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Social Security Bill

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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Bill (as amended in the Standing Committee), further considered.

and has referred to the committee, that report, very properly, is laid before the House so that, when the House reads the regulations, it reads at the same time the report tendered to the Secretary of State on those regulations by the advisory committee.

As things stand, the anomaly is that, although the Bill—this is a matter of considerable gratification in Northern Ireland, as I noted on Second Reading—endows the advisory committee with the same advisory functions with regard to Northern Ireland legislation as in relation to Great Britain legislation, when Northern Ireland regulations are laid before the advisory committee and the advisory committee makes a report, that report will fall plop into the chasm of eternal night. It will not be seen by this House. It will not be presented to this House. It will not be brought to public notice in any way.

That happens because, as the Bill is drawn, it presumes the existence of what does not exist, namely, a Northern Ireland Assembly, before which the relevant regulations and the corresponding report of the advisory committee would be laid.

This is a central point; it was discussed in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman says that this amendment is on a narrower basis; but is it not a fact that the statute remains for the devolved Government who have been replaced temporarily by direct rule?

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention—so, obviously, is the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, who was much cheered by it. With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman is not on the point that I am dealing with. In the earlier amendments which, thanks to the right hon. Gentleman, were discussed and explained in Committee, the proposal was to alter the structure of this clause. Having studied carefully what was said in Committee, my hon. Friends and I concluded that, given the legislation that was on the statute book, we had to use that terminology and that machinery of the Department in order to get these regulations made. That is why a narrower and different point is being made now.

These amendments leave intact the machinery under the 1973 and 1974 Acts. They leave intact the function of the Department, although, under the 1974 Act, it is the Secretary of State who is temporarily responsible for the Department. The amendments do something that is narrower and different, to which I do not believe that any hon. Member could have any objection.

I accept that, if or when there is in Northern Ireland an elected assembly, it would be proper that it should be to that assembly that the regulations should be brought and the report made. But, in the interim, when there is no such assembly, it is unreasonable that the report of the advisory committee, to which we are giving duties in respect of Northern Ireland should be simply dropped out of sight and not laid before this assembly, the and not laid before this House, the only elected assembly responsible, as things are, for the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Perhaps the amendments are not the right way, but we ask the Government to ensure that in the interim period, unless and until there is a Northern Ireland assembly, the regulations and the reports of the advisory committee on them come to the attention of the House, as will the reports on the regulations referring to Great Britain. It is absurd that we should go to the trouble of making the same advisory committee responsible for oversight of Northern Ireland legislation as of Great Britain legislation and then say that when it issues a report on Northern Ireland legislation, for which no other body can take account, that report shall not be laid before the House.

This is a simple point. In no way does it prejudice either the present legislative position or the present constitutional position or any possible future constitutional position. If and when an assembly is set up, nothing would be easier than to alter this by a paragraph of a subsection of one of the schedules. Let the House have the report for Northern Ireland as well as for the rest of the United Kingdom, as long as the House remains the only elected assembly for Northern Ireland. I do not mind how the Government do it. They cannot deny that the request is reasonable, and I am sure that they will accede to it.

I followed closely what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said. He was right to correct me. He is dealing with a narrower issue than that which was discussed in Committee. One way round the problem is for the Government to consider laying a report before the House at the same time as it is laid anywhere else and for it to be debatable if parliamentary time is available. The right hon. Member and his colleagues claim that under direct rule there is no full Parliament scrutiny of Northern Ireland affairs. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to protect the rights of Northern Ireland Members.

One can imagine the House debating Great Britain regulations and a report on them when there is a corresponding and even more critical report relating to Northern Ireland to which Members cannot refer.

The right hon. Gentleman has a fair point. The Government should take it on board.

I support the right hon. Gentleman's narrower argument, although we did not support the wider aspect in the philosophical debate in Committee.

Reference has been made to amendments Nos. 82 and 83. It has been suggested that they are consequential to the main amendment. They may be consequential but they were tabled for a different purpose. I acccept that Northern Ireland regulations may never be debated, but there is another problem affecting regulations for the rest of Great Britain.

Schedule 3 contains a list of regulations which do not have to be put to the new advisory body for scrutiny. They are those which are made in the first six months. They deal with family income supplement, supplementary benefit, child benefit and various other benefits. Regulations on those issues will be excluded from reference to the advisory body.

I realise that such regulations may need to be referred before the new committee is established. That would be impossible. However, in earlier debates we agreed that in an emergency the regulations could be referred later. We would still get a report and thus discover whether there was criticism of the regulations, even if it was afterwards. It is important that that should happen with the first set of regulations.

It would have been better had we been given the opportunity to debate new clause 3. We could then have had a different form of scrutiny for the regulations the first time round. Unless the Government tell us that they propose some other form of scrutiny, it is essential for the first set of regulations to be referred, even after they have been made for report. There is a danger once provision is written into the first regulations that it will appear in successive regulations year after year without any justification. The first regulations are especially important.

