ResearchPDF Available

Abstract

Report summarising the research of this project funded by the Leverhulme Trust / British Academy, on the Public Reading Stage of the House of Commons (attempt to integrate the public in the drafting of legislation). Research based on the content analysis of the over 1000 comments submitted by the public to the legislation under consideration, plus interviews with participants and officials.
g
Letting the Public
in on the Act
Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Louise Thompson and Will Mace
A report on the Public Reading Stage
of the Children and Families Bill 2013
Garry Knight CC BY-NC-ND
Contents
Introduction
Overview of Public
Reading Stage
The Public Perspective
The Impact of Public
Reading Stage
Reflections on Public
Engagement
Lessons from Overseas
Key Recommendations
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the
British Academy and the
Leverhulme Trust for funding
the Public Reading Study
Project, and also Parliament
and the study’s interviewees
for their help and cooperation.
Special thanks to Tony and
Helen Crawford, and Matthew
Dodd, for allowing us to
include their photos.
Website
www.publicreadingstudy.com
Contact
Prof. Cristina Leston-Bandeira
c.leston-bandeira@leeds.ac.uk
@estrangeirada
Dr Louise Thompson
louise.thompson@surrey.ac.uk
@LouiseVThompson
Will Mace
w.mace@surrey.ac.uk
15th September 2016
2
12
9
7
5
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13
Introduction to
the Public
Reading Study
In response to concerns over
public disengagement and
apathy towards the political
system, parliaments are
increasingly investing time and
resources into ways to mobilise
citizens into participating in the
legislative process.
The Public Reading Study
project sought to examine in
detail the UK Parliament’s
attempt to involve the public
directly in the legislative
process. Citizens were invited
by Parliament to submit
comments in an online forum
during the Public Reading Stage
of the Children and Families Bill
2013 (now known as the
Children and Families Act 2014).
This project analyses the
intrinsic worth and impact of the
Public Reading Stage on the Bill
and on the attitudes of those
who participated. It therefore
has a dual objective: tracing the
impact of the comments that
were submitted in the online
forum, and examining the
experiences of those who
participated.
In this study a mixed-methods
investigation was conducted,
which involved the analysis of
each comment published in
the online forum, followed by 25
interviews with members of the
public who left comments on the
web forum, and key individuals
involved with the process,
including those from
Parliament, lobby groups, and
MPs involved in the scrutiny of
the Bill. The research had four
core aims:
1) To identify the profile and
motivations of those citizens
who participated in public
reading stage.
2) To evaluate the effects of
public reading stage on citizens’
attitudes.
3) To assess to what extent
citizens’ comments have been
integrated into amendments to
legislation.
4) To assess the effectiveness of
the process put in place to
support the Public Reading
Stage
The key findings from the
research suggest that although
on paper the project appears to
be a success - in terms of the
volume of comments, and the
association between the
comments and the issues raised
in the parliamentary debates -
the profile and direct references
to the public reading stage were
limited, and participants often
felt that they lacked adequate
resources to meaningfully
contribute.
“[T]he first time …
the House of
Commons has
carried out a public
reading and it will be
a pilot to find out
how best to run the
process in future”
(Parliament.uk)1
2
Matthew Dodd, National Children’s Bureau
outreach programmes. In
addition, further efforts have
been made to involve the public
in the scrutiny and debating of
legislation.
Reforms in 2006 to the
committee system enabled
members of the public and
organisations to submit written
evidence on bills, some of whom
were then invited to give oral
evidence as well. The Public
Reading Stage built on this,
seeking to integrate the public’s
voice directly into legislation.
In 2009, William Hague
proposed the introduction of a
new and radical policy to throw
open the doors of parliament
First Reading
4th Feb 2013
PRS Opens
13th Feb 2013
MPs debate bill at
Second Reading
24th Feb 2013
PRS Closes
26th Feb 2013
Public Bill Committee
begins scrutiny
5th Mar 2013
Summary Document
Submitted to MPs
6th Mar 2013
Public Bill Committee
Ends 25th Apr
Bill debated at Report
Stage/Third Reading
11th Jun 2013
Scrutiny in House of
Lords
Jun 2013 - Feb 2014
Bill receives Royal
Assent
13 Mar 2014
Overview of the
Public Reading Stage
A number of challenges
currently face Parliament, which
can broadly be categorised as
top-down and bottom-up. The
former relates to the changing
role of Parliament, from making
legislation, to scrutinising it.
