|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Elton: The noble Baroness will recognise that policy intents change with Ministers and governments and that what actually matters is the availability of the material. Will she write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library?
I turn to some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The noble Lord asked who would take the sample, whether there would be sufficient women police officers, and whether there would be sufficient capacity within a police station. We have decided that it will be right and proper to pilot the matter so that we can get it absolutely right. We shall ensure that all the areas that participate in the pilot have the wherewithal to do so appropriately within the confines of what we propose.
As regards who will supervise the taking of the samples, that will come under the general supervision of the custody officer who has responsibility for the care of persons detained in police custody. The custody officer will decide whether the drug testing procedure should be followed and will ensure that the taking of samples is in line with the PACE codes of practice and guidance. The request for the sample has to be made by a police officer who must first warn the person concerned of the consequences of failure to provide such a sample. I assure the Committee that training is provided for all those expected to administer a test.
In relation to the question about police station facilities, I have already said that the scheme will be piloted and that a custody officer will be involved as regards the details set out in Section 38 of PACE. I absolutely understand the import of what the noble Lord said about having sufficient women police officers available, particularly if the taking of samples is of an intimate nature. All the usual good practice and procedure will be adopted in relation to those matters. I have no difficulty in reassuring the noble Lord about that.
As I indicated in my response to earlier amendments, we consider that if this matter can be advanced constructively through the pilots it will enable us to gather the kind of empirical data that we shall need to ensure that the procedure and practice that we seek to embed are sound, robust and in accordance with the good practice that we would want and that they deliver the kind of results that the Committee clearly would like to see. I hope that with that the noble Baroness will feel at least a little more content.
Baroness Walmsley: I am most grateful to the Minister for her response. I am particularly grateful to her for the reassurance that she gave that the test results will not be used as evidence of bad character. We on these Benches do not like those provisions in the Bill anyway but to add drug testing of under-18s to them would be even worse. However, it is clear from the number of amendments that were tabled to Clause
Those of us who are very concerned about the provisions of Clause 12 will watch the pilot schemes with great interest and will undoubtedly come back to the Minister with further questions as that process proceeds further down the track.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 25th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these draft regulations will bring into force from 12th April 2004 work-focused interviews for the partners of recipients of certain social security benefits. This new requirement will apply where the amount of benefit in payment includes an amount for that partner and where both are aged below 60.
Since we came to power our welfare-to-work initiatives have helped transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. One of our greatest successes has been in helping lone parents into work. In the past five years the percentage of lone parents in work has increased from just over 40 per cent to nearly 54 per cent. We want to do even better.
Work-focused interviews have been the keystone to our success with lone parents. They are the mechanism by which we can ensure that everyone understands the opportunities available to them so that those who want to work may do so.
I draw the analogy with lone parents quite deliberately because what is required is the work-focused interview. What is not required is joining the new deal or going into work subsequently. But the interview empowers lone parents by giving him or her information and placing him or her in a position to make the choices that he or she may need to make.
The regulations will place a requirement on partners to discuss their individual skills, experience and circumstances with an adviser so that they may be made aware of the practical support and financial help that is available to them to find work now or in the future. The partner will be provided with a personal and tailored service and given access to a wide range of help and information on work, benefits and services available.
Apart from attending the interview, no other requirement will be placed upon them. They will not be required to find work or to join a new deal programme, and advisers will operate the scheme in a way that takes account of individual circumstancesfor example, the health of the person they may be with, or their own circumstancesin a sensitive way. Taking part in one work-focused interview six months after both of them have been on benefit is not an onerous requirement. Where the partner, however, fails to take part in an interview without showing good cause or explanation for that failure, the claimant's benefit will be reduced until he or she complies. I shall go on to talk about good cause later, but your Lordships will be pleased to learn that both the claimant and the partner will have a right of appeal against the decision.
As I said, we will implement this requirement sensitively. The regulations contain a number of safeguards to protect those who may have difficulty with the requirement. It may not always be appropriate to interview someone at the required timefor example, a partner may recently have been discharged from hospital or may have just given birth. Obviously, in those circumstances the interview will be deferred.
In other circumstancesfor example, if a partner has recently had an interview with an adviser as a benefit claimant in his or her own rightthe requirement would normally not apply. There may also be circumstances where it is not appropriate at all to call a partner in for interviewfor example, where someone is terminally ill. Where a partner has had the interview waived or deferred, he or she will be treated as having met the requirement.
The benefits to which the regulations will apply are jobseeker's allowance (income based, not contribution based), income support, incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance, and carer's allowance. These are the main benefits payable to people of working age.
In order to provide good customer service, we have ensured that where the benefit recipient is entitled to a number of specified benefits at the same time the partner will only be required to take part in one interview, and not separate interviews for each benefit. We have also provided flexibility for an interview to be conducted in a location other than in a Jobcentre Plus
I now turn to the interview and to "good cause". The interview should be a meaningful two-way discussion between the partner and the personal adviser. By taking account of an individual's circumstances, advisers will help partners to explore ways in which they can overcome barriers to work and move closer to the labour market. In return, partners will be required to participate actively in the interview.
The test of whether partners have taken part will be whether they attend at the time and place specified, and whether they provide information in areas relevant to their employment prospects, such as their level of education, previous work history and any barriers to the work they seek.
The consequences of a partner not taking part in an interview where neither the partner nor the claimant has shown good cause within five working days can lead to the claimant's benefit begin reduced. However, partners will then have a further month to provide evidence of good cause for not taking part in the interview if they wish to avoid the reduction provided that that evidence could not reasonably have been provided within five working days of the day on which the interview was to take place. So, for example, if someone had an extended period of hospitalisation, this would give that person the space to come back to us.
Examples of circumstances of what constitutes good cause for not taking part in an interview are set out in the regulationsfor instance, if someone suffers an accident or illness on the day set for interview or where people have misunderstood the requirements placed upon them because of language or learning difficulties.
The level of the reduction will follow the rate of sanction applied during a claim in other work-focused interview regimes, which is an amount equivalent to 20 per cent of the personal rate of income support for a person aged 25 or over. So currently the reduction would be £10.93 per week, or in the range of 5 per cent or 7 or 8 per cent for a couple with children.
The regulations also stipulate how the sanction will be applied if the individual is claiming more than one benefit, as well as prioritising the benefits against which the reduction should be applied. Of course, no sanction will be applied against any benefit not included in the list of specified benefits and the total reduction will not exceed the amount set.
In addition, the regulations ensure that the claimant retains entitlement to a nominal amount of each benefit, to prevent the claim from lapsing and to ensure that entitlement to any "passported benefits", such as housing benefit or NHS prescription charges, remains.
I hope that your Lordships will understand what we are seeking to do with these regulations. I do not think that we are asking anyone to do anything unreasonable. Partners will be required to do no more than discuss their situation and work aspirations with an adviser so that they are aware of the practical and financial help that is
Participation in a work-focused interview is a central element of this policy. I am satisfied that these draft regulations are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and I commend them to the House.
I emphasise again that the regulations simply provide a requirement that, after six months, partners attend a work-focused interviewone interview only. Nothing else need subsequently follow. They need not join the new dealalthough I hope that they will. They need not seek workalthough I hope that they will. They may not find a jobbut I hope that, if that is their choice, they do. But this is not going to be voluntary. That is why a sanction is attachedwhich I very much hope will not be needed. As I say, I believe that this is the kind of interview that people need to attend and find out what the situation is. Where work-focused interviews have taken place, they have been hugely successful. With that, I hope that your Lordships will agree the regulations. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 25th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page