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Madam Speaker: The matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised is not a matter for the Chair. The financial implications of the Bill are a matter for the Government. The hon. Gentleman can seek to catch my eye to put those points to the Minister at the appropriate time.

Clause 6

Lord Chancellors panel for appointment to appeal tribunals

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 41, at end insert ("and
(c) in relation to Scotland, the Chief Medical Officer of the Scottish Office.")

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Keith Bradley): I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2, 4, 7, 8, 98, 100, 101 and 113.

Mr. Bradley: The amendments change the provisions relating to appointment of persons to the panel to act as members of appeal tribunals. The Bill currently provides for the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Advocate each to appoint a separate panel under clauses 6 and 7 respectively. The effect of the amendments is that the Lord Chancellor will be responsible for the appointment under clause 6 of a single panel for the whole of Great Britain.

The amendments were prompted by the introduction of the Scotland Bill, which interacts with the operation of clause 7. Under the provisions of that Bill, there will be some changes to the role of the Lord Advocate. It is possible that the Lord Advocate, as a Minister in the Scottish Executive, might have functions similar to those which he currently exercises in relation to tribunals; however, the position will not be clear until after Scottish devolution has taken place. At that stage, the UK Government may consider transferring a Scottish Minister the function of making appointments to a panel in relation to Scotland, through provisions in the Scotland Bill for the further transfer of functions.

We consider it important to have clarity in responsibility for the appointments and to preserve the independence of the panel and appointments to it.

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We have concluded that it would not be right to retain clause 7 in the knowledge that the functions it lays on the Lord Advocate would be removed through another Bill currently before Parliament. I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside): I have listened carefully to the Minister's speech and read the various notes on the clauses and the amendments, but I do not fully understand why the Government believe it necessary to make such a change.

If I heard the Minister correctly, he said that, once the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive were functioning fully, it was either likely or possible for the power of appointment to be repatriated to a Minister who may be a member of the Scottish Executive. As I understand the Scotland Bill, the powers of the Lord Advocate in general will not be dissimilar to the powers of the Lord Advocate today, yet the Lord Advocate is to be stripped of an important power to make appointments to a tribunal.

That raises the issue of more power haemorrhaging, on a temporary basis, to the Lord Chancellor's Department, and I wonder to what extent there will be enthusiasm for the power being repatriated to the Scottish Executive at some stage in the future. Once power has moved in one direction, it is hard to imagine it moving back to the Scottish Executive. I should be grateful for some explanation from the Minister on that point, and specifically on the process to be used by the Lord Chancellor's Department to ensure that the input that the Lord Advocate can clearly bring to the appointments process will be assured while the arrangements change.

It is a point of interest and importance that, during the passage of the Scotland Bill, the Government resisted amendments that I tabled with the support of many voluntary organisations, which were designed to devolve to the Scottish Parliament the power of administering various aspects of social security. I stressed the importance of ensuring that a Scottish perspective was brought to the process of administering social security in Scotland.

For example, the House has often debated the weaknesses of the administration of the benefit integrity project, and I should have thought that a Scottish perspective would bring tighter administrative processes to that project. I do not understand why the Government fiercely resisted my amendments then, given that we are now faced with proposals in the Social Security Bill to take more power away from one of the Ministers who may be a member of the Scottish Executive and who could act to secure Scottish interests.

I seek clarification. I fear that an important power currently exercised by the senior Law Officer in Scotland may not be exercised by the Scottish Executive, and the temporary hiatus is unsatisfactory.

Mr. Bradley: It would not be appropriate to repeat all the arguments advanced in debates on the Scotland Bill. Let us stick to the point that we are discussing. We are trying to ensure clarity during the interim period untilthe proper functions and arrangements for transferred functions in the Scotland Bill have been finally clarified.

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We do not want any delays or problems in the appeal system in the meantime, and we want to ensure its continued independence.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): The Minister says, "until the powers and functions have been clarified." What is the stand-by position if clarification does not work out in the way that I assume the Minister expects?

Mr. Bradley: It is not our intention that the arrangements will not work out. We cannot hypothetically guess what would happen if something else does not happen.

Mr. Burns: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradley: No. This is a small point, and I want to make progress.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney) about the Lord Advocate's being made aware of, and involved in, discussions, and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on it. We want to ensure a smooth transition of functions. Agreeing with what was universally agreed in the Lords will advance that process, and ensure that there is no confusion. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman, but I shall consider his point and ensure that he receives a written explanation if the arrangements that we intend to introduce will, in any way, undermine the Lord Advocate's opportunity to be involved in discussions.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to.

Clause 8

Constitution of appeal tribunals

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 4, line 20, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (1A) below,")

Mr. Keith Bradley: I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments Nos. 5, 6, 9 and 108.

Mr. Bradley: Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 5 are about the legal qualifications of tribunal chairmen or members. Concerns were expressed in Committee, and in other places, about the proposal that not all tribunals needed a legally qualified member. It was suggested that only a lawyer would have the skills and experience necessary to conduct the hearing of an appeal.

The Government believe that a number of appeals could be determined by an appropriately trained person who does not have formal legal qualifications, but we want to adopt a pragmatic approach, and to introduce new, more effective and efficient arrangements for handling appeals. We have reconsidered both the kind of appeal that could be dealt with by a single, non-legally qualified panel member, and the administrative arrangements for selecting such appeals. We found that fewer than 5 per cent. of appeals could be dealt with in that way, and concluded that there would be no benefit in introducing such an arrangement at present, as the estimated number of cases is very small.

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We have decided that, at least for the time being, the practicalities suggest that there is a case for retaining lawyers on all tribunals. We may wish to reconsider the position following welfare reform and the introduction of simpler benefit structures, when it is possible that more cases would be suitable for determination by panel members without formal legal qualifications.

Lords amendments Nos. 6, 9 and 108 clarify issues of detail concerning regulations--also in response to anxieties expressed here and in another place. Amendment No. 9 stipulates that regulations shall be made to provide for

to the tribunals.

As I said in Committee, it has always been the Government's intention to make regulations to provide for these matters; the amendments simply do so in the Bill. I remind the House that regulations made under clause 8(3) will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): As the Minister might expect, I am delighted with the amendments, and I fully support what he is doing. We said in Committee that it might not be obvious at these appeals that legal points might be about to be raised, so I am pleased that Minister now accepts that many cases may involve legal implications, and that the cases which do not are so few and far between that it is not worth the risk of leaving out legally qualified people.

It has always seemed to us likely that time and money would be saved by putting someone with legal qualifications on every panel. I still believe that to be true, and it seems that the Minister now more or less agrees. Even in Committee, the Government accepted that it was important that legal advice should be available at all times. The amendments are the obvious and logical conclusion of what they said then.

In Committee, my good and hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) said:

Despite what the Minister has said today about including the requirement in the Bill, it is worth reminding the House of what he said in Committee:

    "We do not accept that qualification requirements of tribunal members should be in primary legislation."--[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 4 November 1997; c.154-56.]

I am delighted that the Minister has reversed what he said in Committee, and proud that my party made the point at the time.

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