Although the number of bills
receiving the assent of
Parliament has declined, the
actual volume of legislation is
growing. Increasingly complex
and hastily drafted government
legislation combined with
pressured parliamentary
resources, makes Parliament’s
scrutiny function ever more
difficult to achieve. Bottom-up
challenges refer to the increasing
pressure to bring back
disaffected citizens into the
parliamentary process.
Consequently the UK
parliament has invested heavily
into developing strategies that
encourage public engagement.
This has ranged from e-petitions
to educational and other
(…) using modern technology to
allow the public to give their
comments on the details of
proposed new laws”.2 Following
the 2010 General Election the
Coalition Government proposed
a public reading stage” which
would give the public the
opportunity to comment on
proposed legislation online”.3
This would be complemented by
a “public reading day” in which
MPs would be given the
opportunity to debate the
public’s contributions.3
Although falling public trust
drove this policy it was also felt
that it would help produce
better legislation, as expressed
by the Leader of the House who
saw the Public Reading leading
to more open and better laws
by harnessing the experience of
the public”.4 Two small pilots
were carried out by the
government in 2012 and were
administered by the
Government departments which
had drafted the bills, before they
were debated in the House of
Commons. In 2013 Parliament
decided it would itself pilot a
further Public Reading Stage.
This would have the benefit of,
“A new and radical
policy to throw open
the doors of
parliament”
(William Hague 2009) 2
*PRS = Public Reading Stage
unlike government,
representing a multitude of
voices and interests across a
range of political parties. The
Public Reading Stage could
therefore potentially enhance
the capacity of opposition and
backbench MPs to scrutinize a
government bill.
A small team of four officials
were responsible for the project,
mostly undertaking work on the
pilot in addition to their primary
role in the House of Commons.
The Children and Families Bill
was selected - a large and wide
ranging bill, part of the
Government’s commitment to
improve services for
vulnerable children and support
strong families.5
Its First Reading in the House of
Commons was on 4th February
2013. This is the first stage in the
passage of a Bill, where its title is
read, and an order for the Bill to
be printed is issued. The PRS
web forum opened on
Parliament’s website the
following week (13th February).
The forum was divided into
eight sections, covering the main
themes of the Bill (see Table 1).
There was also an ‘additional
comments’ section for broader
comments on the bill, comments
that didn’t fit into the main
topics and views on the public
reading process itself. In order to
take part in the Public Reading
Stage, participants had to
register with an email address,
and choose a username to
associate with their comment. It
was expected that the
presentation of the Bill in the
forum would lead participants
to submit comments that
referred to one specific topic. It
was hoped this would
encourage more specific
comments, which would be
useful for the bill’s scrutiny.
The forum was open for two
weeks, until 26th February 2013
and received 1402 comments.
These were moderated before
being published; to remove
personal information or
inappropriate content, usually
within the same day. The
majority (1,099) were published.
All comments were available to
view online for over a year
afterwards. When the Public
Reading ended, the
parliamentary team
summarized the comments into
a short document which was
submitted as written evidence to
the public bill committee, which
scrutinised the bill. The scrutiny
of the bill then continued in line
with the usual legislative
process, receiving Royal Assent
on 13 March 2014.
Key Facts
Number of
participants
1,024
Number of
comments posted
1,402
Number of
comments
published
1,099
4
“Public Reading Stage
will allow us to end up
with more open and
better laws by
harnessing the
experience of the
public”
(George Young MP)6
UK Parliament CC BY-NC-ND
Justin Berman CC BY-NC-ND
support for the Bill, and these
were often quite short. On the
contrary, those who were critical
were far more detailed in their
submission. It can be argued that
these participants especially had
a keen desire to have their voices
heard as to be expected the
forum attracted more
participants who wished to
oppose the Bill. Thus the PRS
did not necessarily gauge levels
of public support, it reflected
mainly how people would like
to change it.
Two attitudinal factors also
resonated highly in the research,
namely scepticism and a feeling
of detachment from the formal
political process. These
manifested typically in
comments that implied that
those drafting the legislation
had little idea of the practical
implications of the proposals.
