Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Boyd-Carpenter: The noble Earl, Lord Russell, is a very experienced and, if he will allow me to say so, very effective parliamentarian and I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will be ready to answer fully the points which he made, I thought with considerable fairness and certainly considerable authority. I rise only to support one thing

20 Apr 1995 : Column 589

he said, and that is when he indicated that he thought it was unwise of the Government to try to restrict the Committee stage debates on this Bill to three days.

This Bill is a Bill of very great importance to a great many of our fellow countrymen. It is also, as even a perfunctory study of it makes only too clear, an extremely complicated measure in which it is always possible that government and even the best of Ministers may make mistakes, and it would be an advantage if this Chamber, with the great volume of expertise which it includes in its membership, were to be able to discuss it fully. Therefore, it seems to me that a three-day limit is a very great mistake and that it will involve rushing the Bill, or rushing at any rate this stage of the Bill, and also perhaps taking a good deal of it at an inconvenient hour of the night. Therefore I hope that my noble friend the Minister, when perhaps he has contemplated what happens in today's debate, will reconsider the question of limiting the Committee stage to three days.

I appreciate fully, because I served as a Minister for a good many years, the compulsions—and the desirability obviously from a Government's point of view—to get their legislation in good time. But there is an answer to all that and that answer is to do what in any event we will do next week; and that is to sit on some Fridays. It would be perfectly possible to include at any rate another day of the Committee stage on a Friday since, as I understand it, only next Friday is at the moment hypothecated to a particular debate.

I know that the Government, with their very tender and proper concern for the convenience of Ministers, are not always keen to sit on Fridays. However, given the volume of business which your Lordships' House is being asked to consider, I believe that the answer is to take an additional Friday rather than curtail this Committee stage to three days. Four days, or perhaps even five days, might well be devoted profitably to this Bill.

I suggest to my noble friend that that is not only in the national interest but in the interests of the Government. I know from experience that this is the kind of Bill in which it is possible to make mistakes. It would be an advantage to the Government to have a full debate, with the possibility of revealing errors, difficulties of drafting and so on, which can only be brought out if there is full debate.

For that reason, and also because I happen to be a great believer in the review functions of your Lordships' House, I ask the Government to consider, when today's debate is over (I do not ask the Minister to reply to this point this afternoon), at least a further day and possibly two further days in Committee.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may begin by expressing my total agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his sympathetic remarks to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I hope that we see her back shortly.

20 Apr 1995 : Column 590

I heard the words "I am going to resist making a Second Reading speech". I shall also use them but, unlike the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, I shall resist making another Second Reading speech. I shall address myself to the amendments in front of us. We shall come to the other matters in the course of today and the two days to come.

That allows me to address the point of whether we have three days, four days or even five days, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter invited me to contemplate. We have just had five days on the Committee stage of the Pensions Bill, which was a very much larger Bill than this and covered a wider field. Indeed, we debated that Bill first, before the other place. This Bill comes to us having been through the other place. It has been through its Committee and Report stages there. Taking into account the time allocated to the Pensions Bill and other Bills, I believe that three days is about right for this Bill. I hope that we can study all the various parts of the Bill during those three days.

Amendment No. 1 is a paving amendment for the noble Earl's main amendment, Amendment No. 184, which invites me and the Committee to postpone the introduction of the jobseeker's allowance until April 1997. Clause 37(2) of the Bill provides that the substantive provisions of the Bill will come into force on a date set by the Secretary of State. This gives the Secretary of State discretion to set the actual date of introduction as he judges appropriate. Subsection (3) of that clause allows for different dates to be set for the introduction of different aspects of the provisions.

Members of the Committee are aware that our intention has always been to introduce JSA in April 1996. That remains the case. The noble Earl clearly recognises that the introduction of JSA is a large and complex task. We also recognise that. He would prefer us, in recognition of that fact, to take an additional year to complete the task, with a greater degree of certainty of getting the implementation right first time. The noble Baroness, mindful of the Government's welfare, concurred with that argument. Tempting as it may be to succumb to those blandishments, I must invite the Committee not to accept the amendment in the noble Earl's name.

I give the Committee and the noble Earl this assurance. We are closely monitoring progress towards implementation. As was announced in another place, we have commissioned an external review of the work being carried out to implement JSA. That review will help us to ensure that all the necessary arrangements are put in place to introduce JSA in April 1996.

