HL Deb 22 April 1980 vol 408 cc649-724

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Sandys.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 71:

After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:

Regular publication of supplementary Benefits Act 1976 as amended (".—(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to make arrangements for—

  1. (a) the publication in a single volume, in each calendar year, of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976, as then amended and of any regulations made under that Act and for the time being in force;
  2. (b) sale of the publication mentioned in the preceding paragraph to members of the public at a price which shall not exceed £1.00 or such larger sum as may be appropriate having regard to increases in production and distribution costs after the passing of this Act;
  3. (c) making copies of the publication mentioned in paragraph (a) above available for consultation by members of the public at local offices of the Department of Health and Social Security; and
  4. (d) supplying a copy of the publication mentioned in paragraph (a) above each year to every member of a tribunal constituted in accordance with Schedule 4 to the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976.
(2) The Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland shall make copies of the publication mentioned in subsection (1) of this section available for consultation by members of the public at local offices of the Department.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to discuss certain changes in the supplementary benefit regulations. At present the only way of keeping up to date with changes in the supplementary benefit regulations is by subscribing to the publication of Her Majesty's Stationery Office known as the Yellow Book. It is entitled, The Law Relating to Supplementary Benefits and Family Income Supplements. For anybody who bought the Yellow Book when it was first published in 1972 the cost of the loose-leaf supplements published from time to time to keep it up to date is not unreasonable. But anybody buying the book for the first time now has to buy all the supplements issued to date and the total price is £20, and rising steadily.

This may not be a serious matter under the present scheme as, apart from lawyers, only a few people are likely to be much interested in the supplementary benefit regulations, which are largely concerned with matters of administration rather than policy. From this November, however, the regulations will cover all the policy questions now dealt with in the Supplementary Benefits Commission's unpublished rules, which are known as the A Code. They will therefore be not only far more voluminous but of much greater interest to those concerned with people's rights under the Supplementary Benefits Act.

The Government have proclaimed as one of the virtues of the new schemes, "the emphasis on legal entitlement and published rules". But there is little point in publishing the rules if no one can afford to buy them. It is true that they will be summarised in the Supplementary Benefits Book, which is revised every two or three years. But the growing number of people engaged in giving advice and advocacy in this field will need to have ready access to the regulations themselves. I am primarily concerned with the vast army—and I think I would be right in saying "vast"—of people who are called upon to give advice to applicants in the social service field.

I think there is certainly one Member of your Lordships' House who would he able to say that a disproportionate amount of their time is taken up every day giving advice to people. It is all very well to say that they can get this advice from the supplementary benefit officer. That in theory may be right, but in practice it does not work out. Therefore, we have not only voluntary social workers who are called upon to give advice to applicants but also probation officers and local authority social workers. It is desirable in the interests of the community and the claimants that they are able to go and seek the help of somebody whom they know and trust.

It is important that we should have a handbook which is going to be reasonable in price for people who want to buy it, because many of these social workers will have to pay for their own copies. I am not denying for one moment that local authorities and probation committees, and, so on, will buy a number, but your Lordships will know that whenever you want something out of the library somebody else has got it. That is at least my experience, and certainly so just before I came into your Lordships' House.

Making copies of the regulations available for reference in local social security offices, as suggested in subsections (1)(c) and (2) of the clause, would be helpful but not really sufficient. People cannot be expected to go to the local office every time they need to look up a regulation. It is in our view essential that a complete and up-to-date copy of the regulations should be obtainable at a reasonable price by anyone who wants to buy it. The price suggested in the amendment is £1. Probably the demand for it will be such that it would prove to be an economic price as well. It would be within the pocket of most people.

Subsection (1)(d) of the new clause proposes that copies be supplied to all tribunal members. I included that proposal because one tribunal member has complained that the department is supplying the new edition of the Supplementary Benefits Handbook to the chairman, but not to him. In our view in future every member of the tribunal should have a copy of the regulations. I would not say that I am not concerned about what happens in this respect in the tribunal, though there are only three members, and if the chairman has a copy that should perhaps be sufficient; but what I am concerned about is the tremendous service which claimants and other people in need receive from this vast army—as I prefer to call them—of qualified social workers who should be able to have a copy if they so wish, and who should be able to buy one at a reasonable price. I hope that the Government will say "Yes" at least just once in these Committee proceedings. They probably do not know of the existence of the word, but it is spelt "Y-e-s", and I hope that this proves to he an occasion on which I shall hear it, which would certainly make my day. I beg to move.


I wish to support my noble friend in what he said in moving the amendment. Time after time, upon clause after clause, Ministers, in replying to criticism, have made quite clear that the details of claimants' benefits and other matters will he fully published. Before the noble Lord the Minister replies, I wish to ask him to look at what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said yesterday, as reported at column 584 of the Official Report. I will not read out what she said, so as to save the time of the Committee, but it would seem to indicate that she would support the amendment.

3.12 p.m.


I am sure that all your Lordships have great sympathy with the case that has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, at any rate to the extent of the motives behind it. It is very difficult for us to legislate in clear terms which will have certainty of legal effect yet which will at the same time be understood by the people who will be affected by that legislation when it comes to working out in detail the arrangements as they affect individuals.

One would have great sympathy not only with the recipients of supplementary benefit, and with those who wonder how they can claim their rights, but also with those people, who are sometimes in a relatively humble clerical position, who have to decide how much benefit shall he paid; in other words, have to decide what the legislation means, and what the regulations mean, and of course they are indirectly part of the legislation, too. Therefore the question of communication to those people, and to members of the public, is, I respectfully suggest, a matter which should concern us, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said.

If we can agree upon the motive, the next question that arises is, how should it be done? One feasible, possible way has been put forward in the proposed new clause. If it is to be done in this way, or indeed in any way, there is one fact which will make the situation somewhat easier than it might otherwise be, and than it has been in many another Bill; namely, your Lordships are able to rejoice and be glad that there is a Keeling schedule in Part II of Schedule 2 to the Bill. Keeling schedules confer upon the legislators the great advantage that in them they can immediately see the effect of the proposed amendments to previous legislation. So although we have a Keeling schedule only very rarely, when- ever there is one we should be thankful; and we have one here.

However I should mention that there are several different ways of handling Keeling schedules. Sometimes they are regarded as a mere temporary expedient, and they fall out of the Bill before it receives Royal Assent. Sometimes they are regarded as a contribution to the final form of the Bill, and if that were the case here Part I of Schedule 1 would fall out and the Keeling schedule would remain. It would be of great interest to your Lordships to learn which of these two possibilities is to come about in regard to this Bill. This is relevant to the first paragraph of subsection (1) of the new clause, because that refers to the publication in a single volume, in each calendar year, of the … 1976 [Act], as then amended … ". If there is to be the kind of large-scale amendment that we have on this occasion, one would hope that there would be consolidation fairly quickly. The consolidation would be made much easier by having a Keeling schedule, because the Keeling schedule itself is based upon the principle of textual amendment rather than non-textual amendment, and therefore can simply be slotted into the previous Act, and consolidation can take place almost in a flash. So to that extent the task envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is eased by the wisdom of the Government in having a Keeling schedule on this occasion, and one would naturally hope that they would not lose the advantage of it.

This is a matter on which a great deal could be said, but I think that I can summarise the problem by saying that something on the lines that the noble Lord proposed is needed. Whether it is to be accomplished in exactly the form that he proposes, or in some other form, remains to be seen, but no doubt we shall be told by one of my noble friends on the Front Bench what proposals the Government have for achieving the purpose.


I do not want to make a meal of the amendment, but speaking as one who once had the privilege to serve in the Ministry which deals with these matters, I am aware of the difficulties of people who, when applying for supplementary benefit, want a clear and concise understanding of the situation, stated in English language that the ordinary people can understand. I have had vast experience of this problem, and I believe that we should try to eliminate the difficulties for people at these times of distress. I am sure that the Government have the same human approach to this problem as do noble Lords on this side of the Committee. Without deliberating any further upon what is an obvious point, I hope that we can find a solution to the problem which will help those people, whose numbers—without making a party political point—may increase in the next two or three years.


May I address a question to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I have a 100 per cent, sympathy with the case that he has put forward, but I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he has taken expert advice in fixing the initial price of the publication. It occurs to me that nowadays many paperbacks which are expected to sell in their tens of thousands are priced at more than £1.


If I may reply to that point, I say with the greatest possible respect that the publication I have in mind cannot be equated with a paperback, in regard to which the author, the printer, the publisher, the retailer and the wholesaler each want a profit. I imagine that the publication could be handled through Her Majesty's Stationery Office, and that should eliminate four or five separate profits. I do not claim to have consulted the experts—I do not know who they are in this field—but you should know that it would not be (shall I say?) the size of a paperback. Therefore, I would have thought it would not be difficult to get what I am asking for at around a £1. I agree it might be a bit more; it might be a hit less.


Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about the Keeling schedule before we go on to the substance of the amendment as such. We shall endeavour to retain the Keeling schedule in the Bill and, as we are feeling our way through this particular Committee stage using the Keeling schedule, I think that on behalf of the Government I can say now that we have every intention of keeping the schedule up to date and amending it as indicated, and as the noble Lord indicated in his remarks.

Having said that, I shall turn to the substance of the amendment as such. May I begin by explaining that the law relating to supplementary benefits—that is the Act, the regulations and extracts from other relevant legislation—is already published in the Yellow Book referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I think I should go on to explain that copies of this publication are issued to all members—and I stress that—of supplementary benefits appeal tribunals. I can assure your Lordships there is no intention to depart from these arrangements and this will go part of the way to meet the proposals in the amendment. If the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has knowledge of particular situations in which members of tribunals have not received a copy of the Yellow Book—and I believe he cited one—the Government will take note of this because it was not the intention.

The law relating to supplementary benefits is thus already available at cost from Her Majesty's Stationery Office. The noble Lord quoted the cost at about £20, and this is the current cost to the best of our belief. The amendment suggests that it should he available at a very much subsidised price of £1. We do not think the extra cost involved would be justifiable, and I will come on to the argument in a moment. For those such as occasional advisers to claimants who may need to refer to the law only intermittently, and therefore do not want to meet the cost price of a copy of their own, it will be possible to consult the publication elsewhere. Mention has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, of public libraries. I fully acknowledge his point that when one wants to borrow a publication it is quite frequently not available. Perhaps public libraries will take this into account and have more than one copy.

So far as the claimants are concerned—and this is the major area—our firm intention is to make all rules available to them. For this purpose there will be a series of publications and I will, with your Lordships' permission, read out the seven principal items that we have in mind: First, the regulations themselves; secondly, an expanded and simplified Supplementary Benefits Handbook which is intended also as a source of information for advisers; thirdly, a written explanation showing how benefit has been worked out for all new and repeat claims; fourthly, a new leaflet named SB14 going to all existing claimants as part of the uprating exercise and explaining the changes; fifthly, special letters to claimants in certain circumstances such as the capital cut-off situation; sixthly, leaflets SB8 and SB9 which are available to claimants after original interview, and these will explain the scheme in some detail; lastly, a new leaflet on exceptional needs payments (the ENP) setting out precise details of the circumstances in which payments will be made. In addition, the Department's officers will always be ready to help with particular points of detail where claims may arise, and to show the claimants relevant parts of the Yellow Book if they need to refer to it. The arrangements I have outlined will go a very great way to meeting the proposals in the amendment so far as we believe it is reasonable to do so.

There remains only the question of making the Yellow Book available for consultation to the general public at local offices. I do not think that it would be a very practical proposition. There are in many offices very limited facilities for this sort of thing. It is important that nothing should be done to impede local offices in their essential task of paying benefits. In any event, it would be open to members of the public to consult the law in, for example, public libraries. To sum up, there will continue to be access to the Act and regulations in published form for those who require it. In addition, there will be a comprehensive range of information produced with the claimants' interests in mind.

I should like to refer both to what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said, and to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, because I think it especially important. First, in regard to a subsidised Yellow Book which the noble Lord suggested, he thought the demand would be such that the cost would be covered. Our information, regretfully, is that this is not so. Secondly, he referred to the fact—and I quote his words—that he was primarily concerned that a vast army of people would be called upon to give advice. We believe that the seven items I have cited would meet this need and that this is a very practical way of setting about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to what was said yesterday in Committee by my noble friend Lady Young, at column 584. I totally agree with every word she said and I quote her words from that column: What we are saying is that, although we are not putting a definition in regulations but relying on case law, we are, from the claimant's point of view, not only publishing the rules in the form of regulations but publishing any relevant information in the supplementary benefits handbook which I think everybody will agree will be helpful to claimants. I regret we cannot accept this amendment.


It is very unreasonable of the Government not to do so. We have listened to a whole catalogue of things which the Government are going to provide. There are social security benefits and then they are going to have another group of papers. There is the Supplementary Benefits Handbook. Then there will be the regulations. The regulations are not yet made. Although the regulations will contain everything which will be of supreme importance to people who are called upon to advise claimants, we have to appreciate that, whether it is right or whether it is wrong, a very substantial proportion of claimants do not think they get a fair deal. They may be wrong, but many of them have been proved right when social workers have gone down to their local DHSS office and pointed out certain things; money has been given over and they have said: "We did not know this". Some have even encouraged claimants to take action which has resulted in their getting benefits which have hitherto been refused.

Then there is going to he documentation for exceptional needs payments. There is going to be some documentation on forms to claimants. We are told that people can go to the public library to consult the law, but the vast majority of the claimants—like a good many other laymen—would not be able to make head or tail of the law. Very often one needs background knowledge of what the department and the Supplementary Benefits Commission do before one can begin to understand what is laid down.

