HL Deb 19 November 1996 vol 575 cc1234-46

5.35 p.m.

Earl Russell rose to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Social Security (Adjudication) Regulations and Child Support (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1996 (No. 2450) and then to lay amended regulations which are clearly in conformity with the principles of natural justice.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg leave to move an amended version of the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In order to explain that, I must begin by giving my thanks to the Minister, who notified me late on Friday afternoon that the form referred to in my original Motion has now been made available. I am most grateful to him for that. I am most grateful to him also for the advance notice of it. It is clearly inappropriate to call on the Minister to provide a form which he has now provided.

The original Motion was as follows: That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Social Security (Adjudication) Regulations and Child Support (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1996 (No. 2450) until the form approved by the Secretary of State, on which all appeals must be lodged, can be made available and then to lay amended regulations which are clearly in conformity with the principles of natural justice". In the new Motion I am moving we leave out everything from "until" in line 3 to "available" in line 4. I am extremely grateful that those words are now unnecessary.

The principles of natural justice were once described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, as the judicial way of saying "fair play". I do not wish, by wording the Motion as I have done, to suggest that legislation must conform with the principles of natural justice but I wish to suggest that it is on the whole desirable that it should do so. It tends to work rather better if it does. Those principles are not derived from statute. They are actually older than Parliament and therefore cannot depend on statute. They have evolved into a series of fairly clear specific principles. The ones with which I am concerned here are that we should hear both sides, that there should be an orderly and fair procedure and that reasons should be given for decisions.

In these regulations we are dealing with appeals from people who are or have been on benefits. So, on the one hand, we have people of very limited financial resources, sometimes of very limited ability, sometimes suffering from mental impairment of one kind or another and sometimes suffering from difficulties of language. On the other side, we have a department with very considerable resources—a filing system, a computer system and methods of transferring information from one place to another. It is not exactly an equal contest with someone keeping his records in a cardboard box in "cardboard city". One cannot always keep regulations in perfect order in that situation. So any desire to get an orderly and fair procedure must take some account of this inequality between the parties in contention.

The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux told me as recently as last Friday afternoon that the regulations are creating a more intense level of concern among its local bureaux than anything else it can remember for a very long time. Looking at them and thinking about them, I am beginning to understand why that is so.

I shall deal first with Regulation 14(2), which is a very clear provision that notice must always be given of an appeal in writing. We do not always stop to think enough about the rights of illiterates. I was brought to think about them very abruptly when I was nine years of age. My father put in an application for a ration book and being a Peer he signed it "Russell". He was told that that was not a correct signature and that he was illiterate; and that being illiterate he was not entitled to a ration book. I have been concerned about the rights of illiterates ever since, because I thought then, what if he had really been an illiterate and what would have happened? I would like to know what the Minister can say in reply to that.

Regulation 4(5) gives a long list of required particulars which must be put in in exactly the right form. The time of the appeal cannot begin to run until they are put in. Manchester Trinity Citizens Advice Bureau found that the appeal was held to be valid only if all these reasons were given. Some of them, such as medical information from the Benefit Agency's doctor in an incapacity benefit case, could not be put in on an appeal because the doctor's reasons did not come in until just before the hearing. So if that is going to be applied throughout, appeals against the Benefit Agency's doctor in incapacity benefit cases could not be lodged.

There is another point about that. There has been at least one ruling already that an appeal on incapacity benefit cannot be lodged until reasons are given for disagreeing with the scoring system of the Benefit Agency's doctor. In the mental health provisions no scoring system operates, so how is an appeal to be made in a mental health matter? I do not see the answer to that under the wording of these regulations.

They have been put through in considerable haste. The consultation period ended on 1st October, but the regulations were laid on 27th September. That is the sort of consultation which the Department of Education and Science, as it then was, used to do at its very worst. It is not worthy of the Department of Social Security, which usually does better than that. I hope that the Minister can explain the reasons for this great and unseemly haste.

It is important to realise that in order to conduct a proper appeal it is necessary to understand what is really the point at issue, because until one understands that one cannot put in any evidence that goes against it. I remember listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, talking about the difficulties of litigants in person. He said that because it takes time to explain to them exactly what is at issue, the case takes a great deal longer. What they are entitled to is equally the entitlement of social security claimants. Regulation 9, which restricts oral hearings to those who have made a specific demand for one or when in the opinion of the chairman it would manifestly do injustice if there was not one, is too restrictive. Such a thing cannot be manifest until a hearing has taken place.

