Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Memorandum to the Liaison Committee


1.  The Liaison Committee's Report "Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive" recommended that certain Select Committees produce an annual report.[159] This memorandum is the second such report and covers the truncated session 2000/2001 and part of the session 2001/2002, which fell within the 2001 calendar year.

The Committee

2.  The Work and Pensions Committee examines the policy, expenditure and administration of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and associated Agencies, including the Benefits Agency (BA), Employment Service (ES), the Child Support Agency (CSA), and the Appeals Service (AS). Like most departmental select committees nominated under the new Standing Order No. 152, the Committee is comprised of 11 Members with a quorum of three. The Committee has the power to set up one sub-committee, a power which had been available to the Education and Employment Committee in the previous Parliament but not to the Social Security Committee. The Work and Pensions Committee has not so far used the power to appoint a sub-committee, but may do so for specific inquiries in the future.

3.  The Committee usually meets each week when the House is sitting and in the 2000/2001 Session, which was shortened by the General Election, met formally on 11 occasions, usually taking oral evidence. Since being appointed on 16 July 2001, the Committee has met formally on six occasions. In addition, the Committee travels within the UK on a regular basis in order to undertake informal meetings with those directly involved in current inquiries and occasionally takes formal oral evidence during those visits. When appropriate, the Committee also studies employment and comparable social security systems overseas. Details of the UK and overseas visits are given below, within the descriptions of our recent reports. The Committee also holds meetings with visiting Parliamentarians and with organisations relevant to its remit.

4.  The power to work closely with other select committees was increased in this Parliament with SO No. 137A, which allowed them to develop "joined-up" working methods to scrutinise appropriate areas of Government policy. The Committee has not so far used this power but will do so if necessary.

Re-structuring of Government Departments

5.  Following the 2001 General Election, various Government Departments were re-structured. There had been an expectation that the responsibilities of the former Departments for Education and Employment (DfEE) and Social Security (DSS) would be changed. Following the General Election, it was announced that the sections of the DfEE dealing with employment issues were to be merged with the DSS, forming a new Department: the Department for Work and Pensions.[160] It was also announced that the former ES and BA were to be merged, in April 2002, to become Jobcentre Plus.

6.  Considerable changes are being brought about by the Government's welfare reform and modernisation programme, which take place within the context of the Government's commitment to end child poverty within a generation and its belief in the 'work first' welfare state. Changes include:

  • the switch from benefits to tax credits as part of the strategy of encouraging work. This led to a transfer of resources and responsibility from the Department for Social Security to the Treasury and Inland Revenue ­ with the introduction of Working Families Tax Credit (to be replaced by Integrated Child Credit and Employment Tax Credit from 2003) and the proposed Pension Credit. Child Benefit will also be transferred to the Inland Revenue from 2003;

  • the merger of the ES and BA as Jobcentre Plus in April 2002;

  • the introduction of Stakeholder Pensions (April, 2001), the State Second Pension (April, 2002) and the Pension Credit (April, 2003), and the creation of the new Pensions Agency to deal with all aspects of pensions and pensions policy from (April 2002);

·  child support reforms, due to begin in April 2002;

  • the introduction of new technology systems to underpin job searching benefits and child support, starting in 2002; and

  • the modernisation of payment systems, with the phasing out of order books and giros starting in 2003, to be completed by 2005.


The Social Security Committee (Session 2000-2001)

First Report    Inherited SERPS (HC 215)

7.  The Committee examined the measures proposed by the Government to remedy a mistake made by a previous administration. The Social Security Act 1986 had reduced by 50% the maximum amount of State Earnings Related Pension (SERPS) that widows and widowers could inherit on the death of their spouse. The then Government gave assurances during the passage of the Bill that it would mount a major publicity campaign but failed to do so and incorrect leaflets and advice continued to be issued. The Government sent draft regulations to the Committee, which were found to be "broadly acceptable".[161] The Committee additionally recommended a comprehensive publicity campaign. Since the regulations were then brought forward for consideration by the House, a Government reply was not required.

