clause, public body by public body. We will receive representations about many of them.
I conclude by saying that I shall listen with immense interest to the views of colleagues and noble friends around the House. I hope it will become clear during the course of the debate that a consensus can be arrived at which will make the task of reform very much easier.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, I regard this Bill as a matter of grave concern to the judiciary. Before the Constitutional Reform Act, the Chief Justice of the day would have been able to come to this House and to address it wearing his heavy responsibilities now as the head of the judiciary in England and Wales. He can no longer do so. He can however write to both Houses, and he may or may not choose to do so. He can also speak before Select Committees of the House, and I know that he proposes to do so. However, this Second Reading has come before this House before he has had an opportunity to do so. What I am going to say is not what he would say but what I would have said if I was still Lord Chief Justice and had the task of placing before the House what I regard as real concerns.
The real concerns arise because the bodies in Schedule 7 include bodies that are intimately and directly concerned with the administration of justice in this country-the administration of civil justice and the administration of criminal justice. The whole purpose of the great efforts that went into making the Constitutional Reform Act the great Act that it is was to achieve the division between the judiciary and the legislature, which was the prior purpose, and still is the purpose, of the concordat.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I ask you to look at Schedule 7 very quickly with me, and I can refer to the sort of bodies that I have in mind. The Civil Justice Council plays a huge role in recommending the improvement of our civil justice. I have to confess an interest in that because it was a report of my own that led to the establishment of the Civil Justice Council. Then we have the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, which is traditionally presided over by the head of civil justice, the Master of the Rolls. Next I refer to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the body which has the very delicate task of referring back to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division cases of possible serious injustice. It performs that task with great care and achieves satisfactory results. Then comes the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee, which is presided over by the Lord Chief Justice of the day and determines how trials up and down this country take place. It is a body that is carefully framed to be able to perform that role.
I pass over quickly-although they are also involved in the justice system-the Chief Inspector of Prisons and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation, and I go down to the Judicial Appointments Commission. If I were to pick one body in Schedule 7 that certainly should not be put in Schedule 7, it is the Judicial Appointments Commission. It is responsible for almost every judicial appointment that takes place in this country. It was the subject of very deep consultation between myself and the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The provisions contained in the Constitutional Reform Act reflect the solution with which the judiciary was content because judicial appointments were no longer to be made directly, as in the past, by the Lord Chancellor and because it was agreed that the role of Parliament as well as the role of the Government of the day in respect of appointments should be substantially reduced and take on a different framework from that which had existed in the past. I do not say that it is not possible to improve the statutory framework of the Judicial Appointments Commission, but surely something so important as that to our constitution should not be the subject of a truncated procedure that would be possible under this legislation.
I go on to refer to the Legal Services Board and the Legal Services Commission and finally refer to the Sentencing Council for England and Wales. The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has recently been the subject of legislation that was considered in great detail in this House because it was appreciated how that body again goes to the heart of our criminal justice system. The membership of the body is important and the way it operates is important. I cannot say that it may not be necessary in future to amend the legislation
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I do not believe-I hope I am right in saying this-that these bodies under Schedule 7 will ever be subject to the powers contained in Clause 11 because Ministers will be aware of their important responsibilities under the Constitutional Reform Act to uphold the independence of the judiciary. I have to say to the Minister that I do not believe that this Bill, in so far as it refers to the bodies that I have indicated, is consistent with the Constitutional Reform Act. I do not believe that there was any proper consultation before these bodies were included. They were included because they properly can be described as quangos, but it is not because they are quangos that they should be subject to the truncated procedure.
As is indicated here, we are not concerned with purpose; we are concerned with means, and I urge the House to say that the means that has been adopted is constitutionally wrong so far as the partnership between the legislature and the judiciary that we value so much in this country. It is wrong as to the partnership between the Executive and the judiciary, and I ask the Minister, who so wisely said that he will consider representations, to bear in mind the concerns that I have expressed, which are based on my experience of being a member of many of the bodies to which I have referred and, for example, of being chairman of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. These bodies have a difficult enough job without having the sword of Damocles, which the Constitutional Reform Committee referred to, hanging over their head. However, if I have not succeeded in persuading the House of the importance of this issue, I would strongly endorse the suggestion that this is a matter to be given special treatment, as has been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan.
Lord Deben: My Lords, perhaps I may, on the second occasion on which I have addressed your Lordships' House, start with a compliment on the procedures of this House compared with those of the House in which I sat for 35 years. I very much approve of the way in which this House deals with legislation and enables all its Members to play a proper part. That is why, when I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, introducing this matter, I had a wry smile, because at no time in the history of Parliament has there been such curtailment of speech, of discussion or of argument, than in the past 11 years in the other place. Very few Bills were ever discussed in their fullness and very few clauses were ever fully covered.
As a Member of Parliament, I found it increasingly difficult to explain to constituents that the reason why such-and-such a clause was so bad was because no one had discussed it. It had merely been pushed through. I found it difficult to hear the arguments put forward from that side of the House. But I agree with the noble Baroness that there is an important distinction, which I thought was most clearly put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, between aim and means. Although I had to start by reminding the noble Baroness that no one on that side is in any position to talk about
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It would be a pity if we missed the importance of the content of this Bill by not being able to come to an understanding about two mechanism issues that most of us see as important. One issue is to ensure that the simple method of affirmative resolution is given some substance, perhaps of a new kind, to enable proper discussion to take place and for a good deal of consultation to be gone through. It seems to me that that is not beyond the wit of those on the Front Bench to discern and put forward.
On the second issue, I take up the comment made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. If one goes through this list of bodies, one sees that most of them hang together but some of them clearly hang separately. If that is the case, there must be a mechanism for being able to say about those bodies that something different happened. Indeed, my noble friend mentioned that when he talked about Channel 4. If that is true, I hope we will not miss the importance of this Bill.
