News Round Up – w/c 13.3.17

Here are this week’s headlines:

Dawn Butler, MP, is praised for use of sign language in the House of Commons

Dawn Butler, an MP for the Labour party representing Brent Central, has been praised for her use of sign language in the House of Commons, where she recommended giving the language legal status. She simultaneously spoke and signed when she made her representations for giving sign language further protection. She was cheered by her fellow MPs as she finished her requisitions, and she has received support from multiple individuals and organisations on social media.

In 2003, sign language was recognised as a minority language but it was not granted a legal status. If the language was awarded legal status, the language could be promoted and protected. Ms Butler stated and signed that the language should be granted legal status like other recognised languages. David Lidington, the Commons Leader, stated that the Department for Work and Pensions had received multiple submissions requesting this and that it was due to publish a review with its recommendations in due course.

It is believed to be the first time that sign language was used to ask a question in the House of Commons, but not the first time sign language has been used in Parliament. Tom Levitt, another MP for the Labour party and Sir Malcolm Bruce, a Liberal Democrat MP, have both used sign language in the Commons.

Read more on the BBC and The Telegraph.

Government U-Turn on National Insurance increases

Yesterday, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced that the Government would no longer be increasing National Insurance payments for some self-employed persons. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, ordered Mr Hammond to abandon the measure, following an outcry by some Conservative back benchers that the move broke a general election manifesto of the Conservative party not to increase income tax, National Insurance or VAT. Mr Hammond has said that he hoped that the reversal showed that the government is listening to Britons.

The announcement of the increase came in Hammond’s Budget last week, and would have seen an increase in National Insurance payments for some self-employed persons from 9% to 11% by 2019, which would bring it closer to the 12% payed by employed persons. The Chancellor has said he will use the Autumn budget to set out where the expected £2bn shortfall the government will now have in the budget will be made up.

Although Mr Hammond has said that the U-turn shows that the government is listening to Britons, many have questioned how the manifesto pledge not to increase national insurance payments was overlooked in the first place, and how this potentially embarrassing situation for the Conservative party was ever allowed to unfold. It is speculated that Mr Hammond may be dismissed in the Summer Cabinet reshuffle.

Read more on the BBC or The Telegraph.

'Rape clause’ is added to the new tax credit entitlements without consultation of Parliament

A new restriction on tax credits requires women who’ve been raped for verification, if they wish to receive tax-credits for more than two children. The ‘rape clause’ was added as an amendment to an existing act late on Wednesday night and became law without any debate or vote in parliament. The tax-credit regulations, were originally introduced by ex-chancellor George Osborne in 2015 as Statutory Instruments; a form of legislation which permits amendments without parliamentary approval.

The policy, which caps tax credit entitlements to two children, comes into force on the 6th of April 2017. However, a woman can claim tax-credit entitlements for more than two children, if she can prove the third child was a result of rape or a case of multiple births. The government are implementing a ‘professional third party’ to assess the eligibility of women claiming the child was a result of rape and the assessment panel is said to include health professionals, police, social workers and rape charities.

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP, described the implementation of the policy as an ‘underhand parliamentary tactic’ to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of the measure. She also identified that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have introduced the scheme with no indication of how the judges reviewing eligibility for the exemption have been trained. Thewliss comments “The government must accept this policy is unworkable as well as immoral. With just days until nurses, doctors and social workers are expected to verify whether women had their third child as the result of rape, it’s clear there’s been no sexual violence training for those working with such vulnerable women. This is frankly astonishing, especially when you consider that the government is trying to railroad this through using medieval parliamentary procedures.”

The plans have led to many concerns by other MPs and women’s charities however the DWP have said they shall implement the exemptions in ‘the most effective and compassionate way.’ In addition, Thewliss has said that she is employing a motion of prayer for annulment; which will aim to scrap the Statutory Instrument for the tax-credit regulations if it is successful.

Read more in The Guardian.

Conservatives fined

The conservative party has been fined £70,000 over election expenses by the electoral commission. The Metropolitan Police is now examining the evidence to see if reporting omissions were deliberate.

The party broke spending rules by moving campaigners and staff from its national headquarters to boost local party efforts and not properly declaring their hotel bills and expenses. The Party failed to declare a total of £275,813 in campaign spending, an investigation has found.

The Commission has also reported Simon Day, the Party Treasurer, to the Metropolitan Police over the spending allegations.

If Mr Day is found to have “knowingly or recklessly” falsely declared that the party’s 2015 election spending return was complete and correct to his knowledge or belief, he will have committed a criminal offence under the Act.

The Electoral Commission said there was a “realistic prospect” the money had given the party an advantage.

Read more in The Telegraph or the BBC.

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