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Government: Consultation

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 14 May 2009

Question for Short Debate

Tabled By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that public consultations by government departments follow best practice.

I very much welcome the opportunity to put this question this afternoon. I am delighted that my noble friends Lord Attlee and Lord Eccles are taking part.

The way in which government consultations are conducted may seem a technical issue but it is actually important to the health of our political system. I have variously written and spoken about the importance of the relationship between Parliament and the public. This afternoon, I am concerned with the relationship between government and the public. How can interested members of the public have an input into policy deliberations by government? Equally importantly, how can members of the public see what is done with that input? To what extent does it inform government policy-making?

My starting point is that it is common ground that these are important questions, and that government recognise the need for consultation with interested parties when policy is being contemplated and the need for that consultation process to be as fair and transparent as possible. To that end, government provide guidance to departments and other public bodies on how to conduct consultations. The latest Code of Practice on Consultation came into effect in November last year. All government departments have signed up to the code, and guidance on running consultations is available from the Better Regulation Executive.

My concern is not with the content of the code or the guidance provided by the Better Regulation Executive but with enforcement and co-ordination. The code of guidance is exactly what it says it is: it provides guidance. Departments are not required to comply with the guidance and, as far as I can see, there is no mechanism in place to monitor, across government, compliance with the code.

There is a public perception of central government as some highly centralised and homogenised institution, with the work of departments being directed from the centre. There is one approach to government that sees it in terms of presidential government. However, another is the baronial model of government, conceptualising government as a range of departments headed by Ministers who, in many respects, resemble medieval barons, with their own courts and little empires. I think this approach is more applicable in this case. Ministers, if they choose, can elect not to conduct a consultation or, if they do, to conduct it other than in accordance with the code.

Let me identify what I see as the problems with the current arrangements. One is the fact that there is no whole-of-government view of consultation. When I put down a Question asking what steps were taken to ensure that departments complied with the code, I was told,

“There are several systems in place to aid compliance with the code of practice on consultation”.—[Official Report, 24/11/08; col. WA 241.]

There is a difference between ensuring compliance and aiding compliance, and the several systems appeared to number two. One was consultation co-ordinators in departments working with policy officials as well as with officials in the Better Regulation Executive. The other was transparency, in that consultation documents cite the criteria of the code and give the contact details of the departmental consultation co-ordinator, and departments are required in the better regulation chapter of their annual reports to describe their consultation activity over the year and compliance of their consultation activities with the code. In other words, it is transparent but a form of self-assessment.

My concern about the utility of such transparency is that it does not have much effect on government. It appears there is no one at the centre, be it in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform or in the Cabinet Office, who reads the reports and co-ordinates the data on consultation. In another Question last year, I asked how many consultation exercises had been undertaken by government departments since October 2007 and how many of them lasted, or were due to last, for the recommended period of at least 12 weeks. The Answer began:

“The Government no longer collate data on this”.—[Official Report, 24/11/08; col. WA 242.]

It then went on to point out that the information is put in the public domain through the departmental annual reports. The material may be put in the public domain, but I am querying what is then done with that material. As far as the Government go, it appears to be the end of a process rather than part of a central process to monitor compliance and ensure that the code is being followed.

By leaving it to individual departments to follow the code, there is the danger of some departments not following it as rigorously as others. Some are innovative, others are not. The guidance provided by the Better Regulation Executive includes a section headed “Reaching beyond the ‘usual suspects’”. That is extremely important in conducting consultations. However, not all departments are energetic in seeking to consult beyond the usual suspects. When the Judicial Appointments Order 2008 was being considered by the House last October, I noticed that the Ministry of Justice had been assiduous in consulting the bodies that one would expect to be consulted regularly on matters affecting the judiciary. However, the Explanatory Notes recorded:

“The level of public interest in the policy has been minimal”.

As I pointed out, this could be because the order had been placed on the departmental website, and that appeared to be the extent of it. There was no attempt to be pro-active in going beyond the usual suspects.

Contrast this with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, which lives up to its name by making consultation papers available to third parties in machine-readable form, thus enabling different bodies to identify when a consultation is taking place and then disseminate that fact to interested parties.

