What is a Grand Committee and what does it mean for Welfare Reform?

After all the fuss of the Welfare Reform Bill in the house of lords yesterday I wasn’t expecting much for a couple of weeks when it will reach committee stage. However, I woke up today to find that the government had tabled a motion in the lords to send the bill to the grand committee, held in a side room.

This is in fact the normal procedure for legislation moving through parliament. The committee stage is where the bill is examined line-by-line and objections from the debate at the second reading turn into amendments to the bill before it goes back to the house for the report stage and the third reading. Parliament’s own web page states:

Any Bill can be referred to a Committee of the whole House but the procedure is normally reserved for finance Bills and other important, controversial legislation.

So you can see, controversial bills are supposed to be debated by a “committee of the whole house” rather than a “grand committee.” As one lord stated in the debate today, no one can argue that this legislation is not controversial. The peers have stated over and over again during debate that they have been inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from people concerned about this bill. They show surprise at the scale of concern shown to them. Unfortunately, despite a heated debate this afternoon in the end the lords voted 263 to 211 to pass the motion and move the bill to the Grand Committee. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted for the motion, and Labour voted against it. Some of the reasons given were that it would block up the chamber and delay the passage of other bills, and that too many people would want to speak in the debate and it would take too long. (Yes, really! Democracy apparently takes too long.) One lady stated that several of the bills going through parliament are really three bills in one, and that of course it would take longer. (As an aside, I would urge you to look up Shock Doctrine for reasons as to why changes are being made so quickly.)

The difference between the two options for committee stage are quite important, I think. Here’s the official description of the committee stage:

Line by line examination of the Bill

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage. Any Member of the Lords can take part.

Committee stage can last for one or two days to eight or more. It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.

Before committee stage takes place

The day before committee stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.

Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published on the day.

What happens at committee stage?

Every clause of the Bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place.

All proposed amendments (proposals for change) can be discussed and there is no time limit – or guillotine – on discussion of amendments.

What happens after committee stage?

If the Bill has been amended it is reprinted with all the agreed amendments.

At the end of committee stage, the Bill moves to report stage for further examination.

Here is the critical part though:

Grand Committee

The proceedings are identical to those in a Committee of the Whole House except that no votes may take place.

As compared to:

Committee of the whole House

In the House of Lords the committee stage of a Bill usually takes place in the Lords Chamber and any Member can take part. The Committee may choose to vote on any amendment and all Members present can vote.

So you can see, apart from being in a less-accessible room, with space for far fewer peers to discuss the bill and no public gallery, sending a bill to the Grand Committee also means that the amendments cannot be voted on individually. I think, on the whole, this can be viewed as a bad thing.

However, please keep sending your messages to peers. They have noticed our objections, and we can’t let up now. Details are in my previous blog post.

***Important Update***

As Sam points out below, in the Grand Committee there is no voting on amendments, which would enable a majority vote to fix some of the worse points. Instead, the committee must agree unanimously on an amendment which means that just one person siding with the government can block any attempt to fix this bill.

 

 

Welfare Reform Bill: what next?

Today I watched the second reading of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords. The debate lasted more than seven hours; I was not able to follow all of it (After all, I’m not fit for work!) but I did manage to listen to most of it and also to tweet the key points that I heard, as did a few others. See the hashtag #wrb to catch up on that.

A few things of note:

  • Of 55 speakers, only a handful gave their outright support for the bill.
  • Nearly every speaker expressed concern about various aspects of the bill, ranging from mild caution up to wild predictions of doom.
  • Many of the Lords and Ladies asked for parts of the bill to be significantly amended at the committee stage.
  • Many of the speakers noted that they had received a large amount of lobbying, letters and emails concerned about the bill.

The bill sailed through the second reading but this was not unexpected. The next step for this bill is the committee stage. During this stage the Lords will examine every clause in the bill, examining issues raised during the debate and amending the bill where necessary. The committee stage normally starts at least two weeks after the second reading. After the committee stage the bill goes to the report stage and the third reading, so any objections have to be raised before the committee stage. I believe it is still worth contacting a lord in the next two weeks to register your objections.

Some points to raise include:

  • The benefit cap which will badly affect children of large families.
  • Under occupancy rules that will uproot families and remove people from support networks.
  • The time-limiting of ESA which will leave many people without support before they are well enough to work.
  • The arbitrary 20% reduction of the budget for PIP compared to DLA.
  • The problems with the Work Capability Assessment, which definitely should not be replicated with PIP assessments.
  • The unnecessary stress of testing some people repeatedly in spite of permanent or  worsening health problems.
  • The removal of the mobility component of DLA from people in care homes.
  • The loss of the severe disability premium.
  •  Lots more, but I’m half dead and can’t remember! Please add your own points in the comments.

You can adopt a peer on this handy website which will help you pick someone and contact them. (After you have written a letter about the welfare reform bill, please also write something about the health and social care bill, which is what that website is really aimed at.)

You can follow the progress of the Welfare Reform Bill and sign up for email updates at the parliament website.

