Consulting the public

Lord Norton

I intervened very briefly in a debate last night on a motion to approve a particular Order, the Judicial Appointments Order.  My point related to the information contained in the Explanatory Memorandum but had a wider relevance.

The Order was designed to encourage greater diversity in the membership of the judiciary through making Fellowship of the Institute of Legal Executives a relevant qualification for the judicial offices listed in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.  For the purpose of consultation, the Ministry of Justice sent copies of the consultation paper to a range of interested organisations.  For the purpose of public consultation, it published the consultation paper on its website.  As the Explanatory Memorandum laconically noted: ‘The level of public interest in the policy has been minimal’.  Given that it relied on members of the public to log on to the Ministry of Justice website to see the paper – and indeed take the initative to check what was happening – it is not surprising that no individual members of the public responded to the consultation.

The approach taken to interested organisations (in essence, self-interested organisations) was an active one by the Ministry whereas the stance taken in relation to the public was a passive one.  It may be that, even with widespread dissemination of the paper, public interest would have been minimal, but there is an important principle involved.  It is important that government is seen to be accessible to views beyond those of what are generally described as the usual suspects.

I have since written to the minister, at his invitation, to suggest ways in which consultation papers may be more widely disseminated.  One simple route is through inviting various civic organisations to circulate copies through their own websites to their members.  However, if anyone has other ideas, I will be happy to pass them on.

18 comments for “Consulting the public

  1. 30/10/2008 at 7:55 pm

    I have responded to some “Consultation” papers in the past, but at times, I have been the only “odd” voice, for all other entries “welcomed” the proposals put forward, even when yet further “sovereignty” is being ‘loaned’ permanently to the European Union.

    I no longer look to see if there are any “Consultation Papers” put forward because our new Parliament is in Brussels and will be with our New Government if Lisbon becomes active.

    I look at the crowds surrounding Obama, clapping and cheering and I wonder if ever the Crowds will gather together here round any British Government? And then I remember the people in the USA still have their own Country and they are not about to give it away, are they? I remember the people crowded round Churchill but he too fought to save this Country from being Governed by foreigners and opted for Freedom and Liberty. I suppose it makes a difference somehow.

    You should be very Concerned, but I doubt you will be, because you will be thinking “here she is again, not thinking the same as the rest of us, she can’t see that we do not want to govern our own Country, and that we want others to do its for us”. Have I got THAT about right?

  2. Troika21
    31/10/2008 at 2:46 am

    Anne, the reason why people are thronging Obama is because he himself is a charismatic leader, and America has plenty of arguements itself over if something should be a state or federal issue.

    I don’t understand opposition to the EU. The UK and other European Countries are not powerful anymore, and would need to band together some way to stand-up to the continent-sized nations anyway. The EU has been a great force for good, and if all you have to argue against it is mild jingoism then I feel sorry for you.

    ***

    With regards to the post, I have no idea what it (the Order) is about, who it affects or whether it is needed. Putting to matter up for public discussion would change none of that.

    This is why a professional house is the best way forward, keep the populist rot from infecting the Lords, à la Anne Palmer above.

    I think the best way to disseminate the infomation about new areas of consultation would be using a Blog format, or rather RSS, just have some underling post the pdf and some words and links, and the groups that have an intrest will turn up. You won’t even need to send infomation to interested parties; build it, and they will come.

  3. 31/10/2008 at 10:24 am

    The Cabinet Office used to keep a very useful web page of most open consultations across all departments, which I automatically emailed to a couple of civil society organisations each month. It was deleted over a year ago. Now one has to check each department’s consultations page directly and they keep moving them (and also department names change…).

    Some departments (Ministry of Justice is one – CLG is currently being slow too) routinely fail to answer email enquiries too.

    If you could do anything to bring back the comprehensive consultations listing or monitor how departments are handling public emails, I’d really welcome that!

  4. 31/10/2008 at 3:35 pm

    Lord Norton, setting aside my views completely how I feel about Consultation Papers put before the public, and I even admit to answering to an EU Consultation Paper on the EU’s proposed “Motorway in the Sea” in which I objected as strongly as I could to the transfer of any of our remaining seas and oceans from round our shores to the EU, I believe I was with the tiny minority (just the two of us) that objected to that transfer. However, from out of the whole of the people there are in the EU we must have been the exceptional two and no matter what happens it is written (prophesy) that “Britain will rule the waves once more”. I just hope it comes about without bloodshed.

    Having written all that, I am now going to implore you to insist that a New Consultation Paper is brought about regarding the Government’s proposal for a new Bill of Rights and the proposed written Constitution and that the Consultation Papers on both are advertised in every newspaper so that ALL the people in this Land is aware of what is to happen to their own Common Law Constitution and that they can then participate in their own future for themselves and their children.

