Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Labour)
My Lords, perhaps I, too, may express contentment that the Minister has made this concession. The government amendments go some way to meet the concerns expressed at previous stages by those who put their names to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. Like the noble Lord, I am deeply concerned that conditionality is to be extended in this way to include behaviour such as breaches of community service or of probation orders. Once the state decides that persons who are not well behaved should lose benefit it treads a very dangerous road. However, for the moment the Government are not to be moved on that matter. I hope that in the fullness of time they may be persuaded not to take this authoritarian route, which I deeply regret. However, I am pleased that the Government recognise the need for due process before anyone is at risk of losing benefit.
I am also delighted that by Amendment No. 12 my noble friend Lady Hollis seeks to add the words "without reasonable excuse". This means that a probation officer has a greater degree of discretion than originally provided for in the Bill. It also means that there would not be a reference to the court or the benefits office in cases where there had been a failure to attend perhaps because of illness, responsibilities towards children or other matters, which would greatly concern noble Lords and the community at large. Many people on community service and probation orders have multiple social problems and it is difficult to get their lives back on track. This is not about being paternalistic but about recognising the reality of the problems faced by people who are on probation. Sometimes probation officers are very reluctant to see people lose benefit because that loss only adds to their problems and exposes them to greater risk of committing crime. I am grateful that the new wording has been included so that the matter will be referred either to the court or the benefits office only where there is no reasonable excuse. I support the amendments.