Public readings: good idea, bad execution

On the 12th of July, Sir George Young announced a pilot of the so-called ‘public reading’ stage where the public can comment on a bill for three weeks between first reading to the beginning of public bill committee stage. HM Treasury officials will then compile a report for general distribution which can inform future debates.

The idea itself it’s a bad one, but it’s designed against the grain of our parliamentary tradition. The government remains fully in control of the process – it’s on their website and they write the report. It tries to stick a new ‘stage’ in when really evidence-taking is the responsibility of parliamentary committees.

Parliament should take the initiative here and public bill committees/the House of Lords should have these ‘public readings’ on their own website, with committee/parliamentary clerks compiling the comments into reports, and it should happen simultaneously with the normal evidence-taking process, with MPs and peers taking the initiative.

The idea is good, but the execution is in danger of being subject to government control when it is parliament’s job to do this.

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