I hope that the Under-Secretary is prepared to accept amendments Nos. 82 and 83 in their own right. That will ensure that the advisory committee has the chance to scrutinise all the regulations for Great Britain as well as ensuring that there is proper scrutiny by this House of regulations for Northern Ireland.

The aim of these amendments, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, is to overrule in one way the Northern Ireland Act 1974. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman was making a narrower point, but I believe that it has a wider implication. Obviously I am concerned that anything we do in this House—and this is a matter of social security—is not misunderstood in any of the current discussions and does not pre-empt any other discussions. I wish to make sure that the form of words that we use in this Bill replicate similar words used in other current leislation.

The effect of amendments Nos. 64, 65 and 66 would be to delete references to the Northern Ireland assembly and to make the Northern Ireland regulations subject to the same procedure at Westminster as their counterparts for the rest of Great Britain. Parliament accepted in 1974 that in the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland it would, as a temporary measure, take on the more important responsibilities of the dissolved Northern Ireland assembly.

Because of the pressure of business, Parliament recognised the need to abbreviate certain procedures in some areas. However, it was accepted that the lack of any procedure would, though unsatisfactory, be tolerable for an interim period regardless of individual opinions about the satisfactory nature of these arrangements. I believe that it is not right to seek modifications of procedure in particular areas in this way.

I have an eye on the Government's present initiative in Northern Ireland. In no way would this House wish to prejudice those discussions. I am sad to say that acceptance of this amendment would be tantamount to Parliament declaring that responsibility for social security—traditionally a devolved subject—would henceforth be exercised by Westminster and not by any future Northern Ireland assembly. It is clearly not the right time to be making that sort of signal, and I am concerned that it might be taken amiss by the parties in Northern Ireland.

We have in this House procedures which I believe should be preserved so that these regulations, along with other regulations which affect Northern Ireland, might be drafted and discussed in the same way. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman, whose case I understand—I should hate him to think otherwise—that at present any move such as the one he seeks to persuade us to make in these amendments could make the present very serious discussions all the more difficult.

10.15 pm

I am following the hon. Lady's argument with interest. The Opposition might disagree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about what will happen or is happening now, but we do not want anything to be done that will prejudice the present situation. We stand by the 1974 Act. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was responsible for putting that Act through the House. I suggest that, without accepting the amendments, the hon. Lady could take on board the strong point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South—a point that I have tried to underline—that, in duplicate in a sense, regulations or submissions could still be made to the House without in any way prejudicing the Act as it is.

I am no expert on Northern Ireland matters. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, who is present, for his advice. I understand that the procedures that we use now regarding regulations as they affect Northern Ireland would be applied in the same way to regulations on social security matters. If we were to take the step suggested by the right hon. Member for Down, South, we should be extending the role in a way that is likely to be misunderstood at this delicate time in the negotiations.

One of the difficulties is that we do not often discuss some of these matters at a reasonable hour. Whilst I have not been privy to some of these discussions—I accept the point made by the right hon. Gentleman—I think that it would be in the interests of all concerned not to make an exception of social security regulations, which is what we would be doing, in comparison with other regulations which are made in the interest of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) spoke to amendment No. 83. The new Social Security Advisory Committee is an integral part of the new structure beginning in November. It will take over from the Supplementary Benefits Commission and the National Insurance Advisory Committee at that point. In practice, therefore, paragraph 17, which is the subject of the amendment, can be effective for only a very short time—for the very end of the six months following Royal Assent. That would be at a time when the new committee would be finding its feet. The new committee will be taking stock of its new, wide and onerous duties. I believe that it is important not to burden the committee with proposals for regulations in the first few days of its life. Furthermore, we have had a long standing practice to exclude reference to regulations made within six months of the passing of social security Bills on the grounds of urgency.

Taking the supplementary benefit scheme as an example, it is our intention that the revised scheme should come into operation at the same time as the November uprating. That will mean that 3 million weekly benefit payments will need to be recalculated to give effect to the detailed changes, most of which are prescribed in regulations. It is therefore essential that the main regulations be made as soon as possible after Royal Assent. These will be subject to affirmative resolution and, therefore, to debate in both Houses. Other regulations— for example, those governing the award of exceptional needs payments—will follow as soon as possible thereafter. But it is necessary for these regulations to be made quickly, because of the need to print the necessary leaflets and to train and equip local officers to operate the new rules. All that has to be completed in time for the revised scheme to become fully operational from November. There will clearly be no time, in the first short period of the Committee's life, for these urgent regulations to be dealt with.

In Committee we put in clause 10(2)(a), which provided that, if there were any urgency, the Minister did not have to refer the regulations to the advisory committee before they were made, but merely that they would be referred afterwards for observations.