Then the noble Lord says that he is advised that the demand for the Yellow Book is not such that what is proposed is warranted. I have to say, with very great respect, that if I pressed him on how he came to this conclusion, he would not be able to tell me. It is a phrase which Ministers use when they do not want to do something—"My advice is that it would not be worthwhile." Nobody can have the beginning of an idea how much demand there would be for it. We have thousands and thousands of local authority social workers, probation officers and so on who would use something like this if the price was right.

I say again to the noble Lord that, instead of issuing a lot of separate documents, let us put them together in the Supplementary Benefits Handbook—the exceptional needs, what people are entitled to, what the benefits are, how they qualify for the various benefits and the claim forms—so that people advising claimants can say to them, "You should have had such-and-such a form". Very often the answer is, "I did not get one"; and when inquiries are made that is found to be so. I ask the noble Lord to think again. This really is of supreme importance if we want to help people who are in need.


I think we are very much aware—and what was said yesterday by my noble friend Lady Young emphasises this particularly—of the need to provide suitable and full information. The question is: In what form should it appear? I think that was very clearly in the minds of Members of another place. The way in which that information is made available, and the form which it takes, is of supreme importance; and that point was made by the noble Lord. I do not wish to detain the Committee overlong with a quotation, but I think it is relevant and I was very much struck by it when reading the report of the proceedings of Standing Committee E in another place on 14th February. The honourable Member for Birkenhead said this, at column 628: The details which the Minister gave the Committee on exceptional needs payments are contained in a few pages of the red missal. We are not asking for claimants to be clobbered with huge tomes such as the A Code. We are asking that the leaflet, when issued, should be really helpful and not an introductory leaflet whose information is almost pointless. People go to supplementary benefit offices because they are in need. They know that. We want to know what types of need will be met. I think it is worth quoting my honourable friend Mrs. Chalker, the Under-Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Security. Her reply was: I think that the honourable Member knows full well that we shall be as helpful as we can be in those leaflets. One thing I did not want him to assume from my remarks was that every mortal detail could be put into a leaflet and handed to every claimant. It is a question of balance. My honourable friend went on to mention this in considerable detail.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? I am not sure that I am on very safe ground, but I do not think he is entitled to quote from the proceedings of a Committee.


I apologise to the Committee if I have quoted incorrectly. I believe it is very important on this point, and I hope that your Lordships will excuse this.


I hope the Minister will think again on this, because it is very serious. I think he underestimates considerably the number of people who are concerned about this matter. For my sins, and for quite a long time, I did the same task as the noble Lord is doing when Lord Boyd-Carpenter was Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. Unless you are dealing with this fairly directly, the amount of literature you have to accept is quite incredible. Every time there is a change there is a whole range of new leaflets, new pamphlets. The noble Lord spoke about the handbook on social benefits. You read that, and if you want to get any fairly detailed information from it you come across, "See leaflet number so-and-so". Then you go along and you get a whole range of leaflets. You go through them, and you discover that that one is out of date.

Can the noble Lord tell me (because I think many noble Lords would be quite staggered by it) the cost of this Yellow Book? I felt myself that my noble friend was putting it a bit low when he said "£1 for a start". After all, this little thing here, the Social Security Bill, costs £3.25. The importance of it is this. Every Member of Parliament, many Members of your Lordships' House, every social worker and people in all sorts of fields require this information. Can the noble Lord tell me what is the cost to the department of, first, the handbook and, secondly, every single copy of the leaflet? He must have a mailing list. What is the extent of that mailing list? Is everyone covered by that? For my sins, I got it for years after I ceased to hold that particular post, because every time I held a surgery with constituents in Kilmarnock it was proved afresh that you get more work in relation to social insurance and social benefit now than ever before—and the amount is going to increase.

It may well be that the noble Lord does not like this particular form of amendment, but he should do something to give some kind of up-to-date and reasonably permanent information to those who are handling these cases. We always hear that many people do not apply for the benefits to which they are entitled. This is one of the reasons. It is because the thing is so complicated. For a single pensioner there is one form; for a couple there is another form, as there are for a widow and a war widow. All the forms are so different. You get a whole library of stuff, and there is not a sufficiently collated and up to date annual reference, as I would call it, in respect of social benefits, though this would be of inestimable value. To those who are dealing with these matters and indirectly to the public, and from the point of view of people actually getting what they are entitled to, the more readily this is available the better the result will be.


I think that one of the important things that we should be sure about is that the information is, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has mentioned, kept up to date. In effect, that is going to mean annual changes in the information given, because it has become the habit of Governments, at the behest of Parliament, to make changes annually, not only in the amounts involved—that would be an easy matter—but also, as the law and the practice evolves, in the substance of the regulations.

Indeed, we are now dealing with a change within four years, which is a much longer period than the principal Act itself. Therefore, I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Sandys can assist the Committee by saying whether the various seven steps, which he has mentioned as being steps which the Government propose to take in order to give information to those concerned, will, if necessary, and if changes are made, be taken annually.


I think there is another point which has not been mentioned on this occasion; namely, that if you do not comply with the rules in connection with an application for supplementary benefit you are subject to law. The recently reported case (which I have mentioned before and which seems to me totally disgraceful) of the poor old man who was sent to prison for six months because he did not reveal to the Supplementary Benefits Commission that he had savings in building societies seems to indicate the absolute necessity for those who apply to understand precisely that they do this within a legal concept; because it is even more important than not getting their rights if, having obtained supplementary benefit, they are then going to be accused of not complying with the rules.


In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I think that she makes a real point here and I shall pass that matter on to the department. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, the two items which I can price for him now are the Yellow Book, which is £20 per copy—and that reflects what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, thought it was—and the Supplementary Benefits Handbook, which at the moment is priced at £1.70 per copy. I cannot give the cost of the other publications at present. I think that the best thing I could do would be to write to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, with such information as we can determine on the present cost of the publications. I can assure the Committee that the matter is under consideration by the Government.

I cannot say that we can come forward with any new proposal, but we can certainly look at this particular amendment. I can give no definite assurance now, but the Government will consider this again and will be happy to discuss it with Lord Wells-Pestell.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I would accept this. I hope that we can come to some arrangement, because I would not want the Report stage to go by without doing something about it. I think that perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to point out that the cost of the Yellow Book, now £20, includes keeping the 1972 edition up to date for the past eight years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.42 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 72:

After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:

Local authorities. Powers to recover charges.

(". No charge shall be recovered by a local authority under paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 8 to the National Health Service Act 1977 from a person who is entitled to a supplementary pension or allowance.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment. I think it is one for which your Lordships will have great sympathy, because there is nothing whatsoever political in this. I should like to feel that this amendment would be accepted either by the Government or by the Committee. Schedule 8 to the National Health Service Act 1977 is headed "Home help and laundry facilities". Paragraph 3(1) reads: It is the duty of every local social services authority to provide on such a scale as is adequate for the needs of their area, or to arrange for the provision on such a scale as is so adequate, of home help for households where such help is required owing to the presence of—".

Then it sets out the circumstances under heads (a) and (b); and goes on in subparagraph (2): A local social services authority may recover from persons availing themselves of help or facilities provided under this paragraph such charges (if any) as the authority consider reasonable, having regard to the means of those persons.

The reason for the amendment is this. Local authorities, as I have already said, are not to be allowed to charge people on supplementary benefit for home helps. At present, where such charges are made, the Supplementary Benefits Commission can meet them by means of an exceptional circumstances addition. The new supplementary benefits regulations will put a stop to this. In fact, the Supplementary Benefits Commission has "jumped the gun" by saying that no further additions will be made for home helps after 29th February; and I think that it has done so in advance of this Bill.

Government policy is that local authorities should not charge for home helps where a person receiving the service is on supplementary benefit. It is only those on supplementary benefit that I am concerned with. But some local authorities may continue, so I understand, to make such charges unless they are prevented by law from doing so. This is what concerns me. It has been an established fact that people on supplementary benefit who are in need of one of these services—and I am concerned with home helps—should not be charged.

There is so much pressure—and I am not concerned to raise this question of pressure on local authorities by the Government from a financial point of view—that some local authorities, because of their reduced grants and so on, are contemplating charging for the home help service notwithstanding the fact that the recipient is in receipt of supplementary benefit. All that I want to do is to add to the paragraph in Schedule 8 that I have just read out the amendment which will prevent local authorities from doing so. Of anybody in our community, those on supplementary benefit are really not in a position to meet those charges; and all Governments have accepted this until recently.


Part of our difficulty in handling this amendment now is that it was linked with Amendments Nos. 41 and 65B. Amendment No. 41A was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. In prefacing my remarks I said at that time that I would speak to Amendment No. 72 also because it was linked. I think that it would burden your Lordships unnecessarily if I were to repeat my remarks which are in columns 608 and 609 of yesterday's Official Report. I regret to say that we are unable to accept this amendment for the reason stated. If I may refresh your Lordships' memories in regard to Amendment No. 72, it is this. It will be clear that the Government agree with the principle that lies behind the amendment. However, the Government are also committed to giving local authorities as much freedom from statutory and central Government controls as possible. Therefore, we would not wish to enforce this point by statute—which is what this amendment does—although we hope and expect that local authorities will take full and proper note

of the Government's view. We regret that we are unable to accept the amendment.

3.48 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 72) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 72; Not-Contents, 120.

Ardwick, L. Hale, L. Phillips, B.
Balogh, L. Hall, V. Plant, L.
Beswick, L. Hayter, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Birk, B. Henderson, L.
Blease, L. [Teller.] Houghton of Sowerby, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Blyton, L. Hunt, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Jacques, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Brockway, L. Janner, L. Sainsbury, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jeger, B. Sefton of Garston, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Kaldor, L. Segal, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Kilbracken, L. Stamp, L.
Collison, L. Kirkhill, L. Stedman, B.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Leatherland, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Lee of Newton, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
David, B. Leonard, L. Stone, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Strauss, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Maelor L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Masham of Ilton, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Milford, L. Underhill, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Milverton, L. Walston, L.
Gaitskell, B. Morris of Grasmere, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Gardiner, L. Northfield, L. Whaddon, L.
Gladwyn, L. Oram, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Parry, L.
Gosford, E. Peart, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Clwyd, L. Garner, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Cockfield, L. Gisborough, L.
Allerton, L. Cork and Orrery, E. Glenarthur, L.
Alport, L. Cottesloe, L. Glenkinglas, L.
Amulree, L. Craigavon, V. Godber of Willington, L.
Avon, E. Craigton, L. Gowrie, E.
Baker, L. Crathorne, L. Greenway, L.
Balerno, L. Croft, L. Grey, E.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Gridley, L.
Banks, L. Daventry, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (Lord Chancellor.)
Beaumont of Whitley, L. De Freyne, L.
Bellwin, L. De La Warr, E. Hampton, L.
Belstead, L. Denham, L. [Teller.] Hankey, L.
Berkeley, B. Devonport, V. Harding of Petherton, L.
Bessborough, E. Drumalbyn, L. Hill of Luton, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Dundee, E. Hillingdon, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Ebbisham, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Bradford, E. Eccles, V. Inglewood, L.
Brantford, V. Effingham, E. Kilmarnock, L.
Bridgeman, V. Elton, L. Kimberley, E.
Byers, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Caccia, L. Energlyn, L. Long, V.
Camoys, L. Evans of Claughton, L. Lothian, M.
Campbell of Croy, L. Ferrers, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cathcart, E. Foot, L. Lyell, L.
Chelwood, L. Forester, L. MacAndrew, L.
Chesham, L. Fortescue, E. Mancroft, L.
Chitnis, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mansfield, E.
Cholmondeley, M. Gainford, L. Morris, L.
Clancarty, E. Galloway, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Netherthorpe, L. Rochester, L. Swansea, L.
Northchurch, B. Routes, L. Trefgarne, L.
Oaslow, E. St. Aldwyn, E. Trenchard, V.
Orkney, E. St. Davids, V. Trumpington, B.
Orr-Ewing, L. St. Germans, E. Vaux of Harrowden; L.
Penrhyn, L. St. Just, L. Vickers, B.
Piercy, L. Saint Oswald, L. Vivian, L.
Reigate, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.] Westbury, L.
Renton, L. Sharpies, B. Wigoder, L.
Roberthall, L. Strathclyde, L.
Rochdale, V. Strathspey, L.

Resolved in the negative and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 9 [The Social Security Advisory Committee]:

3.58 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 73: Page 13, line 38, after ("with") insert ("the provisions of and").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 73 in the names of my colleagues behind me and, with the permission of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 75. These two amendments would ensure that the new Social Security Advisory Committee can advise on any changes that may be needed in social security legislation and not just on the operation of the existing legislation. Clause 9(3) provides that the Secretary of State may refer to the committee: … for consideration and advice such questions relating to the operation of any of the relevant enactments as he thinks fit (including questions as to the advisability of amending any of them)".

It is clear therefore that the committee will be able to advise on legislative reforms provided that a question has been referred to it by the Secretary of State. It has to come from the Secretary of State. Those members of the committee who feel strongly about this matter will be able to say so. The Social Security Advisory Committee will also be able to take up issues on its own initiative. The words in brackets in Clause 9(1)(a) were inserted by a Government amendment at Report stage in the Commons to make this clear following lengthy debates in the Standing Committee on the Advisory Committee's functions.

It is still not clear that the Social Security Advisory Committee will be able to take up questions involving legislative changes without a referral from the Secretary of State. In fact the wording of Clause 9(1)(a) says: … advice and assistance to the Secretary of State in connection with the discharge of his functions under the relevant enactments;".

This suggests that they will not be able to do so. This causes us some concern. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give a satisfactory explanation. If, on the other hand, the Government should agree, I wonder whether they will be prepared to accept this amendment or table an alternative amendment at the Report stage. I beg to move.