It is extremely important for the popular legitimacy of government that departments comply with the code. I would stress the need in particular for widespread dissemination of the fact that a consultation is taking place, following the practice of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills; for the 12-week consultation period to be met, other than in the most exceptional of circumstances; and for departments to be rigorous in collating and making available the results of the consultation, and explaining how those results have fed into the policy deliberations. At the moment, I fear, there is some concern that consultations constitute going through the motions and that the Government have already decided the issues in advance. It is essential that there is monitoring and co-ordination within government in order to ensure that departments comply with the code. I therefore ask the Minister what is being done to ensure compliance—not aid compliance but ensure compliance—with the code of practice and, as part of this, what is being done to monitor performance. As the Answer to one of my Questions suggested, the Government appear to have moved backwards, not forwards, on this.

A starting point to monitoring consultations is to draw together a list of consultations being undertaken. The Cabinet Office used to have a webpage listing all open consultations being conducted by departments. I was told, in answer to another Question, that it had removed the webpage because the service was not picking up all consultations, the cost of the service had increased and the site was receiving a low number of hits. It would be interesting to know why the system was not picking up all consultations; presumably it was because departments were not supplying the relevant information. However, the Answer to my PQ on the subject went on:

“However, the recent review of government consultation practices and policy, which led to a new code of practice on consultation coming into force on 1 November 2008, found that a comprehensive service of live consultations would be welcomed by stakeholders. The Better Regulation Executive in BERR is working with the Directgov team of the Central Office of Information to deliver such a service in the future. This would automatically pick up all consultation exercises published by central government”.—[Official Report, 24/11/08; col. WA 232.]

That would certainly be a major step in the right direction. The website, run by the Department for Communities and Local Government, is very valuable in identifying consultations, but I am not sure how comprehensive that is. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what progress has been made in creating a comprehensive service of live consultations. If he is the bearer of good news, I shall be delighted, and if the Government are able to move in that direction, it will be a significant step forward. It will not be the end of the process but it will facilitate BERR or the Cabinet Office monitoring compliance with the code and ensuring that consultations take the form they should. That can only be to the benefit of our political system. Poor consultation, or no consultation, can undermine confidence in the process of government. As I say, this is much more than a technical matter; it is extremely important to the legitimacy of the political system.

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Norton for introducing this debate. I come at it as a member of the Merits Committee and therefore as a recipient of the outcome of a great many consultations. We regularly look at 30 instruments a week, and one of the very first things that we do is to look at the paragraphs on consultation.

I should like to take as a theme the Cabinet Office paper of 2007, which concerns a consultation about consultation. It is called Effective Consultation and on the front of the paper are the words:

“Asking the right questions, asking the right people, listening to the answers”.

As is very common with government documents, they do not help you to decide how to ask the right questions and they do not help with a definition of who might be the right people to ask. As to listening to the answers, I shall come back to that later, but I suppose it is a question of what weight you give the answers.

Therefore, when members of the Merits Committee look at the results of consultations, they are caught up in a series of judgments. They know that it is not enough to be assured that guidelines are being followed—indeed, I think that there has been plenty of evidence in recent days that just following the rules will not do—but that you also have to exercise some judgment. That is the difficulty, because in the Civil Service—the servants of the Government of the day—the process is often more important than the outcome in the sense that, if you can say that you have followed the process, then what happens is not necessarily the most important matter.

I suppose that in a democracy we are talking about the people, but in Effective Consultation we come across something called a “stakeholder”, and I know that my noble friend comes across that term too. Does that mean someone who has an assessable interest, and is that a financial interest? What is the assessable interest? We are looking for people’s opinions—perhaps people within institutions or people who are grouped together in free association—but why do we have to call them people who hold a stake? That does not seem to be a very good way of starting if you are looking to make a judgment, and in particular a judgment in relation to the level of consultation that is taking place. If there is consultation on assisted suicide or 42 days’ detention, that is at a different level. The ways and means of trying to find out what people think are many and various, and indeed they are employed in many and various ways. Votes may depend on that consultation.

However, it is not like that in the Merits Committee. The committee is in the area of secondary legislation, where the policy is set out in an Explanatory Memorandum and is, in a sense, a given. The questions asked in the consultation concern the implementation of that policy and do not necessarily question the policy itself. Indeed, it is not part of the Merits Committee’s terms of reference to question the policy but only to try to arrive at a recommendation for the House as to whether the instrument will carry out the policy. Then of course there are some technical, low-level consultations, such as about the closure of a street.

