HL Deb 11 February 1988 vol 493 cc379-93

House again in Committee on Schedule 3.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Hayter)

Before calling the next amendment I should inform the Committee that the figures given for those voting on the first Division should have been Contents, 136 (instead of 135) and Not-Contents, 88.

Lord Henderson of Brompton had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 56: Page 18, line 9, at end insert ("and after "above" there shall be inserted the words "except in the financial year 1988–9 and such other financial years as the Secretary of State may direct."").

The noble Lord said: In view of the considerable discussion on the previous amendment, Amendment No. 55A, I do not propose to move Amendment No. 56 at this stage.

[Amendment No. 56 not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 57: Page 18, line 40, at end insert — ("9A. The Social Security Act 1986 shall also be amended as follows. 9B. The words "to him" shall be omitted from section 34(1)(a).").

The noble Lord said: With permission, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 62. These amendments follow consultation with independent counsel. They are tabled for exactly the same reasons as I gave on the previous counsel-originated amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 58: Page 18, line 40, at end insert—

("Amendment of section 34

9A. Section 34 of the Social Security Act 1986 shall be amended as follows.

9B. The following subsections shall be inserted afer subsection (8)— (9) A claimant may appeal against any determination made by a social fund officer under this part of this Act. (10) Any appeal under subsection (9) above shall be to a Social Security Appeal Tribunal under the procedure laid down in sections 100, 101, and 104 of the Social Security Act 1975 and section 15 of the Social Security Act 1980, and any reference to 'adjudication officer' in these sections shall be construed as including reference to a social fund officer.

Amendment of section 52

9C. Section 52 of the Social Security Act 1986 shall be amended as follows.

9D. In subsection (6) the words from "such" to the end shall cease to have effect.

Amendment of section 53

9E. Section 53 of the Social Security Act 1986 shall be amended as follows.

9F. In subsection (10) the words from "such" to the end shall cease to have effect.").

The noble Baroness said: This again concerns the issue of appeal in connection with the social fund, which we have already dealt with slightly this afternoon. However, I should like to put on record my concern that the Government appear to believe that in providing for a review mechanism they are answering the need and desire for some method of appeal. A review mechanism is not an appeal. I am indebted to the Minister for a copy of the letter that he sent to my noble friend Lady Jeger on 4th February in which he explains that an individual who is dissatisfied with the social fund officer's decision and has applied for a review is entitled to have an interview, at which he can be accompanied, before the review is determined. The letter sets out arrangements for review and so on.

I speak as someone who has had some experience of appeals procedures under the social insurance arrangements. I was for many years a member of the social insurance tribunal. A review mechanism is by no means the same as an appeal. When I sat as a member of the insurance tribunal we often saw applicants and we did not always decide in favour of the insurance officer. There were many occasions when the applicant perhaps had not been able to explain his or her case sufficiently, when there were various problems or fresh evidence, and the tribunal found for the applicant and against the determination of the insurance officer.

It was an entirely independent body and what we suggest in this amendment is that an independent body should be established to hear appeals concerning the social fund. I believe that a very strong case has been made for this not only now but on Second Reading and on other occasions. I should like the Minister to give further consideration to the matter, despite the fact that he has given a very full explanation of what is intended by the review procedure in his letter of 4th February. I beg to move.

Lord Banks

I should like briefly to support this amendment. My noble friend Lord Wigoder secured the approval of this Chamber on 30th June 1986 when the Social Security Bill of that year was being discussed for an amendment which set up an appeal procedure of the nature that the noble Baroness wants to see. That was passed by this Chamber by 131 votes to 115. I very much hope that this place has not changed its view, though there are not that number of noble Lords in the Committee to indicate that. However, I hope the Committee will remain in favour of instituting an appeal from the social fund. I think that on the last occasion the appeal procedure was actually rejected in another place.

