HL Deb 19 November 1996 vol 575 cc1200-11

3.31 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill brings about a fundamental change in the benefit recovery process. Its central objective is to allow victims of accident, injury or disease to retain their compensation for pain and suffering. At the same time we will ensure that public funds do not subsidise the negligence of others. We anticipate that our reforms will save the taxpayer £50 million a year.

The compensation recovery scheme is not, I have to admit, a well known part of the social security system, although the principle behind it is plain. A person who suffers an accident, injury or disease may receive compensation from a third party for the loss he has sustained. He may also receive social security benefits following the same incident. Those benefits may replace lost income or contribute to the cost of care or mobility. That means that the victim could receive two payments to meet the same need. Benefit recovery prevents that by recouping benefits paid from public funds.

This policy is founded on the principle that an individual should not receive double provision to meet the same need. Although this long-standing common law principle pre-dates the modern welfare state, Sir William Beveridge articulated it clearly in his historic report Social Insurance and Allied Services, published in 1942. I quote: An injured person should not have the same need met twice over. He should get benefit at once without prejudice to any alternative remedy, but if the remedy proves in fact to be available he should not in the end get more from two sources together than he would have got from one alone. Before the Government introduced the current scheme in 1990, compensation recovery was an inconsistent business. Compensation was reduced to recover benefits already paid, but the amount deducted differed from benefit to benefit. For some benefits, 50 per cent. was deductible. For others, the full amount paid was brought to account. Recovery of some benefits could reduce compensation up to five years from the date of the incident. For other benefits, there was no time limit. This inconsistent approach disadvantaged some accident victims. Furthermore, the compensator retained any deduction that he made on account of benefits paid. So although double compensation of victims was prevented, the taxpayer lost out and the negligent party was subsidised.

In a report produced in 1986 the National Audit Office concluded that it was wrong for public funds to be used to subsidise negligence. It recommended that the amounts deducted from compensation should be recovered for the taxpayer. Subsequently, the Public Accounts Committee urged the Government to set up such a scheme. The Government commissioned a review of the relationship between compensation and benefit payments. Following the review, they decided to act. The current compensation recovery scheme was introduced as part of the Social Security Act 1989.

The current scheme certainly delivers value for money. In the last financial year the compensation recovery unit recovered benefit in 45,000 cases—an average of £4,000 in each. A total of almost £140 million was recovered—more than £2 million of taxpayers' money recovered each week. With operating costs of only £3 million, the taxpayer is getting a very good deal. The Bill will deliver an even better one.

The Social Security Select Committee has played a part in focusing attention on the current scheme, and on ways by which it might be improved. At the beginning of 1995, the Select Committee decided to, inquire into the policy and practice of the compensation recovery unit, and the legislation on which it is based". It took evidence from the department, and from a range of other interested parties, and reported in July 1995. In its unanimous report the Select Committee reached conclusions about the scheme that are of crucial importance. It concluded that, it was right for the Government to shift the advantage of recovery to the taxpayer who lost out to the insurer under the pre-1990 scheme". It added that, the taxpayer should not be in the business of paying benefit for compensating individuals who have suffered injury or disease for which the courts would hold someone else responsible". The Government welcome those conclusions. They provide confirmation that the Government were right to introduce a scheme which has the protection of the taxpayer at its heart.

I turn to an aspect of the current scheme to which the Select Committee drew particular attention. It is that the recoupment process can sometimes result in erosion of compensation for pain and suffering. The Bill will put that right. Under the current scheme, compensation is reduced by the amount of benefits paid following the accident regardless of what the compensation is for. It follows that in cases where the benefit paid is more than the compensation payable for reasons other than pain and suffering, erosion of this element may occur.

Under the reformed scheme, the parties will negotiate a settlement on the basis that compensation for pain and suffering is to be paid in full. This will apply regardless of the benefits which the compensator is to repay to the department. In this way, we will protect elements of compensation which have no direct parallels within the benefit system. A key advantage of the arrangement we propose is that it will not complicate negotiations in out-of-court settlements. We will not be placing a bureaucratic requirement on the compensator to specify the elements of compensation that are payable in each individual case. To do so would disturb the negotiating process and increase the risk of litigation since most cases agree a global settlement figure which does not identify component parts. Where the case is subject to the judgment of a court, the deductions from compensation that are to be made will be specified by the court.

