The Week in Parliament
With the end of the week being overshadowed by what is turning out to be a major cabinet reshuffle, let’s turn the clock back a little and look at what has been going on in Parliament over the last week. In legislative terms, we have only had one new bill presented with any particular relevance to consultation, though it is a consultation heavy thing. The Bill is a private members bill brought by Lord Foster of Bath, the Domestic Premises (Energy Performance) Bill, requiring the tightening of regulations on energy standards to ensure that all domestic properties meet at least a C grade on the Energy Performance Certificate. Being a regulation heavy bill, with much provision for the Secretary of State to amend different elements, there are a lot of requirements for consultation with representatives of the energy industry, environmental organisations and also the more generic ‘such other persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit’. One day, I will get to the bottom of how exactly this last one is assessed.
We mentioned last week that the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill that had drawn our attention (“the drones Bill”, as Rhion termed it in his piece) was undergoing its first two sessions of committee stage in the Lords this week. Of the many amendments marshalled, several had a direct relation to consultation, though all were withdrawn after ministerial assurances that the relevant discussions had taken place. Perhaps the most interesting of the withdrawn amendments was number 37, an amendment which would have required ministers to consult with individuals with a direct interest in the Gatwick incident of December 2018, where the airport was brought to a near standstill for two days. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport assured peers that extensive consultation had been undertaken, outside of the particular framework of the consultation on the Bill, including a current consultation on a UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy largely prompted by the Gatwick incident. Deliberation on the Bill in the Lords has now concluded, and it will be sent down the corridor to the Commons shortly.
A couple of weeks ago at the end of January, the new MP for Bolsover, Mark Fletcher raised a question in a Business of the House debate regarding a request for a debate on online consultations and the need for outreach to those in rural communities, based on what he alleged was a flawed consultation in his constituency where several consultees were unable to take part due to a lack of internet access, or alternative methods of engagement. The debate took place this week, albeit on slightly narrower terms looking at GP Provision in Pilsley. Mr Fletcher raised the issue of the consultation once again, highlighting several perceived deficiencies in the document itself, as well as the primarily online nature of the engagement process. As long-term readers of Institute pieces will know, the use of solely or primarily online communication methods can weaken a consultation, and indeed this issue has come up in at least one of the prominent consultation related court cases.
And finally, what new and upcoming consultations have been previewed this week? Well, on Monday the Policing minister Kit Malthouse announced an upcoming consultation on the proposed police covenant, designed to support both police officers and their families in their work, Rishi Sunak (then Chief Secretary to the Treasury- as of this morning Chancellor of the Exchequer) announced an upcoming formal consultation on the funding formula for local government, no doubt of great interest to many local authorities, and a renewed commitment by Earl Howe in the Lords for the introduction of a consultation on electoral integrity.
The Week in Parliament will now be working on a Thursday-Thursday cycle. As this is largely when Parliament sits, there shouldn’t be much change. As always, if you have any questions, or if there is anything you would like to discuss further, please do drop me a line.