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Social Security Bill Lords

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 18 March 1975

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Order for Second Reading read

10.6 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is the fourth time that I have moved a Second Reading this evening. The House will see that this is a gigantic Bill, but despite its size it is, none the less, purely a consolidation Bill. However, it is a massive piece of consolidation and, indeed, it is one of the most elaborate and complicated consolidation Bills that has ever been put on the statute book. It rivals the consolidation of the Income Tax Acts of 1970 which, though equally complex as a consolidation exercise, involved only two Acts as compared with the present five Bills.

I must repeat, in case the House should be in any doubt, that all five Bills are purely and simply consolidation Bills. They present a scrupulously accurate representation of the existing law—that is, the law as it is after the Social Security Benefits Act passed through Parliament last week.

I shall be going into some detail about the background to this Bill because, as the House will recall, when I introduced a consolidation Bill and a statute repeals Bill last week in the time-honoured way, which is to do so rather briefly, one or two hon. Members felt that a little more detail ought to have been given. Among them were my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). I always listen very carefully to what they say because they are—they know that I mean this sincerely—very diligent about the information which ought to be given to the House, and they are always attenders at the very late sittings of the House. On this occasion, they are true to form. When my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley gets worried, I get worried, too. As he said last week, we have been engaged in many joint exercises in the House, so I feel that I ought to go into slightly more detail than is normal with a Bill of this sort.

What these Bills do is to consolidate all the enactments relating to national insurance, social security and industrial injuries. It has taken about 10 years for this legislation to be carried out. The last Act on the statute book was the 1973 Act which has been amended by the Social Security Benefits Act 1975. The whole range of legislation consolidated ranges from 1945. This is, therefore, a massive piece of legislation. It will certainly make social security law much more comprehensible to the average person. I am sure that the House will want to see this Bill passed. It was held up by the passing of the latest Act last week. The amendments are all consequential upon the late passing of this Act, or they are purely and simply technical drafting amendments.

10.11 p.m.

In view of the criticism expressed last week when the previous consolidation Bills were discussed that there was insufficient explanation, perhaps I should make it clear that the Opposition support these measure and believe that they will result in an enormous improvement in the clarity and effectiveness of the statute book in this area. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, the Bill is highly technical, and it seems to me slightly absurd that it should come before the House at all, let alone at this hour of the night.

I had the honour to serve on the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I realise how greatly we depend upon the thoroughness and ability of the officials and servants of the Committee who have had to make all the necessary preliminary and academic researches and recommendations which are brought before us. We are deeply indebted to these officials.

My criticism of the system, for what it is worth, is that the Committee can meet only at fairly infrequent intervals. We meet once a week. It would be beneficial if a new procedure could be found to speed up consolidation. Everyone realises that consolidation is helpful, and I suggest that before too long a Select Committee might consider this matter and perhaps find a better method of dealing with these non-controversial but highly complicated matters other than on the Floor of the House. I pay tribute to the draftsman who has undertaken this mammoth task of consolidating the law on national insurance and social security.

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his clear explanation of the Bill's provisions. He was slightly unfairly attacked last week by some of his colleagues, but no one is entitled to criticise him tonight. The Bill is complicated and technical, but it has been very carefully considered by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. The last consolidation in this field, which always was a massive task, took place in 1965. In that year three Acts were passed—The National Insurance Act, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act and the Family Allowance Act. Of course since 1965 a number of entirely new social security benefits have been introduced in several Acts, and a major new Act—the Social Security Act was passed by the Conservative Government in 1973.

As soon as that Act reached the statute book, work began to consolidate the social security law. The Bill consolidates so much of the national insurance legislation of 1965 to 1974 as remains un-repealed by the 1973 Act, together with the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts and, in addition, Part I of the 1973 Act and most of last year's Social Security Amendment Act.

This is therefore a massive Bill of 169 clauses and 20 schedules. I believe that it indicates the great advantages which consolidation can bring. These are clearly seen when one compares the Bill with the garbled text at present available to the public and to those who try to administer the social security pro- visions. I hope that it will be felt that those of us who sat on the Joint Committee week after week—not a very exciting but nevertheless an important task—have done a useful and helpful job of work, and we on this side welcome the Bill.

10.15 p.m.

May I very briefly thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the explanation which he has given of the Bill this evening. When we objected to the procedure last week we felt that it was quite wrong that massive consolidation Bills should be introduced, by tradition or otherwise, almost on the nod, with no explanation at all given. If there is any justification for the stand which my hon. Friend and I adopted last week it is both the explanation that my hon. Friend has given this evening and the importance of this particular measure.

Those of us who spend any time trying to thumb our way through "Statutes Revised" and other publications, trying to find the relevant parts of National Insurance legislation in operation at any one time will know that a consolidation measure of this kind is greatly to be welcomed. Not only is it to be welcomed but also what it does should be explained to the House. We have now had this explanation. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and I hope that he has set a happy precedent if only so that we can in this way see what we owe to the Joint Standing Committee, its servants and the parliamentary draftsmen.

I thank him, and I am sure that the country as a whole thank him, particularly those in trade unions and others who have to deal with this difficult legislation, who will welcome this consolidation legislation on to the statute book.

10.18 p.m.

I, too, am grateful to the Minister for making today the effort that he did not make last week. He was following a pattern which has been set for these consolidation measures in which it was felt that a very short speech would suffice. It was perfectly correct and proper that as Members of Parliament we should ask a Minister who is bringing a Bill like this before us to give us a more adequate explanation. This in no way derogates from the excellent work which I have no doubt the Joint Committee has put in. But no matter how many Committees scrutinise documents in this House, in the last analysis the might and even the majesty of Parliament is centred here in this Chamber, and the opportunity for hon. Members to exercise this scrutiny of a very complicated document is here in this Chamber.

We have, therefore a right to come here and say that although we were not members of the Joint Committee we felt that the explanation of a measure which might well have a massive amount of diligent work behind it was not entirely adequate to us. This Bill has 169 clauses and 20 schedules. It is an important work, and I believe that it will be an enormously useful work.

I entirely support the move to consolidate legislation. Our legislation is diffuse and drawn from numerous sources, and where people are not able easily to obtain access to legislation, that in itself can bring legislation into disrepute. Therefore, we welcome this kind of consolidation measure and I would certainly support any measures that would speed up this consolidation process. No one would object to that.

At the end of it all, however, the final decision about law which is binding on the people, even though it is merely a process of drawing the strands together so as to make the law more easily accessible to the people, must rest in this Chamber. If we, as ordinary back benchers, seek to ensure that scrutiny of legislation by the executive is maintained, we shall have done a reasonable job. If the executive has taken note of our attitude and accepts that though it will take a little extra time it will provide an explanation, then it is worthwhile. If we are not doing that job we are failing in our duty.

I would like to reiterate our appreciation of the extra trouble the Minister has taken here tonight and I am sure —and this is something which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) will support—that he will have set a pattern and that in future Ministers will bear in mind that there will always be insomniacs among back benchers who will wander into the Chamber to question and scrutinise the work of the executive.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Pavitt.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee

[Mr. GEORGE THOMAS in the Chair.]

This is a consolidation Bill with amendments to the clauses and two amendments to Schedules 15 and 16. I understand that the amendments are all consequential or drafting and could conveniently be discussed together. I propose to put the Question on Clauses 1 to 18 together and then call the Attorney-General to explain the amendments which begin on Clause 19. Thereafter, on completion of the debate, I propose to put the Question on the clauses and amendments together and the Question on the schedules and amendments together.

Clauses 1 to 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill

Clause 19