Many participants were
motivated as a result of their
own personal circumstances,
and they felt strongly about
specific issues. With regards to
their profile, the participants
were mostly active campaigners
who had some previous contact
with Parliament. Hence the
Public Reading mostly attracted
politically engaged members of
the public, who were mainly
high/middle class professionals.
From this point of view,
although participants were
pleased to be involved, the
Public Reading seems to have
engaged with a public that was
already engaged.
Understanding the public’s
perception of the pilot was a
central aim of the research. The
analysis found that the pilot was
successful in that the majority of
the contributions (69%) came
from individuals, as well as
appealing to organisations such
as charities and professional
associations. Individual
comments were mostly left
anonymously, whereas those
from organisations were very
clear as to their affiliation, and
often included contact details.
Another key feature that
emerged can be described as the
‘wave effect’, whereby it soon
became apparent that many of
the individual comments had
been prompted by specific
external organisations. This was
evidenced by the fact that many
comments reflected a sample
text, and some participants had
been clearly prompted to
specific areas of the forum in
which to leave their comment.
Interest groups were clearly the
main mediators in the comments
made by the public. In this sense
these comments were not
necessarily a general public
contribution, but rather the
result of a well-organised
interest group, which was able
to mobilise its members to post
in the web forum.
For participants who had a
strong interest in the content of
the Bill, yet lacked a detailed
knowledge of the policy area,
the comments often contained
harrowing personal testimonies
and were highly emotive. They
were also overwhelmingly
opposed to the Bill. Only 8% of
the comments offered clear
The Public
Perspective
“The government
will simply ignore,
delete or not publish
[the comments]”
(Participant)
Tony Crawford
Scepticism was mostly targeted
at the forum itself, as some
participants expressed negative
sentiments about what would
happen to their comments,
implying that they would not be
read or published. Yet it also
represented a lack of trust in
politicians. The Scrutiny Unit
did moderate the comments, but
this was predominantly to
screen for inappropriate or
duplicate submissions. If any
comments were identified as
such, the participant would be
invited to resubmit.
The forum encouraged
comments to be tailored towards
specific clauses. The research
found that 46% of the comments
were very general and 54% were
specific. However over three
quarters of all comments
referred either explicitly or
implicitly to a particular clause
or schedule. Thus, comments
submitted tended to be quite
targeted and were therefore
useful for scrutiny of the bill.
The latter often reflected those
participants who had been
prompted by outside
organisations, as they were
repetitive and duplicated
material issued directly from the
organisation. As expected, the
public’s perception of the pilot
largely surfaced in the critical
comments left by participants.
These manifested in feelings of
uncertainty and confusion. For
example it was not always clear
to participants what was
actually included in the bill.
Although explanatory notes
were provided, they were
designed for the informed
reader, which participants
found to be very complex.
Access to these notes, in PDF
form, was also outside the forum
itself, with no suggestion as to
where any further information
could be found. As a result some
participants remarked that they
simply “[Had not] got enough
detailed information to make an
informed judgement”. There
was also evidence of public
confusion about what the Public
Reading was for and who it was
aimed at. Comments were
therefore frequently
misdirected, addressing
government ministers as
opposed to the MPs scrutinising
the Bill. Others in favour of the
Bill asked specifically for the
government’s consent. The lack
of clarity around the Bill and the
public reading stage were also
exacerbated by a number of
factors outside of Parliament’s
control. These included issues
over the misrepresentation of
key areas of the Bill in the media,
the influence of lobby groups on
participants through their
dissemination of information,
and the fact that some
contributors were very active
campaigners, who failed to
distinguish the web forum from
other opportunities provided by
government to lobby, such as
departmental consultations.
It was also evident from the
interviews that participants
would have liked to have
received updates on the Bill after
they had made their
contributions. The lack of
feedback from Parliament was
particularly noted by
interviewees, who had no
information as to what had
happened to their comments or
the scrutiny of the Bill.
Notwithstanding these matters,
the interviews showed that
participants did feel that it was
worth participating in the Public
Reading, and did appreciate the
opportunity to have their say.
This was reflected in the fact that
the forum received a huge
number of comments in little
more than two weeks, many of
which were useful and
contained specific testimonies
regarding the implications of the
bill, thus arguably falling within
the Public Reading’s rationale.
