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The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, before calling Amendment No. 29, I must inform the House that if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 29A.

7 p.m.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 29:

"(e) section 9(5),
(f) section 15,
(g) section 16, or
(h) section 17(2)"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, after many hours of amendments of unbelievable complexity, we come to a simple amendment. In moving Amendment No. 29 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 29A. These amendments are concerned with the extent to which the provisions of various clauses in the Bill, which will be clarified—if that is the right expression—by statutory instrument, shall be subject to affirmative rather than negative resolution.

As is normally the case, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform produced a helpful report which, on the whole, gave the department a pretty clean bill of health. However, having said that, attached to the report was a list of the various statutory instruments which were going to be covered. The list of delegated powers runs to three-and-a-half pages of small print. Therefore, it is right that we should probe exactly what the Government seek to do. In earlier debates in Committee and, indeed, before that, the Minister kindly said that she would provide the House with draft statutory instruments. I very well understand why that has been difficult for her to fulfil. Perhaps the noble Baroness can give some indication as to whether they are likely to arrive either before Third Reading, or certainly before the matter goes to another place.

Having said that, various points arise. The first part of the amendment is concerned with Section 9(5), which deals with the assumed income period. I am not clear why it is necessary to deal with that by statutory instrument rather than on the face of the Bill. Why do the Government need powers to vary that particular period, which we have already discussed at very considerable length? It has been explained very clearly from the Government Benches why the period has been set.

For the moment, I defer the question of how we should treat Clause 15 and turn to Clause 16, which relates to the retirement pension income provisions. Again, I am not clear why it is not possible to put that on the face of the Bill. What is of greater puzzlement is Clause 17(2) which will be concerned with whether an individual is a member of a household, or not—or even whether someone is severely disabled. Again, that

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is something we could have on the face of the Bill. We could discuss the provision, amend it, and, if necessary, vote on it rather than have it dealt with by statutory instrument.

I turn to Clause 15, which is now the subject of Amendment No. 29A. It was felt that it might be necessary to vote on this matter. I hope that that will not be so and that the Minister can give a sympathetic response. I would like explanations about the earlier Clauses 9(5), 16 and 17(2). I ask for an undertaking as regards Clause 15 because it is of very considerable importance. Those who have been sitting through the debates will well know that it is a question of how a person's capital and income should affect the state pension credit. I have referred to the Select Committee. It recognised that this clause leaves much to regulation and that some of it may be controversial. It cites particular items that the committee believes may be controversial. I shall not burden the House by going through them in detail.

It is our view that this power should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure at least on the first occasion when it will be exercised. The debate on the previous amendment seemed to give cause for some controversy as to whether the anti-avoidance provisions for social security purposes were appropriately dealt with anyway by statutory instrument. Some controversy also emerged on that subject.

One realises of course that there are differences between social security law and tax law. None the less, as regards anti-avoidance there is some case for adopting the same approach whatever the historical precedence may be, especially as matters which were previously regarded as social security business have, to a very large extent, fallen into the clutches of the Treasury. Can the noble Baroness give an example where anti-avoidance provisions in tax law have been introduced by statutory instrument? I believe that I am right in saying that that is not the case. In social security law, we have to consider whether it is appropriate for anti-avoidance provisions to be dealt with by statutory instrument rather than on the face of the Bill, where they can be discussed in detail, amended and, if necessary, voted on.

I trust that we shall be given explanations on Clauses 9(5), 16 and 17(2). Given what I believe on both sides of the House has been grave concern as regards how the definition of a person's capital income will operate in practice as regards the state pension credit, I very much hope that the Government will accept— on the first occasion, at any rate, when these matters are clarified and we have something in front of us in black and white—that we can have an undertaking that such provisions will be subject to affirmative resolution. I leave on one side the Government's proposals for House of Lords' reform which might inhibit us in this respect. That is a matter on which I have not so far expressed a public opinion, but I might be tempted to do so. Be that as it may, I

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hope that we can have an undertaking from the noble Baroness as regards the statutory instruments under Clause 15. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for allowing me to intervene at this point. Amendment No. 29A is defective, as drafted. As a result, it will have to be re-examined. I am relaxed as to whether or not these matters are dealt with by affirmative powers. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was happy with our proposals as they stood. If noble Lords believe it is appropriate on the first occasion to have these issues treated by affirmative powers, I shall be very happy to take this matter back and produce a government amendment to that effect on Third Reading.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I have accepted many times before Iain Macleod's remark that "You don't shoot Santa Claus", and I do not do so on this occasion. I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29A not moved.]

Schedule 1 [Administration]:

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 30:

    Page 15, line 11, leave out "etc"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we come finally to a matter which is not of enormous importance. In the schedule which this amendment seeks to amend there is a reference to national insurance numbers. When, at the Minister's invitation, we had the pleasure of discussing this matter with officials, there was some suggestion that there was no reference to national insurance numbers in the Bill. However, they are mentioned in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, which reads as follows:

    "In section 1 (which makes entitlement dependent on the making of a claim and production etc of national insurance numbers and other evidence, and limits backdating to 12 months etc)",

and so forth.

I have two queries on that. The expression "etc." seems to me rather odd in primary legislation. I am not absolutely clear whether that particular "etc." is in Section 1 of the legislation referred to or whether it is simply shorthand where the draftsman got so bored with the whole thing that he could not bear to spell it out. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us that it is an expression which is frequently used in social security legislation if not in tax law, and what is the reason.

More specifically, it seems strange to refer to legislation dealing with national insurance numbers when an answer that the noble Baroness gave me in March 2001 points out that there are very considerable doubts about national insurance numbers. It was pointed out that the data cleansing project had removed 182,000 national insurance numbers during the past financial year, which was more than in the whole of the previous Parliament. Having said that, the answer continued to the effect that the data cleansing project will be stopped on 31st March.

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The problem is that this schedule appears to perpetuate the idea that entitlement will be dependent on the making of a claim and the production of a national insurance number, but the department admits that a national insurance number tells one remarkably little about anything because there are a huge number that are either inaccurate, duplicated or fraudulent. In terms of assessing entitlement, has not the time come to say that there should be some better indication? Whether in the future that may be replaced by identity cards is not a matter we need go into this evening. Perhaps the noble Baroness can clarify the vexed question of the use of "etc" and, more particularly, whether it is really appropriate to continue to rely on national insurance numbers when, quite clearly, they are defective. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, if I were to be given one of those word association tests and offered the word "etc.", I do not believe that the first word that would come back would be precision. On one famous occasion in 1640 the convocation of Canterbury required people to take an oath to the government of the Church, by archbishops, bishops, deans, "etc.". Many people believed, or effected to believe, that "etc." meant the Pope.

One London preacher maintained that "etc." was the curled lock of Antichrist. I do not need to express agreement with that preacher to say that the Government might be wise to choose a word a little more precisely defined.

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