    I am aware that our Oath of Allegiance to the Crown is in the present Bill of Rights and that without the Crown and / or the full knowledge and acceptance of the people if it is repealed, may be challenged or may even be a violation of that same Oath so solemnly declared by all who take up their seats.

    Such a great constitutional change should be made known to all the people and it should be openly declared and preferable coming from the sitting Government rather than the opposition.

  5. 31/10/2008 at 8:30 pm

    To Troika21, you say,”I don’t understand opposition to the EU”. Well perhaps I understand why I am opposed to the European Union. I vote and contribute towards the British MP’s that sit in our Houses of Parliament and they are supposed to instigate legislation, laws for this Country and are suitable to this Country. AS in the last war, we naturally would work with other Countries, go to their aid as we do now in an emergency situation, but never, ever be ruled by them permanently. Too many have died fighting for freedom/liberty and I, along with a great many more people have to make sure they have not given their lives in vain.

    I do not expect our MP’s to pay billions of pounds each and every year to the EU to do the job that THEY should be doing. I expect them to obey and respect their own Constitution in exactly the same way that I have to do because I am bound by my Oath of Allegiance to the Crown and through the Crown to all the people in this land. It is an Oath I have vowed faithfully to uphold and I along with a great many more people, am obliged to carry out. Whether I want to or not is by the by. I have to because of that solemn Oath. No one can be true to two masters. Remember that when the time comes for you to choose.

    If you truly want to understand what it is all about, go down to a large Reference Library and ask for Hansard books from the 1960’s until the 1972 and look up European Communities. You may begin to understand a little of what I understand.

  6. lordnorton
    31/10/2008 at 11:48 pm

    MJ Ray: Many thanks for your response. You make an excellent point. I will pursue the matter, not least the case for restoring the Cabinet Office website. As you indicate, removing it was clearly a step in the wrong direction.

    Anne Palmer: The Government has not proposed a written constitution but rather that it be subject to a national debate. What form that debate will take is not clear, but if the issue is pursued I for one will be keen to ensure that it is open to full and wide debate.

  7. James Clarke
    01/11/2008 at 2:56 am

    Dear Lord Norton,
    Perhapse a link on the parliment home page and email alerts would help. After all there seem to be a raft of ways to contact the government but as MJ Ray pointed out no easy to find focus point.

  8. 01/11/2008 at 9:07 am

    http://www.tellthemwhatyouthink.org/ is a volunteer effort to bring government consultations in one place. All government departments need to do is publish documents in an open, machine readable format so that volunteers and orgs like MySociety can do useful stuff with them!

    It’s also worth pointing out that some departments are trying to do consultation better, notably at DIUS with http://interactive.dius.gov.uk/innovationnation/ and http://interactive.dius.gov.uk/scienceandsociety/site/

  9. 01/11/2008 at 11:55 am

    Thank you for your reply Lord Norton, You are of course quite right for on Page 62 point 212 in the Governance of Britain Green papers it states, “But there is now a growing recognition of the need to clarify not just what it means to be British, but what it means to be the United Kingdom. This might in time lead to a concordat between the executive and Parliament or a written constitution.
    213. It is clear that neither a Bill of Rights and Duties nor a written constitution could come into being except over an extended period of time, through extensive and wide consultation, and not without broad consensus upon the values upon which they were based and the rights and responsibilities which derived from them.

    I hope that there is indeed a full and wide debate especially what may happen to the long standing Magna Carta and Declaration of Right and Bill of Rights 1688/9 if there is indeed a new Bill of Rights, for we already have the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights. So many ‘rights’ yet never before in living memory have we felt to spied on, oppressed as we do ‘today’.

    No new written constitution, including a new Bill of Rights can be entrenched or dislodge Magna Carta and the Declaration and Bill of Rights 1688/1689. The Government’s own Research Paper (96/82 dated 18th July 1996-available direct from Parliament, page 36) makes that clear. A snippet here for you
    “Again, the theory of sovereignty means that no Parliament can bind its successors, and this inability of Parliament to prevent any law from being later altered or repealed by a Parliament means that, in principle, no scheme of constitutional change-Bill of Rights, devolution, even, perhaps a written constitution itself* – can be entrenched – made secure against any or easy amendment or repeal-in the legal order. The recent schemes by proponents of Scottish devolution and some form of a Bill of Rights demonstrate how difficult (perhaps impossible) it is to reconcile formal, legal entrenchment (as opposed to ‘political-moral’ entrenchment ) with conventional sovereignty”.

    If no parliament can bind, why has our Prime Minister just bound us to an environmental target until 2050?

  10. 01/11/2008 at 6:51 pm

    Agreed with MJ Ray. Also RSS feeds, coupled with a strong taxonomy (Drupal’s Taxonomy module, for example) will allow third-party sites to automatically re-publish information relevant to their users, and directly alert users to public consultations of interest to them.