The Minister has argued clearly that in the first six months the regulations have to be available so that people can get on with them. I was arguing that, when the committee is set up, one of its tasks —not one that it has to rush into—will he to go through the regulations and to report on them, even after they have come into operation. There is a danger that the first set of regulations will form the framework for a very long time.

If, after the regulations have come into operation, the report states that some part is wrong, we shall have more chance of putting it right than if we have to wait until that part is referred at some future stage. It is important that we have a report, even if it is after the event.

To do as the hon. Gentleman suggests would put an unreasonable burden on the Social Security Advisory Committee. The regulations will come before the House for affirmative resolution. In amendments already made to the Bill we have asked for the consideration of a large number of regulations after they have been made. The extension of that to these regulations—falling within paragraph 17 of the schedule—is something with which the Committee, in the first few months of its existence, would not be able to cope.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is not reasonable to ask it at this time. I hope that he will allow me to take the matter away for futher consideration. He mentioned it in passing in Committee, and has put it more forcefully tonight. I do not think that the matter can be dealt with in the way that he suggests, but I shall consider it again.

The Minister said that we shall have the opportunity to debate the regulations on an affirmative resolution. That would give us a guaranteed one and a half hours for debate. Does the hon. Lady think that the House could scrutinise those regulations in one and a half hours more effectively than an advisory committee could do under referral? It would be of some help if she could guarantee more time for a debate on the regulations. One and a half hours would not be satisfactory.

That matter is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. When the regulations come before the House, they will have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. There is a variety of ways in which all these matters are considered. I do not think that any of the regulations will lack investigation by one committee or another. If the onus of the debates that we have had on this issue in Committee and on the Floor of the House is anything to go by, we shall have so many people considering the regulations that we shall be in danger of going in the wrong direction.

I do not wish to be difficult. I wish to take a sensible—

I am sorry to press the hon. Lady once more, but I am advised that the regulations are laid in Parliament and referred to the Northern Ireland Committee. If so, they are discussed. Does not that cut across the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)? I asked whether the regulations could be laid in the House, but the hon. Lady said that they could not be.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office wishes to add a few expert words on this issue. I am seeking to ensure that we use the same procedures for these regulations as we use for other regulations affecting Northern Ireland.

Perhaps I can assist the House on this technical, constitutional problem.

Other than where the House decides by primary legislation—by means of a Bill—that it shall apply to Northern Ireland, primary legislation otherwise applies to Northern Ireland by way of Order in Council. Subordinate legislation is downgraded one step. If it applies to Britain, it is a matter for affirmative resolution in this House. In Northern Ireland the same regulation is dealt with by negative resolution. A negative resolution is not discussed at all in this House. That is probably the right hon. Member's problem.

That is how the 1974 Act has defined the situation. We would wish to depart from that position as soon as normal circumstances prevail in Northern Ireland. But, as the House is aware, at present we are engaged in sensitive and delicate discussions in the hope of achieving normality in the Province.

I urge the House to do nothing in this Bill to change what has been so far the recognised way of dealing with these matters, because such things can be readily misinterpreted across the water. The last thing that I would want to do is to create a situation in which an Act of this House, in all innocence, creates difficulties for us in Northern Ireland.

In moving these amendments, I referred to the fact that there is another stage for the Bill. Perhaps I may spend a few seconds to take up the gravamen of the Minister's point.

In addition to the points that I have already accepted, I accept that it would be awkward for regulations which, in all other contexts, would not be laid before the House under the 1974 Act to be laid before the House in this case only. The only reason for introducing that provision into these amendments was as a trigger mechanism, as it were, to try to get the report before the House. If the Government can manage to get the report before the House by one way or another, they will not be breaching any precedents or systems laid down in the 1974 Act because these reports are unique. There is no similar report from such a body as this about regulations.

My object is simply to ensure that the Government have an opportunity to consider in the narrowest and most specific possible form the points at issue before the next stage of this Bill. That is why I took the time of the House to make that additional remark.

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I will look at what he has just said and I will write to him. I accept the logic of his case, but I am not in a position at present to give him the assurance that he seeks.

In the light of that undertaking, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3

Social Security Advisory Committee

Amendment proposed: No. 67, in page 69, line 18, leave out '8 nor more than'.—[ Mr. Orme.]

The purpose of this amendment is to make the membership of the Social Security Advisory Committee 11. We have had many debates on the general composition of the SSAC and its workings. I remind those hon. Members who were not on the Standing Committee and who may not have studied the Bill in as great a detail as others of us that the new committee will replace two existing bodies—the Supplementary Benefits Commission, which will go out of operation in November, and the National Insurance Advisory Committee, which will be wound up at about the same time.

