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Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: The only part of that answer by which I was somewhat reassured was the very last part. I am grateful to the Minister for pointing out that the provisions of the clause will not be introduced until the equipment is proved to be millennium compliant.

I hope that the DSS and the agencies will lead the way, because I am aware that other government departments are having difficulty in meeting the requirements. The Department of Health medical services have already said that there could be severe breakdown problems for their services in 2000.

I am grateful to the Minister for defining the different areas in which computers will be used to make decisions and other areas where those decisions will be left to the officers. I shall obviously wish to read carefully her remarks in Hansard to see how far her answers meet my concerns. She was almost beginning to persuade me but I was somewhat wary when she referred to the success rate of the private sector with reference to credit reference agencies. I have had long service with the CAB and I have seen some of the heart-breaking, heart-rending results of the misapplication of information through those agencies. So I was a little put off at that stage from my initial welcome for what she said. As I said, I shall of course read most carefully in Hansard what she said. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Use of information]:

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Dean of Harptree: Before we part with Clause 3, will the Minister clarify some points? The clause relates to the use of information. As I understand

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it, information held by the department in relation to its social security, child support or war pensions functions can be used for other purposes. Will the Minister tell the Committee what those other purposes might be? I realise that the Minister probably cannot answer that question off the cuff, but I wonder what those other purposes might be.

May I also have an assurance that the clause would relate only to functions within the department, and that it would not stretch, for example, to the Inland Revenue? I realise that those are detailed points of which the Minister has had no notice. If she cannot answer off the cuff, perhaps she would be good enough to write.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If I mislead the noble Lord, I shall of course write to him, and the official spokesmen. However, my understanding is that this builds on the provisions of the previous Social Security Act which was brought forward by the Opposition when they were in government, which allows for data matching to ensure that information is not fraudulent or erroneous. It is data matching which would allow us successfully, I hope, to increase our efforts to combat fraud, which we all want to see.

The question of the Inland Revenue may be one to which we should want to return on some future occasion when we may be introducing legislation associated with the CSA, when obviously such questions will be discussed. My understanding is that at the moment the provision applies, on the one hand, within the DSS, and the DSS and local authorities on the other. If I have any additional information to give to the noble Lord, I shall of course write to him.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Decisions by Secretary of State]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 5, line 15, at end insert--
("(1A) The Secretary of State shall provide an explanation in writing, or other medium if that is more appropriate, of a decision which he makes under subsection (1) to any person who is directly affected by it, including a claimant for a relevant benefit.
(1B) For the avoidance of doubt, the explanations provided under subsection (1A) shall be sufficiently full to enable a person affected by it to decide whether to apply for a review under section 10, 11 or 38 below, or make an appeal under section 13 below.").

The noble Earl said: The purport of the amendment is to require that reasons shall be given for judicial decisions. The giving of intelligible reasons is a vital part of the doing of justice. There was once a judge who had the same facts before him at an interval of 20 years. Counsel, who was aware of that, had unwisely advised his client that he was certain of success. Of course he lost the case. Counsel, white in the face and stammering, said, "But these facts have been before you before, my Lord". The judge said, "I know, but they do not appear to me now as they appeared to appear to me then".

If the judge did not have good reasons for that change of opinion, he is likely to have attracted a considerable amount of interest in the Court of Appeal. The giving of reasons is of course essential for discovering whether there is any ground for the laying of an appeal. It is therefore essential to the controlling of judicial power.

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It is also of course essential in making the thing intelligible to the claimant, because if the claimant does not understand what is going on, as is sadly too often the case, it encourages precisely that atmosphere of passivity in the face of an omnipotent welfare system, which the Green Paper expressed the Government's desire to bring to an end. That is a laudable ambition, but making the judicial processes intelligible to those who are subject to them is an essential part of doing that.

I have a great deal of material here that I am sorry not to have been able to introduce on the previous amendment, but one cannot really say the same things twice, because of course reasons for decisions are often conveyed in the form of a computer-generated letter. That letter is itself often extremely hard to understand and extremely short on information.

I have a few examples. One is of someone who was told four different levels of benefit over a period of four months. The communication said only:

    "This is to do with other money which you have coming in".
That is a statement not of sufficient precision to be particularly verifiable. The local CAB tried to work out what was going on and was told by a Benefits Agency official that one of the items was probably due to someone pressing the wrong key in the office--that is the computer again--and that she did not have enough information to verify the rest.

