105.The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) undertook several thematic inquiries, mostly on the theme of the right to liberty, some of which linked to scrutiny of legislation that was going through Parliament at the time. The inquiry into deprivation of liberty safeguards considered the legal processes by which individuals who lack mental capacity can be detained (and released) on medical grounds. This brought together complex legal evidence and personal testimonies to propose changes to legislation, which were subsequently tabled as amendments to the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill.
106.The Committee undertook three inquiries into detention, which will report in spring 2019. The first of these, an inquiry into youth detention, considered the use of restraint and separation in custody and hospitals, hearing evidence from young people and families as well as staff who work in the institutions. The report was published on 18 April 2019. The inquiry into assessment and treatment units is considering whether these hospital units are appropriate for children and young people with autism or learning disabilities, while the inquiry into children whose mothers are in prison is considering the need for dependent children to be considered more fully in sentencing decisions.
107.The Committee’s inquiry into detention of the Windrush generation heard from people who had been detained, and scrutinised the Home Office’s decision-making processes to identify flaws in its processes. The Committee’s follow-up inquiry into immigration detention proposed improved safeguards and appeals processes to protect against wrongful detention, and proposed a time limit on detention which is being proposed as an amendment to the Immigration Bill. Also on the immigration theme, the Committee scrutinised the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, and proposed amendments to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. The Committee also considered a Remedial Order to address discrimination in the British Nationality Act 1981.
108.Finally, the Committee conducted a short inquiry into human rights protections in international agreements, which recommended a greater role for Parliament in scrutinising the human rights implications of treaties after Brexit.
109.In July 2018 the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy published its report on Cyber Security Skills and the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure. It found that both the Government and the private sector lacked the necessary cybersecurity skills base, and that the shortage in specialist skills and deep technical expertise was one of the greatest challenges faced by the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure operators and regulators. The report received coverage in the trade press. In response to the Government’s publication of an Initial Security Skills Strategy in December 2018, the Chair of the Joint Committee wrote to the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, noting that most of the proposals appeared only to involve continuing current initiatives and schemes, and that the strategy did not meet the scale and urgency of action required.
110.In November 2018 the Joint Committee published its report on Cyber Security of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure. The Joint Committee concluded that the cyber threat to the UK’s critical national infrastructure was credible, potentially devastating and immediate, and that the Government was not acting with sufficient urgency and forcefulness. The report received widespread broadcast and press coverage. It was referred to in the National Audit Office’s report on the National Cyber Security Programme.
111.The Joint Committee followed up its report Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, published in January 2017, which raised significant concerns about the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund’s (CSSF) lack of transparency and ministerial accountability. Following the report, the Government changed how the CSSF is run and how it reports on its work, including establishing a dedicated National Security Council sub-committee and publishing summaries and annual reviews of many CSSF programmes, as well as annual reports. In November 2018 the Joint Committee took evidence on this from witnesses including the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Deputy National Security Adviser, and the Director, Joint Funds Unit, National Security Secretariat.
112.In January 2019 the Joint Committee took evidence from Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary, Head of the Civil Service and National Security Adviser, to discuss the combining of these roles, threats to UK national security, the National Security Capability Review and Modernising Defence Programme, and countering hostile state activity. In March 2019 the Joint Committee held a roundtable on biological security, at which it heard from witnesses including the Chief Medical Officer, a former Secretary of State for Defence and the Research Director, International Security, Chatham House. It held a private session on the National Security Capability Review and Modernising Defence Programme, with experts including a former Defence Secretary and the Deputy Director-General, International Institute for Strategic Studies. This followed up its March 2018 report National Security Capability Review: A changing security environment.
114.The Francis inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust reported in 2013, and was one of the driving forces behind the 2015 inquiry by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee which recommended the setting up of a national agency to investigate the most serious patient safety issues in the NHS. A Health Safety Investigation Branch was established as part of the Department of Health in April 2017. To provide it with a statutory basis and operational independence the Government published a draft Bill in September 2017, and on 15 May 2018 a Joint Committee was established to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill. The Committee reported on 24 July 2018.
115.The Committee was broadly supportive of the draft Bill. Apart from some technical points, their major issue was with Part 3 of the draft Bill, which provided for NHS Trusts to be able gain accreditation to carry out their own “safe space” investigations (i.e. the prohibition on disclosure of information held in connection with an investigation, except in very limited circumstances, designed to encourage NHS staff to speak freely in the course of investigations). In their response, published in December 2018, the Government accepted the Committee’s recommendation that these accreditation provisions should be removed from the Bill altogether. However, the Government have yet to provide legislative time for the Bill.
116.Early in 2018 both Houses agreed resolutions to begin work in connection with the restoration and renewal (R&R) of the Palace of Westminster. Both resolutions required “immediate steps” to be taken to establish a shadow Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority. The Government published the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill to give a statutory basis for these two bodies and for an Estimates Commission. The Joint Committee appointed to examine the draft Bill reported on 13 March 2019.
117.The Committee broadly supported the provisions on the governance and structures of these bodies proposed in the draft Bill. However, the Committee thought it undesirable to have to repeat the public appointments process by which the external members of the shadow bodies had been appointed simply to enable them to be re-appointed to the statutory bodies. The Committee recommended that the Parliamentary members should be elected by each House, and that a Treasury Minister should be an additional member of the Sponsor Body. The Committee also recommended that the Sponsor Body should take control of the Northern Delivery Programme, including Richmond House, from the House of Commons Commission.
118.The Committee also made a wide range of recommendations about the work of and relationship between the bodies, and about R&R generally, which did not affect the content of the draft Bill.
103 Joint Committee on Human Rights, (Seventh Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 161, HC 890)
104 Joint Committee on Human Rights, (Nineteenth Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 343, HC 994)
105 Joint Committee on Human Rights, (Sixth Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 160, HC 1034)
106 Joint Committee on Human Rights, (Sixteenth Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 279, HC 1484)
107 Joint Committee on Human Rights, (Seventeenth Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 310, HC 1833)
108 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, (Second Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 172, HC 706)
109 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, (Second Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 172, HC 706)
110 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, (Second Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 105, HC 208)
111 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, (First Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 104, HC 756)
112 See Para 47 of Joint Committee on the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, (Report of Session 2017–19, HL Paper 180, HC 1064).