There has become a real feeling in Britain that the ordinary people of the country are subject to the almost whims of a large number of bodies that are unelected and very often rather curiously chosen. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord who asked about the east and west ends of Glasgow. It is true that many people in the list appear to be sequential offenders. Some people seem to have spent the past 20 years sitting on different quangos. I find it difficult to understand how the qualities of a single woman should make her suitable for the organisation that looks after consumer interests. To be a deputy head of the Financial Services Authority, to run the Food Standards Agency and now to run the Civil Aviation Authority, she must be a remarkable person, for the choice has been continuous for what appears to be 20 years. I am not sure that the public quite understand that and I am not sure that I quite understand it.
Secondly, one has to face the fact of the outrageous behaviour of some of these quangos. I mention to noble Lords on both sides of the House a letter I received from an organisation that, at the time, looked after the supervision of boarding schools-a task that has now been passed on to Ofsted, another quango. This particular one wrote to me enclosing a stamped addressed envelope in case I wished to say something secretly to it about the school at which my daughter was head girl. I wrote back and said that if I wished to say anything about the school I would go to the headmistress and say it to her; that if she did not satisfy me on the matter I had the privilege of being able to take my daughter away from the school-a privilege that is accorded to those who are lucky enough, or who choose, to pay for their children's education; and that I had not asked that quango to look after the education of my children. I had specifically chosen not to do that. I then wrote to the headmistress to point out that I had asked her to look after the education of my daughter and that if she took any notice of what the quango said I would decide whether I wanted to remain a parent at that school because I had not chosen the quango.
I wanted that part of the quango to go, but it has not: rather, it was transferred to Ofsted, which said that it would carry out investigations at the same time as the voluntary investigations of the Independent Schools Council or the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. Why is it doing it at all? Are we really saying that we have to have inspections of boarding schools when they have their own system and when the parents concerned are in a strong position to decide whether a particular school is properly run?
The Architects Registration Board is a body of no use and a great deal of interference. There is no reason why its responsibilities should not have been taken on by the RIBA-of which, I declare an interest, I am an honorary fellow-and for a special part of that to be made independent for the small number of architects who are not members of the RIBA. How have we left Natural England, with all its failings, in almost the same position as it was before? I have some problems about the substance of this because I do not think we have gone far enough.
However, there are some good things in the Bill that I would not like to lose. The suggestion that British Waterways should become a kind of third-sector body is extremely good and I hope that the Government will not destroy that by refusing to accept that the contract between it and the Government must be properly financed. I hope, too, that it will be able to overcome the reluctance of the Environment Agency to hand over its navigation role to British Waterways, where it is much more suitably placed.
Some independent non-governmental bodies ought to be seriously praised for the changes they have made, one of which is the Environment Agency. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, has done remarkably well in helping to show how a body that was increasingly thoroughly disliked in the countryside can be moved to one that is seen much more as an enabling body. Even given the tough line I take on this matter, none of us should ignore that fact.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to the Forestry Commission. I was a Minister responsible for the Forestry Commission, which was the most difficult organisation I have ever dealt with in trying to move it in the right direction. I was desperate to make it more concerned with the environment but it has moved terribly slowly over many years. I object to those who say that within a proper legislative package private people cannot be just as good as nationalised bodies in looking after the environment. Indeed, the best examples of environmental protection come from private people.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: Given his attack on Dame Deirdre Hutton, does the noble Lord accept that her advice when she chaired the Food Standards Agency was better than the Minister of Agriculture's advice to his daughter about what she should eat?
Lord Deben: I rather purposefully did not mention the name of the person concerned as I did not want to make it personal. I merely suggested that she was a remarkable personage to have done so many things, and I made no comment about the advice that she
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On the Forestry Commission, I believe that much of the best conservation in this country is done by private people over private land which they care about because they want it to continue to exist and improve. Why can the noble Baroness not conceive of parts of the Forestry Commission being better run by different people instead of it all being run by the same people?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Bill is of great constitutional significance. I listened with great care to what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. He will not be surprised when I say I agreed with every single word.
This Bill is not a good Bill, although, as a number of noble Lords have said, there are many things about the substance with which we will all agree such as the need to change, the need to update and the need to ensure independence and probity. However, the process has caused a lot of concern. Indeed, there are those who would argue strongly that we should, at this stage, oppose the Bill going any further. I disagree with that view. I think it is important that we should debate this Bill, but at the end of today the Select Committee might be the better course.
I had the privilege, as many of your Lordships will know, to speak from the Front Bench for the last Government for 11 years. During those 11 years I heard the House's abhorrence of Henry VIII clauses again and again. I was not therefore surprised to see, in the manifestos of both parties that now form Her Majesty's Government by way of coalition, comments making it clear that they wished to, in their words,
That was echoed by both parties. Therefore, when I came to read this Bill, I read it not only with the grave concern that has been alluded to by the noble and learned Lord, but also a great deal of surprised disappointment.
I do not think that any of us have read a Select Committee's report written in such trenchant and clear terms. Having read that report I found myself unable to disagree with one word of it. It therefore leaves me troubled as to how the Government believe that in a democratic country we could allow this process-we are talking about the process of review-to continue.
As well as being pleased that the Select Committee on the Constitution had an opportunity to look at the Bill before today's debate, I was pleased that that committee is truly representative of this House. Members from all sides of the House sit on that committee. At this stage, it may just be important to remind ourselves that that committee's membership comprises: the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell, Lord Hart of Chilton, Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Pannick, Lord Powell of Bayswater, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Shaw of Northstead; the
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Yet, in that Select Committee's report, Members of our House of such eminence say with one voice that the Bill is wrong, that the tests are wrong, that the process is wrong and that we should think again. I, too, ask the Government to think again. I also ask that, when the Minister replies to the debate, he tells us whether he agrees with the analysis in the Select Committee's report on the tests that it applies and the conclusions that the committee comes to. If he disagrees with that analysis, could we please have the basis on which that disagreement is founded?