The right hon. Gentleman reminds me that the Northern Ireland body is included as well.

The SSAC will have a wide function. It is reasonable to urge that its membership should be increased from eight, as provided in the Bill, to 11. The committee will be considering the various detailed workings of the social security system, and eight is a small membership when we consider the duties that it will have to undertake. I contend that a membership of 11 would be more appropriate.

10.30 pm

If the membership is increased to 11, I hope that the Minister of State will emphasise the semi-assurance that he gave in Committee that he is considering appointing some women members to the new committee. If the membership is increased, it may encourage the right hon. Gentleman to consider appointing women. As I reminded him in Committee, women are not a minority group in Britain. Many women receive supplementary benefit, or are claimants of other benefits and pensions. Women represent nearly 52 per cent. of the population. Surely we are entitled to some direct representation on the committee.

I failed in my efforts in Committee to ensure that three of the eight members of the committee are women. I am not pressing that argument now. Indeed, I could not do so. I merely say that if the Minister accepts the amendment, which would increase the membership from eight to 11, that should give him added encouragement to consider appointing at least three women.

The committee will replace three bodies, and even a membership of 11 would be quite small, however, high-powered, expert and learned the members may be. Incidentally, I hope that some of them will have some grass roots experience and will not adopt only an academic or research point of view. I hope that some of the members will consider with heart and feeling the difficulties which face pensioners and the various claimants we have been discussing in our deliberations.

The additional membership would add only little to the cost, which we have heard so much about during the 130 hours that we have been discussing the Bill. It seems a small matter on which to secure the Government's agreement. I am not asking for too large a committee, bearing in mind the size of the problem that it will be considering.

I wanted my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) to introduce the amendment as she spoke so eloquently on this issue in Committee. She spoke of the right of women to be represented and the need for members to be appointed who have had experience of claimants and who know what the system is about.

It is important to stress that the committee will be replacing two bodies—the National Insurance Advisory Committee and the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Those bodies deal with different areas of benefit, and the committee members will have to divide themselves into specialist groups to deal with the national insurance and supplementary benefit aspects.

If the eight are not to be full-time members, what will be the role of the Chairman? We have been given no guarantee that he will be full time or nearly full time. We still do not know how the committee members will operate. No doubt they will be part-time members, as members of the SBC are at the moment. However, their work on both sides of the entire social security system will amount to a massive operation. I have seen the SBC in operation under the chairmanship of Professor Donnison. No doubt present Ministers, like me, have sat in on a full-day session of the commission. In that way one becomes aware of the amount of work that it has to do and the detail into which it must go.

The Government are altering the basis and main functions of the SBC. That is why some of us are so concerned about the changes that are taking place. Perhaps exclude from that my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who goes around with a chopper in his hand at times. He appeared to welcome the changes. However, I am sure that even he would want to emphasise that the new committee must have not only teeth but the right type of members. They must have experience and ability. That is why we propose a membership of 11 as opposed to eight. That is the minimum size that can be contemplated, and that is why we are pressing the amendment.

I should like to say a few words in support of amendment No. 67, not just because my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) politely suggested that I should perhaps say something as one who voted for the abolition of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Even at this late hour in the proceedings on the Bill, I do not repent doing that. I took the right decision. However, I ask the Government to consider seriously the idea in the amendment to increase the number of members to at least 11. I say that partly for the reasons advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson). One of the difficulties that I experienced in Committee in speaking after my hon. Friend was that she covered an amendment in such a comprehensive way that it was always difficult to say something different. I therefore underline the points she made, but perhaps present the arguments in a slightly different way.

The proposed committee may be only advisory, but it will oversee to some extent the expenditure of £18 billion of public money. Whereas some of us would like this Chamber to have a tighter grip on public expenditure, and perhaps hope that our new Select Committees will provide some improvement, we all have something to gain if the new body can work well. Therefore, I commend to the Minister, not for any Socialist reason that the size of the quango should be increased, but for the good old reason that Burke advanced, that even "the humblest he" has something of importance to add to the conversation. If there are 11 humble he's or she's, the deliberations will be better.

We wish the committee well in its task. It will be following the SBC and the National Insurance Advisory Committee. Over recent years the commission has done an immensely important job, beginning the task of acting as a watchdog on the poor. How much better that work will be continued if the committee can not only represent a fair balance as between men and women and as between the different regions of the country, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, the consumers of the service. We have emphasised today, yesterday and in Committee that we get few concessions from the Government. Will the Minister drop a few crumbs from his table tonight and accept this amendment?

I find the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) persuasive, as always—and all the more so when he quotes Burke.

The essence of our proposal is that there should be an element of flexibility—if I may use the word "flexibility". It has been an overworked word in our debates on the Bill, and I have done my share of overworking it.

