Clause 2

Part of Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Employment and Welfare Reform; Minister for London), Department for Work and Pensions 4:30 pm, 24th February 2009

I dislike undue retrospectivity as much as I do undue specificity. I do take the broad thrust of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but if we are to be, as we declared, as flexible as possible, then we need 2F(3) to sit with 2F(1) and 2F(2). There may be occasions where a person’s circumstances have changed, and the work-related activity they have been directed to undertake cannot be completed—because of the illness of a child, for example, or because the childcare has fallen through. Without the catch-all of proposed new section 2F(3), there could be an interpretation of the law that such a person should be sanctioned regardless. So, this is positive retrospectivity rather than negative. As a norm, the UK legal system would decry retrospectivity in the law.

Another example would be where, because of a change in circumstances, a person has agreed with their adviser to engage in activity that is not exactly the same as they were directed into, but which nevertheless was acceptable to the adviser as a suitable alternative. Again, without proposed new section 2F(3), the person could be penalised. This amendment would prevent a personal adviser issuing a revised direction to fit the acceptable activity already undertaken.

So by definition, and to keep up with potential changes in someone’s circumstances, there has to be that degree of retrospectivity. As the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, has already said, we do not want to sanction or punish people unduly, and we will want to use those powers in the Bill for sanctions as sparingly as possible. The process is much more about the help and support we can afford people rather than rushing to sanctions. Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s points about retrospectivity, which I agree with, in this instance it is important to have that catch-all to afford the adviser the degree of flexibility which we all seek.