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Earl Russell: The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, has made an extremely powerful case. We on these Benches were prepared to support the amendments but will now support them with even more emphasis.
I do not usually recommend the Minister's own speeches to her. However, if she reads her speeches on mesothelioma during the course of the recovery of compensation Bill she will find that she put the case as powerfully as did the noble Lord.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The amendment puts on the face of the Bill an exemption to the backdating limit of a maximum of 12 months for industrial injuries disablement benefit claimants who have suffered disablement as the result of a prescribed disease
Clause 72 provides the powers for us to set out new rules for the backdating of benefits. It puts a responsibility on individuals to claim benefit promptly to ensure that they receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Our intention, as explained on Second Reading in another place, has been to provide automatic backdating for up to one month for non-income related benefits such as retirement pension and to allow one month backdating of income related benefits where there were exceptional circumstances which prevented an individual from claiming on time.
As he so elegantly put it, my noble friend Lord Evans has been pestering me over the past couple of weeks as regards the particular issue of latent and industrial diseases. This Government see the development of a modern service as one of their key objectives for the future of the welfare state. We have published our Green Paper, New Ambitions for our Country--A New Contract for Welfare. In that paper we have set out our principles. A key principle is that we should develop a modern service. By that we mean that the system of delivering modern welfare should be flexible, efficient and easy for people to use.
We have made it clear in the Green Paper that we shall put the claimant at the centre of service delivery. We shall set success measures to achieve that. We are making a start on developing a modern service in this very Bill with our proposals for new arrangements for decision-making and appeals. Those are intended to produce a more streamlined, efficient and responsive service. For example, it means piloting kiosk technology in Cambridge. We are looking at the possibility of electronic access points, internet services and so on in the longer term.
We do not wish to see people miss out on benefits to which they are entitled. Indeed, we are keen to encourage people to claim what they are due. The Benefits Agency wants its claim forms and leaflets to be as clear as possible. It has recently set up a consultation exercise to see whether its material can be improved.
As the other side of the issue of backdating, we know that there are real difficulties about the take-up of benefits. We are committed to taking real practical steps to ensure that people receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Indeed, from today, we are starting a series of pilot projects to identify why pensioners do not always claim the income support to which they are entitled. Those projects, costing about £15 million are based in York, East Renfrewshire, Lambeth, South Staffordshire, Stroud, Preston, Glasgow, Torbay and Torfaen. They will run until the end of this year and we shall then evaluate them. As I say, the other side to backdating and entitlement is take-up. We are seeking to test the best ways of getting income support to those who are currently entitled to it but who do not claim the entitlement and to see how we can improve that in future.
We want to look at all those issues together. We want to improve service delivery in the active modern service which I have talked about in terms of new information technology. Also, we wish to address the gateways to benefit, including incapacity benefit and income support. Generally, we want to reform the welfare state to produce a modern service. Therefore, at this stage it is not sensible to make changes to the backdating rules in isolation. We prefer to look at all aspects of the problem in the light of the information which we draw from the pilot projects and then take strategic decisions.
There will no doubt be changes to the process of claiming which draw on the outcome of our reviews, the pilots under way, and the experience of the modern service approach. We shall wish to consider how best to deal with changes which may be required in the context of any future legislation. In that regard we have decided to withdraw Clause 72 from the Bill. We shall therefore oppose the Motion that the clause shall stand part of the Bill. In that context I should like to include consideration of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Evans about the difficulties facing those who suffer disablement as a result of a prescribed disease with a long latency period as part of our wider consideration. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Evans of Parkside: I say a heartfelt thank you to my noble friend. I am absolutely delighted that my honourable and right honourable friends in another place and my noble friend the Minister have given serious consideration to representations I know they have received from many quarters about the impact of Clause 72.
I believe that the signal which has been sent out will demonstrate that this Government are a listening government. They listen and come back with better answers to the question after consultation. I thank the Minister wholeheartedly and, I am sure, on behalf of many hundreds of thousands of people who will have had a burden lifted from them in a whole variety of areas I shall not bother to elucidate now. It is with great pleasure that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Higgins: As can be seen from the Marshalled List, I was proposing that this clause should not stand part of the Bill and I am very glad indeed that the Minister is prepared to agree with that proposition.
There can be no doubt that the case presented by all the pressure groups concerned--the Law Society, Age Concern, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, the Child Poverty Action Group and so on--was overwhelming. It seems clear that the measure was entirely Treasury-driven and that the sums involved were such that the Treasury felt that it was something which should be pushed through. I suspect that it reflects very much the relationship between the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The system always breaks down where Secretaries of State are not fighting their corner.
One has only to look at the Question for Written Answer tabled by my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree to realise that the clause would have had a serious effect on a great many people; indeed, every conceivable group one would have thought the Government would wish to help and, I am very glad to say, they are now prepared to help.
I said on an earlier amendment that a dictum of the late Iain Macleod, when securing a concession from the Government, was that you do not shoot Santa Claus. On this occasion, I am not proposing to delay the Committee for a great length of time for that very reason. Having said that, the Government say that they will take back the matter and look at it again. I really do not believe that that is necessary. It seems to me absolutely clear that this case is overwhelming. The number of individual cases cited by outside groups who deal with the problems of the disabled, the bereaved, those suffering industrial injuries and housing problems--I refer in particular to the point made by my noble friend Lord Blackwell who was concerned about the impact on housing benefit--all make an overwhelming case.
Although what the Minister said today is extremely welcome, by the time this Bill reaches its final stages I hope that the Government will make it clear that they have absolutely no intention of going ahead with this measure. The limits are so tight that inevitably people who are entitled to benefit--and who, Parliament has decided, should have benefit--should be able to claim that benefit, even though, for very well understood reasons, it takes them a while to make their claim.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My noble friend the Minister and the Government emerge with great credit regarding this decision. I had a very harsh speech prepared because I was taken aback by the proposition in the Bill. The fact that my noble friend has been able not only to listen but also to respond to comments made is to her great credit. There should be no cheap party political points made in that respect. Indeed, it has come about as a result of consultation and discussion. As I said, both my noble friend and the Government should be thanked most sincerely for taking that decision.
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