Memorandum by the Department of Social
1. THE EFFORTS
Preparations for the Human Rights Act were co-ordinated
by a Departmental steering group chaired by the Departmental Solicitor.
Each of the Department's business units were represented on that
Thorough and systematic reviews of policy, legislation
and procedures were carried out across the Department led by a
number of project teams in the various business units. These reviews
were systematic and detailed, across all benefit areas and processes
reviewing a vast body of legislation and practice which stretches
back over many years to make sure that the policy justifications
for particular measures were still appropriate for the year 2000.
As a result of these comprehensive reviews,
a number of internal personnel procedures were clarified and some
minor procedural changes to benefit handling were made. Although
these changes have been minor, the reviews have raised the profile
of human rights issues considerably, and their consideration has
become, more than ever, an integral part of the way the Department
conducts its business, including policy information.
Another major aspect of the co-ordinated preparations
was that all members of staff in the Department have received
training in the Human Rights Act. The nature of this training
has varied according to the role that people carry out. Everyone
in the Department and its agencies has had at least a basic awareness
training. This has been based around a video that was specially
produced by the Benefits Agency. The video has also been used
in the rest of the Department.
Many members of staff have had far more extensive
training to equip them properly for the jobs they do. For example,
the staff that carried out the reviews received specialist training
very early on to enable the reviews to commence. Similarly, but
necessarily later in the programme of preparations, those staff
dealing with appeals have had specialist training so as to be
equipped for dealing with human rights points that customers might
wish to raise.
There have been other ways in which we have
been building on human rights culture in the Department. Detailed
standing guidance has been placed on the Department's intranet
so staff have a constant reference source ready to hand. There
have been a number of articles in Department and Agency publications.
At the end of September 2000 staff had an insert in their payslips
to remind them again about the imminent coming into force of the
2. HOW THE
In part, this is addressed above, but the question
prompts two additional important points.
In one sense, the Department's approach to human
rights issues has not changed at all. The Convention has been
with us for many years so it has always been appropriate for it
to be a central part of our work. That said, the Human Rights
Act, and the extensive work that has gone into preparing for it,
has quite properly raised the profile of human rights in the way
that was intended in passing the Act.
One of our central aims is modernising the social
security system. It is pleasing to emphasise that the Human Rights
Act has had positive consequences for policy formation in that
is has dovetailed precisely with what we have been doing in making
progress on modernising the system with an appropriate balancing
of rights and responsibilities.
3. THE IMPLICATIONS
THE HRA CAME
A Scottish case (Starrs and Chalmers)
concerning judicial appointments and ECHR Article 6 has potential
implications for the whole of Government. However, this was not
an issue specific to social security. We have been studying the
case law emerging from the courts since the Human Rights Act came
into force but there has not been any judgement under the Act
in the field of social security.
4. THE IMPACT
Both at the centre of the Department, and in
the Agencies dealing directly with the public, consideration of
human rights is an integral part of the way business is conducted.
How it impacts varies according to the part of the Department's
work in question. Staff responsible for working on policy issues
constantly bear the Convention Rights in mind. Staff who deal
with enquiries from customers have become increasingly used to
being asked whether aspects of the Department's business are consistent
with human rights legislation. However, such enquiries have been
limited in number and are usually very general without any specific
complaint being made that a particular Convention Article is an
5. HOW THE
19 OF THE
Since section 19 came into force, officials
and lawyers in the Department have carefully considered all new
legislation in order to advise Ministers about the compatibility
of the proposed provisions. However, this is not something added
on at the end of the policy developed process but is an integral
part of it. All new policies are developed with the Act very much
in mind. Therefore, being in a position to make statements of
compatibility under section 19 flows naturally from that.