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Lords Constitution Committee questions hurried and retrospective Job Seekers Bill

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today published a report on the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill which questions the fast tracking of the legislation and its proposal retrospectively to penalise individuals who, according a recent judicial decision, have not breached any lawful rule.

The committee publishes its report the day before the House of Lords will debate the second reading of the Bill, with the Bill scheduled to complete its passage through Parliament on Monday. 

The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill follows a ruling from the Court of Appeal in February that certain of the Government's back-to-work schemes were unlawful as the relevant Regulations were beyond the powers given to ministers by the Jobseekers Act 1995. The schemes enabled jobseekers who refused to carry out unpaid work placements to be denied certain benefits.

The committee conclude that it is not necessary for the Bill to be fast-tracked. It says that the Government have not explained why the Bill must complete its parliamentary passage in three sitting days when the Government allowed themselves four weeks to introduce it following the Court of Appeal's ruling.

The committee also draws to the attention of the House the retrospective nature of the Bill. The report says that it is a “cardinal” principle that individuals should be punished or penalised only for contravening what was a valid legal requirement at the time of the offence.

Commenting, Baroness Jay of Paddington, chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:

“The Government have not made the case as to why the Jobseekers Bill must pass through Parliament so quickly. The Government are planning to appeal to the Supreme Court, so why can't they await the conclusion of that process before proposing further legislation?

“We also question the retrospective nature of what is proposed. A principle of British law is that penalties should not be introduced retrospectively for something that was not an offence at the time it was committed. The House of Lords will want to consider whether jobseekers who were denied benefits under unlawful rules should now be pursued by the state.”

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