Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I seek leave to propose that the House debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, changes to personal independence payment regulations. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, on 23 February the Government issued new regulations to change the way in which disabled people or people with a chronic mental health condition would be assessed for eligibility for personal independence payments.
The Government’s own analysis estimates that the change will affect more than 160,000 people, the majority of whom have mental health conditions, who will not be able to access the full support that they would have been entitled to under the tribunals’ rulings—an effective cut of £3.7 billion. The regulations were laid before the House without any consultation with the Social Security Advisory Committee and, despite repeated efforts, without any debate in this Chamber.
In a letter to me dated 24 March 2017, the Secretary of State wrote that his Department became aware of the decision by the upper tribunal on 8 December, a whole two and a half months before the Government laid their emergency legislation before the House. The move to undermine and subvert independent tribunal judgments is unprecedented, and in my view marks very troubling behaviour by the Government on cases they lose that could weaken such social security tribunal judgments’ reach, influence and effectiveness in making independent decisions.
Since 8 December, the Social Security Advisory Committee and Parliament could have properly scrutinised any proposed changes. Instead, although the Leader of the House has belatedly committed to a debate at a date still to be determined, the Government have deliberately chosen not to have a debate before the 40-day praying against period comes to an end on 3 April. According to advice received from the Journal Office, if the regulations are not debated and voted on before 3 April, they will not automatically be revoked should the House vote against them. By delaying the debate, the Government are hoping that the objections to the regulations will be kicked into the long grass.
It is highly unusual for such a fundamental change to be introduced by a statutory instrument under the negative procedure in this way, bypassing debate and scrutiny in this House. This is a troubling subversion of democracy under this Government. Yesterday, the other place passed a regret motion, tabled by my noble Friend Baroness Sherlock, asking the Government to reconsider the regulations urgently. However, this elected House of Commons has not had the opportunity to do so, and I therefore believe that we owe it to those who will be affected, primarily people with mental health conditions, to hold this Government to account.
I am most grateful to hon. Members for their voluntary stand-up, but it is in fact superfluous. That is required only in the event of indications of opposition, but the position is extremely clear: the hon. Lady has obtained the leave of the House.
The debate will be held tomorrow, Wednesday 29 March, as the first item of public business. The debate will last for 90 minutes, and will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the hon. Lady’s application.