The Week in Parliament
It’s finally here, the UK Internal Market Bill has had its first outing in the House of Lords, and it went just about as well as you’d expect. Moving the Bill, Lord Callanan tried to head off some of the criticism. Particularly of interest to us, he highlighted that the Bill had been consulted upon, and insisted that there would be further consultation on individual aspects to determine whether further legislation would be needed. His assertions, it’s fair to say, did not head off concerns.
Before the substance of the Bill, and the deficiencies in its creation were addressed, the House paused to consider a motion to amend brought by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, criticising part 5 of the Bill, the now famous section that would permit the Government to break international law. The speeches came from a wide range of speakers across the political spectrum and included the maiden speech of Baroness Hayman of Ullock, former Shadow Environment Secretary and Associate of the Institute. They were not complementary, and Lord Judge’s amendment lamenting the threat to the Rule of Law was passed in the biggest Government defeat in the Lords since 1999. Whilst this is not directly consultation related I do plan on writing a little about the rule of law and its relation to consultation in the near future, so keep an eye out for that.
The substantive debate on consultation was divided between two separate issues – firstly the near-total lack of consultation with the devolved administrations on the subject matter of the Bill, and secondly on the shortcomings of the public consultation. The first of these is one I always struggle with a little in this column- it’s not ‘pure’ consultation as we usually deal with, and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between when there are genuine deficiencies, and when the argument is being used to make a political point. On the second issue, as recent readers will know, we are more than happy to comment.
Watching the speeches, you might very well believe that many of their Lordships were fans of our articles. They highlighted many of the same arguments as we did. The consultation was short, particularly for such a major piece of legislation. The time between the consultation closing and the Bill being released seemed a little truncated for the Government to properly have considered the responses to the consultation. The Bill contains little provision for future consultation on the powers it creates. Far from being the purely economic and non-constitutional Bill that Lord Callanan claimed it to be in his opening statement, it was generally agreed that it had huge constitutional implications.
This was only the second reading of the Bill. The scrutiny has only just started, and from the votes on the day it is clear that in its present form, the Bill stands little to no chance of passing the House. The amendment ping-pong on it between the Commons and the Lords looks set to be quite majestic in stature. We will, of course, be following developments closely.
Most of the consultation related debate in the Welsh Parliament revolved around the imposition of new Coronavirus restrictions in an area very close to my heart. Regrettably, Bangor in North Wales, where I spent three happy years at university ligging around on a stage, in a recording studio, and just occasionally doing some work, has been put into a higher level of restrictions. As a student town, it is perhaps hardly surprising that this has happened, especially when you look at the distribution of new outbreaks of Coronavirus since the universities returned in September. As with so many of the urgent impositions to control disease, there was no consultation on the new restrictions, which has raised the ire of politicians in the Senedd chamber. We have consistently been arguing that because of the burdens of restrictions, local authorities should be considering how they can maintain a more ongoing programme of stakeholder engagement. Perhaps it’s time for me to look at doing a version of “Briefing Note 26: Dear Council: How should you use your new COVID-19 powers… and how much should you consult” for the Welsh regulations?
The Northern Irish Assembly was fairly quiet this week, although we did see a mention of the need to start thinking about a budget for next year. Budgets are always interesting creatures for those interested in consultation as it’s rare to see an out and out consultation on a budget per se, but rather the Budget emerges as an amalgam of other small things which are often consulted upon. With the Coronavirus crisis still ongoing, and looking likely to remain so for the imminent future, maybe we’ll see an increase in pre-budget consultation, to try and determine where money might best be spent to ensure a fair and well-rounded budget programme? We’ll have a look into this and pull together some thoughts.
Nothing from Scotland this week, as Holyrood is in recess- next week, however, I’ll take a look at their newly announced (about half an hour ago at the time of writing!) five-tier restrictions system, and where consultation might help within that framework.