Our present system of guidelines and of commenting on consultations does not attempt to give any feel of how significant the consultation was. How likely was it that there would be controversy? How much did the department in question know that there was indeed controversy on the subject? It is carried out in a way which does not give the feel of the questions to which the department would like to have answers; it is carried out in a way in which the questions are set to cover the ground but not to look for trouble. There is some reason to think—I shall give one example—that we should look for why we did not get an answer to a question, or why a question was not raised by anyone in whatever was put forward.

The weight of evidence is often presented in the outcome in a very bland way—70 per cent said this, 30 per cent said that—and little guidance is given about what to think about the 70 per cent and the 30 per cent. This brings me to the example I wish to give. We recently had an order bringing seven designated types of psychologists under statutory control. Before the consultation started on the implementation of the order, the Government had persuaded the British Psychological Society that it should agree to statutory control. That was a big judgmental move on the part of the British Psychological Society. It would have come under considerable pressure to make that move because the state system, again as mentioned by my noble friend, is very large, powerful and centralised. It would be a brave council of the British Psychological Society that stood out for self-regulation and common law if the Government wanted it to come under statutory control and the NHS was responsible for giving its members much of their work.

The regulatory impact assessment states that the order was brought in as a matter of modernisation of the regulation of healthcare, to ensure patient safety, to set standards of competence and to maintain and improve public confidence. In the consultation, no questions were asked about modernisation; it was a given. That is to say, statutory control equalled modernisation, in effect. No questions were asked of the people practising about their experience of patient safety, nor about what they thought about public confidence. All the questions they were asked were tailored around the given that this statutory regulation was going to be brought in—after all, the society had agreed to it—and therefore there was no need, I suppose, to seek evidence as to whether what was said in the regulatory impact assessment as the reason for the order was in fact an issue. We all agree that patient safety is an issue, but we need to tie the issue of lesser or greater patient safety to the question of whether it would be achieved by statutory control, or whether it is being achieved perfectly satisfactorily without statutory control.

I sum up by saying that I do not think that making a consultation into a well worked out process is sufficient; there needs to be judgment at every stage.

I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Norton for introducing this Question for Short Debate. I do not often get involved in these issues, but I have a simple question for the Minister. The advantage of Grand Committee is that the Minister has ready access to his officials, who, I am sure, can easily provide inspiration for the Minister’s answer.

A while ago, a Member of another place was asked by the Prime Minister of the time to undertake an inquiry into a matter of public policy of which I had a little experience. The honourable Member wrote to me, asking for my views. I replied in detail, a couple of sides, but it may not quite have been what the honourable Member expected. Some might think that it was unhelpful. It was, indeed, carefully drafted.

The honourable Member misunderstood me and, in a letter to me, suggested that I did not want to make a contribution. I replied, and this is the important bit: “Nevertheless, my letter of”—the date—

“is my contribution this important study, and I look forward to seeing it alongside any others which are published”.

I heard nothing more from the honourable Member.

The question is: am I a consultee to that inquiry or not? In other words, should my name have been included in the list of consultees?

I also wish to express my grateful appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for introducing this important debate. However, I also extend my appreciation to the work that he has done prior to this debate to seek to elicit the facts. For he has, through most persistent questioning, raised a number of issues that I hope the Minister will have time to address. I also register my appreciation of how he has himself engaged in consultation on this subject on his blog. I have read with interest some of the letters that he received, which are available, from, among others, M J Ray, James Clark, Dave Briggs and a number of others, all of which express the public interest in what we are talking about.

Although it may appear to be an arcane subject, it seems to be of great importance to the public; not only to those who are specifically targeted by departments for consultation but, more generally, those who are affected, even if not centrally but peripherally. Many are anxious to access the policy-making process and, by participating and indicating their interests, to help to shape our democratic response to policy making.

At a time when Parliament is under something of a cloud for reasons unconnected to the subject that we are debating today, it behoves us all to think carefully about how we can strengthen the sense of public involvement in our processes. I very much welcome the debate on that account.

However, it is not only a matter of importance to the public. It is also a matter of high importance to Parliament, in its legislative process, to know what is happening and why, and how those affected, even indirectly, might feel. With the best will in the world, it is not possible, even for specialists, to rake up all the implications of legislation pouring forth from Whitehall, as it does, at an ever-increasing rate.

I have also noticed with great interest the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about the work of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. I observed in particular one review, which the committee had conducted, of an order that seemed to speak eloquently of its wider experience and to underline the importance to Parliament of consultation. I refer to the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Amendment (No. 2). Order 2008; the review summarised with the concluding sentence:

“We note with concern the very short consultation period on this proposal and the fact that a significant degree of disagreement with the policy remains”.