Between 1981 and 1984 one-quarter of the appeals made within that time to an independent tribunal under supplementary benefit for single payments were successful. We should bear that in mind when thinking about the desirability of having an appeals system from the social fund. I support the amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale

The first part of this amendment relates to a section of the Act which has benefited greatly from the deliberations of this Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said, during the passage of the Social Security Bill, as it then was, in 1986, on 30th June this Chamber voted for an appeal system for the social fund—the Official Report reference is col. 606. As a result of that vote, amendments were made in another place which increased the independence of the social fund review procedure and the social fund inspectors and introduced the social fund commissioner.

These amendments (which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, almost said) were accepted by this Chamber on 24th July—the Official Report reference is col. 436. For that reason the Committee will be well aware why the traditional formal adjudication system we have elsewhere in social security is not appropriate to the handling of special needs under the social fund. Discretionary payments under the social fund require a more flexible approach and the issues for decision imply local and less formalised decision-making. That is why the reviews will be handled in the first instance by the local office and applicants will be given the opportunity to put their case personally to the social fund officer.

Applicants who remain dissatisfied will then have the right to apply for a further review by the independent social fund inspector who will be based away from the local office. The inspector will have access to all the relevant documentation and will be able to call for additional evidence. He will have the power to confirm the social fund officer's decision, to refer it back to the social fund officer to be decided again or to substitute a decision of his own. The existence of this second tier of review will ensure that decisions are properly taken and are reasonable in the particular circumstances.

We believe that that is the best way of ensuring high standards of decision-making, fairness and impartiality in the social fund. As I said, we do not believe that the standard social security adjudication system is appropriate to the social fund, yet this amendment would give applicants the choice of appealing to a social security appeal tribunal or applying for a review by the social fund inspector. I have to say that we could not accept such an arrangement. Such a mixed system would self-evidently be the worst of all worlds and a recipe for considerable confusion for applicants and social fund officers alike.

With regard to the second and third parts of the amendment, I should point out to the Committee that the two sections to which these amendments refer would be amended by Schedule 5 of the Bill, currently under discussion, as indeed would Section 51(2) by lines 27 to 32 of page 24. The reason for the provisions in Schedule 5 is the same as that for paragraph 3 of Schedule 3; namely, to make it clear that fixed amounts allocated for the social fund are required only to cover payments from the discretionary part of the social fund—in other words, those covered by Section 32(2)(b)—and not maternity, funeral and cold weather payments. The intention underlying the latter parts of the amendments now under consideration seems to diminish the distinction between regulated and discretionary payments from the social fund.

As regards Section 52, I have already explained why we have not thought conventional adjudication procedures appropriate to the discretionary parts of the social fund. It would be difficult to apply the provisions of Section 53, which deals with overpayments, to a discretionary scheme, nor is Section 53 necessary for the enforcement of a discretionary scheme. For those reasons I regret that I am unable to accept this amendment.

Baroness Jeger

Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps he can tell us how many social fund officers and inspectors have been appointed to date. They seem to be having a lot of work to do.

Lord Skelmersdale

Social fund officers are part of the normal local office network and they are in the process of being trained. Social fund inspectors will not be needed until the officers make the first decisions. That is why, in answer to a recent Question for Written Answer from the noble Baroness, I had no embarrassment in saying that no such appointments had yet been made.

8 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

I do not intend to press this to a Division tonight because of the lateness of the hour. I am not very satisfied with the reply from the Minister. Again I emphasise that a review mechanism is not the same as the ability to apply to an independent tribunal.

When I was a member of a tribunal we were very careful to say to the appellants who appeared before us that we were entirely independent. We said that we were members of the public, members of a tripartite body with a legally-qualified chairman and that we had no connection whatever with the department. They therefore had a great deal more confidence in having an independent assessment of their case. If you simply refer higher up within the same apparatus, as is the proposition here, I do not believe that appellants will have the same feeling that they are getting an independent review of their case.

As I said earlier, I do not intend to press this amendment tonight but I shall look very carefully at Hansard to see whether I might perhaps bring back a similar amendment at Report stage but phrased differently. I do not believe that the Minister has answered the concerns which have been voiced on a number of occasions from this side of the Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Schemes for distribution etc. of welfare foods]:

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 59: Page 8, line 36, at end insert— ("(3A) If the Secretary of State makes a scheme or schemes under subsection (3) above, it or they shall include the provision of welfare food or the making of payments to expectant mothers in families whose income is below a prescribed level or a member of which is entitled to family credit under Part II of the Social Security Act 1986.").

