Public Bodies

Bill Presented — Civil Aviation – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 19th January 2012.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 2:28 pm, 19th January 2012

I beg to move,

That the following new Standing Order be made—

‘(1) Subject to paragraph (2), the select committee charged with reporting on a draft order for the purposes of section 11(5) and (6) of the Public Bodies Act 2011 shall be—

(a) the select committee appointed under Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to Government departments) appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of the Minister who has laid the draft order; or

(b) in respect of a draft order laid by a Minister in the Cabinet Office, the Select Committee on Public Administration.

(2) The Liaison Committee may report that it has designated a select committee appointed under Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to Government departments) or the Select Committee on Public Administration as the select committee charged with reporting on a specified draft order for the purposes of section 11(5) and (6) of the Public Bodies Act 2011 in place of the select committee to which paragraph (1) applies.’.

Let me start by apologising to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the House, because what remains of my voice may be barely adequate to the task this afternoon. However, I shall do my best.

The Public Bodies Act 2011 received Royal Assent shortly before Christmas. The Act represents a central part of the Government’s strategy for the reform of public bodies, which will lead to a cumulative reduction in administrative spending of £2.6 billion over the spending review period. The bodies to be reformed under the Act are listed in its schedules and the detail of the reforms is to be set out in secondary legislation. The motion will enable that secondary legislation to be subject to proper scrutiny in the House, when it is in draft form, before it is approved by the House. The relevant provisions of the Act are described in the explanatory memorandum to the Act and the proposals in the motion are described in an explanatory memorandum that is available in the Vote Office. The motion has been the subject of consultation with the Liaison Committee and the Select Committee on Procedure, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friends the Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) for their contributions to the consultation and for agreeing to add their names to the motion.

The proposal relates to the specific question of which Committee should be able to examine a draft order with a view to the possible use of the extended period for scrutiny, and then making recommendations on the substantive provisions of that draft order. We propose that that role should fall to the relevant departmental Select Committee or, in the case of draft orders laid by Cabinet Office Ministers, to the Select Committee on Public Administration. In addition, we propose to give the Liaison Committee a power to designate an alternative Committee. We do not expect that to be used frequently, but it could be helpful if there were machinery of government changes in the future.

We believe that departmental Select Committees represent the right option in this case. They are most likely to have a prior knowledge of, and interest in, the subject matter of the draft orders. The Liaison Committee has agreed that the proposal in the motion

“seems sensible and complements the arrangements in the Lords”.

The Liaison Committee sought a number of assurances, and it was particularly valuable to have the short delay from before Christmas until now in which to have a dialogue with the Liaison Committee. I have responded in detail, in correspondence which is available in the Vote Office and which I will place, in due course, in the Library. In particular, steps have been taken to ensure that relevant Select Committees are informed about the earlier draft orders to be laid before the House, and that discussions can take place between Departments and Select Committees about the operation of the procedure and the timetable in particular cases.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Although I strongly endorse and very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Select Committees examining these orders, does he not agree that Select Committees are already heavily overburdened, given the amount of work that they are doing? I wonder when he thinks we shall find time to look into the orders in the way that he describes.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Obviously, that was one consideration. Against that should be set the question of who is best placed to know the operations of bodies within the remit of an individual Select Committee, and what the Department’s objectives are in bringing forward an order. It would be very difficult for any other body in the House to have the same level of expertise. In the initial stages it is a matter of determining whether further scrutiny is required. That is the trigger that we are asking the Select Committees to pull, and they are very well positioned to do so. There is also a finite number of bodies for any one Select Committee in the Public Bodies Act 2011. It is not an open-ended Act, as I know full well, having assisted with the Bill’s Committee and Report stages. There is therefore a reasonable expectation that the task will not be too onerous for Select Committees. I certainly discussed that consideration with the Liaison Committee and others, and we felt that at the end of the day no other body was as well suited as the departmental Select Committee.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