I should like just to add a brief word to what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said. We on these Benches attach a great deal of importance to the role which this new committee will play. I said at an earlier stage of the Committee proceedings that we supported the setting up of this committee covering the whole field of social security and not just supplementary benefit; but I also said it had to be a powerful and independent body. I think that is worth stressing and I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said about the importance of this body being able to make suggestions about future legislation without necessarily any prompting by the Secretary of State.


I can now respond to the questions of both noble Lords. The intention of Amendments Nos. 73 and 75 is to require the Social Security Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Department on the law governing those parts of the social security system for which the committee has an advisory responsibility.

I must confess I can see no case whatever for these amendments, because under Clause 9(3) specific power is already given to the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Department to seek the new committee's views on the desirability of amending any of the relevant legislation. The point raised by both noble Lords is: What can the Committee do by itself? Does it have to refer to the Secretary of State or can it act on its own? In response to that, I should like to say this: Should the committee itself feel that a particular problem is caused by a defect in Acts or regulations, it will be free to draw attention to this, whether or not it has been specifically asked to do so.

The Social Security Advisory Committee is not restricted to questions of law referred to it by the Government. It will definitely be free to raise any questions of law which it feels it necessary to draw attention to. So the Social Security Advisory Committee may provide a useful source of advice on the need for changes in social security law, but it would not be appropriate or practicable to give the committee as one of its major tasks the interpretation of social security law. There will be no element in its composition or other functions to qualify it for such a role. If the Secretary of State or the Northern Ireland Department want advice on social security law, they must look to their own legal advisers for this. If such interpretations are to be challenged, that must be done in the courts. I hope that with those explanations the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, may feel able to withdraw the amendment.


I should like to look at the implications of what the noble Lord has said and also at the references he made, and see whether they really agree with what we have in mind. If they do not, we shall have the remedy at the Report stage. In the meantime, I would ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.5 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 74: Page 13, line 39, after ("functions") insert ("and the functions of any officers appointed by him under section 97(1) of the Social Security Act 1975 or section 27(2) of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 as amended by this Act").

The noble Lord said: This amendment, like Nos. 73 and 75, seeks to clarify the powers of the advisory committee to take up initiatives on its own. As we understand it, the main responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the supplementary benefits scheme will fall on the benefit officers based at local DHSS offices. They will be responsible for decisions on benefit claims just as the locally-based insurance officers hold responsibility for decisions on national insurance benefits. However, Clause 9(1)(a) only empowers the advisory committee to give advice and assistance to the Secretary of State in connection with the discharge of his functions, as I mentioned earlier. The committee may well wish to advise on aspects of the supplementary benefits as well as the national insurance schemes that fall within the function of the benefit officers or insurance officers, rather than of the Secretary of State. As I understand it, there is no provision for that, and this amendment would ensure that it can do so.

I think it should be noted that in any case the committee would have this power where a question was referred to it by the Secretary of State. That I accept, since the questions that can be referred under Clause 9 (3) are not matters which fall within the functions of the Secretary of State. The amendment therefore does not introduce a new principle; nor does it extend the committee's terms of reference into areas that it would not otherwise be concerned with. I think this is important, and I should like to hear what the noble Lord the Minister has to say, because it seems that this has been an omission. I beg to move.


The intention of Amendment No. 74 is to give the Social Security Advisory Committee a specific duty to advise the Secretary of State on the way the insurance officers and benefit officers are setting about their job of adjudicating on claims for benefit. The independent status of insurance officers is a cardinal feature of the national insurance scheme. It is, moreover, a feature we value so highly that we are seeking to give the same status to the benefit officers who are to decide claims for supplementary benefit. I am sure that I do not need to convince your Lordships that the independence of the adjudicating authorities in our social security system is, and will be, something of which we can be justly proud. But it is also something we have to guard carefully.

Amendment No. 74 is unwelcome mainly because it implies a threat to the independent status of insurance officers and benefit officers. It would inevitably involve the new committee in some detailed scrutiny of the outcome of claims for benefit. This would not only be most undesirable in principle but it would also impose an intolerable burden of work on the committee. Moreover, if the committee did not like what they saw, their advice to the Secretary of State would inevitably be in terms which could tempt him to interfere in the process of adjudication.

The amendment would result in the committee being distracted from their proper functions, which must involve taking a broad view of developments in social security. If, in taking this broad view, the committee become convinced that the appeals machinery does not provide an adequate remedy for particular failings of insurance officers and benefit officers, then, of course, the committee will be free to say so. My noble friend Lady Young went into this in some detail yesterday, so I hope that her remarks and the assurance that I have given will have persuaded the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.


I am by no means convinced that the proposal is incongruous and would produce the kind of situation that the noble Lord mentioned. But this is something else on which I would not want to make a judgment at this stage, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. But I would point out that, unless I am convinced that what the noble Lord has said is in fact so, I shall want to come back.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 75 not moved.]

4.11 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 76: Page 15, line 6, after ("1976") insert ("and such provisions of any other Act, Order or regulations as relate to entitlement on grounds of low income to welfare foods, assistance with transport to hospital, and exemption from or repayment or remission of charges for prescriptions, appliances and treatment under the National Health Service").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is intended to ensure that the advisory committee will be able to advise on the whole range of means-tested benefits for which the Department of Health and Social Security is responsible, not just supplementary benefit and family income supplement. The other means-tested benefits that will be brought within the committee's terms of reference by the amendment are free milk and vitamins for expectant mothers and children under the age of five, free prescriptions, free dental treatment, dentures and glasses, exemption from other National Health Service charges—I have in mind, as examples, wigs and appliances—and assistance with fares to hospital.

These matters need looking at very carefully, and their ramifications also need to be considered, and it seems that this would be an ideal job for the advisory committee. These benefits are particularly significant for families where the head is in full-time work but the family does not qualify for family income supplement, either because its income is just too high or because there are no children.

During the Committee stage in another place the Under-Secretary, Mrs. Chalker, referred to the advisory committee's remit in relation to working families and incentives. She said, in considering the regulations, that the advisory committee will be concerned with those on benefit, and that there is no doubt that it must be concerned with working families as well as with people who rely totally upon social security. Of course, as she pointed out, some rely on family income supplement. Others gain considerable value from the premium which is paid for the first child in respect of child benefit in a single-parent family. She expected the Social Security Advisory Committee to concentrate on areas within the remit of the Department of Health and Social Security—with which I think we would all agree—but also on wider issues which particularly affect working families; and the matters which I have read out, and which are in the amendment, are ones which particularly affect working families.

The advisory committee may well think that these means-tested benefits are relevant to its general concern about the provision made for low income families, especially in the light of the increased charges which the Government are so keen on introducing. But it is liable to be told that these benefits are not part of the social security system, but are part of the health service. If this is the line which the noble Lord the Minister is going to take—and I suspect that he may well take that line—then it is desirable and advisable that it should be made clear in the Bill whether or not these benefits fall within the committee's remit. I beg to move.

Baroness JEGER

I strongly support this amendment. Anyone who has had much experience of trying to help people, as I have done, both as a doctor's wife in the East End of London and as a Member of Parliament for a long time, must be concerned about the low take-up of means-tested benefits. Often, when a whole family are on supplementary benefit, they are in contact with advisers and with their local offices, and are more likely to get to know about the whole range of help available through that contact than are families in work. Therefore, we often meet families who complain that they are worse off while the husband is going to work than the man next door who is collecting the whole range of assistance and benefits.

I remember vividly trying, not long ago, to help a woman to understand that though she was at work she was entitled to help in getting her spectacles under the NHS. But I must confess that I found the form very difficult to follow and, at the end of the day, this poor woman asked: "Why do they make it so difficult?" If we are getting into a situation where we are setting up this new committee and have all kinds of new ideas to make things easier for people, I should have thought the more of this advice we could put in one place the better. It would be absurd to suggest that at one place you are told whether you are entitled to one benefit, but have to go to another official somewhere else, perhaps in another office, to be told whether you can get free glasses or help with your dentist. Therefore, in view of the widespread concern about the low take-up of means-tested benefits, I hope that the Minister will he able to tell us that this modest and, in my view, altogether helpful amendment will be acceptable.

4.17 p.m.


Amendment No. 76 seeks to extend the Social Security Advisory Committee's role to cover means-tested assistance with welfare foods, health charges and fares for travel to hospital. I am conscious that we are already asking a lot from the new committee in entrusting it with an advisory responsibility which covers the major part of the social security system. The committee will have to tackle an advisory role which is probably unique in the range and complexity of the subjects it covers. It would be wrong, and I think counter-productive, to make further mandatory extensions to the committee's task.

Naturally, I recognise that there are close connections between the means-tested benefits, which are the subject of the amendment, and social security. Indeed, they are the responsibility of the same Secretary of State. But there are close connections, too, between social security and means-tested benefits in the fields of education and housing. A line must be drawn somewhere.

We have recognised that the new committee could not reasonably be expected to cover the whole of social security; hence, we have retained the Occupational Pensions Board, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council and the Attendance Allowance Board. The line has been drawn already and we must not seek to smudge it. We should recognise, too, that the Social Security Advisory Committee will be free to comment on the means tests which are the subject of this amendment, if the committee identifies aspects of relevance to the social security system. Equally, the committee may make observations on social security means tests which are relevant to other means tests such as these.

There are very few firm boundaries in the field of income support. I am confident that we can rely on the new committee, and those responsible for the benefits which come outside its purview, to identify the interconnections which are worth pursuing. However, I am happy to confirm that the new committee will be just as concerned with people partly reliant on social security benefits as with those who are wholly dependent on benefits, but the committee's formal advisory role must be kept within reasonable limits.


I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for those comments and observations, and I find myself in precisely the same position as I found myself on a previous amendment: I should like to look at it. However, what I want to say to the Government is this: It is no good coming to your Lordships' House and asking a lot of a committee. When a committee is appointed it must be able to undertake all the work that is given to it. If it cannot do so, then let us sack it and get another one.

The Government are making a mistake when they give that as a reason for not doing more. It may well be that there are other good reasons for not giving more work to the committee in specific fields. This I am prepared to accept, if I am satisfied that it is not within their remit. All of us who sit upon committees find ourselves in the position that we have to take on an enormous volume of work which was not originally thought possible, because it is part of the job. We shall look at this matter, and if the Minister's reply seems to be reasonable then we on this side are reasonable people; otherwise we shall come back to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

4.22 p.m.

Baroness FAITHFULL moved Amendment No. 76A: After Clause 9, insert the following new clause: Advice Bureau. (". The Secretary of State shall not later than 30th November 1981 cause to be set up in each local security office an Advice Bureau to assist claimants.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I must ask for the indulgence of the Committee. During the Second Reading of the Bill I suggested that consideration should be given to the appointment of older staff at supplementary benefits offices or, as they are going to be, social security offices. Having thought about this, I appreciate that over the years this would be very expensive. Therefore I have looked at it again and, if I may, I should like to move the amendment that in each local social security office an advice bureau should be set up to assist claimants.

This is no new idea; it was recommended in the Beveridge Report in 1942. Paragraph 397 of the report is headed "Advice to Citizens" and it reads: One of the serious disadvantages of the present division of security functions between so many different agencies is the difficulty experienced by insured persons in understanding their rights and duties and in finding their way through the system to the proper authority to deal with their case. This, apart from the direct loss and delay to insured persons, leads sometimes to unjustified resentment and sometimes to lack of interest.

The paragraph continues: There should be in every local social security office an advice bureau to which every person in doubt or difficulty can be referred and which will be able to tell him not only about the official provision for social security but about all the other organs—official, semi-official and voluntary, central or local—which may be able to help him in his difficulty.

That recommendation was made in 1942 and it was not at that time implemented.

I submit that this is the moment at which to discuss the recommendation made in the Beveridge Report, for the following reasons. First, the magnitude of the work of the new Social Services Advisory Council and the local offices is going to be enormous. There is going to be an increase in claims. I am informed that there are likely to be 100,000 more claims on the amalgamated service because of the abolition of the earnings-related benefits. Sadly, there is likely to be an ebb and flow in unemployment and movement of labour. This will give rise at any rate to temporary claimants, if not, sadly, to some permanent claimants. Secondly, I believe that the burden of interpreting and understanding the law is falling in the wrong place. I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, when he says that people do not know the law and will not know the regulations. I certainly support the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, who says that many people who do not apply for benefits should do so.

What is happening at the moment? The service is given, but there are many local authority social services departments which are deploying a number of their staff to give advice on what benefits people should have and how they should claim them. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would agree that many probation officers are spending much of their time upon interpreting to the people they are working with what are their rights and how they should go about applying.

If I could give some figures, Manchester, strangely enough, has appointed 10 welfare rights officers. I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock—though I am sure that he knows this figure—that Strathclyde employs no fewer than 32. In fact, I think the figure has gone up to 40. Newcastle has a team. I do not know whether very many other authorities have got those kinds of specified appointments, but I do know that when I was working as Director of Social Services in Oxford a great deal of the time of the staff in my own department was spent upon advising claimants about their rights, or comforting claimants and explaining to them that what they had been Given was correct.

I maintain that this work should be done within the social security service. I wonder under what terms of reference and under what Act local authorities are doing work for the new social security system which should by rights be done by them? Last week, I attended an extraordinarily interesting conference run by Weekend Television in partnership with Community Care, which is a well known journal. The social workers said that they were unable to carry out their statutory duties—their duties to the elderly, to the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, to the physically handicapped, to families and children and to single parent families. In fact, they went so far as to show a film which showed a case being dealt with, advising people about their supplementary benefit.

