The coalition programme for government undertook to introduce a new “Public Reading Stage” for Bills to give the public an opportunity to comment on proposed legislation online.
In pursuance of this aim the Government have conducted two pilot Public Reading Stages on the Cabinet Office website, in respect of the Protection of Freedoms Bill in February/March 2011 and the Small Charitable Donations Bill in August/September 2012. In addition, an online consultation was conducted by the Department of Health on the draft Care and Support Bill, which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.
Levels of participation in these consultations varied: for the Protection of Freedoms Bill 6,600 individuals visited the site; and 256 contributors made a total of 568 comments. Many of these were from members of the public rather than from organisations and made a helpful contribution to improving the content of the Bill. Participation on the Small Charitable Donations Bill was more limited: there were 85 comments from 23 organisations, most of which had already contributed to an earlier consultation on the Bill. There were no comments from individuals without a connection to interested organisations. The online consultation on the draft Care and Support Bill attracted a substantial number of responses, with over around 1,000 comments received. The detailed outcome of this consultation has been submitted to the Joint Committee scrutinising the Bill.
The comments from the Protection of Freedoms Bill and the Small Charitable Donations Bill were collated and presented to the Public Bill Committees, alongside an analysis by the Department responsible for the legislation. The comments and reports were referred to during the Committee Stage for each Bill, although they did not directly trigger any amendments.
The Government remain committed to promoting public engagement in Parliament and specifically in the legislative process. The pilot results indicate that approaches to consultation should be carefully tailored to the Bill. We will therefore seek to make our approach to consultation on legislation in line with the consultation principles introduced last year. These seek to ensure a more proportionate and targeted approach, so that the type and scale of engagement is proportional to the potential impacts of the proposal. We will not, at this stage, be introducing a Public Reading Stage as a matter of routine for Bills. Instead, an assessment will be made on a case-by-case basis of the type of public engagement and consultation that best fits the nature and timing of individual Bills, taking into account levels of stakeholder engagement in policy development. This decision does not preclude further consideration with a view to improving public engagement, particularly during Public Bill Committees, by this House.
The Government will draw upon the foil range of existing consultation and engagement mechanisms available, in line with the development of an open policy making model, as outlined in the civil service reform plan. These consultations may be conducted where it has not been possible to publish the legislation in draft, or either as part of or in addition to pre-legislative scrutiny where this would not duplicate work being undertaken by Select Committees.