The Week in Parliament
And that’s it. Parliament is in recess, and after I’ve pressed publish on this I’ll be going off on a long Christmas holiday. But, as is often the case, there’s just one last thing. This time it’s the upset of the North Shropshire by-election, where in the early hours of this morning the Liberal Democrats managed to break a near-two hundred year streak of Tory holds to snatch the seat. Unusually, there doesn’t really seem to be a consultation angle on this one, unlike Chesham and Amersham, so we will not linger overmuch, instead heading to take a look at what else has been going on before the final non-uniform day of the year.
In Westminster we saw a protest from Sir Roger Gale, the veteran Conservative MP for North Thanet, about the lack of consultation on the Government’s decision to turn over the former RAF Manston to serve as a refugee and asylum seeker accommodation site. Although the primary thrust of the protest was about the lack of consultation with local authorities (the Police, Council and health officers being name checked particularly), it did get us thinking about why we don’t see more consultation on such matters more broadly.
Immigration is of course a national level issue, one which the Government tightly controls. It Is consulted on- albeit not always very well, but generally it tends to be something that the Government plays very close to its chest when making decisions. Partially this can be attributed to it being a political hot potato which can be very useful in the seeking of votes, but also because of national security and economic concerns.
Public views however are diverse, and we wonder if there shouldn’t be a bit more involvement with the public on deciding migration issues. Much work on this is done by the Migration Advisory Committee which offers independent advice on immigration policy, and particularly the Shortage Occupation List. Post-Brexit, with the increases in barriers to immigration and the failures of some of the Government’s early schemes to bring in subject experts, there will be a need for a better and more developed migration policy, and all sectors of society are likely to be impacted.
The Migration Advisory Committee does consult, and on the whole their consultations have been relatively robust, albeit limited in scope, as we considered here. With wholesale changes on the cards, it would be good to see more consultation on the broader issues. To do this however the Government might have to accept a loosening of its grip over this particular issue- something that they are unlikely to do…
The biggest consultation debate in Holyrood this week was about the Scottish Government’s justice reform consultation which, amongst other things proposes the abolition of the ‘not proven’ verdict available to Scottish juries. We have touched upon it twice before but now the need for further consultation instead of action is being questioned. Opposition parties highlighted that the issue was first consulted on in 2012, before a two-year review was commissioned in 2013, a final decision after that review being made that it should be kept, but more research undertaken.
Allegations of consultation being used as a shield to hide behind are common in politics- although usually on topics more emotive than this. In some circumstances it’s undeniably true that it is an attempt to avoid action, but here it may well not be. As the opposition parties identify, a decision was arrived at previously. So what may make this consultation appropriate? Well, the fact that a need for further research was identified, and the decision now seems to be in question.
Complicating matters further is the Dorrian Review of the Management of Sexual Offence Cases, which identified that juries often seem to misunderstand the ‘not proven’ verdict. Taken together, we’d say there’s definitely grounds for another consultation, and not just a blind rush into action.
In Northern Ireland, the Executive have just launched the consultation on their draft Budget for 2022-2025. The draft Budget document is the preliminary effort to establish the general principles by which departmental budgets will be set, for the consultation to provide further information to allow for amendment before the final settlement.
One of the points of contention this time round relates to the uplift being given to Health, with members calling for more information from the department on how this uplift is going to be used. The Executive has assured members that more information on this will be provided over the consultation period.
We’re curious about this- how will people be able to respond to the consultation properly if they don’t have this, potentially important, information? Although providing further information over the course of a consultation (particularly in response to queries) is not a bad thing, anything key should probably be there from early on to give people the proper time to consider it. At any rate, the Executive must enable people to give proper thought to it, which will mean a need to get further information out expeditiously.
And with that, I sign off for Christmas. Thank you very much for coming with me on another year’s worth of rambles through the corridors of power. I hope it has been occasionally enlightening, or at the very least entertaining. We’ll be back in the new year. I hope very much that you have a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year- I’ll see you on the other side.