It is interesting that that particular report follows the committee’s report on the Draft Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009, in which it drew attention to the shortness of time that the Government had allowed it to consider why the order was necessary, what its policy objective was, and what the explanation was for the exceptional hurry that had limited the normal scrutiny process. That order related to the publication of expenses claimed by or paid to Members of either House. The well known rubric, “Legislate in haste and repent at leisure”, is underlined very clearly by these two examples. The Government must take extremely seriously the issue of consultation.

I add my inquiry to the Minister about the overarching arrangements for ensuring that the code published in November 2008 and which became operative then are available to the public and understood, and that the public are told where to go. It is not at all clear to members of the public where to look for subjects in which they may be very interested; with the constant changing of names of departments, who remembers the particular department responsible for this at the moment is BERR? Many people still think of it as the DTI and would be astonished to discover that there was responsibility within that department.

The reference in the cover notes that had been put out to going to the Department for Communities and Local Government is also somewhat confusing. Why should that particular department be the source of information across government? In fact, it is not entirely clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, pointed out, that that department is in possession of all the information that is relevant and ought to be available.

In conclusion, I raise an issue that may be very easily answered by the Minister, on the extent to which these rules of the code are enforceable. The document itself—that is, the introduction to the code of practice, setting out the status—expresses the view that the code does not have legal force. Of course, in one obvious sense, that is clear. However, I read with some interest the text of the broadcast by a Mr Paul Greening, who is described as a public participation expert, in an interview that he gave with Radio Free Europe as long ago as 4 March 2003. The interest of this is that apparently he was the member of the Cabinet Office who was invited in 1998, as deputy head of consultation, to be responsible for drawing up the original code in 2000. At the end of his very interesting statement about how the different interests had been weighed up within government, he said:

“There is a public expectation that ministries will follow the Code of Practice. If they do not, according to UK law … consultations can be subject to judicial review, which means the ministry could be taken to court”.

I wonder if that is the case. Someone dissatisfied might be tempted to try it out, but I should like to hear the Minister’s view on that possibility.

I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth for drawing our attention to this important area of the legislative process. Consultation is vital to public confidence in our legislative system; indeed, it is a word that we hear often in your Lordships’ House. We on these Benches frequently call for more public consultation in order, as my noble friend said, to increase transparency, to enhance scrutiny and, above all, to allow for legislation to be developed with the confidence that the nation will concur with it because its citizens have been thoroughly involved in its preparation. Therefore, I am sure that your Lordships will applaud the work that has gone into many of these consultations, and that you will approve of the amount of interaction that this allows and the opportunity it theoretically provides for fine-tuning legislation. Indeed, we welcome such improvements as the Government have brought to the process of consultation.

In 2000, the Code of Practice on Consultation was introduced and, since then, I think that there have been no less than three updated versions. The code seeks to improve the,

“transparency, responsiveness and accessibility of consultations”.

Given that there are, I believe, currently more than 30 consultations running in different government departments, it is clearly vital that the process should be under constant scrutiny and subject to continuing improvement.

A number of important matters have been raised in today’s debate but, in view of the hour, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not refer to all of them. I propose to pick up on three main areas of concern. The first is the over-arching one of the flexibility allowed to government departments under the code. There is no mechanism that I can detect—my noble friend Lord Norton dwelt on this—for ensuring compliance, and no mechanism for checking and co-ordinating what government departments are doing. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said that my noble friend Lord Norton had been assiduous in raising questions on this subject. Indeed, in one such Written Question my noble friend asked:

“How many consultation exercises have been undertaken by government departments since October 2007; and how many of them lasted or are due to last for the recommended period of at least 12 weeks”.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter of Barnes, said in response—indeed, my noble friend has referred to this—that:

“The Government no longer collate data on this. However, the information is put into the public domain each year, as departments are required, in the better regulation chapter of their annual reports, to describe their consultation activity over the year and the compliance of their consultation activities with the code”.—[Official Report, 24/11/08; col. WA 242.]

They no longer collate the data. So there we have it. There is no mechanism for checking and co-ordinating and for comparing performance between departments. It is all very well departments describing their own consultation activity once a year but, as my noble friend asked, what independent verification of their claims is made? Perhaps the Minister will be able to address that.

My noble friend’s Written Question also asked how many consultation exercises lasted or were due to last for the recommended period of at least 12 weeks. The response from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, did not directly answer that query. It is that lack of an answer which suggests that a considerable number of consultations might not last for the recommended period. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, referred to having first-hand experience of direct complaints about this. I, too have had such an experience and so this might be a further example of there being too much flexibility in the system.

