“I hope the Government will now take this opportunity to rethink its strategy and do something which actually builds on young unemployed people’s skills and tackles the causes of long-term unemployment. I agree we need to get people back to work but the best way of doing that is by helping them, not punishing them. The Government ought to understand that if they created schemes which actually helped people get back into work then they wouldn’t need to force people to attend.”

That is what the young woman who took the case to court said, and I congratulate her on doing that. If she had not, we would not be in the situation of contesting what the Government are doing.

Let us be clear about the intent of the Bill. The Government have acted unlawfully. They have robbed some of the poorest people in our society of, on average, £500 of benefits, which is a lot to people living on the breadline. Now the Government are using this retrospective device to avoid paying back to those poor people money that they should not have been deprived of in the first place. The argument that paying £130 million back to poor people would damage the economy is derisory and laughable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said, if the £130 million was given to the poor who need to spend the money, it would help to boost the economy. To suggest it is a threat to the economy when the bankers have been bailed out with £1.2 trillion is laughable in any Government logic. The suggestion that if we pay the money back, it must come from other claimants is the Government’s classic strategy of divide and rule in their welfare benefits policy.

As my hon. Friend said, the use of retrospective legislation simply ensures that illegality is made legal and sets an extremely dangerous precedent, but that is nothing to do with the money, taxpayers or the economy. It is about prejudice against the poor, the demonisation of the unemployed and the iron heel of a prejudiced state. It is also about the preservation of a large pool of unpaid labour for large-scale corporations to exploit. It is now estimated that the Government will put through 250,000 people on work experience, 850,000 on work programmes and more than 70,000 on the mandatory work activity. At the last calculation, that is about 60 million hours of free labour to those corporations. That is exploitation; it cannot be termed in any other way.

In the past two decades, we have seen a transformation in how unemployment is considered, discussed and viewed. Governments since the second world war had a commitment to full employment and saw as a responsibility their role to ensure full employment. There have always been sanctions within the system to prevent people from abusing it, but they were about ensuring that people were sanctioned if they refused to go for paid work, never unpaid work. Now, just when unemployment is at its highest and it is the hardest time to find a job, the attitude is that unemployment is not the fault of the system or a failure of Government or of society, but a failure of the individual. The individual is to blame, not the society that has caused the unemployment. Therefore, the logic follows that the individual must be penalised, so what the Government have successfully done in the

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media and elsewhere by ministerial statements is demonise the unemployed—the unemployed themselves have caused their own poverty, rather than the system that has created the unemployment. The result of that logic is what we see today: the poor and unemployed have to be harassed, pilloried, sanctioned, blamed and made to feel guilty for being unemployed.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree not only that the Government have shown no contrition whatever on the issue, which is a mess of their own making, but that they are trying to scapegoat those people who have been sanctioned illegally?

John McDonnell: It is that, but there is also a wider agenda of making people feel guilty just because they are out of work and guilty just because—temporarily, in most instances—they have to depend on some benefits. This is about scapegoating and victimising the poor and people who cannot get a job. It is about harassment and exploitation. At the heart of that is the judgment that Parliament was not properly informed of what those schemes and regulations meant. That is what the judgment said.

I make it clear that I shall vote against the Bill because it is immoral and wrong. Before we vote to render those schemes lawful retrospectively, it is important that Members are aware of what we will be supporting. Boycott Workfare is an organisation that set up— [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. There seems to be a phone ringing somewhere. Wherever it is, we can certainly hear it.

John McDonnell: It is most probably someone looking for a job.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Let us hope that somebody answers it, then.

John McDonnell: Before we vote tonight, it is important we know that we will be voting to support the workfare schemes being introduced by the Government. The Bill will enable the sanctions to be continued and retrospectively made legal, because people refused to go on those schemes—I think justifiably so with regard to many of them. Let us take some examples from the Boycott Workfare website. Tesco is a classic, and one example refers to

“a fifty-six year old man who worked at Tesco for 40 hrs a week for 6 weeks for no pay.”

He was

“given the worst job, constantly filling freezers in the hope he would be taken on. After the 6 weeks were up the manager asked him if he would like to stay on for some extra weeks,”

and the man said,

“‘with pay?’”

The manager said no,

“why would he pay him when he can pick the phone up and get more unemployed people who have to work for nothing”?

That was at Tesco, and the list goes on. Poundland is a classic example of an organisation exploiting unemployed people, time and time again recruiting shelf stackers

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while laying off other workers. Primark is another example. One young woman who went to Primark said:

“The Jobcentre paid travel money but no lunch. I worked three days a week, 10 am to 4.30 pm or 5 pm with one half-hour break.”


“don’t pay any money. It was nearly six months, from January to June. When I finished the placement I took my CV and I asked the managers if they had any vacancies. They said, ‘Not yet—we’ll call you when we do.’ I haven’t had a call.”

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that there are companies that do the same, but with people who have not come through the jobcentres? People apply for a job, are asked to work for three or four weeks on probation and are then told to go and are replaced by colleagues. There are shops even in the west end using large numbers of totally unpaid staff on a permanent basis.

John McDonnell: The whole point of the exercise, as far as I can see—despite the arguments that it makes people job fit—is the massive exploitation of tens of thousands of people for free labour. I will not go through all the examples, but it is worth looking at the Boycott Workfare website, which gives example after example of people who have been exploited or have worked in unsafe conditions lacking health and safety, have stuck at it to try to get a job and who have never got the job. The job never materialises.

What happens if people say no or drop out? They are sanctioned. Sanctions have increased dramatically in this country. In 2009, 139,000 jobseeker’s allowance claimants were sanctioned. By 2011, the number had nearly tripled to 500,000, and it has risen again this year. Interestingly, it is private companies that recommend sanctions to the Department for Work and Pensions. The worst are Serco, Seetec, A4e and Working Links. If they do not get their pound of flesh—if they do not feel that they are getting value for money from someone who is unpaid—they recommend to the DWP that the person be sanctioned.

The irony is that despite all the pain, anxiety and suffering inflicted on unemployed people, the schemes are proven not to work, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said. Time and time again, all the evidence—whether from the Social Security Advisory Committee, the DWP peer review, Ben Goldacre or the National Audit Office—demonstrates that not only do the schemes not work but, as others have said, they undermine wages for people in work and prevent others from getting paid jobs.

Large numbers of people are extremely angry at how they have been treated. I believe that many are now willing to stand up and say, “We’re not going to be treated in this way.” That is why the sanctions system is becoming even more rigorous, and why it is important for the Government to pass the Bill: they want to intimidate more people and force more people into work, done for free, that they do not want to undertake.

It is worth stating that this is about exploiting people. It is about ensuring that young people in particular are intimidated into unpaid work. People who were brave enough to say, “I’m not willing to take unpaid work and be exploited in this way, and if necessary, I’ll be sanctioned

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because of that,” have now been proven right. They were not informed of what they were getting into, but they were bright enough to understand the level of exploitation involved and they stood up against it. The Bill says to them that now they have won in court, we will try to ensure that they do not get justice. That is what it is about.

I urge Members to vote for justice. The Bill is a disgrace. It is a monument to a combination of incompetence by the Government and brutality to the poor. I look forward to hearing the Labour party consider what we are doing here today. I urge Members to vote against the Bill, because I think that people are looking to the Labour party to defend them again—to stand up for what is right and just, for the people in our society who are exploited and for those at the bottom at the moment: those who are unemployed, unable to get a job, dependent on benefits and desperate for work. Those people do not expect to be harassed and exploited by a Government using sanctions to force them into unpaid work. That is why I shall vote against the Bill, and why I urge all Members to vote against the Bill to demonstrate that someone in the House is standing up for those people.

4 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The Bill is not perhaps what some people think it is, nor perhaps what we would like to debate. It will not end various forms of work experience, whether we think that is a good or a bad idea, because the Government have put in place—and have done so very quickly—regulations to overcome mistakes in previous regulations.

We need a lengthy debate, and we need to think hard about what we do to help people find work, if there is work—often there is no work to find, which is the fundamental failure of many of these programmes. Whatever we call the schemes or however we dress them up, if the jobs are not there, no amount of job readiness and training will get people a job. They might make people readier for a job, which might not be a bad thing in itself, but it is an illusion to assume that if we simply introduce a programme and make people do it, suddenly a job will emerge at the end. It will not, unless there are jobs and demand in the economy.

It is the same for many people doing part-time jobs. We have had many debates in the past few weeks about the bedroom tax, and people have said, “Well, people can go out and get extra hours to pay the tax; it will be easy.” In the course of half an hour on Saturday afternoon knocking on doors in my constituency and asking people about this, I met two people who were working part time. They both wanted extra hours and had gone to their employers to ask whether extra hours were available but were told they were not. Ironically, if firms gave extra hours, that work would be taken away from someone else, giving them fewer hours or no job at all. Hours are short because the jobs are not there. Similarly, many job programmes have failed because, to a large extent, the jobs are not there.

Perhaps we should give more time to this debate, because we need to consider whether we are achieving what we should be achieving. Unfortunately—and I say this to people watching our debate—whatever the result of the vote at the end of today’s debate, it will not stop these programmes. Some people say that this is a vote

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on whether some of these so-called training programmes continue, but sadly it is not. I hope that we have further votes on the issue in future, because the new regulations, which may still be proved to be not as valid as the previous ones, have been introduced. Anyone out there who thinks that how the House votes today will bring an end to all those programmes will find that, sadly, that is not true.

If this were a situation involving parking regulations—my council introduced parking regulations, which were challenged in court and found to be invalid—and we were asking, in effect, for a sanction on sanctions or, in parking regulation terms, retrospectively forcing people to pay parking penalties which were unlawful at the time they were incurred, the Lib Dem and Tory Benches would be packed with Members saying how unfair that was. Even if we correct the regulations, that would not solve the problem. In the example I gave of my council, it corrected the regulations and issued new ones, and achieved the parking restrictions that it wanted, but it did not seek to go back to people and say to them, “Well, we can impose these penalties, because we will make it right retrospectively.” If it were any other subject, we would not see people sitting on their hands, which is what is happening today. Much attention has been focused on what the Labour party is doing, and rightly so; people are right to ask what we are doing. However, they also must ask what the Government parties are doing, because apart from the Minister, no one has come into the Chamber to speak in favour of what the Government are doing, and that speaks for itself.

