The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee was unable to properly scrutinise this instrument at its most recent meeting, because your officials refused to expand on the Explanatory Memorandum to provide adequate reasons why this instrument is being treated as a matter of urgency. I am therefore writing to you, as the responsible Minister, with the same questions.
This instrument brings the amendment to SI 2013/376 into effect within 24 hours, stating that this is “because of the need to ensure the continuity of existing policy so as to maintain the effective administration of UC at a time when the Department has considerable capacity constraints because of the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (EM, para 3). This appears to be saying that Parliament’s normal scrutiny process is being restricted because of DWP’s own resourcing issues, but I would be grateful if you could be more explicit about what this section intends to convey.
Although the change the SI makes is simply to ensure that the sequencing of decisions is clear in this context, the Explanatory Memorandum does not explain what makes it a matter of urgency. The questions your officials felt unable to answer were:
This was a request for basic information to explain why Parliament’s normal scrutiny processes are being curtailed, and why a breach of the 21-day convention is justified. It is surprising that your Department declined to provide a Parliamentary Select Committee with information and you may also wish explain that decision.
8 September 2020
Thank you for your letter of 8 September. I apologise for the fact that officials had been unable to provide the Committee with sufficient information to explain the urgency of the Universal Credit (Exceptions to the Requirement not to be Receiving Education) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which breached the 21-day convention.
As set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, DWP sought to bring the S.I. into force as soon as possible after it had been made and laid to ensure that the regulations met the original policy intent following a decision to concede a claim for judicial review challenging regulation 14(b) of SI 2013/376. Officials were not able to provide details earlier as we were in confidential discussions. The urgency was driven by confidential discussions to settle the claim in relation to the (then) Regulations, which we anticipated would be concluded within days.
DWP acted urgently to avoid any risk of receiving additional claims to UC under the (then) regulations ahead of amending regulations coming into force. It was this risk of a substantial influx of additional claims to UC which we needed to avoid, due to the ongoing and considerable capacity constraints in responding to COVID-19 and to ensure the continuity of existing policy in a fair way. As it transpires, we are still finalising agreement on the precise terms of a Consent Order and those details must still remain confidential pending final agreement.
14 September 2020