I had hoped that the Minister might have had the benefit of having sit beside him the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General, who might be able better to assist him on how one can undermine the argument of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and those who will speak later. We have an opportunity to pause, to think about process and to do this better. This is not a good Bill-it is a bad Bill-but it can be improved, and I know that this House will help the Minister to do just that. I strongly urge the Minister to consider carefully what is being said by those who rarely speak.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, in his opening remarks, the Minister spoke about transparency of process, but I fear that the consequences of the Bill may in fact work against the transparency that is being sought. Having listened carefully to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and to his plea that we should maintain the principles of justice, I will focus on the concern in relation to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. That Act was designed to bring justice, but I think that the proposed changes illustrate points that have already been made in the debate.
The Coroners and Justice Act was brought in because the coroners system was outmoded for the 21st century, yet the proposal to abandon the office of Chief Coroner has been subject to no consultation with stakeholders, no opportunity for parliamentary debate and no published evidence of cost analysis. The suggested costs of the setting up of the office were around £10 million, with operating costs of £6.5 million. I think that those costs could have been brought down by careful review.
I do not see how abandoning the office will bring about any real savings. Without such an office for appeals, the costs of judicial review-currently the most common route for bereaved families to appeal inquest decisions-will rise. The costing model never took account of the ongoing costs to the NHS and social care of those whose grief is compounded by a sense of injustice or of all the educational costs of those children who are disturbed in the web of family anger and unresolved grief.
Today we are wearing the poppies of the Royal British Legion, which campaigned long and hard for a fairer coroners system that we now risk throwing away
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The current system of post-mortems in this country is not fit for purpose. Coroners need medical advisers. The 2006 review showed that 26 per cent of all post-mortems had a standard that was poor or unacceptable. That means that more than a quarter were unfit to provide the information sought. We know that there are a few areas of good practice over tissue retention, such as Newcastle, but we know that in other areas families are denied the chance of an accurate diagnosis, especially in the cases of epilepsy or sudden adult death syndrome, with the implications for the relatives of the person who has died.
I cite those examples to illustrate briefly how justice is threatened when we abandon something that was long debated, particularly in this House, and was revised and improved and universally welcomed by those who have gone through the inquest process and by the professions involved, which wanted the coronial system modernised and made fit for purpose.
We are expected to grant these sweeping powers to Ministers to do as they wish with a long list of public bodies, all under Henry VIII powers. The report already spoken about from the Constitution Committee cites two tests that should be passed-first, whether Ministers should have the powers and, secondly, whether there are adequate procedural safeguards. It says that in their view the Bill fails both tests. This disregard for Parliament is of great concern.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I support the call for more time for deliberation from the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, and I shall certainly support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to refer this Bill to a Select Committee of the House.
A lot of the debate has focused on the grave constitutional issues that the Bill raises, but I should like to focus attention on what I regard as the worst of rushed decisions and bad public policy contained in the Bill. I take as my case study the abolition of the regional development agencies. I accept that there had to be cuts in public spending, but in a very difficult economic environment one would think that the Government would take especial care in refashioning the regional and local levers that they have to generate economic prosperity when they know that their spending decisions will result in loss of jobs. That kind of proper consideration has not taken place.
I freely accept that arrangements for regional economic development were not perfect. I speak as someone with an interest as the chair of Cumbria Vision, a body in a sub-regional partnership in north-west England. We were not granted authority or direct control over the money, and there was too much duplication, but arrangements could have been made to streamline delivery within the existing structures and save money. It would have been a much better course to have had radical reform of the development agencies rather
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There has been no evidence-based decision making in this case. A major study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers before the election showed that the RDAs generated £4 of benefit to the economy for every £1 that they cost. So where is the evidence base for public policy making in this decision? What is more shocking, in a way, is the way in which the Government have decided not to carry out any assessment of the impact of what they propose in the Bill. I have asked the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on several occasions what the consequences for jobs and growth of the abolition of the regional development agencies are going to be. On 16 September, I got back the wonderful and depressing Answer:
Yet this dismantling of the economic capacity to promote regional development comes at precisely the moment when, because of the spending review, that capacity to generate private sector growth is needed.
The support infrastructure for economic development is being thrown into chaos. Most of the staff working on it have been put on 90-day redundancy warnings. At the time when the whole energies of government-national, regional and local-ought to be focusing on a priority task of what they can do most to stimulate new jobs, the government machine is going to be bogged down in wrangles about who owns the RDA assets of these bodies being abolished and what will happen to ongoing projects. There will be lots of work for lawyers and accountants but very few jobs created in the economy that will benefit ordinary people.
The RDAs, for all their faults, had built up an institutional capacity to assess projects and manage them effectively. I fear that that project management capability is being permanently lost as a result of the arbitrary decisions being taken in this Bill. Of course, the Government's answer is that they have a policy; they are setting up something called local economic partnerships. The truth is that most of those are starting off with a blank piece of paper and very little capacity indeed to get anything done. It is a cover for the abolition of the agencies. There will be no central government funding of the economic development resource and my county, Cumbria, faces a very cruel choice between reducing care for the elderly and vulnerable, slashing school transport, or finding the funds to have a properly resourced local economic partnership.
As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in the public spending debate last week, the crunch facing local government will be especially severe with a 16 per cent cut in its grant in the coming year. There is really
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Lord Freeman: My Lords, I will not pursue the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, about assistance to industry and commerce at the local level. We will, I am sure, have another chance to debate the issue. Where I agree with the noble Lord is in paying tribute to what the regional development agencies have achieved over the past decade. However, I firmly believe-we will come back to this at another time-that the proposals from my noble friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and from my noble friend Lord Heseltine's advisory board, on how regional economic growth can be provided, are excellent.
Like other noble Lords, I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said about the nature of the Bill and its influence on and control of judicial procedures. I have to say, though, that I do not think that this is a precipitous procedure. I shall try briefly to argue why I do not believe that the arguments against the Bill, which I strongly support, are not appropriate.
I want to say at the outset, having served a number of years in the other place, that over 30 years I have seen how in Parliament we deal with secondary legislation, particularly the affirmative procedure. We need to improve the procedure in two ways. I welcome what the Minister has said in suggesting that there might be draft orders, but I also believe that for affirmative orders a one and a half hour debate is not enough for certain important issues. The affirmative vote procedure has always been treated somehow as a procedural inevitability, and that is wrong.
