Today members of the public will for the first time be able to have their say on proposed UK legislation. The Protection of Freedoms Bill, introduced into the House of Commons on Friday, will be the first ever to invite input from the public.
By opening legislation to public scrutiny the Prime Minister hopes to widen the pool of expert knowledge that shapes it:
“Right now a tiny percentage of the population write legislation that will apply to 100% of the population … “This makes our laws poorer because it shuts out countless people across the country whose expertise could help”.
I think this is justification enough. However, the Prime Minister also imagines that legislation will be richer if we all add our tuppeny-worth:
“[the status quo] makes our politics poorer because it increases the sense that Parliament is somehow separate from the people rather than subservient to them.
“Our new Public Reading Stage will improve the level of debate and scrutiny of Bills by giving everyone the opportunity to go online and offer their views on any new legislation.”
For me, this raises some questions.
- How will this be managed?
- Will legislation now be written in plainer English so that more people can make sense of it?
- What feedback will we get?
- If we all do decide to spout our own opinion, how will the government sift through it all?
- Which opinions will be listened to, and why?
- How will we be reassured that the best was made of our collective input?
Quality and rigour of input
- What tools, evidence and support will be provided to help us understand the background to legislation?
- What skills will we need to ensure our input isn’t rejected out of hand?
- Where will this ‘expertise’ be developed: by happy accident, or – as is currently the case – in a statutory mechanism such as the endangered citizenship curriculum?