A number of things have been said today that are simply not accurate. In one intervention, for example, a Government Back Bencher said that half the people going on the Work programme had got jobs. No one could seriously suggest such a figure. The only time I have heard the Government use the word “half”—[Interruption.] The hon. Member did mention the Work programme, but perhaps he did not intend to do so. The only programme that was mentioned where the word “half” was used was the pilot for the work experience programmes that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has described so thoroughly. I am talking about the research on the pilot programme. Half of those on that pilot programme, which was for 1,300 people, were off benefit in 13 weeks, but being “off benefit” is not necessarily the same as being in a job. After the results of that pilot were published, there were no further figures on those schemes. No one has actually said what the success rate of those schemes has been.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) referred to a visit that she and I and other members of the Select Committee made to a jobcentre today as part of our inquiry into the Work programme. Yes, some people who are providing the programme did feel that their morale had perhaps been undermined by its results and outcomes and the fact that they had been told that it was worse than doing nothing. However, those outcomes were the ones that the Government themselves set for their own programme; it is not something that someone else invented. It is not those individuals who should feel that they are to blame; it is the set-up of the whole programme that is at fault. It is unfortunate that those people felt that they were being criticised.

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If the hon. Lady had stayed to make a speech, perhaps she would have told the House about some of the other things that we heard. Although of course the providers speak up for their programmes, all of them made the point that if they had more resources they would be able to do far more and do far better.

One provider we heard from was putting considerable additional resources into individuals to get them job-ready and hopefully to find them jobs. They were putting some people through programmes that cost £900 a head out of their own resources. If those people get jobs as a result of being part of that Work provider’s programme, no doubt the Government will say, “We managed to do that through the Work programme, and it was the cheapest Work programme ever.” The truth is that it would not be cheap, because those programme providers are supplementing the cost by a considerable amount. They all said that if it were not in fact the cheapest Work programme, it could be doing a lot better. Cheap is not always good; cheap is sometimes extremely shoddy and of poor quality. As we all know, a cheap pair of shoes will not last very long.

Much of what has been said about the quality of the programmes is poor. I want to have the debate about sanctions, because the experience of my constituents is that the sanctions regime has not only been increased in extent but has lost discretion. Discretion has flown out of it all together, so that many people are finding that they are sanctioned for things that they hardly understand. Many people who are deemed to be job-ready are actually suffering from mental illness or a learning disability and they are the people who may be sanctioned. I therefore welcome the new clause that provides for a report on sanctions. The sooner that comes through, the better.

I ask the Government yet again, as I have before, to look at individual cases. I raised one with the Minister at DWP questions. A young man was on the Work programme for a year and a quarter, but there was no real progress. He sourced a training course—a very good training course—to learn construction skills. That would have involved eight weeks of unpaid work, which he was quite prepared to do, as part of a structured scheme, followed by 13 weeks of paid work and the prospect of a job at the end. When I raised that case with the Minister, he simply said, “The reason he is not getting to do that is the Scottish Government’s funding.” I will come back to the Minister on that case because that is not so. The underlying issue is that the Work programme provider could not provide anything like that quality. In a year and a quarter, the provider had never offered that young person that sort of training. That should be the significant point; it should not be a blame-game—“Oh, it’s the fault of the Scottish Government, Jobcentre Plus, or the Work programme provider.” That is the merry-go-round that that person is on; as far as I am aware, unless something has come in today, he is still on it.

I am not against good schemes, good work experience, or sanctions, but I am against poor-quality schemes. The Government are so gung-ho, saying that it does not matter that this measure is retrospective, that they have made mistakes and will go back over it. That is not acceptable, and we must stand up and say that clearly. I am sorry that the Government have not been prepared

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at any stage to say, “We did get it wrong and we are going not only to alter that bit of regulation but put real effort into improving our employability schemes.”

4.12 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): It is not often that, when I rise to oppose a Government Bill, as I do again on this occasion—for the avoidance of doubt, I will be going through the No Lobby—I follow six hon. Members in succession with whom I agree. Perhaps that is an indication that no Government Back Bencher is prepared to stand on their convictions and argue the point. Therefore, this is quite a rare occasion.

I am proud to represent the Easington constituency. This is a matter of social justice for me and I have a number of concerns about the Bill. The issue of retrospection is an important and fundamental one. I suspect that the Government are opening a Pandora’s box here. In the debates on last year's Finance Bill, I heard the same Minister warning of the dangers of retrospective measures to deal with tax avoidance and loopholes, so using this route will have consequences. If he was so confident about the quality and strength of his argument, why did he not challenge the decision in the Supreme Court, rather than using primary legislation? Perhaps he might answer that question in his response.

It is not just an issue of retrospection—the Government's arguments are wrong. They are trying to justify this measure, but they have made the mistake. It is an issue of wording. Nevertheless, the Government have made the mistake and they are seeking to sell their argument to hon. Members on both sides of the House by saying that, if the funds are not recovered from those who were incorrectly sanctioned, they will have to be recovered from elsewhere in the welfare budget. That is outrageous blackmail; I am sorry if that is not parliamentary language, but I find that deeply offensive. It goes against every grain of fairness in Members on both sides of the House. The view I am expressing is the view that has been unanimously expressed to me. I have received numerous e-mails and messages from my constituents over the past 48 hours, all of them asking me to vote against this Bill as it is unfair and unjust.

The Government, and especially Government Back Benchers, have characterised jobseekers who have been sanctioned as workshy and feckless—the sentiment expressed was “Are you really suggesting these people shouldn’t be sanctioned?” Let us have a look at the Work programme, however. It has gone from chaos to farce. We talk about “workshy”, but what about wage-shy employers who exploit the unemployed, with the connivance, approval and funding of the Government?

Many commentators have severely criticised the Work programme as not representing value for money, and so, too, I believe, has the Public Accounts Committee—I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong about that. Indeed, it has been suggested that the programme is worse than doing nothing, and I am certainly aware that major retailers have exploited free labour from the Work programme to meet seasonal demand, rather than, as would otherwise have happened, employing temporary staff or, even, giving existing employees additional hours. The programme has therefore

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had the perverse effect of blocking real jobs, and I agree with other Opposition Members who feel it should be subjected to a root-and-branch review.

What we have is a £3-million black hole, and it seems to me that the only people profiting from it are the privately contracted organisations—some of whom were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell—who have done well out of the programme. I am therefore surprised that one of the Government’s principal arguments here is about the protection of the national economy, when they are seeking to introduce primary legislation to rewrite history and withhold social security payments that were denied because of unlawful sanctions. We must not beat about the bush. The judgment is clear and specific; my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) read it out in her passionate and excellent speech. The Government are at fault here, in how they have implemented things.

I oppose the concept of two nations, as does my party, but what will the consequences of these measures be? The Government are creating two nations. They are seeking to penalise and punish the poor for the mistakes of the rich and powerful, in part of a continuing series of policies that are badged as “austerity”. Those policies are pushing the poorest in society further into poverty.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) said, one of the most galling things is that Ministers have shown absolutely no contrition or understanding of the consequences of their actions. That might be because they do not understand the consequences, because they do not live in the real world where they would rub shoulders with some of the poorest people in society who are suffering hardship. People in my constituency in east Durham ask me, “Why are we suffering for the consequences of this crisis? Was it created in Horden, Shotton, Haswell, Blackhall or even Murton?” No, of course not; the crisis was caused by the mistakes of the banking sector and City speculators. I raise that point not only because I despise the casino bankers for the state they have reduced the economy to, but because there is another avenue that Ministers could pursue to recover the £130 million, which I will return to shortly. In fact, we touched on this issue last year in the Finance Bill Committee. Why on earth do the Government not legislate for a general principle of tax avoidance? Instead of robbing people who have been inappropriately sanctioned, the Government should consider the huge reservoir of unpaid tax that individuals could well afford to contribute to. To my mind, there was a failure by Governments.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and a very good point about where money could be found. He mentioned the tax gap, which, according to Richard Murphy and others, is some £120 billion a year. We are talking today about £130 million, which is roughly one thousandth of that amount.

Grahame M. Morris: My hon. Friend, who is very knowledgeable and has a background as an economist, has hit the nail on the head. The general public, my constituents and many Opposition Members do not understand why the Government do not address this

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problem. There is a relatively straightforward way to do so: by legislating for a general principle of tax avoidance. The Government are quite happy to use primary legislation retrospectively to deprive people who have been illegally sanctioned of £130 million, but they will not use the same route to recover moneys properly due to the Exchequer.

There is a contradiction here. Although the Government have been highly critical of what has happened, they continue to push the case for further deregulation. Just yesterday, in a Delegated Legislation Committee the statutory period of notice for compulsory redundancies for employers employing more than 100 people was reduced from 90 days to 45. This Government are still very much pursuing the Beecroft agenda.

John McDonnell: It is worth noting that, according to the Government’s impact assessment of that delegated legislation, employers will gain £290 million and employees will lose £250 million.

Grahame M. Morris: That just goes to show that we are all in this together—or rather, we are not.

I have seen the graphs and the charts showing that the poorest are being hardest hit. We should consider the effect of a 5% cut in their weekly income. Other Members have spoken about the sort of cuts that individuals are going to experience. I do not know whether the Minister, other Front Benchers or even Conservative Back Benchers know what it is like to exist on £71 a week, but it is a real struggle. Taking up to £25 a week from the poorest families, most of whom are in social housing, can mean a choice between eating or having proper heating. How can this be fair, when the Government’s priority is to make millionaires richer, to the tune of £2,000 a week? Such a tax cut is unimaginable for someone who would be sanctioned under the Work programme. In fact, the £2,000 a week tax cut for millionaires that we anticipate tomorrow equates to 28 weeks’ income for somebody on jobseeker’s allowance.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman just remind the House why Labour always had a lower rate of tax for rich people than this Government?

