Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

It has never been my belief that there should be substantive retrospective debate on the Question that this Bill do now pass. We do enough chewing of the cud as it is without reviving Second Reading speeches or things that we forgot to say in Committee, at Report or on Third Reading. I shall confine my remarks to thanking those who have taken part in the proceedings on this Bill at all stages. I have benefited enormously from the behind-the-scenes support of my noble friend Lord Haskel and also from the active participation of my noble friends Lord Peston, Lord Barnett and Lord Eatwell with, in the second XI, so to speak, the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, Lord Montague of Oxford and Lord Sefton.

I have been grateful, as always, for the constructive opposition. I think that should apply to the Liberals, but it applies also to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and the noble Earl, Lord Home. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, also took an active part, as did, in particular, the noble Lords, Lord Boardman and Lord Stewartby, from the Back Benches. I am grateful to all of them. From the Liberal Democrat Benches the noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Taverne, made a positive contribution to our considerations. Above all, I am grateful to the Bank of England Bill team in the Treasury, led by Stephen Pickford. I am grateful also to all of his colleagues for the support that they have given during the passage of the Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall say just a few words. I have absolutely no intention of repeating my Second Reading speech even if I could remember it. Nothing used to irritate me more than when people at this Dispatch Box repeated Second Reading speeches at this stage.

I am grateful to those who advised my noble friend Lord Home and myself on certain aspects of the Bill. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Home for help with the second part of the Bill. We certainly explored some of the details of the first and second parts in Committee. We were grateful to the Minister and his

30 Mar 1998 : Column 32

team for some of the detailed replies that we received although I cannot say I was grateful for all of them. That certainly would not hold true as regards this afternoon. However, I was grateful to the Minister for the courteous way in which he replied to us.

I am grateful to a number of my noble friends who took part at the Committee stage in the Moses Room--some of whom are present this afternoon--and at the Report stage and today's stage. Rather a select number of noble Lords took part in discussions on the Bill. Perhaps it is one of the defects of the Moses Room stage that what I might call the "passing trade" misses out on a Bill. I shall reflect on that in future. At Report stage we heard interesting comments from people who were not present in the Moses Room. It is a pity they were not present at the Committee stage. I am grateful to all my noble friends who have taken part and to other noble Lords for making this a brief but interesting Bill.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in thanking the Minister and his team for the way in which they have handled the Bill. As regards the discussions in the Moses Room, I shall long remember the seminar on the concept of price stability. It was not a debate on amendments; it was a seminar. We were all engaged in that discussion for a long time. I believe that it enlightened all of us. I am sure that students of economics will no longer need to read the textbooks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but will read the relevant part of the Committee stage of the Bill to discover the various definitions of price stability.

We on these Benches have a particularly partisan reason for being pleased that this legislation is heading for the statute book. We approve of it in principle. However, it also means that a well-known vote winner will no longer appear in Liberal Democrat economic policy; namely, the independence of the Bank of England. Those of my colleagues who have pounded the streets for many years advocating that independence will be grateful that this measure has now been so successfully dealt with.

We all recognise that in some respects the Bill is a transitional measure and that in due time we shall discuss the European monetary committee in another guise in terms of the European central bank when we discuss the euro. I look forward to those discussions. I hope they will be undertaken with the same generosity of spirit which has characterised our consideration of this Bill.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, I shall mention two fundamental aspects of the Bill. I shall not make a Second Reading speech. I very much regret two provisions. First, the Bill passes control of the monetary policy of this country from the Chancellor to the Bank of England. I believe that the Government will regret that as the years pass, and no doubt they regret it now. Secondly, I regret that they have removed the supervisory role from the Bank of England which it has held for a long time. It has made mistakes but nevertheless it has acquired great experience in that role.

30 Mar 1998 : Column 33

I think both those steps are fundamental mistakes and I personally regret them. Subject to that, I wish the Bill well.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Social Security Bill

4.27 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): 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.--(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Transfer of functions to Secretary of State]:

Lord Evans of Parkside moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 10, leave out ("are hereby") and insert ("shall from the relevant date be").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 5. I have no doubt that elements of this Bill will cause some controversy and arouse some discussion, and probably some division. However, I trust that the amendments that I move today will not be the subject of division or argument, or even much debate.

Part I of the Bill is about decisions and repeals. Under Clause 1 decisions about benefit claims, child support assessments and the discretionary social fund which are currently made by adjudication officers, child support officers and social fund officers respectively will pass to the Secretary of State. Clause 9 covers decisions already exercised by the Secretary of State. There is considerable support for creating a status of single decision in all these areas. In the past there has been some confusion about who was and who was not making decisions.

The thrust of the amendments is that the Secretary of State should report to Parliament on the standards of decision-making. The arguments for the amendments that I have tabled were made in another place both at Committee and at Report stages. I hope that those who supported the principle on those occasions will support it now.

As drafted, Clause 1 creates the status of single decision-maker and abolishes the current distinction between the Secretary of State's largely administrative decisions and the decisions by independent adjudication officers which are made at arm's length and can have a great impact on individuals and groups of individuals. Such decisions can be the subject of an appeal to a tribunal.

The decisions previously made by these officers were the subject of annual reports. In the interests of open government, under this Bill it is essential that Parliament

30 Mar 1998 : Column 34

is kept fully informed of what has happened and what decisions have been made for which the Secretary of State is answerable. We appreciate that the Secretary of State will not be sitting in her office continually looking at such issues and arriving at decisions on them. Decisions will of course be made by senior officers on her behalf. But, nevertheless, she is answerable to Parliament for those decisions.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the functions that would be transferred to her under Clause 1--decisions on social security benefits, Social Fund payments and child support assessments. The duty to report would commence from the date on which the new functions are transferred to the Secretary of State under Clause 1. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 take the scheme of the Bill for transferring these functions and link it to the duty to report. Under Amendment No. 5 each 12-month period would run from the anniversary of that date and the report would be laid before each House of Parliament in the month in which it was published. The amendments would provide a means for Parliament to monitor the effect on the standard of decision-making in the proposals in Clause 1.

I lay the amendments before the Committee to improve and strengthen the Bill and not as a criticism of the Government's current drafting. I am not a parliamentary draftsman; I recognise that there is a danger that amendments of this nature may be flawed. If they are, I trust that that will not be a reason for not accepting them and that my noble friend will accept the principle of the amendments. I heartily commend them to the House. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I have put my name to these amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept them.

As my noble friend rightly says, in putting down these amendments we are not being critical of the general thrust of the Bill but seeking to improve it. Many Members of the Committee will have received a substantial briefing from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux on the whole of the Bill. I noticed in the material I received from it this morning that it is in favour of what is proposed in these amendments. That is important because it has the job of handling claims at grass-roots level on behalf of people who often have little support unless they get it from the local CAB.

Evidence suggests that the present quality of initial decision-making within a number of the agencies--the Benefits Agency, the Employment Service and the Child Support Agency--is unacceptably low. The CAB believes that if there is the change that we have suggested, with the Secretary of State having the responsibility to report to Parliament, and thus introducing some element of parliamentary accountability, that will have the effect of generally improving decision-making throughout the service. That could save a lot of time and trouble over appeals etc. at later stages in the claim.

30 Mar 1998 : Column 35

I hope that my noble friend will feel that these amendments are intended to be helpful to ensure that the Bill is a good one and that the people who will be affected by it will have the additional support and protection of a system with a high degree of parliamentary accountability. I support the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page