What procedure, if any, might a Back Bencher be able to use to propose further scrutiny by a Select Committee over and above what it is tasked with doing? For example, if we wanted the Treasury Committee to scrutinise some of the EU financial services legislation that passes through the House, which is normally, rightly, in the hands of the European Scrutiny Committee, would there be a way in which one could put that forward?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

That takes me away a little from the matter of orders relating to the Public Bodies Act, but it is always open for Select Committees to consider their work programmes and to put forward proposals, and it is equally open to hon. Members to make suggestions to Select Committees. Part of the Liaison Committee’s role is to try to prevent any undue overlapping of work among Committees and, where there is a potential trespass, to police it, adjudicate and find a successful way forward. There is probably no obstacle to my hon. Friend's suggesting that the Committee looks at something, but equally the Officers, Clerks and Chair of that Committee have a responsibility to ensure that they do not inappropriately usurp the work of another Committee.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I commiserate with my hon. Friend, who sounds like a cross between Barry White and Louis Armstrong. Is he aware that the Procedure Committee has looked at this matter and is satisfied with what he proposes? Despite the concerns of my hon. Friend Mr Gray, who is a valued Committee member, I do not think that the proposal will place too great an additional burden on Select Committees. It is right and proper that the Select Committees undertake such scrutiny.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for supporting the view I have expressed. I think that only the departmental Select Committees could do the job appropriately.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

Will the Deputy Leader of the House say a little more about how he proposes to deal with cross-cutting Select Committees, particularly the Environmental Audit Committee, which does not follow one Department but has an obvious interest in some cross-cutting issues and the need for the Government to join up policy?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but let us remember that the proposal is for a trigger mechanism to enable the House to consider matters further; it is not an end in itself. The process as set out in the 2011 Act enables the House to say, “Hang on. We want a little longer to be able to discuss this matter”, or for the Minister to put forward proposals in a debate, normally on the Floor of the House if that is requested. Therefore, if one of the cross-cutting Committees has an interest, I am sure that it would rapidly communicate it to the relevant Departmental Select Committee, and that in itself might pull the trigger. I do not think that there is a difficulty. This is not an exclusionary procedure, but simply one suggesting that someone can say, “Stop. We want this extra time so that the House can consider this on its merits”, and the decision will probably be that the departmental Select Committee is best placed to do that.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

I very much welcome what my hon. Friend is putting forward. May I ask him about joint working by Select Committees? As he knows from the passage of the 2011 Act, I have an interest in the position of S4C. There have been times in the work we have undertaken on S4C when there has been joint working between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Welsh Affairs Committee. Does he envisage such joint working continuing under this approach?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I was beginning to think that we would have a short debate relating to the Act without any mention of Sianel Pedwar Cymru, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for rectifying that omission. I reiterate that I do not think that the proposed procedure creates any obstacle to a Select Committee going about its work in the way it feels is appropriate. This is a trigger mechanism for the House. Where more than one Committee feels that they might have a role, the Liaison Committee would be able to help and ensure that there were no hurt feelings. The case of S4C might be an obvious example of where two departmental Select Committees have a legitimate interest and, I am sure, would want to express a view at some point in the procedure.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

I hope to make a speech later, but, on the discussions between Departments and Select Committees, what procedures will be followed when a Department is not keen to give the most desirable outcome of 30 days’ advance notice in all cases?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It is clear, from the exchanges that we have already had with the Procedure and Liaison Committees, that we expect Departments to provide that level of notice, and they will normally do so, but there is an exceptional position in the very first instance. We have some bodies on which consultations took place prior to Royal Assent, as was allowed under the legislation, and a dialogue between the Department and the Select Committee might be necessary to ensure that we achieve an acceptable result.