I want to contribute by, I hope, reflecting accurately the views of the world of business and commerce. I declare an interest as chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers's advisory board, although that is not directly relevant. I also work with the South East England Regional Development Agency, which is not directly relevant to this debate either. The wider issues of the private sector are that we have had 30 years of almost inexorable growth of non-departmental public bodies. Her Majesty's Opposition in this place and the other place have taken certain strides to try to reduce the number and improve their efficiency but very little has been achieved. We must now grip this opportunity firmly because over the past 30 years we have moved to well over 1,000 non-departmental public bodies and we need reform.
I am sensitive to the implications for justice, law and order and constitutional issues, but that does not affect the main thrust of my contribution. We are facing severe economic difficulties and the business community cannot understand the duplication and inevitable growth that we have seen over the past decade. It wants reform, and it is justified in doing so.
I see two advantages to the Bill. First, there is the importance of restoring ministerial responsibility. It is an anachronism that in this Chamber and in the other place one cannot directly question a Minister about the performance of a non-departmental public body, although obviously there can be correspondence. As a democrat I am in favour of improving that ministerial responsibility, and under the Bill that will happen.
Secondly, this is not a dramatic measure. I calculate that we are talking about one-quarter of more than 1,000 non-departmental public bodies that will either go or be merged. That is hardly a revolution. As far as I am concerned, with the obsolescence of some of them and the duplication and cost of others, sensitive ministerial decisions should come back to Parliament under the affirmative procedure. I would strongly argue for longer debates and debates on draft orders produced for your Lordships well in advance of those debates.
Do not let us have a Select Committee. We have been arguing about this for 10 years-in my experience, for almost 30 years. Let us get on with it. The Standing Committee procedure, in which many noble Lords who have spoken today will participate, and which I hope will be held on the Floor of the House, not in one of the committee rooms, should be a thorough debate. A Select Committee procedure would only delay matters, and would not be understood by the public. Let us have the courage to proceed. I support the Bill.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of English Heritage and as a vice-chairman of the national parks authorities. Both these bodies are identified in Schedule 7 to the Bill-the pending tray of the Bill, as it were. It is on the implications of Schedule 7 that I want to concentrate. I also declare an interest as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which will make its own judgment on the Bill in due course.
In the Bill before us, Ministers have simply asked your Lordships to agree to rewriting the constitutional balance between the Executive and Parliament. The Constitution Committee has been extensively quoted and it has made its position abundantly clear. What is at stake in this Bill is a testing point for this Parliament and this House. I was sorry to hear the Minister say-I believe-that he was unable to respond to the Constitution Committee's report this evening and that he would get back in touch. I hope he will take advantage of my noble friend's invitation to respond to the serious concerns expressed by that committee in its report.
The Bill is also extremely important because it will come to define the ambitions of a Government who seek to consolidate power in their own hands on an extraordinary scale, irrespective of normal parliamentary procedure. In the context of being an ex-Minister, I say that I stood at the Dispatch Box several times and tried to persuade the House of several modest proposals on powers to be given to Secretaries of State, usually to arbitrate in matters of policy. From both sides of the House there came cries of, "Too much power is accruing in the hands of the Secretary of State". I was
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The Bill is about public bodies and they are just that. Over the past few months, in the frenetic atmosphere of the comprehensive spending review, all the virtues of public bodies and the public service they represent seem to have been denigrated, along with the integrity and astonishing commitment of the majority of people who serve on those bodies. Of course, we can all make a case for efficiency and rationalisation; we have and we should, and we should deliver on that. However, there has been no public debate on how our public bodies should best adjust to new challenges and no proper consultation. There is little dignity in the situation that many good public bodies now find themselves in. I regret that, not least on behalf of their staff, more than I can say.
Now we have before us a Bill that proposes to alter not just the present and predictable status and governance of organisations but their future status, existence, powers, functions and governance. It is as though the legislation that brought them into being-often detailed, hard won and hard fought, not least in this House-had never been introduced, and as though their purposes were not worth debating. It suggests that the time we spend scrutinising, correcting and improving legislation in this House is rather a waste. That is not something your Lordships agree with; we know how many hours we have spent debating the regulation of everything from child protection to energy security. We know how important it is and we know that the problem often rests here, where we solve it.
Worse still, we now have a Bill that brings with it a threat of future changes that are as yet unknown, either to the institutions identified or to the Ministers in place. For the first time a Bill proposes to hand powers to Ministers without requiring them to make clear what their intentions are or might be, without giving power to Parliament to challenge or change that. While I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, said, affirmative orders do not allow this House to make changes. I sympathise with the Minister. The Bill is not of his doing; I am sure he wishes he had never set eyes on it. However, it is now for him to answer the questions that this House is putting to him. The Constitution Committee has said clearly that the Government have not made the case for why the vast powers in the Bill are needed. I am sorry to say that I do not think the Minister's opening speech did so either, but he will have another chance at the end.
What lies behind the sweeping powers in the Bill? What is the problem that the Bill is intended to solve? Can the Minister give me any precedent for a Bill that attempts to give Ministers powers to legislate for the future without clear purpose or intent? The Minister has taken refuge in a raft of protections lifted from the legislative reform orders legislation, but I for one have absolutely no confidence in the ability of loose terms such as freedom and efficiency to protect vital bodies and their functions, especially when the rest of the
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My image of Schedule 7-its impact and the implications of unjustifiable uncertainty-is of a sort of ghastly waiting room where public bodies await some form of operation. They do not know what kind of operation it will be, whether it will be performed, whether the right limb or any limb at all will be amputated, or whether they will survive. The bodies in Schedule 7 may be abolished or changed without the democratic challenge and accountability of primary legislation, notwithstanding that in many cases their existence and purposes were decided by Parliament, and it is to Parliament that they are accountable as well as to government. These bodies may be altered in their name, powers or ability to employ staff. They may be transferred to another body or their functions delegated. In short, their functions can be dismissed, diminished or distorted without Parliament being able to lift a finger to help them. This is what government secondary legislation provides-no powers for this House to protect, challenge or change.
