I shall be participating in a “Prayer to Annul” debate this evening. This weird wording means a debate raised to protest against a negative statutory instrument. Under the standard negative procedure, the SI is annulled if the prayer motion is agreed by the House within 40 days of the SI being laid. Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope has tabled a potentially fatal “Prayer” against SI 2011 No 228, ‘The Employment and Support Allowance (Limited Capability for Work and Limited Capability for Work Related Activity) Amendment Regulations. This dry as dust wording refers to the rules of assessment and the assessment procedures for the one and a half million people in receipt of ESA who are going through the new procedures now to ascertain whether they will qualify for the higher level of support for people with disabilities or whether they will be reduced to the lower level of job seekers allowance and be expected to seek work. The intention of course is to ensure that support is properly targeted on those who need it. I have no quarrel with that.
The regulations however are imperfect and are especially difficult to use fairly with people with mental health problems and the Government is aware of that. It seems to me that we have a Minister, Lord Freud, who genuinely cares about getting it right, as did his predecessor Lord McKenzie of Luton, and has consulted all the right people to give advice on the practical implementation, but the best intentions of the Department of Work and Pensions go awry when they are put into practice by Job Centre Plus staff with inadequate training in mental health issues, operate in a tick-box fashion and are not encouraged to make decisions of their own but rely on sometimes gravely inadequate medical information. We will no doubt have a robust discussion of these practicalities. It isn’t likely that Lord Kirkhope will press his “Prayer” to a vote; the regulations are an improvement on what went before. But they will need amending again as the work continues.
I’d like to get rid of the silly language though. “Prayer to annul “ is unnecessarily archaic for “A Member opposes”.