§ Lords amendment: No. 19, in page 10, line 19, leave out ("The Lord Chancellor may by regulations") and insert ("Regulations may")
Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 20 to 26, 83, 84, 86, 114 and 123.
§ Mr. Bradley
Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 21, 83, 84 and 86 ensure that the Lord Chancellor retains the necessary regulation-making powers that he currently has in respect of proceedings before commissioners.
407 Amendment No. 24 allows the presiding social security commissioner to have a casting vote where there is an equal division in votes. Amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 25 relate to the handling of applications for leave to appeal to the social security commissioners. The amendments will allow the chief commissioner to direct that such applications be considered by a tribunal of commissioners.
In recent years, there have been instances where an application for leave to appeal and its determination were crucial to a number of other applications. In those cases, determination by a tribunal of commissioners would help to ensure clarity and consistency in the application of the law. Such a power is likely to be exercised infrequently by the chief commissioner—perhaps no more than two or three times each year—but it offers clear benefits for the development of social security law.
Amendments Nos. 26, 114 and 123 are technical. They ensure that the Bill contains provisions for decisions on child support and vaccine damage payments to be final, and for findings of fact contributing to decisions on child support and vaccine damage to be made conclusive by regulations for the purposes of further such decisions. This mirrors provisions already made for social security benefits. The amendments also ensure that such findings of fact can be made conclusive across all the Department's business areas.
I commend the amendments to the House.
§ Mr. Burns
I should be grateful for some straightforward clarification on some of the amendments. I have no problems with what the Government are seeking to do, having read the Hansard from the other place with great care. However, there are some confusing points of fact and I would appreciate it if the Minister could elaborate on them. If he would prefer to do so through interventions to save time, that would help our proceedings.
My understanding is that in the original drafting of these clauses the Lord Chancellor was given various regulation-making powers. He had the power to make regulations defining what could and what could not be appealed from an appeals tribunal to a commissioner. Unless I am wrong in my understanding of the proceedings in another place, on Report the references to the Lord Chancellor's powers were removed. What is causing me particular concern—because I do not understand how it dovetails with the Minister's remarks—are the Lord Advocate's comments on 20 April. He said thatreferences to the Lord Chancellor's regulation-making powers in Clauses 14 and 15 are no longer necessary."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 April 1998; Vol. 588, c. 984.]Perhaps the Minister could elaborate whether that has happened because of some drafting requirement as a result of amendments to the Bill, or because there has been a change of heart.
That leads me to two other points of clarification. The Minister may say that the Government have had to make some of the changes as a result of the Scotland Bill. Indeed, that issue arose when we discussed the first group of amendments today. Changes had to be made to the Bill because the Minister rather perspicaciously claimed that he wanted to get it right and was therefore withdrawing parts of the Bill until there was clarification of the consequences of the Scotland Bill when it became law.
408 5.45 pm
Why have those powers been removed from the Lord Chancellor? If it is not because of a technicality or drafting issues, what is the reason? Why were they withdrawn at the time that they were? I ask that not to be obtuse, but when we were scrutinising the Bill in Committee in this House the Scotland Bill had already been published, so the Government must have been aware of any potential problems or any desire to seek clarification.
I have been wondering why there was no attempt to make these changes in Committee or on Report in this House. This may not be connected, but was it anything to do with what was happening at the other end of the building with regard to the Lord Chancellor? Perhaps the Government did not want to give any more ammunition to the press—a stick to beat the Lord Chancellor with—given his problems with the redecoration of his apartment with taxpayers' money—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to raise that subject on this group of amendments.
§ Mr. Burns
You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly do not want to stray into that controversy or open old wounds. I was just, in passing, wondering whether that incident had any bearing on the timing of the Government's proposal to change the Bill. No doubt the Minister, who is in listening mode, will have heard my point and will want to clarify the issue—within order and without causing any problems for the Chair—when he replies.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan)—who used to be a Labour Front-Bench spokesman, but who failed to find a place in the first Administration and now sits on the Back Benches—suggested that perhaps the country did not really need a Lord Chancellor at all. That was a slightly off-message line to take. Perhaps that, too, has some bearing and the Government are chipping away at the Lord Chancellor's powers through these amendments.
If the Minister, as a matter of information, will fully clarify these points so that we can understand what we are being asked to approve, I shall be eternally grateful.
§ Mr. Keith Bradley
I will cut away all the verbiage and get to the clarification of the amendments that the hon. Gentleman seeks. I hope that he will find comfort in it.
The Lord Chancellor is currently given the power to make procedural regulations with respect to proceedings before commissioners through section 189(2) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. He is required by section 189(10) to consult the Lord Advocate before making regulations under the Administration Act. Both subsections are repealed by the Bill.
Amendment No. 84 re-enacts those provisions to allow the Lord Chancellor to continue to be able to make regulations in respect of proceedings before commissioners after consulting the Lord Advocate. Such regulations may relate to the determination of any matter by commissioners, or leave to appeal to, or from, the commissioners.
409 Therefore, Lords amendment No. 84 makes references to the Lord Chancellor's regulation-making powers in clauses 15 and 16 unnecessary. Lords amendments Nos. 19, 20, 21, and 83 remove references to the Lord Chancellor, in clauses 15(11) and 16(6), and consequentially amend clause 75(1).
I am sure that that explanation clarifies the position, and that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford will be happy to accept those Lords amendments.
§ Lords amendment agreed to.
§ Lords amendments Nos. 20 to 26 agreed to.