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Mr. Waterson: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in his speech. I hope that he has not lost sight of the Select Committee's recommendation in its 10th report, dated 14 January this year, that even changing to an affirmative procedure was not sufficient, at least in the context of clause 13(2).

Mr. Bradley: I regret having given way. If the hon. Gentleman listens to the rest of my explanation, he may find some comfort.

As I said, Lords amendment No. 15 makes clear how the Department intends to use the regulation-making power in clause 13(2) to make certain decisions unappealable. It explicitly prevents regulations from including any decision that relates to the conditions of entitlement to a benefit--in other words, it prevents them

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from removing the right of appeal from an outcome decision. It clarifies that the power will be used only to prescribe administrative decisions, which do not carry a right of appeal at present.

Lords amendment No. 16 is technical and puts beyond doubt the circumstances that will attract a right of appeal under clause 11. Clause 11 deals with supersession of earlier decisions. Appeal rights will be granted where the Secretary of State acts on an application for a decision to be superseded, even if ultimately the amount of the award is not changed. If the Secretary of State acts on an application, a new outcome decision will be generated, whether or not the amount of benefit in payment changes.

However, in some cases, an application for supersession has no prospect of success because it is clear that there has been no relevant change in the customer's circumstances; for example, where a person tells us something that is irrelevant to the decision maker, or the application for supersession cannot possibly change the original decision. In those cases, it is not practicable or sensible for the Secretary of State to act on the application. Lords amendment No. 16 ensures that the decision not to act will not be a decision under clause 11 and will not attract appeal rights.

Lords amendments Nos. 85 and 87 make specified regulation-making powers in the Bill subject to the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure. They make a direct response to recommendations in the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which argued that it would be helpful to the House to have the opportunity for further debate on some of the key sets of regulations to be made under the Bill.

First, the new clause makes subject to the affirmative procedure three groups of regulation-making powers concerned with appeal tribunals. Clause 8(3) relates to the composition of appeal tribunals and the allocation of cases among differently constituted tribunals; paragraph 11 of schedule 1 provides for the delegation of certain functions of appeal tribunals to authorised officers--clerks to the tribunals; and paragraph 3 of schedule 5 contains the power to provide regulations for striking out or reinstatement of proceedings.

Secondly, the new clause also makes the powers in clause 13(2) and paragraph 8 of schedule 2 subject to the affirmative procedure. That change works in tandem with Lords amendment No. 15 to give further clarity about the Government's intentions towards the maintenance of existing rights of appeal.

Thirdly, the new clause permits regulations, also subject to affirmative procedure, to be made under clause 70. They will align rates of child benefit for lone parents and couples with children. We studied the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee's report carefully and found it extremely helpful. The Government are happy to accept that there are issues on which the detail in regulations will be of interest to the House, over and above our debate on principles during proceedings on the Bill. I commend the Lords amendments to the House.

Mr. Waterson: I congratulate the Minister on the sheer effrontery of his remarks. It is certainly true that the Minister listened, but, sadly, he did not listen to members of the Standing Committee. If he had, he would have heard my remarks, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and numerous

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other hon. Members. We told him time and again in words of one syllable that he was wrong, but he consistently refused to take our advice. Yes, he has listened--he deserves one or two marks out of 10 for that--but to the Select Committee, not the Standing Committee. He was brought up short by that Committee's swingeing criticisms, to which I shall return in a moment--[Interruption.] Sadly, the Minister is not listening to me at the moment, but I am resigned to that. I shall try to help him by speaking in words of one syllable.

A pragmatic approach is again being adopted. That is obviously today's theme. There will be no U-turn in the face of strong and well-worded criticism from the Select Committee, but a pragmatic approach: there is no more talk of a listening Government.

That said, there has been at least a partial vindication of the position taken by the Opposition in Committee. At the time, we might as well have gone fishing, or done anything other than tell the Minister that he was wrong. I recall the sub-plot that ran through the Committee stage--the mysterious case of the missing draft regulations. With his habitual courtesy, the Minister promised at an early stage that draft regulations would be produced for the Committee so that we could have at least a flavour of the type of regulations that he would impose under the Bill. We waited, and waited, and waited, but draft regulations came there none. Although we had saluted the Minister's desire to be helpful, the Committee became increasingly restive at having no chance to see draft regulations. Perhaps they were lost in the post; I do not know.

The effect of the amendments is clear. They reduce the scope of the regulations that the Minister defended so stoutly in Committee by giving a different definition to the words "prescribed circumstances". It is worth dwelling for a moment on points made in Committee, when the official Opposition consistently opposed the extensive regulatory powers in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford said:

How right he was.