Grahame M. Morris: We need to look at the situation we are in now. This is the wrong thing to do: it is unjust and unfair to give millionaires a £2,000 a week tax cut, at the same time as the right hon. Gentleman’s Government propose to deprive some of the poorest people, who have been illegally sanctioned, of large chunks of their income. It is outrageous, and it is rank hypocrisy for anyone to talk about rights with the emphasis on responsibility when it comes to workfare. If they are willing to undermine the judiciary and the rule of law, and vote for retrospective legislation to cover up the mistakes and failings of the Minister, who is asking that we legislate to place him above the law, that is a dangerous precedent to establish.

I cannot, in all conscience, support this desperate Bill, put forward by a desperate Government who have broken their own laws and now wish to forgo their legal obligations and withhold social security payments of £130 million to some of the poorest people in the country. Why do we not apply that method across the

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board? If the national emergency is such that it is right to deny access to social security to those who are entitled to it in order to safeguard the national economy, why do we not chase the tax exiles—those powerful individuals who own newspapers and luxury hotels, who pay no corporation tax and who have laid siege to a small Channel Island? I understand that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has already paid out more than £200 million to two such individuals who are now seeking a £1 billion VAT windfall at the taxpayer’s expense. Government Members are silent about such things. As we know, there is one rule for the rich and one rule for the poor, including those who have been illegally sanctioned through the Work programme.

We are in the sorry situation of the Minister blackmailing hon. Members by threatening a collective punishment for all those in receipt of social security and welfare benefits if these changes do not go through, because the Department might have to find the money through further reductions elsewhere in its budget. I thought that it was the Secretary of State for Education and his advisers who were the bullies. It is now obvious that the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to sink to those standards by threatening Members of the House in this way, which is below what we would expect of a responsible Government and a responsible Minister.

I did not come into Parliament to penalise and punish the vulnerable and the poor for the mistakes of the Government. The Department for Work and Pensions seems to be in a state of chaos. It is trying to save money by issuing unlawful sanctions for a Work programme that is not fit for purpose. It is making arbitrary cuts to disability living allowance and employment and support allowance, and is seeking to reduce the case load by 20%. Through the bedroom tax, it is cutting the incomes of disabled people and families with children. The welfare state under this coalition Government in 2013 is failing at every turn.

What we are seeing today is an abuse of power. This is an appalling Bill. I urge the Minister to take responsibility for his actions, even at this late stage, to put a stop to the Bill and to pay those who were unlawfully sanctioned because of his failings. I will vote against the Bill and I urge other hon. Members to do the same.

4.27 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Thank you very much for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise to you, the House and the Minister that I was not hear for the earlier part of the debate. I was in a Select Committee upstairs and then in a meeting. I wanted to contribute to the debate because the Bill troubles me.

I will start by expressing concern about a couple of matters raised by the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), which are relevant because they are about how we treat the rich as well as the poor. I am not party to what is going to be said tomorrow, but I hope that the Government will go ahead with having a tax system that requires a minimum amount of tax to be paid by everybody. It is planned that that will be in the Finance Bill for the coming year. I share his view that we need a system that does not allow people to escape their tax obligations and that that should be a general principle.

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I also share the view of the hon. Member for Easington on who should pay more into the system in times of austerity: it should be those who are better off. As it happens, we disagree about whether the better-off now pay more or less. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) intervened on him to point out the hard truth for a Labour MP that during the whole of the Labour Government, the top rate of tax was lower than it is now and lower than it will be after the change this year. There is no backing away from that. I think that that was regrettable, whatever the explanation. However, I want mainly to talk about the Bill.

I understand why the Government read the judgment from the Court of Appeal and have come to the House. The Court did not overturn the principle that people should do some mandatory work while on benefits, but it found—to put it bluntly—that there was a flaw in the paperwork sent to people requiring them to do that. I would have preferred the Government to go to the Supreme Court and wait for that judgment before seeking parliamentary approval to change the law in relation to a large number of cases. I understand the financing and the logic, but I am always nervous when we do not wait for the courts to adjudicate.

I have not talked about this with the Minister but I assume that the Government are nervous that they will not win in the Supreme Court, which is why they have come before the House now. I am nervous about that, but it is not my principal concern about the Bill. My principal concern is about the system that the Bill will continue, which is—to put it bluntly—bigger than the Bill itself. I am sure that will have been the subject of a speech from those on the Labour Front-Bench, just as I have heard that point in speeches from Labour Members who have already spoken.

Despite difficult economic times, I am happy that over the past few months my constituency, which, as colleagues know, is just over the river, has begun to see a reduction in unemployment, both generally and among young people. It is not a huge reduction—I am not naive about that—and when I checked a minute ago it was still ranked 214th in the country in terms of the percentage of those who are unemployed. We are still in the top half of the table, and 5.9% of the population are still not in work although they would like to be. Nevertheless, the figure has come down from its peak of 6.2% in September and October 2011.

I am concerned that we are still running a system—I would be happy to continue this conversation with colleagues from the Department—that does not work or achieve what the Government wish it to achieve, and I will illustrate that point with four constituency cases from recent months. The first concerns a constituent called Mr RE—I will use initials in all cases because I do not have permission to share the details—who wrote to me in autumn last year. I then wrote to the Jobcentre Plus manager for my constituency, with whom I have a good professional working relationship. Mr RE told me that he wished to dispute a sanction on his JSA claim. He said he had received a letter from Seetec, the providers of mandatory work activity in my constituency, asking

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him to attend a mandatory work placement in June 2012 at the British Heart Foundation and a charity shop quite near to where I live on the Old Kent road.

On 21 June, the day before Mr RE was due to start, he received a letter from a voluntary organisation for vulnerable adults inviting him for an interview the following Monday—25 June. He told me that he intended to train as a social worker and that a work placement such as the one offered by Sova, the voluntary body, included a requirement to apply for an MA course in social work. He therefore needed to make that interview a priority. He had only a day’s notice, which he needed to spend in preparation and buying appropriate clothing. He telephoned Seetec as soon as possible to advise that he would not be able to start his work placement on 22 June, but said he would be available from 26 June onwards.

Mr George Howarth: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: Let me just finish this example. Mr RE told me that Seetec was unwilling to discuss the matter and that nothing was resolved. He found the telephone staff rude, abrupt and unwilling to hold a sensible discussion. He went for his interview with the voluntary organisation for vulnerable adults and—as he said he would—he attended the mandatory work activity the following day. Three days later he received a letter advising him that as he had not started his placement on the date originally requested—22 June—he was no longer required to attend. He then received a letter informing him that his JSA claim, and that of his partner, would be suspended from 1 August until 30 October last year. I protested that that was a completely inappropriate penalty because it seemed to me that he had good reasons for not attending his placement on 22 June that were directly related to finding work. Furthermore, he had telephoned the provider to explain the reasons, and he attended the work placement as soon as he was able. I stated my view that the system was clearly failing. As it happened, in the end, a review found in his favour. Jobcentre Plus said originally that he did not tell it of the work placement, but it gave in when he queried that. Jobcentre Plus has cancelled the sanction.

That was a satisfactory outcome, but it is not the only complaint that has come my way. The second case is of D.P., who contacted me on 25 January. He told me that three sanctions had been applied to his JSA claim for failure to attend appointments at the jobcentre. For the first two sanctions, he had failed to attend because he had not received the letter in the post. His representative had written to the jobcentre but it did not agree to lift the sanction. He does not understand the reason for the third sanction, which applies from 10 November 2012 to 10 May 2013, and feels he has done all he can to comply with jobcentre requirements but is still being punished. He has received such severe sanctions that, effectively, he is no longer receiving JSA. I have not yet received an answer to my letter.

I wrote about the third case on 4 March. C. McC. says she is currently claiming JSA and has been required to attend a work placement at Divine Rescue in Walworth. However, she tells me there is no work for her to do there; that she spends the day from 10 am to 5 pm

19 Mar 2013 : Column 867

unoccupied; that no training is provided; and that there are no computer facilities to allow her to work independently.

The fourth case is of a friend of a constituent. A.S. has an accounting qualification and has worked in finance. He has just finished three months’ work experience as an intern in the financial department of a local company, which was appropriate to his career plan. He is a graduate and has a relevant background. He got the placement not through the jobcentre, but separately. He was asked to attend a CV workshop while doing his internship. With the help of my office, we managed to postpone the workshop so he could complete his internship. He was told he was to do mandatory work activities—he was told he had to go and work in a Red Cross shop elsewhere in south London—with no discussion of his qualifications or experience.

Mr Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman said earlier in his speech—I tried to intervene at the time—that the problem was with the paperwork. To some extent, I accept that he is right, in that the regulations did not conform with the provisions of the Jobseekers Act 1995. However, is he aware that the Court of Appeal went beyond that by stating

“the Regulations conflict with article 4(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides, subject to exceptions, that…‘No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour’”?

That is slightly more than a departure from the right paperwork.

Simon Hughes: I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for delaying his intervention. My understanding—the Minister could be helpful in this respect in her winding-up speech—is that the Court upheld the general policy principle of the employment programmes and ruled that the general principle of such employment programmes did not breach article 4(2) of the convention. The failures to be specific and to get the paperwork right meant that programmes could breach the convention. I am not disputing what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I understand that mandatory work activity is not illegal under the European convention. We need to be clear about that. Labour Front Benchers accept the principle of mandatory work activity, provided that it is decent, and accept sanctions in the benefits system.

John McDonnell: Lord Justice Burnton made it clear—I think I quoted him before the right hon. Gentleman arrived—that this is a constitutional issue. It is not just a matter of not informing claimants, but of not informing this House.

