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Lord Goldsmith: Again I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I never said that these measures were not important. I recall that I said, in answer to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that to the individuals concerned they would be important. I said that in the range of criminal penalties and criminal sanctions (assuming these to be such for these purposes), from the most serious to the least serious--the European Court of Human Rights having said that at the lower end it is not necessary that there should be a finding by a court before an administrative sanction is imposed--in my view, having regard to the features I have identified, these objectively would fall into that lower category. I never
Lord Higgins: I fully accept what the noble Lord said on both points. It is common ground between us that these penalties are severe--that may not be exactly what the noble Lord said--for the people at the front end. I fear this may cause them serious problems. I notice that I have the assent of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, in this regard. They are penalties which will seriously affect individuals, and they will be imposed simply as a result of allegations being made against them.
None the less, we have had a fine debate on this subject. Many important issues have been raised. I am inclined to the take view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Christopher--again speaking with considerable experience--and I hope that the Government will take the clause away, think very carefully about it, and realise that there are very serious problems here that the Committee may well not accept.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said, we have had a careful, thoughtful and fascinating debate. I do not know about being fascinating, but I shall try to be at least careful and thoughtful in my response.
The proposal that these clauses should not stand part would remove from the Bill our proposals to link entitlement to benefit to compliance with community sentences. The Committee will know that we are reforming the welfare state. We believe that this issue is about contract. In a foreword to the Green Paper A New Contract for Welfare, the Prime Minister stated:
This measure is about rights and responsibilities in relation to benefits--that is why it is a DSS matter; it is not primarily a criminal justice matter. The Government believe that rights to benefits and the fulfilment of responsibilities to society must be clearly linked. Our general approach is that it is right for people of working age who are able to work to do what they can to help themselves back into work and into society. If they do not meet this basic condition, then benefit should not be made available on the same basis as for those who do.
In the case of the community sentence sanction, we do not believe that it is fair, as my noble friends Lord Brookman and Lord Davies of Coity said--nor would it be regarded as such by those who do meet their obligations to society by paying taxes to support those on benefit, by avoiding crime or by assiduously serving the sentences that they are given--that community sentence offenders who do not keep their part of the bargain with society should expect to be supported on the same terms as everyone else. Those who are able to
I acknowledge the point, made particularly by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that this is an extension of the principle of conditionality that has been within our benefit system for some time. Our benefits system is not, and never has been, a birthright. As my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws said, it is not simply about needs and entitlement. It is more complicated than that. We impose, as did the previous Government, as a society conditions for the receipt of benefit and, with the reform of the benefit system, we are indeed imposing some new conditions. They are conditions associated with good citizenship, not simply with needs and entitlement.
Underpinning that concept of good citizenship, obviously, is work. The conditionality already in the social security system associated with work and training for work is reflected in measures developed for the New Deal for unemployed people, in the work-focused interviews in the ONE service, and in the long-standing conditions for entitlement to jobseeker's allowance. Those, of course, attract sanctions of up to 26 weeks' loss of benefit.
Earl Russell: Does the Minister understand that when she takes the principle of linking rights and responsibilities as a rule for the imposition of legislation, she is taking a sound principle of private morality and, by importing it into the public sphere, she is turning it into an authoritarian imposition of government judgment? It does not belong here.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I do not accept that for one moment. One of the deep divisions between myself and the noble Earl, Lord Russell--I hope I am not doing his position an injustice--is that he believes that someone has a birthright to benefit; an entitlement to benefit that no one has a right to sanction. We do not believe that. Benefit is the result of a decision by taxpayers--all of us--to support people who cannot for good reason support themselves. Where people can support themselves, they should; and where those people fail to abide by other conditions of their benefit entitlement--for example, by turning up for interviews on time and so on--that, too, should attract sanctions.
I do not always agree with the Conservative Benches, obviously, but here there is a profound difference between myself as a representative of the Government and the noble Lord. We believe that if society offers people benefits because they are not in a position to support themselves, society has a right to expect appropriate behaviour from them. I agree with the noble Lord that there can be arguments about what is "appropriate"--I accept that--but that we have the right to impose such conditions and exact sanctions if those conditions are broken seems to be not in dispute. I should be surprised if the Committee felt that benefit was an entitlement come what may in our society.
The completion of community sentences is manifestly a question of good citizenship and, like work and preparation for parenthood, it is beneficial to the individuals themselves. These are criminal sentences and, as noble Lords have described, by virtue of that fact they contain an element of punishment and of reparation. We want compliance so that offenders' debts to society are repaid. But we also want compliance, as my noble friend Lady Massey said, because there is a rehabilitative aspect to community sentences. Completion is, or should be, beneficial to the offender. There may be no obvious direct link between the breach of a community sentence and the need for benefit, as there is between the requirement to seek work and benefit receipt, but those links are partly in the eyes of those speaking today.
We regard looking for work and complying with community sentences as important obligations to society which involve people doing their part to help themselves. As my noble friend Lady Massey said, that may be in terms of work skills, of basic literacy, of the discipline of coming in on time and behaving appropriately. All those matters may be part of a community sentence. It is appropriate behaviour which we hope will result in offenders not continuing to offend. Compliance with community sentences is closely linked to playing a full part in society through work. We do not believe that these issues are unrelated.
This measure is limited in its extent. In no way does it confer powers to extend conditionality beyond breaches of community sentences. Again, I was pressed on this by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I would not on principle rule out further extensions, but it would be for Parliament to debate whether particular behaviour is sufficiently undesirable and to be so strongly discouraged that it merits the withdrawal of state support via the benefit system.
This measure sits squarely with the direction for the reform of welfare that we should be pursuing. We do not want to continue sending mixed messages about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour by paying money from the public purse to those who have, despite repeated chances, shown themselves not willing to abide by the rules that society has set down. Those originally sentenced to a community sentence rather than a prison sentence who then go on to break it can--I speak now wearing my hat as someone who
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