The noble Baroness said: As I understand Clause 12 it provides the Secretary of State with enabling powers on welfare foods. Pregnant women and families on low incomes are currently entitled to free milk for themselves throughout pregnancy and for their children up to the age of five. Women on supplementary benefit or family income supplement qualify automatically. Women in low-income households can also claim. The benefit is given as milk tokens which can be exchanged for one pint of milk per day or, where appropriate, for infant formula dried milk.

Free welfare milk is worth £1.82 per week for each person in the family who is eligible. Although this may seem a small sum, it makes a vital contribution to the budgets of low-income families. It looks to me as though Clause 12 will enable the Government to carry out the plan set out in the White Paper to abolish free milk for all women and children not on supplementary benefit or not on income support as we shall now have to call it. Thousands of needy women and children could lose the right to free milk if these changes go ahead. Some will lose more than others, but certainly there will be distinct problems for low-income families.

Free milk is the only pregnancy-related benefit available to support low-income women throughout their pregnancy. Few of them are entitled to work-related maternity benefits and a maternity payment from the social fund at £85 from April is intended to help to buy things for the new baby. Many of the women will lose the right to free milk as a result of this clause and will also have lost the right to maternity grant and to the maternity allowance as a result of the changes in the Social Security Act 1986.

Among the extra costs of pregnancy the cost of an adequate and healthy diet is one of the most important. To cover part of their ante-natal care most hospitals and clinics give women a diet sheet and leaflets; but a woman who is trying to stretch a tight budget to cover all her family needs may sometimes cut back on food for herself even during pregnancy rather than see her children go without.

I understand that the Royal College of Nursing is extremely concerned in this area because it believes that poor diet in pregnancy is linked with a low birth-weight, which is a persistent problem in Britain. The number of low birth-weight births has hovered around 7 per cent. of all births for the past 10 years. There is no room for complacency about the kind of diet which the poorest families in Britain are eating. Welfare milk provides valuable nutrients directly to the people who need them most; and despite increasing affluence, the need is just as real today as it was when the scheme was first introduced. For those reasons, I hope my amendment will commend itself to the Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Faithfull

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has put the case so well, and I should like to support her in this amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister will recall that I have raised questions before on what I call the good sense in not arguing with the general case that the Government and the Minister support, but only when we are able to draw to his attention what we believe is the serious impact upon groups of people who are less able to look after themselves than others.

What my noble friend has tried to do is to beg of the Minister to take into account that in what he and his colleagues consider to be a good scheme there are one or two flaws. What this amendment is seeking to do is to try—it might not be the right way of doing it—to make sure that some people will not suffer. Perhaps I may tell the Minister what I have been told by the Maternity Alliance (which is an organisation well known to the Minister and his officials). Their views are supported by, among others, the Association of Breast-Feeding Mothers, the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, the Child Poverty Action Group, community health councils, and a whole range of what I would consider to be eminently respectable bodies. What they are saying to us—and I am grateful to them for their brief—is that there are people who are vulnerable if this clause is not amended.

I should like to give this example to illustrate their concern. A pregnant woman with a child of three, whose husband is a mature student with a grant of £84 per week, cannot claim family credit because neither is in full-time work. Until April the mother and child are both eligible for free milk on the grounds of low income. After April neither of them will qualify. If that is true—and it is the conclusion reached by the good people of the Maternity Alliance—can the Minister explain to the Committee that he understands that is the situation, but he is unable to do anything about it? If that were to be the case, I should certainly he distressed.

Perhaps I may give another illustration. A women's husband is a trainee surveyor earning £60 per week. She is expecting her first baby and although the pregnancy was unplanned they both want the child. She has been signing on as unemployed, but her credited contributions do not help her to qualify for maternity benefits. Until April she can claim free milk on the grounds of low income. After April she will receive nothing until after the birth when they will qualify for family credit. The Minister understands that we are concerned that even though there are changes which might appear to be equitable, we wish to maintain the easier supply of milk for its nutritional aspect.