We are not necessarily proposing a figure of eight. We are proposing that we should have the power to create a committee of not fewer than eight and not more than 11 members. That pattern has been followed in the appointment of similar committees in this area. The National Insurance Advisory Committee can have between six and 10 members, in addition to the chairman. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Committee can have any number of members, provided that there are equal numbers of employer and employee representatives. The Supplementary Benefits Commission can have not more than six members, in addition to the chairman and deputy chairman. The Occupational Pensions Board can have between eight and 12 members, in addition to the chairman and deputy chairman. In those cases there has been a bracket within which the final total could be decided.

There are a number of balances to be considered. We want a body small enough to be effective as a forum for fairly intimate discussion, but we want it to be large enough to reflect a number of different kinds of experience. As the House will know, we are committed to the appointment of one member who is representative of employers' interests and one member who is representative of employees' interests. We are committed to including a member with a knowledge of Northern Ireland, because the committee will be taking over the functions of the Northern Ireland Supplementary Benefits Commission. We are committed to including a person with special knowledge and experience of the disabled.

There are other balances to be struck. The hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) reminded the House of the discussions in Committee. I told her then that we were considering names that included those of some women. She asked whether we were also considering the names of some men. I answered that question in the affirmative. I expect there to be men and women on the committee.

To achieve that kind of balance, and at the same time not to be too rigid, it is sensible that the statute should lay down a span of numbers. It might be found by the committee, or by the Secretary of State looking at the working of the committee, that some form of knowledge was missing and that it would be advisable to make an additional appointment. I suggest that the Bill, as formulated, provides the best way of meeting those requirements.

Amendment negatived.

10.45 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 69, in page 69, line 19 at end insert—

'1A. The chairman of the Committee shall normally devote not less than 17 days in each month to the work of the Committee.'.
Of all the Opposition amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is probably one of the clumsiest. I should have preferred you to select amendment No. 68.

The Opposition's difficulty is that we pressed hard in Committee that the chairman of the advisory committee should be full time, or at least should work for fourth-fifths of the week. Having pressed amendments to that effect very hard, and having received no assurances from the Government, we felt that we should return to the matter on Report. In order to do so, we have had to table a rather clumsy amendment. It would have been better if we had provided for 17 working days in each month. But the amendment is a vehicle to press the Government for assurances on how much time the new chairman will give to his duties.

Two bodies are in a sense being merged—the National Insurance Advisory Committee, which meets occasionally, and the job of whose chairman is very much pant time, and the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Although the SBC's chairman has recently supposedly been putting in four-fifths of a week, most people believe that his four-fifths have been at least as good as most people's full week. Therefore, in effect, the SBC has had a full-time chairman.

In logic, as the Government are putting two bodies together, the chairman should have a working week which is the aggregate of those of the present chairmen. The Opposition's fear is that he might work for only the average of the two, or that possibly the new body will be much more like the National Insurance Advisory Committee than the SBC. Therefore, we again press the Government for assurances that they really are looking for a chairman who will work full time, or so close to it that the difference is not noticeable, and that they are not looking for a chairman who will put in less than half a week or fewer than 17 days in a month.

By this stage the Government must be close to drawing up their short list of names, if they do not have a final name for the chairman. I hope that the Minister will assure us that those on the short list, or the final choice, will in effect be full time or so close to it that people will not notice. Unless that is so, most of U3 will think that the committtee will be very much an advisory body with no teeth, and that all the claimants will be badly let down over the years.

I repeat what I said several times in Committee, that we are estab lishing an advisory committee. That must be emphasised. But in so far as the committee takes over the duties of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, it takes over its advisory role and not its executive role. However, it is certainly the Government's view that the committee should be a body of considerable influence. In order that that may be so, we should expect a substantial commitment of time by the chairman.

The intention of the amendment is similar to that of amendments moved in Committee, which is to define in the Bill the precise amount of time given by the chairman. That is not wise. It is not necessary, and it could be restrictive in a way that would be very unhelpful.

Everyone who has studied these matters has respect for the distinguished work of Professor Donnison as chairman of the SBC in recent years. A number of tributes have been paid to him, and I am sure that a number will be paid to him between now and his retirement from that post. When he was appointed by Mrs. Castle, it was on the basis of working four days a week. He preferred—and she agreed—that he should have time available for other activities. He considered that he could do a more effective job by reason of that. Nothing was laid down in the legislation under which he was appointed that constricted that agreement.

All that I am suggesting is that the same degree of freedom should now exist. I repeat that when we make a new appointment we shall require a substantial commitment of time from the new chairman. However, it would be unreasonable to write too precise a definition into the statute. Indeed, it might be harmful to do so.