Simon Hughes: I did hear the hon. Gentleman and I accept what he said.

My fourth constituent was sent to a charity shop. He was required to carry out mundane manual lifting work. He said that he had a problem with a back injury, which meant that the work was inappropriate. He has asthma, and therefore work in a dusty environment was not great. There was a failure to provide sufficient work for people to do, including for other people who had been sent there. There was a clear breach of the rules that state that people are meant to work four weeks for five days a week from Monday to Friday. The person at the work placement said, “You have to work on a Saturday

19 Mar 2013 : Column 868

if I say so.” Clearly, that was not in the paperwork. The crude point for the Minister is that I am not sure that a graduate seeking work in finance should be sent to a charity shop to dust shelves and move boxes. This seems to be regular and routine in the current system. The Government are spending taxpayers’ money on providing schemes that should help people back to work. I am not sure, however, that there is any intelligent management of the schemes being offered.

It is entirely reasonable for somebody who has been out of work, and has extremely low qualifications, to do a relatively low-skilled mandatory work activity. It is not reasonable if they are seeking to do something else. The Secretary of State is in his place, and he has always been very courteous and helpful in responding to such issues. I ask him and his team to consider how we can significantly improve the quality of mandatory work activity, monitor it better and ensure that we do not send people to do work that, bluntly, will be of no use to them in enhancing their job prospects. Almost nobody wants to be on benefits all the time. People on benefits struggle to make ends meet and we need to do better.

Mr Russell Brown: Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that to impose a sanction over a menial task on a highly qualified individual who may never use those skills again would be wrong?

Simon Hughes: We could have a complicated and long debate. Should people in this House, if they find themselves later in life to be unemployed and it is deemed appropriate that they are sent on mandatory work activity, be sent to work in a charity shop moving boxes and dusting shelves? One could argue that it would be good for us, and good for everybody—

Mr Duncan Smith: I am listening carefully to what my right hon. Friend has to say. As the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), has made clear and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will make clear, all of these things are kept constantly under review. We want to improve them and that is what jobcentre staff do. They are brilliant at that, by the way, and they get better and better. My point on mandatory work activity is that it is not just work experience. It is also about changing culture: finding out whether someone is working and not declaring it; and getting people used to the idea of getting out of bed in the morning and attending somewhere where they do what they have been asked to do, because they have so got out of the habit of doing that, that even attending an interview has become a problem for them. This is not just about training; it is about getting people culturally back in line so that they can then be dealt with by advisers.

Simon Hughes: I absolutely understand and agree with that point. That is fine for all people of that type. In the case of my last example, the individual had been doing an internship and getting up, always being on time and being there all the time. If anybody had checked, they would have known that he had had a 100% successful record in the previous three months. There was no history of shirking, not getting up or lying in bed. Therefore, it would have been appropriate for an interview to find out about that work history, and assess and discuss what might have been appropriate.

19 Mar 2013 : Column 869

Another constituent—a friend of mine living in Waterloo—had been out of work and claiming jobseeker’s allowance. He went to the jobcentre and was invited for an interview with Seetec, which he attended. It was about to send him to Tesco to stack shelves, but he persuaded it that there was an opportunity of mandatory work activity in a photography shop in the west end. He has photographic skills, and he persuaded Seetec, once it had spoken to the employer, that it would be a better place for him to go. I am not disputing the Secretary of State’s view that some people need to get into the culture of work, but the system fails those who are competent at work, have worked and are willing to do their bit, but get thrown into the wrong place, often to do highly inappropriate activities.

I hope that I have made it clear that I think there are underlying serious issues. I am grateful that the Secretary of State has tabled amendments and new clauses to ensure that this matter does not disappear, but comes back to us through regular reporting. My message to the House and the Government is that we need a better system, because a lot of people who are on low incomes or not working are not being well served by the system at the moment.

4.46 pm

Mr Byrne: With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall respond to the debate.

We have heard powerful speeches this afternoon from my hon. Friends the Members for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown), for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and good speeches from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) and the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). This is a day of acute embarrassment for the Government. They have bodged their regulations so badly that they have been struck down by the Court of Appeal, yet not once this afternoon have we heard a word of apology from the Minister for bringing forward retrospective legislation of this type on a timetable so fast that proper scrutiny is constrained. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington said, not once have we heard even a word of contrition for the position they have put the House in.

Today’s debate has clarified one important point. The core of the Bill concerns the long-standing foundational power of the Department to issue sanctions. We think that the Department should, indeed, be equipped with such a power, but that is not to say for a moment that we subscribe to, or agree with, the programmes that it has built on those foundations. We heard from the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark that the programmes now in place, not least the mandatory work activity, are seriously flawed, are malfunctioning and are not getting people back to work, especially in those communities where unemployment is at its worst.

We will continue to argue that the Government’s back to work programmes need to be improved. Young people should not simply be confronted with the option of mandatory work activity and very little else. We do not believe that the Work programme is delivering. We believe that a better choice would be a jobs guarantee

19 Mar 2013 : Column 870

for young people and the long-term unemployed, and that the country could afford it if the Government had the bottle to introduce a tax on bankers’ bonuses and change the pension perks for the very richest. That would go a long way to delivering the kinds of changes that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark spoke about.

It is important that on the foundations with which we equip the DWP we build good, strong back to work programmes that get young people and the long-term unemployed back to work. We have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and other of my hon. Friends, including in interventions from my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), about the clear evidence that the sanctioning regime is malfunctioning. That is why the commitment to an independent review of the regime is so important. As the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said, the system is clearly failing.

We will continue to argue that the review should be put in place, and when it is up and running, we will be leading the evidence gathering to ensure that the House is fully aware of what is going on. We will ensure that there is a clear and loud argument that the back to work programmes in this country should be better and properly financed, and that those who have the latitude to take part in them should be asked to contribute. We want to ensure that more people get back into jobs; that is why we are in the Labour party. That is the argument that we will take to the Government over the course of the next few days.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, we will not stand by and watch the demonisation of the poor in this country. We will stand up for vulnerable people and for the things they need, and we will stand against the attacks now being perpetrated against them by this Government.

4.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): I want to thank all Members who have taken part in the debate today, and I will answer in turn all the points that have been raised. I also want to thank the Opposition for taking a measured approach in supporting and expediting this important Bill, which will ensure that we are able to give jobseekers the best possible chance to find employment, as well as holding them to account when they refuse to hold up their side of the bargain. By ensuring that the Government do not have to repay previous benefit sanctions to claimants who have failed to participate in employment programmes, and that we can properly impose sanctions for such failures, the Bill will protect the public purse as well as the fundamental principle that jobseekers have responsibilities as well as rights.

I want to clarify the Court of Appeal judgment, on which many points have been made, not all of them correct. Our main point is that the Court supports the principle and policy of our employment schemes. The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) asked whether they constituted slavery under article 4 of the European convention on human rights. We are pleased to say that the Court of Appeal agreed that there was no breach of the convention.

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Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Esther McVey: I will make some progress, as I have many questions to get through.

I want to offer clarification to the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris). The Court of Appeal ruled against the Government on a technical point and we are seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on that point. Contrary to what the Opposition have suggested, a great deal of thought went into drafting regulations that would be flexible enough to encompass a wide range of programmes to support jobseekers. That is key; this is about flexibility for the individual and for the businesses that are taking people on. We want to get more people into jobs than ever before, and that is what we are doing.

Mr Donohoe: The problem in my constituency is that there are no jobs. People can have all the training they want, but they cannot get a job. That is the problem, and it is down to this Government.

Esther McVey: Obviously, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the past 11 consecutive months have seen a rise in the number of people in jobs. Of course education, training and work experience are key, and we are doing all we can to help his constituents.

I want to talk about the scrutiny that the regulations went through. They went through the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the secondary legislation scrutiny Committee, and there have been various opportunities for Members to raise objections. That did not happen, however, and the regulations went through. We are seeking permission to appeal against the judgment by the Court of Appeal. This is about communications with claimants, and our view is that it was clear that the claimant received information not only through communication via letter but through meeting and speaking to their jobcentre adviser.

Mr George Howarth: Will the Minister give way?

Esther McVey: I want to progress a little further.

There is one voice that we have not heard here today. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) talked about a failing system, but I want to hear the voice of the people who have been on the mandatory scheme. What have they said about it? It is interesting to note that 75% of them said that they believed they were more attractive to potential employers, and that their personal confidence had been increased by attending the programmes. Some 76% said that their ability to work as part of a team had improved; 89% spoke of the benefits of getting into a working routine; and 81% said that they enjoyed their work placement. We should all be listening to those voices, rather than making political points that are not what those people said.

How about the businesses that take people on? What do they say? Many said that the aim was to help people to get a job. That is key. What has come out goes to the nub of the argument. For some, it might have been their first experience of a work environment. We know that is true, because 1.9 million children live in homes where nobody works, so it is vital that they have the scheme.

19 Mar 2013 : Column 872

Mr Howarth: Could the Minister explain how amendment 1 to clause 1, in the name of her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, takes us any further than where we are today?

Esther McVey: It is to clarify the right to appeal—I did not actually hear the full question.

Mr Howarth: Can the Minister explain how amendment 1 to clause 1, which is in the name of her right hon. Friend, takes us any further than where we are today?

Esther McVey: The right to appeal remains. That is the answer.

Companies said that the mandatory scheme helped not just them but the local community. The hon. Member for Wansbeck said we did not need a Bill. Actually the Bill is required. Slave labour was mentioned, but that is not an issue. Targets were mentioned. There are no targets whatsoever.

We know that jobseekers should have responsibility to take all reasonable steps to increase their chances of finding work. We therefore cannot be in the position where we have to repay benefit sanctions to jobseekers who fail to take all reasonable steps. For that reason, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 277, Noes 57.