The Minister will be well aware that there are many illustrations of those who believe that milk is good: For example, Sir Winston Churchill said that there is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies. It may have been a sop.

When the National Welfare Milk Scheme was first introduced in 1940 consumption of milk among poor families increased dramatically. In some areas it trebled. I understand that fashion changes, but I am concerned that the new system may mean that less milk will be drunk. Even if the Minister says that that is at the choice of the parents or the recipients of the aid, he should be concerned to ensure that the nutritional value of milk is maintained. I should be grateful if the Minister will take head-on what I understand (from people who know more about it than I do) will be the effect of deleterious legislation.

Lord Skelmersdale

One point is unarguable. Medical science has moved on since the time of my late right honourable friend Sir Winston Churchill. I do not want to go too far into that argument, but it is undeniably the case.

I start by agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, that the Government announced their proposals to abolish the low income scheme for welfare foods in June 1985 in the Green Paper on the reform of social security, and that this was reaffirmed in the White Paper. The change complements the move being made in family credit away from providing benefits in kind—free school meals as well as free welfare milk and vitamins—to providing the benefit in cash instead. The Committee will be aware that the child credits in family credit will include a cash increase of £2.55 a week for each child, in place of the free school meals, and free welfare foods available under the family income supplement scheme. This amount is based on the average cost of a fixed price school meal, but it will be the same for all children and will therefore go to children under five as a replacement for free milk and vitamins.

A pint of milk a day costs £1.82 a week, and is widely obtainable for even less, so the switch to cash represents a very good deal for family credit families. Family credit will reach more than twice as many families as family income supplement. Some of them are outside family income supplement at present and are getting free welfare foods under the low income scheme. I recognise that not all of those in the low income scheme will get family credit; but the more generous family credit rates—made even higher by the cash in lieu of free milk—will benefit a lot of the current low income scheme families.

In fact we estimate that the cash provision will go to many more children than receive free welfare foods at present. About 124,000 children get welfare foods through family income supplement and a further 77,000 through the low income scheme, but we estimate that there will be around 300,000 children under five in family credit families. So the new arrangements will help about 100,000 more children. Take-up of the low income scheme has always been very poor—under 10 per cent.; and I heard a figure this morning of 7 per cent.—and the numbers helped are very small. Given that many of them will be picked up through family credit, the Government decided that the low income scheme should not be continued when the new benefit structure comes into effect in April 1988.

I acknowledge that the family credit cash provision in lieu of welfare foods does not help expectant mothers, who can get free welfare foods under family income supplement and the present low income scheme—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. However, only a very few expectant mothers—about 6,800—take up entitlement to free welfare milk under the low income scheme. They would mainly be women pregnant for the first time and most of them will recently have been in work and are therefore likely now to be eligible for the new statutory maternity pay and outside the scope of a scheme based on low income.

Furthermore, the discontinuance of the low income scheme from April will not mean that all young mothers, or expectant mothers under 16, will cease to receive free welfare foods, or will not get the more generous family credit cash provision. We shall still be providing such help to those girls who are living with parents or guardians who are themselves on income support or family credit. In those cases, the income support or the family credit payable to the parents will be based on the needs of the whole family unit, including the young mother and her child.

This means that where income support is concerned, free welfare foods will be available to the girl while she is pregnant and for her child when it is born. Where family credit is in payment, the credit for the girl will include the £2.25 additional cash in place of free milk, and a further child credit—including a further £2.25—will in due course be payable for her child. We shall therefore be protecting the most vulnerable young mothers—those living in households where the circumstances are such as to give rise to an entitlement to an income-related benefit for the family as a whole. For family credit families we shall be providing cash compensation at a much higher level than the value of the free welfare foods.

I should confirm that income support families will continue to receive free welfare foods for children under five and for expectant mothers. We are therefore preserving the present entitlement for those in the greatest need, a point which concerned the noble Lord, Lord Graham.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

I apologise for not being in my place when the amendment was called I am afraid that I was having dinner. I have listened to the Minister and I am still not satisfied about the position of pregnant mothers. The issue is of the utmost importance because of the findings of low weights among babies of women who have not been well fed during their pregnancy. The provision of milk during that period has been a useful addition to the diet of those women. I should like some assurance form the Minister. It appears that pregnant mothers, especially those having their first babies, will not get that milk. Will the Minister say whether I am right or wrong?

