UK Politics

Quangos 'get reprieve' as ministers amend cull plan

Ministers have withdrawn 18 bodies from the bill they say will lead to a "bonfire of the quangos".

Bodies that select judges, draw up sentencing guidelines and investigate miscarriages of justice in England and Wales are among those that have been taken off a list of those that could be abolished, scrapped or merged.

The Parole Board, the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Surveillance Commissioners have also been withdrawn.

This followed criticism by judges.

Ministers announced plans in October to axe 192 public bodies and merge a further 118.

But the government has now amended the Public Bodies Bill, which is currently being considered by the House of Lords, after peers expressed fears that the proposed cull could put the independence of the judiciary at risk.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goodhart welcomed the change of heart.

"I thought a lot of the proposals in the bill were wrong but I thought this was the worst of them, because it is an absolutely essential part of our constitution now that it should be a role of an independent body to select the judicial appointments," he said.

'Listening to concerns'

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude conceded the bill was not perfectly drafted, and said the 18 bodies were all removed because they performed some kind of judicial function, and he wanted to protect their independence.

"We're getting on with this," he said. "We could do this in a leisurely bureaucratic way and try and get everything completely perfect before we started or we could get on it, and listen to concerns, respond to them where the concerns merit a response and get it done."

The government has also added new rules forcing ministers who want to get rid of quangos to consult widely, and to tell Parliament about the responses.

Ministers were defeated in a vote before Christmas on an amendment to preserve the roles of the Chief Coroner, Deputy Chief Coroners, Medical Advisers to the Chief Coroner and Deputy Medical Advisers to the Chief Coroner.

Peers scrutinising the legislation have objected to powers that would allow ministers to abolish bodies established by Parliament.

'Rushed'

Earlier this month the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said the cull of quangos would not save much money or improve accountability.

Its chairman, Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, said the removal of some organisations from the legislation "reflected the fact that these powers are so wide-ranging in the bill that Parliament simply is not prepared to allow those bodies to be subject to the bill, which effectively puts ministers in charge of bodies which were set up by primary legislation".

David Cameron said earlier this year that the "bonfire of the quangos" would save billions of pounds but Labour have accused ministers of "rushing" the bill through Parliament.

"It was one of the first things that came before Parliament, and not enough thought went into the preparation of the bill," Labour's leader in the House Lords, Baroness Royall, said.

The following quangos have been removed from the Public Bodies Bill:

  • Agricultural Land Tribunals
  • Civil Procedure Rule Committee
  • Surveillance Commissioners
  • Competition Appeal Tribunal
  • Criminal Cases Review Commission
  • Criminal Procedure Rule Committee
  • Family Procedure Rule Committee
  • Horserace Betting Levy Appeal Tribunal for England and Wales
  • Insolvency Practitioners Tribunal
  • Investigatory Powers Tribunal
  • Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman
  • Judicial Appointments Commission
  • Parole Board
  • Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal
  • Sea Fish Licence Tribunal
  • Sentencing Council for England and Wales
  • Tribunal Procedure Committee
  • Valuation Tribunal for England

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites