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Five things you need to know
1. Ministry of Justice reshuffle
Last Thursday evening the government confirmed a minor reshuffle affecting the Ministry of Justice team, following changes made in the aftermath of the departure of Gavin Williamson MP as defence secretary, which saw prisons minister Rory Stewart MP promoted to secretary of state for international development.
Robert Buckland QC MP moves from solicitor general to become a minister of state at the Ministry of Justice, leading on the prisons and probation brief.
Lucy Frazer QC MP moves from parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice to become solicitor general.
Paul Maynard MP has been appointed as parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, taking over Lucy Frazer's brief including legal aid and the new Courts and Tribunals Bill.
2. UK to take part in European Parliament elections
Last Tuesday cabinet office minister and de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington MP announced that the UK will be participating in the European Parliamentary elections on 23 May. The government had previously stated that their intention was to pass a Brexit deal through the House of Commons in time to avoid having to take part in the elections.
Lidington said it is 'not going to be possible to finish that process' before which the UK legally must take part or decide to leave the EU without a deal. He did clarify that the delay would be 'as short as possible,' indicating that the government will now aim to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (which has still not been introduced to either House) before the end of June, meaning the elected UK MEPs would not have to take their seats on 2 July.
The government are still in negotiations with the Labour Party to secure the support necessary to pass the withdrawal agreement in the Commons. No. 10 described the talks as 'constructive and detailed,' but a Labour source said that the government was being 'disingenuous' to suggest that a significant new compromise was being offered. Nothing has been finalised as of yet.
3. Diversity in public appointments challenged
Last Thursday the Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond asked a question in the House of Lords about diversity in public appointments.
He asked what steps the government is taking to increase diversity in public appointments, not just in the Cabinet office but across government departments.
In response Lord Young of Cookham, Lords Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, reiterated the government's commitment to improving diversity in public appointments. He stated that new appointments of women, BAME people and candidates with a declared disability have increased since 2013-14 and acknowledged there was more to do. He said the government aims to publish an updated public appointments diversity action plan in June.
Supplementary questions included a question from Baroness Burt of Solihull (Lib Dem) on the need to challenge traditional recruitment methods, such as requiring CVs and formal structured interviews, in order to get the best candidates. She cited HS2 as an example of an organisation which has recruited a workforce representative of the population through blind recruitment and queried whether the government would look at these methods.
Lord Young responded by acknowledging that standard methods of CV and application form recruitment might not fairly reflect the history of applicants with disabilities and that the government has taken on board some of the unconscious discrimination that those with a disability might face when applying for public appointments.
4. Gender pay gap
Labour peer Baroness Gale quizzed the government on the gender pay gap last Wednesday.
She asked what steps the government were taking to require employers to publish action plans relating to their gender pay gaps including (1) a long-term strategy on how they will close such gaps, (2) how such progress will be monitored, and (3) the requirement to publish the results of that progress. She observed that average pay gaps had only dropped 0.1% over the past year and argued that 'now is the time for much more progress to be made on the gender pay gap, which would be beneficial not only to women but to the economy and society.'
In reply Baroness Williams of Trafford, minister of state at the Home Office, said that over 10,000 employers had published their gender pay gap reports for a second year and that 48% produced an action plan last year. She acknowledged that although the pay gap had reduced marginally it was not enough and that more needed to be done. She urged all employers to publish an action plan detailing what they are doing to address the pay gap and to use the Government Equalities Office guidance and toolkit to identify effective actions. She said that the annual figures published by employers would be a way of holding them to account.
In the supplementary questions Lord Boateng (Labour) questioned whether the government would extend pay gap reporting to cover ethnicity.
Baroness Williams agreed that 'BAME representation, not only in organisations but also on things such as FTSE 100 boards and FTSE 250 boards, is diabolical' and that gender pay gap reporting was a start although she acknowledged that that the government had further to go.
5. Lords discuss freedom of movement
Last Wednesday the Labour peer Lord Lea of Crondall asked a question in the House of Lords on freedom of movement. He observed that 'across the international services sector, significant numbers of firms are now considering moving lock, stock, and barrel to places such as Amsterdam.' He asked whether the government would urgently produce a Green Paper on internal market participation options, with feedback from industry sectors and bodies such as the Trade Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry.
In reply, home office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said that a transition period until the end of 2020 would occur 'in any scenario - deal or no deal,' and that in a no deal scenario the government's European temporary leave to remain scheme would allow EU workers to come to the UK visa-free for three years.
In the supplementary questions, Lord Whitty (Lab) noted the link between freedom of movement and service industries, arguing they 'can trade effectively only if their personnel can be moved.' He recommended that strategies on freedom of movement and market access for services becombined when working towards a future deal.
Baroness Williams stressed that the government acknowledges the need for 'an environment friendly to businesses both home and abroad.' She said the post-Brexit immigration system will be skills based, and that the government would consult the Migration Advisory Committee on these matters.
Coming up this week
On Tuesday the House of Lords will hold the Second Reading of the new Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill.
On Tuesday there will be a Westminster Hall debate on automatism as a legal defence, and the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill has a further pre-legislative scrutiny session.
Department for Exiting the EU ministers will face questions in the House of Commons on Thursday.
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