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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. Will he consider the proposal of which I gave him notice but which he did not deign to answer or discuss, that a prison officer, a representative of the Prison Officers' Association, be included on the strategy board?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I heard the suggestion made by the noble Earl. However, he said that he did not expect me to respond this evening. I shall consider it.

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Lord Burlison: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved, accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.34 to 8.35 p.m.]

Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 52.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 105:


Page 59, line 31, at end insert--
("( ) Subsection (1) shall not apply to--
(a) a person who has attained pensionable age (within the meaning of the Contributions and Benefits Act), or
(b) a person who is entitled to working families' tax credit or disabled person's tax credit (within the meaning of the Tax Credits Act 1999.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 105 stands in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Russell and Lord Addington. I hope that I can be brief. Like an earlier amendment, this arises from the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. The committee proposed that the Government's intention for the use of these regulation-making powers--for example, not requiring retired people to attend work-focused interviews--should be stated on the face of the Bill and not left to regulations.

I therefore tabled this amendment, the first part of which deals merely with the exclusion of those of pensionable age. However, my amendment goes a little further. I should therefore like to probe the Government's intentions as to what other categories they might propose to exclude from the work-focused interview on the face of the Bill. As regards people of pensionable age, it is absolutely obvious that it would be absurd to require them to attend a work-focused interview.

In the Explanatory Notes, the Government suggest two categories of people who should clearly be exempted; that is, those of pensionable age and those already in full-time employment but who might be drawing a means-tested benefit at the same time, which in many cases would include housing or council tax benefit.

In drafting the amendment, I therefore considered specifying, as a class to be excluded, those in full-time employment. However, I decided not to do that because of the problems of defining those who are in full-time employment. It might have been necessary to have regulations to define who was in full-time employment, which would rather defeat the object of the exercise.

However, it appeared that there were one, or perhaps one should say two, obvious categories of people who could, simply by reference to a definition in another Act, be excluded; that is, those in receipt of working families' tax credit or disabled person's tax credit. In

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those cases, the people in question should be working a minimum of 30 hours a week, which is close to full employment for this purpose.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Will the noble Lord repeat his last statement about 30 hours a week?

Lord Goodhart: As I understand it, in order to claim the working families' tax credit, the working member of the family must work for at least 30 hours a week.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That is why I did a double take; it is like the old family credit rules. The noble Lord may be thinking that, at 30 hours, one clicks into an extra premium of £11.05.

Lord Goodhart: The Government have decided that, if one is in receipt of working families' tax credit, it justifies the provision of a full income. In those circumstances, the requirement to attend a work-focused interview would seem to be inconsistent with the Government's objectives in the working families' tax credit. What are the Government's intentions so far as extending on the face of the Bill exemptions above and beyond those available to people of pensionable age?

Baroness Buscombe: I rise to speak in support of this amendment and to seek reassurance that a person who has attained pensionable age within the meaning of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 and a person who is entitled to working families' tax credit or disabled person's tax credit within the meaning of the Tax Credits Act 1999 would not have to attend an obligatory work-focused interview. We hope that the Minister will confirm that that is the case. We believe that the amendment is important because those two categories of people should be on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, explained, the purpose of this amendment is to exclude from the requirement to attend a work-focused interview people who are over state pension age or receiving working families' tax credit or disabled person's tax credit.

I should make it clear that it has always been our intention to exclude those over pension age from this requirement. We originally intended to do that by regulations, but one of the recommendations in the very helpful report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee was that we should set out this exception on the face of the Bill. I am delighted to say that we shall take up the suggestion and bring forward a government amendment in due course.

In the meantime, I shall explain why we are not able to accept this amendment. We propose to disapply the requirement to attend an interview for any claimant aged 60 or over. This follows the approach that we adopted in the first phase of the pilots. We shall, of course, still offer help and advice under the "one" service to any 60 to 65 year-olds who want help to stay in touch with the labour market. However, that help will be provided on a voluntary basis.

