The Week in Parliament
The big story of the week from Westminster was the announcement of the inquiry into the government response to coronavirus, which we’ve written about here (the short version: we think that the Government should be consulting on the terms of reference). There was also a speech by the Queen. Which we anticipated here. So what is left? There might be a few things…
Most of the debate in Westminster has revolved around the Queen’s Speech, and one of the measures that we hadn’t looked at in our original piece was the Government’s promise to ban conversion therapy, the pseudoscientific ‘therapeutic’ process of helping homosexual people convert to heterosexuality. Legislation on this has been one of those ‘long promised, never enacted’ things for successive Governments, and it seems we might finally see some movement.
Conversion therapy is one of those interesting issues that the general public is generally in favour of banning, but a very vocal minority object to, drawing often disproportionate media attention which makes the issue seem a lot more controversial than it actually is. This Government’s history in the area of LGBT+ rights has been controversial amongst that community, and those of you who have been around for a while will recall that we were very critical of the Government’s response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, describing it as ‘a failure of leadership and duty’.
There are then, it’s fair to say, bridges to build with this community. In the Commons, the gay Conservative MP Jacob Young welcomed the Governments plans, and encouraged the Government to ‘get this done’. Although he acknowledged the need for consultation on legislation, he urged the Government to speed up any consultation process to avoid further harm being done to those subjected to the conversion therapy practice.
The consultation should be an interesting one when it emerges. The vocal minority we referred to earlier are likely to be out in force for it, as will the LGBT+ community and it will be interesting to see the Government’s response, particularly as the vocal minority tend towards being instinctual Conservative voters. We’ll keep an eye on it and let you know what we think when it emerges into the wild.
In Northern Ireland this week we’ve seen controversy over a private member’s Climate Change Bill, originally brought partly because of the absence of such a Bill from the Northern Irish Executive. Now however, a Government Bill is being prepared and the Assembly are now setting about the difficult task of working out which one should proceed to Committee Stage. One of the major points of contention has been the degree of consultation on each of the respective bills, with the Minister claiming that his proposals have had the benefit not only of expert advice, but also significant public consultation backed by the resources of the executive, unlike the private members’ bill.
The debate, as it is wont to do, got fairly heated, with accusations flying that although the sponsors of the Bill had claimed consultation, it had only been with a limited and carefully selected group of individuals and organisations, particularly Climate Coalition Northern Ireland. Usually what we’d do at this point is examine the respective consultations, however on this occasion the private member’s consultation seems to be unavailable. Indeed, in the explanatory notes to the bill, it is explained that the consultation was in fact an opinion poll- not a consultation by any regular definition.
Although there are promises of further consultation at committee stage (which the Bill has now moved through to), we can’t help but feel that there might be an argument for the Bill to be rejected until more proper consultation has been carried out on it. Major legislation like this is not something to be rushed, and should be thoroughly and widely consulted on before being considered- the fact that this hasn’t happened here is of some concern. We’ll have a look at its progress in committee, and hopefully someone will point out the apparent bad practice there.
Once again, nothing from Wales or Scotland this week- they’ve been busy swearing in all their new MS and MSPs. In a couple of weeks time, tCI are running our tCI Connect 2021 online conference, and I’m delighted to say that you can sign up to register without any risk of having to listen to me witter on. I will be there, so if anyone would like a chat, I will be available. Otherwise, you can safely find out more and register for the event here.