My second area of concern is the appearance that the Government are merely going through the motions; that they undertake consultation half-heartedly because they have already decided what they will do; and that consultation is often, effectively, less than genuine. My noble friend Lord Attlee’s experience sounds like a graphic example of this. I strongly suspect that his is not the only example. As a general point, I suggest that the emphasis should be towards consultation on the issue rather than on the legislation. By definition, this happens earlier in the process and can genuinely influence the development of legislation before firm positions are taken by the government department on the exact direction that it should take. The Australians have taken some interesting steps in this direction which are worth looking at.

My third area of concern is the complaint that I hear increasingly from the people on the front line, who really have something to contribute to a consultation but are not being made aware that such a process is even taking place. Again, my noble friend Lord Norton spoke of this, as did my noble friend Lord Eccles, who, among other things, took issue—as do I—with the vagueness of the term “stakeholder”. It is true that some good use is being made of technology and details of consultations are indeed being put on official websites. However, this assumes that all people with something important to say in the consultation will know which website to look at and when to do so. Given the huge amount of bureaucracy in which we are all now engulfed, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, referred, it is unsurprising that key people miss such consultations. For example, when the consultation on the future of tobacco control was held, not enough was done to increase retailer awareness of it. Retailers were left to find it online, or to request a hard copy from the Department of Health, despite the fact that the provisions were to affect them directly.

That consultation is a very recent example of a pre-legislative inquiry by the Government. It does not meet best practice. We must not allow ourselves to become complacent. The word “consultation” is often bandied about, but we must ensure that we always remember that the word itself is not enough. It is vital that there is substance behind it. Consultation done poorly can do more damage than none at all. The results can, at best, be inappropriate and, at worst, misleading, providing a false sense of security that the legislation has been both widely approved and, indeed, improved. It would be very helpful if the Minister could reassure your Lordships that all future consultations will be conducted with more care and with reference to the Government’s own code of practice on consultation. That code states that,

“effective consultation allows the Government to make informed decisions on matters of policy”.

That is the theory of consultation, but it can only be achieved if the highest standards are maintained. Your Lordships have clearly shown today that you are concerned that those standards are not being maintained. The code of practice also states:

“we will continue to monitor how we consult and appreciate feedback on how we can improve”.

I hope the Minister will take all our comments today in the constructive way in which they are intended and will explain to us how he hopes to improve matters.

This has been an excellent debate, which has been greatly enriched by the knowledge and expertise that your Lordships have in this area. In preparation, I read the bio of the noble Lord, Lord Norton; I was obviously aware that he was a subject matter expert. I apologise that I have not read his blog. I thank him for tabling the Question for debate. Let me be clear: the Government are committed to effective public consultation that is targeted at and easily accessible to those with a clear interest in the policy in question. This is fundamental to a working democracy. I believe that, later, I will be able to give the noble Lord some good news.

I am delighted to report that our consultation code places the UK in a very small group of countries that are instituting rigorous requirements of this kind. In fact, the OECD praises us on our approach to consultation. We hope that the results—to be published soon—will show that the UK continues to be ranked as one of the best-performing OECD member countries on better regulation.

Your Lordships’ House plays a vital role in influencing and determining legislation as it proceeds in this House and in the other place, and through our Committee work. However, it is also essential that the Government provide their stakeholders with the opportunity to comment both on the direction and the implementation of new policies. We listen carefully to stakeholder views.

What is a stakeholder? It is anyone with a stake in the policy and could include businesses and citizens. On a personal basis, I would define it as those with an interest in the subject matter. We listen to stakeholder views on policy proposals and have a commitment to respond to consultation findings. That, after all, is an essential part of government. We have to be open to the views of stakeholders and be prepared to be held to account by others. Providing citizens, businesses and others with the opportunity to influence policy before it is enshrined in law is more than an academic exercise; it helps us design and deliver better policy outcomes.

In 2007, the Government actually used a stakeholder consultation process to review the code of practice on consultation itself and considered various interest groups and stakeholder views from those who regularly respond to government. We refined and updated the process, publishing this new code of practice last July, but there has to be a sense of continuous improvement. This document needs to be alive and changing. It needs to continuously improve.