Lord Skelmersdale

Perhaps it will help if I abbrieviate what I have just said. Expectant mothers, including girls under 16 in income support families, will still get the milk. Those in family credit families will not get the cash replacement, but most will have just left work and will have access to the new maternity payment. Girls under 16 in family credit families will attract the £2.55 cash increase and so will their babies. I hope that that helps the noble Lord. Lord Pitt.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I know that the Minister is trying to be helpful but he uses phrases such as, most will have just left work". I should dearly like to test the assumption that those who are in such wretched circumstances in the family and are pregnant with their first child will have just left work. That is a bland if not a glib assumption; but clearly the noble Lord has been advised of that. The second assumption is that, even if they are deprived of the opportunity, they will have other sources. The Minister gave a figure of 6,800 for those who now take the opportunity. If hundreds of babies out of hundreds of thousands start off less well equipped, there is still a danger. I understand that the Minister may not be able to answer directly the two illustrations that I gave, but I should be grateful if he will deal with those illustrations in writing at some time in the future.

We are concerned to ensure that milk continues to be drunk rather than that money is made available to buy the milk. We are concerned that milk consumption in this country should be maintained. We are concerned that young mothers in the circumstances we have described do not have the option to spend it on something else. We want to ensure, without being too draconian, that they obtain milk for their babies to drink.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

I thank my noble friend for making that point. The Minister has not convinced us that the milk will be available to them, and it is the milk that I want them to have.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, we are all driving at milk, as it were. I shall certainly look at the details of the two cases that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has mentioned. However, I think the Committee will accept that the poorest families in our land—it is probably the poorest families that we are most concerned about—are those on supplementary benefit. For those people on supplementary benefit, there is no change in the provision.

Baroness Turner of Camden

I thank the noble Lord for his explanation; but the concerns that have been expressed on this side of the Committee remain. We are concerned that there should be consumption of milk rather than the payment of money. That is the difference between us. When the national welfare milk scheme was first introduced in 1940, consumption of milk among poor families increased dramatically. I believe that a number of diseases which until then had been endemic among our poorer citizens practically disappeared. For example, I think rickets ceased to exist some time after the introduction of the national welfare milk scheme. Its disappearance was directly attributable to that scheme.

The risk is that if we whittle away at the scheme it will reduce consumption among those who need milk the most. A recent survey carried out by the National Dairy Council found that families in social classes D and E were far less likely to know that milk was a source of calcium, for instance, than families in social classes A, B or C. Families who do not realise the nutritional value of milk may view the withdrawal of government-backed milk schemes as an indication that milk is not an important food for pregnant women and children. That is the important point that we are seeking to make on this side of the Chamber. Obviously, we are not going to press this amendment to a Division at this time of night, but nevertheless we are still concerned and we shall give the matter further consideration on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [National Health Service—remission of charges and payment of travelling expenses]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 60A: Page 11, line 1, leave out from ("method") to ("or") in line 2 and insert ("described by reference to a method of calculating or estimating income or capital specified in an enactment other than this section".

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 60A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 60B, 60C, 60G, 60H and 60J. These are all technical amendments. I do not know whether the Committee wishes me to expand further on these amendments, but I am perfectly prepared to do so. However, in the circumstances, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 60B and 60C: Page 11, line 4, after ("Parliament") insert ("or by reference to such a method but subject to prescribed modifications"). Page 11, line 4, after ("Parliament") insert— ("(bb) by reference to an amount applicable for the purposes of a payment under an Act of Parliament or an instrument made under an Act of Parliament.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 60D: Page 11, line 25, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment, and I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 60E and 60F. The original amendment is designed simply to enable present arrangements for the repayment of overnight expenses in certain circumstances in Scotland to continue. It relates only to Scotland and reflects the particular travel difficulties of those living in the remoter parts of that country. Many of those who live in the islands off the west coast of Scotland, and in the remoter parts of the Highlands, must undertake long journeys for outpatient hospital consultation or in-patient treatment. They have no alternative, and many of the journeys take so long that an overnight stay away from home is unavoidable. That applies to those attending outpatient clinics and to those who may have to accompany someone who is going into hospital for treatment or is being discharged.