I turn to another important feature of our proposals. The Select Committee recommended that the Government should recover all benefits whenever compensation is paid. Small claims that are settled at or below £2,500 are not currently recovered. The purpose of the limit is to remove the need for compensators and the department to process cases where the amount of benefit paid as a consequence of the accident is limited or non-existent. To recover all benefits would mean removing the small payments limit.

In the course of preparing for the Bill independent consultants discovered that a disproportionate number of compensation settlements have been pitched at or around the small payments limit. They suggest that many victims have settled for compensation at less than true value. Furthermore, insurers and compensators have gained while the taxpayer lost through unrecovered benefits. We cannot allow this situation to continue. We have therefore decided to remove the small payments limit as part of our reforms. We are retaining the power to set a limit should this be needed in the future. Removal of the small payments limit would plainly involve an increase in the number of cases processed by the compensation recovery unit and by insurers. We believe that this is necessary to ensure that all benefits are recovered and the taxpayer is fully protected.

That brings me to the cost of our proposals. We recognise that this area of the department's work is a specialised one. For that reason we commissioned independent consultants to produce a compliance cost assessment. Fifteen major insurers were closely involved, and I would like to place on record our gratitude for their support and for the valuable assistance they provided. The compliance cost assessment estimated that insurers would face increased claims costing between £52 million and £72 million in each year following reform. The anticipated cost to insurers of implementing the new arrangements will be marginal. The cost of operating them is likely to be between £3 million and £7 million a year.

These increases in costs need to be viewed against a background of markets in which insurance premiums exceed £8 billion each year. If passed on to policyholders, the increase in costs is likely to produce only moderate increases in premium rates. The assessment concluded that employers' liability insurance premia could rise by around 5 per cent. and public liability premia by around 3 per cent. Motor insurance premia are expected to rise by no more than half of 1 per cent. We believe a rise in premia of this order will be seen as acceptable given the protection the Bill offers to victims, and to the taxpayer.

In developing our proposals we have listened carefully to the views of interested parties. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State mounted two consultation exercises before coming forward with our proposals. He consulted on the implications of reform along the lines proposed by the Select Committee and on the findings contained in the compliance costs assessment. The organisations consulted adopted a very constructive approach in responding to the issues raised. Both exercises revealed a broad measure of support for reform of the scheme. We have therefore decided to act. Reform of the scheme will take effect from October next year. It will affect all claims not determined before implementation and those arising subsequently. This means that the additional costs identified in the compliance cost assessment will accrue immediately rather than build up gradually over a period of years.

The Government do not impose burdens on business lightly. But it is important to consider the implications if the new arrangements were confined to claims arising after the point of change. For years we would face the situation where two accident victims, having sustained comparable injuries and losses, could receive markedly different compensation payments purely on the basis of the point at which their claim had been lodged. That would be rightly perceived as unfair. It is why we propose that the new scheme should benefit cases still in the pipeline at implementation as well as those arising afterwards.

The compensator will be liable to pay all recoverable benefits whether or not the contract of insurance was taken out before the point of change. To avoid any doubt, it may be necessary for us to put down amendments to ensure that the new liability applies in all such cases. In proposing these arrangements we have given careful thought to ways in which the burden on the insurance industry may be minimised. We have concluded that giving insurers a full year's notice of reform is the right approach. I know that some commentators would like to see the new arrangements implemented as quickly as possible. I suspect that during the passage of the Bill the Government will receive strong representations on the point, in particular from those who feel that the progress of claims that could benefit from the new rules will become stultified in the period before implementation.

I do not dismiss those concerns. However, I am convinced that in some cases a behavioural response by the parties to negotiations is inevitable in advance of implementation. The parties to negotiations will invariably take account of the proximity of reform when reaching a decision on whether or not to settle. In many cases both parties will reach the conclusion that reform will have no effect on the size of the settlement, and that there is nothing to be gained by slowing or .suspending negotiations. In some others, the knowledge that a delay in settlement will lead to an increase in the amount of recoverable benefit may lead to an improved offer being made and accepted in the period before implementation. Inevitably, there will be some claims which are delayed until the autumn of next year, but I believe that that is a price worth paying to secure a substantial improvement in the current arrangements.

