SLSC recommends review into consultation process following IER campaign

17 January 2013 Following a campaign by the IER, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) has urged the government to conduct an immediate, independent review into its new approach to consultation.

17 Jan 2013| News

17 January 2013

Following a campaign by the IER, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) has urged the government to conduct an immediate, independent review into its new approach to consultation.

In its report, which was based on oral evidence from Cabinet Office Minister responsible for coordinating government policy Oliver Letwin, and written evidence gathered during a public consultation, the Committee said it was not satisfied the Coalition’s changes to the way consultations are run is working.

The government’s new approach to consultation includes cutting some consultation periods – at the discretion of the ministers responsible – to as little as two weeks or declining to have them at all in some situations. Furthermore, the government has suggested that consultations should “digital by default”.

There were 550 responses to the SLSC’s consultation, 477 of them were sent as part of the IER’s email campaign. We also submitted an official response authored by Roger Jeary, while other evidence was received by the Committee from organisations across the labour movement, third sector and private sector.

The new approach was also recently criticised during the Grand Committee stage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Bill, where the government was accused of playing dirty.

“We were struck both by the volume of submissions that we received, and by the extent of concerns expressed across groups from civil society,” the SLSC said.

“In the light of the evidence, we call on the Government to recognise that the July 2012 Principles are failing to provide the consistency and transparency that others look for in consultation exercises,” it added.

The SLSC’s recommendations are as such:

We urge the Government:

· to ensure that the forthcoming review of the July 2012 Consultation Principles draws on concerns voiced in written evidence to us, and particularly on a widely expressed preference for a 12-week standard duration;

· to recognise that six weeks is regarded as the minimum feasible consultation period, save in circumstances which would be generally recognised as exceptional (and not defined as such by Government alone);

· to ensure that consultation periods do not clash with holidays or peak periods of activity for the target group; and

· to respond to the wish for the Government to engage with key interest groups prior to launching any public consultation, so as to agree broad outlines.

We recommend that:

· the review of the Principles should be launched in January and publish its findings by Easter 2013 ;

· the review should be carried out by a unit independent of Government, to ensure that its findings are seen as objective; and

· a Stakeholder Reference Group should be convened to provide input to the review team, with members from across civil society.

We also urge the Government:

· to recognise that a “digital by default” approach may exclude vulnerable and other groups, and may constrain comments from those who do respond;

· to demonstrate more clearly that the commitment to wider engagement with vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups is being delivered in practice;

· to reinforce the commitment to wider engagement in any revision of the Principles; and

· to introduce, as soon as possible, a single website listing open consultations in the order in which they close.

We also recommend that:

· revision of the Principles should make it explicit that Departments should always publish a timely Government response to a consultation process;

· the Government should strengthen the oversight role of the Cabinet Office in relation to the co-ordination, conduct and communication of consultation exercises across Departments, to monitor compliance with the Principles; and

· the Government should make clear what redress is open to stakeholders if they consider that any consultation does not comply with the published Principles.

Finally, we recommend that, before placing any new deregulatory Bill before Parliament, the Government should carry out an effective process of public consultation, in the spirit of the Minister’s assurances to us.

Click here to read the full report

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