Should this work, in fact, fall on the social services at the expense of the statutory work which they ought to be doing? May I give your Lordships one example? It is estimated that in this country there are 8,000 children who have special needs and who should be either fostered or placed for adoption. If social workers in local authority social services departments and probation officers are spending much of their time interceding with the local supplementary benefits office—which they do—and persuading people to apply for rights to which they are entitled and explaining to people why they have only got so much, or not so much, then they are not carrying out the statutory duties which fall to them.

I think I should tell your Lordships that, for instance, in Islington an 0 and M survey of social workers and supplementary benefit activities within the social services departments was carried out and it highlighted serious manpower deficiencies within the Supplementary Benefits Commission. The lack of emergency services, early closing of offices and apparently the manning levels of the supplementary benefits service were determined by population rather than by the quantity and type of demand. Therefore, a great deal of work fell to the local social services department and indeed the other voluntary agencies in the area.

I did not take part in the earlier debates in regard to the production of books, and so on, because I believe that if there were to be an advice bureau within each supplementary benefit office and it was known that you did not go to your local social services, you did not depend on your probation officer, but there was an office with specially qualified people within the supplementary benefits office, then a great deal of heart-rending and discomfort and unhappiness would be saved. I know that they would have to be particularly good people and I do not deny that it would be costly; but at the end of the day it would save much expense in the social services departments.

Looking at this from the claimant's point of view, I have worked in an area which is only 13 square miles across, so that if you went to your supplementary benefits office you only had 2½ miles to walk to your local social services department or your local probation department. That is not so in many offices, where the claimant will be told what his entitlement is, he will feel that it is unfair, distressing and wrong. Either he will not pursue the matter further or he will then go to the social services department, which will cost either time or money, or both. The person will then take up the time of the other department. Many of these cases are known to both departments, and it is sometimes cost-effective for the social services department to be able to help somebody already known to them in this way; but I wonder whether the time has not come for advice bureaux to be set up within the social security system and in each office.

When one is really at the end of one's tether, when one (perhaps wrongly) considers that the money given to one was not what one was expecting, under certain circumstances it is reasonable to be unreasonable. When claimants are in that state of mind they need understanding, they need sympathy, they need to be—if I may put it this way—balanced, they need to be helped and they need very real time and knowledge to be given to them to explain their position. Therefore, I would ask whether in each supplementary benefit office or in each social security office in this country an advice bureau could be set up to which claimants should go, thus relieving the social services and the Probation Service and helping many voluntary organisations, but above all helping the claimants. I beg to move.


I am sure we have all listened with real interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has said. If the Government accepted it, I think that this amendment would be one of the most valuable amendments to be accepted and would considerably improve the Bill. If she has done nothing else, she has established beyond all reasonable doubt the stamina of the two noble Lords on the Government Front Bench, because when she spoke about an advice bureau in each supplementary benefits office and the cost, I expected them to collapse at the very thought of the cost, but they did not do so.

I think we shall hear something about cost from the Minister who is going to reply; I think we shall certainly hear something about the staff increase. The Government are (shall I say?) committed to reducing the Civil Service and not by any stretch of the imagination adding to it. But it would make a very valuable contribution if there could be a person or persons to whom claimants could go and know that they were getting not only skilled advice and help but independent advice and help. The only doubt in my mind—and I am sure the noble Baroness will not mind my saying this—is whether the claimant would consider that he or she was getting independent advice if the advice bureau was in the office of the social security benefits building. It is important that claimants should feel that they would be getting not only skilled and expert advice but independent advice.

I suspect that the Government will pay lip service to this and say that, all things being equal, it would be a desirable thing and that if we were living in a more perfect society they would do this, and I am wondering whether I might ask a question. I have not discussed this with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, but I should like to ask whether, if it cannot be done because of increasing the number of civil servants and the cost—and the noble Baroness may not like this suggestion at all—there could be some arrangement whereby the local citizens' advice bureau could be staffed by somebody competent to do this; not necessarily a member of the Supplementary Benefits Commission but somebody competent. If that is not possible because there are not enough of them, I wonder whether the neighbourhood law centres (which have come under the axe and I know that several of them have closed down) could be persuaded to have somebody to handle this. I think this amendment is of such supreme importance to the whole question that I should like to see it accepted even if it meant that ways and means would have to be found perhaps outside the local supplementary benefits office. I congratulate the noble Baroness on this amendment.


The noble Baroness kindly made a reference to myself in hopeful support of her amendment, and I am very happy to give that support, to the extent of confirming that the questions which come to probation officers on the subject of social security rights and so on do subtract considerably from the mainline work of probation officers. It takes a considerable amount of their time. I do not know enough about the proposed amendment to go along with the noble Baroness entirely in support. I confess that it had occurred to me to suggest that this could be done in the local citizens' advice bureau, which was what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, suggested. I warmly confirm that it would be highly desirable to divest and save the time of probation officers by some move to get this more centrally and appropriately placed.


I do not know whether this is the best way to do it, but I hope the Government will look very sympathetically at the problem raised by the noble Baroness. The figures which have been referred to several times of the amounts not taken up from the various kinds of social security available make it absolutely clear that there is a real difficulty here which ought, I think, to be attended to.


I should like to support the noble Baroness and the other noble Lords who have supported this amendment. I myself, and indeed all clergy, have sent to us yearly—at least all Church of England clergy do—the pamphlet which deals with all these things. But I must admit that I am inclined to say to people that they will get expert advice if they go to an advice bureau. I know that it would not he expert advice that I would give, even with the use of the pamphlet. I support the noble Baroness's amendment wholeheartedly, and I hope the Government will be able somehow to see their way to implementing her suggestion.


I should like to express sympathy for this amendment. There is certainly a need for someone to guide claimants through the maze of benefits which our highly complicated system provides—family income supplement, child benefit, national insurance, supplementary benefits. The noble Baroness has reminded us that this is just what Lord Beveridge envisaged as long ago as 1942. It would, I am sure, relieve the pressure on social workers, which was one of the things that he wanted to achieve. I understand the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, about the question of independence. But I think this has to be an official organisation that the noble Baroness has in mind, that it cannot be confused with independent organisations outside the system. They will continue to have a completely outside and independent role to play. Therefore, it is going to he necessary for this particular service to be provided within the social security office, to enable the individual who comes in, the potential claimant, to feel that this is a section of that office to which he or she can speak without commitment, not entering into any agreement or arrangement about benefits, purely to get advice, and where anything said is without prejudice to any negotiations which may go on with the rest of the office at a later stage. I think it must he in the office if it is to function.

My only fear is that introducing another element—the supplementary benefit officer who is going to make the decision about the benefit, the social worker outside who to some extent will inevitably he involved in these questions, although the noble Baroness hopes to a lesser extent, and now the advice bureau within the set-up—will just tend to bewilder the claimants. I for one would be prepared to risk that possibility in order to seek to achieve the purpose the noble Baroness has in mind in putting down this amendment.


May I make one or two comments? First of all, I thank noble Lords for having spoken to this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, suggested that perhaps claimants would accept help away from the office rather than within the office. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Banks; I think there is a very real danger at the moment of an attitude growing up in this country of "we" and "they". There are those who go to supplementary benefit offices and find themselves dissatisfied, unhappy, disturbed, then take themselves off to somebody else and want a light to ensue between them and the probation officer, the social worker, the citizens' advice bureau. I think this is a pity. It is a good service; it is a service which ought to be regarded as whole and there ought not to be a "we" and "they" system growing up, which I think is happening at the moment. Therefore, I would very much hope that this should be within the confines of the supplementary benefit office.

With regard to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that the citizens' advice bureaux might help, I have the greatest admiration for and have often depended on citizens' advice bureaux. But the citizens' advice bureaux personnel would need to learn all the regulations; sometimes they are voluntary workers giving one or two days a week, and I wonder whether they would be able to have the whole of the regulations at their finger tips. Thirdly, if the advice bureau is staffed by social security staff there is likely to be a rapport between the two, whereas I think it might be difficult for a citizens' advice bureau to negotiate on looking at the case again, which the permanent staff might not want to do. Therefore, I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, made, but I still think it would be better for such a bureau to be staffed and placed within the social security office.

4.45 p.m.


I would like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Faithfull on the amendment she has proposed, acknowledged in all quarters of the Committee as being of supreme importance. As it stems from the Beveridge Report 38 years ago it will be of special interest to many of your Lordships who still remember the late Lord Beveridge, as he used to attend frequently in your Lordships' House. It is welcome for another reason, and that is that we have drawn into these discussions the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, because there is a particular point in regard to the assistance which his special experience can bring to bear.

I should like to assure my noble friend, therefore, that I have a great deal of sympathy with her amendment, and I have listened most carefully to all contributions throughout the Committee. There does appear to be a very great reason for looking at the situation as it at present stands in regard to the citizens' advice bureaux and bearing in mind all the particular problems which arise in the declension between voluntary and permanent staff. Citizens' advice bureaux at present provide excellent and helpful advice services. It may not be generally known that the DHSS does in fact already make a grant to the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, as well as continuing to give advice and information on developments in social security.

Some somewhat cynical comments were made by the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, who pre-empted some of my comments by saying that the Government would pay lip service to this amendment. I think the Government can go a little further than that, because we recognize entirely what the noble Baroness, with considerable experience as a director of social services, is proposing. I would say, however, that 38 years ago, in 1942, this type of service was not in view in quite the same form as it is today, for the very simple reason that the range of benefits is enormously greater and the complications attached to them are very much greater in proportion. So the expertise of the person giving advice must be based on very considerable qualifications. I am sure my noble friend will agree with that. However, I think there is a very sound reason why we should pursue this further, to examine what she has in mind.

I am sure my noble friend would not expect the staff in local offices to offer advice on matters which are outside the immediate compass of claims to social security benefits. Moreover, she will know that the department already does a great deal to offer help and advice: reception points are provided in offices, managers are alive to the need to make staff aware of the importance of telephone contact, and the department issues a whole range of leaflets on various aspects of different benefits. The staff are expected to refer claimants to other agencies—for example, local authorities for housing benefits—where it seems appropriate.

However, we are not seeking to be complacent about the quality of our service to the public. We are always looking at ways of improving our leaflets, for example, and I am sure that my noble friend will know that, in addition to using the experience of civil servants in this area, we have also employed help from outside the department. We are concerned about the general service that claimants get when they call on our local offices. My noble friend will be glad to hear that the department is currently examining the question whether there are gaps in the services we offer, and considering the possibility of research into the best ways of filling those gaps. Indeed, may I say in parenthesis that this amendment and the suggestion which it proposes will clearly be one which will interest the department very much.

I should perhaps point out that such work as has been done so far suggests that up to 800 additional staff would need to be found if advice points were to be set up in every local office. The nature of the job would be such that these staff would have to be experienced officers, as I have said already, and the fact that they were being taken off other work would be bound to lead to additional pressure on the benefit-paying service.

I cannot pretend, therefore, that there are not serious problems to be overcome before the idea of my noble friend's amendment, or indeed anything like it, comes to fruition. But I trust that what I have said will reassure her that we are very much in sympathy with her objectives, well aware of the problems and actively considering solutions. I should like to say to her that we are willing to take this one back and have a look at it, if she is willing to withdraw the amendment now, on the basis that we cannot make a prior commitment at this stage in the Bill.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, for his reply and for his interest and sympathy. I hope that it will go a little further than interest and sympathy. Before I withdraw the amendment, I should like to say that it is very difficult in the whole field of social service not to look at matters in isolation. If social workers in

social services departments were able to carry out their duties, and carry out their statutory duties, then the amount of money spent in local authority social services departments could be diminished. For example, it costs £122 a week for a child to live in a community home and receive education, but with social work in the area in which that child lives that money could be saved. Therefore, looking at it right across the board, money could be saved if this work could be done in the social security offices. But, with the assurance of the noble Lord, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.


Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Several noble Lords: Not content.

4.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 76A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 93; Not-Contents, 109.

Airedale, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Rhodes, L.
Balogh, L. Gosford, E. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Banks, L. Gregson, L. Rochester, L.
Barrington, V. Hale, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Bernstein, L. Hampton, L. Sainsbury, L.
Beswick, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Birk, B. Henderson, L. Segal, L.
Blease, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stamp, L.
Blyton, L. Janner, L. Stedman, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. Jeger, B. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Brockway, L. Kaldor, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Kilbracken, L. Stone, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Kimberley, E. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Byers, L. Leatherland, L. Strauss, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Lee pf Newton, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Collison, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Trumpington, B.
Craigavon, V. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Underhill, L.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Longford, E. Vickers, B.
David, B. McGregor of Durris, L. Wade, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Maelor, L. Walston, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Masham of Ilton, B. Wells-Pestell, L.
de Clifford, L. Milford, L. Whaddon, L.
Devonport, V. Milverton, L. White, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Monson, L. Wigg, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Oram, L. Wigoder, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Parry, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Faithfull, B. Peart, L. Winterbottom, L.
Gaitskell, B. Phillips, B. Wynne-Jones, L.
Gladwyn, L. Plant, L.
Glenamara, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Gordon-Walker, L.
Ailesbury, M. Dundee, E. Mansfield, E.
Ailsa, M. Ebbisham, L. Merrivale, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Eccles, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Elton, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Allerton, L. Energlyn, L. Newall, L.
Alport, L. Ferrers, E. Norfolk, D.
Amory, V. Forester, L. Northchurch, B.
Ampthill, L. Fortescue, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Baker, L Fraser of Kilmorack, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Balerno, L. Gainford, L. Onslow, E.
Bellwin, L. Galloway, E. Orkney, E.
Belstead, L. Gisborough, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Berkeley, B. Glenarthur, L. Penrhyn, L.
Bessborough, E. Glenkinglas, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Godber of Willington, L. Redmayne, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Gowrie, E. Renton, L.
Bradford, E. Greenway, L. Rochdale, V.
Brentford, V. Gridley, L. Rootes, L.
Bridgeman, V. Grimston of Westbury, L. St. Davids, V.
Caccia, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (Lord Chancellor.) St. Germans, E.
Camoys, L. St. Just, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Hankey, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Cathcart, E. Hill of Luton, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Cawley, L. Hillingdon, L. Sempill, Ly.
Chelwood, L. Holderness, L. Sharples, B.
Chesham, L. Hunt, L. Spens, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Strathclyde, L.
Cockfield, L. Inglewood, L. Strathspey, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Ironside, L. Swansea, L.
Cottesloe, L. Kilmarnock, L. Teynham, L.
Croft, L. Kinnoull, E. Tranmire, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lauderdale, E. Trefgarne, L.
Daventry, V. Long, V. Trenchard, V.
De Freyne, L. Lothian, M. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
De La Warr, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Vivian, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Lyell, L. Young, B.
Drumalbyn, L. Mancroft, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 10 [Consultation with Committee on proposals for regulations]:

5.3 p.m.

