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The Week in Parliament

Sincerest apologies for the lack of a Week in Parliament last week, I’m afraid a combination of the Budget and the escalating coronavirus situation made the end of last week a little bit fraught! But we are back in action, so far as we can be this week. Parliament has a brand new obsession, and entirely correctly so, but life still goes on, legislation still needs passing, regulations still need making and debates still need to be had. So outside of coronavirus planning, what have they been up to?

It was actually relatively quiet all round, perhaps mirroring the mood of the country as a whole. Most things of interest were not in the government sponsored debates where we usually see them, but rather the backbench debates in Westminster Hall. Perhaps the most interesting of them revolved around bank closures. The state of the economy has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, not just at the high economic level, but also with regard to the services being provided by people and the controversy around what is seen by some to be a move towards a ‘cashless’ society. It can be hardly coincidental that this debate should be happening at the same point that in order to save costs, many banks are looking to move away from the traditional model and are consequently shutting down many of their high street branches. These closures were the subject of the debate, and significant concerns were raised by MPs that the consultations undertaken by banks when deciding whether to close or move a store are often inadequate, and essentially act as mere tick-box exercises, rather than proper engagement dialogues undertaken in good faith. Quite the accusation you may think, and you would be right. It’s one we’re going to look into to see if we can get to the bottom of the principles applied by banks when undertaking these exercises.

In legislation terms, nothing of interest to consultors this week, although those interested in the numbers might be interested to hear that we did pass the 200 bills introduced this session mark this week. A quarter of them originated solely from one MP. The Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries Bills that have so intrigued us have now mostly passed through their committee stages, and we are interested to see what, if any, additional consultation commitments will make it into the final versions to be put to the Houses.

Many of the consultations promised in the budget (and highlighted in our piece here) have launched this week, including major consultations on Carer’s Leave and the long-promised Treasury/ONS consultation on moving away from the retail price index as a measure of inflation. We would expect large responses to both of those, albeit from very different groups of people. We will of course be scrutinising how those consultations go as they proceed.

Nothing of major consultative import in the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly this week, however we did note an interesting little exchange in the Northern Irish Assembly on Monday around a private members bill, the Functioning of Government Bill brought by Jim Allister, the MLA for North Antrim. The bill relates largely to functional matters around the Northern Irish government, but concerns did arise in the Q+A after Mr Allister had described his Bill to the relevant committee about the lack of consultation on its provisions. Mr Allister asserted, so it was said that as he had drafted the bill himself, rather than requesting the Bill Office to draft it for him, there was in fact no need for its provisions to be consulted on. Besides, he said, he had consulted on matters under consideration back in 2015 when he had presented a similar bill for consideration. The duration after which re-consultation is necessary is not a hard and fast rule, but we feel that five years must surely be pushing it, particularly when none of the reasons that this bill had supposedly been brought seemed to be that circumstances were significantly changed!

As always, if you have any questions or would like to discuss anything further, please drop me a line at StephenH@consultationinstitute.org

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.

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