Because of the number of people in certain areas of Scotland who must make such journeys in order to avail themselves of the appropriate National Health Service facilities, the Secretary of State for Scotland has, for many years, met the cost of unavoidable overnight expenses where these are incurred by those eligible for help with their travel expenses. It seems appropriate to continue these arrangements. The amendment provides the necessary basis for regulations which will do this. The other amendments are consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 60E and 60F: Page 11, line 31, at end insert ("; and— (c) where they are persons whose travelling expenses are payable by virtue of paragraph (b) above, for the payment by the Secretary of State in such cases as may be prescribed of expenses necessarily incurred by them (and by any companion whose travelling expenses are so payable) in obtaining overnight accommodation for the purpose mentioned in that paragraph."). Page 11, line 33, leave out ("or (b)") and insert (", (b) or (c)")..")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendments Nos. 60G, 60H and 60J: Page 12, line 14, leave out from ("method") to ("or") in line 15 and insert ("described by reference to a method of calculating or estimating income or capital specified in an enactment other than this section"). Page 12, line 17, after ("Parliament") insert ("or by reference to such a method but subject to prescribed modifications"). Page 12, line 17, after ("Parliament") insert— ("bb) by reference to an amount applicable for the purposes of a payment under an Act of Parliament or an instrument made under an Act of Parliament;").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move these amendments en bloc. I spoke to them with Amendment No. 60A.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 14 and 15 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Minor and Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 60K: Page 19, line 28, at end insert— ("3A. The following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (2) of section 17 (determination of days for which benefit is payable,— (2A) Regulations may provide that—

  1. (a) the question of a person's availability for employment may be determined in respect of any day notwithstanding that he is deemed in accordance with regulations to be available for employment in employed earner's employment in respect of that day; and
  2. (b) unemployment benefit paid to a person in respect of a day which is determined not to be a day in respect of which he is available for employment in employed earner's employment shall be recoverable from him.
(2B) Subsections (5), (7) and (9) of section 53 of the Social Security Act 1986 shall have effect in relation to amounts recoverable by virtue of subsection (2A) above as they have effect in relation to amounts recoverable under subsection (1) of that section".").

The noble Lord said: The amendment arises out of our concern to safeguard the position of those claimants who might otherwise face a suden loss of unemployment benefit when a doubt arises about their availability for work. At present, benefit is not paid until the adjudication officer has decided the question. As my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment recently announced in Committee on the Employment Bill in another place, it is our intention that in future where a doubt about a person's availability for work arises at a restart interview, or otherwise during the course of an ongoing benefit claim, there should not normally be an immediate withdrawal of benefit while the question of the person's entitlement is being decided by the adjudication officer.

The amendment we now propose empowers us to make regulations to enable the adjudication officer to determine the question of availability in respect of a period for which the claimant's availability has already been deemed and where the claimant was delaying or failing to reply to inquiries intended to establish the position to enable the Secretary of State to recover benefit paid to a person in respect of days for which the adjudication officer decides that he was not available. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 60L: Page 21, line 42, at end insert— ("19A.—(1) The following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (5) of section 23 (trade disputes)— (5A) For the purposes of subsection (5) above, regulations may provide that the weekly rate of payment of income support and the relevant sum shall be apportioned on a daily basis in respect of any period less than a week.". (2) In subsection (6) of that section, for the words "subsection (5) above" there shall be substituted the words "this section".").

The noble Lord said: The principle that has applied since supplementary benefit became a regulated scheme in 1980 is that while a claimant or partner is a striker disqualified for unemployment benefit, under the provisions of Section 19 of the Social Security Act 1975, supplementary benefit is not payable to the striker himself but is payable for other members of his family. The amount that will be payable under normal rules is then reduced by £17, known as the specified sum. Under income support, the above approach will continue but modifications will be necessary in order to cater for couples and the various premiums which do not exist in the current scheme.