I am not sure that people on benefit will know whether they need to request an oral hearing in writing. How many people know that they need to register to vote? Certainly among my pupils a very large majority do not at the material time. I discover six months later that they are not registered and they cannot vote—and very surprised they are, too. If that happens to people who, by definition, are of some ability, what are we to expect among people on benefit? In many cases as regards habitual residence appeals and voluntary unemployment appeals it is difficult to see how a proper decision can be reached without questioning the applicant, because one simply does not elicit the evidence which is necessary to review the decision.

To put it no higher, I am taken aback by Regulation 5, which limits the notice of a hearing to seven calendar days. There is no exception for the week between Christmas and the New Year. If I were given notice on 24th December, or by a posting on 24th December, of a hearing on 29th December, it is highly unlikely I would even receive that notice, let alone respond to it. There are special difficulties about the dates of a hearing—for which there is no provision in these regulations that I can see—for those who because of disability have difficulty in movement, especially in remote rural areas.

A case arose in North Cornwall in the constituency of my honourable friend Mr. Tyler. It concerned somebody who had to have an incapacity benefit hearing and who was confined to a wheelchair. The hearing took place in a town 35 miles away. The bus ran one day a week. The day fixed for the hearing was not the day on which the bus ran. So he asked whether they could change the date of the hearing to the day on which the bus ran, but they could not. He asked whether they could meet the expenses for a taxi to attend the hearing, but they could not. So in the end he did not attend the hearing. That amounts to a denial of justice.

To cope with difficulties of that sort, when one has to rely on the help of other people who are not necessarily available 24 hours every day of the week, seven days' notice is an unrealistic amount of time. If it has to be seven days, could not the department at least alter it to seven working days? I would not say that that would be satisfactory, but it would be a great deal less unsatisfactory than what we have now.

In Regulation 11 there are considerable cutbacks on the giving of reasons for decisions. There are quite extraordinary things that come under this heading. There was a case of a person who applied for a funeral payment under the Social Fund and was told, "Your appeal is refused. The reason is that we cannot pay you". That is not the sort of reason which gives rise to grounds for appeal.

The point about reasons for decisions is that they have to he something that is theoretically capable of being rebutted by further evidence. Decisions can be given in such form, as shall have been approved by the President", of the tribunal. Can we be given any indication at all of what sort of form that might be? At present it might meet the requirement if the decisions were delivered in Chinese script. I am sure that that is not the department's intention, but some further definition might have been welcome. Decisions may be given not at the hearing but, at such later date as the chairman may determine". There is no terminus ante quem in that at all. I would not say that the decision could wait until the Millennium because, after all, that is quite speedy decision-making. But it could perfectly well wait until the century after that without infringing the words of the regulation. We need tighter wording.

Finally, I recommend to the Minister that he reads the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in the case of the Al Fayeds and the Home Secretary. It is an extremely interesting judgment delivered on the grounds of natural justice and concentrating on the requirement to give reasons. I understand that that case is sub judice and I shall discuss it only in a way appropriate to the situation. That case is on its way to your Lordships' House. This case is not on all fours with that, but there are points of resemblance. It seems to me that it would be perfectly reasonable to ask the Minister to revoke the regulations until such time as the opinion of the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House on that case is known and until the reasons for its decision are also known because until we know the reasons we cannot know whether they are likely to apply to these regulations. But the possibility is one that the department would be wise to consider.

Hitherto, for a good many centuries, both Ministers and the courts have shown a laudable lack of curiosity about what happens when a statute and the principles of natural justice clash. I approve that lack of curiosity, but now that the judgment is available and can be read, the Minister seems to be approaching the matter with a curiosity which is positively feline. And the Minister knows where that leads.

Moved to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Social Security (Adjudication) Regulations and Child Support (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1996 (No. 2450) and then to lay amended regulations which are clearly in conformity with the principles of natural justice.—(Earl Russell.)

5.50 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, the House should be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for drawing attention to a serious and real problem. Because of the conventions of this House we shall not be voting with him if he decides to test the opinion of the House. Nonetheless, we join him in hoping that the Government will take these points seriously and see whether they can reconsider the implication of some of the regulations.