In another case someone was told that they could not have a jobseeker's allowance because:

    "the law says we cannot pay you".
That is a case of we are here, because we are here, because we are here. I cannot see how that decision could have been verified, checked, or examined on the information available.

Perhaps I may give another example that is equally confusing. The letter states:

    "I am sorry to tell you that we cannot pay you jobseeker's allowance from 3/10/97. This is because there is a change in the contribution information that we used to assess your claim. We have used the tax years ending 5th April 1992 and 5th April 1993 to assess your claim".
I do not know whether the Minister got to the bottom of that--she possibly did--but I doubt that many other people did. The purpose of the letter was to inform the contributor that his entitlement to contributory jobseeker's allowance had run out and that he was going on to income-jobseeker's allowance. However, there is nothing in the letter from which that could have been deduced by the claimant or anyone else. Therefore, as a reason, it falls short.

My final example is the computer-generated letter. It relates to someone being told that she had been overpaid £295.80 but was also entitled to arrears of £373.50. The letter stated:

    "We will owe you £77.70".
But the computer ran and the letter continued:

    "Please pay back the £295.80 as soon as you can. If we do not hear from you within 28 days we may begin civil proceedings".
Computers really do need controlling. If I had received that letter I should have been in some doubt about what to do with it. We need proper, intelligible reasons both

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for the citizen's rights of the claimants and for the judicial accountability at appeal of those who made the decisions. This is a vital part of the controlling of power. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: I support the amendment which also stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Higgins. I do not wish to pre-empt what may be said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. The amendment seeks to establish a minimum standard which all notifications of decisions must reach. It requires that the explanations must be comprehensive enough to enable the claimant to decide whether to apply for a review or to appeal. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, gave us prime examples of where things can go wrong. I shall take a leaf out of his book and will not seek to repeat all that has been said. I merely endorse his comments.

It seems right that on grounds of natural justice someone who is refused benefit should then be entitled to know exactly why it has been refused. It sounds exactly like the kind of amendment which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, would have supported when she was on these Benches. Indeed, I heard the noble Baroness say just that on many occasions. I am sure that it is fair to quote exactly what a Minister said, as a noble Lord or noble Baroness would quote Members on these Benches, too.

When the matter was debated in Committee in another place, the Minister claimed that the Government will specify in regulations that claimants must be notified fully and properly of decisions regarding their claims and that regulations will specify how that should be done. The Minister in another place acknowledged that the Government have an extra duty with regard to that because the Bill imposes on claimants a much greater responsibility to provide evidence and information before their claims will be processed and before the date from which benefit may be paid is to be established. That is exactly the point I am making. The Bill requires extra diligence on the part of the claimant; extra diligence which I do not oppose. However, that extra diligence is specified on the face of the Bill. Why should we then not put on the face of the Bill the quid pro quo; the extra diligence of the Government in explaining decisions to the claimants?

In Committee in another place, my honourable friend Mr. Burns pointed out the great difference between primary and secondary legislation. Today, my noble friend Lord Higgins referred to that matter. We need to keep it at the forefront of our minds when determining whether to relegate certain decision to secondary legislation. Secondary legislation by its very nature cannot properly be scrutinised by either House. Indeed, in another place some secondary legislation may be taken on the Floor of the House, but, as noble Lords will be aware, as a proportion of the number of statutory instruments taken in any one year that is minimal. We in this House may discuss such matters, but there are some self-imposed inhibitions on these Benches as to what we do about them in regard to voting.

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I hope that the Minister will not tell us that the best way forward is simply to plough ahead with regulations on this matter because that would be contrary to what every Opposition spokesman from the noble Baroness's party has been telling the country and this House for the past 18 years. My views on the matter have been consistent. When I was a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee, when my party was in Government I expressed concern about the use of regulations. I do so now and I shall continue to do so.

The report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee makes it clear that the large number of delegated powers in the Bill means that we should approach it with caution. In paragraph 1, the committee points out that:

    "The Bill constitutes an overhauling of much of the social security system, and the consequence is that arrangements which are well known and seen as fair will come to an end. For this reason, it is important to consider in some detail the regulation-making powers which will result in new and as yet untested arrangements".

I hope that the Minister will be able to reaffirm the fact that she recognises the difference between primary and secondary legislation, as clearly as she did in Opposition, and that she will accept the amendment.

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