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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I assume that my noble friend will not receive an answer to his question. I support every word that he said in his first speech but I should like to add perhaps an elaboration on my noble friend's second point. Paragraphs (a) to (d) are all totally subjective. I do not think it is good to pass legislation of a subjective character. Where there are examples of things actually happening, my noble friend will, I hope, be able to explain how they are being dealt with. I hope that in terms of medical equipment it will be on the health budget and not on the social security budget.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I accept, as I am sure all your Lordships do, that the amendment is very well intentioned. But I fear that though the intentions may be admirable the effect, if we include it in the Bill, will be unfortunate. As your Lordships may know, I have some experience of social security legislation. This is a difficult and complex subject. It will be made much more difficult if one puts into the Bill, as subsection (2) of the amendment seeks to do:
I say that for two reasons. First, to say in legislation that one is giving examples will open up every kind of confusion and every kind of argument as to whether something is consistent with the example or different from it. Secondly, one is putting into the law simply a discretion for the Minister:
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I shall give way to the noble Lord if he asks in a moment. But I am not going to be shouted down by him. I am saying that the amendmentperhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to listenstates that the regulations may prescribe. As far as I know there is nothing to compel the Minister to make the regulations. I shall now give way to the noble Lord.
Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, but I can assure him that I was not shouting at him. I never said a word. I wanted to draw his attention, since he does not like the idea of the examples in paragraphs (a) to (d), to the fact that the wording was taken from Clause 6(3) of the Government's own Bill:
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord has such admiration for the Government's drafting that he finds it necessary to quote it in favour of the amendment. It is very gratifying, but perhaps there is a touch of simplicity about it.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has made an interesting point. I do not know whether he was in the House on Report when we debated Amendment No. 26A, which was moved by the
If one accepts the suggestion which the noble and learned Lord then made of construing this by the rule ejusdem generisI hope that he will correct me if my pronunciation of Latin is not sufficiently legalwe are approaching clarity. So there is a contrary view to that which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has expressed which deserves a hearing.
Lord Milverton: My Lords, this debate has been very interesting and the arguments have been persuasively put on both sides. One has received material about this matter and read it. With some of my noble friends on this side of the House there are doubts. Where are we going to end in defining hardship? If one is to continue defining the word, one is not going to help those who are in hardship. Surely we must place trust and reliance in those who are administering the provisions. I shall not vote against the Government. The only thing I do at any time is abstain.
I do not believe that my noble friend Lord Swinfen, and even the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who speaks so well and so persuasively, have convinced me by their arguments. I am sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench will convince me that I am right. From what I have understood of the Bill and what has been said about it in all its stages in this House, I believe that reasonable and proper measures have been taken. For the life of me I cannot believe that this country would allow to happen some of the things which have been suggested. I cannot believe it. There must be trust and reliance shown. I would not vote against the Government. Others would have to put an even stronger case for me to abstain from voting.
I feel sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to show me that what I feel is right. That does not mean that I have no feeling for people suffering hardship. As a minister one sees hardship in a way which perhaps otherwise one would not. It is not that I am hard or unfeeling, because I know what it can be like. Even some clergy families know what it is like to face hardship. So it is not as though the clergy were unaware and not in the real world. Most clergy have their feet in the world and know what is happening.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, this debate overlaps the debate which we had on the last amendment. I do not wish to go over that ground again unless I am severely tempted to do so. As it was such a short time ago, I presume that most noble Lords will not wish me to go over the ground again. We have also had coming into the edges of this debate the other debates we had on incapacity benefit. I have listened to this
About 1.5 million people will still be entitled to incapacity benefit. That figure has doubled over the past 10 years and expenditure has gone up even more. As I have said on a number of occasions when discussing this matter, I find it quite hard to square that with the fact that our population is becoming healthier. The Government took the view that we had to take steps to deal with the explosion in incapacity benefit payments and make sure that the people getting it were entitled to it and required it and that everyone who failed the tests would come within the ambit of the jobseeker's allowance next year.
I turn now to the amendment. It proposes a number of additional circumstances in which a claimant should be treated as being in hardship. Subsection (2) (a) sets out a number of general factors based on the premise that the claimant will be in hardship if he is at risk of being denied some or all of the essentials of life. I have made clear in earlier debates that we shall be listing in regulations factors which the adjudication officer should take into account in deciding whether there is a risk of hardship. Setting aside the exact wording of the amendment, I am happy to say that in principle we intend to include factors of the type set out in subsection (2) (a). However, I say again that the regulations will be drafted in a way which will allow the adjudication officer discretion. A person outside the vulnerable groups will not be eligible for hardship payments if he is not available for or actively seeking work, nor during the first two weeks of the sanction.
I shall consider carefully the remaining points in the amendment, but the issue of borrowing and debt is currently left to the adjudication officer's discretion, and it makes sense for that to continue. I do not accept that it would be right in every case for the benefit system to step in when it is open to the claimant to re-arrange his commitments and re-schedule his payments if he can avoid hardship by doing that.
I am also not convinced of the need to include provisions on the lines of subsection (2) (e) of the amendment. The actively seeking work test requires claimants only to take those steps which are appropriate and reasonable in their own circumstances. That is a subject which we have discussed at some length.
Single, healthy claimants currently have all benefit withdrawn if they are not actively seeking work, so there is nothing new here. It is open to anyone who wishes to start seeking work to take the very basic steps; for example, by applying for jobs which are displayed in the jobcentre which are necessary to satisfy this test. Indeed, there was some confusion in the latter part of the debate between the issues we have discussed. We debated whether someone was actually entitled to the benefit where they were actively seeking work and available for it and where the entitlement was established, but a sanction is being applied because they
People who do not seek work lose benefit at once. However, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that they can return to benefit after two weeks by simply starting to look for work and obeying the principal test of the jobseeker's allowance. Nobody is actually left without benefit for 26 weeks if they are undergoing a sanction and would suffer hardship. All claimants, including childless healthy claimants, will have access to payments after the 2 weeks are over. The point about the sanctions, as I mentioned at the beginning of my contribution on the last amendment, is that they run from one to 26 weeks, as determined by the adjudication officer. The suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that every sanction is 26 weeks is quite wrong. That is not the case at all. The great majority of the sanctions are for a great deal less than 26 weeks. The sanctions are for between one and 26 weeks. They are for people who left their employment voluntarily without just cause, who lost their employment through misconduct, who have refused employment without good cause or who have refused to carry out the jobseeker's direction.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution on the previous amendment of my noble friends, we do not accept that claimants should automatically have access to benefit at all times, irrespective of their actions and choices.
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