Iain Duncan Smith is rushing a bill through in just one day that will retroactively change the law to undo a court judgement against the government.
Even if you don’t believe that it is wrong to send people to work unpaid for large profit-making companies under threat of loss of benefits, the idea that the government can change the law in the past should terrify you. Human rights law includes the idea that a person cannot be punished for something that was not illegal until after the act, although no doubt the department of work and pensions will claim that sanctions that remove benefit are not punishment despite the name “sanctions”. A government that will change the law in the past at will is a government that is out of control and has no limits on the damage that it can do.
Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP must be aware that their actions will contravene human rights law. From the explanatory notes:
“The Government considers that Article 6 is not engaged at all since the claim to entitlement to benefit, and any dispute regarding a benefit decision thereon which would require access to the courts, remains hypothetical.”
Strangely, despite considering article 6, the right to a fair trial, the government don’t even mention article 7, which guarantees rights against retroactive punishment. They could try to argue, as quoted above, that entitlement to benefit is hypothetical and therefore sanctions are withdrawal not punishment.
It is an affront to democracy and justice too to rush a bill through in one day so as to apply it without proper scrutiny before any appeal reaches the court and the government required to repay those who were subject to illegal sanctions.
To change the law for the future is one thing, but to try to reverse a lawful decision by the court against the government for the sake of £130 million, a drop in the ocean for welfare, looks like a childish hissy fit by the work and pensions secretary. His action undermines the rule of law and destroys what little respect people may have left for MPs.
The government rushed through the second reading, committee stage (no ammendments) and third reading in one afternoon. The final vote passed the bill by 263 to 52. Labour’s official policy was to abstain, although about forty Labour MPs voted against it. There were some very impassioned speeches in particular from Iain Lavery and John McDonnell who even recommended looking at the Boycott Workfare website.I have uploaded videos of those speeches and included them here. They’re worth a watch.