I would like to mention another measure contained in the Bill. We plan to streamline the present appeal system for benefit recovery decisions, which is complex and has led to difficulties. I should make it plain that we have no intention of diminishing the rights to appeal which exist in this area; in fact, our reforms should make the process more intelligible and therefore more accessible. Our plans have the support of the independent tribunal service.

The change in the scheme that we are making is a relatively straightforward one but the Bill may appear long and somewhat complicated. Perhaps I can explain why. Rather than make piecemeal amendments to the existing statute, the parliamentary draftsman has restated the relevant part of the Social Security Administration Act in its entirety. This will make it easier for your Lordships to see the proposed new scheme in the round without constantly having to refer back to a previous Act. Furthermore, if enacted in this form, it should prove easier for practitioners to absorb the changes we are making. It should also help the scheme to run smoothly in the years following reform. Naturally, the Bill contains the necessary amendments to effect what is an important shift in responsibility for the repayment of benefit. But, as far as is possible, we have thought it right to disturb as little of the detail of the present scheme as possible. I believe that there is a widespread consensus that it works well, and we do not want to put that at risk.

I would like to mention in particular Clause 31 of the Bill, which allows the Secretary of State to make consequential and transitional provisions. The broad intention of Clause 31 is to enable compensation claims determined but not paid before the point of change to be dealt with under the current scheme but, in addition, to apply new rules to such cases where it is administratively sensible to do so. One example is the simplified appeals process. It would be logical to apply that process to all compensation claims outstanding at the point of change.

I look forward to debating the Bill. I am confident that we will agree that in all its essentials it is beneficial and worthwhile in every way. I may find it rather unusual to present a Bill which, I suspect, is going to meet with a good deal of support from all parts of the House. It will achieve three important objectives. First and foremost, it will protect compensation for pain and suffering from the benefit recovery process. Secondly, it will deliver full protection for the taxpayer. Thirdly, it will be fair to the compensator who will be empowered to reduce the settlement where a corresponding benefit is repaid to the department. As such, I believe that our proposals are fair to the victim, to the taxpayer and to business. I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

3.48 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I was not sure that I would ever be saying from these Benches that regard a social security Bill as a good one, but I do so. I say unambiguously that we welcome it. It is a good Bill because it will make a real difference to the lives of many injured people while at the same time benefiting the position of the taxpayer, as the Minister has explained. In this House and in the other place, we shall seek to help the Government in speeding this Bill through.

Four per cent. of the working population in the past year had an accident. Therefore, this Bill could potentially affect one in 25 of us. As the Minister says, the Bill seems technical but it is highly important. It rectifies a deep injustice of the 1989 Act because that Act clawed back benefits, for example, paid out for loss of earnings, not just against that element of compensation which was for loss of earnings, but also recovered it against damages for pain and suffering. That often meant that whether or not the victim went to court for damages ultimately made no difference to the money received.

Perhaps I may cite just a couple of cases that were quoted in the fourth report last year of the Select Committee on Social Security. Some of the harshest cases involve asbestosis sufferers. The Select Committee was told by Clydeside Action on Asbestos, to which I am sure we would all like to pay tribute, that where there was a difficulty in establishing liability and where someone had been on benefit for a long time, an individual sufferer might be awarded £30,000 in compensation, every penny of which was clawed back for lost benefit by the compensation recovery unit. Another man, who suffered a severe back injury in an industrial accident, told the Select Committee: I have recently been offered £25,000 as full and final payment for my injuries, only to be informed by my solicitors that I owe the CRU £21,000 and after paying solicitors and medical bills, I will probably be left with nothing". That is intolerable.

Rightly, the Bill proposes to ringfence general damages for pain and suffering from benefit recovery. The going rate for suffering is not particularly generous. It is £5,000 for a whiplash injury; only £20,000 for the loss of an eye; £40,000 for the loss of an arm or a leg; and £50,000 for sterility. One thinks by contrast of the damages awarded in some libel cases. However, we are pleased that at least that element of compensation will remain with the victim and we are delighted that the Government saw fit to respond to the fourth report of the Select Committee on Social Security, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the TUC and the Law Society, all of which have worked with the Government to make the Bill feasible.