Division No. 194]


4.57 pm


Adams, Nigel

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Field, Mark

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Hunter


Joseph Johnson


Anderson, Mr David

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Connarty, Michael

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Davidson, Mr Ian

Dobbin, Jim

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Esterson, Bill

Flynn, Paul

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

McCrea, Dr William

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Jim

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morris, Grahame M.


Osborne, Sandra

Pearce, Teresa

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Rotheram, Steve

Shannon, Jim

Sheridan, Jim

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Twigg, Derek

Walley, Joan

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Williams, Hywel

Winnick, Mr David

Wood, Mike

Tellers for the Noes:

Pete Wishart


Katy Clark

Question accordingly agreed to.

19 Mar 2013 : Column 873

19 Mar 2013 : Column 874

Bill read a Second time.

19 Mar 2013 : Column 875

Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill

Considered in Committee (Order, this day)

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Clause 1

Regulations and notices requiring participation in a scheme

5.10 pm

Mr Hoban: I beg to move amendment 1, page 3, line 11, at end insert—

‘() Subsection (12) does not affect a person’s ability to apply for a revision or supersession of, or to appeal against, a decision to impose a penalty by reference to other grounds.’.

We tabled the amendment as a result of discussions we had with the right hon. Members for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) and for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who expressed concern that existing appeal rights might be brought into doubt. The Bill as introduced to the House is clear in its intent. Its provisions refer solely to the consequences of the Court of Appeal and High Court judgments. The amendment, therefore, will have no effect on the overall purpose or intent of the Bill. However, after constructive discussions with the right hon. Gentlemen, we decided to include something in the Bill to put it beyond doubt that a claimant’s appeal rights against a decision to sanction their benefit will remain unchanged in all other matters.

The clause sets out that any decision to sanction a claimant for failure to comply with the employment support allowance regulations or the mandatory work activity regulations cannot be challenged on the ground that the regulations are invalid or that the notices given under them are inadequate, notwithstanding the Court of Appeal’s judgment. In practice, claimants will retain full appeal rights on matters where a sanction has been imposed but they feel that they had good reason not to comply with the requirements of the scheme—for example, if they failed to attend training because of illness of a family member or one of the other standard reasons set out in either regulation or guidance around good cause. However, claimants will not be able to appeal against a sanction decision on the ground of the High Court or Court of Appeal judgment.

I hope that the amendment meets the concerns of the right hon. Member for East Ham and that there is support for it on both sides of the Committee.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): The Government have got themselves into a terrible mess. As we heard, they ignored the advice of the Social Security Advisory Committee—that appears to be a significant part of what went wrong—but I welcome the amendment, because a straightforward reading of the Bill might, and indeed does, suggest that if one is hit, perhaps in particular by one of those stockpiled sanctions, that will be it.

I am grateful to the Minister and the Secretary of State for tabling the amendment, which helpfully clarifies—puts in the Bill—the fact that normal opportunities for reconsideration and appeal apply, but I want to ask the Minister about two points. I would be grateful for his comments on them during his winding-up speech for what I imagine will be a brief debate.

19 Mar 2013 : Column 876

Some of the stockpiled sanctions, which we read about in the impact assessment, relate to events of quite a long time ago—up to eight months, which could be the beginning of August. I would like to know, because it is not entirely clear to us, whether all the 63,000 people affected by stockpiled sanctions already know that they have a sanction on the way. If, for example, they enter work straight after receiving a sanction that is in the stockpile, and so receive little benefit after the sanction is imposed, presumably the amount to be reclaimed from them will be very small. I ask for clarity. Is the intention, in taking the sanction out of the stockpile and applying it, that people’s benefits will be stopped for the appropriate period, or is it— [Interruption.]

The Temporary Chair (Mr Jim Hood): Order. I hear ringing. It has now stopped. Carry on, Mr Timms.

Stephen Timms: Is it the Government’s intention to reclaim cash? Clearly, we are in a rather different situation from the one that obtains when somebody is sanctioned in the normal course of events, because the events to which the stockpile sanctions relate could have taken place a considerable time ago. How will the Department explain to those affected what is happening and what the effects will be in cases where a lengthy period has elapsed between the events that gave rise to the sanction and the application of the sanction, following the enactment of the Bill?

Will the Minister give us a little more explanation about one of the points raised on Second Reading, for example by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)? The advice that we all received from the Child Poverty Action Group made this point:

“Contrary to Government claims, it is not obvious that DWP would have to repay sanctioned benefits to all claimants, so the £130 million potential loss stated is inaccurate: the Government already has anti-test case law rules which would prevent it having to repay anything for sanctions served prior to 6 August 2012.”

Will the Minister clarify the advice that he has received, which I have no doubt is different? If that view had been taken, the Bill would not be necessary.

I can well understand why the Child Poverty Action Group has reached its view. Section 27(3) of the Social Security Act 1998 relates to court decisions like the one reached in the case that gave rise to the Bill, and it reads as follows:

“In so far as the decision relates to a person’s entitlement to a benefit in respect of a period before the date of the relevant determination”—

in this case, the Appeal Court’s determination—

“it shall be made as if the adjudicating authority’s decision had been found by the Commissioner or court not to have been erroneous in point of law.”

A natural and straightforward reading of that paragraph could well lead to the conclusion reached by the Child Poverty Action Group, which is that anti-test case law rules prevent the Department from having to repay anything for sanctions scored before the court determination. I presume, as I said, that the Minister has received contrary advice on that measure, and it would be helpful if he explained what the advice was and therefore why the Bill is before the House.

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Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): If the CPAG advice is correct, does my right hon. Friend have any idea by how much the £130 million could be reduced?

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend asks a good question, and the answer is in the impact assessment that the Government have produced, which distinguishes between the amount that would be incurred because of people who were sanctioned before 6 August 2012 and the amount incurred in respect of people sanctioned since the court case, because those sanctions have been stockpiled.

The part of the impact assessment that contains those figures says that, by the look of it—to take the upper valuation—£24 million out of £130 million relates to sanctions that have been stockpiled. The CPAG view would be that of the £130 million, £106 million or £107 million would not apply, because of the Social Security Act 1998, whereas £24 million—the stockpiled sanctions—would. As I said, I am sure that the Department’s advice is different from the advice given to us by the CPAG, but it would be helpful if the Minister provided clarification so that we know the basis on which the measure has been introduced.

I would say again to the Minister that this is a helpful amendment. I do not think that it changes the position substantively, but it helps to clarify it, and to make it clear that anyone who will be presented with a stockpiled sanction will, as usual, have the opportunity to ask for a reconsideration and perhaps subsequently to appeal. That is a welcome clarification, and I am grateful to the Minister for providing it, but I would be grateful, too, if he commented on the two specific matters that I have raised.

Mr Hoban: The right hon. Gentleman has made a couple of points. In respect of payments where decisions have been stockpiled, when we received the High Court judgment, we did not proceed to make any further sanctions decisions, but claimants who were subject to a stockpiled decision are aware of that: we made it clear at the time, so they know what to expect. However, he asked whether we would recover sanctions from those who are in work now. The answer is no, we would not. That is a policy that we adopt elsewhere. We want to encourage people to do the right thing, and doing the right thing in this case is getting back into work.

The right hon. Gentleman then raised the note circulated to Members of Parliament by the CPAG. I touched on that point in opening the debate. Section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998 applies only when a challenge is brought by way of an appeal to a court or tribunal. The Wilson/Reilly case began with an application for judicial review, and on that basis, section 27 does not apply. With that, I hope that the Committee will approve the amendment.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1


‘(1) The Secretary of State must appoint an independent person to prepare a report on the operation of the provisions relating to the imposition of a penalty during the period of a year beginning with the day on which this Act comes into force, so far as that operation relates to relevant penalties.

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(2) The person must complete the preparation of the report and send it to the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the period mentioned in subsection (1).

(3) On receiving the report, the Secretary of State must lay a copy of it before Parliament.

(4) In this section—

“penalty” means a penalty that may be imposed for—

(a) failing to participate in a scheme within section 17A(1) of the Jobseekers Act 1995, or

(b) failing to comply with regulations under section 17 A of that Act;

“relevant penalty” means a penalty that, but for section 1 of this Act, would not be or would not have been lawfully imposed on a person.'.—(Mr Hoban.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr Hoban: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Jim Hood): With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Amendment (a), in subsection (1), leave out 'a year' and insert 'six months'.

Amendment (b), in subsection (2), leave out

‘as soon as reasonably practicable'

and insert 'within three months'.

Mr Hoban: The new clause provides for a report on the operation of benefit sanctions affected by the provisions of the Bill. Again, I thank the right hon. Members for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) for their constructive approach to the Bill. We discussed this topic with them as we drew up the Bill. After our discussions, we decided to bring forward the new clause to satisfy the concerns of the right hon. Member for East Ham to provide for an independent report on the operation of benefit sanctions subject to the provisions in the Bill.

The new clause requires the Secretary of State to appoint an independent person to prepare a report on the operation of the provisions relating to benefit sanctions during the first year after the Bill has come into force. The report must be prepared as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of that period.

Subsection (3) requires the Secretary of State to lay a copy of the resulting report before Parliament, which meets the right hon. Gentleman’s requests. It is important to say that as a Department, we keep the functioning of sanctions under review. A number of comments on that were made on Second Reading. It is important to ensure that sanctions are applied fairly and consistently across Jobcentre Plus. It is an important part of the regime, so the sanction should be credible, and something that we keep under review.

Let me pre-empt the arguments made by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins). I understand the purpose of his two amendments. He is keen to ensure that the review is expedited, and we will try to complete it as quickly as possible. The time period for someone to launch an appeal against the sanction is 13 months. By imposing a six-month deadline, we might miss appeals that are made at a later point. He then requires a report to be laid within three months of the end of the six-month period, so that is nine months. There is a risk that we will miss out on three months’ worth of appeals, so we would not necessarily get a full

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view of how the sanctions under the Bill have operated. Although I understand his arguments for haste, may I suggest, as a counter argument, that we take things at a slightly more leisurely pace, which will ensure that we get a full year? None the less, I share his view that once we get to the end of that year, we should be moving as quickly as possible to complete the review and to lay the report before Parliament. It is not in any of our interests unduly to delay a measure such as this. I commend new clause 1 to the Committee.