If you want to know more about how legislation passes through parliament, read all about that on the parliament website too.

Aaaarrrrrggggghhhhh

I’m struggling quite a lot at the moment. I’ve recently started Amitriptyline, as well as increasing my Escitalopram, and for the first week I basically slept all the time. I’m still getting bouts of despair and severe depression, and spending a lot of time stuck in bed. Pain is down but dizziness, brain fog and problems walking are up. One of the casualties of all this has been my ability to write in detail about the subjects that I want to. Actually focussing on the detail is a massive problem. I can chat online, but I can’t write proper blog posts.

Some of the things that I really want to write about but can’t include:

  • The possible causes of ME, viral and mental, and the research into them.
  • Visiting a psychiatrist who believes my ME is a mental disease, and asking how I’m supposed to get my depression fixed without my ME being made worse by this idiot.
  • The Welfare Reform bill and the Health and Social Care bill, the problems, and how to fight them.
  • Being accurate in activism; not spreading rumours, and avoiding exaggeration.
  • How the Left and the Right stifle each others speech, or not. (I’ve written this, but can’t finish editing it and write the conclusion.)
  • Report on my experience at an Atos Work Capability Assessment, and Professor Harrington’s latest antics in policing them. (I was declared unfit to work, if you didn’t know.)
  • Discuss human rights.
  • Basing government policy on actual evidence instead of ideology and greed.
Those are just the ones I started writing, never mind the other ones that I haven’t attempted yet. For now, though, blog posts only come out when something prompts my mind to focus enough on one topic so that I HAVE to get the words written.

Letter to my MP: Objection to stop and search powers and banning marches

I have just written to my MP to object to the use of Section 60 and 60AA stop and search powers and to the banning of protest marches by the home secretary. If you think that these powers are excessive and dangerous then I urge you to do the same. Remember, if you are ever arrested for protesting, the judge will ask you if you wrote to your MP first. Make sure that you can say that you did.

This is the email that I have sent to my MP.

Dear Peter Luff,

I write to express my extreme concern about the use of section 60 and 60AA stop and search powers across the whole of London, and about the banning of protest marches across five London boroughs for an excessive period of 30 days.

I strongly object to the use of section 60 stop powers granted under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which enable the police to stop and search anyone across the whole of London. I believe that in being applied to the whole of London they are being applied excessively in a way that was not intended when this legislation was created. In addition I am concerned that the use of these powers can be abused by the police and used to intimidate people and suppress protest. Everyday powers to stop and search people under suspicion are ample for the purposes of detecting crime and public safety and should suffice in all circumstances.

I also object to the use, in any circumstances, of section 60AA Powers requiring the removal of disguises. The forced removal of masks or clothing in order to identify people is excessive and again only used to intimidate and to build up a visual record or protesters, particularly by Forward Intelligence Teams. Should a person be arrested then the police may check their identity. Otherwise, the police are abusing their power by building up this visual record of innocent protesters.

Finally, and most of all, I object to the banning of marches by the home secretary under the Public Order Act 1986. While I am glad that the home secretary recognises the unalienable right to static protest, I believe it to be a severe violation of rights to ban protest marches. Most of all I object to the fact that this ban is 30 days in length and applies to all marches. I believe this to be a massive abuse of power by the home secretary and a gross violation of our rights in a democracy.

I dislike the EDL intensely but their right to protest must not be stopped. Should they be violent or commit some other crime then by all means have them arrested, but in suppressing political messages the government and the police have crossed a line.

Yours sincerely,

Latentexistence

More hate from the Daily Express

Daily Express headline: 4M SCROUNGING FAMILIES IN BRITAIN

This is depressing but it’s a perfect example of the hate coming from the tabloid papers. The Daily Express main headline for the 2nd September 2011 is “4M scrounging families in Britain.” The text goes on to explain that there are nearly four million households where no one works.

Where do I start with this?

I don’t have the figures to hand, but I am sure that a fairly large number of those households are people who are too sick or disabled to work. There are approximately 2.5 million unemployed people in the UK, so even being generous and assuming that none of those on job seekers allowance are couples and so they are all living one per household, that leaves at least 1.5 million households that are living on Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support.

The editors of the Express must know this, so they have deliberately chosen to call people who are too sick or disabled to work “scroungers.” The word scrounger is a derogatory term intended to portray people as deliberately taking from others. Except they are wrong. I haven’t met anyone who is too sick to work that wouldn’t work if they could. Most of us who are sick or disabled are desperate to do something meaningful and worthwhile instead of feeling useless. Then there are the 2.5 million unemployed people – at the last count there were only half a million job vacancies for them to apply for. Half a million might be able to get work – assuming no turnover from other jobs into those vacancies – and the other 2 million can’t have a job. An insignificant number of those people might have the skills, ideas and circumstances to be self employed.  The editors of the Daily Express have no idea of how many households are made up of people who are able to work but do not want to. In the end it boils down to a deliberate attack on people unfortunate enough to have to live on state benefits, and the use of a derogatory term like scrounger is simply spreading hate. There is no excuse and the Daily Express should apologise.