Clause 35

– in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 26th February 2009.

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The appropriate authority by which regulations under section 31 are made

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 32, in clause 35, page 41, line 37, leave out subsection (3).

The provision in clause 35 that caught my eye was subsection (3), which states:

“Any power of the Secretary of State to make regulations under section 31 is exercisable only with the consent of the Treasury”— why?

I can understand why the Treasury would want to give approval when regulations made under section 31 would apply to the whole country, because clearly that could have significant public expenditure implications and it is supposed to be the Treasury’s job to control public expenditure, although it has not being doing a super job of that in the past few years, given the state we are in, but we will leave that to one side. The flaw is that regulations to run the pilot schemes are also made under clause 31. Therefore, subsection (3) says that, even to run the pilot schemes, the Treasury has to say yes. The Minister told us that £5 million would be available for the pilot schemes, so it is already approved. I am confused why, if the £5 million has been okayed, the Treasury is still interfering.

As we have said, individual budget pilots deliver better outcomes at lower cost. What is the nature of the Department’s conservations with the Treasury? Where is the Treasury coming from? Is it nervous because it secretly thinks that the provision will cost a huge amount? Is that why it is retaining control? What has already been agreed with the Treasury, given the £5 million budget that was talked about? To be clear, when the Minister talked about the enthusiasm of the Department, he was obviously speaking for the Government. We do not want to see that everyone is gung-ho for the proposal only for the Treasury to come along and say, “No you can’t do it, not even the pilot scheme.” The Committee would welcome some reassurance on that, which was the reason why I tabled the amendment.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Employment and Welfare Reform; Minister for London), Department for Work and Pensions

This will sound like I am a game show host, but I am not. The £5 million is in the bank—it is sorted and protected. Even if we accepted the amendment, the £5 million for the pilots would still be there, so the hon. Gentleman’s undue suspicion and uncharacteristic cynicism is misplaced. Beyond that, the actual phraseology is lifted from hundreds and thousands of pieces of UK statute legislation. The provision is simply a recognition that things cost money. It is focused on national implementation, not roll-out. Shame on the hon. Gentleman for even using such a strangulated form of English. The national implementation needs Treasury approval, as well as approval across Government. I would read no more into the phrase. I ask that it stays in there to copper-bottom the enthusiasm of the entire Government, including the Treasury, for what is outlined in clause 31. In that spirit I ask him to return to his polite and courteous ways and withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am very pleased to be able to reassure the Minister. I had not realised that I had deviated from my polite and courteous ways. The purpose behind tabling the amendment was to get that reassurance. I am pleased that the Minister has been able to make it clear to us that the budget for the pilots is in the bank and sorted so that the Department will be able to move ahead swiftly. As I said, I recognise that for the national  implementation of these proposals, it is essential that the Treasury is on board because there might be significant implications. I was just concerned that there should be no stumbling block because the pilot scheme regulations are going to be made under clause 31. The Minister has adequately reassured me about that. Certainly, if he is satisfied with the Treasury and he is perfectly able to deal with it, I am sure that we can be satisfied. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses36 to 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Helen Jones.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 3 March at half-past Ten o’clock.