The original Act was passed in 1989. It is clear that 1988 and 1989 were bad years for social security legislation. It is striking that today we are debating two such measures. One is the Child Support Agency. The Government introduced the CSA to push the cost of child maintenance from the taxpayer to the father. At the same time they introduced CRU, the compensation recovery unit, to push the cost of supporting the victim from the taxpayer on to the insurer. Both measures were designed to save the taxpayer money. Both have had precisely the opposite effect. Because the Government were so grasping, the taxpayer has ended up worse off. Measures from the Child Support Agency, which we shall be debating later, were made retrospective, with no benefit disregard for mothers, and originally with no appeal procedures for fathers. As a result, there has been so little compliance that when the administration costs are removed, the CSA is revealed to have collected little more than the original liable relative scheme. Had the Government worked with families instead of merely seeking to claw back benefit from them, the taxpayer would have been better off.

The same is true of compensation recovery. Because the scheme was designed to recover money for the taxpayer rather than for the victim—just like the CSA, which sought money for the taxpayer rather than for the mother and child—it was often not in the interest of the victim to go to court and to pursue the claim against the insurer. Therefore, because the Government were grasping, the taxpayer ended up with nothing at all. All organisations, including the Labour Party, the insurers and the Confederation of British Industry, warned the Government at the time that that 1989 Act was not only unfair but ineffective, but the Government would not listen. As the Minister rightly said, the consequence has been that the victims have too often settled for the tiny ringfenced sum of £2,500 even when their injuries would have entitled them to claim much more. They did so because they knew that any sums won by going to court were likely to be rechurned back to the Government. So why bother? Why take the risk? Why face the strain? As a result, the insurers of defaulting companies were let off the hook and did not pay what they should; the Government got little or nothing and the taxpayer got absolutely nothing at all. It was a mistake. Given that the Government transferred all the risk and the cost to the victim while, through compensation recovery, taking all the benefit to themselves, it is not surprising that victims opted out and that the taxpayer lost out.

We are delighted that this Bill is an opportunity to rectify that situation and to act fairly to victims and sensibly towards the taxpayer. How many people stand to gain? As I understand it, there are about 2 million accidents a year leading to about 300,000 claims and 100,000 court proceedings, of which about 90 per cent. are successful. Most are for industrial or motoring injuries. Some involve public liability, such as when somebody slips in a restaurant and breaks a leg. The average length of time that it takes to settle a case is about two-and-a-half years, although one in 10 takes longer than six years. Someone with a minor injury, such as a whiplash injury from a motor accident, may be back at work within a month or two and will not be dependent on benefit. However, if the accident generates a chronic disabling condition, the victim may not be able to return to work and will instead depend on benefit. That is why there is benefit recovery in 30 to 40 per cent. of cases. As the Minister said, at the moment the CRU claws back about £140 million.

As I have tried to suggest, the problem with the 1989 Act was that there was an inbuilt incentive not to sue, but to settle too cheaply, and that let the taxpayer take the strain of the benefit bill. As the Minister rightly said, we hope that these proposals will bring about greater equity for the victim and the taxpayer alike. Having said that, I hope that the Minister will be able to help us on the following issues. He addressed one or two of our concerns in his opening remarks, but in terms of thinking of amendments it would help us to know the Government's views on some other points.

First, we welcome Clause 2 which provides full retrospectivity for cases currently under discussion. However, Clause 31 relates to Clause 2 and may allow that clause to be disregarded. Under what circumstances may the provisions of Clause 2 be set aside by the Government?

Secondly, how do the Government propose to deal with the difficult question of contributory negligence and litigation risk? Will there be a proportional recovery of benefits for proportional contributory negligence? The Minister seemed to suggest—I may have misheard him; I hope that I did—that the victim will not get a breakdown of heads of damages from the compensator. If that is the case, I ask the Minister seriously to think again because it is important that the claimant has full information on that point.

Thirdly, the Minister referred to the small payments limit and suggested—I do not disagree—that the figure of £2,500 is no longer relevant and that it serves to depress claims, letting defaulting companies off the hook. Nonetheless, as the Minister also accepted, there is a case for a de minimis in order to get rid of small claims which cost more and clog up the system. Do the Government have a de minimis figure of, say, £500 in mind? What is the Government's thinking on that? A small payments limit would surely be sensible.