Stephen Timms: I warmly welcome the new clause which, as the Minister has said, was proposed and suggested in the discussions between him and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne). It is something genuinely valuable to emerge from this debacle, which has been entirely of the Government’s own making. We do need to know what is going on with sanctions. The independent review, which is required by the new clause to be conducted over the coming year—I will comment in a moment on the further amendments proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins)—could be crucial in getting to the bottom of what is going on. From the standpoint of anyone who is concerned about what is going on in our social security system, as very many people are, this is a valuable initiative.

The scale of the sanctions that are being imposed at the moment is extraordinary. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made that point in the earlier debate. He correctly suggested to the House that the number of sanctions being issued trebled in the two years between the period just before the general election and subsequently to more than half a million per year, and that number is still going up. The impact assessment tells us that the number of sanctions that has been issued under the defective—as we now know them to be—employment, skills and enterprise regulations is “between 221,000 and 259,000”; that those sanctions involved between 136,000 and 159,000 people and that their cumulative value is between £80 million and £99 million.

5.30 pm

The first thing that puzzles me is why the Government do not know how many sanctions have been issued. It seems pretty strange to me that all they can tell us is that somewhere between 221,000 and 259,000 have been issued. Surely the systems in the Minister’s Department are sufficiently robust to tell us how many there have been, rather than our being given that wide range—there is a difference of almost 40,000 between the low point and the high point. I am puzzled as to why the Department cannot tell us precisely how many sanctions have been issued. After all, we are not talking about minor matters: the average value is some hundreds of pounds, so it is not unreasonable to expect the Department to know precisely how many of these things it has handed out.

Looking at the figure of up to 160,000, I ask, why is the number so large? We are told in the impact assessment and other information on this Bill that 90% of the people on whom sanctions have been applied are on the Work programme. The figure that I quoted relates to the period before cases were stockpiled—the period

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before 6 August last year. Up to last July, 877,880 people were referred to the Work programme, so slightly more than that will have been referred up until 6 August. Comparing those two figures suggests that 15% of those who have been referred to the Work programme have been sanctioned.

That is a surprisingly large figure—almost one in six of those referred to the programme has had a sanction imposed on them. It would be helpful to know, and I hope that the independent review will be able to tell us, what those sanctions are for exactly. Why is it that the requirements being imposed on people by the Work programme are apparently so unpopular? The numbers are bigger than in the past. Is it because the Work programme is much more irksome than previous provision, or is it because the system has become far more trigger-happy over sanctions? We need to know the answer to that question.

The sums involved are not small. Again, the impact assessment tells us that the average value of one of these sanctions—we should bear it in mind that we are talking about people who depend on benefit for their income, so we are not talking about well-off people—is between £600 and £800 in the case of mandatory work activity. That is a huge sum to take away from someone who depends on benefit for their livelihood.

What is becoming clear is that the proliferation of sanctions—the very large increase in the number of sanctions being imposed, and the increase in the size of the sanctions being levied—is one of the principal drivers in the growth of demand for food banks throughout the country. The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, the impressive organisation behind the explosive growth in Church-based food banks over the past few years—it is opening three new food banks per week and there are now well over 300 of them across the country—said in a statement that appeared in the press yesterday that in 2009-10 the trust had about 29,000 referrals of people to food banks, but in 2012-13 the figure will be almost 300,000. That is a tenfold rise in three years, and the number is still growing fast. The Trussell Trust reports that about 40% of referrals to food banks result from Jobcentre Plus mistakes or delays. It also makes the relevant point for this debate that Jobcentre Plus performance is clearly getting worse.

Beyond that Trussell Trust statement, people running food banks say that sanctions are a big driver. They say that people often have no idea why they are being sanctioned; all they know is that their money has stopped and, as they have none to buy food with, they have to go along to the food bank to get some help. According to the impact assessment for the Bill, the number of sanctions is up to 260,000, and the number of people affected is up to 160,000. Meanwhile, the number of people going to food banks is up from 30,000 three years ago to 300,000 now. The order of magnitude is comparable. The people running food banks often report that the increase in sanctions has been a very big driver in the growing recourse to food banks around the country over the last three years, and that certainly appears to me to be the case.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I am slightly confused. The right hon. Gentleman said that when people get sanctioned, they have no idea why, but I would have thought the first thing they would do, if they did not get

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a letter or a warning about this, would be to go straight to Jobcentre Plus and ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Why does that not happen?

Stephen Timms: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting and telling point. Why, indeed, do people not go to jobcentres to get an explanation? The reason is that it is very difficult for them to get through on the telephone, and if they do go and speak to somebody, they probably do not get a clear explanation.

The Minister said in one of our recent statutory instrument Committees that Jobcentre Plus will now inform people in writing of the reason for their sanction. When the Minister responds, he will, perhaps, give us a little more information. I am not sure whether that has already started or whether it is still due to happen, but it will certainly be a welcome step. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) will be very familiar with the experience that I have often come across, however, which is that people do receive a letter from Jobcentre Plus, but, frankly, making sense of it is very difficult. I hope that the written explanations people receive will make more sense than some of the other communications they bring to our surgeries, sent to them by jobcentres and the Department.

I want to set out 10 questions that I think the independent review should answer. Other Members may have other questions, of course, but I consider these 10 to be important, and putting them on the record will serve to give some terms of reference from the House for the independent reviewer.

First, we need to know the precise figures. It is not good enough for us to be told that the Department has issued between 221,000 and 259,000 sanctions. We need to know precisely how many have been imposed. We also need to know what exactly they are for. Is it that people are failing to turn up to appointments, or that they are failing to do the work-related activity they are required to do? We need to be given some clear categories of the grounds for sanction, and then to be told how many of the sanctions imposed fall into each of those categories. How tough are those sanctions? How many maximum three-year sanctions for the basic element of jobseeker’s allowance have been imposed so far? In the recent debate on JSA regulations, a colleague rightly reaffirmed our opposition to the three-year sanction introduced by the Government. It would be useful to know how many people have so far been denied benefit for a full three years, which the Government’s legislative change now makes possible.

Secondly, we need to know how many people on whom the sanctions are imposed request reconsiderations —the kind of people who, as the hon. Member for Beckenham suggests, might go along to the jobcentre and ask what the sanction arises from. How many people have asked for reconsideration, and when it has been refused, how many subsequently appealed? What are the outcomes when reconsiderations are requested and appeals made?

Thirdly, we need the independent reviewer’s opinion on whether the reconsideration and appeal process is working correctly and properly. When people have a sanction imposed on them, do they know that they can

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apply for reconsideration and, if they are not happy with the outcome, submit an appeal? Is that whole process working correctly?

Fourthly, how many of those being sanctioned are on employment and support allowance—and perhaps other benefits as well—rather than JSA? Ministers have given commitments during debates in this House and the other place that they will not normally issue sanctions to somebody on ESA—somebody who is out of work on health grounds, for example—other than after a face-to-face discussion with the applicant and, if necessary, a home visit. We need to know from the independent reviewer whether those assurances are being honoured in practice. It does not require much imagination on the part of Members to realise that it may well be wholly inappropriate to impose a sanction on someone who is on ESA as a result of a serious mental health problem or a fluctuating health problem of the kind we have often debated in the past couple of years, thereby removing their benefit for the potentially very long periods that are now permissible, unless they have had a proper face-to-face discussion with an appropriate Jobcentre Plus official. It would be helpful if the independent reviewer answered that question.

Fifthly, it would be useful to know how many of the large number of sanctions being imposed are being initiated by a Work programme provider rather than Jobcentre Plus. As I understand it, the initial step can be taken by either, or by another kind of provider on one of the other schemes. It would be useful to know what the split is.

I appreciate that it is not going to be easy for the independent reviewer to find the answer to my sixth question—it relates to the point the hon. Member for Beckenham made a few minutes ago—but we need to know it. To what extent do people understand the reasons for the sanctions being imposed on them? As I mentioned earlier, food banks are reporting that people who turn up, having been sanctioned—who therefore do not have any money and cannot buy food for themselves and their families—commonly do not know why the sanction has been imposed. I hope that the independent reviewer can establish how widespread a problem that is. If it is widespread, as anecdotal evidence suggests it may well be, that is a serious difficulty with the system.

The seventh question concerns the extent to which managers are promoting sanctions. In answering an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill on Second Reading, the Minister gave a very clear assurance that there are no targets for sanctions and that Ministers and managers do not require specific targets to be fulfilled.

5.45 pm

The Minister will know that there are reports and growing numbers of complaints that some sorts of targets are being applied in jobcentres. The independent reviewer could get to the bottom of what is going on and tell us whether that is the case. Two years ago, there were press reports about targets for sanctions being set in Jobcentre Plus districts. When those reports were published, the Secretary of State rightly made it clear that he had no wish to see any such practice in jobcentres and told everybody that it should stop forthwith. I wonder whether it has stopped or whether it is creeping back into the jobcentre network. The independent reviewer

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could perform a valuable service by telling us whether sanction targets of any form are in place in parts of the jobcentre network.

The eighth thing that we need to know is what people who have been sanctioned are doing for support. How big a factor are sanctions in the growth of charitable food banks? As I have suggested, the numbers show a striking similarity in the order of magnitude. Are there other things that people do for support, because clearly they still have to obtain food and to live?

The ninth question for the independent reviewer concerns how the hardship provisions are working in practice, including the requirement that hardship payments need to be repaid by those who benefit from them. Provisions were written into the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which we debated when they were passed, for hardship payments to be made when people would otherwise face serious hardship. Are those provisions being taken up? Are people receiving hardship payments? Are they being required to repay them later and are they doing so? A significant chunk of work needs to be done on that matter.

