The Week in Parliament
It’s been a week of children and planes this week in Westminster. Not children in planes, that would lead to the sort of disaster that only comes about when I attempt to be clever at any point in my life. So have government been learning lessons? And will they fly high off the back of it? Let’s have a look.
The perpetually somewhat beleaguered Secretary of State for Education was up in the Commons this week, attempting to head off another crisis at examination pass. Last year you will recall the Government had something of a mensis horribilis when it became clear that it would be impossible for students and pupils to sit exams in the regular fashion. Cue a month of scrambling to find a workable solution that moved from grades being awarded by an algorithm, teachers assessing the grades to statistical models being used to adjust teacher assessments. The usual images of delighted students hovering in mid-air clutching their results were replaced by shots of forlorn students with their heads hung, and a big picture of Gavin Williamson with his serious face on.
This year, they are attempting to prevent a similar disaster by consulting nice and early on the grading system. The consultation is a rapid one, two weeks long, not dissimilar to the one undertaken last year. Where it greatly differs is in the content. This time, they are just consulting on teacher assessment, the position they ended up using last year after more u-turns than a roundabout. For a short consultation, it’s remarkably thorough, perhaps arguably a little too much so for the time available. It covers all the key points, and asks 68 questions of respondents (again, possibly arguably too many for a two-week consultation- however many people will not be answering all of them). There are distinct improvements to the quality of the information provided compared to its 2020 predecessor, more thorough impact assessments and better consideration of equalities issues. It would seem that on this particular subject, the Government might just have learnt some lessons.
In the Lords, we saw the ceremonious return of the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, which we wrote about multiple times last year, mostly in the context of allegedly inadequate consultation after the Gatwick drone incident. This time, attention was not on such matters, these mostly having been dealt with already, but rather on other consultation matters arising, primarily around the issue of airspace change and slot allocation. For the uninitiated (I’m afraid I am a bit of an aviation geek), slot allocation is the process by which landing and takeoff times are granted at certain (usually large) airports.
Airspace change, a process with which the Institute has no small familiarity is already a heavily consultative process, and the Minister sought to reaffirm commitments to consult, particularly towards general aviation (non-commercial aviation). She also highlighted that following an inquiry, the air navigation directions have been amended to require the CAA to conduct a review (with consultation) of airspace classification.
On slot allocation, the minister promised targeted consultation on the 80:20 rule, the general rule that states if an airline uses its capacity at least 80% of the time in the prior period, it will be entitled to the same slots in the next equivalent period. This rule was waived over the course of the pandemic by the EU Commission. With EU Commission powers to extend the waiver being limited to 2nd April 2021, the Government is setting up to assume that responsibility itself. In doing so, the Government have promised consultation.
It is clear that if this legislation passes, we should expect regular consultations on a sixth monthly cycle, as well as a more long-term effort to look at slot allocation reform. With slots being a valuable commodity for carriers, and with significant interplay with a lot of different areas of power retuning from Brussels, this last should be an interesting one to watch.
Interesting debate in the Scottish Parliament this week on the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, designed to strengthen the law around uncontrolled dogs near livestock. What makes it doubly interesting was the other news that dropped this week of a private consultation/study being done on the potential to reintroduce wild lynx to the Highlands. Ideas of ‘rewilding’ have had a bit of an uptick in recent years, and with successful wildlife reintroductions of beavers, various birds and wild boar, proposals are getting more prominent and dramatic (wolves have even been mentioned…). What’s the link here with the aforementioned legislation? Well, one of the groups that provides greatest resistance to rewilding, particularly of large predators, is the farming community. In light of the responses to the consultation on the Bill indicating concerns about domesticated dogs, the lynx campaigners might have an uphill struggle in trying to get their ideas on the Government table…
Little of immediate interest from the Welsh Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly, so I shall leave you with an invitation- if there’s any topics you’d like me to look at in a little more depth in a future piece, do let me know. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org