The Government's New Approach to Consultation:
Government Response |
1. The Government announced a new approach to
consultations on 17
July 2012 proposing, amongst other changes, that they be shorter
and "digital by default". Following a call for evidence
and an oral evidence session on 11 December with Mr Oliver Letwin,
MP, Minister for Government Policy, the Committee published a
report on 10 January 2013.
The Government response to it, in the form of a letter from Mr
Letwin, is published at Appendix 1.
2. The Committee was disappointed with the Minister's
response and felt that he had not taken seriously the concerns
the Report expressed. Proposals on which he seemed quite positive
when he gave oral evidence to us in December 2012 are now swept
into the review for consideration on whether they should happen.
Proposals that are entirely within his control and capable of
rapid resolution - like a single website for publicising government
consultations - are similarly deferred to the end of the year
by inclusion in the review. If, as he suggests in his response,
the Minister does not propose to consult further but only to use
the written evidence the Committee has already obtained, then
there is no apparent reason why the review could not commence
3. The Committee welcomes the proposed external
advisory panel, which appears necessary to help officials to understand
the practical operation of the Consultation Principles for respondents
and to represent perspectives other than the Government's own.
However a panel of three members plus the National Audit Office
member seems rather too small to achieve this. The Minister's
proposal that the Committee should nominate a member is appreciated.
However, we believe that such an appointment would be contrary
to the normal constitutional separation between Parliament and
the Executive: the advisory panel should be truly independent.
We would simply suggest that, as a minimum, there should be members
drawn from each of the charity sector, industry and academia to
represent the wide range of interests.
4. We recommended an early review because of
the strong evidence we had received that a very wide range of
interested parties saw the new Consultation Principles as having
a detrimental effect on the development of good legislation.
Although they have the superficial attraction
of speeding up consultations (as shown in the Minister's own figures)
there was a clear message from respondents that quality would
suffer if they were not allowed sufficient time to gather appropriate
5. The Minister's response missed the point of
our recommendation: his initiative was not starting the process
from scratch as the 2008 Code of Practice on Consultation was
regarded with reasonable confidence by interested parties and
seen as being fair and effective. The Consultation Principles
moved suddenly from a system that appeared to be functioning reasonably
on all sides to a situation in which there are significant objections.
The written evidence we received clearly showed
that the fact that the Government had launched the new Consultation
Principles without any prior consultation was regarded with suspicion
and further delay in responding to their reasonable concerns can
only underline our witnesses' doubts that consultation will become
a mere public relations exercise rather than a genuine means of
influencing policy. We recommended an early review as a way of
limiting the damage being done.
6. The evidence also impressed the Committee
because it included a number of constructive suggestions on how
the consultation system could be improved, particularly by the
better targeted use of electronic communication. Those potential
benefits are similarly being delayed.
7. In his evidence Mr Letwin justified the change
to the Consultation Principles by saying: "We are trying
to achieve a shift to a sense of urgently getting on with that
which can be got on with urgently, taking into account what we
need to take into account, focusing on being intelligent on how
we find things out, so that we do not just treat time as if it
were the only way in which to do things". The Committee believes
that the Government should apply this sentiment to the review
of the Principles.
1 The Consultation Principles See: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/consultation-principles-guidance
22nd Report - The Government's new approach to consultation - "Work in Progress"
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