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Business of the House

Volume 799: debated on Thursday 25 July 2019

My Lords, I wish to raise an issue about the Universal Credit (Managed Migration Pilot and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019. I probably owe an apology to the government Chief Whip, having thought yesterday that I was dragging him to the Dispatch Box for the last time; I had not anticipated doing so again today.

We had a Statement and debate on this issue on Tuesday but having seen today’s report from our Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s Sub-Committee B, I have to raise serious concerns about process with the Government. We all understand the grave concerns about the policy of managed migration in universal credit and its implications. They are widely shared; the Government lost a major case in the High Court. My point today, although related, is about the constitutional role of Parliament in these issues. I am grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for drawing this to the attention of the House.

The original regulations were laid in June last year; they were withdrawn after severe criticism of the Government for prematurely seeking powers, and because they risked pushing vulnerable claimants into hardship. I think we have had two sets of replacement regulations, but the current ones to run the pilot have sat on the Order Paper since January. As affirmative regulations, the Government should have set a date for them to be debated in your Lordships’ House in that time.

On 8 January, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, who was the Minister at that time, said that a debate would happen on the Floor of the House when parliamentary time allowed. Clearly, we have been so busy that there has been no parliamentary time available at all. The other place was also given a commitment that the Government would,

“ensure that the start date for the July 2019 test phase involving 10,000 people is voted on”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/1/19; col. 175.]

But now the regulations have been withdrawn and new ones have been re-tabled this week, with one change following the High Court judgment. They have been tabled as negative instruments, with no automatic right of debate, in the week when Parliament goes into recess. They are also to be enacted within three days, ignoring the 21-day convention between tabling and enactment. It feels like a belt-and-braces approach to stop any debate taking place.

As the report identifies, the regulations have been around for six months without debate and Parliament will now be denied the opportunity, as promised by Ministers, to debate them before implementation. The regulations will be in operation for nearly six weeks before Parliament returns and can even think about debating them. In terms of the role of Parliament, this is a pretty shoddy state of affairs. The committee describes the Government action as a “tactical ploy”. What would the noble Lord call it?

I apologise, as I thought that there might be a new Chief Whip to whom I could ask this important question today. Will the noble Lord pass on to the new Chief Whip that they need to give a commitment to this, given that the pilot will be in operation before Parliament returns? The results of the pilot and the lessons learned must be debated in both Houses, before any regulations are laid to enable the full rollout of managed migration. We also need a commitment that this will not happen again.

The Leader of the Opposition is quite right: new regulations were laid at the beginning of the week. The original regulations could not proceed because of a High Court judgment, as she mentioned. The use of the negative procedure is entirely appropriate for this statutory instrument. This SI does not contain the provisions from the original instrument that called for the affirmative procedure.

However, I am aware that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee will be scrutinising the new SI in full, in due course. I note that the SLSC published a short information paragraph this morning, stating that a full report on the SI is to follow. Noble Lords should wait until we see what that report says, but the Government are more than happy to facilitate debates on negative SIs. If the Leader of the Opposition, or indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, want to come and see me while I am still in my office, I will do my best to see what arrangements can be made. As the House knows, my door is always open and our wish is that the House has every opportunity to debate all negative SIs, where the Opposition deem it appropriate.

I am grateful to the Chief Whip for the usual courtesy with which he has replied, but the message has to go to the new Chief Whip that there are two serious issues here. A debate can be facilitated, but these regulations will take effect over the summer. The 21-day convention has been cast aside and they will be in place. I am not just asking for a debate on these—we know that they are going to take place—but for a commitment to a debate on the outcome of the pilot, before we implement the policy as a whole. Given that we have not been allowed to debate the pilot before it happens, we should at least be allowed to debate it afterwards to see how it impacts the policy as a whole.