What happens when loss of earnings is awarded in court for only two years out of the four years that someone is away from work due to injury but the DSS seeks to recover benefit for all four years? What happens when a medical advisory tribunal is at odds with a court on that issue? I should be grateful if the Minister could write to me to give me a steer on such issues.

What about the continuing problem of interim payments? A case was cited to the Select Committee on Social Security involving an operation to a damaged knee. There was a very long NHS waiting list, so the victim suggested that he should have treatment privately so that he could get back to work quickly. He therefore sought £3,500 to pay for that, plus modest loss of earnings. He received an interim payment of £5,000 and the DSS clawed back £2,000 or £3,000-worth of benefits. As a result, the man was not left with enough money to pay for the operation; he did not have that operation and remains out of work and on benefit. Can we have a steer from the Government about what they propose to do over the issue of interim payments, particularly in such circumstances?

We are also worried about the number of exclusions and exemptions under Part I of Schedule 1. Too many conditions appear to be excluded, such as fatal accidents and criminal injuries. Will the Government assure the House that they will be open to consensual amendment on that point?

I turn now to a wider issue. I realise that because this Bill deals with recovery it cannot address all of the injustices and difficulties inherent in compensation for personal injuries through the courts. For example, there may continue to be problems where the state of medical knowledge develops beyond the date of settlement and therefore the victim is left in an unfair situation through no one's fault. I have in mind medical knowledge associated with organophosphates. Those problems are much more serious than might have been anticipated when the original settlement was made. Obviously this Bill cannot address that problem, but it remains an injustice.

An injustice also remains where a victim is unable to identify a defendant against whom to sue for damages. Whether a defendant exists or not and whether or not compensation can be achieved over and beyond benefit recovery are very often random matters.

There is also a particular DSS concern, which the Minister will recognise, about the interlocking of this Bill with the capital rules for means tested benefits. Although under this Bill an individual will have his damages for suffering ringfenced from recovery for benefits already paid out by the DSS—clearly and unambiguously we welcome that—if he subsequently finds himself on non-means tested benefit such as incapacity benefit, damages for suffering will continue to be ringfenced and retained by him as an award for his pain. But is it not the case that a victim who does not receive incapacity benefit because he achieves only 11 or 12 and not 15 points, and who while disabled is not sufficiently disabled to get incapacity benefit, will find himself on means tested JSA but his damages for suffering will no longer be ringfenced but will be used under the capital rules to reduce the benefits that he would otherwise have received? Will they not be eaten away unless either he spends them quickly or puts them into a trust?

I do not ask the Government in this Bill to open up the question of capital rules for means tested benefits. That would have far-reaching implications, financial and otherwise. But I believe it is right to recognise that, as the Government move from non-means tested contributory benefit to means tested benefit, as they have with JSA, it creates new injustices in its trail. We may be seeing one such in this Bill today.

I conclude by saying that we greatly welcome this Bill. We hope that as a result victims will properly retain those damages due to pain and suffering, thus rightfully relieving those unquantifiable burdens of distress and hardship that fall upon them and their families. We hope that the taxpayer will recover from the compensator the benefits paid out to the victim in full because there will no longer be any temptation for the victim to avoid a court case and settle for £2,500, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the benefits bill. We also hope that the Bill will encourage insurers to settle speedily, rather than drag out cases, knowing that they face benefit recoupment. Further, we hope that insurers, who I suspect will have to pass on higher premiums to companies, will now be pressing those organisations to improve their health and safety practices and secure a better working environment; and that at least on this measure the Government will be on the side of the good employer and on the side of the victim. We welcome that.

4.3 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, it falls to me to complete the hat trick and join in the general welcome around this Chamber for the Bill. I welcome the principles on which it is based and the intention behind it. I even welcome a large part of the drafting. I am glad to see it and wish it a fair wind. I will do the best I can to assist it to reach the statute book.

I slightly regret that in introducing a Bill which puts right an injustice caused by Section 22 of the Social Security Act 1989 the Minister nevertheless feels the need to defend the 1989 principle which he seeks to reverse. In 1989 a number of noble Lords were involved in the issue: the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who was in charge of the Bill and who taught me how, with much courtesy and skill, bad legislation could be managed; the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway; the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, whose speech I look forward to hearing in a few minutes; the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale; and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. In particular, I remember the incandescent anger of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, at discovering that damages for pain and suffering were to be clawed back by the DSS in order to recoup benefit. We were assured many times that it was absolutely impossible to distinguish between damages for loss of earnings and damages for pain and suffering. I am delighted that the Government now understand that this is not the case.

