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The Week in Parliament

Well. What a week. It’s all been happening hasn’t it? Of course we’ve managed to find the consultation angle on the big story of the week, you can read all about that here, but outside of the machinations of men, major food producers and Members of Parliament the world has continued to tick inexorably on. So what has been happening? Let’s do the tour.

Westminster

On Monday, responding to a question in a debate on the Menopause (Support and Services) Bill, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care raised the ongoing Government consultation on making flexible working the default. Over the last couple of years, we’ve all become more familiar with the concept, and with many (including us here at tCI) now returning to the office on a more flexible basis it does seem like a good idea to have a little look at this one.

The consultation itself looks much the same as any other, hardly worthy of note perhaps, until you start to get into it a little further. The problems start with the substantive questions, where the formatting essentially interweaves the question numbers with the numbered paragraphs. On page 16 for example, were you not paying attention you might easily think that the numbering goes “34, 35, 8”. A fairly minor and pernickety point you may think, but as we have discussed previously small user interface issues can be major problems.

Further problems emerge when it comes to responding. The consultation is online only- and whilst its likely respondents dovetail nicely with those demographics likely to have internet access, it’s not perfect and is still likely to miss people (some of whom may well have important equalities or other issues to raise). Response then is by an online survey, or an e-mail address, though regrettably the response form promised in the consultation document (presumably to be sent to the email address upon completion) is missing in action- so respondents will have to take extra time listing the questions.

Although these are little things (possibly slightly less little on the digital-only element), cumulatively they do have an impact. One of the common complaints about consultations is the low response rates, and little things like this are only likely to exacerbate the issue further. It doesn’t take much to turn people off the idea of responding to a consultation- let’s try not to give them the final push eh?

Northern Ireland

Oft times (albeit probably not so much at this time of year) we as a species do like to be beside the seaside. Oh we do like to be beside the sea. If you are a journalist for the Guardian (who over lockdown seem to have developed something of an obsession) you also probably like a bit of a wild swim. I will confess myself that I am not averse to lobbing myself into the briny blue before being pushed back in again as I try to get out because someone thinks they’re watching a whale stranding. In Northern Ireland this week we saw a discussion about the UK Government’s consultation on the UK marine strategy, which looks to address pollution and some marine management issues. An auspicious time for the lover of the ocean as the NI Executive is also looking to expand the sites where it is safe to wild-swim. Marine consultations are of course ten-a-penny, every year when it comes to our annual review, we invariably find that the Marine Management Organisation is one of the top consultors. The NI consultation is reportedly in the preconsultation stage with local authorities having been contacted. In light of the news cycle of the last couple of weeks (admittedly mostly from England, rather than anywhere else), it might be interesting to see if concerns about water quality become an issue. Either way, I look forward to going for a nice swim off the coast of Northern Ireland in the not too distant future!

 

Nothing from Scotland or Wales this week, but next week Westminster goes back into recess for a little while- so the next few weeks should be a little more devolved administration heavy!

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

Read more about Stephen

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