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I was asked how many requests have been received under Sections 47 and 48. The answer is very simple: to date, the UK has neither made nor received any such requests. Consequently, no prisoner has been transferred to or from the United Kingdom under these powers. It is not envisaged that the designation of these countries will lead to a large number of such exchange requests.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was rightly concerned that the transfer of prisoners should be proportionate. In considering the proportionality of any temporary transfer to assist in criminal investigations, three important points are to be kept in mind. First, the transfer should be for only a short period and as long as was necessary to assist in the investigation in question. That point would be made at the time of request from the MLA transfer country. Secondly, the transfer should be carried out only with the consent of the relevant prisoner. Thirdly, the purpose of the transfer should be to assist with a criminal investigation. I am sure that most noble Lords would find that aim easy to understand and recognise its importance.
Given the limited circumstances in which a transfer of a prisoner could therefore take place and the fact that they were being transferred quite voluntarily, together with the important public interest that such transfers could serve, I can see no argument for their being deemed disproportionate. If it were, the transfer would have to be shown to be compatible with the ECHR. If the transfer were considered to be disproportionate when measured against that, it could not take place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked a number of related questions, one of which was about Switzerland. Having spent considerable time during the past 12 or 15 years in Switzerland, I have views about its democracy and the way in which it applies locally, but I do not believe that anyone could accuse the Swiss police authorities or police force of being other than of the highest standard. It is a consequence of Switzerland not being in the EU that it does not fall automatically to be considered a participating country. Therefore, there must be an international agreement to which both the UK and Switzerland are party, and it would need to be designated as a participating country for it to be fully involved. For example, it has already been designated for service of process under the previous EU-Switzerland agreement, but the problem with that was that it dealt with fraud but did not go any wider. However, Switzerland has ratified the second additional protocol, and we intend to do likewise. Therefore, it is necessary and appropriate that we designate it as a member state in our participating country list.
The question was asked, "Who is, who isn't?". All current EU member states are participating countries for the purpose of the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003, which means that all EU member states can benefit from the provisions of that Act, which is relevant only to participating countries. The Council
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The noble Baroness and the noble Lord were concerned about the custody conditions into which prisoners might be transferred, however temporarily. As we said, the consent of the person in custody in the first instance is required, otherwise it will not take place. Additionally, we are bound by the Human Rights Act to act in accordance with convention rights, and it would not be appropriate to send a person into custody in a country where custody conditions could give rise to a breach of the ECHR. For the purposes of this order, a person in custody in the UK would be only temporarily transferred on the rare occasion when they were assisting with a UK investigation abroad.
The noble Baroness raised the question of expenses. With the exception of costs related to TV/video link evidence and to the temporary transfer of a prisoner into and out of the UK, it is standard practice with mutual legal assistance that the requested country meets the cost of providing assistance and that the cost of providing telephone connections and so on would be de minimis.
What difficulties have we seen with the process? How reliable are the postal services in other countries and how do we achieve this? There is no difficulty in serving the process in the vast majority of cases. Currently the service of process in these countries can be effected by post or by sending a relevant document to a country's central authority and requesting the use of postal services. But most often it is effected by using private companies such as FedEx, UPS or whatever, so the quality of the postal service within the country is not necessarily a matter of real concern. At the moment, services can still be sent by post, but the order makes it an obligation that it should be sent by post, save in the limited circumstances to which I referred. That will minimise bureaucracy and ensure that documents are served as quickly as possible.
I think that that deals with most of the questions. When we ratify depends on the second SI, but we are determined to move forward as quickly as we can. I hope, with noble Lords' support, we can ensure that this order goes on its way and that we are one step closer to the overdue ratification.
Lord Brett: We are in the Christmas season, but we hope that it will be a matter of weeks-and fewer
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Baroness Hamwee: The Minister referred, rightly, to the consent of the prisoner being required for a transfer. I assume that it is implicit that the consent can be withdrawn at any time so that the prisoner could require to be returned. Will he confirm whether that is the case? If he cannot do so now, perhaps he could come back to us on that.
Lord Brett: I presume that that is the case. I shall look bemused and hope that somebody nods at me-and, yes, they have done. To me, that is natural justice. If consent is required, consent for retaining the person is also required. I am pleased to say that the answer is positive.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Social Security (Contributions Credits for Parents and Carers) Regulations 2009.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, the regulations were laid before the House on 12 October. Before I proceed further, I wish to state that in my view this statutory instrument is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The background to the regulations is the credits for parents and carers, introduced into the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 by the Pensions Act 2007, which both replaces and builds on the home responsibilities protection provisions. The Act introduced a new carer's credit available to people engaged in caring, which the regulations provide to include caring for one or more persons for a total of 20 hours a week or more.