19% of comments
proposed changes to the
Bill
(Research Statistics)
It does feel a bit
empowering that you
can actually have your
own comments on a
bill
(Participant)
6
The impact of the Public
Reading Stage can be traced
along two axis: the impact it had
on the Bill itself, and the impact
it had on public / participant
perceptions of Parliament.
Although it is difficult to draw
concrete inferences from the
data, the coding of the
comments and the material from
the interviews do underline a
number of key insights.
In the first sitting of the bill
committee the Chair,
Christopher Chope MP,
remarked that it would be
interesting to see “the extent to
which the public reading
consultation informs the
Committee’s questions and
deliberations”.7 Following this,
Parliamentary staff
disseminated information to
MPs and their staff on a regular
basis. The most influential of
these was the summary
document produced by the
House of Commons Scrutiny
Unit. This document was made
available to the bill committee
every day, alongside a printed
copy of the comments made on
the online forum, which related
to the specific clauses being
discussed that day. Although
summarising evidence is a
routine task for committee
clerks, this summary raised two
new challenges: firstly, the very
limited time available between
the closure of the Public Reading
and the discussions in the Public
Bill Committee; secondly, whilst
clerks can summarise the most
popular issues raised, it is more
difficult to reflect the harrowing
nature of some of the comments
made. Still, the summary proved
to be the most useful piece of
information for MPs on the
Public Reading. Our interviews
confirmed that the
dissemination of the summary
was plentiful, with MPs staff
specifically remembering this.
Notwithstanding the apparent
promotion of the Public Reading
Stage, there were few signs that
MPs were aware of the pilot, and
even fewer that suggested that
they were actually making use
of the comments. Although
many of the questions that were
The Impact of the Public Reading Stage
“How many families
would read a document
185 pages long with
over seventy confusing
clauses?”
(Participant)
Lukes_photos CC BY-NC-ND
raised during the oral evidence
sessions of the committee,
mirrored those raised in the pilot
by participants, only very few
references were made to the
public’s comments.
Over the course of the
committee’s 19 sittings, only
four references were made to the
public reading pilot. Sharon
Hodgson MP (Shadow Minister
for Children and Families) was
the only MP to specifically
utilise any of the comments
submitted on the online forum.
In these cases, she invoked the
comments to add support to her
arguments, and both featured in
the Scrutiny Unit’s summary
document. Yet none of the MPs
interviewed, or their staff,
visited the web forum
themselves. Few had concrete
recollection of either the public
reading stage of the bill or the
summary document.
The latter stages of the
legislative process also tell a
similar story. Lord Storey
remarked in the House of Lords
that he had been “amazed” by
the number of briefings he
received,9 yet during the 31
sitting days in which the Bill was
scrutinised in these later stages,
no other specific references were
made to the public reading pilot.
Specific changes were made to
Bill, which chimed well with the
Public Reading comments, such
as an amendment that was made
in the Lords to include children
with disabilities in the remit of
the bill for the provision of
Education, Health and Care
Plans. However without clear
mention or recollection of the
public reading by
parliamentarians, it remains
difficult to trace the precise
impact of the public reading
stage on the specific changes
that were made to the Bill.
“Ian N’s comments on
the public reading
page summed up our
concerns exactly”
(Sharon Hodgson MP)8
8
The research highlighted a
number of additional factors
that may have limited the
impact on the Children and
Families Bill.
The timing of the public
reading stage. The Public
Reading was deliberately timed
between the second reading of
the bill and its committee stage.
The timing of the Public Reading
was therefore intended to
maximise the potential for the
public’s comments to be utilised
during the bill’s detailed
scrutiny. It also left plenty of
time for the government and
parliamentary counsel to
consider and redraft any
amendments being put forward
that they wanted to take on
board. It should be noted,
however, that the extent of any
changes to the text of the bill is
governed by the scope of the bill
itself. Amendments which go
wider than the subject-matter of
the bill will not be in order and
therefore cannot be made to the
bill. In addition the summary
document was not published
until the bill committee was in
the middle of its oral evidence
sessions.
