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The Week in Parliament

We have, I’m afraid to say a bit of a hotch-potch of stories from Westminster, so sit back and relax as we hop all over SW1 in pursuit of the best consultation related stories of the week.

We start with one that we have discussed before- in particular, that we said should have drawn more immediate concern. The merger of DFID and the FCO which we picked up on a couple of weeks ago here, has amazingly managed to maintain some of its traction, and this week Sarah Champion, chair of the international development committee accused the PM of misleading Parliament by claiming that the decision had been driven by “massive consultation”. In a session questioning the outgoing international development secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Ms Champion highlighted that there was practically no evidence of the supposed ‘massive consultation’ claimed by the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State responded by stating that the PM had brought the change to the House first, and since then the Home Secretary and Baroness Sugg, who leads on NGO matters had been regularly meeting with development NGOs and other bodies. Whilst this may be true, it does not explain why Mr Johnson claimed that there had already been, not just consultation, but ‘massive consultation’. Has he been taking lessons in hyperbole from certain other blonde and oddly-haired world leaders? For consultors, I feel obliged to remind you that according to the first of the famous Gunning principles, consultation must take place when proposals are at a formative stage

It is actually fairly unusual for us to feature events in the Commons in this column- more usually the interesting consultation related debate emerges from the Lords, but this week we saw what I think is the first mention, at a national level at least, of something that has caused some degree of deliberation here at the Institute. On Monday we saw the Report stage of the new Domestic Abuse Bill, in the debate of which the Government announced that it intended to consult on making permanent what had been a temporary Covid-19 change to allow the home use of abortion-inducing pills up to ten weeks into the gestation period. Whether or not the making permanent of temporary regulations requires consultation is going to be a big issue for Councils and administrations all over the country, with many having created temporary pedestrian or cyclist spaces on what had been major roads. On this particular issue at least, the Government seems to have laid down its cards.

In the Lords, there was intensive debate over the Government’s Business and Planning Bill, designed to promote economic growth and recovery after Coronavirus. The most controversial segments of this bill have been around the first section that would permit food and drink establishments to apply to their local authorities for ‘pavement licenses’, allowing them to serve food and drink to customers using approved parts of pavements and roads. Given the scope of the bill, it is perhaps not surprising that the bill includes provisions obligating local authorities considering the grant of pavement licenses to consult with the highways authorities and with ‘such other persons as the local authority considers appropriate’. In the Lords, Peers questioned whether there was a need for further consultation obligations on Local Authorities, in particular obliging them to seek views from representatives of the blind and disabled communities, many of whom might struggle if pavement space is taken up by tables, chairs and diners. Another piece of fast-tracked legislation,, the usual questions have also arisen as to how necessary the fast-tracking was, and whether further consultation on the provisions of the bill would be advisable.

Nothing from Wales and Scotland this week, although Northern Ireland has provided us with an interesting little debate over how consultation obligations impact public bodies. During a debate over the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill, Members highlighted the developing backlog of regionally significant planning applications and suggested that there was a need to ensure the improved funding of statutory consultees. Delays due to difficulties in responding to consultations in a timely fashion, it was suggested were putting a huge strain on local planning authorities. Although no particular response was forthcoming, it was suggested that the forthcoming review of the Planning Act 2011 should consider the issue. We eagerly await news on whether it ends up doing so!

As usual if you have any questions or thoughts, do drop me a line at StephenH@consultationinstitute.org

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

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