The Week in Parliament
Well Scotland and Northern Ireland are in their summer recess, and Wales and Westminster join them next week. So before all of our lovely legislators head off to their summer camps and activity clubs, let’s have a look at what’s been going on in Wales and Westminster this week.
The big news in Westminster has been the whirlwind introduction and reading of the Health and Care Bill, the biggest reorganisation of the NHS for almost a decade. We’ve put together some initial thoughts in a separate article here. The debate however gave us some interesting points to consider.
I’m not talking about the fact that the entire second reading of a piece of major legislation took place in only three hours, unusual though that is, but rather a consistent and ongoing series of interventions by both Sir Christopher Chope and William Wragg. The pair intervened throughout the debate, questioning a part of the explanatory notes which claimed that “A full Impact Assessment has been prepared”, something which had not been provided to the House. The reason that it had not been provided soon became clear with the Minister eventually being forced to admit that rather than having “been prepared”, the impact assessment was in fact “being worked on”.
But what does this mean for consultors? Although since 1998 any Government department issuing new policies or policy proposals that might have impacts on the business and voluntary sectors have been required to complete regulatory impact assessments, a more general provision on them has never happened. The aforementioned Sir Christopher has some form on this having discussed them for a long time and even introduced a private members bill to require them for all primary and secondary legislation.
Where they have been done, reports suggest that they are somewhat shoddy and unmonitored. In contrast, in the devolved administrations they tend to be more robust, and we have even seen court cases about them, most notably Re Community Pharmacies in Northern Ireland where the lack of an RIA lead to the Court finding against the Executive.
With an increase in pressure for their use more generally in the UK Government, we can’t help but wonder whether they might eventually (at least at the high level) join the current requirements for equalities impact assessments and (in some circumstances) environmental impact assessments. If they do, then there may be a need for more consultation and engagement on their development. In the same way as would be expected for equality impact assessments, to secure the relevant information might require you to reach out to affected bodies. We should not expect a general requirement for them any time soon, but we’ll have a further look into how they are currently used and arrived at to see if we can pull any legislative gold from them…
We’ve discussed consultations on budgets in the devolved administrations in the past, and as with all such things, they are already back again. This week in Wales, the Government gave notice that they intend to conduct a consultation on the priorities for the draft budget in the autumn term. Interestingly however, the notice came with a request that members of Senedd committees engage with the finance committee to let them know how the consultation can best support committees in their work.
This made us think, and it’s something we’ve thinking about a lot recently- should we be asking more questions of both our decision-makers and those we are consulting as to how they can best be informed and how our processes can be most useful to them? It’s one of the questions that’s come up in our debates on the post-pandemic future of consultation, and we think it’s a biggy. We’re still thinking about it and we’d appreciate your thoughts- do send them across to the usual address.
There will be no WIP next week as your correspondent is on holiday. He will however be dropping back in on Wednesday morning at 11 to deliver the summer law update in the last Wednesday Wisdom. For more information, please click here.