Let me turn to the list itself, which is the first challenge to common sense and comprehension. Can the Minister tell the House how the list for Schedule 7 was drawn up? The Explanatory Notes do not help. They say that the schedule contains bodies where there is currently,
However, the review of public bodies that has just taken place could not have been more thorough. Each of the bodies reviewed has already passed the three critical tests, posed by the Prime Minister, of independence, expertise and accountability. Why should there now be any indecision over their future? If, as a result of that review, there is no policy intention to make changes, why are these bodies on the list at all? Why does the list exist?
The corollary question is: why does this list not consist of bodies that have not been reviewed and therefore might be reviewed in the future? If the Government have a definite intention to review a body again and make further changes, why do they not declare their own tests null and void? Why do they not openly say that more changes are needed and deal with that process honestly and transparently? Why should a body that has been through the rigours of the review and been found to be serving a proper and necessary function not be left now to get on with a difficult job of managing massive changes, often involving serious redundancies and redefining structures and jobs in very difficult circumstances?
A further clarification is needed. The Explanatory Notes suggest that bodies are on the list because any changes that would follow any future review process would require legislation. However, my understanding is that not all public bodies that would require legislation
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There is a compounding factor-a further twist-that reduces opportunities for scrutiny even further. To effect a change to a Schedule 7 body, there will have to be two orders; I refer to Clauses 11 and 12, both of which will require a resolution of both Houses. However, there is no requirement that they be laid at the same time. Noble Lords might therefore be faced with a debate on moving a body to one of the other schedules, with all the implications that that involves but without sight of the order that really matters-the one that will make the changes that will affect the organisation. Of course, policy intentions can change. A second order to effect the change may be for an entirely different purpose than was expressed to be the intent when the order moving the public body from Schedule 7 was debated. Can the Minister tell me why we need two orders? Why would a single instrument describing the effect of the change on the public body not be sufficient?
The Minister said that he understood the concerns of public bodies and the situation they face. These good public bodies are now living with a totally uncertain future, when at any time another review, another change, another structure, could be put forward-not for public debate, but by way of an order that invites this House to decide that future without knowing what it will mean. I believe that to be profoundly unethical, unwise and unconstitutional.
What about the impact on staff? Does the Minister agree with me that independence becomes something of a fiction when he appears to be constantly looking over his shoulder? This is not so much the big society as Big Brother. How can one remain independent of judgment? How can one retain freedom of action? How can one be prepared to innovate and take risks-all the things that public bodies do well and successfully-while living with the constant fear of more change?
I think the Minister already knows that the House finds this Bill unacceptable, if not deeply offensive, to its sense of constitutional propriety and democratic responsibility. I have never read anything quite as excoriating as the Constitution Committee's report or heard a speech of the nature made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, this afternoon. I know that the Minister is a good and thoughtful man, and I was grateful that we had the opportunity to meet. I hope that he will have the courage to acknowledge the deep flaws in the thinking behind the Bill, and in the Bill itself, and will join us in supporting the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I shall make one point and refer to two examples of bodies facing questionable abolition. The first and overwhelmingly
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I want to add my support to the most eloquent remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. It is entirely unacceptable for any body established by primary legislation to be abolished or merged without the proper consideration afforded by the normal legislative process.
An issue of particular moment concerns the public bodies among those listed in Schedule 7 which have a specific role to hold government to account. The essence of these bodies is, surely, that they should be independent of government and of Ministers. Without that independence these bodies cannot do their job. How can an organisation hold the Government to account if that Government, without even proper parliamentary scrutiny, can turn round and punish that public body by reducing its powers? I hope that the Minister will, at the very least, remove from Schedule 7 those public bodies with a clear remit to provide independent oversight of the discharge of public functions.
Also, along with other noble Lords, I ask the Minister to think again and amend the Bill to ensure that no organisation created by legislation will be abolished by statutory instrument. I refer to just one example of the bodies listed in Schedule 1, which, under Clause 1, may face abolition by a Minister without using the legislative process. I refer to the Security Industry Authority, which regulates the security industry. I raise this example because it illustrates the lack of care for the protection of individual citizens which, I fear, is reflected in some elements of the Bill.
Having been the first chairman of that body, I am aware that the industry includes many honourable and effective organisations. However, it also attracts villains who set themselves up as security guards working from home, use only a mobile telephone number and cannot readily be identified. These people are hired by unsuspecting landlords to prevent parking on private land, for example. Without regulation, these security officers fail to provide proper notices warning the public of the controlled parking; they clamp vehicles and, as the price of releasing them, charge exorbitant fines. I have had reports and letters sent directly to me about these guards terrorising members of the public into paying utterly unacceptable and exorbitant fines.
This is just one example of why I feel that some of the Bill has been put together in far too great haste. Have the Government undertaken a full impact assessment of abolishing this regulatory body and indeed all the others referred to in Schedule 7? Can the Minister assure the House that this body, established by legislation,
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Secondly, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the bodies listed in Schedule 7, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, pointed out, are not the only public bodies up for abolition or transformation. I know of at least two others and fear that there are probably many more. I will refer to just one because of lack of time. I understand that an announcement was made in July that the General Social Care Council will be abolished and that some of its functions will be taken over by the Health Professions Council. There was no warning of this, even to the chair of the Social Work Reform Board. There has been no consultation. The abolition will be dealt with in another Bill, not in the Public Bodies Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain why some bodies are included in this framework while others are dealt with by other means.
In his opening remarks, the Minister said that the Government are not including bodies such as Ofcom and Ofwat in this exercise on the grounds that the Government do not wish to interfere with important regulatory functions. Therefore, how does the Minister justify abolishing the regulatory body for social work? We understood that the Government were concerned to raise the standards of social work-and, most particularly, of child protection-in this country. Is the abolition of the regulatory body the right way to achieve this? Surely not. I give this as an example of the apparently destructive actions being taken by the Government in some cases.