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Turning to the second part of the amendment, I reassure the Committee that we have no intention of requiring people in full-time work--that is, those working than 16 hours a week--to take part in work-focused interviews. I should point out that neither the WFTC nor the DPTC appears in the list of benefits covered by this clause. So the requirement to attend an interview will not apply to a claimant of either of those benefits. It is possible that a claimant of either one of those benefits could also claim housing benefit or council tax benefit and so be brought within the provision. However, we intend to use regulations to exclude from the requirement anyone working 16 hours a week or more. I assure the Committee that no one claiming WFTC or DPTC will be required to attend an interview.

We do not intend to place this exclusion on the face of the Bill primarily because it will not be a simple matter to draft such an exemption as different benefits have different rules on what constitutes "full-time work". For example, with income support, one is deemed to be in full-time work if one is employed for an average of 16 hours or more a week. On the other hand, ICA recipients can earn up to £50 a week with no limit on the number of hours worked. With bereavement benefits, there are no earnings rules at all. Because of the complexity and degree of detail, we believe that this subject is better left to subordinate legislation. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to accept my assurance that those in full-time work will be excluded from the requirement, and I urge him to withdraw his amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In so far as it is proposed to exclude everybody over the age of 60--including men who are not yet of pensionable age--that is obviously an improvement on my amendment. As to the exclusion of those who are working full time, I accept that those who are in receipt of working families' tax credit are by no means the only members of that group--which would include, among others, those who do not have families. In those circumstances, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 106:


Page 59, line 42, at end insert--
("( ) for determining the training to be provided to persons by whom interviews are to be conducted which shall include training in the principles of personnel management and job placement, and in the types and incidence of mental and physical disability and in recent developments in coping with time;")

The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 106, which takes account of the need to clarify the training to be provided for personal advisers in order to equip them properly for this extremely responsible, and I would suggest often onerous, task. We have touched on this subject already this evening, but it is important to outline several points of concern.

13 Jul 1999 : Column 263

I believe that the success of this initiative lies, in large part, with the calibre of ability of the personal advisers. They must be able to perform their function in a competent and, most importantly, sensitive manner. To this end, I shall ask a number of questions.

We should like to know the precise details of the sort of training programme that the Government have in mind. What subjects will be covered? Will the training include medical and psychological training? The Minister has stated that the training undertaken by those involved in the pilot scheme is of seven weeks' duration. I suggest that seven weeks is no time at all when compared with the responsibility that personal advisers will have. Even those who work, or have worked, as interviewers in job centres and so on will have a much more responsible task to perform.

Who will be the trainers? Alternatively, will the Government subcontract from the voluntary or private sectors teams of people who are capable of conducting the interviews? From where will the interviewers come? When full implementation takes place, we will be talking about an enormous number of people and an enormous associated cost. We have adjudged that it will cost about £100 million to provide trainers, based on a seven-week training course.

Will interviewers face tests of their capability? That is tremendously important. What will be the scope for retraining and refresher courses? What arrangements will be put in place for monitoring the interviews? Given the enormous difficulties that are bound to arise in certain circumstances--particularly when interviewees are severely disabled and have trouble communicating, for whatever reason, with the interviewer--those conducting the interviews will face an extremely hard task. Therefore, there should be almost a preliminary process whereby they work with a senior interviewer or someone with more experience in this area.

We also question the long-term motivation of personal advisers. It is important that their motivation is sustained, particularly in the case of claimants with multiple difficulties who will require considerable ongoing advice and counselling.

This amendment is important also in relation to carers. We have already touched on this in some detail this evening. The training of personal advisers to interview carers is extremely important. Carers have great difficulty in judging their responsibilities. It can be difficult for people who have not been carers to understand the pressures and challenges involved.

Before advisers can give carers the right advice, they need to understand those pressures. Failure to understand the difficulties in judging priorities and time issues will result in an insensitive service and inappropriate advice. If carers feel that their caring responsibilities are not properly understood, they will feel undervalued and will perhaps not feel able to seek work at all. Understanding the issues could change all that.

13 Jul 1999 : Column 264

The training process involves training people to understand fully all the issues and all the kinds of people with whom they come in contact; the kinds of disabilities; the breadth of differences and types of people they will come across. It is a difficult, albeit important task, and therefore we ask for clarification on those points. I beg to move.


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