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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Do I rightly understand what the Minister is saying? In all the events of last year, the official Opposition, even when extremely unhappy in some situations, carefully abided by the well established conventions that govern this Chamber. Is the Minister now saying that the moment that they come on to these Benches and go into opposition, they will not seek to respect such conventions? Is that what the Minister is saying? I think
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Baroness should not jump up quite so quickly on these matters. Of course, that is not what I say. I am talking about a doomsday scenario which the noble Earl envisages. The possibility of the party opposite coming to these Benches may be unfortunateI must have misheard; I thought that I heard the word "unlikely"but I should not have considered for a moment the doomsday scenario. I believe that succeeding governments would not in fact abuse the powers that they are given under secondary legislation in quite the way in which the noble Earl keeps trying to frighten us into believing might happen some day in the future. I believedare I say it?that even Labour governments are responsible on these matters and have been in the past. I am not old enough to remember whether Liberal governments were responsible enough.
Earl Russell: I think the Minister was cutting a corner by calling abuse of powers "doomsday". If that were doomsday I would be very surprised if any of us would be alive now. Excessive use of powers happens all the time. I think we need to clarify this just a little more. It seems to me the extent of the vires hangs on the definition of a group. Let me ask the Minister about two specific examples. Would that clause serve to give vires to regulations to disentitle people under Clause 21 or to disentitle Welshmen? If it did give those vires, and they were to be used, what could we do about it?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am glad the noble Earl did not want to disentitle Scotsmen: he chose more wisely than that. I am not a lawyer, which means that my advice comes free. I think I will have to put in a caveat about it and say that I would be very surprised if a lawyer could be found who would define groups quite as widely as the noble Earl is inviting me to think they might be able to do. I will certainly check that, because I understand the point he makes, although in the case of the Welshman he perhaps makes it in a rather frivolous way.
My own view would be, because this has been in legislation for some time and is not new, that the kind of groups that have been taken into legislation by this means have been very small and easily defined as self-contained groups. Of course I will check, as I am invited to do, what the lawyers say, but I really think that the wider groups that the noble Earl is suggesting would not be encompassed by the vires.
Lord Monkswell: I hesitate to intervene so late, but I am a little concerned about the Minister's descriptions. As I understand it, we are talking about the contribution-based jobseeker's allowance and the applicable amount. In his initial remarks he talked about people who might have come from abroad and were trying to claim habitual residence in this country,but did not have it. Almost by definition, these people will not have been paying contributions and therefore do not come under the scope of it.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned groups. I would change that slightly and pick out "prescribed cases", which is what is written on the face of the Bill. I wonder whether we might get an assurance from the Minister that such prescribed cases would never apply to demonstrators, for example, who might be on a jobseeker's allowance and be demonstrating perhaps against some actions of this Government - perhaps in Brightlingsea, demonstrating against the export of live animals. Would the Minister give an assurance that that type of case would never be brought within the scope of this particular regulation?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord, even at this late hour, is sufficiently awake to notice that people from abroad would not in fact be eligible for the JSA because they would not have a contribution base at all. Perhaps I was slightly short-circuiting the argument. The four examples I gave, which included certain people from abroad, showed how the powers are used on income support to award a nil applicable amount, and the power is used to prescribe these groups in income support. I was simply saying that these were examples of groups that we might be looking at defining when we move across to JSA.
On the wider question - I am not entirely sure what it was other than that: it concerned whether I could guarantee - I am not sure whether we get back to the Welshmenthat the wider groups would not be prescribed.
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