I know that the hon. Lady, on behalf of the Committee that she chairs, has been having such a dialogue with the Department that her Committee shadows, and I am more than happy to assist in any way that I can to ensure that we have a satisfactory outcome. I have given that assurance in correspondence with the Chair of the Liaison Committee, and I am very happy to repeat it today. The guidance to Departments will be very clear about what is expected of them in the execution of their duties under that part of the 2011 Act, and on that basis I hope my assurance is helpful to the hon. Lady. This is a new procedure, and we need to watch all new procedures very carefully to ensure that they achieve the results that the House expects of them.

In conclusion, I assure the House that I will monitor the procedure’s operation carefully to ensure that the concerns of Committees about matters on which they have sought assurances are fully responded to. I have reiterated today that the Government are very happy for the operation of the new arrangements to be reviewed about a year after they come into operation. This is an opportunity to enhance the House's scrutiny of secondary legislation, and on that basis Members should welcome it. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 2:42 pm, 19th January 2012

The motion lays down the process for the Select Committee scrutiny that will be required when the powers enabled by the Public Bodies Act 2011 are exercised—legislation that we opposed, as the House knows, on its Third Reading in October.

At that time, my hon. Friend Jon Trickett made it clear that we agree that the “quango state”, as he put it, should be kept under review, and that the Opposition do not oppose the removal of quangos that have served their purpose. He went on, however, to say that

“Ministers have been fair-minded”— and it is important to put that on the record once again—

“but the truth is that this whole process has been ramshackle. Giving Ministers the power to strike down organisations without there being proper parliamentary scrutiny is the worst kind of government; that simply does not meet the high standards this House should expect.”—[Hansard, 25 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 277.]

First, and most fundamentally, therefore, the motion before us is based on deeply flawed legislation, as this Government demonstrated with the forced reversal of their decision on the chief coroner.

Secondly, the motion touches on only one aspect of the scrutiny required of draft orders, but the issues involved are wide-ranging—a point that the Chair of the Liaison Committee, Sir Alan Beith, made in his letter to the Deputy Leader of the House in December. He went on in that letter to seek assurances on a wide range of issues. The Deputy Leader of the House initially responded to the concerns raised in December, only a day before this motion was originally scheduled for debate on the Floor of the House. One can only wonder why that business was cancelled at such short notice. Needless to say, a further letter in response to the representations of the Chair of the Liaison Committee was provided on 13 January.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed had raised in correspondence the need for an assurance that the Government would not seek to overturn a Select Committee’s recommendation for an extension of the time required to report back on a draft order. The Deputy Leader of the House stated in his initial response that it was “very unlikely” that such a request would be turned down, but made it clear that if the Government disagreed with a request for more time, they would expect the House to acquiesce. I suggest that that was a rather dismissive approach to the right of this House to ensure that adequate time is available for Select Committee scrutiny of such important proposals. In his further letter, the Deputy Leader of the House gave a “personal assurance” that he would make representations to ministerial colleagues, as appropriate, to seek their co-operation. That is not exactly a robust mechanism for guaranteeing that the time judged necessary by a Select Committee for the scrutiny of draft orders is available.

The Deputy Leader of the House also refused in his first response to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed to guarantee that the Government would accede to a Select Committee’s request for the debate on a draft order to take place on the Floor of the House, rather than in a Delegated Legislation Committee. In his further response, however, he stated that

“the recommendation of a select committee as to the appropriate forum for debate should be viewed as a representation of especial importance for the reasons you set out.”

It will be noted that, even now, there is no firm assurance on that point, only warm words that allow the Government to defy the views of any Select Committee on this point if they so wish.

The responses of the Deputy Leader of the House have deepened the conviction of Opposition Members that the Government are intent on using their powers to force through proposals to abolish quangos without adequate scrutiny by this House. In particular, the refusal to give firm assurances that debates on orders will take place on the Floor of the House when the relevant Select Committee recommends it is shocking and only goes to show that we have a Government intent on getting their own way, regardless of the democratic rights of Members of this House.

