Internal government assessments into universal credit will by published before Christmas, the Work and Pensions Secretary has conceded after Labour threatened to force a vote on the issue in the Commons.
David Gauke said he would provide the requested reports on a confidential basis to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in Westminster, but added that the Government is doing so on an “exceptional basis” and it should not set a precedent.
It came after the Labour Party attempted to seek vote in the Commons on Tuesday to make a “humble address” to the Queen, ordering ministers to release project assessment reviews conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) into universal credit, which is gradually being rolled out across the country.
The arcane parliamentary procedure is similar to the one used by Labour several weeks ago and compelled the Government to publish its Brexit impact assessments into different areas of the British economy.
The reports, known as project assessment reviews, are detailed assessments of the implementation of universal credit, which has come under criticism for driving debt, arrears and even evictions.
The independent Information Commissioner has determined that five of the reports, drafted between 2012 and 2015, are in the public interest and called on the Government to release them. So far it has not done so.
Welcoming the announcement by the Work and Pensions Secretary, the committee’s chair, Frank Field, said jokingly: “We can all go home in a minute.”
Speaking during an opposition day debate calling for the reports’ release, Mr Gauke said sharing information with select committees can be appropriate “in exceptional circumstances”.
He added: “In line with the motion before this House, I will provide, by the time the House rises for the Christmas recess, the reports directly to the Work and Pensions Select Committee.
“Now, I just wish to point out to the Shadow Secretary of State that her motion doesn’t require us to publish these reports, it doesn’t require us to lay it before the House.
“What is says specifically is to provide it to the Work and Pensions Committee. In those circumstances, I think it is acceptable for us to do so.”
Mr Gauke said he would consider redacting certain information, such as that which is commercially sensitive, while the documents were being handed over in exceptional circumstances and did not set a precedent.
“Against this background, I provide the reports to the select committee on a confidential basis, and in these circumstances hope and expect that documents will not be disclosed further,” he added.
Mr Gauke added: “Many of these reports date back some years, but to disclose the papers without the subsequent reports – showing how well universal credit has progressed – would give a partial picture. “So in line with the Motion before the House, I will provide by the time the House rises for the Christmas recess, the reports to directly the Work and Pensions Select Committee. As is customary, I will need to consider redacting any appropriate material such as the names of junior officials and information which is commercially sensitive.
“I wish to emphasise that it is the Government's view that this is an exceptional request, agreed to on an exceptional basis, and does not set any precedent for re action. Against this background, I provide the reports to the Select Committee on a confidential basis and, in these circumstances, hope and expect that the documents will not be disclosed further. I say that, knowing that the most recent IPA report was very clear. We were right to expand the roll out of Universal Credit this Autumn. “
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