    "We are being asked to approve a pig in a poke because we will not know the small print of those regulations or the detail of how the Government will seek to use their powers."--[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 28 October 1997; c. 13.]

As I have said, the Minister, despite his best efforts, consistently failed to provide the Committee with the draft regulations.

The amendments amount to a significant U-turn on the Bill's regulatory powers. Quite properly, they fix certain limits on the regulations that can be made. In particular, the new provision after clause 75 provides that many regulations that flow from the Bill will be subject to affirmative resolution, which I called for in Committee.

In Committee, I also quoted some respected independent organisations that shared our view. Perhaps the most telling quotation, to which we returned more than once, came from the Child Poverty Action Group--not exactly regarded as a wing of the Conservative party--which referred to

I endorsed that description.

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5.15 pm

The Law Society also gave us the benefit of its view, stating:

and it is they who really matter--

    "to assess their impact or desirability. It is hoped that Ministers will be able to provide more detailed information in order to clarify their intentions during the passage of the Bill."

As we have heard, that was a pious hope.

Another briefing, from the Social Security Law Practitioners Association--judging from its title, it ought to know what it is talking about, and it represents people who act regularly for clients in social security matters--said:

Again, the Minister felt unable to accept that point in Committee.

At that time, the Minister sought to defend his position partly on the ground that draft regulations would in due course be considered by the Joint Committee. He felt that that was a defence against regulations that would have too swingeing an impact on people affected by the Bill. I said that it was my privilege and pleasure during my first Parliament to serve as a member of the Joint Committee that scrutinises secondary legislation. The Minister said nothing to disabuse me of the view that he had failed to see the difference between scrutiny and control--which is an entirely different thing--as regards secondary legislation.

The plain truth is that the Joint Committee considers more than 3,000 instruments a year, covering the entire range of Departments. As is made clear in the rules prepared for the House by the Clerk, the Scrutiny Committee is concerned not with the merits of statutory instruments but with such matters as whether the authority conferred by the parent Act has been exceeded and whether the drafting is defective. That is totally different from what the Minister seemed to believe, which was that the task of the Scrutiny Committee is to consider the merits of individual statutory instruments.

As the Procedure Committee's fourth report, on delegated legislation, put it--rather well--the work of the Scrutiny Committee is painstaking and unglamorous and goes largely unregarded in the House. I heartily agree, but no matter how well its members do their job, they are not doing what the Minister thought they were there to do.

As the House knows, there are two procedures for dealing with statutory instruments--the affirmative and the negative procedure, although they have changed a little in recent years. At the moment, an affirmative instrument is automatically referred for debate to a Standing Committee unless the Government are willing to afford a debate on the Floor of the House.

The fourth report says that the Government may freely disregard negative instruments, although Ministers are in a position to concede the affirmative procedure in the course of debate on a Bill in Committee. That is precisely the point that we kept making to the Minister during our

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Committee debates. It would have been perfectly possible to rethink the issue on the hoof and to accept that some--perhaps all--of these matters should be subjected to the affirmative procedure. As the second edition of "Statutory Instrument Practice" makes clear:

    "Negative procedure provides a less stringent form of parliamentary control than affirmative".

That is precisely the point that we debated time and again in Committee.

The Bill sailed through the Committee unencumbered by any draft regulations and went to another place. There it met an immoveable object, in the form of the Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. Its conclusions on the Bill deserve repetition. The 10th report states:

The Committee touched on the need for flexibility, which the Minister did mention in Committee, but went on to say:

    "Some of the delegated powers in the bill break important new ground".

The Committee expresses profound reservations about the contents of the Bill without the Lords amendments. Let us not forget that the Committee exists

    "to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny"--

precisely the point that we made over and over again in Committee.

The Lords Select Committee took written evidence, not least from the CPAG and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. Given that those independent organisations agreed with the Opposition's concerns in Committee, the Minister should have given us a more serious hearing at the time.

The Committee went on to say of clause 13:

Given that the Committee uses guarded and measured language, these are damning and devastating criticismsof the Department's approach to the Bill and its regulation-making powers. That point was so clear and obvious in Committee that I remain amazed by the fact that the Minister felt unable to recognise it. He has had a firm slap on the wrist from the Select Committee, but, far from coming here in a mood of contrition and apology for getting it so wrong, he has had the effrontery to try to take credit for what amounts to another massive climbdown--or "pragmatic approach". What a pity that that approach was not in evidence in Committee.

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