Second Report  Integrated Child Credit (HC 72)

8.  The Government's plans for Integrated Child Credit involved a major re-structuring of means-tested benefits for children and the transfer of responsibility of key elements of the financial support for low-income families from the BA to the Inland Revenue. The revised arrangements are to be implemented in 2003. The Committee received many memoranda and took evidence from a wide variety of witnesses, including academics, think-tanks and lobby groups, as well as officials from the DSS, HM Treasury and the Inland Revenue. The Committee also drew on the experiences of the federal and provincial Canadian governments during a short visit in November 2001. The resulting report made 36 recommendations designed to strengthen the proposals and further the Government's aim of eradicating child poverty.

Government Reply  (HC 292)

9.  The Government welcomed the Report and announced the publication of a consultation document, which had taken into account some of the Committee's recommendations. Regrettably, the Government refused to provide information on the level at which ICC would be paid or on the methods it would employ to ensure that the level set was seen as adequate.

Third Report    The Social Fund (HC 232)

10.  The final report of the Committee in the 1997 Parliament was on the Social Fund. This had been introduced in 1987-1988 to help claimants with one-off items of expenditure and those facing greatest difficulties in managing on their income, while containing the overall expenditure and providing a more varied response to inescapable individual need. The Fund was divided into two parts: the Regulated Social Fund and the Discretionary Social Fund. The Committee examined both parts and made a series of substantive recommendations to improve the Fund. The greatest cause for concern was the administration of the Social Fund, which was alleged to vary greatly from area to area and throughout the year. The Committee concluded that the scheme as it stood, needed an urgent overhaul and an injection of funds. Otherwise, the Government's social policy objectives might be endangered.

Government Reply  (Cm 5237)[162]

11.  The Government's reply was disappointing, promising little change in the future despite the opportunities offered by the creation of Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service. This is a subject to which the Committee intends to return.

The Work and Pensions Committee (July - December 2001)

12.  In view of the increased remit of the Committee and the preponderance of Members either new to the Committee or to the House, the Committee undertook an initial induction programme after its first formal meeting on 18 July 2001. This included a series of informal visits to DWP offices and various informal meetings, and culminated in a two-day seminar, based at the University of York, which was addressed by eminent academics in many of the policy areas that fall within the Committee's remit. During the course of the seminar, the Committee deliberated informally about its future programme and heard about the various responsibilities of the staff team.

13.  Shortly thereafter, the Committee agreed its programme of inquiries for the 2001-2002 session based on a shortlist drawn up during the informal seminar.

14.  The Committee then embarked on its first inquiry: "'The ONE' Pilots: Lessons for Jobcentre Plus". This had been announced following the first formal meeting of the Committee in order to give time for memoranda to be prepared and submitted.

Government replies to reports

15.  Government replies were generally timely and, unless by mutual consent, produced within the two­month deadline for replies to be received. The Department kept the Clerk informed of progress of the replies and there were no problems with unexplained late delivery. On the other hand, replies were rarely delivered much in advance of the deadline, giving the impression that the Department sees the two­month rule as the norm rather than a maximum.

Relations with the Department

16.  Relations with the Department were businesslike and cordial. The quality of written evidence varied but was generally acceptable, as was the oral evidence.


17.  The Committees did not consider any draft legislation in this period.

Other Activities

18.  The Committee met various groups and individuals, including visitors from overseas. It meets the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) on a regular basis. The Committee was invited to participate in the Department for International Development (DfID) project "Sharing Parliamentary Experience" (SHAPE) and three Members travelled to Moscow in November 2001 as the first part of an exchange visit with, and linkage to, the Russian Federation State Duma Committee on Labour and Social Policy.

159   First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, HC 300, paragraph 52. Back

160   Delivering Effective Government, 10 Downing Street Press Notice, 8 June 2001. Back

161   Inherited SERPS, First Report of the Social Security Committee, Session 2000-2001, paragraph 7. Back

162   Published 20 July, 2001. Back

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Prepared 7 February 2002