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Lord Higgins: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, is the amendment wrongthat is to say, the Secretary of State referred to in Clause 49 is not the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Is it some other Secretary of State? The amendment sought to clarify the situation by referring to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but in the light of the Minister's remarks the clause appears to refer not to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland but to some other Secretary of State, in which case the case for specifying which Secretary of State is overwhelming. I am not clear where we go from here.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the advice I am given is that "Secretary of State" is not limited, but that the limits are to the Secretary of State's powers under the defined legislation clause. I am not sure that it matters which Secretary of State it is.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I understand that the Minister is unclear as to the answer. I am happy for her to write to me. However, it cannot be any Secretary of State, as the clause refers to "the Secretary of State". I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 54 seems intended to be very restrictive. It is concerned with an individual's entitlement to child benefit on the death of a child. One would have thought that in circumstances where a family has lost a child the provisions would be reasonably sympathetic and relaxed. On the contrary, subsection (3) states:
The purpose of the amendment is to seek to ensure that the amount of the benefit which the parents of the dead child receive does not depend on the day of the week on which the child happened to die. That seems to be the effect of the clause as drafted. It seems that the amount of child credit which the family will receive when the child dies is, first, strictly confined to a matter of days; and, secondly, appears to depend on which day of the week the child dies. That seems to be harsh, to say the least. It is strange that the benefit should depend on the day of the week. I beg to move.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, for benefit purposes, benefit weeks begin on different days according to different benefits. That is in order to reduce pressure on payments at the post office. I need some help from the noble Lord because I understood his concern to be related to the entitlement to the extensionthe roll-on period after a child has diedof eight weeks of continued benefit. However, the noble Lord did not speak to that; he spoke only about whether a week could be less or more than seven days.
Perhaps I may give an answer based on our understanding of his concern because I may be able to allay his fears. Not only does his amendment do the reverse of what he wants it to do but it would stop the department's generosity, which is decent and of which I am proud. The amendment seeks to provide that where a child is born but does not survive a week, the claimant should still be entitled to the extension of child benefit. That is the eight-week roll-over period which comes into effect once a child has died. That is substantial moneyit is not the first week of benefit but the continued payment for eight weeks. However, the amendment as drafted does the complete opposite and instead defeats that precise purpose.
Perhaps I may set the matter in context. A person can be entitled to child benefit for any week only when he or she is the person responsible for a child. Section 147(1) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act defines a week as a period of seven days beginning with a Monday. Subsection (2) of the
That matters because often there is shared care, or part shared care, and some determination is necessary as regards who is the claimant of child benefit, particularly as it cannot be split. In providing an extension of support for families where a child they have been responsible for dies, we would want to provide that support to any family responsible for a child regardless of the length of time the child was with them. That aligns child benefit with the proposals in the child tax credit which has been so warmly welcomed by interest groups. That is what adding the proposed new Clause 145A to the existing legislation would achieve.
However, because of the rule within Section 147 that I have already described, if a person became responsible for a child but that child died before the first Monday after the date he or she had joined the family, that person could not claim child benefit or the extension. He or she would not have cared for the child for the full week. That is not the aim of the extension, which is to recognise the needs of families at the time. The loss of a child is difficult whether the child dies soon after birth or many years into the child's life.
For that reason, Clause 54(3) specifically provides that where a child had been born in one "week"that is, a seven-day period starting on the Mondaybut had not survived to the following Monday, for the purposes of this extension of support we could treat that child as having existed at the start of that week so that the family could become eligible for support for that limited period to help them through the difficult time. So it is essential, unless one redefines what is a "week" for the rest of the child benefit legislation, to use the word "week"; otherwise we cannot achieve the aim that we all seek.
I apologise for such an elaborate explanation, but if we do not legislate in this way, parents who lose a child within the first week of that child's life will not be entitled to or be eligible for the eight-week extension, which I am sure we would regret. I apologise for giving such a complicated and technical answer, but that is the reason for the wording.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, it is best if we read very carefully what the noble Baroness has said. This is far from simple. I fully accept the Government's good intentions. We shall have to study the matter very carefully indeed because the drafting appears to be rather strange. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I believe that here we have something which requires some thought. The Department for Work and Pensions, and the Department of Social Security before it, have really had a very national-based outlook on the question of entitlement. They always tend to think in terms of "Out of sight, out of mind".
But that is not up to date with the nature of the world economy as it is developing. As we keep saying, but never remembering, we are going constantly more global. I believe that soon it will begin to worry employers that they may find it difficult to recruit people for jobs which involve constantly moving from country to country if the people concerned lose benefit when they do it.
This purely national-based thinking about the economy is almost as out of date as confining poor relief to the parish. At some time there has to be re-thinking. Whether this amendment is the vehicle for that, I am not certain, but the point is worth putting on the record.
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