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Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [H.L.]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. As your Lordships will be aware, one of the functions of the Law Commission and of the Scottish Law Commission is to promote,

The Law Commissions have during the past 26 years presented to Parliament 15 reports on statute law revision with draft Bills attached. The 14 previous reports have resulted in the repeal of nearly 3,800 enactments, including almost 1,600 whole Acts. The present Bill proposes the repeal of 223 whole Acts or orders and the removal of redundant provisions from 259 others.

The repeals set out in Schedule 1 to the draft Bill are in six parts. They cover local legislation applying in both England and Scotland and they apply also to such areas as overseas jurisdiction, the citation of statutes and transport. As always, the work of the two Law Commissions has revealed a good number of points of historical interest in the antiquity of some aspects of the present law. For example, the oldest statute to be repealed is an Act of 1694 passed to restore and rebuild the town centre of Warwick after it had been destroyed by fire. The Act expired in 1704. It is an interesting coincidence that Warwickshire was referred to recently. The most recent of the local Acts to be repealed are a group of such Acts applying in certain areas of Scotland dating from 1977 to 1981. Those Acts were superseded in 1982. There has been full consultation with interested bodies on those and all the other repeals.

I draw your Lordships' attention to Part I, which rationalises the vast amount of local authority legislation in Bedfordshire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. In its explanatory note, the Law Commission says that the,

    "bulk, uncertain operation and inaccessibility of local legislation are problems of long standing."

A detailed review of such legislation for those counties has been carried out by Mr. John Phipps as consultant to the Law Commission and completed with the co-operation of the local authorities concerned. This is the second such project to have been brought to fruition. The first covered South Yorkshire and was enacted by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1989. I hope that more will be completed.

This Bill and its predecessors play a valuable part in the work of modernising and improving the statute book. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to join me in thanking the two Law Commissions for the very careful and detailed way in which they have set about

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this important task. If your Lordships are content to give the Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills in the usual way. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, on Tuesday, in reply to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was able to confirm that there is a gathering momentum in securing the passage of legislation in politically non-controversial areas of law reform deriving from the work of both Law Commissions. On that occasion he was good enough to recognise the support of the Opposition in that endeavour.

The Second Reading of this Bill affords the opportunity to remark upon the unsung but highly important labours of both Law Commissions: the improvement of the statute book by repealing what is obsolete and unnecessary and reducing to a minimum the number of separate enactments.

I desire to put on record the appreciation of my party for all aspects of the work carried out with real effectiveness by both Law Commissions. Obsolete, obscure and needlessly complex legislation diminishes the quality of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. My party is committed to the reduction of the statute book, simplification of legislation and the use of plain English by the draftsman. On another occasion your Lordships may wish to discuss how that can best be achieved.

Meanwhile, on these Benches, we are content that the Bill should be given a Second Reading and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills in the usual way.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Lord's remarks. I have already acknowledged the Opposition's support. I should like to say how much I appreciate that support from the noble Lord and many of his colleagues. It is an enterprise in which all are engaged with fervour. The Law Commissions are greatly encouraged by the way in which their work has been received in this House. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

Merchant Shipping Bill [H.L.]

3.44 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is the first of two linked consolidation Bills on the Order Paper in my name. Perhaps the House will allow me to speak to them both together and then to move the second Bill formally.

The Merchant Shipping Bill consolidates some 30 Acts or sections of Acts dating back to the consolidating Act of 1894. The Shipping and Trading Interests

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(Protection) Bill is a discrete topic derived from parts of two of them. The 1894 Act contained over 740 sections and 21 schedules. Many of its provisions have been repealed over recent years, and the details of many other provisions of the old Merchant Shipping Acts are now covered by regulations. The new Merchant Shipping Bill is about half the length of its predecessor, and will give effect to a welcome rationalisation of the present law. Therefore, we are moving in the direction to which the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, referred.