The amount of time taken will be affected by three factors. I mentioned those factors in Committee, but perhaps they are worth repeating. First, the amount of time needed in practice will depend on the way in which the committee's work develops. Secondly, the amount of time given by the chairman will depend on who is approached, his problems and availability. The amount of time given will depend upon what he considers reasonable, provided that he meets the criterion of a substantial amount of time. Thirdly, different individuals work at different paces. As has been said, the present chairman achieves a good full week's work in four days. That is true of some individuals, but not of others.

I ask the House for flexibility. I repeat the assurance that we shall seek a chairman and members who are committed to giving enough time to do the job that we would expect.

I have listened to the Minister's remarks. He has been more positive than that when he was in Committee. However, he has not met our point. We sought a full-time chairman. We would have been satisfied if the Minister had been prepared to use the criteria that apply to the chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. He is not prepared to do that. We spoke of a full-time chairman, or one who would sit four days a week. The new advisory committee covers national insurance and supplementary benefits. The chairmanship will involve a major task. The committee will oversee millions of claimants and have a budget of about £18 billion. The committee will not be responsible for the budget. That is a matter for Parliament and the Government.

We are disappointed that the Government have not seen fit to meet us on this point. We shall await the appointment of the chairman, and the terms of that appointment, before judging whether the Government intend to give the committee the correct leadership.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 13

Tenure Of Office Of Commissioner

I beg to move amendment No. 70, in page 19, line 7, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 71, in clause 15, page 22, line 20, at end add—

'(4) The day appointed for the coming into force of subsection (1) of this section shall not be earlier than 1st January 1983.'.

The amendments cover two points that caused us concern in Committee. The present role of the National Insurance Commissioner is being extended- He will be responsible not only for national insurance appeals, but also for those relating to social security. We are all aware that the commissioner takes a very long time to hear existing appeals. That is unsatisfactory. However, if he were to take an equally long time to process appeals on supplementary benefit, it would be even more unsatisfactory.

We therefore suggest that "may" should be changed to "shall". We wish to prompt the Lord Chancellor. We wish to ensure that sufficient people are appointed to clear the backlog. We must ensure that appeals are heard promptly. Amendment No. 70 makes a small, but important, point. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the Government are determined to clear the backlog. Appeals cause great anxiety and hardship.

Amendment No. 71 was tabled because we are concerned that the right of appeal is being taken away. People who are dissatisfied with the response from the local appeal tribunal will have the right of appeal only in limited circumstances, which can only be justified once case law has been established and people know their rights under the new regulations.

Our amendment suggests that the limiting of right of appeal should not come into operation until 1983. In the interim people should retain the right of appeal if they are dissatisfied with local decisions. They should not have to ask permission from the chairman or be entitled to that right only if it is a split decision.

I hope that the Minister will assure us that people will be encouraged to appeal, particularly in the interim period, until case law is established.

I ask the House to reject amendment No. 70, for two reasons. First, it is misconceived. The subsection applies only when the Lord Chancellor considers that he should appoint a deputy commissioner for such period or occasion as he thinks fit. It would therefore be meaningless to add the word "shall". The Lord Chancellor will make the appointment if he thinks it necessary, subject to the availability of suitable appointees.

Secondly, the language follows that of the Courts Act 1971, which provides that the Lord Chancellor may appoint deputy high High Court judges and deputy circuit judges. A deputy commissioner would have the same status as a deputy judge and the same conditions of appointment would apply.

Disregarding the wording, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a problem over the time taken to deal with appeals?

That is the major reason for rejecting amendment No. 71. We are concerned about the time taken to decide appeals to the National Insurance Commissioner and the backlog of cases built up over a number of years. It is therefore urgent to clear, I shall not say frivolous appeals but appeals where the grounds are so slender that there is little chance of success.

The position is safeguarded if the tribunal is divided on its decision. Even if it is unanimous, there will be the right to app[y for leave to appeal to the commission. The automatic right of appeal to the commissioner is what is being amended, and the change should take effect from November. It will contribute towards quicker decisions on the large number of outstanding appeals.

Division No. 236]