I reiterate that I will support a number of elements of the Bill as long as the procedural issues can be resolved. My worry is that this example is indicative of the way in which other public bodies will be dealt with under the Bill unless we manage to resolve the problem. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House today.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I will make general and specific comments on this bad Bill. The sweeping powers contained in what amounts to a Henry VIII clause should raise profound concerns of general principle for your Lordships, not least in terms of increasing further the authority of the Executive over the legislature. My specific comments relate to Clause 11 of the Bill, and to Schedule 7-the list of bodies subject to the power to add to other schedules.
I declare an interest as chairman of the British Library, because the British Library Board is included in the schedule. The considerable disquiet felt by the British Library is clearly shared by many other bodies listed in Schedule 7. As others have said, the Bill grants extensive powers to Ministers to abolish, merge, modify the constitutional arrangements of, modify the funding arrangements of, modify or transfer the functions of, or authorise delegation in respect of, many public bodies listed in its schedules. The Government have simply not made a case for why the vast range of statutory bodies affected by the Bill should be abolished, merged or modified by force only of ministerial order, rather than by ordinary legislative amendment and debate in Parliament.
Other noble Lords have already referred to the report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee. The committee noted that most of the public bodies to which the Bill applies were created by statute or royal charter. The committee stated that the Bill vastly extends Ministers' powers to amend primary legislation by order, and that such Henry VIII powers need to be clearly limited, exercisable only for specific purposes and subject to proper parliamentary oversight. The committee went on:
The Institute for Government has also raised serious concerns of principle about what it calls the crucial catch-all provision included in Clause 11, where any body named in the comprehensive list of organisations set out in Schedule 7 can, by ministerial order, be moved into a schedule to be abolished, merged or modified. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the institute notes that the schedule includes bodies with quite delicate public functions which require them to act, and be seen to act, independently of government with self-confidence. To quote the institute:
"The worrying feature of this clause is how it is likely to affect the dynamic of the relationship between the government and those bodies which have been established to be at some distance from Ministers, because they need to be able to perform their functions in a way that puts them beyond suspicion of Ministerial interference ... The danger is that these bodies will become more circumspect in exercising their duties",
and that is a very serious danger. The House will, I think, readily recognise that the granting of such wide-ranging powers carries inherent and profound dangers. Perhaps the Minister will now take this opportunity to provide the House with a clear and convincing justification for such sweeping powers. I do not believe that he gave that justification in his opening speech.
I turn to my specific comments. If the Bill were enacted, it would, in extremis, grant Ministers the powers, at the stroke of a pen and without parliamentary scrutiny, to abolish the British Library and other bodies listed in Schedule 7. Noble Lords who are familiar with the British Library-and I am sure that many are-will know that it was established as the national library for the United Kingdom by Act of Parliament in 1972 following the White Paper of 1971 and in response to the recommendations of the 1969 report of the National Libraries Committee, and that it brought together a number of national institutions, including perhaps most notably the library of the British Museum, which itself was founded by Act of Parliament in June 1753. To grant Ministers powers potentially to abolish by order an institution created by statute with such a very long and illustrious history would, ipso facto, damage the sovereignty of Parliament. Although I am sure that this is not the current intention
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I now turn to the criteria for the inclusion of the bodies in Schedule 7, and I urge the Minister to take this opportunity to set out, in the interests of transparency, what those criteria are. They are completely opaque. Again, I declare my interest as the chairman of the British Library Board. Noble Lords will be aware that in the statement of the Minister for the Cabinet Office of 14 October, the British Library was identified as a public body to be retained on grounds of,
It is, I believe, of some interest that the national museums and galleries were similarly designated by the Minister for the Cabinet Office in that statement, yet the British Library is included in Schedule 7 to the Bill on grounds not stated, whereas the museums and galleries are not.
The British Library is one of the UK's national collections and in most important respects it stands alongside the other national collections. This is reflected in statutory terms in the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 and, in its drafting, the British Library Act reflects elements of the British Museum Act as a result of the incorporation into the British Library of the unique riches of the collection of the BM library. Taken together, that serves further to underline the inconsistency in the application of criteria for inclusion in Schedule 7. I would also be grateful if the Minister could explain why the Arts and Humanities Research Council is included in Schedule 7 but the other research councils are not. Again, it seems inconsistent.
To conclude, I urge the Government to reconsider Clause 11 of, and Schedule 7 to, the Bill. There are very powerful arguments against the wisdom and parliamentary propriety of granting such sweeping powers.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, last Thursday, all sides of this House very much welcomed the Government's statement that they were referring to Ofcom the acquisition by News Corp of the remaining shares in BSkyB which it did not own. In the course of my remarks, I ventured to raise the issue in regard to the Bill. I said, "What if Ofcom, which is listed in Schedule 5 and in Schedule 7, no longer exists?". I was very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, who is in her place today, said that I need not worry on that score. She said:
What did she mean by "stay"? If she meant that it will stay until 31 December, which is the date by which it has been asked to complete its present inquiry, that is not a very substantial promise. If she meant that it will stay indefinitely, the question arises, why is it in Schedule 5 and in Schedule 7?
There is uncertainty upon uncertainty. I use that as an example and it is applicable to so many different bodies. This Bill is not simply causing anxiety, although I need not develop that point because it has been
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Questioning the work, questioning the costs and questioning the purpose of many public bodies is perfectly legitimate and justifiable and a very proper objective of any Government. Quangos may have outlived their purpose and outlived their usefulness but an attempt to condemn to oblivion or to change, in an enabling Bill, a whole host of bodies across the whole spectrum of government, without consultation, seems wildly unjustified. Involving so many bodies, the Bill leaves huge uncertainty and, as my noble friend Lady Andrews pointed out, uncertainty among all those bodies listed on the five pages of Schedule 7.
