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The other way to reduce means-testing, of course, is to take money off poor people. The Tories seem to be saying that they do not want to increase the basic state pension, but they want to reduce the level of means-testing. The only way they could do that is by taking money off poor people, and I do not think that that is what they are planning to do. I am happy to let the hon. Member for Eastbourne intervene on me if he wants to. If that really is the Tories policy we are happy to debate it with them; otherwise, the House will have to conclude that they want to make a noise about means-testing in general, without having any proposal to change what the Government are doing. We are happy to have that debate. We think that our proposals strike the right balance between enabling people to save for themselves and providing a safety net for them to fall back ona safety net that has lifted 2 million people out of pensioner poverty since 1997.
Amendment No. 7 would require the delivery authority to publish analysis of the interaction of means-testing with personal accounts as well as plans for the delivery of generic financial information. That would place an unnecessary extra pressure on the delivery authority in its initial stages by requiring it to carry out extensive and complex analysis in a short time and to duplicate some work already being undertaken in other areas. The Department for Work and Pensions and other experts will be providing much of the information that the hon. Members for Yeovil and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey are after. Indeed, we plan to invite them to a further series of seminars to discuss the information base over the next few decades.
James Purnell: My officials have suggested a series of five seminars to which we could invite Front Benchers. I am happy to strike a bargain with the hon. Gentleman: if he wants to tell us how he is going to take money off disabled people and carers, we will invite him to all five seminars; otherwise, I propose to invite him to just two.
We do not believe that it would be right to place that burden on the authority. We believe that it is right to have a proper information strategy and to look at what we can do to improve peoples financial capability. We are working with Otto Thoreson and the Treasury on a study to research and design a national approach to generic financial advice, and rather than a false debate about means-testing, in which the House knows that
what we are talking about is where that balance should be struck, we should have a real debate about how to make that generic information and advice work so that people can make informed decisions about their future.
The debate has shown that personal accounts and automatic enrolment are of great interest to Members. Much of our debate has focused on the substance of personal accounts, and there will be opportunities to discuss that following our response to the White Paper, which will be published soon, and, subject to the will of Parliament, in legislation in the next Session. Rather than pre-empt that, I urge Members on both Front Benches not press their amendments and new clauses and instead to comfort themselves with the thought of the seminars that we will be holding between now and then so that they can table amendments in the next Session.
Mr. Waterson: If the Minister thinks that he can threaten me by upping the rate of seminars to which he is going to invite me, he is absolutely right. I am seminared out, and the prospect of no fewer than five on one small subset of the issues is more than flesh and blood can bear.
I have already made it clear that new clause 29 is a probing new clause and it has served its purpose, up to a point. Amendment No. 3 is not sufficiently important to press to a Division. However, I feel strongly about new clause 7. The Minister ought to feel equally strongly about it because it is largely looted from the wording in his own White Paper, so I do not understand why there is a problem putting that in the Bill. We have concerns, and it is not just us; the industry shares those concerns, as I said in my speech. On that basis, I would like to press new clause 7 to a vote.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I understand that a number of Members were unable to register their vote on this occasion due to a malfunctioning door. I am having that investigated so that it should not cause problems for any future Divisions.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate your launching that investigation. Will you ensure that the results are relayed to the House, because there is no doubt that a lot of Members who wanted to take part in that Division were unable to do so, and we must ensure that such an occurrence does not happen again?
Madam Deputy Speaker: I fully understand the hon. Gentlemans point. We do not want such an event to happen again, and I have no problem whatsoever in informing the House of the results of the inquiry.
Mr. Laws: I am delighted that despite our necessarily long debates on some of the earlier amendments, we have reached new clause 28 and amendment No. 15, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends.
Members who regularly attended our debates in Committee will recall that we had a debate that I suspect will be very similar to this one because it dealt with a very similar issue. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) raised issues to do with caring, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt). It is recognised on both sides of the House that the Bill will benefit the position not only of many women but of many individuals who are carers because of the change that it makes to the national insurance contribution mechanismthe reduced number of yearsand the other changes that the Government are implementing in relation to carers credit. We welcome those reforms, which have also been widely welcomed by groups with an interest in the subject.
Without going back over all the debate in Committee that is already on the record, it is widely appreciated that some 40,000 individuals who are caring for 20 hours or more a week will not be covered by the Governments carers credit because they are not caring for someone who is in receipt of constant attendance allowance or the middle or highest rate of the care components of disability living allowance. The various bodies that represent carersthe Equal Opportunities Commission and othershave set out a series of helpful examples, which we discussed in Committee, of individuals whom hon. Members of all parties would want to benefit from the carers credit, but are left out of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Northampton, North also raised the matter in Committee and we tabled various amendments, which were designed to remedy the position by introducing a process of certification by health and social care professionals for individuals who are engaged in caring for another person or persons for a minimum of 20 hours a week or more. In one of the great triumphsperhaps the great triumphof the Committee stage for the Liberal Democrats, the Minister responded constructively to a debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull initiated. He said that the Government were happy to explore certification and that they had various concerns about whether health professionals would have the expertise to quantify the hours of care, whether they would require payment, and how the new requirement on local authorities would fit into the overall Government approach to carers.
The Minister helpfully undertook to discuss the matter with the Department of Health and report back before the end of the Bills passage. The new clause and amendment give us an opportunity to check on the Ministers progress and ensure that he has moved swiftly to deliver the relatively firm undertaking. It gives him an opportunity to tell us what progress has been made between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health.
The carers organisations and the Equal Opportunities Commission, which represent a broad range of opinion, said that they support new clause 28 and that they would like the Government to press ahead on the matter. I hope that the debate will be brief and that we can get an update from the Government on their commitment. If the Minister responds positively, it will not be necessary to press the new clause.
Ms Keeble: I am pleased that it is possible to discuss the subject again and have another chance to press my hon. Friend the Minister. We want to ensure that the proposals are taken forward and that we get greater recognition for carers in the Bill.
I have pressed my hon. Friend for some time on a range of carers issues, but especially on proper recognition for the role of carers. The amendment deals with that. The Bill includes important proposals to improve carers pension rights but the number and range of people who come within its scope are disappointing. We need to ensure that the work that all carers do, when it amounts to a full job, is properly recognised so that people do not lose out simply because their sort of caring does not tick every single box on the entitlement to carers credit sheet.
There must be a process to ensure that we have a robust way in which to decide who should qualify for the credit. It will not help carers if the credit is cheapened by being provided too easily. As I have previously argued, it is important to conduct the assessment of the carers work during the caring assessment, which the local authority undertakes. That would properly involve social services and health care professionals and would also rely on a robust decision-making process, which is conducted by the social services authority and rests with it rather than the health authority. I would hope that discussions on these issues will take place before any regulations are put in place. I feel that to introduce those regulations by the end of the year would be too soon, although I acknowledge that they have to be brought in within a year.
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