The route of this legislation through Parliament was unsatisfactory and the proposals before us only provide further evidence of how inadequate the safeguards are as against the extent of the powers that are being given to the Executive. As I said earlier, this procedure allows for the reversal of primary legislation. It effectively means that bodies such as the Agricultural Wages Board could be abolished on the back of a debate in a Delegated Legislation Committee. That would potentially mean the loss of £90 million to the rural high street. Given that the impact of these powers could be felt by thousands of people who may lose their jobs as a consequence, it is utterly unacceptable to Opposition Members that such decisions be made in this way.

We fear that the powers made available to the House to scrutinise the decisions made by the Government under the Public Bodies Act 2011 are inadequate. With the will of the House, we will seek to press the motion to a Division.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 2:49 pm, 19th January 2012

I welcome this little debate and the measured approach of the Deputy Leader of the House. I know that he is aware of the interest in this matter of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I have the honour to chair. We are enthusiastic about the possibility of scrutinising such draft orders.

I understand that their lordships had sight of the proposals at an earlier stage, and therefore more time to consider them. I know that my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith, the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, brought that to the attention of the Deputy Leader of the House.

I should like to raise a couple of substantive points, if I may. The Deputy Leader of the House adequately addressed my concern, and that of my Select Committee, about the procedures to be followed when a Department and a Secretary of State fall short of making any formal commitment to meet the desired time frame. I would welcome guidance from him about what is the appropriate forum for scrutiny and who will take the decision to have such scrutiny.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee was informed by the Secretary of State—I suppose one would say formally—on 15 January that three orders would be laid before the House in February. I understand that the Committee’s role will be to indicate its desire and intention to scrutinise an order within 30 days. We would like confirmation that when a public body falls within the work of a departmental Committee, it will be for that Committee to scrutinise an order rather than a Delegated Legislation Committee.

I will take a specific example, which is the transfer of functions of British Waterways to the new Canal and River Trust. I do not want to pre-empt in any way what conclusion and considered view the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee might reach on that having taken advice and evidence from witnesses, but what would happen if the Committee felt that it was a matter of such importance that we wished it to be debated on the Floor of the House? Will the Deputy Leader of the House be good enough to indicate whether that would be possible? Would a Committee be empowered to make such a recommendation, and who would take it forward?

The Deputy Leader of the House referred to the savings to be made. I am sure that the estimate of £2.6 billion is a conservative one, and I would hazard a guess that most of those savings will come through the disappearance of arm’s length bodies, including those accountable to DEFRA. However, we thought that the Commission for Rural Communities was going to disappear, but many of its officials have been absorbed into a unit of the Department and the CRC still exists. What scrutiny can a departmental Select Committee such as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee carry out of that aspect of the matter?

As Angela Smith indicated, the draft orders give Departments a huge power to disband a particular arm’s length public body once and for all time. I know that many arguments were made in the other place in favour of public bodies remaining, and some of those bodies are now not to be removed. It was a pity that we did not have a chance to have such a debate in this House.

Within one month, the Committee will be asked to look at two other draft orders: one to abolish the Inland Waterways Advisory Council and one on the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances. My hon. Friend Mr Gray raised the work load of departmental Select Committees. I pay tribute to those with whom I have honour to serve on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I am delighted that we will welcome two new Opposition Members to it this coming week, but considering three such significant draft orders in one month is a tall order, as I hope the Deputy Leader of the House agrees.

The Deputy Leader of the House might confirm that most of the draft orders under the secondary legislation, which gives immense powers to one Department, is trundling along at a time when the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is doing significant work on the natural environment White Paper and expecting a draft Bill on water—yesterday the Prime Minister confirmed that we can expect comprehensive legislation on water in the new parliamentary Session. We are also taking evidence on common agricultural policy reforms and reaching our conclusions on common fisheries policy reform. Those two reports are significant—we are asked to look at those matters once every 10 years—and I am delighted to say the Committee has taken them very seriously and responsibly.

We will hopefully be able discharge our duties on draft orders under the new powers, but—I am seeking guidance from the Deputy Leader of the House—if we are given only one month to lay the order and 60 days to look at it, we will come under enormous pressure to meet our duties, which I am sure colleagues on the Committee would wish to do.

I think I have raised all the issues and the Deputy Leader of the House and Mr Speaker are aware of our concerns. I am delighted that the motion has attracted cross-party support, and I hope the Committee can have significant leeway in the timetable accorded to it to enable us to undertake our proper function of holding the Department to account on the draft orders.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales) 2:57 pm, 19th January 2012

I am pleased to participate in this debate on the scrutiny of draft orders on public bodies having spoken on Second Reading of the Public Bodies Act 2011. I was unfortunately unable to make as significant a contribution as I had wished to the progression of the Act because amendments that I tabled on Report were not selected, and because amendments in the name of my hon. Friend Hywel Williams that were selected were not reached before the guillotine.

Our purpose today is to discuss the scrutiny of draft orders on public bodies listed in schedules 1 to 5 to the 2011 Act in accordance with sections 11(5) and (6). The intention of introducing such scrutiny is that Select Committees will be charged with making recommendations and reporting on draft orders. That appears to have been agreed in correspondence between Sir Alan Beith, in his position as Chair of the Liaison Committee, and the Deputy Leader of the House, who was responsible for the progression of the Act.

The argument is that those public bodies are under the control of specific Departments, and that the Select Committees that scrutinise those Departments contain experts on their operation, and should be tasked with the examination of the proposals. That appears to be a sensible course.

The subsequent suggestion is that members of the Select Committee charged with reporting on the draft proposals will be included in any Delegated Legislation Committee convened to consider them. Again, ensuring a level of expertise appears to be a sensible course, but I would like to raise the issue of territoriality. Inside a single unitary state in which there is a single point of responsibility and accountability, the proposed mechanisms would make a great deal of sense, but I contend, and I am sure Mr Williams would agree, that the practical elements of devolution mean that we must also consider alternative options when we deal with the potential impact of such draft orders. I welcome the opening remarks of the Deputy Leader of the House—he said that he has an open mind on that.

For example, the National Consumer Council, which is also known as Consumer Focus, is included in schedule 1 of the Act. As hon. Members might be aware, the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I am a proud member—as is the hon. Member for Ceredigion—published a report as recently as last week on its inquiry into the representation of consumer interests in Wales. I have no problem whatever with the UK Government’s aims in giving enhanced roles to the citizens advice service following the scrapping of the National Consumer Council, and there are many clear, tangible benefits to combining advice and advocacy functions. However, I am concerned that the level of consumer advocacy functions currently provided to the people of Wales will be lost.

As I said, this is a territorial argument, which is based on the fact that devolution means that we do not have a single jurisdiction, but several. As a Welsh nationalist, I believe it should be for the Welsh Government, rather than the UK Government, to determine what consumer advice and advocacy structures they want, particularly if the current structures are to be abolished. The lack of consideration we have witnessed from UK Ministers regarding the Act’s impact on Wales further strengthens my convictions.

It is interesting that the UK Government’s preferred structure does not impact on Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have separate citizens advice bodies because responsibility for such functions is devolved for our Celtic cousins. The fact that we in Wales find ourselves in our current position as a result of the Act is a further reminder of the hotch-potch nature of the devolution settlement across the British state and of the dangers that Wales confronts when faced with an inferior settlement. That is why scrutiny of any changes proposed in the draft orders is so important.

Given the reality of a distinct Welsh political agenda, Citizens Advice Cymru has, remarkably, punched above its weight over the years, but it is a fact that Citizens Advice as a whole regards the Welsh context as an afterthought. That is hardly surprising, considering that the key policy levers remain reserved down here in Westminster.