I take this opportunity of thanking the draftsman for continuing this important consolidation work. If your Lordships are content to give these Bills a Second Reading, they will be referred in the usual way to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I welcome the two Bills which arise from the report of the joint working party, published some years ago. In a way it is rather sad that time was not found last year for the measures. It would have been the 100th anniversary of the 1894 Act.

Perhaps I may make one observation in qualifying my welcome; it is rather a sad observation. In 1894, our merchant fleet was the largest in the world and it remained so until about 25 years ago. It is sad to note today that it has shrunk to its present rather low rating.

It was a delight to meet the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor aboard the very fine latest addition to our fleet, the "Oriana". Therefore, I believe that it is extremely appropriate that the noble and learned Lord should be moving today the Second Reading of the two Bills.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful for those observations. Of course, I am sorry that the Bill was not brought forward 100 years after the last consolidation measure but I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that those are difficulties that one must face from time to time. I agree that we should be happier if our merchant navy today were bigger than it is. It is great in quality but we should all be happier to see it greater in numbers.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

Shipping and Trading Interests (Protection) Bill [H.L.]

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor).

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

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Jobseekers Bill

3.48 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [The jobseeker's allowance]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert ("subject to the provisions of section 37(2)").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 184 which is consequential upon it. Before I do so, I wish to express my sympathy and to offer my condolences to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, whose husband has so sadly died during the Recess. It was my privilege to meet him only once and he was a man to whom I took an instant liking. I offer the noble Baroness my sympathy with all my heart. I hope to see her back in due course and I wish her the very best that I can.

Also, I wish to express my regret that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, as I understand it through no fault of its own, has been unable to complete its study of the Bill in time for the Committee stage. As the Committee will know, that is normally the stage at which we take up the very valuable help which we receive from that committee. As it is, we shall not be able to have its full and detailed findings in a second report available to us until the Report stage. That means that we shall not be able finally to dispose in Committee of all the many issues arising from the delegated powers in the Bill. In that context, I must express my regret at the limited number of days available for the Committee and Report stages of the Bill. I welcome the spirit and the letter of the report of the committee on the Sittings of the House. But we can only operate those recommendations when we have enough time to do so. I shall do my best; but I cannot promise success.

The effect of the above amendment is to postpone the commencement of the Bill until 1st April 1997. I believe that the Department of Social Security, left to itself, is one of the more competent departments in Whitehall. Nevertheless, over the past few years, it has experienced a series of what I believe we are not now supposed to describe as "cock-ups" and which, I may perhaps describe as "indiscreet elevations".

I shall not go into the severe hardship payments for 16 and 17 year-olds because we shall have time to discuss that issue later. However, there is the story of disability living allowance; there is the story of the Child Support Act; there is the story, about which we shall hear a great deal more, of incapacity benefit; and there is the story to which I shall return, after today's Question, of the habitual residence test. In those cases, I believe that it is more than a fiction to say that the Minister is responsible—this Chamber having what the

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noble Lord, Lord Peston, once described as a sense in government circles that, "It will be all right on the night"; in other words, that it will be possible to press ahead and that, somehow, all the difficulties will mysteriously vanish when it comes to implementing the legislation. As a result—certainly to my knowledge from 1988 onwards—the Government have a record of attempting to implement their Bills a great deal too fast.

The latter is especially true in the case of what, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, admitted on Second Reading, is a framework Bill. That means that large parts of the Bill are, in effect, not yet ready to be put before us. I do not know how far they have been thought out or what wordings are available in draft for the numerous series of regulations that we can expect under the Bill. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a response to what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, requested at Second Reading. The noble Lord said that he hoped that it would be possible to allow Members of this Chamber to see those regulations in draft before they were officially presented. That would tend to save public contention. If the Minister does do so, it will of course take time; but, if he does not do so, it will take time in other ways.

