The Week in Parliament
Well, the big political news story today is the Government’s loss of two by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, but I’ve not yet had chance to find the consultation angle on those yet (there will be one somewhere. There always is. I learnt that from the master, Rhion Jones…). So what else has been happening across the UK in the legislatures?
Most of the consultation activity in Parliament this week was in the committees, but I want to focus on one particular committee, the fifteenth sitting of the committee examining the Online Safety Bill, which examined several consultations obligations that the Bill would put on Ofcom, the communications regulator in conducting their work. Particular debate revolved around the proposed duty for Ofcom to consult on developing codes of practice.
With one of the major stated purposes of the Bill being to better protect children against the darkest corners of the internet, attention has naturally fallen on how Ofcom will be required to engage with groups representing the interests of children. The key question seems to be why the four Children’s Commissioners are not specifically listed as statutory consultees, instead of the current clause that merely requires a general consultation with those representing children. The Government insists that naturally this will encompass the Children’s Commissioners.
Whether or not to specifically identify statutory consultees is an interesting question, and largely one of politics. In this case however, it might be a worthwhile addition, as we have seen recent cases where a failure to consult the Children’s Commissioner has been cited successfully in a legal challenge, most notably in the first Article 39 case. With the Article 39 charity continuing to demonstrate a willingness to litigate (we recently saw another case from them which we will be discussing in next week’s Law Wednesday Wisdom- join me for that here), the Government might be better to take the more cautious route…
Some interesting debate about cross-border consultation in Scotland this week around the rail strikes currently ongoing over a pay dispute. Network Rail itself is a reserved matter for the UK Government, and rail strikes can have a huge impact nationwide, and in Scotland there is limited capacity to deal with them. The Scottish Government is particularly unhappy at what they see as a purely ideologically driven dispute and highlighted what they see as a lack of consultation and engagement between the UK Government and themselves. The degree to which there should be cross-border consultation on these sorts of things is a persistent bugbear for the devolved administrations, and debates can get particularly heated when it relates to disputes such as this where ideology can play a major role. Whilst the consequences of this example are primarily of inconvenience, the proposed amendments to human right are provoking a much more serious debate (we’ll have much more on that and the associated consultation next week).