SNP MP Mhairi Black has published a Private Members’ Bill that would require the assessment of a benefit claimant’s circumstances before the implementation of sanctions. The Benefit Claimants Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill is expected to resume its second reading debate on 24 January 2017, having been adjourned on 2 December. A Commons Library Briefing explains the Bill in further detail.
The Investigatory Powers Bill completed its passage through Parliament and received Royal Assent on 29 November to become the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The Act rationalises existing powers exercised by law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies governing access to communications and communications data, and introduces new powers to acquire internet connection records. It also overhauls authorisation and oversight of these powers.
The Science and Technology Committee has published a report on ‘Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research’. The report suggests that the needs of science and research should be given greater significance in the Brexit negotiations, and that the Government should make clearer commitments in relation to science expenditure; measures to attract skilled researchers and students; and an exemption from future immigration controls for EU researchers already working in the UK.
The Work and Pensions Committee has published a report on Concentrix, who held a contract with HMRC to provide additional capacity and expertise to check for possible fraud and error in tax credit claims and to reduce or suspend benefits where appropriate. HMRC recently announced that the contract would be terminated, following serious customer service and decision making failures. The Committee expressed grave concerns about the delegation of benefits decision-making to private companies. The National Audit Office is conducting an investigation into HMRC’s contract with Concentrix in early 2017. (See also an article on UKAJI’s blog in which Robert Thomas (University of Manchester) analyses the Concentrix data.)
The Women and Equalities Committee has published a report setting out the actions it has taken to scrutinise the quality of the Government’s Impact on Equalities analysis relating to the 2015 Spending Review and Autumn Statement. The report concludes that greater transparency is required in order for the Government to demonstrate that it has fulfilled its obligations to assess the equalities impacts of future Spending Reviews, Budgets and Autumn Statements.
The Women and Equalities Committee has also announced a new inquiry looking at tackling inequality faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Written submissions are invited until 27 January 2017.
The Home Affairs Committee has launched a new immigration inquiry. The Committee requests written submissions by 20 January 2017, and intends to hold meetings and hear evidence across the country.
The Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report on the Demography of Scotland and the implications for devolution.
The Justice Committee held an evidence session on 14 December with Sir Oliver Heald QC MP, Minister of State for Courts and Justice, on the Government Response to the Committee’s report on courts and tribunals fees. Committee members questioned why the Government has delayed in publishing its response to the report and its review of employment tribunal fees.
The Scottish Government has published the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill, which would remove the three-year time limit for civil claims relating to childhood abuse. The Bill forms part of the Government’s response to an independent consultation with survivors of childhood abuse.
The Ministry of Justice has published a response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights setting out the Government’s position on the implementation of adverse human rights judgments from the ECtHR and the domestic courts.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published its submission for the UK’s third assessment under the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review. The report sets out the Commission’s views on on-going human rights challenges in 12 areas of life, including education, health and privacy. It explores the effect of legal aid reforms on human rights and access to justice. It also provides recommendations to the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments on how to better respect and protect human rights.
The first of the tribunals to be part of the new structure for tribunals in Scotland has been launched. The Housing and Property Chamber is the first in a number of Chambers that will be established to form the First-tier Tribunal. Others will include the Tax Chamber, Health and Education Chamber, the Mental Health Chamber and the General Regulatory Chamber. The Housing and Property Chamber will take over the work of the former Private Rented Housing Panel (PHRP) and the Homeowner Housing Panel (HOHP) dealing with property issues.
Police and Prisons
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons has published a thematic report on prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPP). The main concern identified by the report was that failures in the criminal justice and parole systems have resulted in too many IPP prisoners being held in prison for many years after their tariff has expired. They have been denied the opportunity to demonstrate whether they present a continuing risk to the public, or to have this assessed. The report recommended that the Justice Secretary should take steps to ensure that resources and support are available to enable these prisoners to progress through the custodial system and be considered for release.
Equality and Discrimination
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has published a report of an investigation into discrimination experienced by pregnant employees and mothers at work. The investigation found that half of the women surveyed thought that their career opportunities were worse than before pregnancy. The Commission made a number of recommendations aimed at employers and Government to help to ensure that women do not experience discrimination.
The Scottish Government has published a Delivery Plan to 2021 for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, setting out its approach to policy for disabled people.
The Welsh Government has announced a range of measures to improve support and care for adults and children with autism. These include a new waiting time target for diagnosis and a better integrated service.
The Cabinet Office has published the long-awaited draft Public Services Ombudsman Bill. The proposals seek to bring together the responsibilities of the current Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman to create a new organisation with strengthened governance and accountability.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee held an evidence session on 13 December as part of its inquiry into the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The Committee heard evidence from users of the PHSO, including representatives from pressure group phsothefacts, and from the Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, and the newly appointed Chief Executive, Amanda Campbell.
Reports and publications
The Ministry of Justice has published a report on the use of closed material procedure from June 2015 to June 2016.
The Bach Commission has published its interim report on access to justice. The Commission, led by Lord Willy Bach, is considering evidence in relation to establishing access to justice as a fundamental public entitlement.
The Children’s Rights Alliance for England has published a report on the State of Children’s Rights in England 2016. The report covers poverty and homelessness; safeguarding; immigration, asylum and trafficking; education, leisure and cultural activities; health; and policing and criminal justice.
The National Audit Office has published a report on benefit sanctions, looking at whether the DWP is achieving value for money in its administration of sanctions.
Dame Louise Casey has published a report of her review into opportunity and integration in isolated and deprived communities. The report looks at immigration and patterns of settlement; the extent to which people from different backgrounds mix and get on; how different communities have fared socially and economically; and, at issues driving inequality and division. It makes recommendations aimed at helping to unite the country.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published a response to the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations on National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates, all of which were accepted.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have jointly published a consultation on reforming the employment tribunals system. Deadline for responses is 20 January 2017.
The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on proposals to extend Freedom of Information legislation to registered social landlords. The consultation closes on 23 February 2017.