HC Deb 31 January 1984 vol 53 cc130-1
9. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will introduce measures to enable unemployed and disabled people to be included on local appeal tribunal panels; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Newton

There is no bar to unemployed or disabled people becoming members of tribunal panels if they are nominated. As the hon. Member will be aware, clause 9 of the Health and Social Security Bill is intended to increase the range of representation on tribunal panels.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Minister admit that when the panels were first set up just after the war, at a time of relatively full employment, they consisted mainly of people from the employers' side, a minority from the trade union side and good representation for the lawyers? Given that under the Tory Government we are destined to have about 4 million people unable to find work and that there are more than 2 million disabled people, does he agree that it would make far more sense to put some unemployed people on the panels, as the unemployed are the main applicants for supplementary benefit, to include disabled people as of right on local appeal tribunals, and perhaps even to go a stage further and have representation for pensioners as well? Does he agree that that is far more sensible than the proposal in the Health and Social Security Bill?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to hear that I rather agree with him. [Interruption.] I thought that that might cause a bit of a stir. We are proposing the changes because the system whereby trade unions have had virtually 50 per cent. of the nomination rights since the war has produced precisely the unsatisfactory situation which the hon. Gentleman wants us to change.

Mr. Hannam

In considering the role of local tribunals, will my hon. Friend take account of the recommendation in the Oglesby report that mobility allowance appeals should be referred to local tribunals rather than, as at present, to the very slow and cumbersome medical tribunals?

Mr. Newton

As my hon. Friend will know from various controversies in the past week or so, the Oglesby recommendations about improving the administration and adjudication of mobility and attendance allowance cases are a subject to which we attach considerable importance and on which we are currently conducting extensive consultation.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Does the Minister agree that one of the problems is that many of the tribunals meet in premises completely inaccessible to disabled people? What is he doing to ensure that the tribunals meet only at venues fully accessible to people with disabilities?

Mr. Newton

There is a real problem there, and also with some of our social security offices. I have taken this up in various ways with the Property Services Agency, as I agree that everything possible needs to be done to overcome such problems.