The Minister is entitled to congratulate himself on having listened, before preparing the Bill, to all interested parties. The department has done so with great care and to good purpose. One recognises that this is one of those cases in which the costs must fall somewhere. One is dealing with the costs of benefit paid to those who have suffered illness or injury for which someone else is subsequently found liable. Those damages may fall in one of three places: on the taxpayer, the victim or the compensator. If we consider it as a matter of equity, it should be clear that the victim is the least suitable place on which the damages should fall. It is probable that the victim will have the least resources and is least to blame for the fact that the damages have arisen. When one considers the question as between the taxpayer and the compensator, clearly the compensator is, like Belloc's George, in part to blame. Therefore, there is an equitable case for saying that the compensator ought to pay. In both cases—the compensator or the taxpayer—the costs will spread out with a ripple effect. The ripple will spread either to the taxpayer if it is the DSS or the insurance payer if it is the compensator. It means that in one way or another you and I end up paying. I am still not absolutely persuaded that insurance premiums rather than taxes are the fairest way to proceed but that is not a point of great importance. I do not intend now to make an issue of it.

I am interested in improving a few small points in the Bill. Even though they are somewhat technical, I mention them now in the hope that it will save time later. I was extremely interested to hear from the noble Baroness about the person who did not quite qualify for incapacity benefit but nevertheless was not fit for regular work. I shall listen to what she says on that point later in the Bill. I do not immediately see the appropriate remedy but I shall be happy to discuss it.

In Clause 3 I wonder about the different treatment of illness and injury. Obviously, there is a very grey area as between the two. I am reminded of my father's first diplomatic assignment during which he argued at great length with the French about whether or not a lobster was a fish. I can imagine a similar argument taking place about whether radiation sickness is an illness or an injury. It may be of great profit to lawyers, but it makes me wonder whether the distinction between the two treatments is really justifiable. I should like to back up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, about mesothelioma. That is a matter to which we shall have to pay further attention.

Clauses 4 and 5 deal with the certificate of compensation recovery and the situation where there is an error in the original certificate. The Bill provides that in that case the Minister may issue a fresh certificate. I believe that that is too permissive drafting and that in that clause and perhaps also in Clause 10 "shall" is rather more appropriate than "may".

In Clause 16 there is a fearsome-sounding Henry VIII provision that modifies the Bill in any case in which a payment into court is made. I believe I understand why the Government word it as they have done. There are a number of reasons, one of which is a sub judice case which will impede our debating of the principles involved. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister can give me a clear exposition of why he thinks the Henry VIII power is needed. I hope too that he can define its purposes slightly more tightly than is achieved in the Bill. I shall listen to his answers with interest before considering any next steps.

The Bill contains an extremely open-ended commencement clause. The measure may be brought into effect at practically any time whatever. I accept the point made by Sir William Wade, in a memorandum to the first report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, that these entirely open-ended commencement clauses may be risky. I was pleased to hear what the Minister had to say about October next, but I would be even more pleased if he could put into the clause a terminus ante quem because I want to see the Bill come into effect.

Clause 10 deals with supplying misleading information so that a new compensation recovery certificate is needed. That deals only with the compensator, but of course the insurer may be the one supplying the information. A wider-embracing clause might be useful. In Schedule 1 paragraph 8 there is a reference to "any prescribed payment" as something which may be excluded. I should like to know what the Minister has in mind. Again, I shall consider the further situation after listening to his answer.

The small payments limit we shall obviously have to discuss a great deal. The retaining of the power while abolishing the limit argues a certain hesitation in the mind of the Government. As we go through the Bill I should like, if I may, to probe what is behind that hesitation and again listen to the answers and make up my mind as to what I think when I have heard them.

I am on the whole happy with what the Minister said about treatment of cases in the pipeline, but again that is something we shall have to discuss further. I hope to be helpful in raising points upon which I believe agreement may very well be reached. I do not wish to delay the Bill. I wish the Bill a fair wind.