|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: We certainly all agree about the importance of consultation. It has been described as the pillar of the process and as essential in going to the heart of the Bill. I entirely agree with that.
The current procedure demands wide and open consultation with all interested parties, whether in favour of or likely to be opposed to the proposals. However, I understand the point made in Amendment No. 48 that there should be a general announcement that the consultation is being carried out. The difficulty lies in what we mean by a "general announcement". There is no longer, as there might have been in the 18th century, a single journal which reaches all the people who might be concerned. I do not believe that we would be satisfied with The Times of London or the London Gazette.
I want to put a better alternative to the Committee. We plan to publish all consultation documents on proposals under the regulatory reform order process both on the website of the department concerned, which means that it is well known to those who are interested in the affairs of that department, and on the Cabinet Office's website.
The UK online Citizen Portal--on "ukonline.gov.uk"--is a website where people can access all government information and services which are available online. One of the four main features of the site is an area called "Citizen Space", which makes it easy for people to find out about government plans and consultation. All current public consultations are listed on the site, whose address is "ukonline.gov.uk/online/citizenspace/default". It can be accessed without the need to go through all those domains. Users can search on key words to find out whether a consultation is being undertaken on a specific topic. Consultations on regulatory reform orders will be listed routinely on that site. There are direct links to each consultation document, and it is possible to
In that way, all proposals will be in the public domain and it will be open to any interested party to make representations to the Minister. Of course, the Minister must report on all representations and not only on those submitted from people to whom he sent the document. In other words, if a person replies online to the Citizen Portal, he is part of the consultation process and reporting obligations apply.
I turn to Amendment No. 57 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. It concerns the report which the Minister must provide to Parliament alongside the document containing his proposals in the form of a draft order. The amendment suggests that the means and timescale of the consultation should be included in the details provided to Parliament.
I believe that the Bill covers those requirements. Currently the Minister is required to include in his report details of the matters specified in Clause 6(2). The amendment addresses subsection (j), which refers to,
The requirements on consultation in the Bill are strict. They demand a full and open process. The standard procedure requires the production of a written consultation document to be sent to all those who have an interest in the proposal. In all cases, consultation documents contain details of where to send representations and by when. In addition, as is currently the case with deregulation orders, it will be standard procedure for the department which issues a consultation document on a proposal for regulatory reform to send the names and addresses of consultees to both committees, together with a copy of the consultation document when it is first issued. All those consultation documents will be published on the Cabinet Office's website, as well as on the department's website.
I understand the implicit concern that the period in question must be long enough. As with Amendment No. 48, the consultations will be carried out in accordance with the criteria laid down in the Cabinet Office code of practice on written consultation exercises, from which, indeed, Amendment No. 48 comes. The current code of practice requires a 12-week consultation period to be the norm. Where that is not adhered to, Ministers must provide their reasons why that is not the case.
However, we would not want to limit a consultation simply to being a written one. If it was clear that there was no representative body for a class of people or organisations, it would be open to the Minister to gauge the impact of his proposals through survey or research, whether qualitative or quantitative. We
Another prompt for the Minister would be the scrutiny undertaken by committees in either House, with particular emphasis on the nature of the Minister's consultation exercise. The Minister will know that the scrutiny committees have the power to issue an adverse report on any proposal where they believe that the consultation has not been as thorough, as wide or as long as it should have been. They have not hesitated to do so in the past--the Sunday dancing example comes to mind. The result would be that a proposed order could be rejected. On several occasions the committees have also considered the length of consultation and, in relation to some, have said that it was barely adequate. We want that robust approach to continue. It is a strong procedural safeguard.
We face a difficulty in accepting these amendments. Certainly, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, uses the code of conduct as it is presently worded. We would be most reluctant to put the code of conduct on the face of primary legislation because it can, should and has changed over a period of time.
However, I would be prepared to consider--but I emphasise the enormous difficulties involved--whether a provision should be included in the Bill specifying that the Minister should comply with a code of conduct which is issued from time to time. Huge difficulties would arise because it would apply much more widely than this Bill and we would have to obtain agreement from a number of other government departments in order to do so. But, because I recognise the significance of the argument which has been put forward, I am prepared to go away and consider it.
However, I am not prepared to say that we shall come back with an amendment which will achieve that. It might be necessary to say that in the future we shall consider whether all such cases of legislation where consultation is required should be subject to a code of conduct. That would take much longer than the passage of this Bill.
Lord Norton of Louth: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I fully recognise that he is making a genuine effort to move in my direction in terms of what I want to achieve. I readily put that on the record and acknowledge the move that he has made.
However, he has not quite assuaged me. Perhaps we may consider the reasons which he advanced against my amendment--that is, Amendment No. 48, although I can see that some of the points which he made are relevant to Amendment No. 49. My amendment requires the Minister to publish an invitation. He raised two objections. The first concerned the use of the word "publish" and the other was in relation to putting on the face of the Bill something that comes from the code.
That brings me to my second point. The amendment would not add to the Bill any provisions that were restrictive or specific in relation to the code. The code indicates what the Government should do, but the amendment uses the phrase, "publish an invitation". The Minister's point was that the code may change in future, but I cannot see how it could do so in a way that would be relevant to the proposals in Amendment No. 48, which are very simple. I want to include in the Bill the requirement that the Minister shall "publish an invitation". The Minister made it clear that that is what the Government intend to do, and he outlined precisely the method to be adopted.
I cannot see what the problem is. I appreciate the Minister's comments, but I seek to be even more helpful to him; I want to ensure that he can do what he wants to do by making it clear in the Bill that that is the case. On that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|