|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
For all these reasons, the credibility of the department is at stake. I know that the Minister is too tough a cookie to be bullied by his Treasury colleagues, who say, Hands off tax credits. Customs and Revenue are not having anything to do with this namby-pamby consultation that DWP Ministers are saddled with. Get out of my face; I dont want any of this round my neck. I am sure that he is ableat least I hope that he is big enoughto stand up to that kind of pressure, because this is a serious issue. If this is the shape of things to come and Treasury Ministers move on to higher and better things, the social policy that we may see coming from the Government for the remainder of this Parliament will start taking on that hue, rather than going back to the tried and tested systems.
I do not need to tell the Minister that the Social Security Advisory Committee is a cherished part of the consultation process in social security law, as it
19 Mar 2007 : Column 1130
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, inclined as I am to agree with the thinking behind these amendments, it is only fair for me to say that Section 173(5) of the Social Security Administration Act is a sensible procedure in many cases, but not for this Bill. If a regulation is to be enacted within six months of the Bill, it is to be expected that draft regulations and so on will have been fully scrutinised and debated by both Houses and that concerned parties will have had an opportunity to comment. No doubt such words will very shortly be sopken by the Minister. But we have seen from the lengthy and sometimes rather confused debates on certain clauses in Part 1 that there is much about the regulations that is still not clear, despite the best attempts of the Government to give us advance sight of as much material as they can and their helpful attempts to explain the points that we have raised.
It is unfortunate that it is only nownearly halfway through the Bills progress, after it has already passed through another placethat we are making any real progress in unpicking the confusions that remain. I therefore think that there is a strong argument for making an exception for this Bill, which, as is repeatedly said, makes extensive changes to the system of benefits for disability, and for the Minister to assure us that all the regulations that are needed to implement its provisions are fully consulted on by SSAC.
As far as Amendment No. 88 goes, the problem is that great chunks of social security have been pinched by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the department is a pale shadow of what it once was. The Chancellor and his team have a different way of looking at things. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that it was quite wrong at the time to cut out SSAC and it is just as wrong now.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, I wonder whether I could make one brief point, as this is probably my last chance to speak in the late, late show. I want to congratulate Ministers and officials on the constructive, even consensual, approach that they have shown in our deliberations. I ask that the important amendments that they have said they will bring forwardparticularly in relation to Amendments Nos. 89, 46, 47 and 82will be produced as soon as possible, preferably tomorrow. We are almost into Tuesday now, so there is only a week to go. It is essential to give people the widest opportunity to see them before we have to decide whether to support them next weekas I hope we will be able to.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, for his kind comments and by trying to address the point that he raised about the timing of amendments. I
19 Mar 2007 : Column 1131
The Social Security Advisory Committee does an important job very effectively and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, John Hutton, and other Ministers meet the committee on a regular basis. From our perspective, the relationship is dynamic and fruitful. The committees informal and formal scrutiny of the majority of amended regulations before they become law and its meetings with officials and Ministers about proposed policy developments have helped successive Governments make better rules under which benefits are claimed.
Amendment No. 87 would remove the provision in Section 173(5) of the 1992 Act which precludes referral to SSAC of regulations made within six months of a relevant enactment. Following recent dialogue with the committee, Ministers reached the view that this limitation should remain in place. The SSACs current remit does not extend to scrutiny of draft regulations made under powers recently enacted by Parliament. Recently means the long-established period of six months following commencement of the relevant power. Referring such regulations to the committee for further scrutiny would jeopardise the timely implementation of the policy set out in the legislation so recently approved and scrutinised by Parliament. This amendment does not sit very comfortably with this Bill. It follows extensive consultation on our plans for welfare reform where we have published the key draft regulations to which the public, SSAC and the Disability Employment Advisory Committee have had access and where we have updated the regulations document before this Bill was placed before your Lordships House.
Finally and very importantly, the amendment would pre-empt the outcome of the non-statutory trial which SSAC and the department are currently operating, which aims to provide the committee with more comprehensive information on the Governments intentions. The trial involves the Bill now before your Lordships, the Pensions Bill and the regulations that may be proposed if these Bills are enacted. It offers increased scope for SSAC to make its views known at an earlier stage than in the past. When the trial is complete SSAC will produce a report and the Government will decide what implications there may be for SSACs future functions. The Government will of course make public their conclusions.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I confirm what I have said: the Government will make public their conclusions. I hope that noble Lords will accept
19 Mar 2007 : Column 1132
Amendment No. 88 would place a statutory duty on HMRC to consult the SSAC on secondary legislation relating to guardians allowance and child benefit. The fact that SSAC has a statutory role in relation to the benefits system does not read across to the tax system and other HMRC business. The Government have consistently made it clear that it is not necessary or logical to take new statutory powers. The amendment appears to ignore the fact that SSAC already has a channel to put its advice to Treasury Ministers on a range of HMRC business, including guardians allowance and child benefit. The amendment ignores the existing Memorandum of Understanding, which sets out how HMRC and SSAC conduct their business. I should emphasise that HMRC and SSAC willingly accepted the terms and conditions of the memorandum only after months of discussion and debate between the two parties. The noble Lord expresses some surprise at that contention.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am sure that there are some people who would take a different view. I am expressing the view I believe to be correct. This was entered into by agreement between the two parties. Treasury Ministers are able to obtain the freely and frankly expressed views and the expertise of SSAC. Treasury Ministers take the view that the disclosure of SSACs advice would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or could prejudice the effective development of policy. The confidentiality of that advice recognises that the Chancellor has responsibility to deliver the Governments aims of delivering a single system of support designed to make work pay and of reducing child poverty. He also has to make those decisions in the context of his overall economic responsibility as part of the Budget process.
The proposed amendment would be made to a DWP Bill and ignores the opportunity for HMRC and the SSAC to determine, by mutual agreement, the content of the MoU and the way in which arrangements covered by it will operate. The memorandum is about to be reviewed, with both sides agreeing the terms of that review. It would be pre-emptive to press this amendment in light of that situation.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, it is clear that not everyone on these Benches has been convinced, but I thank my noble friend for being so enthusiastic in his support for the amendment.
19 Mar 2007 : Column 1133
19 Mar 2007 : Column 1134
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|