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Lord Addington: I thank the Minister for that answer. It is one of the more helpful I have received. It is also very important, of course, that the Government ensure that everyone knows that they are entitled to see the report. When one is dealing with any form of bureaucracy, most of the problems start with what one can do and what one knows one can do. I hope that the Minister will be pushing the matter forward. We may bring forward further amendments to see how far she has got in the process of ensuring that the information

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is available to people and that they know it is available to them. But, having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 120B not moved.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): Amendment No. 121, the Lord Higgins.

Earl Russell: I am sorry. Should it not first be the Question on Clause 56 stand part?

The Chairman of Committees: I shall be coming to that.

Lord Higgins: I was under the impression that the clause stand part debate was linked with Amendment No. 120B. Am I mistaken?

The Chairman of Committees: The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is perfectly correct. I am very grateful indeed for the information from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who did not seek to move Amendment No. 120B. I shall therefore be calling Clause 56 stand part as on the order of the Marshalled List. Amendment No. 121, the Lord Higgins.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I, too, am baffled. I thought Amendment No. 121 was after Clause 56 and that, therefore, the Clause 56 stand part debate should go ahead.

The Chairman of Committees: If it is of help to the Committee, according to the Marshalled List, after Amendment No. 120B, which was not moved, come Amendments Nos. 121, 122 and 123. We then come to Clause 56, as amended or not, stand part.

Lord Higgins: I am as baffled as the Minister. I was under the impression that clause stand part was linked with Amendment No. 120B.

Earl Russell: I think I owe the whole Committee an apology. I took the decision not to move Amendment No. 120B at short notice. I had not noticed--and should have done--that there were several amendments in Clause 56 to come before clause stand part which the groupings had taken out of order. If I have caught people short, I am sorry to have done so but, having not moved Amendment No. 120B, I cannot go back on it. We will come to clause stand part in due course. It is all my fault and I am sorry.

Lord Carter: I think we have to take it in order now and so we have to dispose of Amendments Nos. 121, 122 and 123 and then deal with Clause 56.

The Chairman of Committees: I have already called Amendment No. 121. In view of what the noble Earl, Lord Russell said, he has no need at all to apologise to

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your Lordships. I, for one, from the Chair am very grateful to him for the indication he was kind enough to give me just now. Amendment No. 121.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 121:

Page 65, line 36, at end insert--
("( ) Before exercising any power to make regulations under this section the Secretary of State shall consult organisations representing disabled people and shall take reasonable account of their submissions and concerns.")

The noble Lord said: The amendment suggests that before the Government take any powers to make regulations under this clause the Secretary of State should consult with organisations representing disabled people and take reasonable account of their submissions and concerns. This is an important amendment. It is well known that the voluntary organisations in the field of social security have immense expertise and perform an incredibly valuable function. Therefore it is entirely appropriate that they should be consulted on these matters before any change is advocated.

We will come to the kind of changes that might be advocated when we reach clause stand part. My understanding is that the Social Security Advisory Council is somewhat restricted in the extent to which it can advise on these matters. So it is most appropriate that machinery should exist for this consultation. It is also most important that the Government should take such views into account. As will become apparent in a moment or two, they are not doing so at the moment. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: This amendment would introduce a specific requirement for the Secretary of State to consult with groups representing disabled people before making regulations under Clause 56. As I am sure your Lordships know, the provisions for PCA simply mirror the provisions for the all-work test. There is no change in the way the test operates as the gateway to benefit. The regulations to be made under the clause will re-enact unchanged the regulations that currently set out the detail of the test.

This detail was the subject of intensive consultation when it was introduced by the previous government, and we see no reason to repeat that exercise. I should stress that the Government believe that we have a general responsibility to consult widely on our proposals. We have done so up to now and I can assure your Lordships that we shall continue to do so in future without any need for a statutory requirement to consult specific groups. We are talking to organisations which represent disabled people in a number of contexts across the whole of our agenda and across many departments of government, and we shall continue to do so.

We fully realise that these organisations often do not agree with us but we value their contributions to the policy debate and we think carefully about what they say. We have consulted widely on all the measures in the Bill which relate to benefits due to sick and disabled people. We sent the consultation document out to a wide range of people and we discussed details on several occasions with the Disability Benefits Forum. We

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considered their responses, particularly where they were critical of the proposals, as well as all other points made to us.

On the positive side, one of the issues about which the Disability Benefits Forum was specifically concerned was the age 20 cut-off for young disabled people's entitlement to incapacity benefit, which would disadvantage those entering higher education or training. In response to those concerns, we have brought forward the amendment to allow us to extend the age cut-off to 25 for those people.

The work of the forum has now ended following the resignation of some of its members. The Government regretted the decision. I certainly did, as I was involved some time ago in helping to set it up. We found it helpful, and it made an important contribution to our thinking. But the end of the Disability Benefits Forum as a result of the movement of the forum members does not mean that the department has turned its back on consultation. On the contrary, the DSS continues to work with disability organisations on detailed issues affecting sick and disabled people. For example, we are exploring with colleagues across government the implications of the Disability Rights Commission for future consultation arrangements. We also meet regularly, on an informal basis, to discuss these issues.

The noble Lord was right. There was a general statutory requirement to submit most draft social security regulations to the Social Security Advisory Committee. When the committee considers it appropriate, it will put the regulations out for public consultation. At that point the Social Security Advisory Committee will routinely consult disability organisations.

I have made clear that the Government already have frequent and wide-ranging contacts with organisations representing disabled people. I hope and believe that they will continue to give us the benefit of their advice and expertise. I hope that I have shown to the satisfaction of the Committee that a statutory requirement to consult disability organisations is unnecessary. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Higgins: I thank the Minister for that response. Will she clarify two points? First, so far as concerns the Social Security Advisory Committee, is it right that it has no remit to deal with regulations made within a stated period--I believe it is usually six months--of a newly made Act of Parliament and therefore would not necessarily be consulted on these issues? Secondly, has the forum now ceased to exist altogether?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord is correct on the first point. Normally, the Social Security Advisory Committee does not scrutinise regulations made within six months of Royal Assent on the relevant primary legislation. That is for the reason that there has usually been extensive consultation and debate during the preparation and passage of a Bill. So the effort is to avoid a repeat debate.

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On the second point, yes, the members of the Disability Benefits Forum have left the forum; so it no longer exists.

Lord Higgins: In the light of those remarks, we can pursue some of the points that arise later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees: I must point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 122 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 123.

[Amendment Nos. 122 and 123 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 56 shall stand part of the Bill.

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