Lambs to the slaughter? The most previewed consultation finally appears…
It is sometimes curious which consultations make most of a splash in Parliament, and the reasons they do so can be wide and varied. Most often, they appear frequently because opposition parliamentarians are chasing up what they see as missing consultations or responses (the shared prosperity fund, online harms etc), sometimes because politicians are unhappy with Government responses to them (no-fault divorce), and sometimes because members believe something has not been consulted upon when it should have been (see Coronavirus regulations ad infinitum). It’s very rare that they are brought up in an unforced manner by a minister. Perhaps the consultation that has received the most ministerial airtime this year in Parliament has been the promised consultation on shortening the journeys of animals between farm and slaughter.
That consultation has now arrived on our desks. So what’s it all about? It’s a joint consultation between the UK and Welsh Governments that focusses on twin issues, not only the shortening of journeys to slaughter for livestock, but also the welfare of animals whilst in transit. The consultation paper is admirably short, coming in at 18 pages and providing a good summary of key information, whilst not compromising on the sort of detail that consultees will need to make informed responses to the questions (we find out for example what formula will be used to calculate space allowances for animals). There are thirty of them in all, perhaps slightly more leading than we might hope for in places (lots of ‘do you agree…’), but generally fairly good in allowing people to share their views and explain the impact that the proposals would have on their businesses or organisations.
There is a clear, expressed preference for responses to the consultation to come in via the Citizen Space online tool, but it is also made clear that this is not exclusive and that responses may also be sent by e-mail or post. On the website however this is not made clear, which, were we to be nit-picky, we might hold up as something of a flaw.
There are several potential reasons why this consultation is so robustly and well designed. Firstly, that animal welfare is often an area which draws strong feelings from lots of different areas, and therefore ensuring the consultation is done right from the off has the potential to save a lot of time and money down the line in legal challenges. Secondly, having built up expectations for this consultation so much in Parliament, there is a political impetus not to make any mistakes. This might also be reinforced by the fact that the Government has (accurately or inaccurately) somewhat held this proposed regulation change up as being enabled by Brexit, and after what we might generously describe as a ‘challenging’ couple of years, they are keen to secure something that can be seen as an objective victory by all sides. Thirdly, we might also speculate that the fact that it is a joint consultation with the Welsh Government might have strengthened the drafting through discussion and collaboration.
There might also be one point of clarification needed. On the DEFRA webpage promoting the consultation, the end date is given as the 21st January. On the Welsh Government page, and in the consultation document itself, the consultation concludes on the 28th January. Whilst we would assume the authoritative date is the one in the consultation document, we would certainly recommend as a best practice point ensuring that the closing date is the same in all documentation- unless there is good reason for it to be otherwise.