Consumer Focus Wales, on the other hand, has a tremendous research capacity, with some incredibly gifted staff, but it is nearly wholly dependent on other bodies and on commissioned research for the evidence on which it bases its reports. Consumer Focus Wales is very much an equal partner, and it has a more federal approach to England and Wales relations.

There are many benefits, therefore, to empowering Citizens Advice with the functions of Consumer Focus Wales, if all Consumer Focus Wales functions and resources are transferred to Citizens Advice Cymru. Indeed, during the Second Reading of the Act, I impressed on Ministers the fact that there was strong support in Wales for advice and advocacy functions to be brought within one body, and I hope that that will be reflected in the draft orders, when they are brought forward for scrutiny.

With the devolution of large areas of consumer policy already having taken place, and the likelihood of more in the years to come, the natural conclusion would be an independent Citizens Advice Cymru, but who will make that argument or question it in scrutiny of the UK Government’s proposals? That is the point I am trying to make.

Proposals for the National Consumer Council’s abolition will go to the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, on which there is not a single Welsh MP. The same is true in the case of S4C, whose management organisation will be changed as a result of being included in schedule 3 to the Act. Following agreements between the BBC and S4C, those changes are expected to be agreed.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

Does that not point to the issue I raised with my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House about joint scrutiny and joint working between Committees? The hon. Gentleman has made a compelling case regarding the independence of advocacy services in

Wales—the kind of case some of us, as he rightly said, would have liked to make in the Public Bodies Bill Committee had we had more time. There would, however, be an opportunity for those of us on the Welsh Affairs Committee, working with the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, to make such points. Surely that is the way forward.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that constructive intervention, and I fully agree. I will go on to make the same point. I often find myself in complete agreement with him, and I remind him that there is plenty of room on these Benches if he wants to cross the Floor.

There remains a real need for scrutiny. Like the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport does not feature a single Member representing a seat in Wales. Given the importance of S4C to Wales, which members of the Public Bodies Bill Committee will know of, there really must be more scrutiny in this place than just that provided by a Public Bill Committee.

In the Public Bodies Bill Committee, the Minister agreed that S4C governance changes

“will be subject to consultation with absolutely everybody who has a legitimate interest in it, and I happy to reiterate that that will include the Welsh Government.”––[Official Report, Public Bodies Public Bill Committee, 15 September 2011; c. 195.]

I welcome that commitment. I do not wish to go through the whole list of public bodies and make suggestions—[Interruption.] I know that hon. Members want to make the journey back to their constituencies. I am not going to suggest how all these matters might be perceived differently through the prism of devolution, but what, for example, would happen to the excess land of BRB (Residuary) Ltd? Should that be at the disposal of the Welsh Transport Minister?

Although I fully understand the reasons behind the proposed means of scrutinising draft orders, I request that issues of territoriality and devolution be taken into consideration. I do not pretend to have the solution and neither do I wish to encumber ourselves with more work, but perhaps a settlement could be found in which Select Committees scrutinise draft orders if they are considered relevant to their work, and subsequently, perhaps, its members could be made members of any Delegated Legislation Committees. I can certainly imagine that members of the Welsh Affairs Committee would show a particular interest in the case of S4C and Consumer Focus Wales.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:05 pm, 19th January 2012

With the leave of the House, I should like to thank Members for that short debate.

I shall deal with the points made in reverse order, and turn first to Jonathan Edwards. He will be aware that the Committee discussed the Welsh aspects of these bodies an awful lot—I remember detailed discussions of the merits, or otherwise, of Pobol y Cwm and so on. I absolutely understand the locus that regionality has in some of the bodies. The suggestion is that the departmental Select Committees have that trigger—I think that he understands that—but he made a perfectly valid point:

where there is a strong territorial element in the body in question, the trigger should be exercised in the knowledge of the effect it would have in an area.