The Committee may recall that, when the credit was first proposed, it was to be available only where the persons cared for were in receipt of a relevant disability-related benefit. However, following discussions with carers' representatives, it was decided to extend the provision to those caring for at least 20 hours a week for people without a qualifying benefit, but where the need for care was certified by a health or social care professional. The provisions were warmly welcomed by noble Lords but there were some reservations
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The overall consensus has been that the certification arrangements should operate with a "light touch" to avoid disqualifying someone who is not in regular contact with professional health agencies. Consequently, the range of people who are able to certify the need for care is designed to be as broad as possible. There is no prescribed list of people who could certify, and this could be done, for instance, by a member of a voluntary group in regular contact with the person being cared for.
We have worked throughout with representatives from Carers UK, which has helped to produce the guidance for certifiers. I am delighted that we have also been able to work with Carers UK to produce a most successful Carers Rights Day last Friday, which this year had a theme relevant to these regulations of "Caring for your Pension".
As a result of these credits for carers, around 160,000 more people could start to gain a credit for the basic state pension in 2010, including around 115,000 women. Also around 240,000 more people could accrue entitlement to state second pension than are currently doing so, including around 145,000 women. The Committee may have noticed that these figures are somewhat higher than those contained in the Explanatory Memorandum to the regulations. The lower figures represent those estimated to gain through caring for someone with a disability-related benefit only. They do not include those where the need for care is certified. We have arranged for the Explanatory Memorandum to be corrected and relaid.
The regulations also include some provisions to help other carers. Foster carers, defined here, and people getting child benefit for a child under 12 are expressly provided for in the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. Also in respect of child benefit, Regulation 5(1)(a) provides for the partners of child benefit recipients to be treated as "engaged in caring" for the purposes of these credits. That is when the child benefit recipient cannot themselves benefit from the credits because he or she already has a qualifying year for basic and additional pension purposes-most usually through paid work.
From April 2008, we introduced a similar provision for transferring HRP entitlement between partners. That has proved very useful on those occasions where the "wrong person" has claimed child benefit and their partner, at home with the children, would otherwise not have received credits towards a state pension.
In summary, these regulations seek to ensure that the greatest number of genuine carers benefit from
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Lord Freud: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full explanation of how these regulations will work. I also welcome the statutory instrument, which puts into effect measures which I know my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale strongly supported in Committee on the then Pensions Bill a little more than two years ago.
These regulations ensure that carers and foster parents obtain full contribution credits for national insurance purposes. It is clearly in the interests of the state and, indeed, of all of us, that people who take on these important and historically undervalued roles are allowed maximum flexibility in building up their rights to receive state pensions and other relevant support. To that extent, it makes a statement about the social value of the role of caring. The regulations spell out the mechanism by which carers will get carer's credit and, in particular, whether the person they are caring for is entitled to benefit. The approach adopted here is the introduction of the care certificate and the reliance on certification by health and social care professionals, and even, in some cases, members of voluntary groups, all approved by the Secretary of State.
I note that the Minister talked about this process being conducted with a light touch. I am sure we are all aware of the current concern being expressed at the so-called light-touch regulation in so far as it applied to our ruined financial sector. I became concerned when I read the draft notes for certifiers about what was being required from them. Clearly it is a sophisticated judgment, as one can see when one looks at the definition of care. The draft states that care may take many forms; that it is important that we recognise a wide range of caring responsibilities; and that it is equally important that we take a balanced view which does not reward somebody for performing duties that would normally be considered day-to-day housekeeping. The second implication of these draft guidance notes is that it is a time-consuming requirement. The notes refer to needing to know the circumstances of the particular carer in some detail. The implication is that the certifier needs to keep in touch with developments in case circumstances change, so it is quite a sophisticated burden.
In the austere times we are facing, I hope that this new light-touch regime does two things: first, that it is effective in preventing fraudulent claims; and, secondly,
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The inclusion of foster carers in the regulations makes sense in the context of the severe difficulties that we have seen in recent years in the provision of fostering places. Anything that makes fostering easier and more rewarding is to be welcomed. However, the regulations are likely to improve provision very much at the margin. The challenge to the Government remains to make sure that there is adequate and stable fostering for children. We have had warnings from those involved in the fostering sector that there is a shortage of people prepared to be foster parents-therefore, the options, when placing children, are narrowed-and that too few people are entering the area at a time when we face a looming generational changeover. Therefore, my second area of inquiry to the Minister is: how do these regulations fit into the Government's measure to ease the shortage of foster carers?
I broaden out the question of care to refer to the Government's current plans on providing a national care service, of which the provisions we are discussing would clearly form part. The Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care Together, suggested strongly that this service would be paid for in part out of disability living allowance and attendance allowance. I say "suggested strongly" as no other funding alternatives were sketched out in the Green Paper. However, yesterday the Secretary of State, Andy Burnham, said in another place, at col. 170 of Commons Hansard, that there would be "no cash losers". Therefore, my third question is: how, then, do the Government plan to fund the national care service? Subject to the response on that, I assure the Minister that we will support this instrument.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for explaining the regulations so clearly. We on these Benches give them our wholehearted welcome. As the Minister said, this arises from the Pensions Act 2007, and establishes new rules for class 3 national insurance contribution credits for those bringing up children or caring for others for 20 or more hours a week. The regulations will in particular greatly improve the state pension records of women, who tend to get a raw deal from the current system. For the first time, caring is to be treated on a par with paid employment for the building up of pension entitlement.