One set of bodies mentioned is the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission, listed under Schedule 5. The Government have said, ex cathedra, that these two bodies are to be merged. The uncertainty here is not about whether there will be any change but about what it will mean to merge such bodies in terms of the investigatory functions. Are those functions of the Office of Fair Trading to be performed by the same people as are to perform the quasi-judicial functions of the Competition Commission, or is this new body arising from the merger to be newly constituted? The Government have said that the Office of Fair Trading is to lose its consumer protection role, which has so often helped to inform the office in its investigatory competition work. In any case, where is the competition protection work to go to? It cannot go to the National Consumer Council because it, under the name of Consumer Focus, is being abolished. Apparently, the Office of Fair Trading's consumer role is to go to the trading standards offices of local authorities and the citizens advice bureaux-both excellent bodies which do excellent work.
None the less, this is an important shift in the world of consumer protection to local and charitable organisations. The chief executive of the Trading Standards Institute, a splendid man called Mr Ron Gainsford, described this as a,
There must be a question whether a local trading standards office or citizens advice bureau will have the resources, the expertise, the training and all the rest of it to deal with international companies such as big banks. The organisation Which? has pointed out a tremendous weakness if everything is transferred locally and there is nothing left for consumer protection work nationally.
Lord St John of Fawsley: I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said. I think that these bodies should be examined in particular. However, where did the precedent come from? I point out to the noble Lord what happened to the Royal Fine Art Commission, of which I was chairman for 15 years, and which cost £750,000 to the taxpayer, as opposed to the £15 million which CABE now costs the taxpayer. How were we abolished? Not by constitutional discussion in this House; we were abolished by fax by the Minister concerned. That was a disgrace and we do not want that to happen again.
Lord Borrie: I do not know the subject to which the noble Lord is referring, but if what he says is the case, that was a disgrace; this Bill is a disgrace. It is doing it in a different way, but it is a disgrace and unconstitutional.
When the noble Lord, Lord St John, intervened, I was just about to refer to the excellent speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who has just returned to his place. Those of us who were here when he spoke will know that he cited a large number of bodies connected with the judiciary listed in Schedule 7, and said that if the Lord Chief Justice of the day could be present in this House, as used to be the case before the Supreme Court was set up, no doubt he would have been very critical.
One of the bodies to which the noble and learned Lord did not refer was the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council. I think that the reason why that was not referred to is that there are no ifs or buts about that council: it is to be abolished. The other bodies to which he referred are in the pending tray, the uncertain tray, of Schedule 7. I hope that he would agree that the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council-its forerunner was known as the Council on Tribunals-has always done an excellent job in surveying the field of administrative tribunals and now has the rather larger job of the whole area of administrative justice. Without a word of explanation, the Government put it in the schedule for entire abolition. Can the Minister give us an explanation?
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my friend and fellow Middle Templar. Perhaps I may begin by declaring what may be thought to be an interest in that I am a member of your Lordships' Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which will be considering this Bill tomorrow.
Since this is a rather torrid debate for my noble friend the Minister, I should like to begin by offering him not simply a word of support for himself but a very warm measure of support for the Government's objectives in this Bill. Like other noble Lords today, I distinguish the objectives from the means. I refer, as others have, to what was said on 14 October by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and it is worth saying again:
"The landscape for public bodies needs radical reform to increase transparency and accountability, to cut out duplication of activity, and to discontinue activities which are simply no longer needed".
"All remaining public bodies will be subject to a rigorous triennial review to ensure that the previous pattern of public bodies often outliving the purpose for which they were established is"-Official Report, Commons, 14/10/10; col. 27WS]-
The Government's objectives cause me no problem at all: I welcome them. What upsets me, as with other noble Lords today, are the means by which they are going about achieving them. We have heard today some profoundly important speeches-important and troubling speeches. All Governments are attracted by the lure-some are seduced by it-of legislating more summarily than the procedures of primary legislation would permit. All Governments are attracted by that for rather obvious reasons.
What are these allures? It is worth our having them in mind, although of course they will be familiar to so many of us. However desirable a debate on the policy or effect of the order may be thought to be, debate will be limited in either House to one and a half hours save in the most exceptional circumstances. I shall come back in a moment to what my noble friend Lord Freeman said about that, something with which I warmly agree. But that is the rule at present. The order will never be amended because there is no power to do so, and in practice by convention it will hardly ever be rejected. I believe-I have not checked it myself-that this has happened only twice in your Lordships' House in the past 45 years.
All Governments find these allures seductive, but I am aware of none who have succumbed on the industrial scale of the Bill before us tonight. Of course there are myriad occasions when to make use of subordinate legislation is entirely proper, wholly reasonable and for the public good-where, for instance, the order-making power is tightly circumscribed by the statute from which it derives; the Minister's discretion is closely defined and not left, as in this Bill, entirely at large; and the use of parliamentary time in primary legislation would be quite unnecessary. Those are the sorts of occasions where the use of subordinate legislation is entirely sensible. But that is not this case.
On the contrary, this case has attracted the most trenchant condemnation. We have heard it repeated several times today, so I shall spare your Lordships, and the Government in particular, the pain of hearing it again. It is the most extraordinary thing that a Bill should be brought forward with that blast, as it were, ringing in their ears. I should think it is unprecedented, but it is not entirely surprising. Most of the public bodies to which the Bill relates, some 340, have derived their existence and their functions from parliamentary authority. It is an absolute certainty that in the vast majority of them the process by which that authority was secured included lengthy debate preceded by substantial consultation and probably involved quite substantial amendments time and again accepted by the Government. This is the cut and thrust, the to and fro, of parliamentary democracy, and it leads to acceptable and practical legislation.
These debates could now be removed by order in what the Government will consider a proper case without the benefit of anything like that. They are all absent from any requirement upon the Minister seeking to make an order in respect of any public body listed
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If the Bill is to prosper, my noble friends should think hard about, as a minimum, introducing a requirement for a form of super-affirmative resolution. I know that the Minister referred encouragingly to this when he introduced the Bill. This was illustrated in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. It would require Ministers first to lay an order and then to take account of the consultation that follows it and committee reports received about it and only thereafter could they bring the order back for approval. That is really important. It is also extremely important that my noble friends should consider very carefully what my noble friend Lord Freeman said about enlarging the standard period of an hour and a half. Why should there be such a restriction? I agree entirely with what he said.