As the committee had already
heard from government
ministers and several charities,
the opportunities for it to have
any direct impact on
“You in the house
have little idea of what
is taking place”
(Participant)
Reflections on Public Engagement
UK Parliament CC BY-NC-ND
questioning and evidence
gathering was limited. Feedback
from MPs showed that once a
bill reaches committee stage,
they already know how they
want to change the Bill.
Consequently the public reading
would only be useful if it
supported those arguments.
The choice of the bill. A number
of bills were considered for the
pilot, but the Children and
Families Bill 2013 was
considered most suitable. This
was a perfect choice for a
number of reasons: it was
topical, with the potential to
interest a wide section of the
public, and a number of
campaigning organisations were
already known, which could be
used to disseminate
information. It was also a choice
that the government agreed with
and would therefore support.
Yet a major drawback was that it
had already been subject to a
substantial amount of
consultation and pre-legislative
scrutiny, for which the public
had been invited to comment.
Also another obstacle, outside of
Parliament’s control, was the
publication, two weeks before
the Public Reading opened, of a
policy document by the
Department of Education, which
outlined plans to raise the
quality of childcare and increase
the amount of choice available to
parents. One effect of these
consultations and
announcements, was the
development of feelings of
despair among participants, as
they felt as though they were
continually being asked to
comment on the policies within
the bill, but never actually
listened to. They also
compounded the confusion felt
amongst participants, who
found it difficult to distinguish
the public reading stage forum
from other opportunities to
comment on legislation. It also
hints at why many of the web
forum comments mirrored those
discussed in committee.
Dissemination to the public.
The resources available to
implement and manage the
public reading pilot were
limited. One member of staff
was primarily responsible for
reading, moderating and
publishing the comments left on
the web forum. This does
however raise an almost
contradictory concern, that a
successful initiative may lead to
mass participation by the public,
potentially overwhelming
“We are being
offered
opportunities to
feed back, but after
the decisions have
been made and
presented to
parliament . . .”
(Participant)
10
UK Parliament CC BY-NC-ND
parliamentary resources. Thus
decisions by parliamentary staff
involved in the project were
made with this mind.
Consequently a low level
promotional strategy was
adopted, whereby no formal
press release was issued about
the pilot. Instead, key
stakeholders were targeted
through social media and other
existing mailing lists held by
departmental select committees.
It was hoped that this would
lead to a snowball effect, as
stakeholders would pass on the
details of the pilot to a critical
mass of individuals, who would
then leave comments on the web
forum. This was an efficient and
pertinent strategy as many
charities and organisations
would be interested or already
involved with the Bill. The
strategy proved effective
inasmuch as it enabled the
details of the Public Reading
Stage to reach interested
individuals. However the
evidence suggests that this was
to the detriment of some of the
comments, as those who were
prompted by external
organisations often left very
repetitive comments, with the
same phrases and terminology
being used time and again.
The format of the web forum.
The forum was designed
towards the submission of short,
individual comments, asking for
the public’s opinion on the
“practical implications of
specific clauses of the Bill”.10
Although it did encourage users
to direct their comments to
specific clauses of the Bill,
participants were not prompted
to indicate whether they
supported (or not) the bill. When
combined with prompts from
interests groups, orientated
towards changing the bill, the
issue surrounding the lack of
comments that supported the
provisions outlined in the bill
was further highlighted. As a
result, despite the forum
seeming very negative towards
the bill, this was not necessarily
a reliable indicator of public
attitudes towards the measures
within it. The web forum also
did not allow interaction
between participants or
parliament. Consequently it
resulted in a succession of small
contributions, which often came
across as a list of points. On the
contrary, the ability to
interact/discuss between
comments would have enabled
the development of a better
appreciation of what mattered
most in the Bill. It could also
have led to the development of
some form of deliberative
discussion, often seen as the
main value of consulting with
the public on decision-making.
11
Rajan ManIckavasagam CC BY-NC-ND
A number of parliamentary
public engagement initiatives
have been conducted abroad,
from which other valuable
lessons can be learnt. These are
most notably the result of the
increasing ability of information
and communications technology
to create new sites of civic
engagement, that is, between
citizens and their political
institutions. Similar to the UK
Parliament, the two examples
discussed here from Latin
American states, illustrate an
increasing willingness of
parliaments to create new
opportunities for citizens to take
part in the legislative process.