We on these Benches are particularly pleased that the Government have taken on board the proposals in the new clause tabled by my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the other place on Report on the Pension Bill 2007. The new clause, subsequently withdrawn after the
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The 2006 White Paper Security in Retirement, which floated a narrower reform, pointed out that around 390,000 carers were not accruing basic pension rights. The White Paper went on to observe that 120,000 of those carers, who were caring for 20 hours or more a week, appeared to face more difficulties in the labour market, not altogether surprisingly, than those caring for fewer than 20 hours a week. The regulations will ensure that at least they are not now compromising their pension entitlement by their most valuable caring activities and not just for those disabled people on qualifying benefits. As we know, a lot of sick and disabled people just cannot face applying for, or just will not apply for, disability living allowance or attendance allowance, or are past the qualifying age for applying for DLA.
It is also welcome that the credits will be available for up to 12 weeks to cover periods of sickness, holidays and respite care, as well as occasions when the disabled person is in hospital and has had any qualifying benefit withdrawn. I presume that if no qualifying benefits have been received, under this regulation the carer will still be covered for 12 weeks. That was not entirely clear in the Explanatory Memorandum. A carer friend of mine says that she is almost busier than normal when her son is in hospital.
I, too, thank the Minister for sending the guidance notes for certifiers. I note that they are to be published on the internet. Will they be available anywhere in hard copy? I imagine that many carers are not necessarily internet literate. That brings me to my next point about how this very welcome policy is to be publicised.
My honourable friend in another place, Mr Steve Webb, made the point that the carers we are talking about may not come into contact with the benefit authorities at all. I do not think that we can assume that all carers can or will access Directgov on the internet. In many ways, healthcare professionals are likely to be key players in letting carers know about their entitlements. While on the subject of healthcare professionals, could the Minister say whether that is a term of art or just a catch-all term? I know that the certifier does not have to be a healthcare professional, but I am curious about whether the term is defined for the purposes of this legislation. What about someone who is a practitioner in the alternative health field, such as an acupuncturist or a homoeopath?
Going back to how the new scheme will be publicised, perhaps notices could be posted in GP surgeries and advertisements taken out in local newspapers. MPs could be encouraged to help disseminate information to their constituents. I note that the Government intend the certification process to be as light touch as possible. That is very welcome, as long as the publicity about the scheme is not light touch, otherwise the take-up will be disappointing. I also note that there is no time limit for claiming the credits and it may be extended indefinitely at the discretion of the Secretary of State or HMRC-a rather surprising fact given the usual strict rules on
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Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, it is probably more than 20 years since I started to campaign for a lifetime of caring to be treated equally to a lifetime of paid work in relation to the state pension, so I am a very happy person today. I commend the Government's flexibility in changing legislation to allow carers to be accredited by a professional to show that they are providing the appropriate numbers of hours of care. As the Minister mentioned, he has worked very closely with Carers UK and I declare an interest as its vice president. Carers UK has argued that restricting this to those caring for those with certain disability benefits will mean that some carers miss out, for example those caring for someone with a mental health condition who refuses to claim or somebody caring for several people getting the lower rate DLA.
This is the first time that those caring for 20 hours a week will have a concrete entitlement. This is recognition that 20 hours is the threshold beyond which carers' employment prospects are damaged. A number of measures will help carers to build up pension entitlement and will reduce reliance on means-testing in future, including, as we have heard, the introduction of a new carer's credit for those who are caring for 20 hours or more a week for someone who is severely disabled. That should mean that thousands more carers are eligible for a full basic state pension. The reduction in the number of qualifying years for the full basic state pension means that carers with disrupted contribution records can still build up a full entitlement. The removal of the first contribution condition means that someone who has never worked can still qualify for a full basic state pension. These are hugely important steps forward in stopping carers finding themselves in poverty as a direct result of their caring.
I share the concerns of the noble Baroness about publicising this and perhaps I may link that to the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, about fraud. Far from being notorious for defrauding the system, carers are notorious for not claiming. That is the most important reason why we have to publicise this. I am very grateful to the Minister for being prepared to work with the carers' organisations on take-up and the Carers Rights Day.
Baroness Pitkeathley: I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. I always feel very strongly about this, as noble Lords will perhaps permit. The noble Lord also made a point about the cost. We always have to bear in mind the cost of not supporting carers, not only during their caring life but after their caring has ceased. They contribute £87 billion to the economy. The costs of this measure have to be taken in proportion. I conclude with sincere thanks and congratulations to the Minister.
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