Our criticisms are twofold. They relate, first, to the timing of the regulations and, secondly, to their substance. The Government's White Paper was published on 23rd July. The orders were laid in late September, three weeks before the consultation ended on 18th October and three days after they were implemented. The White Paper was therefore effectively published, consulted on, and the orders were made, laid and implemented all while Parliament was in recess. That is a cynical way to behave and is utterly disrespectful of parliamentary conventions. In other words, it was a consultation paper about which everybody was consulted, except Parliament, including your Lordships' House.

Our second body of criticism relates to the substance of the regulations. These so-called "improvements" to efficiency are efficient only in the sense that they effectively deter, discourage and finally debar people from making DSS and CSA appeals to tribunals. That suggests that what the department is interested in is an uncluttered, untroubled life and that appellants (especially if they are not well educated, are not represented by a lawyer or are elderly, confused, sick or disabled) who clutter up the system should be deterred from appealing if possible and, if not, should be discouraged from seeking an oral hearing. I mean every word when I say that these changes by regulation are a serious assault on the access and the right of ordinary people, especially disadvantaged people, to use tribunals for appeal.

However, our criticisms are even more detailed than that. First, the new application forms were not available until four weeks after the new procedure was in place. Applicants were thus expected to handle a new system without the relevant forms. Secondly, many applicants are being discouraged from seeking even a paper appeal, let alone an oral appeal. It is clear that the department is anxious to discourage oral hearings. An applicant has only 10 days in which to request such a hearing and has to do so formally, by application. In other words, applicants are channelled into a paper review, yet we know that if applicants attend in person they have a 46 per cent. success rate at tribunal. If applicants attend and are accompanied, they have a 67 per cent. success rate at tribunal. However, according to the Minister's latest quarterly figures on the all work test appeals, if applicants neither attend, let alone are accompanied, and have only a paper hearing, the success rate is barely 7 per cent.—compared to 67 per cent. if accompanied and appealing in person.

As the noble Earl said, oral hearings are essential, especially for those who are not literate, for whom English is not their first language, and who are not skilled at handling and managing paper. Will the Minister at the very least agree that the new forms state clearly that an applicant may have an oral hearing if he wishes and the timescale for that? The procedure for oral hearings should be transparent, even to those who are most disadvantaged when dealing with bureaucracy.

Another point well made by the noble Earl is that the period of notice has been reduced to seven calendar days when the Council on Tribunals argues that it should be at least 21 days. One calendar week is not sufficient for those who are carers or who are in work and who have to re-arrange their responsibilities, especially when complicated by the problems of access which the noble Earl documented.

I also understand that under the new "improved" changes claimants will be given only the most abbreviated explanation of why the appeal failed. At the moment an advisory tribunal has to complete only one A4 double-sided sheet, of which only the last four inches are devoted to space in which the tribunal can set out the reasons for the decision. That does not seem unduly burdensome, but it ensures that the decision is in writing and that the claimant can take it away, consider it and, if necessary, seek advice. Will the Government reconsider and give claimants an automatic right to a written reason for the rejection of an appeal rather than the claimant having to request it, especially as the request may not be dealt with until some three or four weeks later when the cutting edge of the argument has no doubt vanished from the tribunal's mind?

I understand that where an appeal is decided on the papers and not by personal attendance, only the tribunal chairman has those papers in advance. The other two tribunal members see the papers for the first time when they sit down at the bench. That means either that if the tribunal is to do a thorough job it will take longer than at present and thus delay the system or—and more likely—that the tribunal will be asked to rubber stamp the chairman's decision, making it essentially a tribunal of one, thus involving real injustice for the claimant. Can we have an assurance from the Minister that all tribunal members will have the full set of papers in advance so that claimants who do not have an oral hearing (and who are already disadvantaged by having the hearing on paper) can at least have the confidence that all tribunal members will have full access to their papers?

