36.On 20 March 2018, we took oral evidence on Government consultation from Mr Oliver Dowden, CBE, MP, Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office. We have published the transcript of that evidence on our website.
37.We previously took oral evidence on this subject from the Rt Hon Sir Oliver Letwin, MP (then Minister for the Cabinet Office), in January 2016. Sir Oliver told us that the Cabinet Office would “undertake the monitoring and improvement of consultations on an ongoing and case-by-case basis”.We were therefore disappointed that, when in February 2017, the Rt Hon. Ben Gummer, MP, (who had taken over as Minister for the Cabinet Office) wrote to the Committee with the first Cabinet Office report, it failed to match the prospectus held out for it by Sir Oliver. In particular, it resiled from the undertaking that the Cabinet Office would actively monitor consultation practice.
38.In his evidence on 20 March, Mr Dowden said that the Rt Hon. David Lidington, now the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and he had reviewed Mr Gummer’s decision that it would not be appropriate for the Cabinet Office to have that role, and that they supported the decision. The Cabinet Office would not provide a further annual report on consultation. He explained their view that the Cabinet Office’s role should be to support Departments and encourage training, rather than actively to intervene in their work.
39.We asked Mr Dowden about the evidence available to the Cabinet Office to inform its view of the adequacy of Government consultations. He referred to our own work, and in particular to those reports of the Committee in which individual statutory instruments were drawn to the attention of the House on the ground of inadequate consultation. We have written to Mr Dowden to point out that, in our reports, we may also voice concerns about consultation in comment on other statutory instruments which we may not formally bring to the House’s attention. There are of course other consultation exercises carried out by Government Departments which do not relate to secondary legislation: we have no knowledge of these exercises, and our reports cannot serve as a guide to them. We are publishing our letter of 21 March 2018 and Mr Dowden’s reply of 26 March.
40.We are not persuaded of the case for the Cabinet Office to confine its role to supporting Departments, without also monitoring their performance, and we have again written to Mr Dowden to underline our concern. We shall publish further correspondence in due course.
8 , Session 2015–16 (HL Paper 89).
9 , Session 2016–17 (HL Paper 120).