Merely finding time in the business of the House to deal with the number of regulations that must be scrutinised before the Bill comes into effect will be very time consuming. In fact, the Government admit in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill that they are not really sure yet how they will set about it. Part of the section headed Effect of the Bill on Public Service Manpower says:

    "Since detailed decisions on the delivery of jobseeker's allowance have yet to be taken, it is not possible to quantify the overall effect at this stage".

In my view, a government who say that are not yet ready to bring their measure into effect. If we want to avoid another catastrophe when the legislation is put into effect, it would be well worth the Government's while to postpone what they do for a little while.

I believe that there is also a considerable problem about the effect of the Bill on public service manpower. I have given the Minister notice of a series of questions that I intend to ask about adjudication officers. As I understand it, it was the intention of the Bill to take work off adjudication officers by taking decisions at the front line in the hands of the employment officer. I do not think that it will work that way. When employment officers find people not to be eligible for benefit, I believe that there will be a flood of appeals going forward to adjudication officers.

Therefore, can the Minister tell me, first, how many adjudication officers are in post? Secondly, what is their average salary? Thirdly, who appoints them and what are their terms and conditions of service, especially their tenure? Fourthly, what at present is the average waiting time for appeals concerning unemployment benefit; and, fifthly, how many new adjudication officers are the Government planning to appoint to deal with the work arising from the Bill? That is a question upon which they ought to have thought before fixing a commencement date.

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There is also the problem of merging two bureaucracies—employment and social security; in other words, the merging of two departmental cultures. If there is one thing that we all know about Whitehall it is that there is nothing harder than merging two departmental cultures. In fact, the cultures of employment and social security are extremely different. They remind me of Sir Alan Herbert's Epitaph on an Archbishop:

    "My predecessors fighting sin,

Did their best to bring men in,

    But I was best without a doubt,

    At keeping the unworthy out".

Getting those two attitudes to work together in employment offices will be a very stormy task and it will take time. There is also the problem of what I understand is now described in Parisian fashion as "co-location". As an academic, I know all about the difficulties of split-site mergers. Where we are getting the local merger of services, do we know yet to what extent they will be brought together in one lot of premises and to what extent they will be split between two different premises? Further, do we know how much progress will be made—and such progress will be vital to justify the principle of the Bill—towards one-stop shops where people can deal with the business of employment service, career service and benefit agency all in one? In rural areas in particular, where people on benefit probably have neither the money nor the opportunity to travel, that can be quite vital.

If the Minister can convince us that all those provisions are ready and in place to implement the Bill on 1st April 1996, well and good. But, if the Minister tells me that it will be, "All right on the night", I shall tell him that it was not so last time. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I should like to express my support for the amendment. However, in doing so, I should like to say, as did the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the amendment would have been supported from our Benches by my noble friend Lady Turner who, as the noble Earl explained, is sadly absent from the Chamber. I am sure that we are all grateful for the concerns that the noble Earl and other Members of the Chamber have expressed and we shall certainly relay them to my noble friend. It will mean, however, that many of us will be dealing with amendments which my noble friend would, I am sure, have dealt with even more persuasively and articulately than my friends and I could hope to do today.

The more I contemplate the noble Earl's amendment, the more it seems to me that it has all kinds of virtues. The noble Earl is calling for a year's delay in implementation. Obviously, this is not the time and place to make a Second Reading speech, but I should like to make two points. First, I should like to reinforce what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has said about the regulation in the Bill. There are 116 regulations. I wish to quote from the interim report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee which states at paragraph 9:

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    "It could nonetheless be argued that the Bill leaves so much power in the hands of Ministers and that these powers are so fundamental that the Bill is no more than a skeleton Bill of the kind against which the committee warned in its first report to the House".

The report then considers some of the individual regulations. It states, on Clause 4,

    "The committee worries whether such a fundamental matter should be left undefined in this way even where there are precedents in social security legislation provisions to do so",

and so on.

