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Lord Higgins: I am very conscious of being sandwiched between two lawyers. In view of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about laymen not understanding the concept of frivolous and vexatious, I feel that I should perhaps have consulted my wife. It seems to me that the argument put forward by the noble Lord was very convincing and I hope that we might have a reasonable response from the Minister.

Lord Hardie: I always endeavour to give a reasonable response. I start by reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that not only will the regulations give appellants the opportunity to make representations as to why their appeal should not be struck out; they will also enable appellants to apply for their appeal to be reinstated. The regulations will deal with how that is to be done. Whether or not that will be by making representations to the person concerned, I can certainly say that there will be provision for that.

I can give the noble Lord further reassurance. As I understand it, his concern is that any decision to strike out should be at the instance of a member of the panel, although he goes on to say that that should preferably be a legally qualified member. I can give the assurance that it will be by a member of a panel and not by a clerk or other employee of the Secretary of State. That again will be covered in the regulations.

The only issue between us is whether this member of the panel has to be legally qualified. I can assure your Lordships that persons who sit on tribunals will receive adequate and appropriate training before doing so and, in consultation with the Secretary of State and chief medical officers, the president will arrange for the training of all panel members. The training will cover areas such as relevant legislation, the powers of appeal tribunals and how those powers are to be used, together with the procedural rules relating to tribunals and commissioners. Panel members will also receive training in the conduct of hearings so that the facts can be established and decisions reached by applying the law to those facts. The president of the tribunals will be closely involved in the designing of the training programme itself, so that all panel members will be given appropriate training. It will be ultimately for the president to decide which panel members are qualified to take decisions such as striking out. If there are some who are not, then he would decide that and he presumably will have a list of people who are qualified to do that.

This amendment seeks to place on the face of the Bill the detail of procedural arrangements for striking out appeals. In our view it is more appropriate for such matters to be addressed in secondary legislation. To do otherwise would clog up the Bill with unnecessary detail. We have already indicated that in terms of the Minister's Statement today, we have accepted the

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recommendation of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation about the nature of these regulations. With those assurances, I would hope that the noble Lord would withdraw his amendment.

Lord Goodhart: I think the real issue between us is whether this particular provision should go into the statute or into regulations. I very much welcome what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate has said about the content of the regulations. On the whole, I do not think there is anything there that causes me particular concern but it was my feeling that ensuring that the actual striking out would only be carried out by someone who was a member of a panel was a matter of sufficient importance to justify that going into the statute, even if all the rest of the matters could be dealt with properly by regulations. However, I do not propose to take this matter further and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 20 and 21 agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Clause 22 [Suspension in prescribed circumstances]:

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 72:


Page 14, line 31, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 72, I should like to speak, with the leave of your Lordships, to Amendments Nos. 73, 74 and 75. The Government are putting forward these amendments for two reasons: first, to reflect concerns expressed at Second Reading; and, secondly, to deal with a technical drafting point. As regards the first of these, in response to concerns expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, at Second Reading, the amendments clarify the circumstances where entitlement to benefit may be terminated following the suspension of payment of benefit. It had been the intention to explain this in regulations; but we accept the strength of the noble Earl's argument and we have decided to make this matter clearer on the face of the Bill.

The intention has always been that entitlement will terminate only where someone fails to comply with an information requirement that the Secretary of State imposes after she has suspended payment of benefit. The suspension will be lifted when the required information is supplied. If the claimant fails without good reason to do so within a specified period, then benefit will terminate. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that creating new grounds for this entitlement is on the level of creating new criminal offences: they are equally serious to those at the receiving end. I would certainly agree that terminating any award of benefit is a serious matter. However, while that action is a serious one, it is also one which is justified. It is one which does not infringe the rights of the claimant.

It may be helpful if I explain in more detail how this power will be exercised. Once a suspension has been imposed, steps will be taken to resolve the doubt or gather the information to decide whether the reward

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ought to be revised. This will generally involve asking the claimant to give that information. In the vast majority of cases the matter will be resolved in a few days and the suspension lifted. However, there are cases where there is no response and under current provision there is no power to close the claim. Instead, the suspension simply continues indefinitely. On the face of it, this may seem harmless because there is no loss to the Exchequer. However, because the cases remain in the system, they can distort the statistics and the performance information; but, more significantly, they are vulnerable to fraudulent activity. It was because of this uncertainty that we added a termination provision at Report stage in another place.

If I understand the noble Earl, Lord Russell, he is more concerned about how we reach that point and so I will turn now to the procedure by which termination will take place. The regulations we intend to make under the subsection will impose a time limit within which the claimant must respond to a request for information. It will be their failure to respond which will trigger the new power. We intend to set out in the regulations that claimants will have one month in which to respond to requests for information. We believe this to be a reasonable period. It mirrors the period to be allowed in Clause 23, a separate suspension provision. It also brings clarity of the provision to claimants and administrators alike.

I would stress that while one month will be the standard period, the regulations will allow for the period to be extended if there are good reasons for doing so. I can assure your Lordships that officials will act reasonably at all times, taking into account the nature of the information to be provided and the individual circumstances. It will be at the end of the month of the extended period that entitlement will be terminated.

Finally, if entitlement is terminated, the claimant will be given a new outcome decision which, as with any decision, can be disputed via revision or appeal. I apologise to your Lordships for having spoken at some length, but I am conscious of the concerns that have been expressed about this new power and I wanted to take this opportunity to provide your Lordships with reassurances.

I prefaced the above explanation by saying that there were two reasons for bringing these amendments. I turn now briefly to the second, technical reason. Clauses 22 and 23 are separate suspension and termination provisions. Clause 23 already explicitly states that termination will follow a failure to provide information. Initially we thought we would simply add a similar provision to Clause 22. However, that would have meant either adding a reference to Clause 23, the new information requirement provision, or cross-referencing to this provision in Clause 23. Either way, this would have made the legislation more difficult to follow. Instead, to ensure that the drafting is clear, it is proposed to add a separate clause covering both examples of termination. I am pleased to have been able to explain how the new power in Clause 22 will be used. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has been reassured

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that the department will discharge its duties objectively and to the satisfaction of all parties. I commend these amendments to the Committee, and beg to move.

Earl Russell: I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord very warmly for what he has done. It has not abolished the gap between us but it has narrowed it very substantially, and I am very grateful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 23 [Suspension and termination for failure to furnish information etc.]:

Lord Hardie moved Amendments Nos. 73 and 74:


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