Clause 17 - Other interpretation provisions

State Pension Credit Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:00 pm on 23rd April 2002.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I draw the Committee's attention to subsection (2), which, as often happens, comes a long way after subsection (1). Subsection (2) relates to regulation-making powers. The Under-Secretary helpfully reminded the Committee that he proposes to keep in touch with various stakeholder groups. That is entirely welcome. It is not the most productive system to have to consult formally on everything, and I would prefer him to have a continuing dialogue. I do not seek to draw a distinction there—although I would draw a distinction in connection with my previous intervention on clause 16.

Help the Aged has flagged up an issue that relates to subsection (2). In its characteristically economic way, it says:

''The two definitions to which this refers need more clarification, and should not be left to regulation by straightforward statutory instruments.''

We could have an interesting theological discussion about what an unstraightforward statutory instrument is, or whether there is such a thing as a straightforward statutory instrument. However, we all know what Help the Aged means. It does not want the definitions to be passed into law without consultation. That is even more important for the definition of income in clause 16, to which I briefly referred.

There is the sensitive issue of who is and is not in the same household. As the Committee will remember, I referred to Help the Aged's briefing about what is and is not cohabitation, and what is and is not a benefit unit. It would be helpful to have the Under-Secretary's assurance that the Government will consult on that.

There is also an issue about severe disability. I am involved with disability interests, and we should record that there will be an uplift for severely disabled

persons. The statutory instrument concerned will shortly be subject to a prayer procedure, and the Under-Secretary will realise the importance of the definitions of severe disability and their implications, especially in borderline cases. Given the vulnerability of such people, they should be handled as sensitively as possible. I am not looking for trouble in advance. However, I hope that the Under-Secretary will take on board the need for the closest possible consultation, so that she can ensure that all possible angles are explored before regulations are made. She must ensure that what she rightly intends to be a helpful set of provisions will not give rise to any recriminations on the grounds that they have not been fully considered.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will do what I can to reassure the hon. Gentleman in that respect.

Clause 17 is largely the interpretation provision. I shall not go through all the definitions, because we would be here all night if I did. In any case, I gather that there is not huge disquiet about them, or amendments galore would have been tabled. Subsection (1) defines the terms used in the Bill in a way that fits in with other legislation. Subsection (2) confers the power to prescribe in regulations the circumstances in which people are to be treated as members of the same household, or as severely disabled.

The hon. Gentleman asked about consultation and our intentions. We intend any regulations made under the powers to mirror those that currently apply to income support. Of course, there are the usual consultation procedures in respect of both matters; we always want to hear what people have to say.

Again, subsection (3) is technical. It ensures that this legislation ties in with the main body of social security legislation and does not float around on its

own. The clause is technical, but without it we would not be able to deal with the Bill. I hope that, on the basis of my remarks, hon. Members will agree that clause 17 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 to 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.