HL Deb 02 May 1977 vol 382 cc884-6

6.49 p.m.

Lord MELCHETT rose to move, That the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, laid before the House on 7th April, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, because of the urgency involved, this order has been made without a draft having been approved by a Resolution of each House of Parliament. If it is to continue to have effect, the order must now be approved. The order maintains the principle that there should be exact parity between cash social services in Northern Ireland and those in Great Britain. The order has two main purposes. First, it enacts for Northern Ireland provisions corresponding to those recently enacted for the rest of the United Kingdom in the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.

Among other matters, that order dealt with the earnings rule for pensioners, the extension of mobility allowance to beneficiaries under the former vehicle scheme and the treatment of claims to supplementary benefit by students during short vacations. As noble Lords are no doubt familiar with the contents of this Act from its recent passage through this House, I will not detain your Lordships by spelling out any of the provisions in detail.

The second purpose of the order is to make further minor amendments to the Northern Ireland social security legislation to bring the law into line with that in Great Britain. These amendments include the repeal of Section 27 of the Supplementary Benefits Act (Northern Ireland) 1966, under which the Supplementary Benefits Commission was empowered to establish advisory committees to secure advice and help both on general questions and on difficult individual cases. The equivalent provision in the Great Britain legislation was repealed in 1971 and the committees disbanded on the grounds that they had outlived their usefulness. The Northern Ireland committees were allowed to lapse last September when their appointments expired.

Also included is an amendment to the Social Security Pensions (Northern Ireland) Order 1975 relating to pension schemes of certain bodies in the public service. The order provides that the power to make the regulations and the duty to consult with the bodies representing the interests of the employers and earners concerned lies with the responsible Government Department, not only with the Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland.

Finally, the order contains a further amendment which has no equivalent in the Great Britain Act. It provides for a right of appeal on a point of law from a appeal tribunal to the Court of Appeal and will enable the Department of Health and Social Services to give effect to improvements in the supplementary benefit appeal tribunal system recently announced by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Social Security. The provision of a similar right of appeal in Great Britain can be achieved by making an order under the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1971. Although the change is being provided for now in this order as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, it will not be brought into force until the date from which the change takes effect in Great Britain.

As I have said, the order was made under the urgent procedure without a draft having been approved as it was imperative that the amendment relating to the earnings rule for pensioners became law before 4th April. The corresponding provision in the Great Britain Act came into operation on the passing of that Act. My Lords, I hope that I have dealt with the main points of interest in this order, which, of course, maintains the important principle of parity between cash social services in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, laid before the House on 7th April, be approved.—(Lord Melchett.)

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I am sure that all of us in your Lordships' House are most grateful for the information and the report which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has just given us on this new order. I quite understand its urgency and we certainly do not question that. In fact, the noble Lord may well be relieved to know that I am not going to question his order at all because the legislation has been through your Lordships' House and most of it is already known. It is really a matter of correcting, amending and up-dating part of the Act, so I feel that there is no need for us to cross-examine the noble Lord. He has further worries and duties with his right honourable friend in Ireland at the moment, and I should not like to detain him for one moment longer.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at six minutes before seven o'clock.