[11 pm

Adley, RobertBulmer, EsmondFarr, John
Aitken, JonathanBurden, F. A.Fell, Anthony
Alexander, RichardButcher, JohnFenner, Mrs Peggy
Ancram, MlchaelButler, Hon AdamFinsberg, Geoffrey
Arnold, TomCadbury, JocelynFisher, Sir Nigel
Aspinwall, JackCarlisle, John (Luton West)Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Carlisle, Kennete (Lincoln)Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Fookes, Miss Janet
Banks, RobertChalker, Mrs LyndaForman, Nigel
Bell, Sir RonaldChannon, PaulFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bendall, VivianChapman, SydneyFox, Marcus
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Churchill, W. S.Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Best, KeithClark, Sir William (Croydon South)Fry, Peter
Bevan, David GilroyClarke, Kenneth (Rushcllffe)Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Blffen, Rt Hon JohnClegg, Sir WalterGardiner, George (Relgate)
Biggs-Davison, JohnColvln, MichaelGardner, Edward (South Fylde)
Blackburn, JohnCope, JohnGarel-Jones, Tristan
Blaker, PeterCorrie, JohnGllmour, Rt Hon Sir lan
Body, RichardCostsin, A.P.Glyn, Dr Alan
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCrouch, DavidGoodhart, Philip
Boscawen, Hon RobertDean, Paul (North Somerset)Goodhew, Victor
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Dickens, GeoffreyGoodlad, Alastalr
Bowden, AndrewDorrell, StephenGorst, John
Boyson, Dr RhodesDouglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesGow, Ian
Braine, Sir BernardDover, DenshoreGower, Sir Raymond
Bright, Grahamdu Cann, Rt Hon EdwardGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Brinton, TimDunn, Robert (Dartford)Gray, Hamish
Brittan, LeonDurant, TonyGreenway, Harry
Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherDykes, HughGrieve, Percy
Brooke, Hon PeterEden, Rt Hon Sir JohnGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)
Brotherton, MichaelEdwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Eggar, TimothyGrist, Ian
Browne, John (Winchester)Elliott, Sir WilliamGrylls, Michael
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnEmery, PeterGummer, John Selwyn
Bryan, Sir PaulEyre, ReginaldHamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)
Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickFairbairn, NicholasHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Buck, AntonyFairgrleve, RussellHannam, John
Budgen, NickFaith, Mrs SheilaHaselhurst, Alan

The Government have once again not given us the assurances that we seek. They are trying to cut down the number of appeals rather than have them heard quickly.

At this time of night it is perhaps preferable to withdraw the amendment and hope that in another place concern will be shown for appeals to be held quickly and for people not to be stopped making genuine appeals. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21


Amendment made: No. 72, in page 25, line 34, leave out 'paragraph 14' and insert 'paragraphs 10 and 14'.— Mrs. Chalker.]

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading) That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 300, Noes 253.

Hastings, StephenMellor, DavidShersby, Michael
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMeyer, Sir AnthonySilvester, Fred
Hawkins, PaulMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Skeet, T. H. H.
Hawksley, WarrenMills, Iain (Merlden)Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Hayhoe, BarneyMills, Peter (West Devon)Speed, Keith
Meddle, JohnMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Speller, Tony
Henderson, BarryMoate, RogerSpence, John
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelMonro, HectorSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Hlggins, Rt Hon Terence L.Montgomery, FergusSpicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Hill, JamesMoore, JohnSproat, Iain
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Morgan, GeraintSquire, Robin
Hooson, TomMorris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)Stainton, Keith
Hordern, PeterMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Stanbrook, Ivor
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Stanley, John
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Mudd, DavidSteen, Anthony
Hunt, David (Wirral)Murphy, ChristopherStevens, Martin
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Myles, DavidStewart, Ian (Hitchln)
Hurd, Hon DouglasNeale, GerrardStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Needham, RichardStokes, John
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickNelson, AnthonyStradling Thomas, J.
Jessel, TobyNeubert, MichaelTapsell, Peter
Johnson Smith, GeoffreyNewton, TonyTaylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelNott, Rt Hon JohnTebbit, Norman
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithOnslow, CranleyTemple-Morris, Peter
Kaberry, Sir DonaldOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs SallyThomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Kimball, MarcusOsborn, JohnThompson, Donald
King, Rt Hon TomPage, John (Harrow, West)Thorne, Neil (llford South)
Kitson, Sir TimothyPage, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamThornton, Malcolm
Knox, DavidPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Lamont, NormanParkinson, CecilTrippier, David
Lang, IanParris, MatthewTrotter, Neville
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnPatten, Christopher (Bath)van Straubenzee, W. R.
Latham, MichaelPatten, John (Oxford)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Lawrence, IvanPawsey, JamesViggers, Peter
Lawson, NigelPercival, Sir lanWaddington, David
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkPink, R. BonnerWakeham, John
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Pollock, AlexanderWaldegrave, Hon William
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Porter, GeorgeWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Prentice, Rt Hon RegWall, Patrick
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Price, David (Eastleigh)Waller, Garry
Loveridge, JohnPrior, Rt Hon JamesWalters, Dennis
Luce, RichardProctor, K. HarveyWard, John
Lyell, NicholasPym, Rt Hon FrancisWarren, Kenneth
McCrlndle, RobertRathbone, TimWatson, John
Macfarlane, NeilRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Wells, John (Maidstone)
MacGregor, JohnRees-Davies, W. R.Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
MacKay, John (Argyll)Renton, TimWheeler, John
McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Rhodes, James, RobertWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Ridley, Hon NicholasWhitney, Raymond
McQuarrie, AlbertRitklnd, MalcolmWickenden, Keith
Madsl, DavidRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Wiggin, Jerry
Major, JohnRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Wilkinson, John
Marland, PaulRossi, HughWilliams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Marlow, TonyRost, PeterWinterton, Nicholas
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Royle, Sir AnthonyWolfson, Mark
Mates, MichaelSainsbury, Hon TimothyYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Mather, CarolSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon NormanYounger, Rt Hon George
Maude, Rt Hon AngusScott, Nicholas
Mawby, RayShaw, Giles (Pudsey)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mawhinney, Dr BrianShelton, William (Streatham)Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinShepherd, Colin (Hereford)Mr. Anthony Berry.
Mayhew, PatrickShepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)