    Given that it relied on members of the public to log on to the Ministry of Justice website to see the paper

    When you say ‘log on’ do you mean that users had to create a username and password to access the site, or just visit it?

    Postscript: interesting, it seems a lot of Free software developers read this blog.

  11. Troika21
    01/11/2008 at 9:13 pm

    Anne, nationalism has given way to internationalism – by co-operating with other countries, rather than just seeming them as ememies and potential ememies, we can join together and become more powerful. No country can stand-up to the EU in economic terms, the EU can even force America to change its domestic laws, as a few famous cases have illustrated.

    All you are asking for is that the UK should die a slow death at the hands of other powerful nations, not just the US, but a rising China and resurgent (and nationalist) Russia. Each of these nations has (or will) tried to undo the EU’s progress, by pitting one nation against the other.

    But the EU has revived Europes countries, brought peace for decades, strengthened economies, improved relations and recreated and projected Europes power, amongst a swamp of minor improvements like visa-free travel.

    You have listed no reasons for opposition, simply nationalism. That is very dangerous, all your trying to do is drag us back to the 1800s.

  12. lordnorton
    02/11/2008 at 3:40 pm

    Dave Briggs and Liam: Thanks for helpful comments. Dave Briggs: I am happy to pursue this, not least to ensure best practice is pursued by all Departments; if there is more that could be done to facilitate publication in machine-readable format, do let me know. Liam: Publication is generally in the form of putting it on the website, open to anyone who wishes to consult it. I note your postscript: the aame thought had struck me – not sure why we have that attraction, but I am happy that we do.

  13. carl allen
    03/11/2008 at 8:25 pm

    The government consultation guidance (recently revised) does not have the criteria that sufficient, diverse and contradictory but intelligent response must be forthcoming before a consultation can be declared to be effective.

    Nor is there a criteria to declare that a consultation has been effective.

    Ergo, there is no driver for consultations to be managed for effectiveness rather than process.

    And in closing, most government consultations do not recognise that consultation is never a substitute for proper analysis of an issue i.e. the quality of consultation information is usually incomplete, inconsistent, contradictory, illogical and so on.

  14. 04/11/2008 at 12:44 pm

    Lord Norton,

    I’ve just sent you a message via WriteTothem, but I thought I’d say hi here too — I’m responsible for tellthemwhatyouthink.org and there’s quite a lot happening at the moment on consultation publication standards. It would be great to talk this stuff over.

  15. Bedd Gelert
    04/11/2008 at 4:57 pm

    Troika21
    “You have listed no reasons for opposition, simply nationalism. That is very dangerous, all your trying to do is drag us back to the 1800s.”

    What terrifying nonsense this is – your vapid support for ‘internationalism’ [whatever that is..] makes you ready, willing and able to give up any form of democratic control or mandate over the laws that govern us, by giving it up to unelected bureaucrats in the EU Superstate.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  16. 05/11/2008 at 10:47 am

    Troika21. My list is very long indeed, far too long for here. It perhaps is enough to say, when our own present Government ratified the Treaty of Lisbon in the undemocratic and disgraceful way they did, when they said that there was no need for a referendum and that there were no constitutional elements in it, time will prove without doubt that they were totally and utterly wrong and that they also knew that fact for themselves. Should Lisbon become ‘active’ unless they opt to live in a country outside the EU, they too will have to live in the real world of the European Union and they too may be tried in their absence as each of us might, not a pleasant thought. Each and every one of them at present swear allegiance to the Queen (Crown) and through the Crown to all the people in the Queen Realm. They have also been elected by the people as “the voices of and for the people they are supposed to represent” in both of these alone they have failed miserably. This without touching on anything within the constitutional Treaty of Lisbon.

    Difficult though it is, the Articles in the Treaty of Lisbon can be found in the previous Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe in which a Referendum was promised for the people of this Country. The only thing that was missing was the Flag, Anthem and motto which have now been voted on the EU Parliament though still have no legal base without a Treaty. That of course can soon be rectified by the EU having another Treaty without any reference to any once ‘national’ parliament.

  17. lordnorton
    11/11/2008 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks for the very helpful responses. As I have mentioned in my latest post, I have now tabled some Parliamentary Questions in the light of your comments and a meeting I have had with Harry Metcalfe. I have put a Question down that follows the point raised by MJ Ray. I have also put down Questions to pursue the points raised by Dave Briggs, Liam and Harry Metcalfe. Carl Allen has also prompted some thoughts as to evaluation which I shall also pursue. I hope be reporting later on the Government response.

  18. 12/11/2008 at 1:29 pm

    @MJRay – rest assured CLG is not ignoring your emails, we are gathering the facts so we can give you a considered reply. We did reply to your original email and so are in correspondence with you. Thanks for your patience.

    While there are lots of ways to improve, worth noting that CLG (and some other depts) also supply an RSS feed for consultations, and you can also sign up to email alerts for consultations via http://www.info4local.gov.uk

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