The Week in Parliament
I said that last week was the last week before the summer Parliamentary recess. So you might be surprised to see me back this week. Whilst events in the Commons drew to a close last week, things in the Lords drifted into this week, and confounding my expectations of a fairly uncontroversial few days, it turned out the subject of consultation and engagement came up rather a lot. Clearly they had been saving the good stuff as a little treat for me at the end of the session.
Last Friday (remember these are written on a Thursday-Thursday cycle to coincide with our lovely newsletter), we saw the conclusion to a long running saga when Lord Greenhalgh laid before the Lords the draft Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2020.
Those of you who have been with us for a while will no doubt recall that we have written in the past about the original legal case that was brought against the Combined Authority when it tried to bring in the town of Chesterfield, without asking the key consultation question of whether Chesterfield actually wanted to join it. The fallout from that case, amongst other things meant that although the CA formed in 2014 and elected its first mayor in 2018 (the former Labour MP Dan Jarvis), it had yet to receive the full powers given to CAs in their devolution deals. The making of this order on 27th July, finally concluded the process.
The other big debate was over the new Agriculture Bill which, according to its critics makes extensive attempts to grant the Government so-called Henry VIII powers allowing them to make significant legislative changes without proper scrutiny or consultation. The criticism allowed opponents to bring a wide range of probing amendments which attempted to secure government commitments on consultation.
The Agriculture Bill also gave rise to an amendment brought by Lord Cameron of Dillington, which dealt with a proposal for consultation on the agricultural use of gene-edited organisms, a subset of genetic modification. Opponents of this amendment accused supporters of trying to change the regulatory regime on genetically-modified organisms by stealth under the cover of the Agriculture Bill. Supporters insisted that the amendment would not change the regime, but merely initiate a consultation to open a debate. The amendment was not ultimately put to a vote as the Government committed to consulting separately on the subject in the Autumn.
Given how controversial GM foods can be, it should be one to watch. It might also provide a good opportunity to have a think about striking the appropriate balance between expert scientific evidence and the views of the general public. I shall certainly be turning my mind to that with the goal of getting some thoughts together by the time the consultation arrives on our desks.
Nothing this week from the devolved administrations, but next week we shall be delving into their engagement over the last few months, so keep an eye out for that. With all the Parliaments and the Assembly in recess now for the summer, this’ll be the final Week in Parliament until then (stop cheering at the back there!) In light of this, may I wish you all health and happiness until September, and do try and get a little time off, even if you aren’t off abroad. All work and no play and all that…