HC Deb 23 April 1993 vol 223 cc654-5
Mr. Peter Atkinson

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in line 49 leave out 'six' and insert 'three'.

I shall not detain the House for long. Amendment No. 22 would reduce from six months to three months the time in which an applicant who had failed an assessment could reapply. It seemed on that margin that the six-month period was rather too long, given the importance of someone being able to obtain employment. It would be kinder to allow the applicant to reapply after only three months. I am aware that I may have been considered to be beastly to the applicant in amendments Nos. 15 and 17, so I have been kinder in amendment No. 22. On the margin, I felt that it might be better to reduce the time involved.

Sir John Hannam

It is an interesting amendment about which I thought deeply. The Bill states that a period of six months shall elapse before a further assessment may be undergone. We decided that there would be no fee for the assessment, but if the period between assessments is too short, we should be encouraging time wasters at the expense of the taxpayer. If the period is shorter, it is less likely that there will have been a material change in the person's physical condition, so a shorter period may encourage some people to apply for another assessment when the likelihood is that the outcome will be the same.

I suggest that we need to see how the provision works in practice. If it transpires that six months is an unreasonably long period to expect disabled people to wait before they can apply for another assessment, regulations can easily be made to shorten the period or to lengthen it if our experience of the operation of the Bill suggests that. I should like the provision to stay in its present form with the six-month period. We should see how things turn out and, if necessary, amend the provision in future. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Heald

I am concerned about the six-month gap between taking an assessment and taking a further assessment, given that this is not an area in which there should be a right of appeal. Indeed, thanks to our earlier decision, there will not be such a right. Given that there is no right of appeal, it could be unfair to an applicant to have to wait as long as six months before the next assessment and that might lead to a sense of injustice in those who wish to take the test again speedily. With most vocational qualifications, there is some gap before one can take the test or the examination again, but it is not normally as long as six months. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) will be prepared to consider the matter again. We do not have to push the matter to a Division today. Six months is rather a long time to wait for such reassessment, so I hope that the point can be considered again.

Sir John Hannam

By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that I have made it clear that we shall have to look at the matter in the light of experience. No one is sure what the correct period is. With other forms of disability allowance, there are periods after which one can reapply. All that we can do at this stage is to take a period that seems to be reasonable and sensible. If necessary, it can be changed by regulation in future.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

I hear exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) says and I am grateful for his assurance that when the Bill comes into force, the practice will be examined to see whether the time scale needs to be reviewed. On that basis and as I see the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) waiting to proceed with his iniquitous Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill, I shall not detain the House. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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