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Lord Higgins: My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness's puzzlement. It seemed to me that although we had a discussion on the matter at the Report stage some of the issues were not fully debated. It seemed to be not inappropriate that we should have the opportunity of returning to them now, for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, mentioned. However, I do not believe that it would be appropriate to press the matter to a Division.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will not think I am being personal if I say that, as answers go, to say that some issues were not dealt with is fairly weak. We had a substantial debate and two votes. For the noble Lord to believe that issues remain outstanding which should be raised for the first time at Third Reading on the ground that

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he did not get round to them at Second Reading and during the Committee and Report stages after two votes seems to me to be thin. He nods; he agrees.

I had hoped that the debate had moved on. On numerous occasions, the Government have made the case that it is not right to pay a benefit for life regardless of circumstances. The amendment takes us back. It would undermine the Government's strategy of focusing support where and when it is most needed--on families with children and on the period immediately following bereavement. The amendment will do nothing to ensure that help goes to those in greatest need. It would provide continuing support for widows up to pension age, regardless of their circumstances or income and extend this support to widowers, regardless of their circumstances or income; whether it be the MP earning £45,000 or the banker earning £450,000 in the City. They will all receive widower's benefit for life whether or not they have financial need, a job or children.

There is no reason why men and women without dependent children, many of whom will have well-paid jobs or generous occupational pensions, should receive a benefit for the rest of their working lives. Our reforms will extend bereavement benefits to men and remove the assumption that widows, simply because they are women, should have to rely on benefits throughout their working life.

We have always said that we recognise that people need a breathing space to come to terms with the emotional and practical upheaval caused by the loss of their spouse. That is why we are proposing that the new bereavement allowance should offer financial support for a limited period following bereavement.

It is not easy to decide when that time limit should end. When we considered the needs of working age widows and widowers without dependent children--the majority of whom are in the labour market already--we weighed up all the arguments. I believe that we have made the case that it is not right that they should receive a benefit for the rest of their working lives regardless of their financial need, employment situation or dependent children.

At the Report stage I recognised that the original proposal for a six-month time limit in bereavement allowance was causing concern and I offered to accept an amendment put down by my noble friend Lady Crawley to extend that period to one year. We then had two Divisions. Noble Lords opposite voted for the two-year provision before the House had had a chance to express its view on one year. That was the way the procedure operated. Many noble Lords approved of the Government's position on the proposal for a one year period. It was supported not only by my noble friends on this side, but by the right reverend Prelates, Liberal Democrats, most of the Cross-Bench life Peers who voted, and even some noble Lords on the Opposition Benches.

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However, that amendment was lost. We are now where we are and it is for the House of Commons to consider what it will do. Now the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Turner are asking the House to go much further. Effectively, this amendment would provide a benefit for the entirety of a widow or widower's working life, regardless of their need. It would cost over half a billion pounds every year in the long term and, incidentally, would add to the cost of the Conservative amendment which has been supported so far, bringing it up to nearly £4 billion.

I cannot believe that the House would wish to see a benefit of this sort going to men and women irrespective of income, financial need, employment situation and whether they have children attached to them. Are we really in the position of approving an unlimited benefit to women and men who may have six-figure salaries? That is what this amendment proposes. I very much hope that your Lordships will not accept such an amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I hear what the Minister is saying, and I simply do not agree. She has not answered my main argument. We are talking about a contributory benefit for which people have made contributions in their working lives. The deceased spouse made contributions believing that if he died--it is the case that we are mostly talking about widows--there would be some form of contribution from the state for the support of his widow. That widow may have spent most of her time with her spouse bringing up children and then will have to cope somehow or other with a much-reduced household income when he dies, perhaps in his late forties or early fifties.

The argument of the right of people to have a benefit for which they have contributed has not really been answered by my noble friend. I have to say that there is no meeting of minds on this point at all. I do not agree with the Government's position here, and I am sure my noble friend acknowledges that. We simply do not agree. I pointed out the fact that the main wage earner in most households is still the male. My noble friend has not answered the point that the position of women has not changed so drastically that the state contribution is no longer needed.

However, I see that there is really no point in calling a Division on the amendment as it has been thoroughly debated in the House. I simply put on record once again my dissatisfaction with the arguments advanced from the Dispatch Box this evening. I very much regret that the Government appear to be departing from the social insurance principle in which many of us have believed for many years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

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6.45 p.m.

Clause 57 [Claim or full entitlement to certain benefits conditional on work-focused interview]:

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 63, line 26, at end insert--
("(1A) Regulations under this section may not impose any condition or requirement in respect of a person who--
(a) is in receipt of disability living allowance or attendance allowance;
(b) has caring commitments of 35 hours per week or more; or
(c) is in receipt of widow's and bereavement benefits falling within section 20(1)(e) and (ea) of the Contributions and Benefits Act (other than a bereavement payment);
but may make provision for a person who falls within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) to be invited to take part in a work-focused interview on a voluntary basis.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, on Report I moved an amendment designed to remove from those in receipt of widows' benefits the necessity to attend for work-focused interviews as required by this clause. It will be recalled that the clause stipulates that failure to attend for such an interview can result in the removal of benefit. In other words, there is a measure of compulsion.

I tabled my previous amendment because present widows had been assured by the Government that they would continue to receive their benefit unaffected by the new legislation and that the new arrangements would apply only to individuals widowed in the future. The present widow's benefit is paid as of right, based on the contribution record of the deceased spouse. It is not means tested, as it is a contributory benefit, and no other conditions whatever are attached.

To introduce the further condition of attendance at work-focused interviews on pain of losing the benefit seemed to me a breach of the undertaking given by the Government that the benefits to present widows would not be affected. I was told by the Minister on Report that work-focused interviews were not only about getting people back to work, but also for giving advice and counselling. I said then that I would think about what had been said. I have since done so, and I must point out that bereavement counselling is already readily available from a number of organisations specialising in that area whose counsellors are probably far more expert than officials involved with the administration of benefits, however well trained.

Furthermore, it seemed to me that there were other categories of benefit recipients who should not be put under compulsion to attend for interviews on pain of losing benefits. As the amendment states, they are those in receipt of disability living allowance or attendance allowance, and those with caring commitments of 35 hours per week.

However, there is no reason why such people should not be told about the availability of such interviews and invited to attend on a purely voluntary basis. It is the element of compulsion to which I object. From what the Minister has said, I am hoping that she may find what I am suggesting here reasonable and sensible. I therefore tabled the amendment, even at this

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late stage, in the hope that she may perhaps feel inclined to accept it, if not in this wording, then at least in similar terms. I beg to move.

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