Monday, February 28, 2011

Damp squib of a bonfire

Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian is reporting that the Public Bodies Bill is seeing a significant government u-turn in the Lords, with the powers of Quango abolition being stripped out with government approval.

I always thought that the primary purpose of the Bill was to provide Ministers with the power to abolish 150 specific quangos without needing specific primary legislation for each one. Apparently though Lord Taylor has said "The government has accepted the argument that bodies or offices should only be listed in the schedules of this bill where parliament has given its consent in primary legislation,"

Presumably this means that for a Quango to be abolished it must either have an existing clause in the bill which created it allowing a Secretary of State to abolish it, or primary legislation must be passed for each Quango. If this is the case I can't see us abolishing more than a handful as there's simply no room for 150 pieces of primary legislation, and surely if the Bill had passed that would have been primary legislation, fully debated through the process (possibly unless the bill started in the Lords, which could be the issue).

I suspect this has come about due to the continued threat of legal action and judicial review over every ministerial decision. With Gove and Pickles both getting slapped wrists from the judiciary for overstepping their powers as Secretaries of State the government seems to be shifting to a position of wanting everything bullet proof (just look at how long it's taking to get a judicial review proof gypsy circular out). It's a commendable position but is making it almost impossible to follow a rapid and radical agenda, simply because there are only so many hours in the Parliamentary day, and in my opinion these decisions should be within the powers of a Secretary of State anyway.

Regardless of the reasoning though I worry that this decision makes the bonfire of the quangos less of a bonfire and more of a damp squib.

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