There are important principles of the code are that all public consultations should adhere to. It must be timely, clear, accessible and well publicised. Consultations must be introduced early in the policy development process and last at least 12 weeks. Our best practice also includes providing a summary of responses received before or alongside any further action. The code does not, and should not, dictate that Ministers should conduct full, formal public consultations in absolutely every case. It is important to exercise judgment in deciding whether a formal consultation will add value to the policy development.

I assure your Lordships, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that the Government have strong processes in place to make sure that consultations are carried out in accordance with the code of practice. Each department has a consultation co-ordinator to ensure that consultations are run in line with the code, and officials from the Better Regulation Executive in my department monitor and challenge other departments on their compliance with the code as policies develop. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I agree with the noble Lord that consistency on disclosure is required. The BRE engages where necessary during that whole exercise through the Cabinet clearance process to make sure that there is challenge. BERR is responsible for cross-Whitehall better regulation.

The Government are also committed to make the consultation process transparent to public scrutiny. Consultations are published on departmental websites and publicised to all interested stakeholders. I am glad to say that I am the bearer of good news: by the end of this year, it will be possible to search for all central government consultations. The Cabinet Office central index did not pick up all new consultations because it relied on all departments marking up their electronic documents in the same way. The BRE, with the Directgov team, is now simplifying the process. The Government are confident that by the end of 2009, all consultations will be available and searchable on Directgov. I am still coming to terms with Directgov.

Government responses must be published before or alongside the next significant step in policy development. Consultations must cite the seven criteria of good consultation. They must include contact details for the departmental consultation co-ordinator. Departments must describe their consultation activity over the year and the compliance of their consultation activities with the code in the better-regulation chapter of their annual reports. Good consultation is embedded within my own department where we look very carefully at how policy choices, at all stages of their development, will affect business and the economy. I am proud to say that BERR’s 2007-08 annual report showed that 44 out of 45 consultations held by the department were fully compliant with best practise.

There is strong evidence across government that we are following best practice in consultation. I can give two examples. Earlier this year, the Government were setting out proposals making it compulsory for farmers to keep set-aside land, a former EU requirement. Working with key stakeholders, even prior to the publication of the consultation document, the Government recognised that a voluntary approach to the regulation would achieve the same outcome. The National Farmers’ Union preferred a voluntary solution, as a more regulatory option would impose policy costs of between £61 million and £135 million. The NFU predicted that the voluntary solution it proposed would cost farming businesses only £250,000. The Government therefore modified their approach in response to the NFU’s view.

In the interests of time, I shall not mention the other examples, but we believe that the Government have effectively consulted and listened to our stakeholders on a wide range of issues.

The department to which he referred, Defra, was one of those with the least good record of compliance. There were no fewer than 13 cases out of a total of 81 in which they did not allow the minimum amount of time of 12 weeks. In one case it allowed two weeks, in several it allowed four weeks and in others eight weeks. I do not think that is a particularly strong example of the Government’s success in promoting the code.

I do not have time to consult, so I shall reply in writing. In any consultation it is important—there have been a couple of questions on this—to reflect on the weight of the evidence. Should we list all the individuals? It is not possible to provide departments with guidance on the weighting of responses. How does one compare a response from a citizen with a response from the CBI, from a huge lobby group or indeed from Greenpeace?

Consultations are not votes; they are exercises in gathering evidence on which to base decisions. The new code does not require departments to list consultees, but it is important that all of them, including the letter of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, are considered. That is absolutely part of the code.

The British Psychological Society was mentioned and the specific consultation. We shall need to respond to that later in writing. I hope that everyone is reassured that the Government take consultation very seriously. I hope that I have covered most of the points made during this interesting debate. Due to the limited time available, I shall reply in writing to any issues or comments which I have not covered.

If the simple question is whether we would list every name, the answer is no: we would not. Clearly, all the evidence that we receive has to be considered and analysed and it has to be put forward as part of the consultation. As I said, we do not list everyone who has written in or responded, as that could be many hundreds of thousands of people.

I was talking about the specific circumstances where an MP wrote directly to me—“Dear John, I have been tasked by the Prime Minister to look into this matter”—and the circumstances were exactly as I have described. Should I or should I not have been on the list of consultees?

Noble Earl. The Room is full of Viscounts and Earls, as my predecessor in the previous debate said.

It is important that we take account of all consultations and of everyone who has written in. I have no idea what happened in the noble Earl’s case and I shall respond in writing to him.

Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for bringing forward this matter for discussion.

Committee adjourned at 5.50 pm.