The two examples are e-
Democracia in Brazil and the
virtual senator programme in
Chile. These initiatives, similar
to the UK Parliament’s Public
Reading Stage, generated mixed
results.
e-Democracia process in Brazil.
The e-Democracy Portal of the
Chamber of Deputies in Brazil
has been in existence since 2009.
This is quite different to the PRS,
inasmuch as its focus is
primarily discursive and
deliberative. It incorporates a
complex range of tools such as
forums, “wiki”, chat rooms, and
polls, which develop around
specific virtual communities
created on different topics.
Despite considerable resources
spent, it has limited public and
MP involvement. Key lesson:
MPs need to be actively
involved in the process of
interpreting the comments left
by the public, in order to achieve
meaningful impact on the bills
being scrutinised.
Virtual senator in Chile. This
programme was borne out of the
perceived need to bring citizens
closer to the Chilean Senate and
its Senators. Citizens who
register on the system are able to
vote and make suggestions on
the most notable bills being
discussed in the senate. The aim
is to provide another channel
from which to gather public
opinion regarding bills of
particular interest. Key lesson:
The Chilean system enables
officials to straightforwardly
gauge public support for a Bill,
quantitatively.
Lessons from Overseas
12
Brazilian Parliament - http://edemocracia.camara.gov.br/
Chilean Senate - http://www.senadorvirtual.cl/
The public reading pilot was an
innovative and potentially
valuable means of incorporating
the view of the public directly
into a piece of legislation. It is
especially timely considering
the increasing pressure to
integrate public expertise and
opinion into the parliamentary
process.
The comments left on the web
forum provided alternative
perspectives, often offering
personal an emotive accounts of
the potential impact of the bill on
children and families, and
giving testimonies of how the
bill is likely to impact on
the public. The aim of this would
be to ensure that contributors
are aware of the process that
they are participating in and are
provided with basic information
about the legislation. This could
involve Parliament providing
better guidance concerning the
scrutiny process, or content of
bills, and further research
outside the institution.
This guidance need not be
complex. On the contrary, it
should be simple, issue-led and
use more effective tools to
communicate pertinent
information, such as
infographics and video material.
Parliament is now better
equipped to implement such an
approach.
2. Integrate the Public Reading
Stage more formally into the
children and families in practice.
Changes made during
Parliament scrutiny of the Bill
resonated with the most popular
issues being raised by members
of the public. Yet the research
findings indicate that the pilot
had little more than a negligible
impact on the scrutiny of the bill.
We therefore recommend the
undertaking of further Public
Reading Stages, for which we
list six main recommendations:
1. Increasing guidance and
appropriate information. The
first key lesson that can be
drawn from the research
pertains to the guidance given to
Key
Recommendations
“Having submitted
the evidence, it was as
though I had tossed a
ball into the ocean”
(Participant)
13
UK Parliament CC BY-NC-ND
parliamentary scrutiny of the
bill. This would ensure that
parliamentarians are both
aware, and are afforded the
opportunity to make use of, the
Public Reading Stage. Although
there appeared to be plenty of
dissemination, more specific
mention of the Public Reading
could be made at the different
points of the discussion in
Committee. Not only at the
introduction, but also according
to each schedule being
considered. Another way to
better integrate it would involve
positioning the Public Reading
at an even earlier stage of the
legislative process (perhaps
even as a form of pre-legislative
scrutiny). Or alternatively a
specific period of time could be
dedicated on the floor of the
House, or in committee, to
specifically discuss the public’s
scrutiny of the bill. Relatedly,
following the system of
Rapporteur utilised in many
other legislatures, a specific MP
could be responsible for
presenting the main
contributions of the Public
Reading.
3. Clarification about who the
public reading is aimed at, that
is, the public or interest groups.
It would also help to underline
whether Parliament designs the
web forum as a forum, a place
for deliberation, or a repository
for the public’s comments, to
then be processed for MPs and
ministers.
4. Resources. Quite simply,
more resources for the Public
Reading would have
significantly improved its
effectiveness. The number and
complexity of the tasks involved
in creating, implementing and
summarising the Public Reading
was a substantial challenge for
its team of four staff. Parliament
does now seem to have better
resources, in terms of having
specialised staff who
understand well how to
communicate effectively with
the public. Increasing resources
could also help mitigate fears of
mass participation.