We have here guidance from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, set up by this Chamber, to suggest that this is a framework Bill and we do not yet know how it will affect the many thousands of people we are considering today. We need to know more about what is intended and we need to have the judgment of the Scrutiny Committee to tell us how that should be regarded by us, but we do not have that here. That is one of my reasons. However, there is a second set of reasons I should like to spend a little more time on. This is a reason which might even commend itself to the Government: it is the savings that would result were this Bill to be delayed by a year.

The first reason—this is not my priority but I certainly suspect it would be the Minister's—would be the savings in cash. I understand the Government expect to save £140 million on this benefit in the first year and £270 million in a full year. We on this side of the Chamber do not accept those figures. We accept that there will be savings in this benefit because costs saved in this benefit will be exported to other benefits, in particular housing benefit and council tax benefit. Why is that? It is because the Government, despite the best efforts of those on the Opposition Benches at Second Reading to explain the disincentive effect of means testing on working families, still fail to understand the point that, if one moves onto means tested benefits after six months instead of 12 months and the working partner—it is usually the female—is in part-time work, she will come out of work rather than have her male partner's benefit deducted pound for pound for every pound she earns.

Therefore, the Government in this Bill have constructed a perverse system which ensures that, if one partner loses his job—let us say the husband—the second partner will also lose her job. Both then need to claim more benefit and for longer. This is not a figment of my imagination. I have had modelling done by reputable bodies which shows that if the male partner is on unemployment benefit and the female partner is in part-time work, they might on certain assumptions receive benefit of £100 a week. But if they both come out of work and they are both on benefit because of the effect of means testing we shall have to pay them £70 more in benefits; that is £170 to £180 a week rather than £100 that they will currently be receiving.

I predict—I believe this is well substantiated—that although the benefit we are discussing may be cut, total social security expenditure will rise because the costs will be displaced elsewhere. Only when the total job market is expanded as a result of investment and

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training will there be real saving on social security budgets. Delay these benefit changes by a year, and save us all some money.

Secondly, an even more significant argument is that such a measure would save stress and distress for claimants. It would save the stress and distress that would visit those under 25 who, although they have paid their national insurance benefit, will now find government reneging on that contract and cutting their benefit by 20 per cent. It would save the stress and distress on those who do not quite shape up to the new harsh actively seeking work tests embodied in this Bill because, quite unreasonably, English is not their first language; or because, quite unreasonably, they have a learning difficulty; or because, quite unreasonably, they are partially disabled and do not qualify for incapacity benefit, on the one hand, and may fail to qualify for JSA, on the other; or, quite unreasonably, because although they had skimped in the past to build some modest savings, they now find those savings lost before they can enjoy any benefit. Would we not wish to avoid such social stress?

Thirdly, like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, we are anxious to save the plummeting reputation of the Government in the field of social security. We are being altruistic. The Government were warned but ignored the fact that they would face major problems as regards the poll tax; and guess what the Government subsequently had to do about that? The Government were warned but ignored all of the amendments and issues raised by the Opposition as regards the Child Support Agency; and guess what the Government will now have to do about that? The Government have been warned but have ignored the major problems that are now apparently being thrown up by the new incapacity benefit; and the Government will quite rightly face a stormy year ahead on those issues. May we suggest to the Government that they might want to save themselves some stress and distress too because this Bill is rightly detested? It is seen as nasty, bullying, vindictive and mean. It is seen as all of that precisely because it is that.

There is one final saving. Depending on the fate and fortune of the Prime Minister, we will by April 1997 either have had or be within weeks of a general election. Why implement a Bill when the whole policy behind unemployment will change, so that instead we will be rebuilding our economy rather than merely punishing the unemployed who are losers as a result of the Government's economic policies? The £270 million that the Government expect to save in the first full year of this benefit would be financed by getting just 30,000 people back to work. That is what we will be doing, but we will be doing it more aptly without being encumbered by such a Bill as this. I support the amendment.

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