In addition, the Bill needs to specify the functions that might be abolished or amended and who the desired transferees of functions might be. At present, ministerial discretion is quite unconfined. These improvements seem to be a minimum.
Lastly, I come to the worst bit of all. By Clause 11, which we now know so well, Ministers are permitted by order to bring any of the 150 bodies listed in Schedule 7 into the ambit of the preceding six schedules. We heard the sort of judicial bodies that are caught by that in a compelling speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, which was endorsed entirely by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. The Explanatory Notes rather engagingly confess at paragraph 87 that at the time of going to press there was,
In other words, Clause 11 is included in the Bill on a "just in case" basis. That is no basis for taking Henry VIII powers or, indeed, many other powers. The clause is inappropriate for subordinate legislation, and it should be removed from the Bill.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I must declare an interest as chair of the Human Tissue Authority, one of the bodies affected by this Bill. As part of my intervention, I hope to be able to elicit from the Minister some answers to questions about the way in which the proposed legislation will affect the authority and its work. I also have some general concerns about the Bill, which reflect many of the concerns expressed by Members across the House during this debate, and which I hope the Minister will be willing to address when he replies.
The desire to improve public services and to deliver them ever more efficiently and effectively is common to all Governments. Earlier this year, my own party, when it was the Government, set out its own plans for streamlining public administration, which included reducing the number of arm's-length bodies. So there is no real difference, it seems to me, in the objectives of
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The Government have determined that the functions of the Human Tissue Authority and those of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will come under the aegis of the Care Quality Commission and, possibly, other bodies. We have begun already working to that end. We have moved with speed to initiate discussions with the other bodies involved and to work with the Department of Health to ensure that the ground is properly prepared for any such transfer of functions.
It will scarcely surprise noble Lords that when I read the sixth report of the Select Committee on the Constitution, the venerable Select Committee of your Lordships' House charged with examining all public Bills, I became alarmed. The Select Committee raised serious concerns about the way in which the Government were proceeding on this Bill. It stated-other noble Lords have referred to this-that the Government are,
The Human Tissue Authority was set up because of a crisis in public confidence. The Human Tissue Act was the response to the Alder Hey and Bristol hospital scandals where, noble Lords will recall, there was unauthorised retention of babies' organs and tissue. It was the response to overwhelming grief, as well as outrage from parents and parent groups. The Act was not a knee-jerk reaction. It took many months of parliamentary time to get right, and it introduced clear rules which continue even now to allay public concerns about tissue retention.
While huge progress has been made since the HTA's regulations came into force, and the sectors we regulate have now, on the whole, a good record of meeting safe and ethical standards, it is clear, when I talk to families who were involved, that the Human Tissue Act, and the existence of the authority, have been a guarantee that those concerns have not been ignored. Such issues are, and remain, deeply sensitive. We have seen such fears raised again in last weekend's media. If the authority is to be changed or merged, it must be done in a way that does not destroy the public confidence that has been so hard-won. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that the primary legislation which generated that confidence will not be undermined by the use of what your Lordships' Select Committee clearly regards as a parliamentary manoeuvre.
I turn to some specific questions for the Minister about the impact of these changes on bodies such as the HTA. The HTA has built up considerable professional expertise in relation to the sectors it regulates. This has helped to build the confidence of the public and professionals. Recent data show that this confidence continues to increase. This is largely due to the clear focus of the Human Tissue Authority in the highly
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On organ donation, last year the HTA approved well over 1,000 living organ donations and I am delighted to say that the numbers continue to increase. However, the ALB review acknowledges that this responsibility would not sit well with other bodies. How can the authority be assured that its respected role in relation to organ transplants will be maintained? The HTA has to make sensitive, ethical decisions about organ donation. Its lay and professional authority members bring great wisdom to these questions; how will that wisdom be maintained and retained?
Perhaps these and other questions that I have can be resolved in discussions with the Department of Health and with the other bodies. However, many of them seem to be matters that ought to be of concern to Parliament, as they were when the legislation was introduced. The Government are quite clear that they want the work of the HTA to continue; the authority is committed to ensuring that public confidence will be maintained. It would be a betrayal of the work that produced the human tissue legislation and of the thousands of families that the legislation has served well if the Government took any action that undermined confidence that human tissues and organs are used safely, ethically and always with consent.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to Ministers for having met us on several occasions to listen to our concerns and to indicate their intention of improving the Bill by introducing essential safeguards and proper parliamentary procedures.
by the various public bodies within the Bill's reach. What causes concern about the Bill is not its policy but, as the noble and learned Lords, Lord Woolf and Lord Mayhew of Twysden, and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, have said, the means chosen to give effect to the Bill's legitimate aims. Legitimate ends do not justify unconstitutional or disproportionate means, especially where they erode Ministers' accountability to Parliament and put at risk aspects of the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms, whereas the Bill as it stands-I emphasise "as it stands"-contains inadequate safeguards against the misuse of Ministers' delegated powers.
The Constitution Committee has explained some of the main objections to the Bill as it stands and I agree with the analysis and conclusions of that powerful committee. The modern test of Henry VIII clauses, reproduced in the Constitution Committee's report at paragraph 5, is whether Ministers should have the power to change the statute book for the specific purposes provided for in the Bill and, if so, whether there are adequate procedural safeguards. For the reasons given by the Constitution Committee, the Bill as it stands fails both tests-again I stress "as it stands".
The safeguards in Clause 8(2) operate "if the Minister considers" the matters in Clause 8(2)(a) and (b). However, the Minister is not required to act with a sense of proportion and the exercise of discretion under Clause 8 as it stands would not be readily susceptible to effective judicial review. Whenever I see the phrase, "if the Minister considers", I am reminded of Lord Atkin's comment about the language of Humpty Dumpty.
The useful Library notes on the Bill record the reaction of the Institute for Government, now led by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, as giving a cautious welcome to the Bill but emphasising, in the words of Sir Ian Magee, that the Government have to,
Those tests are not included in the Bill, are not mentioned in the Explanatory Notes and there has been no taxonomy of the bodies affected by the Bill-that is, there has been no proper analysis or classification
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