As was said in another place, the Minister and the regulations are making it difficult—deliberately so, in my view—for people to get a form; making it difficult for them to fill in the form; making it difficult for them to find arguments to submit to the department; and making it difficult for claimants to submit the form and to ask for an oral hearing before their time to appeal has elapsed, thereby jeopardising their probability of success. The right way to improve the tribunal system is to have sound and clear laws, not ambiguous formularies which have to be continually tested and re-tested on appeal. The Minister has no right to try to make good bad laws by cutting corners on the appeals system, which is what these regulations do.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I may respond to the Motion tabled by the noble Earl and answer some of the points raised by him and by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis.

I would like to start by briefly outlining the background to the changes introduced by the Social Security (Adjudication) Regulations and Child Support Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 1996. Last February my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced a review of the administration of social security. Ministers had been concerned for some time about the appeals system. The average clearance time on appeals to social security appeal tribunals is currently 26 weeks, and this is the shortest time. On medical appeal tribunals the average clearance time is 36 weeks. I am sure your Lordships will agree that, as people who have been refused benefit generally have to wait for disputes to be settled without benefit, any reduction to the clearance times that can be made should be done as quickly as possible. I am quite surprised that the Government do not have the support of the noble Earl and the noble Baroness in their determination to try to cut down the time. At one stage I believed that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, agreed with the need to deal with these cases as quickly as possible. If one is to do that one must look seriously at the procedures one uses and see how they can be improved.

The number of appeals outstanding is also rising. Since April 1995 the number has risen by over 25,000, and all this despite the fact that the Independent Tribunal Service is running more sessions and clearing more appeals than before. We therefore discussed with the people who operate the tribunal system what could be done to assist them to make improvements. It was clear that some of the rules in legislation were contributing to the delays and that some improvements were dependent on changes to those rules. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State issued a consultation document in the summer entitled Improving Decision Making and Appeals in Social Security. That document outlined a number of radical changes which needed primary legislation and on which he sought views. We are currently considering the views that we have received in response to that document. However, the Green Paper also announced changes to secondary legislation to be implemented in the autumn subject to consultation with the Council on Tribunals. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State answered a parliamentary Question in the other place on 23rd July when he announced the publication of the Green Paper and consultation with the Council on Tribunals. A copy of the consultation letter to the Council on Tribunals was placed in the Library.

The president of the Independent Tribunal Service, His Honour Judge Bassingthwaighte, was formally asked for his comments. Most of the changes were supported by the president, not surprisingly since a number of them were suggested by his administrative and judicial staff. The Council on Tribunals was also generally content with the proposals, though I shall return to that later.

I turn now to the changes introduced by the regulations referred to in the Motion before us. These changes cover a number of different areas in the appeals system and will, we believe, speed up processes. They will not take away any existing appeal rights but they will place some responsibility on appellants to support the process.

Parties will be asked to opt for an oral hearing. Appellants will be approached early in the process, but their option is not irrevocable. They can change their minds at any time before the decision is actually issued. If no oral hearing is requested the appeal papers will be sent out and the parties will have the opportunity to comment and submit additional evidence if they wish. Only after that process will the appeal be heard on the papers. There is no change to the appellant's absolute right to an oral hearing, and we shall continue to inform appellants that they have a better chance of winning if they attend. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, waxed very indignant about this matter. She demanded to know what was on the form. I am sure that even she will agree that the new form is an improvement on the old one, in that the position as to paper or oral hearings is made perfectly clear.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I ask the Minister to give way. If the forms had been produced before the regulations were introduced we might all have had a chance to see them.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I suggest that the noble Baroness should not attack something that she has not already had the chance to see. She could perhaps have said that it was a pity that she had not seen it, as she has just done, but if she had contained herself with a little patience she would have heard me read out the one and only paragraph that I intended to read. In bold print standing out clearly from the rest of the page is one paragraph at the end of the section that deals with oral hearings. It is not the only paragraph that deals with oral hearings. The paragraph states quite clearly: Please note that claimants who attend the hearing of their appeal usually do better than those who do not". The suggestion that the noble Baroness makes that somehow the Government are attempting to slip something in without telling people that they have a better chance if they go to an oral appeal is simply not true. We make it very clear in the form that that is the situation.

