Parliamentary Committee report on Public Bodies Bill

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published a Report on the Public Bodies Bill on 21 January 2011.

The Bill was published following the Government’s review of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). It proposes to create a number of delegated powers by which the Government can abolish, merge, modify the constitution, functions or budgetary arrangements of a body or authorise delegation of a body’s functions to a third person or body.

This Report focuses on three significant human rights issues arising in the Bill. The Committee is concerned that there should be no adverse impact on the ability of the UK to safeguard individual rights and liberties protected by domestic law and the ECHR, and to meet its international human rights obligations.

The Committee’s three main concerns are:

  • First, the inclusion in the Schedules of this Bill of bodies which serve a function as part of the institutional machinery for the protection of individual rights in the UK. This may undermine their functional or perceived independence and their ability to give effect to the UK’s human rights obligations in practice. These bodies include: the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Children’s Commissioner, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the Parole Board, the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and the Legal Services Commission.
  • Second, the abolition or reform of other bodies which serve a particular decision-making function. This may undermine the right to procedural fairness guaranteed by the common law, the right to a fair hearing guaranteed by Article 6 ECHR and procedural protections guaranteed by specific articles of the Convention (e.g. the right to liberty in Article 5 ECHR). Although the Government has tabled amendments proposing to delete some of these bodies in both of these groups from the Bill, these concerns still remain.
  • Third, the excessive use of delegated powers which may reduce the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny for human rights compatibility of proposed legislation. The Committee regrets that there is currently insufficient information about the Government’s intentions with regard to most of the bodies listed in the Bill, and about proposals to delete some bodies and retain others; and notes that, despite vigorous debate in the House of Lords and a number of amendments proposed by the Government and by peers, the safeguards against possible abuse of powers within the Bill are still clearly insufficient.

Dr Hywel Francis MP, the Chair of the Committee, said: ‘The breadth of delegation proposed in this Bill appears wholly inappropriate. We remain concerned that the broad use of delegated powers in the Bill would erode Parliament’s role in protecting and strengthening human rights. It would undermine Parliament’s ability to influence or prevent changes to the operation, functions and existence of bodies which play an essential part in protecting individual rights and liberties in the UK.’

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