The tenth question and the last that I want to suggest, although other Members may want to raise other matters, is perhaps the most important of all. How effective are the sanctions in changing people’s behaviour as they are intended to? That is supposed to be the intention of sanctions, not just getting money off people—I certainly hope that that is not the wish of Ministers. The purpose of sanctions is to encourage people to take steps that will lead to their getting into employment. The independent reviewer could do a great service by assessing whether the sanctions are effective in encouraging people to do the right thing and get a job.

I hope that, with the endorsement of the Minister, the independent reviewer will take a thorough look at all 10 questions over the next 12 months and come back to us with some answers. If the reviewer does that, the independent review will be one valuable initiative that has come out of this debacle of the Government’s making.

Finally, I will comment on the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East who will speak in a moment. He campaigns effectively on behalf of his constituents, and thinks carefully about these matters. The Committee will understand why he is calling for a shorter time scale for the measure that new clause 1 will include in the Bill. Will the Minister help the Committee by indicating whether he would welcome an interim report from the reviewer, perhaps after six months, on the way to the 12-month period envisaged in the new clause? It is not necessary for the reviewer to say nothing for 12 months and only then say what their work has unearthed; they could provide some sort of interim report on the way to the milestone set out in the new clause. That would be helpful.

I say to my right hon. Friend, however, that we should not look for a quick piece of work. The 10 points that I set out, which I hope the independent reviewer will address, include some substantial pieces of work—including research—to be carried out among those on the receiving end of sanctions. In many ways I would welcome a proposal for such work to continue beyond the 12-month period envisaged in the new clause. We are dealing with the culture in jobcentres, and such

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work will not be done and finished and that will be the end of it: we need continued scrutiny of the sanctions contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, and I caution my right hon. Friend about seeking too speedy a piece of work. He is right to suggest that having some findings from the independent reviewer within six months would be helpful to the House—and probably to Ministers as well—but it is likely that the full work required will take at least 12 months, as envisaged in the new clause.

Paul Goggins: It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and I say to him and other right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that if new clause 1 has emerged from their discussions with DWP Ministers, the Bill has provided at least one bit of good news. I commend them for their efforts.

In listing 10 questions, my right hon. Friend has done the Committee a great service because one thing missing from new clause 1 is any mention of terms of reference—if I had been a bit quicker this afternoon, I might have included that in the amendments standing in my name and those of my hon. Friends. My right hon. Friend’s questions give the work of the independent reviewer a good starting point, and I say to my Front-Bench colleagues and the Minister that I know time is pressing, but if it were possible—perhaps even before deliberations in the other place—to draw up draft terms of reference based on my right hon. Friend’s 10 questions for the other place to consult on when debating the Bill, that would be helpful.

I will not go through each of my right hon. Friend’s 10 points because he spoke eloquently about them, but, of course, the numbers and quality of decisions are important. His question—I think this was point No. 7—about how people are surviving when they have been sanctioned and have no income is relevant and an issue on which Members of Parliament from all sides of the House will increasingly have to focus in the weeks and months ahead.

Let me say at the outset of my short contribution that I am in favour of, and not opposed to, sanctions. If we offer something to young people and others who are out of work, we need effective sanctions to back that up. Unfortunately, however, at the moment we do not have a proper offer for young people and others who are out of work, and that is part of the problem. It is important for sanctions to be fair and lawful, yet we heard in earlier debates this afternoon that the Court found the regulations and notice to be unlawful, which is why the Government have introduced this Bill.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the large numbers of people who are being sanctioned. All hon. Members know from their work in their constituencies of the increasing number of sanctions cases. We take a view on how fair or unfair those sanctions are, but I increasingly question the quality of decisions. A number of my hon. Friends have referred specifically to representations they have made to the Department for Work and Pensions on looking at decisions again because they were plainly unfair. In many cases, the decision is overturned, because any common-sense look at them would tell us that the decision was wrong. There are serious questions to be asked about both the quantity and the quality of sanctions. It is important that the review takes place—it is a welcome concession in the discussions between those on the Front Benches.

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Bob Stewart: I have dealt with lots of soldiers in my life, some of whom are not very literate. One thing that always frightened them was letters. I have a feeling that people get sanctioned because they ignore the letter that comes through their letterbox and are frightened to open it because of the consequences of doing so. In one or two cases even in my constituency, which is relatively wealthy, people have ignored letters, and are therefore sanctioned because they are fearful of opening the envelope. When they have nothing, they need to try to get money. Sadly, people might try to get money by turning to crime.

Paul Goggins: Once again, the hon. Gentleman, for all his seniority in his earlier career, demonstrates great sensitivity to his constituents and others and he has done so before in debates in which I have been involved. I put it to him that people will increasingly have to apply for their benefits online, which could involve them utilising skills with which they are unfamiliar. There are difficulties with that. The hon. Gentleman speaks eloquently.

In pre-empting some of my remarks, the Minister was correct that I should like to inject some urgency—I reassure my right hon. Friend that I seek not a slapdash, hasty report, but urgency. I will listen carefully to the Minister when he responds to the debate in deciding whether to press the amendments to a Division. I want urgency from him—he gave one or two encouraging signs but I should like him to go further.

Amendment (a) calls for “six months” rather than “a year”. The Minister pointed out that the number of cases in six months might be limited, but there would be a number of cases of public interest, and they ought to be evaluated. My right hon. Friend suggested an interim report after six months, which might be a reasonable compromise—there would be a full report in a year but an interim report after six months, so that Parliament and the public can see how the inquiry is going, the kind of evidence that comes out and the quality of decisions. The report could then be completed within a year. I am thinking about that, because if we have a compromise, the measure would be urgent but allow sufficient time for the quality of investigation required.

I have a difficulty with new clause 1, which I am seeking to correct in amendment (b). New clause 1 states that the report should be sent

“to the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable”.

All hon. Members have experience both in Parliament and elsewhere of how soon “reasonably practicable” is. With the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), I am trying to put a time limit on “reasonably practicable”. I am not saying that the time limit must be three months, but suggesting that it ought to be “within three months”. This is an urgent matter, because decisions are being made that are questionable in many cases and unlawful in others. The Minister has to indicate clearly what

“as soon as reasonably practicable”

means. We have to have a clear end point to this process.

6 pm

I have not tabled an amendment on what “On receiving the report” means, but I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. Does it mean that the

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Secretary of State has to lay the report before Parliament on the same day he receives it, or a week or a month later? It would be helpful if the Minister provided some clarification on that. One sensible suggestion that could be the basis of a compromise is to have an interim report. It would be helpful if the Minister provided clarity in particular on what

“as soon as reasonably practicable”

and “On receiving the report” mean, and reflect the sense of urgency that he correctly identified as being the prime motive for tabling these amendments.

In conclusion, I think we all know that there are far too many cases of applicants being wrongly sanctioned. Some are being correctly sanctioned and I support having sanctions, but there is growing unease about too many mistakes being made. I commend my right hon. Friend and the Minister for tabling new clause 1, which could help to lift the lid on this. If wrong decisions are being made about people in hardship, that is a matter of concern to everybody in this House. The report could go a long way to lifting the lid on that and ensuring that we have a fair, just and lawful system in place.

Derek Twigg: New clause 1 presents an opportunity. I congratulate my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench on getting it agreed with the Government, but of course there are weaknesses and flaws that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) has outlined.

There are genuine concerns, based on constituency surgeries, telephone calls and e-mails, about people being wrongly or unfairly sanctioned. I quoted a case in which the benefits of a constituent who attended the funeral of a brother were stopped. I contacted the DWP and got that changed, but it should never have happened. There are other cases that cause great concern. People who can work should work, and should be helped to do so. Clearly, it would help if there were more jobs around for people to get into work in the first place. That is an issue in areas such as mine and elsewhere, but if someone persistently, and for no good reason, refuses to take a job or look for one, sanctions should apply. However, in a number of instances sanctions are being operated unfairly.

Mental health is a matter of particular importance. We say a lot on the Floor of the House about how we want to support better those who suffer from mental health problems, and how the system should take the issue more seriously. From the evidence that is presented to me in the surgeries in my constituency, this is one area where the decisions taken to sanction people are particularly hard. Mental health affects a range of people, but particularly young single men. I have concerns about how the system works, and how those with mental health issues are sanctioned and given penalties. It is important that the review process takes this serious matter into consideration, and the Government need to provide some impetus to that.

I visited a food bank in my constituency recently. There are a growing number of single men using the food bank—they are struggling to survive. There are referrals from jobcentre plus for people who need food to be able to continue. It is a concern that people who have no money are receiving penalties. What do the Government think should happen then, particularly for

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those who have mental health, family or social problems? The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made a point about illiteracy. In the poorer areas of the country, in constituencies such as mine, there are still significant problems relating to illiteracy, because people have poor reading or writing skills, or perhaps cannot read. That impacts on people’s ability to interact with the system and unfairly works against them. Whether they are former soldiers or other people, it is a problem that has not been properly addressed. I hope that the review will consider that as well.

I am concerned about the time scale, which is why I put my name to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. I accept what the Minister said—that this has to be done properly—but I see no reason why an interim review could not be carried out. We need to get to the bottom of this, because every day people are being unfairly penalised. We need to look at the system and get it changed as quickly as possible. The terms of reference of the review are also crucial, so I hope that the Minister will bear it in mind, when the Bill goes to the Lords or on another occasion, that we need to see, and have some input into, the terms of reference. I feel strongly that the review will be an important part of our consideration of the whole system.

