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Lord Rix: I support the amendment. Clearly, travelling expenses for those people with a learning disability who are able to undertake work are of the greatest possible use and value. I believe that the amendment covers that point extremely well.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said, we discussed this matter on an earlier amendment. Therefore he will not be surprised if I give him much the same reply. The new clause seeks to prevent the Government from taking away "passporting" from recipients of DPTC. I appreciate the purpose of the amendment; however, it does not achieve its objective. It misunderstands the way in which passporting works. The rules and regulations--which are generally set out in various statutory instruments in the way the new clause suggests--currently refer to family credit or to DWA as a way of identifying a particular group for help. However, the regulations that passport recipients to that help are not made under family credit or DWA legislation but under legislation setting up the help such people would receive. Therefore legislation about passporting to free prescriptions would be made under the National Health Service Act and not under this Act, as the new clause suggests. No regulations about passporting will be made under this Bill.

But, as was said when we debated Amendment No. 26 moved by my noble friend Lady Turner, the increased generosity of DPTC will mean--as with WFTC--that the support provided could go considerably further up the income distribution than was the case with DWA. However, I recognise that the amendment seeks assurances for those only on DWA.

As I said in response to the debate on Amendment No. 26, we certainly take note of noble Lords' concerns on this issue and their desire to debate it. We are looking

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at what can be done and we shall set out what we intend to do before the Bill leaves Parliament. I am afraid that I have not been able to advance the situation much beyond what I said when we discussed passporting WFTC claimants. However, with those assurances I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Higgins: I understand the technical point which the noble Baroness makes with regard to regulations. If no regulations can be made under this Bill, it would be inappropriate to press an amendment to state that no regulations will be made under the Bill. That is not a terribly difficult point for the Committee to understand. Having said that, as the noble Baroness rightly said, we discussed the question of passporting earlier. However, that was in a broader context. As the noble Baroness said, one of the problems is that the arrangements now being made go way up the income scale. However, the amendment is concerned with the disabled, not with passporting in general. It would seem strange if the switch from DWA to disabled person's tax credit resulted in some disabled people at present entitled to certain passported benefits suddenly finding they were no longer entitled to them because their income was above a certain level. That is what I understood the noble Baroness to say. She shakes her head and no doubt, as we are in Committee, she will be able to clarify the situation in a moment.

In making my next point I seek to assist the noble Baroness in her continued fight against the Treasury and other malign forces. The noble Baroness says that this matter will be clarified before the Bill leaves Parliament. In my view that is too loose an expression. The Government have had months and months to consider this matter. They have had months in which to consider it since the Bill started its progress through the Commons and the Lords. I understood the point made by the noble Baroness on a previous occasion that a number of different departments are involved and inter-departmental committees have to be set up and so on. Nonetheless it is high time that the Government produced a specific proposal so that this Chamber and the other place in due course, if necessary, can take a view on whether what the Government are doing is right. Otherwise there is genuine concern that particular individuals suddenly will not be entitled to benefits which they previously enjoyed. I therefore urge the noble Baroness as strongly as I can that a decision should be reached on this matter before we come to Report stage. We are entitled to say that the Government have had long enough to make up their mind on this issue. Specifically in this debate, is the noble Baroness really saying that some disabled people who were previously entitled to the disability working allowance and related benefits will not now receive them?

Now I think about it--I am thinking on my feet--this cannot in any way affect people on the ground that their income is too high. This relates only to people who are already receiving the benefit and who should, in our view, continue to receive it. If I may put it another way, the argument advanced for the reason for the delay in saying whether those people who at the moment get

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general passported benefits may no longer have them extended higher up the income scale does not apply as far as concerns the intention of the amendment. I am referring only to people who are already receiving the benefit and who, in our view, should continue to receive it.

9 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I think that the noble Lord is saying that the amendment differs from the previous one in that it confines passported benefits to those who would, were DWA still to be in existence, qualify via DWA for those passported benefits. As I said at the time, the Government are seeking to get the balance right between protecting the position of those who currently hold passported benefits, and who would possibly be worse off if we went over to a new system in which they lost their passported benefits, as against the much wider and higher income scales which will apply not only to WFTC but also to DPTC. That, too, is more generous than DWA. As I said when the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was urging me on this matter, the Government will come back with our proposals before the Bill leaves Parliament. But it will be a proposal based on the NHS low-income scheme, not something peculiar to DPTC and WFTC. It will also apply to other areas of low income. Therefore, it is still a matter for negotiation with the DoH.

Lord Rix: Before the Minister sits down, will the negotiations recognise that the costs of disability, both in travel and in living generally, are still greater than those of the low paid?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes. That was the argument that I advanced against some of the amendments which were pressed when we were last in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, suggested that either the rates of DPTC were applied to the WFTC, at a cost of many hundreds of millions of pounds, or, alternatively, that people on DPTC, disabled people, would have their rates reduced to the level of the working families' tax credit. The argument I used at the time was that disabled people receive on average only 70 per cent of the income of non-disabled people and have expenses which range from £50 to £80 a week more. I think that is common ground between us. I suggested that that was one of the reasons why the disabled persons' tax credit was, family for family, something like £30 more generous. For a family earning £200 a week, with two children under 11, and receiving the 30-hours premium, DPTC was, for that family, just under £29 a week more than WFTC. I said that that was a recognition of the extra costs of disability, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has reminded us tonight. That is still the Government's view.

Lord Swinfen: The noble Baroness does not do me justice. I was trying to seek information from the Government as to why the differences were as set out; why the allowance was not very much greater and more beneficial for disabled people; and why whatever was

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taken into account was different from one instance to the other. We can come back to this on Report. I do not wish to labour that point now.

Lord Higgins: We can indeed come back to this matter on Report--I hope to do so--but the problem is that it is more difficult to get to the bottom of such matters on Report than in Committee. Perhaps I may try to narrow the issue. The noble Baroness, if I may say so, is trying to go off into the wider question of passporting benefits. I want to narrow it right down as far as the disabled are concerned. Will she ensure, first, that people who are at the moment receiving disability working allowance and the related passported benefits will continue to do so under the new arrangements, if they qualify under the new arrangements? Secondly, as far as concerns the change from one system to the other, is the noble Baroness saying that considerations with regard to income will apply to disabled people as far as receiving the same benefits are concerned? It would be helpful if, for the reasons I have mentioned, we could be clear about the Government's intentions in advance of Report stage. I am almost tempted to ask exactly what the noble Baroness's hopes are, regardless of the departmental discussions.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord may press me to narrow the matter but I repeat that I refuse to narrow the matter in that way. As I have said to the Committee on a couple of occasions tonight and during our first day in Committee, we shall return to the issue of passporting and, within that, we shall address the issue of passporting for DPTC and WFTC. We shall return to that issue before the Bill leaves Parliament.


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