Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:49 pm on 21st March 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:49 pm, 21st March 2013

My Lords, what a sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in. I almost feel sorry for the Minister, or I would if this shambles were not entirely of the Government's own making. This debate has made clear the depressing, and I suppose rather shocking, extent of the Government's failings. It seems as though crucial regulations underpinning the conditionality regime of the Government's flagship, if utterly useless, Work Programme, as well as various other schemes, have been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal, and the Government now want to rectify the problem that they have created by forcing this Bill through Parliament at breakneck speed.

My noble friend Lord McKenzie made the point that the Constitution Committee has said clearly that it disagrees with the Government's assessment, and we have now heard that, as it were, from the horse's mouth in an extraordinarily powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. This is only the fourth time that I have spoken from the Dispatch Box in your Lordships' House, but I suspect that if I were spared to do so another 400 times I would never begin to match the power of a speech like that, and I congratulate him. I am glad that it is the Minister, not me, who has to respond to it. The point that the noble Lord made, which I think is very interesting, is that the Government, having decided that the matter could take four weeks to consider from the time when they got the new regulations laid and enforced in this House, suddenly decided that there was a panic. I would like the Minister to return to this in his response.

In response to my noble friend Lord Foulkes, I think the Minister implied that the Government spent those four weeks considering all the various options before deciding on this deeply attractive one out of the collection. Will he explain why the Government did not consider the options before the decision? Presumably there were always two possible outcomes from the judgment, yes or no, so it would have been possible for them to spend time in advance of the ruling considering what they might do if they lost the case. Why did they have to wait for four weeks to consider the options and then come to Parliament to tell us that, having waited for four weeks, we had to rush through this in days? I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

The shambles is even more annoying because the Government were warned. The Minister seemed to imply that the Social Security Advisory Committee did not tell them that the regulations were illegal, but perhaps he could help me. I understood that the committee drew attention to the overly wide scope of the regulation that was being used. Was that not one of the points on which the Court of Appeal found against the Government? If not, perhaps he could correct me, and I invite him to do so now if he wishes.