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The Week in Parliament

Unbelievably things have been happening in Parliament other than the Prime Ministers ongoing trials and tribulations (the denouement of which, due to a reasonable performance at PMQs and a defection which seems to have spooked the startled deer in the Tory Rebel Alliance, seems to have been deferred until next week). So what has been happening away from the sounds of unsheathing knives?

Westminster

As so often these days (and rightfully so) the climate was high on the agenda this week,, with two notable consultation related interventions. The first came in a debate in Westminster Hall about rules around rebated fuel. Many will be aware that in addition to the regular fuel purchased at your local petrol station, some industries (particularly those who are heavy users of off-road vehicles such as agriculture and construction) have access to so called “red diesel”. No, it’s not communist fuel, but it is heavily rebated, and contains a special red dye to help the Government detect if anyone has been using it nefariously.

Last year, the Government consulted on removing the use of red diesel from most sectors, including construction. Naturally, this has caused some consternation from those likely to all of a sudden find themselves paying full tax on their fuel. In the debate, some parliamentarians expressed concern that as the consultation (a standard 12 week-er) took place whilst the pandemic was ongoing it might not have adequately represented the views of industry. The Government claims that it determined their arguments appropriately balanced against the policy objectives. Why do we mention it? Simple, it’s exactly the sort of case we might expect to see going to court. Whether we will or not remains to be seen…

Speaking of things that might end up in court (and I’m not referring to the PM or the whips…) the other brief mention we had this week was on an upcoming Government consultation on including nuclear power in the new UK green investment taxonomy. Nuclear power is a funny old thing for those involved in Green activism, with some acknowledging it as a necessary replacement power source, and others strenuously objecting to it. It’s an argument we would expect to see coming out quite strongly in the consultation, so we’ll keep an eye on that in case anything interesting happens…

Scotland

History is on the table in Scotland, notably what can be done to broaden opportunities for learners to consider non-European and diverse perspectives. The Scottish Qualifications Authority will shortly be consulting on the matter and it could be an interesting one to watch. It would seem initially to broadly fall under the header of ‘culture-war-issues-that-the-public-don’t-really-care-about’, though as a history fan myself I can’t help but be excited about moves to take a slightly less parochial view of history than tends to be taught (at the school level at least) in the UK. Years of playing historical strategy games have opened my eyes to the parts of the world that have fascinating histories that aren’t often taught over here. No doubt however the consultation will draw strong views from both sides, with some calling foul over alleged attempts to forget our own history, and others advocating a broader view to be taken. We’ll have a peek at the consultation when it emerges and see what we think.

Northern Ireland

Dispute in the assembly over the Integrated Education Bill with some members objecting not only to the Bill itself, but also to the manner in which the consultation was conducted. Not only were there accusations that the consultation process on the Bill had not been updated or rerun since it was first done in 2016-2017, but also that the process of consideration before the Committee was flawed, in that they were given legal advice on the Bill on a Wednesday, and then asked to provide a formal consultation response on the next day. A five year gap between consultation and policy change is quite a long time, especially when there have been so many major changes of circumstance in the intervening time. The Bill also comes at the time where the Executive is conducting a more general review, prompting even more dispute.

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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