Lord BLEASE moved Amendment No. 77: Page 16, line 28, leave out ("Department shall lay") and insert ("Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 77. If it is convenient for the Committee, at the same time I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 78 and 84. The main purpose of Amendments Nos. 77, 78 and 84 is to ensure that this Bill will continue the procedural measures and practices provided by the Northern Ireland Act 1974. As noble Lords will know, the 1974 Act enables legislation on "transferred" and "reserved" matters to be made for Northern Ireland by Orders in Council, subject to an Affirmative Resolution.

Such orders must be laid, in draft, before both Houses at Westminster for approval.

Since the Ireland Act 1920, social security has been deemed as a "transferred" matter. Since 1920 a distinct and separate body of law has existed for social security matters in Northern Ireland. In my opinion—and I have reason to believe that I express the views of a great many people of Northern Ireland, especially persons dealing directly with social security legislation and issues—the measures in the Bill do not alter the need to adhere to the 1974 constitutional procedures, and the practices concerning the placing of Orders in Council; nor the necessity for clearly defined, separate Northern Ireland administrative and executive provisions in respect of matters arising from this Bill.

When this clause was debated in another place on 19th March there was a lengthy discussion about these constitutional procedural arrangements. The noble Lord the Minister will be aware of the arguments advanced during that debate, so I do not propose to repeat them here. However, I wish to emphasise that this Bill will have wide repercussions for the people of Northern Ireland. The administrative effects, as well as other effects, of the proposed changes are being critically examined by bodies directly concerned, bodies such as the Northern Ireland Council of Social Services and the Northern Ireland Supplementary Benefits Commission. I need hardly remind noble Lords that according to all the standard social and economic indicators, Northern Ireland is the most disadvantaged region of the United Kingdom. In making that statement, I am not apportioning blame; I am simply stating the facts.

Although it is directly relevant to the amendments which we are discussing, I do not intend to expand on this aspect of the argument. In any case, I understand that in this connection the views of the Northern Ireland Supplementary Benefits Commission have been made known to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and to the Northern Ireland Office. However, I must place on record at least two examples which I believe support the need that Northern Ireland orders should be tabled for the affirmative approval of both Houses. First, in 1979 some 18.6 per cent. of the average household's income in Northern Ireland was derived from social security benefits as compared with 11.4 per cent. in Britain. In November 1978 supplementary benefits helped to support 14.4 per cent. of the Northern Ireland population as compared with around 9 per cent. in Breat Britain.

I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister will accept that I support, wish to uphold and, indeed, encourage the Government's efforts to obtain, as speedily as possible, some form of devolved government which is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland. I mention this because some of the very doubtful and specious reasons advanced in another place during this debate, when these matters were being considered, were, in my view, not relevant. I am convinced that what is proposed by these amendments does not take away from that position; nor will it impede the efforts towards constitutional arrangements. In other words, I am saying that what is proposed in these amendments will not in any way impede any discussions towards a devolved government; nor will it hinder in any way any subsequent arrangements.

Clause 10(7)(b) on page 17 of the Bill says: a copy of any report made by the Northern Ireland Department in pursuance of this subsection shall be laid by the Department before the Northern Ireland Assembly together …".

Can the Minister please explain that? There is no such place as the Northern Ireland Assembly functioning at the present time. This may appear to some to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but in the Northern Ireland context it is not. It is a weathering away of a normal, accepted constitutional procedure. It is a matter which ought not to cause any undue parliamentary, administative problems. I am not tied to the wording of the amendments. I ask the Minister whether he will kindly accept the helpful intentions of these amendments, which are in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

5.10 p.m.


The broad aim of these amendments, as I understand it, is to provide that reports of the Social Security Advisory Committee on Northern Ireland regulations, accompanied by a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Services, should be laid before Parliament rather than before the Northern Ireland Assembly. In fact the amendments as drafted would have some involved and rather curious effects. I am sure your Lordships would prefer to be spared a word-by-word examination of the amendments as drafted. In principle, and irrespective of the motives behind them, they are, I am afraid, quite unacceptable on Northern Ireland political and constitutional grounds.

As your Lordships will recall, the Northern Ireland Act 1974, which is subject to annual renewal by Parliament, provides for legislating for Northern Ireland during the interim period of direct rule. At the heart of the Act is the need to keep alive the prospect of the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and hence an intact corpus of law which can be readily and smoothly taken up when devolution is achieved. That is why the Bill as drafted, in common with other legislation brought forward by successive Governments, makes reference to an Assembly which is not at present in being. If that reference were deleted, that would imply either that the Government did not envisage the return of the Assembly or that it would not be given responsibility for social security. Neither would be acceptable to the Government, nor I believe to the House.

Direct rule has lasted longer than many of us would wish despite the efforts of successive Governments to find an acceptable way of returning responsibilities to the locally elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. But, as your Lordships will know, the Government have made clear their intention of bringing an end to this unsatisfactory state of affairs. To that end, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland launched his initiative aimed at finding the highest level of agreement on a means of returning power back to democratically constituted bodies in Northern Ireland.

This is not the time for Parliament to be considering piecemeal constitutional amendments to the 1974 Act. On the one hand, if the present procedures for dealing with Northern Ireland matters are unsatisfactory across the board, they should he changed by a specific and cohesive Act of Parliament and not by gradual erosion as we have here. On the other hand, it would be counter-productive for Parliament to carry through a small amendment to the 1974 Act taking Northern Ireland social security regulations out of the scope of the Assembly (and social security has traditionally since 1921 been a devolved matter) and placing it in the hands of Parliament. It would be tantamount to Parliament anticipating the outcome of the consultations which are to take place. Such an action could well be taken amiss in Northern Ireland, where it is clear that the vast majority favour a return of devolved government.

In general, Northern Ireland regulations on social security follow the principle of parity. The Social Security Advisory Committee will not be reporting on regulations which correspond to those made in Great Britain. The numbers of purely Northern Ireland regulations, if I might so describe them, and of reports on such regulations by the Social Security Advisory Committee, will be small. Even so, the Government recognise the anxiety under- lying these amendments that some way should be found of ensuring, while direct rule lasts, that these reports and regulations should be readily accessible to Parliament. We propose therefore to deposit the reports and the regulations in the Library of each House. I hope your Lordships will accept this as a solution which preserves the complex constitutional requirements of the Northern Ireland situation. The noble Lord asked whether these resolutions were affirmative or negative. Regulations for Northern Ireland are subject to negative resolution under existing arrangements. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.


I was a little happier with the latter part of the statement made by the noble Lord the Minister, that reports of the Commission would be lodged in the Library. That would be an easement of the situation. But he has repeated a number of the matters that were mentioned in the other place. His use of the terms that this is political, and an erosion of the constitutional situation, is completely out of keeping with the whole tenor of the remarks I made. Indeed, what I say is that what is put down in this Bill is an erosion of the situation. If orders, instead of having an affirmative resolution by which they can be debated in both Houses, are relegated to a negative resolution, then that is an erosion of the rights and duties and democratic procedures relating to Northern Ireland. That is what I and other persons are worried about when we see this legislation in its present form.

I am disappointed. I have not intervened in this debate at all, although in practically every clause of this Bill there is reference to Northern Ireland. I left aspects which related to Northern Ireland to the good sense and the strength of views put forward by my noble friends on these Benches. But I want to put two questions to the Minister before I sit down. Is it a fact that the only way a negative resolution can be debated, either in this House or the other House, is by a prayer; that is, a Motion to annul? If that is so, it will mean that Northern Ireland matters are to be heard in respect of carbon copy legislation, if that is the way it is being deemed, and Northern Ireland matters will not be considered.

On the other hand, if Northern Ireland matters are included in the Orders in Council for Great Britain, there ought to be a right that Northern Ireland matters should be debated, and there should be provision for them to be debated, and that should be clearly understood. If the Orders in Council are to provide for Northern Ireland matters, there ought to be a provision for those Northern Ireland matters to be debated. I believe that the Bill will lead to considerable confusion. Therefore, rather than say that there is an erosion of constitutional matters in Northern Ireland so far as these amendments are concerned, I allege that there is an erosion so far as the Bill is concerned.

I am afraid I must repeat my reasons, and this is not the way I want to come to this Box to deal with matters concerning Northern Ireland. I must say that since June of last year there has been a growing impression that Northern Ireland affairs are being swept under the carpet so far as Westminster is concerned. I am afraid that this goes much further because it shows Northern Ireland affairs going down the drain. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.18 p.m.

Lord BLEASE moved Amendment No. 78: Page 17, line 7, leave out ("the Northern Ireland Assembly") and insert ("each House of Parliament").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps the Minister will indicate his reply in respect of this amendment about the Assembly and the Negative and Affirmative Resolution procedure. Perhaps he could now indicate the situation as he sees it.


I confirm that negative resolutions can only be prayed against. I quite appreciate that the whole supplementary benefit system and the whole of this Bill is important to Northern Ireland. I can only say that we take all that very much into account. I am afraid I am not any sort of an expert on Northern Ireland and I cannot really explain to the noble Lord the reasons for what I said earlier. However, I am informed that there can be no doubt that a change of the kind suggested by these amendments, however well intentioned, would have far-reaching and most definite political implications well beyond social security considerations. I am not sure that I have satisfied the noble Lord with that answer, but I am afraid that it is the best that I can give him.


I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Social Security Advisory Committee]:

5.22 p.m.

Lord WALLACE of COSLANY moved Amendment No. 79: Page 69, line 17, after ("a") insert ("full-time").

The noble Lord said: I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we were to take Amendments Nos. 79, 80 and 81 together, since they are connected, and the matter in question concerns the chairman, the committee, and the secretary. I believe that it would be advisable and helpful to deal with these three amendments together. Therefore I beg to move Amendment No. 79, and I wish to speak to all three amendments. Amendment No. 79 is quite straightforward and simple. It calls for a full-time chairman of the committee. Anyone who realises the immense amount of work involved, will fully appreciate that a full-time chairman is absolutely essential.

Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 are designed to enable the new Social Security Advisory Committee to function effectively, given the very wide remit that it will have. There is a strong case for giving the committee 12 to 15 members, plus the chairman, rather than eight to 11 members, as proposed in the Bill. The only way in which the committee will conceivably be able to deal with the very wide range of questions referred to it, as well as issues that it may want to take up on its own initiative, will be by setting up subgroups of members specialising in particular aspects of the social security system; but that will be possible only if the committee has a large enough membership.

At present the Supplementary Benefits Commission has a chairman, a deputy chairman, and up to six other members, and the National Insurance Advisory Committee has a chairman, and six to 10 other members, making a combined membership of up to 19, including the chairmen. It should be noted also that of the new committee's maximum of 12 members, including the chairman, one will represent Northern Ireland.

The question of the rank of the secretary of the committee is important, if the committee is to have real influence within the department. The Minister, Mr. Prentice, confirmed in another place, at the 20th Sitting of the Standing Committee, as reported at column 1502 of the Official Report that the secretary was to be a principal. He argued that this was above the grade of the present clerk to the SBC, but the comparison is irrelevant because the SBC clerk's job is purely administrative, though may I say that she does it superbly. He admitted that the SBC has a chief adviser of deputy secretary rank, with other senior people working under him, and that those posts would disappear, but he argued that the new committee would still get advice from officers of that rank. However, those officers will owe allegiance only to the Secretary of State; they will not in any sense be officers of the advisory committee, which, if it does its job properly, they will probably regard as a thorough nuisance.

Therefore, it is essential that the advisory committee should have senior officers on its staff. Given the size of the job, it does not seem excessive to ask for one assistant secretary, as suggested in the amendment. Noble Lords will appreciate that there is a mammoth task facing the new set-up, and I put the amendment to the Government Benches in the hope that at last we shall receive a very pleasant, Yes. I beg to move.


The intention of Amendment No. 79 is to require the Secretary of State to appoint a full-time chairman for the Social Security Advisory Committee. Assurances have already been given in another place that a substantial commitment is envisaged for the chairman, but that this will probably not be a full-time appointment. The amount of time to be demanded from the chairman is a question which will have to be discussed with the individual concerned. It is fair to remind your Lordships, though, that not one of the major bodies presently responsible for advising the Secretary of State has a full-time chairman; and I think that this is a point worth noting. For instance, Professor Donnison's appointment is for four days a week, so as to leave him time to devote to his other interests and activities, over and above, and beyond, the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

We think it is important to retain the freedom that Schedule 3 now gives the Secretary of State to vary the conditions of appointment of the new chairman. As has been made clear in another place, these must depend on three considerations. To begin with, an assessment will have to be made of the amount of time needed for the chairman to help the committee fulfill its statutory duties, including the tasks it sets itself. Next, account must be taken of the availability of the individuals concerned. It would be a great pity to lose a good candidate for the chairmanship because he or she wished to maintain some kind of commitment elsewhere. Lastly, it is fair to acknowledge that different individuals work at different paces; I am sure that this is common ground. One person may achieve as much in one day as another would in three days. Until the chairman-designate has been identified, this kind of consideration remains an unknown factor.