As far as concerns the 10 days' notice in which to decide whether or not an oral hearing is required, the first letter from the Independent Tribunal Service to appellants asks whether they want an oral hearing. The appellant has only to answer yes or no. It is not a formal application. The appellant has only to tick a box if he wants an oral hearing. This clear decision-making about oral hearings or not oral hearings should make for the more efficient handling of cases where the appellant chooses not to attend the hearing. Your Lordships might have been excused for thinking that almost nobody allowed his case to go to a paper hearing and that everybody already attended oral hearings. That is not the case. This year some 29 per cent. of cases are handled on paper because appellants have decided that they do not want to appear in person. I believe that all cases will benefit. Non-attended cases can be slotted into vacancies in any part of the country, making much better use of tribunal time and clearing more appeals more quickly.

As to social security appeal tribunals, it currently takes an average of three weeks to get the decision out to the parties. Our changes to the way a decision is promulgated allows for a more flexible approach, offering the right information at the right time, and will reduce the amount of time before the appellant knows the result of his appeal. There will be the option to give a full decision orally on the day, recording it for issue if required. Where a full oral decision is inappropriate, a summary decision may be announced and issued on the day of the hearing. The summary decision will still tell the appellant why he has won or lost his case. It will be easier for appellants to understand because it will not be subsumed in a large amount of other, more technical information.

The form on which the decision will be set out is one approved by the president. I believe that the noble Earl is a little unkind in suggesting that the president of the tribunal may decide to give an order that the form ought to be issued in Chinese or made incomprehensible in some other way. I shall be happy to provide the noble Earl with the standard forms that the president has approved. I believe that he will agree that they are very simple and easy to understand. A full decision will be given if requested within 21 days of the summary decision being issued. The tribunal chairmen may issue these full decisions in appropriate cases without request. Most full decisions are only required where the appellant is contemplating taking the appeal further on a point of law to the social security commissioners. Only 2 per cent. of appeal decisions are taken further, so 98 per cent. of appellants will receive an improved service by getting the decision in a brief way on the day of the hearing.

We have always supplied a form to be used when appealing which was attached to the leaflet How to Appeal. Although the form was little used, it offered guidance on the information needed for the appeal to be processed. Much time has been spent in the past contacting appellants who had failed to say, for example, what benefit the disputed decision referred to. A few did not even supply their full name and address. For that reason we have now specified that the form has to be used to appeal although a letter which contains all the information needed will, as before, also be acceptable. The leaflet with the form attached has been revised and reprinted. Distribution started yesterday and will be completed by the end of this week. A copy has been placed in the Library. Any appeals made on the old form will be acceptable.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me how illiterates would cope. They will cope in the way that they do currently. Nothing changes. Appeals have always been required in writing. The ITS will accept, as it always has done, X as a signature. That has never been a problem and it will not be a problem. Those people who do not understand the form or cannot read or write can get help from the agency. If necessary, the Independent Tribunal Service will also explain what is needed.

More specific information is required from appellants when they make their appeal, especially to explain their reasons for disputing the decision. Guidance is in the leaflet and on the form on what is required. Where essential information is omitted, staff of the Independent Tribunal Service will contact the appellant and explain exactly what information is needed. If appellants can be more explicit right at the start on what it is about the decision they object to, the agencies can better identify cases that can be corrected without the appellant waiting for six months to go to a hearing. It may be that all the appellant wants is an explanation, and that can be given. I should have thought that most noble Lords would welcome progress in that regard.

With regard to the noble Earl's concern about incapacity benefit appeals, he was worried about mental incapacity descriptors. I do not believe that his concerns are justified. A person may submit medical evidence in the form, for example, of a letter from his or her doctor. Such people do not need to argue about the descriptors. That is not a problem that will impinge on people with mental difficulties.

The proposal to reduce the notice period of a hearing from 10 to five days was not supported by the Council on Tribunals. It is 10 days at the moment. After further consideration, we decided that seven days was sufficient as a minimum—I stress a minimum—period for all jurisdictions except child support. Appellants are informed by the ITS early in the process of the time they expect to receive papers from the agency and can use that time to prepare their case. They do not start preparing their case when they are told they are about to go to the hearing. They can start preparing the case much earlier. The papers themselves are generally issued 14 days before the hearing. Appellants' rights are protected by the fact that, if a given date is not manageable, they can request a postponement.