I would expect the Welsh Affairs Committee to play a part in matters relating directly to Wales and to make early representations to the relevant Select Committee, encouraging it to pull the trigger for the 60-day process. Once that process was in place and the scrutiny period under way, however, I would expect the Committee to produce a short report, particularly on matters relating to Sianel Pedwar Cymru but also on other things in which it has an interest. The report would be treated as a representation under section 11(6)(a) of the Public Bodies Act, and the Minister would have to have regard to it.

I think I can assure the hon. Gentleman, therefore, that the Welsh Affairs Committee would have a direct locus in intervening to make the House aware of its concerns. Although the Public Bodies Act stipulates that there may be a delegated powers Committee, we have made it abundantly clear that if a request was made for the matter to be dealt with on the Floor of the House it would normally be acceded to. In that case, all Members with an interest would have an opportunity to participate and make their views known before the House finally reached a decision. I hope that that goes some way to assuaging his concerns and those of my hon. Friend Mr Williams, who is an utterly reasonable chap. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman agrees with him so often.

Miss McIntosh expressed a number of concerns on behalf of her Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which, again, I well understand. It so happens that her Committee has an early rush, as it were, on the provisions in the legislation, because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans to make early proposals, as she said, on British Waterways, the Inland Waterways Advisory Council and the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances.

Let me say first that, yes, if the House accepts this Standing Order today, the hon. Lady’s Committee will be the relevant Committee. Therefore, she has that trigger in her hands—or the hands of her Committee—for extended scrutiny. I understand that that will involve a reasonable work load for her Committee. I sympathise with her about that, but I believe it is better for her Committee to do that work rather than somebody else, elsewhere in the House, who knows nothing about the subject. There is no limitation on what Committees can scrutinise in their role as departmental Select Committees. That extends not just to bodies that are listed in schedules, but to those where there are no changes. If there are no changes, she will not be acting under this procedure, but her Committee will still have the capacity to consider the matter.

I understand the hon. Lady’s point about the House of Lords having its arrangements in place earlier than the House of Commons. I would have liked to introduce things earlier, but it was important to have the conversation and dialogue with the Select Committees of this House, through the Liaison Committee and the Procedure Committee, to ensure that we got it right. This House has a much more complex Committee structure than the Lords—we have departmental Committees—so a slight asymmetry in the way we did that was inevitable. However, I hope that I can persuade her that what we are doing in this case is probably the best way forward.

As far as Angela Smith is concerned—

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Is that not what I said? I do apologise: Stocksbridge. Speaking as someone whose constituency name is almost always mispronounced, I have the greatest sympathy if the hon. Lady has the same problem.

I was disappointed by what the hon. Lady said. She seems to be taking up the concerns of the Liaison Committee, even though I have satisfied the Liaison Committee. The fact that it is content with my proposals is not good enough for her. She still thinks that the Liaison Committee ought to be more upset than it is. Well it is not: the Liaison Committee is satisfied with our proposals. She adduced the “mystery” of why the matter was not put before the House in December, but I made it perfectly plain that the reason was a problem with the motion, which was down to an administrative error. However, given that we could not propose the motion on that day, I aimed to derive what I hoped would be some benefit from the delay by saying that it gave us more time to explore and satisfy the concerns of the Liaison Committee and the Procedure Committee, and that is exactly what we did.

I have given clear indications about the procedures that we will adopt to ensure that Committees are not disadvantaged, but have the opportunity to make their cases properly. However, at the end of the day, I cannot go against the legislation. I cannot rip up legislation that this House and the other House passed so recently and say, “Right, we’ll now have a completely different procedure.” However, I can work within the legislation to maximise scrutiny by the Committees of this House and the wider House and ensure that every Member has the opportunity to have their say. I believe that that is what we have put before the House today, after consultation with the Committees, and I urge the House to support the motion.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 257, Noes 176.

Division number 428 Bill Presented — Civil Aviation — Public Bodies

Aye: 257 MPs

No: 176 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.