Clause 7 - Amendment and repeals

Armed Forces – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 24th February 2004.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 10:15 am, 24th February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in

clause 7, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

'( ) In Schedule 4 to the Social Security Act 1998 (c.14) (Social Security Commissioners), in paragraph 3(1) (expenses of attending appeal proceedings), after ''under section 14 of this Act'' there is inserted '',under section 6A of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943''.'.

I referred to this amendment earlier. Paragraph 3(1) of schedule 4 to the Social Security Act 1998 provides for the expenses of applicants appearing before the commissioners. The effect of the provision is that persons attending commissioner hearings qualify for travelling allowances and others covering overnight stays and subsistence.

As we have discussed, the Bill introduces a new appeals jurisdiction to the commissioners and not to the High Court. The new PAT jurisdiction needs to be explicitly mentioned in the expenses provision to extend the expenses regime to appeals to the PAT. The amendment will add the reference

''under section 6A of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943'' to the relevant provision of the Social Security Act 1998. Section 6A is the new section inserted by the Bill and enables appeals from the PAT to the commissioners. That reference allows the expenses to be made.

In moving the amendment, it is right to say that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aldershot for his amendment, which alerted us to the oversight.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

It is seldom in Committee that the Opposition get any credit. [Interruption.] I have to say in response to the Minister's protestations that I sat for a long time on the Government Benches. It always struck me that one extraordinary thing about the House of Commons was the idea that the Opposition never had any good ideas while the Government could improve Bills by a modest 200 or 300 amendments here or there.

That always seemed to be bizarre, and here is a case in which the Government have recognised that there is a lacuna—the Minister with his legal knowledge will correct me if that is the wrong word—in the processes. We are grateful that the Government have responded and saved themselves some embarrassment in finding that their legislation was inadequate. We have more contributions to make, but we are pleased to have played a modest part in ensuring that appellants can access the funds that are available.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Shadow Minister, Defence 10:30 am, 24th February 2004

I welcome the Minister's recognition of that point and want to cover a couple more. He mentioned the expenses of coming to London. I hope that as far as possible hearings will be held around the country. For people down in my part of the world, in Cornwall, the concern is not necessarily the cost of travel or the overnight accommodation, but the physical time that the whole process will take. For some people the whole idea of having to spend a couple days away is quite off-putting. It may even mean that

they have to miss hospital appointments and everything else. The ability to have more geographically friendly tribunals needs to be taken into account, even though there may be the costs of bringing people down.

Something that was mentioned briefly earlier was the availability of the information on expenses. I know that furious attention will be given to the MOD's website, but it is not necessarily the place that many of my pensioners or people who would wish to have such information would get it. The old idea of having a leaflet telling people what they may legitimately claim and how to go about it, in very simple language, would be a great help to a lot of people in pursuing their cases in the way that the Minister would like. If the Government were to produce a brief leaflet giving that information and making it available as standard to people who are going into this process, that would be very helpful.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Mr. Caplin: I wish to speak briefly to clause 7 stand part, in particular the forfeiture rule that is covered in subsection (1).

As hon. Members on both sides of the House will be aware, the forfeiture rule establishes the public policy that a person who has unlawfully killed another must not benefit from that death. The rule applies to benefits or pensions to widows, widowers or unmarried partners so that no benefit or pension should be paid if an individual unlawfully kills their spouse or partner.

This clause provides that certain provisions of the Forfeiture Act 1982 apply to benefits payable under the new armed forces pensions and compensation schemes. As a result, if in any case the question arises that a widow's, widower's or unmarried partner's benefits under the pensions or compensation schemes should be forfeited owing to the unlawful killing by them of their spouse or partner, the question will be referred to a social security commissioner for a decision.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.