If your Lordships listened carefully to the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, you might have been forgiven for thinking that there was no option for postponement: if the appellant did not turn up, then that was that. That is not true. He or she can request a postponement. Someone in the circumstances of the case mentioned by the noble Earl can have a domiciliary hearing—they can have a home visit for the hearing—or they can have the taxi fare paid. If the noble Earl wants to give me the details of the case I shall look into it, but so far as concerns the general rules, I do not believe that there should have been a problem in that case if it was as the noble Earl has presented.

We have made some other minor changes. For example, we have allowed clerks to make straightforward decisions on postponement and change-of-venue requests, thus freeing up the time of the chairmen to sit more often and hear more appeals. Other changes include making withdrawals more simple, strengthening the chairmen's powers of direction, giving the chairmen the option of expediting a hearing and not requiring a particular notice to be sent to an appellant whose whereabouts are not known.

The reason for making those changes was to enable the ITS to offer appellants a better, quicker service. We are confident that they offer more flexibility, removing some unhelpful procedures from the system. The impact of the changes will of course be monitored. We hope that they will allow for a reduction in the time appellants have to wait to have their dispute resolved without in any way affecting an appellant's rights.

I am surprised that the noble Baroness and the noble Earl can disagree with that objective. The proposals will help the ITS to work for the benefit of those people who appeal. It will mean that their appeals will be held more quickly, and therefore, if they win their appeal, they will receive their benefit sooner. The noble Earl normally approves of that. Having heard my case, I hope that he will approve of it this evening.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he answer, perhaps in writing, the point I raised about only the chairmen having the full papers in advance and the two tribunal members not seeing the papers literally until they turn up? Can he give me an assurance to that effect or write to me about it?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness about that.

6.15 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the Minister warmly for his reply on illiterates, but I am afraid that that is all that is left of the harmony with which we so happily began the day. I am afraid that we are now resuming business as usual. I heard what the Minister said about there being no need to argue about the descriptors in an incapacity benefit test. I wonder whether he could convey that opinion around the country to the Benefits Agency, because what he says is not what is happening on the ground.

I am also aware that it is possible to put in a request for a postponement of a hearing. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that the CABs are reporting that such requests are being routinely refused point blank without any reason. What the Minister says is true, but it is not sufficient.

The Minister also argues—I must admit that I found this a little cool—that we should speed up the procedure because people suffer hardship because they wait without benefit pending appeal. The Minister knows my views and those of the noble Baroness on people being made to wait without benefit pending appeal. If he had listened to us in the first place, his argument would have no force.

Of course I understand the need to speed up proceedings whenever it is possible, but I have listened to lawyers and to judges arguing about the need to speed up proceedings. What one hears there is a heartbreakingly difficult see-saw balancing operation between the need for speed and the need for justice. It is only if one understands both those needs that one can even attempt to balance them at all. Mr. Roger Evans, introducing these regulations in another place is not as careful over his choice of language as is the Minister here. Mr. Evans said: These reforms are directed to reducing inefficiencies; they have no bearing on whether justice is being done, but are designed to ensure that the system operates properly".—[Official Report, Commons, Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 7/11/96; col. 5.] I should have thought that whether the system operates properly had something to do with whether it was just, but we are here back with our old ministerial friend "efficiency". I have been complaining for years that government departments are far more interested in efficiency than in effectiveness. This is yet another example of that fact, and a very sad one. There is no use speeding things up by getting them wrong, because that is when you get to the point when efficiency is not efficient.

I was of course aware of the Green Paper. I have read it in full, and been extremely interested in it. I had some misgivings about it at the time. Those misgivings have substantially increased during today's debate. I agree with the Minister when he says that there continues to be an absolute right to an oral hearing, but some rights are easier to exercise than others. This one is rather harder than it was before. If that is not the purpose of the regulation on oral hearings, then what on earth is its purpose? If it is not designed to discourage oral hearings, surely it is totally redundant. It can serve no other useful purpose.

Of course I understand that the president of the tribunal is not likely to send out reasons in Chinese characters, but the Minister should now be familiar with the word "vires". He is being given powers so that he could if he wanted to. I do not believe that that is good legislation. In general, that was a reply which was worthy of British Gas. I am not going to press this Motion to a Division now. It would not control that exercise of power. I am afraid that we must accept that the control of executive power, because it is not being done here, must be left to the courts. If the Government do not like that, they will have to alter the operation of Parliament. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.