Skip to main content

Social Security Commissioners (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2005

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 17 March 2005

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1.48 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 23 February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: These amending regulations are brief and highly technical in nature. They do not substantively alter the operation of commissioner procedure, except only to provide for the new appeals from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. The policy rationale for the changes was debated during the passage of the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004 and I do not intend to revisit those issues here. However, it may assist noble Lords if I set out some background to the regulations.

The Act received Royal Assent last November. It establishes a new pensions and compensation scheme for members of the Armed Forces. Members of our armed services have the opportunity to appeal decisions about service pensions and compensation to an independent body, the Pension Appeal Tribunal. The tribunal's jurisdiction is being extended to hear appeals against decisions of the Secretary of State under the new scheme.

A small number of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal's decisions—currently about 20 a year—are appealed in the High Court on a point of law. The Act changes arrangements for those onward appeals. The social security commissioners are to be introduced as that second-tier appellate tribunal, replacing the High Court. That reform to the path of an appeal implements policy in the Government's recent White Paper Transforming Public Services: Complaints, Redress and Tribunals.

Noble Lords will know that there was a debate during the passage of the parent Act on the removal of funding for appellants' legal representation. I do not want to reopen debate on matters decided in the Act, except to note that we consider the new arrangements more favourable for appellants. Having two levels of tribunal provides a quicker, more user-friendly and more cost-effective service to the parties involved, with no need for lawyers.

These regulations provide for the process of appealing from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal to a social security commissioner and the procedure for appeals before a commissioner. We are amending the existing Social Security Commissioners (Procedure) Regulations 1999 that govern procedure for appeals to a commissioner.

It may help noble Lords if I mention the main features of the regulations. Regulation 2 changes a number of definitions in the 1999 regulations; for example the definition of "appeal tribunal" is broadened to include a "Pensions Appeal Tribunal". Sub-paragraph (g) of Regulation 2 also provides that a commissioner hearing appeals from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal is to be known as a "Pensions Appeal Commissioner". That recognises the special status of armed service appellants. We felt it appropriate for their appeals to be distinguished from the general matters of social security. The ex-service organisations supported that approach in consultation on the Bill.

Regulations 3 to 7 insert appropriate references to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal Act 1943 into the regulations. That ensures that regulations on matters such as hearings, decisions of a commissioner and so on deal with appeals from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. Regulation 8 establishes the procedure for onward appeal of decisions of the social security commissioners to an appellate court. A person dissatisfied with a decision of a commissioner may appeal on a point of law to the Court of Appeal in England and Wales or the Court of Session in Scotland.

I should mention that this instrument is subject to the affirmative procedure because appeals from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal will be subject to the existing strike-out and reinstatement provisions of the Social Security (Procedure) Regulations. We are not changing the operation of those strike-out procedures, merely extending them to include appeals from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 23 February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that explanation. As he says, these are merely procedural regulations. I wish to raise only two points. First, I had hoped that the noble Lord could remind us exactly why it was felt necessary to change the process of appeals on a point of law from the High Court to the social security commissioners. He has given a partial explanation.

My second point was about appeals beyond that. I now understand that they are to be dealt with by the Court of Appeal. I think that the noble Lord said that that was provided in Regulation 8, but I would be grateful if he could confirm whether that is the case, because the paragraph does not help much, unless I look also at the 1998 Act. I have no further objections.

My Lords, we accept that this is a reasonable step and have no objection to the terms of the regulations.

My Lords, again, I am grateful for the speed with which the regulations have been dealt with. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked why we were changing the path of appeal. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is working to modernise the UK tribunals system. Modern policy on tribunals holds that there should be a second-tier tribunal to hear appeals on points of law before a matter arises in the courts. The commissioners will be introduced as the second-tier appellate tribunal. We believe that having two levels of tribunal provides a quicker, more user-friendly and more cost-effective service to the parties involved, in comparison with the courts.

I am afraid that I shall have to write to the noble Lord on his interesting question about Regulation 8. I shall do that at the beginning of next week. I thank both noble Lords for their welcome of these regulations and the two orders.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 2.28 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[ The Sitting was suspended from 1.55 to 2.30 p.m.]