Government pilots new scheme to consult public over drafting of legislation

As someone who has often responded to government consultations on legislation, either on behalf of the party or as an interested individual, and even sometimes got the law changed, I’ve often been disappointed how few people respond to those consultations. In very technical areas, that may not matter too much, but there is a huge swathe of legislation where wider input can provide sensible ideas. It is, after all, the outsider to a system who can often spot what has become second nature to those in the system but no longer makes sense (if it ever did).

So it is good to see the government taking a step beyond previous efforts with the launch this week of a pilot public reading stage for a piece of legislation – the Freedoms Bill in this case. As the official announcement says,

This pilot project represents the first step towards meeting the Coalition’s commitment to introduce a public reading stage for all Bills, allowing the Government to test the technology and ensure the system works well.

People can leave their comments on all aspects of the Bill, from plans to restore rights to non-violent protest to a review of libel laws, by visiting an easily accessible website –

The comments will then be collated by the Government and presented to the Public Bill Committee, a cross-party House of Commons Committee that will scrutinise the Bill.

Simon Dickson has some apposite observations on the technical approach of the site so far, but the supply of the comments to MPs is an important step as traditionally consultations have resulted in views being submitted to those who drafted the plans in the first place. Even with the best people and the best of intentions, there is a risk with that.

Public Bill Committees have a fairly patchy record, so it is by no means guaranteed that giving them this extra role will result in MPs making the work of those committees more meaningful. But it gives the MPs who want to take scrutinising and improving legislation seriously more material with which to do so and it gives the public more information with which to hold MPs to account for the seriousness and competency with which they go about their work.

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  • I like the sound of this however I’m not sure about how popular this will be. I suppose time will tell.

    I know I would make use of it and encourage others to do the same now and then but there’s a huge culture change needed imho. We need to go from the people expecting to just be told what to do, to the people feeling a compulsion or even an obligation to help govern themselves.

  • Patrick Smith 19th Feb '11 - 2:33pm

    The new fresh air of `Coalition Government’ is now making it possible for a `Public Reading Stage’ in the piloted Freedoms Bill and is very welcome .But the Public Reading Stage should not be merely for the `nerds’ and the `politicos’ as it apears inaccessible on-line to the most minimally aware computer literate brain.

    I suggest that the Government take on the IT services of Simon Dickson as his `apposite observations’ should be noted and heeded and an easy door opening rule applied for comments and remarks on this important Freedoms Bill.

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