The noble Lord also referred to Amendments Nos. 80 and 81. Amendment No. 81 seeks to make two fundamental changes to staffing arrangements for the Social Security Advisory Committee, as now set out in paragraph 5 of Part I of Schedule 3. The first is to seek to specify that the committee's secretary should be at least of the Civil Service rank of assistant secretary. The second is, in effect, to require the Secretary of State to appoint to the committee whatever staff it wants. I must point out, too, that another effect of the amendment is to remove any reference to payment for the committee's staff; I rather doubt whether they will work for love!

It has been acknowledged in another place that it is proposed to appoint as the first secretary of the new committee a person with the Civil Service rank of principal. This is a rank one down from that of assistant secretary. I am sure that those of your Lordships who are familiar with the higher Civil Service ranks will know that the principal grade is a senior one. A fair indication of this is given by the new salary scale which has just been agreed by the Government. A person at the top of the principal scale is to receive £14,000 per annum.

In putting down this amendment noble Lords opposite may have been inspired by the fear that the secretary will be the most senior official to whom the new committee will have access. Nothing could be further from the truth. The committee will be free to seek and, may on occasions be offered, advice from much more senior officials. There will be no attempt to isolate the committee from the department; indeed, the relationship will be very like that between the Supplementary Benefits Commission, in its advisory capacity, and departmental officials—a relationship which, I am assured, all concerned agree has worked out very well indeed.

So far as numbers of staff for the committee is concerned, I am happy to give an assurance that the committee will have the help it needs to do a thorough and effective job; but we cannot give a blank cheque. Only the Secretary of State is answerable to Parliament for the use of his department's staff. He, not the committee, must have the final say in the allocation of all of them. I hope that following those comments the noble Lord will feel ready to withdraw the amendment.


The noble Lord who has replied has been so kind and charming that I hate having to put these questions to him. Is it really seriously suggested that you should determine by interview whether one person would put more into three days than some people put into five, as was suggested in the brief?

Secondly, why is a four-day week part-time? Is this professor working a seven-day week so he has three days for something else? I find that brief full of very strange and contradictory statements. We all know there are people who put more into one day than some people put into seven, but I would have thought it is extremely difficult to discover. How you determine that until they have actually worked for you, I do not know. Perhaps the noble Lord could at some stage get his department to let us know the answers to some of these mysteries.


I am sure the noble Baroness is quite right. It is extremely difficult, as she will know from her vast experience of interviewing candidates for a number of posts, and this cannot be determined. Nevertheless, I think it is fairly stated by the department as a fact of life that there are those who do work at a faster pace but do not necessarily achieve greater results. I think it was a view which was expressed in general terms which she has fastened on to with great agility.


This is a question of simple arithmetic. Two into one will not go, but it is a question of two going into one so far as the two bodies are concerned, the Supplementary Benefits Commission and the National Advisory Committee, both of whom have part-time chairmen. Amalgamate it into one body, give it greater responsibilities and worries with plenty of regulations, two part-time chairmen added together equals one part-time chairman. That is the position. I think the Government will be forced in the end to do something, because I cannot see anybody taking up a job of such immense magnitude part-time unless—and here is the danger—the whole outfit will be ruled by paid senior officials carrying out rules and regulations to the letter. That is not what we want in social security.

With reference to the other comment made by the noble Lord about Amendment No. 18, no reference was made to payment of staff but could they work for love? I do not think they would do that. When I spoke on the amendment, I referred to questions of senior grade and so on and that people who work for love are not given gradings; they just accept it joyfully in any voluntary organisation. But this is not a voluntary organisation. I would say that that remark is really beside the point; it does not follow at all.

I am not inclined to press this at the moment, but I have a point of substance; there is no argument about that. If a logical person looks at the two set-ups as they are at the moment, and then thinks of the new one, it is obvious that there must be a full-time chairman and a high standard of staff. Therefore, I will withdraw the amendment. In doing so, I give a clear indication that this matter must be referred to again at Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 not moved.]

5.33 p.m.

Lord WALLACE of COSLANY moved Amendment No. 82: Page 71, line 34, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

The noble Lord said: This would delete from the list of regulations that need not be submitted to the advisory committee those dealing with the adjustments of national insurance benefits following an increase in child benefit. Regulations adjusting. national insurance benefits following an increase in child benefit would be referred to an advisory committee. Part II of Schedule 3, pages 70 to 72 of the Bill, are a category of regulations which will not be submitted to the advisory committee. The list was greatly shortened when the Government accepted a number of Opposition amendments during the Committee stage in another place, but one amendment they refused to accept was to delete paragraph 14(2). The grounds for this refusal were that the adjustments would be part of the up-rating and up-rating orders would not be referred to the SSAC—Official Report of Commons Committee, columns 1507–08.

Since then, however, the post-Budget up-rating announcement has made it clear that the Government are adjusting national insurance benefits in relation to this year's child benefit up-rating in a way which can only be described as a blatant swindle—I am sorry to use that phrase, but that is the point—and there will be a note on this, I understand, in a magazine; but, as far as I am concerned, I have no more detail on this. This is a very complicated matter on which it would have been helpful for Parliament to have a report from an expert body like the SSAC. I hope, therefore, that we can get some reasonable reply from the noble Lord, because this is quite an important matter. I beg to move.


The intention of this amendment is to require the Government to refer regulations which specify the rates of child benefit to the Social Security Advisory Committee. Child benefit would then become the only benefit to be subject to this type of scrutiny by the committee. It would not be appropriate to seek the new committee's advice on benefit rates. It would certainly be wrong to single out child benefit for this treatment. Benefit rates must remain the clear and final responsibility of Parliament acting on the decisions of the Government of the day. There is no case or need for an intermediary in this matter. Full scrutiny of up-rating regulations by Parliament is already assured because they are all subject to Affirmative Resolution; so I trust that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.


I am not prepared to get into detailed discussion at this stage. I will withdraw the amendment, subject to further discussion at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord WALLACE of COSLANY moved Amendment No. 83: Page 72, line 19, leave out paragraph 17.

The noble Lord said: This amendment deletes from the list of exclusions regulations made within six months of the Royal Assent. This is an important issue. The Government are virtually introducing a new supplementary benefit scheme by regulation. The regulations will cover not only matters that are at present decided by the Supplementary Benefit Commission under its discretionary powers but also matters that are now in the Supplementary Benefits Act; for example, the method of calculating rent additions, the treatment of earnings, savings and other resources and the penalties for voluntary unemployment. It will be impossible for Parliament to scrutinise these regulations adequately, though the Government might give us an opportunity; we do not know. The advisory committee could do so even if it cannot get down to the job until the regulations are already in force.

Its report would be laid before Parliament which could be of great value.

Regulations made within six months of Royal Assent should be referred to the SSAC. These are excluded from a referral by paragraph 17 of Schedule 3. Since they will include the main body of supplementary benefit regulations, it is essential that they should be properly scrutinised. Attempts during the Committee stage in another place to find a way of ensuring this, by getting them referred to the Social Services Select Committee, failed.

The objection to referring them to the SSAC is that the SSAC will not be set up for some time and will be overloaded by having to report on this mass of regulations; but they could take several months over it and their report would form the basis of amending regulation which are bound to be needed when the new scheme has been in operation for a time. An amendment was put down at Report stage in another place and I understand that Mrs. Chalker, the Minister responsible, undertook to reconsider the problem. I refer to Hansard, 19th March, column 555. If she has reconsidered the problem, perhaps the noble Lord will now be able to tell us the favourable result of her considerations. I beg to move.


The intention of Amendments Nos. 83 and 84, of course, is to delete paragraph 17 from Part II of Schedule 3, and the result of that would be that in the six months following Royal Assent the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Department would be required to refer proposals for supplementary benefit, child benefit and family income supplement regulations to the new Social Security Advisory Committee. The committee will take over from the three bodies it replaces in November. In practice, therefore, paragraph 17 can be effective for only a relatively short time; that is, for the "fag end" of the six months after Royal Assent. But that will be the very time at which the committee will be (if I might put it in this way) entering the water. It would he folly to drown it straight away with a great wave of urgent regulations.

It has been a long-standing practice to exclude regulations made within six months of the passing of a social security Bill. This is simply on the grounds of urgency. Taking supplementary benefit as an example, it is the intention that the revised scheme should come into operation at the same time as the up-rating in November. This would have very important effects. It would mean that there will be some 3 million weekly benefit payments which will need to be recalculated to give effect to the detailed changes, most of which will be prescribed in regulations. It is therefore essential that the main regulations be made as soon as possible after Royal Assent. These will be subject to Affirmative Resolution, and therefore debated in both Houses. Other regulations will follow as soon as possible thereafter.

So your Lordships will appreciate that it is necessary that these regulations are made quickly because of the need to print the necessary leaflets and to train and equip local officers to operate the new rules. All of this must be completed in time for the revised scheme to become fully operational from November. There will clearly be no time for consultations with the new committee. These considerations are so important so far as the timetable is concerned, and the administrative arrangements, that I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw this amendment.


The noble Lord referred to the committee entering the water, and said he did not want them to be sunk at an early stage.


Not the guillotine. I said "the committee", not "the guillotine".


The noble Lord referred to the committee entering the water, and said he hoped they would not be sunk in the early days. The trouble is that the committee will not be sunk: it is the poor people who are claiming benefit who will get sunk—and taken for a ride at the same time. The other interesting point is that when you consider some of these replies from the Government they get you worried, because the noble Lord referred to all sorts of documents being prepared—leaflets and so on. I can see a mass of paper being turned out, flooding the country with all sorts of complex regulations which nobody will understand. We are getting into an even greater muddle of bureaucracy than the present system. However, in response to the noble Lord's pleading, I will at this stage withdraw, with due warning that we may come back.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 84 not moved].

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 11 and 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Tenure of office of Commissioner]:

5.45 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 85: Page 19, line 7, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 85, which I move, deals with the appointment of deputy social security commissioners where it is necessary in order to clear a backlog of appeals. At the Committee stage in another place a new clause was moved which would have required the commissioners to dispose of appeals within six months of the date of an appeal being lodged. When the Secretary of State rejected that proposal he said that at present it is taking 16 months to decide an appeal to the commissioners. He indicated that, naturally, this procedure had to be speeded up, but he thought the way to secure that improvement was by the practical steps of appointing sufficient commissioners, rather than writing into the statute the wording which had been suggested. Accordingly, at the Report stage a different amendment was proposed, which is identical to Amendment No. 85 which is before your Lordships today.

On that occasion the Secretary of State argued it would be meaningless to add the word "shall" to Clause 13, subsection (5), because he said the Lord Chancellor will make the appointment if he thinks it necessary, subject to the availability of suitable appointees. As it stands, this subsection of Clause 13 makes the appointment of deputy commissioners entirely discretionary, and the effect of the amendment will be that, while it would still be for the Lord Chancellor to decide whether there was a need to appoint deputy commissioners, having decided there was a need he would be obliged to make the appointments. It should be mentioned that when the amendment was withdrawn in the other place the comment was made that "in another place" (referring to your Lordships' House) concern would be shown for appeals to be heard quickly, and that is the primary reason for this amendment coming before your Lordships today.

It has to be kept in mind that from this November, for the first time, supplementary benefit cases will be appealable to the commissioners. Therefore, the backlog of appeals is likely to get worse unless emergency measures are taken to speed up the hearings. Appointing deputy commissioners for a minimum period is a way in which this could be done, and we should like this to be mandatory rather than just discretionary. I beg to move.


I would ask noble Lords to reject this amendment for two reasons. First, it is misconceived in that this subsection applies only when my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor considers that, in order to help the disposal of the business of the commissioners, he should appoint a deputy commissioner for such period or on such occasions as he thinks fit. It would therefore be meaningless to introduce a requirement to appoint a deputy by substituting the word "shall" for the more general power of "may". Subject to the availability of suitable appointees, my noble and learned friend will naturally make appointments if he considers them necessary—and here I know I am echoing what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place. Secondly, the subsection follows in its wording that of the Courts Act 1971. This provides that the Lord Chancellor may appoint deputy circuit judges. Since the deputy commissioner would be appointed on the same basis as these deputy judges, it is eminently suitable that the same language should be used.

The commissioners are the third tier in the social security adjudication system, which consists of insurance officers, national insurance local tribunals and commissioners. There is also a right of appeal to the commissioner on points of law from decisions of medical appeal tribunals. Currently they are the final authority under social security law, but Clause 14 of the Bill introduces a further right of appeal on points of law to the Court of Appeal. They are of equal status to High Court judges. I trust that, in view of what I have said, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.


The noble Lord says that this amendment is misconceived and endeavoured to argue a logical case. I may be an ignorant man, but I could not follow the logic. It seemed to be that merely because something is done somewhere else, we must do it in this case. In view of the facts of the delay and the backlog of appeals that I outlined, I hope that this matter will be given consideration. I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will act as he thinks fit and in the best interests, but equally, this Committee has a right to decide what it will do. Nevertheless, we will give the matter further consideration and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clauses 14 to 18 agreed to.

5.51 p.m.