5. Design of the web forum. This
could involve including more
infographics, and more
14
UK Parliament CC BY-NC-ND
explanations, in small bite sized
chunks. Also having a direct link
to specific elements of
explanation, rather than relying
on the traditional specialised
documents such as the
explanatory notes, which are
written for a specialised public,
would be beneficial. Specific
links could also be placed on
each part of the forum, as well as
making space for participants to
submit positive comments in
support of the bill.
6. Feedback from Parliament to
the public. Providing updates
for participants would certainly
help keep them engaged with
the Public Reading process,
enabling them to see the results
of their contributions. A similar
model to that currently utilised
References
1. UK Parliament, 14 February 2013.
2. Hague, W. (2009) Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 5 October 2009.
3. HM Government. (2010) Programme for Government, London: Cabinet Office, p. 27.
4. Young, G. (2012), Public Reading Stage and Explanatory Statements on Amendments, Written Ministerial Statement, 12 July 2012.
5. Department for Education. (2013) Children and Families Bill 2013, Policy Paper.
6. Young, G. HC Debates, 12 July 2012, Col. 57WS.
7. Chope, C. (2013) Children and Families Bill Committee, 1st Sitting, 5 March 2013, c1.
8. Sharon Hodgson MP - 12th Sitting, Children and Families Bill Committee, 21 March 2013, c440.
Recommendations
1. Explicit guidance
specifically developed
for the general public
2. Formal integration
of Public Reading into
parliamentary
scrutiny of the bill
3. Clarification of the
aim of the Public
Reading to the public
4. Better resources,
particularly staffing
5. Amended, public
friendly, web forum
design
6. Feedback to
participants on the bill
by the Petitions Committee
could be adopted. In this case,
emails are sent to petitioners and
signatories every time
something new happens to their
petition. Whilst continuing
feedback may be difficult to do
for all comments, they could be
done at least by schedule,
overall, or for certain types of
comments. Hence participants
could receive (or opt to receive)
updates on the progress of the
bill (and a general summary of
the changes made). In addition,
updates on specific clauses/parts
of the bill, or alerts if a
participants specific comment
was used by MPs, could be
considered for future Public
Readings.
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Martin CC BY-NC-ND
9. Lord Storey HL Debates, 2 July 2013, c1099.
10. UK Parliament. (2013) Homepage of Public Reading Pilot: Children
and Families Bill: www.parliament.uk/business/bills-and-
legislation/public-reading/children-and-families-bill/
Article
Full-text available
Recent years have seen increasing calls to integrate the public’s voice into the parliamentary process. This article examines the impact of public reading stage (PRS) on the UK Parliament’s scrutiny of a bill. A new stage of the legislative process piloted by the House of Commons in February 2013, PRS invited the public to comment on a bill undergoing parliamentary scrutiny (the Children and Families Bill). The PRS was designed to encourage members of the public to participate in the scrutiny of legislation through a specially designed forum on Parliament’s website. Over 1000 comments were submitted. Drawing on a content analysis of the comments given by the public to the bill, complemented by interviews with MPs, key officials and PRS participants, we find that although the public reading stage had an impressive response, it failed to make much of a tangible impact on the parliamentary scrutiny of the bill. This was largely due to the choice of bill being used for the pilot and its lack of appropriate integration into the formal legislative process.
Speech to Conservative Party Conference
  • W Hague
Hague, W. (2009) Speech to Conservative Party Conference, 5 October 2009. 3. HM Government. (2010) Programme for Government, London: Cabinet Office, p. 27.
Public Reading Stage and Explanatory Statements on Amendments
  • G Young
Young, G. (2012), Public Reading Stage and Explanatory Statements on Amendments, Written Ministerial Statement, 12 July 2012. 5. Department for Education. (2013) Children and Families Bill 2013, Policy Paper.
Children and Families Bill Committee, 1st Sitting
  • C Chope
Chope, C. (2013) Children and Families Bill Committee, 1st Sitting, 5 March 2013, c1.
Programme for Government, London: Cabinet Office
  • Hm Government
HM Government. (2010) Programme for Government, London: Cabinet Office, p. 27.
  • G Young
  • Debates
Young, G. HC Debates, 12 July 2012, Col. 57WS.