§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ Moved, that the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Trumpington.)
§ Baroness Jeger
My Lords, I know that the concentration of most noble Lords is on some other subject today. I am referring not to the mercenary affairs going on in another place but to the important Scottish rating Bill which we have to discuss. I shall 1318 make only one or two very brief points which are in the form of questions that we need to have answered.
First, there is some lack of clarity about the question of appeals. In another place, at col. 103 of Hansardfor 9th February, it was stated by the Minister that maternity and funeral payments, unlike other social fund payments, will be based on regulations decided by adjudication officers and subject to the normal appeals procedure. But at the same time we had a set of regulations which I understand were declared ultra viresby the Statutory Instruments Committee, and so most of us are unaware of the legal basis of the amounts which are proposed; that is, £80 for the maternity grant and a movable sum for the funeral grant. It would be helpful if we could know whether that right of appeal is to be applied.
The second question refers to the problem—and I know that the Minister has been most sympathetic about it—of the under-16 mothers which we discussed in detail on a previous occasion. It appears that where a girl under 16 becomes pregnant. the amount will be paid to her family. It is not clear whether that means that the girl herself would have no control over the money that is awarded, or whether, if she is not living in a family situation, she would be able to get that money at all. We understand that the money is meant for the baby and not for the family. Therefore, it is important to know that it will be used for the benefit of the baby.
As regards the funeral grant, which used to be called the death grant, there seems to be some confusion again, because until we get the regulations we shall not know exactly what that means. According to a leaflet which was put out by the DHSS, the full cost of a funeral through the social fund will be met for anybody who needs it, whether or not the person receives an income-related benefit.
It has not been made clear to my mind—and I have read the reports of all the debates very carefully—what happens in the event of a claimant being a distant relative of the person who has died who takes on this responsibility out of the goodness of his heart and who then finds that if he has a capital sum in savings of £500 he is not eligible for any grant at all. I think that is a rather harsh decision and again we shall need to know more about that when we get the regulations. My last question to the Minister is: when are we likely to get the new regulations and will she ensure that this House is able to debate them?
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, this is a very short amending Bill and therefore we had very little chance of making any impact upon it. Regretfully, the only amendment moved by my noble friend Lord McGregor of Durris, on the question of the under-16 mothers, the Government did not accept. I hope very much that the Government will undertake to keep their position under review.
On the question of appeals, which the noble Baroness mentioned, it would still be interesting to know—and I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has yet told us—whether claimants will have a right of oral appeal under the new procedure of the social fund commissioner which the Government have introduced into the Bill in lieu of the independent tribunal which was proposed from these Benches.
1319 The maternity grant is inadequate in our view. Although the social services commissioners are unable to look at these proposals for a whole year because the Bill has not yet been enacted, I hope very much that when they are able to do so the Government will pay careful attention to what they have to say about the proposal. In general, it is extremely unclear how the Social Fund is going to operate and we on these Benches shall be keeping a close eye on it.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, perhaps I may briefly reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. The right of appeal will be applied, and I think that there will be a right of oral appeal. As regards the matter of the under-16s, which the noble Baroness asked about, parents will receive money when the child is living with them. When the child is in care, her needs will be provided for. With regard to the date of the regulations for the funeral grant, that will be available within the next few days. Eligibility for a funeral grant depends upon the receipt of housing benefit, supplementary benefit or family income credit. There must be an income-related benefit. Regarding possession of capital amounting to over £500, that will not make a person ineligible; however, the death grant would be reduced accordingly.
I am grateful to noble Lords for bearing with us as we have taken up some of the time of the House with an extra Bill in recent weeks. I thought the noble Baroness was referring to the most important thing going on this afternoon: the winner of the first race was, appropriately enough, called "Scottish Trader"! It is always unfortunate when legislation is found to be flawed. I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to put the flaw right, and I should like to thank all noble Lords who have generally recognised that. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.