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Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for that full explanation. I believe she will understand that the amendment is a probing amendment. We all appreciate the critical importance of the training programme itself. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out in more detail the processes for the training programme. It may be something to which we shall wish to return at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 60, line 15, after ("regulations,") insert ("such matters to include the degree of incapacity, invalidity or physical or mental illness of the person, the recent bereavement of such a person or the illness or incapacity of any child, parent, spouse, partner or other person for whom the person claiming benefit has care,")

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 113. At this stage I must point out that I am not sure why they are connected, but no matter. This amendment relates specifically to exempting carers. I admit that some of my remarks will be a repetition of what I said earlier this evening.

I begin with a quote from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury about carers at the Lady Sear Memorial Lecture. He expressed his concern about the impact of the compulsory interview on carers' self-esteem. He said,

This is an area where those reviewing the benefit system need to tread with immense caution and sympathy. Those with substantial caring responsibilities will find a compulsory work-focused interview difficult. Many have had to give up work in order to care. They may be in a state of trauma and still trying to cope with an event which has made them a carer: for example, a heart attack or a car accident. They often have feelings of low self-esteem and find it difficult to cope. So pursuing a compulsory work-focused interview could be damaging to their health, self-esteem and ability to cope with caring.

We believe that this intention in the Bill in terms of compulsory interviews for carers is counter to the values in the national carers strategy, which states,

    "Some carers will wish or need to be full time and such wishes should be respected".

Although this amendment relates to all carers, we are particularly concerned with those who provide substantial amounts of care or who are themselves

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recently bereaved. Therefore, we are talking about any person seeking to claim the main carer's benefit, the invalid care allowance, who already has to satisfy that he or she is providing a minimum of 35 hours of care.

That is already considered to be a substantial amount of care and equivalent to a full working week. The question is how they are expected to take on a job in addition to their role as a carer. Indeed, statistics show that the majority of carers receiving the invalid care allowance, which is currently nearly 80 per cent. of all claimants who are carers, provide over 50 hours of care per week.

As regards Amendment No. 113 and advocacy in support of claimants, we have touched on that this evening in an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Both the Disability Benefits Consortium and ourselves recognise that interviews will be unworkable for some claimants with intellectual and sensory impairment or claimants with mental health problems unless they are permitted to be accompanied by an appropriate advocate. The Minister has given us reassurances this evening about the ability of a claimant to attend an interview in the company of an advocate.

The only point I wish to make on that is one that has already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. It is important that we question or show concern for the cost of advocacy. We support the entitlement to have an advocate. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: In supporting this amendment I would also like to speak to Amendment No. 113, which is in my name and that of my noble friends. The common factor between these amendments is that they deal with things that are to be taken as "good cause" for failure to comply with the regulations. The list enumerated in the noble Baroness's amendment is fairly self-evident and so I hope is the one specified in Amendment No. 113, which states,

    "'good cause' shall include physical or mental impairment which makes it difficult for a person to understand or deal with communications".

When I look at those words I remember a particularly effective speech made at one of our party conferences by a sufferer from cerebral palsy. His speech was so impeded that he was able to communicate with the conference only through an interpreter. Had he been summoned for an interview on his own without the benefit of an interpreter, on first meeting, and if they were lucky, they might have understood one word in three. I am not particularly confident of that. An interview conducted under those circumstances might have been rather unfortunate. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will see this case as being reasonably clear.

As regards regulations providing "good cause", I hope that the list which has been tabled will not be regarded as exhaustive and that there will be room left for that necessary formula "or else some other reason why". Usually the best cause of all is one which is so improbable that no one would ever think of foreseeing it.

Lord Rix: I should like to make a few remarks in regard to this amendment and Amendment No. 113. The

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Minister has already indicated the willingness of the Government to issue comprehensive guidelines. However, if these amendments are not acceptable to the Government and they are not pressed tonight, would it be possible to ensure that the impairments described in them are included specifically in the guidelines which are to be issued by the Government?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I very much hope that I shall be able to reassure the Committee. The effect of these amendments would be to set out in primary legislation some specific circumstances in which a person would have good cause for failing to attend a work-focused interview. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, concentrated primarily on the situation of carers. My problem is not that I disagree with anything in her amendment, but it does not go far enough. Indeed, by definition, any amendment of this kind becomes exhaustive. That is why we think it is more appropriate to go through regulations which are not exhaustive, although they may well be prescriptive.

Perhaps I may enlarge upon the latter point. It is our intention to introduce in regulations a comprehensive good-cause provision. This will ensure that where a person's failure to attend an interview is due to reasons beyond his control, there will be no impact on his benefit. We shall use that provision to cover circumstances such as someone being too ill to attend on the day set for the interview or where a person has misunderstood the requirements placed on him because of language, learning or literacy difficulties. Indeed, such persons may need to attend a funeral, and so on.

We are well aware of the importance of having a fair and comprehensive range of good-cause provisions, but we do not think it is necessary to set out everything in primary legislation. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee does not disagree with us. Good-cause provisions already exist elsewhere in the benefits system; for example, regulations have been made under a very similar provision in the Job Seeker's Act. Moreover, we also need to maintain a degree of flexibility in the "one" service, which deals with a wider spectrum of claimants than JSA. That is why we intend to define in regulations the matters to be taken into account in deciding whether someone has good cause. We shall also use regulations to prescribe specific circumstances in which a person will or will not be regarded as having good cause.

However, the matters listed in regulations will not be exhaustive; indeed, there will always be something that no one in this Chamber has thought of but which, when presented to us, will be a perfectly reasonable basis for good cause. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, can think of every possible circumstance of good cause from a sedentary position, but I hope that he will not share that information with Members of the Committee at this hour. It would be a very long list.

Advisers will be given the flexibility to take account of other circumstances not explicitly set out in the regulations. We cannot hope to anticipate--nor, indeed, should we--every situation which could make it difficult for someone to attend such an interview. However, at the end of the day, the essence of good

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cause is that, given the circumstances of the individual on that particular day, it was reasonable that he or she did not attend. That is the ultimate test: the test of reasonableness.

From my personal experience of seeing advisers work with New Deal claimants, I am sure that personal advisers dealing with lone parents with caring responsibilities, with carers or with disabled people will err on the side of any generosity of interpretation that may arise. Given that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Earl will not press their amendments.

Earl Russell: I thank the Minister most warmly for that response. Indeed, she said everything that I hoped to hear her say.

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