Page last updated at 21:24 GMT, Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Public Bodies Bill

Labour has urged the House of Lords to delay legislation giving ministers sweeping powers to abolish or merge hundreds of quangos.

As peers debated the Public Bodies Bill at second reading on 9 November 2010, Labour peers' leader Baroness Royall of Blaisdon noted that the Lords constitution committee had recently delivered a "devastating critique" of the legislation.

She said that the committee believes the bill "strikes at the very heart of our constitutional system, being a type of 'framework' or 'enabling' legislation that drains the lifeblood of legislative amendment and debate across a very broad range of public arrangements".

Lady Royall explained that the government had included "a series of Henry VIII clauses", which will enable ministers to change the law on specific quangos in the future without full parliamentary scrutiny, and needed to explain "why it is appropriate for Parliament to cede this responsibility".

She called on peers to back Labour's amendment, which would refer the bill to a specially formed select committee in advance of its normal committee stage.

This would allow a committee of peers to take evidence from expert witnesses and to report back before the bill continues with its normal Parliamentary stages.

Lady Royall said the opposition would support a further amendment, from senior Liberal Democrat peer Lord Maclennan of Rogart, that the select committee should report by the end of February.

The last time peers referred a bill to a special select committee, against the wishes of the then Labour government, was in 2004 with the Constitutional Reform Bill, which created the Supreme Court and reformed the historic office of Lord Chancellor.

But government whip Lord Taylor of Holbeach, opposing the Labour move, said the Public Bodies Bill was "not overtly complex or technical and it doesn't seek to radically overhaul our constitution".

Lord Taylor said a normal committee of the whole House was "precisely the avenue" for its detailed consideration.

"I do not see what a referral to a select committee would add to this process beyond an inevitable delay to the passage of the bill," he said.

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