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This Week in Westminster - Wednesday 26 January 2022

Kerri Prince, BASW UK Public and Political Affairs Lead, provides an update from Westminster

It has been nearly 6 weeks since my last ‘This Week in Westminster’, in which I wrote about the media drip-feeding stories about the Government breaking lockdown rules. As you will have seen, this hasn’t stopped. The stories are still coming out, and Westminster politicians are distracted by whether Boris Johnson will be Prime Minister this time next week, rather than the issues that are impacting people’s lives.

Is it any wonder that people get disillusioned with politics, when politicians are breaking their own rules and then spend months arguing about it? Sue Gray’s report about lockdown breaches has been completed and is currently in the hands of the Prime Minister. At the point of writing, I have no idea what it says! But the police are also conducting their own investigation. Last week, a Conservative MP defected to the Labour Party just before Prime Minister’s Questions, which is an incredibly rare event.

Although it is a distraction, it is also really important. If Boris Johnson ceases to be Prime Minister, there will be a new Prime Minister with their own legislative plans – and there may even be a General Election which would mean all the current legislation going through the Houses of Parliament falls, and the processes for them would have to start all over again.

Which, in the case of legislation such as the Nationality and Borders Bill, may not be such a bad thing!

Nationality and Borders Bill

The Nationality and Borders Bill is about to start its Committee Stage in the House of Lords, with amendments to be debated including: age-disputed child accommodation; “scientific methods” to determine age; and safe routes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). It will come as a blow to the Government that the Joint Committee on Human Rights that BASW gave evidence to at the end of last year, has agreed with BASW that the proposals around age assessments of UASC are not fit for purpose, and some elements such as coercion of children to undergo physical examinations and tests should be removed from the Bill.

The Health and Care Bill is also in the Lords, going through its amendment stages. Lots of health-related issues have been added onto this Bill, such as the prohibition of virginity testing which has been welcomed by both sides of the Commons. More controversial aspects include discharge to assess, membership of integrated care boards, and the health and social care levy….which doesn’t appear to go to social care at all.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Another key piece of legislation still in the House of Lords is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

BASW recently wrote to the Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Home Secretary to outline our position on the Bill, and that we hoped Labour would agree with us and oppose Government plans for further criminalising protest, giving the Home Secretary a range of powers to decide whether a protest is lawful or not. These are not proposals of a democratic, fair and free country, and we are pleased that Labour agreed with us and voted down these proposals in the Lords. It will return to the Commons soon for further debate.

The UK Parliament is a hotbed of activity right now, both in terms of legislation and political manoeuvring. The next time I write an update, we may well have a Conservative leadership challenge on our hands…