Lord BANKS moved Amendment No. 85A: After Clause 18, insert the following new clause: ("Costs due to sickness .—(1) For the purposes of paragraph 2 (1) of Schedule 1 to the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 as amended by this Act, the Secretary of State shall investigate the extent to which households are necessarily subjected to extra costs of daily living by reason of the chronic sickness or disability of a member of the household, having due regard to the position of that member in the household and the nature of his impairment. (2) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament not later than 1st May 1981 a report setting out the results of his investigation and making appropriate recommendations for determining the requirements of such households.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, and myself. The Committee will be aware that for some considerable time the Disablement Income Group and others interested in the disabled have argued that provision for the disabled should be in two parts: first, an income maintenance part, subject to tax and designed to compensate for inability to earn or impaired ability to earn; and, secondly, an expenses allowance, not taxable, as a contribution towards the special extra costs which disablement imposes. This amendment is concerned with the second of these benefits, the expenses allowance. I understand that under the last Government plans were afoot for a Green Paper on the subject of a disablement costs allowances. I should like to ask the Government whether they have plans for proceeding with this.

The Conservative Party manifesto referred to: a coherent system of cash benefits to meet the costs of disability so that more disabled people can support themselves and live normal lives".

The manifesto went on: We shall work towards this as swiftly as the strength of the economy allows".

This Bill seeks to simplify the supplementary benefit system on a new cost basis, and the danger is that some disabled people will be simplified out of the system. This makes discussion of what financial provisions will take the place of supplementary benefit for these severely disabled people all the more urgent.

I am aware that the phrase "as the strength of the economy allows" may be used by the Government as an argument for delay. But this amendment is very modest, it does not call for a Green Paper or for any commitment at this stage on a disablement allowance; it calls for an investigation into the facts in order to get a clear picture of the extent to which households are subjected to extra costs of daily living by reason of the chronic sickness or disability of a member of the household. It is important that we should have these facts and since the Government are committed eventually to a coherent system of cash benefits to meet the costs of disability".

I hope that they will accept this amendment as a first and necessary step. I beg to move.


I should like to say a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, because for the people that this amendment concerns, living costs do rise and earning capacity decreases. You do not have to be a senior wrangler to work out that a real problem exists. I think that Hitler had rather a drastic solution to some of these difficulties and recently the Russians refused to have the Disabled Olympic Games in Moscow because they maintain that they do not have disabled people. I do not know what they have done with them, but, apparently, they do not exist; so that I do not see much hope in a communist or Left-Wing solution to this problem. I would say straight away that I am sure that for most disabled people this country is much the best place to live in.

I am aware of the Government's intentions and hopes to beat the present inflation, and also that inflation is the worst enemy of all pensions and other help that can be given. As a taxpayer, I do not want to see the people of this country over-taxed or to drive out the wealth creators of the community, but, as Lord Banks has said, this new clause is not asking for an increase in benefit at the moment. It is simply attempting to identify and analyse the problem so that when the economy improves (as we hope it may) something can be done speedily. This may be done partly by the Government and partly by the voluntary sector. You cannot really put a price in cash terms on an Englishman's freedom, and there is no doubt that part of that is sacrificed through disablement. But you can help to ensure that people can live in dignity and free from distress. Let us this evening just show some concern for the problem. That is all that the amendment amounts to. I hope, in supporting it, that we shall have a constructive debate.


From these Benches, I should like strongly to support this amendment which does not call for any expenditure but for an investigation into a subject which is something that quite a number of Members here know plenty about. The noble Lord who has just spoken has practical experience to the greatest extent. Others have experience also, not only of severe disablement but of partial disablement even for periods of perhaps two or three years. I strongly press the Government to accept this amendment, which is well intentioned, and, I am sure, supported on every side of the Committee.


As vice-president of the Disabled Drivers' Associa- tion, I am happy to support this new clause.


I rise to reply to this amendment, first of all in the knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has asked a particular question in regard to the plans which he said were afoot for a disablement cost allowance. I think that this subject was very fully dealt with by my right honourable friend the Minister for Social Security, Mr. Prentice at the Report stage in the House of Commons. I can do no better than to quote what my right honourable friend, in his traditional robust style, said, as reported in col. 504 of the Commons Official Report of 19th March: If I am asked whether I am in favour of a general disability income, I give the emphatic answer "Yes", for the reasons given by many hon. Members. That objective was stated in the Conservative Party's manifesto and it remains the objective. The question is: how and when? My right honourable friend went on to say: The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) accused the Government of stopping work which he said was going on in this area, as though in some way or another the change of Government had made a difference. I should explain here the situation over Green Papers because I think it would assist the Committee. There is a longstanding convention that Ministers cannot be told of discussions between previous Ministers and their officials and that they must be guided solely by public statements on the matter. If we altered this, it would be varying a long-held convention. I think further that I ought to quote my right honourable friend from a little further on in that debate because it is something which affects a large number of people—and the Government have great sympathy with this group. When my right honourable friend was asked whether work had stopped on the Green Paper, he said, at column 505: With respect, it was not a setback for the disabled. Green Papers butter no parsnips. There was and would have been no disability income at this stage, nor for some years to come.". Study which may or may not have been in hand—and we do not know the full details of what took place—is something of a matter of conjecture.

I will now turn to the substance of the amendment. The effect of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State to investigate the extra costs of daily living imposed upon households with a chronically sick or disabled member and to lay a report before Parliament not later than 1st May 1981. The department have already sponsored research by the Social Policy Research Unit at York University into the income and expenditure of families with handicapped children. That study began in 1977 and is due to be completed late this year. The work carried out so far has already indicated one or two specific areas where further investigation appears desirable, and it is hoped that further research on these aspects will be carried out during 1981.

Although predominantly concerned with families of handicapped children, this is a major study which will take over three years to complete and it would be premature to sponsor further research or to take further action in the same field until the findings of this work have been assimilated. I believe that we are concerning ourselves with that matter and that is the principal matter referred to in the amendment. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, whether at this stage they will be willing to withdraw the amendment and await the result of this Social Policy Research Unit study at York University.

Ampthill, L. Glenamara, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Banks, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Rochester, L.
Barrington, V. Gregson, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Bernstein, L. Hale, L. Seear, B.
Beswick, L. Hampton, L. [Teller.] Segal, L.
Birk, B. Jacques, L. Shinwell, L.
Blease, L. Jeger, B. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Blyton, L. Kaldor, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Brockway, L. Kilmarnock, L. Strabolgi, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Chitnis, L. London, Bp. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Underhill, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Maybray-King, L. Wade, L.
Crawshaw, L. Monson, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Cudlipp, L. Northfield, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
David, B. O'Brien of Lothbury, L. Wigoder, L. [Teller.]
Davies of Leek, L. Oram, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Peart, L. Winterbottom, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Phillips, B.
Ailsa, M. Avon, E. Boyd of Merton, V.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Baker, L. Bradford, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Balerno, L. Bridgeman, V.
Allerton, L. Bellwin, L. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Alport, L. Belstead, L. Camoys, L.
Amory, V. Blake, L Campbell of Croy, L

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. I did not find it in some of its aspects very illuminating. I am not clear yet whether or not there is a Green Paper likely to be produced on this subject, which was the question that I asked. As I made clear, and as the noble Lord made clear, this particular amendment does not call for a Green Paper, though I want the information to be available. The noble Lord has told us that some research is going on in this field; but it only relates to part of the area covered by this amendment. It relates to families of handicapped children. We are concerned with the additional expenses which disabled people generally are forced to face up to in the course of their daily living. We are asking that there should be some investigation into that and a report—it need only be an interim one—presented in a year's time. I do not see why that should not be done and why that should not be included in the Bill. Because of that, I feel obliged to test the opinion of the Committee on the matter.

6.4 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 85A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 56; Non-Contents, 104.

Cathcart, E. Glenarthur, L. Northchurch, B.
Chelwood, L. Godber of Willington, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Chesham, L. Greenway, L. Onslow, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Gridley, L. Orkney, E.
Cockfield, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Colwyn, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. [Lord Chancellor.] Penrhyn, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Crathorne, L. Halsbury, E. Redmayne, L.
Croft, L. Hampden, V. Renton, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Rochdale, V.
Daventry, V. Holderness, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
de Clifford, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. St. Davids, V.
De Freyne, L. Hylton-Foster, B. St. Germans, E.
De La Warr, E. Inglewood, L. St. Just, L.
Denham, L. Kimberley, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Drumalbyn, L. Kinnoull, E. Seebohm, L.
Ebbisham, L. Lauderdale, E. Spens, L.
Eccles, V. Long, V. Strathclyde, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Swansea, L.
Elton, L. Lyell, L. [Teller.] Swinton, E.
Falmouth, V. Margadale, L. Teviot, L.
Ferrers, E. Merrivale, L. Teynham, L.
Ferrier, L. Milverton, L. Tranmire, L.
Forester, L. Morris, L. Trefgarne, L.
Fortescue, E. Mottistone, L. Trumpington, B.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Gainford, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Vickers, B.
Galloway, E. Newall, L. Vivian, L.
Garner, L. Norfolk, D. Westbury, L

Clauses 19 and 20 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Consequential and minor amendments of enactments]:

6.13 p.m.

Lord BANKS moved Amendment No. 86:

Page 76, line 34, at end insert:

("The Housing Subsidies Act 1967

15.—(1) The provisions of section 24(1)(B) of the Housing Subsidies Act 1967 shall have effect where a person borrows, or two or more persons borrow jointly, from a qualifying lender on the security of a freehold or leasehold estate of the borrower, or of one or more of the borrowers (including an estate held jointly or in common by the borrower, or one or more of the borrowers and one or more other persons) in land in Great Britain, and the following conditions are satisfied:—

  1. (a) that the loan is or was made as part of a scheme under which not less than nine tenths of the proceeds of the loan are or were applied to the purchase by the person or persons to whom it was made of an Annuity ending with his life or with the life of the survivor of two or more persons (in this section referred to as "the Annuitants") who include the person or persons to whom the loan is made;
  2. (b) that at the time the loan is made the person to whom it is made or each of the Annuitants had attained the age of 65 years; and
  3. 712
  4. (c) that the person or persons to whom the loan is made or each of the Annuitants uses the land on which it is secured as his only or main residence.
(2) The borrower or borrowers may by notice in writing to the lender in such form as the Ministry may direct (in this section referred to as an Option Mortgage") elect that the loan shall be subsidised in accordance with the provisions of Part It of the Housing Subsidies Act 1967 and the Option Notice shall be treated for all purposes as if it were an Option Notice made under the provisions of section 24 of the said Act.")

The noble Lord said: I move the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and myself. This amendment deals with what is sometimes called, "the home income plan". That is a plan designed to help certain elderly people to increase their income. It aims to help elderly people with a limited income who find themselves living in a house which they own and which has an appreciable market value. Their income is small; the house is their capital asset but not of much use in helping to pay the bills. Under the home income plan they raise a mortgage on the house and use the mortgage proceeds to purchase an annuity—an income for life. Out of that income for life they pay the interest on the mortgage. The balance of the income for life provides them with a useful addition to their income.

One feature of this plan is that tax relief is allowed on the mortgage interest.

It was a specific decision of the Government to include interest on mortgages raised for this purpose for tax relief. Tax relief is not allowed on all mortgage interest, but this is one of the purposes for which it is approved. However, those who need the scheme most—those with the smallest incomes—do not pay tax and therefore receive no benefit from the tax relief. In these circumstances, the scheme is often of no help to these elderly people who are non-taxpayers.

When buying one's own house, similar tax relief on the mortgage interest is allowed—that is another approved purpose—but in this case those who do not pay tax may opt for the option mortgage scheme under which the interest is reduced by means of a Government subsidy. This option, available to those buying their houses, is not available to those raising a mortgage on their house to purchase an annuity. This amendment would extend the option mortgage scheme to elderly people raising a mortgage to purchase an annuity.

It might be argued, though I certainly would not argue it, that tax relief should not be extended to elderly people raising a mortgage to buy an annuity; but it was with all-party agreement that this was included in the Finance Act 1974 and it is quite illogical to extend tax relief, thus helping the taxpayers, but not to extend the option mortgage scheme to help the non-taxpayers. The Government are already helping elderly taxpayers in this situation, just as they help young taxpayers to buy their houses. Let them now help elderly non-taxpayers in this position, in the same way as they help young non-taxpayers who are buying their homes. This amendment is supported by a wide range of organisations such as the Life Offices Association, Help the Aged and Age Concern; and I hope it will commend itself to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Baroness VICKERS

I beg to support this amendment, which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. In the Second Reading debate the noble Lord the Minister said on 1st April, col. 1304: I could not really give an idea of quite how much that would be"— that is, needed on Government subsidy— as it is difficult to know how many people would, in fact, go in for this option mortgage scheme". He went on to add: But, in the present circumstances, I doubt whether money would be made available". He also said something with which I particularly disagreed; namely, that it would not be fair to people who pay rent. But surely people can get rent and rate rebates, which the people who are the subject of this amendment cannot.

I hope that he will not mind my reminding him again that on 9th February 1978 at col. 1230 he said: … the Conservative Party has a solution to this problem, but until such time as we can put it into operation it is for the Government to deal with the matter". Now that the noble Lord is representing the Government very well, I should like to ask whether he has refreshed his mind about this statement and whether he will therefore be able to give me an adequate answer.

As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said, the insurance companies provide the loan and that is repayable on death, with no capital repayments during life. I think we can agree that the heirs are protected because if the occupant should die early—say, after one year—only 25 per cent. of the loan is repayable; and if death occurs later, for example in the third year, 73 per cent. is repayable. After that, it has to be fully repaid.

The suggestion in this amendment deals with freehold and leasehold houses, though the length of the lease must be 65 years and the occupant must be a minimum age of 70. In the Standing Committee in June 1974 in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Carr (then Robert Carr), also supported this idea. He said: … at present pensioners have only three elements in their income. I will give an example: a widow aged 82 years and with a house worth £20,000 received a loan of £16,000 under the scheme with which this amendment is concerned today. The woman, who was an old age pensioner, had an income of £1,545, including her pension. She also received £750, with interest relief of £349, leaving her with £2,644. Another widow with a less valuable house had an income of £1,974. If this amendment is not passed, her income will drop to £1,780, but if it is passed it will rise to £2,058.

