The Queen’s Speech 2021- a bumper crop of controversial consultation responses
After a busy week in local politics last week (and national politics in the devolved nations), this week the eyes will be turning to Westminster to watch the Queen’s Speech, due to be delivered tomorrow in Parliament. The speech will set the Government’s agenda for the next parliamentary term, and will provide us with a first look at the results of many of the consultations we’ve been keeping an eye on over the past six months or so.
Naturally, there has been a steady drip-drip of leaked items for inclusion in the Speech in the press over the last couple of days. So what are we particularly looking out for? Perhaps the first thing we will be expecting is the Planning for the Future Bill, the comprehensive overhaul of the English planning system that the Government consulted upon last year. At the time, we highlighted that a lot of the proposals in the consultation looked likely to have significant implications for those who like to have a say in how their communities look.
We’ve yet to see the Government response to the consultation, but we were expecting a lot of objections from across the spectrum. The Government has been briefing this weekend that they are still planning to proceed with their zoning plans, and boosting house-building, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with consultation responses that might not be very supportive. It will also be interesting to see how they deal with the bill itself as they are likely to draw significant complaint not only from the opposition, but also the party backbenches, many of whom represent constituencies likely to be significantly affected by major housing development projects.
Another one we’ll be watching closely is the immigration reform bill. The consultation closed last week, and was heavily criticised, both for its length and the manner in which it was conducted. We were concerned that the consultation had been conducted solely online, a risky proposition that is far from best practice, and in the past has led to consultations being rejected in the courts. In addition, two hundred civil society stakeholders working in the area went so far as to sign an open letter describing the engagement process as ‘a sham’. Strong words, and it will be interesting to see how conscientiously the Government take account of responses to the White Paper.
We would also expect at some point a response to the Government’s review of administrative law and judicial review. Somewhat amusingly, the consultation on this subject has been sufficiently criticised that there is talk of it being judicially reviewed itself. Given that the government has gone out of its way to go beyond the recommendations of the Independent Review of Administrative Law in its consultation, and how opposed to the proposals the response has been from the legal profession and other stakeholders, it will be interesting to see to what extent their views are taken into account. The Government has already rejected a request to extend the consultation, so it would seem they’re keen to get it done as soon as possible. Although we concluded that there was little of immediate interest in the consultation for consultors, it could be an interesting measure of how willing the Government is to listen to objectors when they have firm ideas on a subject matter themselves.
Finally from the consultations we have already looked at, there is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This, if you remember, was the bill that drew considerable controversy because of its proposals to crack down on the right to protest, a proposal which we discovered had not been consulted on at all. We’re still awaiting the response to our Freedom of Information request for any information regarding consultation or engagement done on this proposal- when last we heard the Home Office had requested an extension of the time limit for response to check if any of the information fell under the FOIA exemptions. We’ll let you know when we get something back from them, hopefully before the Bill is presented to Parliament.
Those were the ones we were looking out for- but this morning another has cropped up which is potentially of great interest. Proposals have been previewed to force people to show photo ID to vote in general elections as a means of tackling election fraud. Those of you who have an idle ear on US politics will know that proposals on voter ID are a favourite of the Republican Party, using a similar claim that it is necessary to tackle fraud. Critics of the policy emphasise the lack of evidence that there is any substantial voter fraud (figures backed up by the Electoral Commission which reported only 6 instances of voter fraud in 2019), and the significant evidence that such a policy has a disproportionate impact on both people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act and poorer individuals. In light of this controversy, we will be eagerly awaiting the consultation on this- assuming there is one- and if there isn’t one, we’ll be asking some pretty searching questions about why not.
So, with at least five major controversial consultations expected to be reporting back, we’ll have our work cut out to make sure that the Government are abiding by the standards we would expect. We’ll keep you in the loop on how they do.