The Week in Parliament
The big news in Westminster this week was the Chancellor’s spending review, although as with almost everything at the moment it was rather taken over by circumstances, and hasn’t made quite the splash we might usually expect. But we won’t be talking about that yet. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had time to go through it properly, so expect a piece on the consultation prospects off the back of that next week. For now, here’s the quick brief:
As of two-weeks’ time under current Government plans, we will be released from lockdown and back into a new three-tier system. That, at least, has levelled up. It remains to be seen how well supported this will be in Parliament, with a possibility that the Prime Minister may need to rely on Labour votes to get it through, as many of his own MPs have indicated their displeasure. However, the question does arise again – where is the consultation? We know now that the Government has been conducting a lot of behind the scenes consultation, informal endeavours that are not really public in any meaningful way. But with Courts nipping at their heels for doing so, and reiterating that through the methods might change, the principles still apply, are they running too many risks? The argument that there is not enough time to consult was rejected in Article 39, where the Court said that the Government had had time to consult informally with providers of services, so there was no reason it couldn’t have engaged more broadly. There is also the argument that they have had ample time to consult on new regulations this time- they knew a month ago that we would have to come out of lockdown again, so why didn’t they use some of the intervening time to consult? Given that the Lockdown Tiers statement that was published on the Parliamentary website still had question-marks after some of the tier assignments, it was clearly not prepared fully well in advance and could have been consulted upon to at least some degree. Perhaps it’s time we directed the Government again to Briefing Paper 38 from the early days of lockdown where we proposed a ‘short-form’ consultation to help exit from lockdown?
The Lords this week finished their scrutiny of the Internal Market Bill and sent it back to the Commons with significant amendments. We’re still chasing our FOI, but it will be interesting to see how many of the amendments the Government accept. They have already softened some of their positions around consultation on different aspects of the Bill, but still not to the full satisfaction of their Lordships. Possibly the most consequential of the consultations that we do know will be coming out of the Bill will be the promised consultation on state aid and subsidy control, which has been one of the big challenges around coming to a Brexit deal. Although not glamorous, and we wouldn’t expect it to draw big public attention, it will nonetheless be very important in setting up the UK economy for the years ahead.
All kinds of hunting tend to draw loud and unmoving voices on both sides of the argument, and it’s one of the (admittedly many) places where Governments can end up very much stuck between a rock and a hard place. In Scotland, where land use and ownership is a big issue, one of the major places the debate arises is with regard to grouse shooting. The Scottish Independent Review of Grouse Moor Management reported in December last year, and the Scottish Government has accepted its key recommendation that a licensing scheme should be introduced to regulate grouse shooting and management. The announcement came with a promise of extensive consultation on the detail and form of the potential scheme. As one of the areas that tend to bring forth the loudest voices both in favour and against, it could be an interesting one to watch.
In Wales, the most significant consultation related discussion came up in a members’ debate on the potential implementation of a deposit-return scheme and waste reduction bill. Proposals around this are already on the table, with a second consultation being planned jointly by the UK (acting only for England in this case), Welsh and Northern Irish governments on recycling and waste following on from an earlier consultation this year. The issue has been consulted upon in Wales before, and another consultation has not long closed on the banning of nine types of single-use plastic items. The issue here seems to be one of devolution, with Members of Senedd questioning whether there is a need for Welsh participation in a new consultation when it has already been heavily consulted on already in Wales. The single-use plastic consultation response should be published shortly, so it’ll be interesting to see if that moves the legislative needle one way or another.
Environmental Issues were also on the agenda in the Northern Ireland Assembly where Members were eagerly anticipating news of the upcoming Department for the Economy energy strategy. The responsible committee in the Assembly reported back on a self-described ‘micro-inquiry’ which had taken views from stakeholders on what they wanted to see in the strategy. Although the ‘macro’ strategy is not expected to go out for public consultation until early next year, it’s interesting to see smaller things going on around it. With climate now top of the plan for many different bodies at all levels of public life, might there be a place for these sort of ‘flash’ inquiries to help bring people together to boost influence?
In addition to the Briefing Paper referred to in this article, we also published a Briefing Note for local authorities on how to consultatively exercise their public health powers which discuss ongoing consultation and engagement in lockdown. Next Wednesday, I will be hosting a Wednesday Wisdom looking at the key legal cases for consultors in 2020, including discussion of Article 39 and other coronavirus related cases. Why not join us? This session is free to members – just log in!