Letting the public in on the act

A report by Professor Leston-Bandeira on the integration of the public’s view into the scrutiny of bills.

Together with Dr Louise Thompson (Surrey University), Professor Leston-Bandeira has recently launched the report Letting the Public In On The Act, which provides a summary of the findings of their study of the Public Reading Stage of the Children and Families Bill. This was a pilot run by the House of Commons through which members of the public were able to comment on a Bill undergoing scrutiny in parliament.

The study was funded by a Leverhulme Trust / British Academy grant. It analysed the experiences of members of the public who submitted comments on the bill and the impact of these comments through the legislative process. The Report makes six recommendations for any future attempts to involve the public in the scrutiny of legislation:

  1. Explicit guidance specifically developed for the general public to ensure that there is simple information available about the key issues within the bill.
  2. Formal integration of public reading stage into the parliamentary scrutiny of the bill. This may include positioning the public reading stage as a form of pre-legislative scrutiny or dedicating time on the floor of either House to discuss the public’s view of the bill.
  3. Clarification about who public reading stage is aimed at, so that it clear whether mechanisms should be designed for members of the public, or for interest groups.
  4. Greater resources in terms of specialised staff to help manage the submission of comments from the public and to ensure that information about the public reading stage can be disseminated as widely as possible.
  5. An amended, public-friendly web forum design with information about the bill written especially for the public and provision for positive comments on the bill as well as critical ones.
  6. The provision of feedback to participants following their contributions to the web forum. Participants could opt-in to receive updates on the progress of the bill and could be alerted if their comment was used by MPs or peers scrutinising the bill in Parliament.

They have submitted evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee’s inquiry into the Legislative Process on the basis of this study. They also wrote a blog post for the UK Constitutional Law Society, which summarises the key points from the Report.