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Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I, too, welcome the amendments. It is also a great pleasure to see the Minister in his place, reminding me of many pleasant hours spent in Committee. As he rightly said, concerns were expressed there and elsewhere about this point--and I was

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one of those who expressed them. The Minister used the phrase "adopting a pragmatic approach", for which read "U-turn". I assume that that is the new spin doctor's term for a U-turn, and I look forward to the phrase appearing with dismal regularity throughout the rest of today.

I had written down the phrase "a listening Government", but it seems that that hoary old chestnut has been put out to pasture--[Interruption.] I do not believe that the Minister actually used the phrase today, although it is perhaps so deeply embedded in his psyche that he thinks he did. At any event, we heard it used a great deal in Committee. It is just a pity that the Minister did not listen to us on this particular point.

In Committee, the Minister was adamant that this was not the right way to go, but he left himself a small escape hatch by saying that the Government might have to revisit the issue following welfare reform. We know that that is a very long way off yet so we need not dwell on that at great length today.

The Minister touched on the question of the affirmative resolution procedure. He is right to say that we will come to that in much more detail later.

It is worth revisiting the Committee stage, when members of both Opposition parties not only put their views on the question of a legally qualified member or members of an appeals tribunal, but prayed in aid the views of several independent organisations. The Law Society was one. In its brief on the subject, the Legal Action Group said that it was

It went on to commend the present practice of a legally qualified chair.

4 pm

In Committee, on Report and on Third Reading, the Opposition pressed the Government hard on the point that it was unacceptable for an appeal to be heard by a one-man tribunal who did not even have to be legally qualified. There was quite a long debate on the subject. The Minister remained courteous but absolutely adamant on the subject. He said that the proposed amendments to clause 8 would

Mr. Letwin: While my hon. Friend is expanding that extremely important point, let me ask him this. Does he agree that it would have been helpful if the Lords had brought forward amendments on what must have been 120 or so other subjects about which the Minister was equally adamant; I am thinking of all the occasions when we drew attention to excessive regulatory powers and he explained that it would be against the spirit of the Bill to make any changes?

Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend is exactly right. On any number of issues, the Minister stuck to his brief like glue, presumably for fear of something worse. There are some matters before us today on which we genuinely welcome his change of mind. It is a pity that we had to go through the entire Committee stage, and, indeed, other stages of the Bill's proceedings before that change of

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mind occurred--but we must not be churlish, and we must recognise that, on this issue, if not on others, he has got it right in the end.

The Minister went on to say in Committee:

That is very clear. He did say at one point that he would reconsider matters, but, after an intervention from the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), he made it clear that it was a question of doing so not in drafting any amendments to the Bill, but in drafting the regulations.

Therefore, it seems that the Minister has done a U-turn--or adopted a pragmatic approach, to use the correct language--on two issues in this instance. One is the need for the matter to be dealt with in the Bill itself, and the other is the central principle of legally qualified members of tribunals.

The matter went to another place, which carried out its historic function of revising legislation. There, for reasons that remain a mystery to Conservative Members of this House, the Government did finally see sense. In answer to an amendment that was moved by Lord Archer of Sandwell, the Government accepted that at least one of the members of a tribunal should be legally qualified.

As Lord Archer of Sandwell said in his speech on the Bill:

making it a somewhat compromised proposal, but that found favour with the Government in the other place.

There was a helpful contribution from Baroness Anelay about her experience as a member of tribunals for some 14 years. She said:

I think that all right hon. and hon. Members agree with that, given the sort of problems with which we regularly have to deal at our advice surgeries and in our mail bags.

It fell to Lord Hardie to accept the proposals in the other place. As he said:

That was after discovering, after all this time--and as the Minister has acknowledged--that only about 5 per cent. of all cases heard by all tribunals can be dealt with by a one-man tribunal who is not legally qualified.

The Minister was good enough not to use the phrase "the listening Government". The Government had every opportunity to listen at the time. As the Minister said in Committee, the Government

That was a pious hope; the present change has been made very much at the last minute.

I want to make a couple of points about another matter that is the subject of one of the amendments--the curious distinction between "shall" and "may". We had some

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debates about that in Committee, on one instance at my behest. We pointed out the strange wording in a number of different parts of the Bill. The Minister then said:

    "I have a small comment about "may" and "shall". I am assured that this is the normal way of drafting regulations in the Bill; there is no sinister intention behind it."--[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 4 November 1997; c. 192.]

Yet both in this and in later clauses, such as clause 13, the drafting has been changed to "shall". We might as well have saved our breath. I would be interested to hear from the Minister who is now assuring him that this is the normal way to draft these matters.

In the other place, Lord Hardie argued that the change was necessary to

That was precisely the argument advanced by the Conservatives in this House, but again it was ignored by the Government.

Having said that, we welcome the amendments, which have our support.

Mr. Keith Bradley: There is obviously some disappointment that I did not make it clear that we are a listening Government, so I put that on the record now. As a result of that listening, there is universal support for the amendments on both sides of the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 4 to 9 agreed to.

Clause 9

Decisions by Secretary of State

Lords amendment: No. 10, in page 5, line 29, after ("138(1)(a)") insert ("or (2)")

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. 11, 14, 44 and 173.

Mr. Bradley: These are all technical amendments. Amendment No. 10 would ensure that there continue to be rights of appeal against decisions on cold weather payments and winter fuel payments.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 44 would replace "decision" with "revision" to clarify when references are being made to revised, rather than original, decisions.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 173 are technical amendments, which would move provisions formerly contained in clause 12(2) of the original print of the Bill--now renumbered clause 11--into section 16(5) of the Industrial Tribunals Act 1996. The provision to be inserted into the 1996 Act is a re-enactment of section 58(4) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992--the Administration Act.

I commend the amendments to the House.

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