The specified sum of £17 becomes the relevant sum and is increased to £17.70. The pattern is that this relevant sum is described in Section 23(5)(b) of the Social Security Act 1986 as a weekly rate. There is no power to apportion such a sum for part-week payments which will be needed at the beginning and end of a trade dispute and in some cases because of a change of circumstances; for example, a striker falling sick and therefore not subject to the trade dispute assessment rules during a dispute. I think that what I have said is probably sufficient to enable the Committee properly to consider the amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Airedale moved Amendment No. 61: Page 21, line 42, at end insert— (" 19A. In subsection (3) of section 17 (general power to modify statutory provisions) the following paragraph shall be inserted after paragraph (d)— '(dd) the Water Act 1973;".").

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move the amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Elliott. This is one of those amendments which does not, on the face of it, give very much away about what it seeks to achieve. This amendment seeks to fill a lacuna in the 1986 Act. When personal pensions were introduced, it became necessary to remove the element of compulsion in the compulsory occupational pension schemes. But by an oversight the 1986 Act omitted the water company employees when the element of compulsion was being removed. This amendment fills that lacuna so that now the water company employees, like the others, will be able to choose between personal pensions and occupational pensions. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

In responding to this amendment, it occurs to me to wonder whether you fill "lacunas" with water! Having said that, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for moving the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth, who unfortunately is unable to be here this evening. The Government entirely accept the purpose of my noble friend's amendment. The new right of an employee to decide for himself what sort of pension provision he wants is a key feature of the Government's pension reforms introduced by the Social Security Act 1986. Clearly we cannot be content that a specific group of employees should be denied that right because of a legislative technicality. It is of course regrettable that this problem was not identified when the 1986 Act was being drafted.

However, a word of caution. I am reluctant to invite Members of the Committee to accept this amendment at once. It would be prudent (would it not?) for the Government to consider whether there are any other statutes which should at this stage also be made subject to the modification power in the 1986 Act. Clearly we should prefer not to have to ask the House to take more than one bite at this particular cherry. Moreover, I am advised that the amendment might be better placed elsewhere in this part of Schedule 4.

Accordingly, I undertake on behalf of the Government to table an amendment on report which will as a minimum ensure that the objective of my noble friend's amendment, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is achieved. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Airedale

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, I would only say that I think that you fill "lacunae"! Subject, to that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 61A: Page 22, line 15, leave out from ("days") to end of line 16 and insert ("to him or, where he is a member of a married or unmarried couple, to the other member of that couple, shall be recoverable in the prescribed manner from the person to whom it was paid or from any prescribed person or, where the person to whom it was paid is a member of a married or unmarried couple from the other member of the couple" ").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment with Amendment No. 60L. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Repeals]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 62: Page 24, line 18, after ("words") insert (" "to him" and the words").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 57. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Northern Ireland]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 63: Page 13, line 27, after ("sections") insert ("17,").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Citation]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 64: Page 14, line 41, after ("1986") insert ("and the Social Fund (Maternity and Funeral Expenses) Act 1987").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment bringing the Social Fund (Maternity and Funeral Expenses) Act 1987 within the collective citation of the Social Security Acts 1975 to 1988. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

In the Title:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 65: Line 5, after ("travelling") insert ("and overnight").

The noble Lord said: This gives me an opportunity to thank the Committee for the comity which has been achieved on all sides through two very long and hard-fought days. I am grateful to Members opposite for this.

This amendment is consequential upon the amendment in Clause 13 to the new Section 75A of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act, 1978, giving the Secretary of State powers to provide in regulations for the reimbursement of overnight expenses in certain circumstances—clearly a good thing. I beg to move.

Baroness Jeger

On this side of the Committee we appreciate the hard work of the noble Lord opposite. After all, we are three to his one, and we understand how hard he has had to work. We thank him for the sympathetic and conscientious understanding which he has given. We only hope that he can transfer some of that sympathy to Ministers in another place so that this Bill might be improved in some ways at least before it gets onto the Statute book.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I beg to move that the House be now adjourned.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes before nine o'clock.