In the other place, this amendment was supported by Liberals and Conservatives. I think we are right in saying that it will not help everybody, but it might help about 1 million, so for that reason it is worth while. The Prime Minister, with whom I agree entirely, considers that people should strive to be independent and this is exactly what these home owners are struggling to do. They have lived through two world wars and increasing inflation, which is making life very difficult for them. But they are the very people who have striven to keep their independence, who are proud and who, through no fault of their own, are suffering They have no wish to be a burden on the State.

I should like to give an example of one man, a Mr. D, and to explain how the amendment would help him. He is aged 80 years and has a State pension of £13.30 a week, which is his only income. He owned his house in Surrey, which in 1974 was worth £15,000. He got a loan of £12,000 and had to pay interest at 9 per cent. He received £992, with which he bought an annuity of £147.10 a month, after deduction of the interest of £54.10 a week. Non-taxpayers cannot claim tax relief. He has no relations living in England—they are in Canada—and if the Government accept this Amendment he will be £30.49 better off each week. There was a great struggle to get a pension for the over-80s and it took Airey Neave, who led the campaign, several years to get it. It is essential to get this agreed, because there are not a great number of people involved and they really need some Government consideration.

Clause 21(5) on page 25 states that these provisions shall come into force, on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order made by statutory instrument, and different days may be appointed in pursuance of this subsection for different provisions of this Act". I should like to suggest to the noble Lord who is to reply that he puts this into the Bill now, and then, when there is a more satisfactory financial position, he can bring in a statutory instrument to implement it.


I have been asked by Help the Aged, a voluntary organisation with which I am, like many of your Lordships connected, to support this amendment which has been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. I am especially happy to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers. For years and years in the other place, we fought together for humanitarian causes, although we were on different sides of the House of Commons. This is just such a humanitarian cause, and one of no party significance whatever. It is like Help the Aged—a non-party body, interested in the wellbeing of old people.

In an excellent article in last Sunday's Observer, which I am sure many of your Lordships have read, Miss Joanna Slaughter showed how this amendment could benefit poorer old folk, perhaps some thousands of them—I do not think the number involved is such a great one as people may fear—who have a house, who want to live in it till they die, and who have nobody to whom to leave the house, but who cannot benefit from income tax relief, if they take out a mortgage and use the money from the mortgage to buy an annuity, because they do not pay income tax. Their income is so low that they do not pay income tax, so they cannot get the benefit which better-off old people can get. Better-off old people who do pay income tax, and who, similarly, take out a mortgage to buy an annuity, can claim tax relief on the mortgage interest and so have a larger income than the poorer old people.

I do not believe that the cost of this amendment can be a great deal—perhaps £2 million or £3 million, not much more. In the words of the writer in the Observer, This seems a small price to pay to provide assistance to a very hard-pressed sector of our community—assistance, moreover, which could also have the … effect of enabling more old people to continue to live in their own homes. The Help the Aged organisation says: Something like the option mortgage scheme should be extended so that the elderly can take out low interest mortgages for purposes like annuities. This could enable retired people to stay in their homes as part of the community. The scheme proposed in the amendment has recently been widely supported by writers in The Times, the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Express, the Daily Mirror, the Financial Times, the Birmingham Post and, of course, by that voluntary organisation which is kindred to the one in which I am interested Age Concern.

Age Concern says: … We are very concerned about the financial difficulties of elderly owner occupiers whose sole asset is their home. In the Birmingham Post in October last year, an article by Patrick Weever said: All I am asking you to do is to put these poorer folk on level pegging with their rich neighbours by granting them an Option Mortgage scheme. After all, you already do this for thousands of home buyers who do not pay much income tax. Why not do the same for old folk desperately needing to turn their one major asset into a pension. Many old people in Britain will die rich but are forced to live in poverty. That is the paradox. Joe Irving, writing in the Sunday Times in December last, said: But there are some areas where a little extra spending is justifiable even in times like these. This is one of them. I hope the Minister will note that this amendment has been spoken to from all quarters of this House, from all parties and from no parties, and I trust that he will be able to accept this modest but very valuable amendment.


As has already been said, this amendment has been moved for humanitarian reasons, with which I agree. I would, however, ask the noble Lord who moved this amendment whether he would consider removing the words "or main" from paragraph (c) of subsection (1), so that the paragraph reads: that the person or persons to whom the loan is made or each of the Annuitants uses the land on which it is secured as his only residence. By omitting those words, I believe that the amendment is strengthened and I hope that the Government will agree to look into this matter.


May I, very briefly, support this amendment? It has been so well moved and explained that shall not take up the time of the Committee by doing so again. It raises in particular the issue that benefits are available if these old people up sticks "and move into a new house, and it must be an anomaly that they cannot gain the advantages by staying in situ in their own community.


We have had eloquent speeches from many corners of this House. I rise not to make a further long speech but to point out to the Government that the Committee stage of this Bill is slowly petering out and that this is the Government's chance to redeem themselves from their "back to the wall" approach to every conceivable amendment which has come before them. If there is any amendment which needs support, and which should receive support from the Government, it is this. I hope that rising to express support from these Benches will not result in what has been my experience so far in rising to support other people's amendments—that is, the kiss of death.


I should like to support this amendment, involving my noble friend and my work with Help the Aged. I hope that the Government are not going to tell us that this amendment would cost a lot of money. For one thing, they cannot possibly estimate what it will cost; nor can they have any idea how many people will take it up. But we do know that it cannot be a large number. This is a group in the community to whom we pay tribute. They have taken the trouble to try to maintain themselves in their old age. If these elderly people are transplanted into old people's homes or special flats, they will cost the taxpaper a great deal of money. This must be not only the best way of allowing them to remain for the rest of their lives in dignity; in the end, it must also be the cheapest. I was very taken with the expression used by my noble friend: that some people die rich but live poor. It is often said, I believe, that some people are the richest men in the churchyard. Let us make it possible for them to enjoy life in their own homes. This is a group in the community which cannot, of necessity, be very large in number.


May I add just one word of support? This is an extremely valuable and very important amendment, and I agree with every word of my noble friend. I am the vice-president of one of his organisations. The real point about this is that it is much the cheapest way of helping these people. If, as the noble Baroness said, you put them into old people's homes or into special old people's flats, it is very costly. I have come across this many times in my experience of social work in local government. It is a splendid thing to do, but, as I say, it is extremely costly. First, you have to build all the sheltered homes, and very often you have to build the old people's homes.

This is a marvellous way of doing something which is entirely humanitarian. It is a good investment from the Government's point of view. It would cost them far less than anything else. I hope very much that at the end of the Committee stage of this Bill the Government will be able to accept this amendment. I am quite sure that it would be of enormous value to everybody, including the Government, who want to save money. And goodness knows! we all want to save money. This is one of the ways in which we can do it, and I trust that the Government will accept the amendment.

6.34 p.m.


One certainly can get caught out in this business! It was not so very long ago that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, raised this subject and I came in with him, fully in support. Now I find myself having to speak from this Dispatch Box, and I cannot speak quite so naturally as I did then. May I say that personally I still retain sympathy for the intention of this amendment, but I should like to make one point which has not, I think, been made by any speaker. From what all noble Lords have said, it appears that this is a tremendously humanitarian thing—terribly helpful to everybody—but I would point out that there are professional people who are anxious to go into this business and who are not doing it for love. I make this point because it is quite important that we should keep it in mind.

There is some merit in the scheme to enable elderly people to make use of the capital value of their house, but what is happening in this case is that there is no indexation. The value of the house will, in point of fact, be rising; but the house will of course have gone to the person arranging the mortgage, and the value of the annuity received by the annuitant will, as a result of inflation, be falling.

So it is not necessarily, on all grounds, tremendously helpful to that person. It may be helpful in some ways but not in all. There has been so much support, though, for this amendment in the Committee that, although I am in no position to accept it, I will take it back, and perhaps it can be raised at the next stage.


I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the very interesting and encouraging discussion which we have just had on this important proposition. Perhaps I could begin by referring to the point that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpineon, who wanted words to be altered in subsection (1)(c). The words which are used there are the same as the words which are used in connection with mortgages for house purchase where the mortgage option also operates. I should certainly be happy, in the time between now and the next stage of the Bill, to discuss this point further with her to see whether it might be appropriate to propose any alteration in the words as we now have them.

I should like to take up two points which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne. He spoke about professional people being interested in this scheme. There is no secret about the fact that reputable insurance companies make this plan available; of course they do. They make it available to both taxpayers and non-taxpayers, and there are plenty of taxpayers to take it up. But they cannot very often make it available to non-taxpayers in terms which would help those non-taxpayers. It seems reasonable and equitable to put that position right. It might indeed result in extra increased business under this head for those people who provide this particular facility, just as the option mortgage itself for house purchase no doubt helps to provide additional business. However, so long as the business is perfectly legitimate and so long as the people concerned are getting advantage out of it, I cannot see any objection to it.

The second point which the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, raised, had to do with falling values. I did not follow him very clearly, but if the house increases in value then that increase in value will accrue to the owner of the house. The mortgage does not increase; the mortgage stays at the level it was when it was first arranged. So any increase in value will accrue eventually to the person who sells it—that is, to the owner who has raised this mortgage. Therefore I cannot see that the owner loses in any way as a result of this. On the contrary; the owner stands to gain from capital appreciation, just as the owner would if this mortgage had never been entered into.

I should like to conclude by thanking the noble Lord, first for making it clear that he personally still has an interest in this particular proposition and secondly for saying that he is prepared to look at it again before the next stage, when those of us who have brought forward the proposition tonight will certainly be prepared to bring it forward again. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Supplemental]:

6.40 p.m.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 86A: Page 25, line 33, leave out ("section 6") and insert ("section 6 (except subsection (4)) and sections 7").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential upon Government Amendment No. 22A which your Lordships considered and accepted during our first Committee sitting on 15th April. As I explained then, the Government are convinced that the family should be treated as a single unit for the purposes of supplementary benefit and, in particular, that maintenance payments to, or for, a child should be taken fully into account when assessing that family's entitlement to supplementary benefits. Amendment 22A inserted a new subsection, subsection (4), into Clause 6 of the Bill to clarify beyond doubt, in the period leading up to November this year, that this is the effect of the present law.

This amendment, No. 86A, makes corresponding changes to Clause 21 of the Bill to secure that the new subsection to Clause 6 comes into operation immediately on Royal Assent to the Bill, rather than from an appointed day, as is the case with the rest of Clause 6. I ask your Lordships to accept it. I beg to move.

6.42 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 87: Page 25, line 37, after ("instrument") insert ("but in the case of sections 9 and 10, not later than 28 days after the passing of this Act").

The noble Lord said: This amendment would require the Secretary of State to have the new advisory committee in operation within 28 days of the Royal Assent rather than waiting until November, when the present Benefits Commission is to be abolished. In our view there is no reason why the two bodies should not co-exist for a short time since their functions are essentially different. The new committee will have a vast amount of work to do in its early months, getting to grips with the complexities of the whole social security system and familiarising itself with the administrative machinery, both central and local.

It will also have a great number of regulations to advise on arising from the drastic effect which the Government's proposals will have on the whole social security system. For these and other reasons we believe that the sooner the committee can start work the better. It may be thought that 28 days after the Royal Assent is too short, but I am certain that the Government will be making provisional plans for the new body. I beg to move.


Would the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, not agree that the most important thing is to have the right people and that to get the right people may take some time? A panel of people may he drawn up but some of them may not be able to accept and if we were to rush this we might not get the best people.


I completely agree with the noble Baroness, but I should be very surprised if the Government could not say that they have certain things in mind now. From my knowledge of how Government departments work there is a panel of persons already under consideration.


The effect of Amendment No. 87 would be to require the setting up of the Social Security Advisory Committee, and duties associated with the committee, within 28 days. The new committee is an integral and major part of the revised structure of social security which this Bill is intended to create. In particular, the new committee's functions in relation to the supplementary benefit and family income supplement schemes make sense only when this new structure of the schemes is in being. It would be premature to establish the new committee before the demise of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. But the commission must continue to function while we still have the existing schemes. It would be quite wrong to seek to deprive the commission of its advisory voice in its last days, yet it would be absurd to have both the commission and the new committee offering advice to the Government and Parliament on the same issues.

It is reassuring to see that noble Lords opposite are, after all, sufficiently enthusiastic about the new committee to want to see it working as soon as possible. We too are enthusiastic about the potential of the new committee but would not be happy to give it the premature birth which this amendment would achieve. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw the amendment.


I really must come in to say that when the noble Lord refers to enthusiasm on this side of the Committee he is very much misunderstanding the situation. We do not like it.


In the light of the noble Lord's reply, I will withdraw, but it is our purpose to make the very best of a bad job which this Bill is making. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Enactments and instruments repealed]:

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 88: Page 80, line 51, at end insert:

("1980 c. 9. The Reserve Forces Act 1980. In Schedule 9, paragraph 16.")

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment. The Reserve Forces Act is a consolidating measure. Paragraph 16 of Schedule 9 to that Act amended Schedule 1 to the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 as it stands today. The Bill now before the Committee of course substitutes a new Schedule 1 for the existing Schedule 1 to the 1976 Act and, with effect from the date on which the new Schedule 1 comes into operation, the amendment made by the Reserve Forces Act to the existing Schedule 1 will become otiose. I therefore ask the Committee to accept this amendment, which will secure the necessary repeal. I beg to move.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.