New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 13th June 2011.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 5:15 pm, 13th June 2011

The technical response to that is, “You wish!” I remember many occasions on which we came to a debate and asked what the Labour Government were planning to do. Did we ever get an answer? Not at all. The right hon. Gentleman and I have different memories of the way things were.

It is important to remember that this Bill creates a structure for universal credit, and that the details will be set out in regulations. The Opposition amendments relate mainly to issues that will be dealt with in regulations, and which do not affect the structure of universal credit as set out in the Bill.

I have accepted certain recommendations from the Opposition. The Bill as introduced provided that the regulations will be subject to the negative procedure. In Committee it was suggested that that would not provide the right level of parliamentary scrutiny and control. The right hon. Member for East Ham identified a number of provisions that he thought should be subject to the affirmative procedure, and I gave a commitment in Committee on 28 April to consider those provisions carefully.

There are two provisions, in clauses 22 and 25, relating to conditionality, for which we do not think the affirmative procedure is appropriate, because they do not introduce new principles. Although we intend that regulations will be much less prescriptive than the current jobseeker’s allowance regulations, the powers in the Bill will be used to create a regime for jobseekers that is broadly similar to the current one. We have therefore formed the view that there is no necessity to subject those two to the affirmative resolution procedure. Of course, it always remains within the gift of Opposition Members to pray against regulations if they want a matter to be debated. They could, of course, do so anyway, but we are making their life a bit easier by providing for the affirmative procedure.

I have thought long and hard, and apart from those two specific provisions I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that regulations should be made under the affirmative procedure in the first instance. I say “in the first instance” because it does not seem sensible to repeat the process year in, year out when the regulations are regularly renewed.

As set out in amendment 14, that principle covers all the key regulation-making powers relating to the universal credit, including the rules on capital, the calculation of income, the treatment of self-employed people’s cases, and the amounts of the elements within an award, including those for disabled children, housing and child care. Opposition Members might say that that is not enough to allay the concerns that they have raised on specific issues, and I shall deal with some of those specific concerns in a moment. However, I made it clear in Committee that we recognised the importance of getting the details of universal credit right. We are working hard to do so in consultation with key stakeholders, and we are listening to their concerns.

The Opposition amendments would pre-empt our considerations and tie the hands of this and any future Government with regard to areas of policy in which it is important to retain flexibility. I believe that it is perfectly reasonable to say that as we reach a final conclusion on what is right, involving Members of all parties, the Work and Pensions Committee, organisations such as the Social Security Advisory Committee, and third-party groups, we will bring regulations to the House by the affirmative procedure. There can then be a full and proper debate in Committee and a vote on Floor of the House.