Abse, LeoBrown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Crowther, J. S.
Adams, AllenBrown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Cryer, Bob
Allaun, FrankBuchan, NormanCunlitfe, Lawrence
Alton, DavidCallaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Cunningham, George (Islington S)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCampbell, IanCunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestCampbell-Savours, DaleDalyell, Tam
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCanavan, DennisDavidson, Arthur
Ashton, JoeCant, R. B.Davies, Rt Hon Denzll (Llanelli)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gay, Tott'ham)Carmichael, NeilDavies, Ilor (Gower)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Carter-Jones, LewisDavis, Clinton (Hackney Central)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Cartwright, JohnDavis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Deakins, Eric
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodCocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Dempsey, James
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Cohen, StanleyDewar, Donald
Bidwell, SydneyColeman, DonaldDixon, Donald
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.Dobson, Frank
Boothroyd, Miss BettyConlan, BernardDormand, Jack
Bradley, TomCowans, HarryDouglas, Dick
Bray, Dr JeremyCox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Dubs, Alfred

Duffy, A. E. P.Jones, Dan (Burnley)Richardson, Jo
Dunlop, JohnKaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Kerr, RussellRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Dunnett, JackKilroy-Silk, RobertRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKinnock, NeilRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Eadle, AlexLamble, DavidRobertson, George
Eastham, KenLamborn, HarryRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Lamond, JamesRooker, J. W.
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Leadbitter, TedRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
English, MichaelLeighlon, RonaldRowlands,Ted
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Ryman, John
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Sandelson, Neville
Evans, John (Newton)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Sever, John
Ewing), HarryLitherland, RobertSheerman, Barry
Field, FrankLofthouse, GeoffreySheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Fitch., AlanLyon, Alexander (York)Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Fitt, GerardLyons, Edward (Bradford West)Short, Mrs Renee
Flannery, MartinMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonSllkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McCartney, HughSllkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMcDonald, Dr OonaghSilverman, Jullus
Ford, BenMcElhone, FrankSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Forrester, JohnMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Foster, DerekMcKay, Allen (Penlstone)Snape, Peter
Foulkes, GeorgeMcKelvey, WilliamSoley, Clive
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorSpearing, Nigel
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMaclennan, RobertSpriggs, Leslie
Freud, ClementMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Stallard, A. W.
Garrett, John (Norwich S)McNally, ThomasSteel, Rt Hon David
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)McNamara, KevinStoddart, David
George, BruceMagee, BryanStott, Roger
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMarshall, David (Gl'sgow.Shelties'n)Strang, Gavin
Ginsburg, DavidMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Straw, Jack
Goldlng, JohnMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)Summerskll, Hon Dr Shirley
Gourlay, HarryMartin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Graham, TedMason, Rt Hon RoyThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Grant, George (Morpeth)Maxton, JohnThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Grant, John (Islington C)Maynard, Miss JoanThomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Grimond, Rt Hon J.Meacher, MichaelThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Mikardo, IanTilley, John
Hardy, PeterMiller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Torney, Tom
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMorris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Watkins, David
Haynes, FrankMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Weetch, Ken
Healer, Rt Hon DenisMorton, GeorgeWellbeloved, James
Heffer, Eric S.Moyle, Rt Hon RolandWelsh, Michael
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Newens, StanleyWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Home Robertson, JohnOgden, EricWhitlock, William
Homewood, WilliamO'Halloran, MichaelWigley, Dafydd
Hooley, FrankO'Neill, MartinWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Horam, JohnOrme, Rt Hon StanleyWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Howells, GeralntPalmer, ArthurWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Huckfleld, LesParker, JohnWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hudson Davies, Gwllym EdnyfedParry, RobertWinnick, David
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Pavitt, LaurieWoodall, Alec
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Pendry, TomWoolmer, Kenneth
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Penhallgon, DavidWright, Sheila
Janner, Hon GrevillePowell, Raymond (Ogmore)Young, David (Bolton East)
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasPrescott, John
John, BrynmorPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Johnson, James (Hull West)Race, RegMr. Joseph Dean and
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Radice, GilesMr. James Tinn.
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.