If we conclude, for whatever reason and at whatever date, that the arrangements being made for the introduction of JSA in April 1996 are such that there is an unacceptable risk that things might go wrong, then we shall certainly consider alternatives. One of the alternatives would be to delay the date of introduction. One of the objectives of the jobseeker's allowance is to improve the service we offer to jobseekers. We certainly do not intend to put that at risk.

I am not sure whether I shall be in order if I try to answer some of the questions the noble Earl asked me about two aspects of the implementation of the Bill and

20 Apr 1995 : Column 591

the jobseeker's allowance. On the question of premises, I can tell the noble Earl that the payment of JSA will, as far as possible, be made from Employment Service Jobcentres. We think that that is the right place to do it. In practice, how the staff are spread across the Employment Service and Benefits Agency offices will be managed pragmatically by each district, with a view to obtaining the best value for money for the state and providing the best service for the people who visit us. Planning guidance is currently with the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency. Field organisations in various parts of the country are considering all these matters and related issues as to how we provide the "front of house" service for the claimant who comes looking for a job.

The noble Earl kindly gave me advance notice that he was going to ask these questions on adjudication officers. I shall answer his questions as quickly as possible and I hope that the Committee will bear with me. I was asked the questions and I ought to try to answer them.

There are approximately 650 specialist adjudication officers currently employed by the Employment Service to give decisions on doubtful claims for unemployment benefit and to process appeals against decisions. That figure excludes adjudication officers working in regional offices on advisory monitoring duties and officers with adjudication powers who award benefit in straightforward cases.

The Benefits Agency calculates the number of adjudication officers differently, as adjudication officers are mainly drawn from staff in LO1 and LO2 grades. They have many other duties in addition to adjudication. Therefore, it is not so easy to provide an accurate figure on how staff are deployed. However, we estimate that there are currently approximately 11,000 such staff, although I must emphasise that that is an estimate.

The noble Earl asked about the pay rates of the staff. The Benefits Agency has no set grade for adjudication officers. Generally, adjudication is undertaken by officers of two grades and those grades have average salaries of £15,848 for an LO1 and £11,852 for an LO2. In the Employment Service the post of specialist AO is graded as falling within the Employment Service management pay band 6. The salary range is £12,300 to £15,900. I am afraid that I do not have enough information on which to calculate the average rate of pay for adjudication officers.

The legal status of adjudication officers derives from a centralised instrument of appointment. The instrument makes a block appointment of those staff who are employed wholly or partly on social security adjudication. Individual adjudication officers do not receive a personalised letter of appointment. Officers in the Employment Service are appointed by an Assistant Secretary on behalf of the Secretary of State for Social Security with the concurrence of the Chief Executive of the Employment Service on behalf of the Secretary of State for Employment. They are civil servants. They are recruited and promoted with regard to their capability to act as adjudication officers. Conditions of service in both services are the same as those for all permanent civil servants who work in either agency.

20 Apr 1995 : Column 592

I was asked about average waiting time on appeals. Information is not available on individual reasons for appeals and could only be obtained at considerable cost. For appeals against all decisions on unemployment benefit in the quarter ending June 1994, which is the latest period for which we have figures, the average time from the lodging of the appeal to the date of hearing was 22.4 weeks. Employment Service adjudication officers process appeals and submit them to the Independent Tribunal Service in an average of 21 days from the date of receipt. Of course, many appeals are dealt with more quickly.

Lastly, I was asked whether we plan to appoint any more adjudication officers. Under JSA there will be more adjudication officers making labour market decisions, as front-line staff in the Employment Service will become involved in specific areas for the first time. There will be a reduction in the adjudication work that is currently carried out at ES sector adjudication offices as responsibility for payment adjudication will transfer to the BA. The organisations will consider the number of staff employed on adjudication during the course of working out how they are to deliver the service.

I have answered as briefly as I can the questions sent to me by the noble Earl. I come back to the substantive point that I wish to make in relation to the amendments before us. If for any reason we conclude that the arrangements for introduction pose an unacceptable risk we will certainly take the steps available to us to delay the date of introduction. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Earl will feel able to seek leave to withdraw his amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page