I hope that the Minister will consider those problems. We are here because the Government got the legislation wrong, as they have got it wrong elsewhere on welfare—for example, we know of disabled children whose families are affected by the bedroom tax, on which the Court of Appeal ruled. The Government are getting these things wrong, and the most vulnerable people in our society are suffering as a result of the mistakes in the Government’s welfare policy. I hope that they will reconsider some of these issues and how they want to proceed.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I want to begin by commenting on the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), whom I have known for 20 years, since he returned from Bosnia with the Cheshire Regiment. People whom he and I know personally are among those described today. The soldiers damaged by the dreadful events that he recorded in his well-known book are real people, and some of them live in my constituency. They are the kinds of people on whom we should try to focus our humanity.

We must admit that there is an enormous lack of clarity in the regulations governing the system. That is the fault of successive Governments and has built up over many years, as things have got more and more complex. Faced with that complexity, someone with a learning difficulty or who is mentally scarred might respond illogically—I think, for example, of the person who leaves the envelope behind the clock in the hope that it will go away. We have to deal with this matter seriously, therefore, and separate those people from the people the Minister is rightly targeting—there is no dispute between the parties on that.

Bob Stewart: I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has been a friend of mine for a long time, for giving way. One problem is that people who are hurt, mentally scarred or not as bright as they might be need a friend

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to go with them to Jobcentre Plus. They need a neutral umpire to help them. I just wish we could get that a bit better.

Andrew Miller: If we developed this too far, Mr Hood, I would be outwith the scope of the amendment, but the hon. Gentleman is very perceptive and makes the point about people not understanding the documents or conversations they have had.

To move this forward we need to inject a degree of urgency. I understand the points about the time frame, but I nevertheless think we ought to look at this matter carefully.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) has outlined the framework for a set of terms of reference, and I hope we can agree on that and invite the Department to start gathering the necessary statistics and information to respond to some of the basic questions, so that the independent reviewer can be well equipped with solid information when he or she starts the job. That could provide a practical way of producing a review sooner than after the envisaged 12 months.

Having recognised that that might be difficult to achieve, however, we ought to consider a fallback position that gives the framework of the terms of reference an extra dimension, to enable the reviewer to start reporting on the information as and when it becomes clear. If we approach the matter in that way, we will inject some urgency into the situation and get people to realise that there is acceptance across the House that we are trying to separate the genuine cases from those that are less solidly based. Let us ensure that we target the benefits on the people who ought to get them.

I urge the Minister, in considering the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins)—to which I have belatedly put my name—to think about the arguments that have been presented and to agree to an early set of terms of reference before coming forward with a sensible time frame that will enable us to achieve the goals that Members on both sides of the House want to achieve.

Fiona Mactaggart: I want to follow up on some of the issues that have been raised. I recently asked the Minister how many people had had sanctions imposed on them. He revealed that 540,610 sanctions relating to jobseeker’s allowance had been applied last year. In the same answer, he told me:

“Statistics on how many such people speak English as a second language; and how many such claimants had moved to jobseeker’s allowance from income support or disability-related benefits are not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 103W.]

Those are examples of the vulnerable groups that Members on both sides of the House have been talking about.

I want to support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) on the speed of the proceedings, but I also want to add another question for the reviewer to consider. Shortly after I had tabled that question, I asked the Minister about assaults on jobcentre staff. If we compare the period from October 2012 to January 2013 with the period a year earlier from October 2011

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to January 2012, we see that the number of assaults on jobcentre staff increased from 76 to 98. The seriousness of the assaults increased as well. In the first period, there were three that resulted in cuts and bruises, and three that resulted in more than cuts and bruises. A year later, 13 had resulted in cuts and bruises, with eight resulting in more.

I fear—although I do not know for certain—that those increases in assaults on jobcentre staff are a product of frustrated claimants who have been sanctioned. It has been pointed out that they do not always know why they have been sanctioned. If the sanctions regime is resulting in this kind of behaviour—as I have said, I do not know whether that is the case—it would be appropriate for a reviewer to consider whether the regime has consequences for the safety of jobcentre staff. If there are consequences for the safety of the people responsible for giving claimants explanations, their explanations might become less clear and they might retreat behind letters rather than actually talking to people.

I should be grateful if the Minister assured the House that such issues will be included in the review. I fear that if they are not, vulnerable claimants will not get the service they need.

6.15 pm

Mr Hoban: We have had a helpful debate on the review. I note the comments of the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms)—I think he actually asked 11 questions, but I will allow him an extra one. The scope of the review is set out in the new clause. I take the point about the terms of reference, but we have set out the area that the review will cover.

My memory is not bad, and I recollect that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) was a Minister in the previous Government so he should know what “reasonably practicable” might mean; I am sure he has probably used the phrase.

Paul Goggins rose

Mr Hoban: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is a sinner who has repented. I happily give way.

Paul Goggins: It was precisely some of the experience I was reflecting on that caused me to make the comment.

Mr Hoban: The sinner has repented on this occasion.

Let me be clear. I want the review to proceed as quickly as possible. It is in all our interests for it to do so. I am keen that we improve the quality of decision making on sanctions and that we ensure that they are applied consistently. The right hon. Member for East Ham was right to highlight the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that there should be no targets, and that if there was evidence of targets being used at any jobcentre, we would stamp them out. We do not want targets; we want good quality decisions made consistently from jobcentre to jobcentre. I do not think targets have a role to play in that regime.

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The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) laughs. Is he saying we should have targets? I suspect not.

Mr Byrne: I look forward to the evidence of the next few days.

Mr Hoban: Given that my right hon. Friend said that he would stop the practice, we would stop it again if it reappeared. We do not want to see it happening.

I want to pick up on some of the points raised in the 10 or 11 questions put by the right hon. Member for East Ham. We have published, and will publish annually, tables setting out the number of sanctions. The data for 2011-12 were published online on 15 August 2012, and we gave a breakdown of sanctions, so it is not correct to say that there is no information. There were 108,000 variable length sanctions for employment-related failures; 378,000 sanctions were of fixed length, which included 58,000 that were for not attending ESE—employment, skills and enterprise—regulation schemes, 55,000 for not complying with training requirements or for not carrying out a jobcentre’s direction or for a failure to participate in mandatory work activity.

The reason there is a range in the impact assessment is that we were trying to be helpful to the Committee. We used a combination of official statistics and an estimate based on management information to give Members an up to date figure of the numbers involved. The final numbers will be available when we publish the next official statistics. Having been a DWP Minister, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we take the validation and verification of statistics seriously. These are official national statistics and they need to be published to appropriate quality. That is the basis for the numbers in the impact assessment.

Communication is really important, and we need to ensure that we get it right. We talked about some of the measures that we set out in the recent regulations to ensure clarity in universal credit. There is a challenge here. We want to ensure that communications between the Department and jobseekers are clear, whether they are oral communications between a personal adviser and a claimant, or items of correspondence. But I think there is a tension here. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said in her Second Reading speech that she felt that the notice we sent out was defective, and the courts said the letter should have contained more detail about the sanctions regime.

Fiona Mactaggart: The courts said that or judges ruled it was obfuscation.

Mr Hoban: Absolutely, but the hon. Lady repeated that, and by virtue of the quote I think she was supporting their view. Another hon. Member said that people “may be” sanctioned. I think there is a tension here between clarity and disclosure. The more detail there is in the letter—maybe to comply with what is in the law—the harder it can be for people to understand what is in the letter. It is possible to go into lists, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill did—to list a whole set of “good cause” reasons in a letter. One could put in a letter every detail of the graduated sanctions regime. We need to ensure that our communications are very

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clear and legal; sometimes the two do not go as easily together as we would like them to, but we do need to ensure that there is clarity.

The right hon. Member for East Ham talked about what happens if people are sanctioned, and then immediately answered his question by referring to hardship schemes. He and I have debated the revised sanctions regime and discussed hardship at length, as we did on a previous occasion with the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire). There is a hardship scheme in place for people, and it is right that it is there. We do ask people to look to see whether there are any other ways in which they could find financial resources to live off, and that is very carefully set out in the Bill, but those hardship schemes are available. It would be wrong to give anyone the suggestion that there is no hardship scheme in place, but the rules on access are very tight indeed.

Stephen Timms: I take entirely the Minister’s point about the hardship schemes, but I wonder what he thinks has driven the huge increase in the number of people referred to food banks over the past three years—a tenfold increase between the year just before the general election and the current financial year. I wonder whether he can understand why many of us think that the growth of sanctions must have been a big part of the driver.

Mr Hoban: The practice of the Government the right hon. Gentleman was a part of when he was a Minister in this Department differed from that of the present Government. When the Labour party was in power, it refused to have any material in jobcentres about food banks, to try to deny their existence. It did not refer people to food banks. We decided, when we came into office, to reverse that policy—to ensure that people were aware that food banks were in place.

People do go to food banks. They go for a variety of reasons. It is right for there to be a hardship regime in place for sanctions. If people do not choose to apply for that hardship regime, that is their choice, but people know it is there.

Stephen Timms: The Minister is right about the hardship regime, but he is surely not trying to tell us that the number has gone up from 30,000 to 300,000 because there are some leaflets in jobcentres, is he?

Mr Hoban: Well, actually it is not about leaflets. It is about signposting people to food banks. The right hon. Gentleman and his Opposition colleagues forget the way in which they tried to airbrush food banks out of history when they were in government, and to use them now as political pawns is beneath them.

I hope that the Committee will accept new clause 1. As I said in response to amendments (a) and (b) tabled by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and his colleagues, we want to ensure that the Bill proceeds as quickly as possible; I do not think there is any interest in spinning it out. But we do need to ensure, as the right hon. Member for East Ham said, that it is properly and thoroughly considered. As a consequence of a measure introduced by the previous Government, we have an independent reviewer of work capability

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assessments. That is a very thorough process and no corners are cut, neither would we want them to be. It is helpful that there is clarity.

Paul Goggins: I know from other dealings with the Minister that if he says he wants something to happen urgently, he will get on with it—I accept his word in good faith. However, one matter he has not dealt with is the clear commitment to get on with it as a matter of urgency. My amendment proposes six months and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr Timms) suggested an interim report. There seems to be a coalition of ideas, and I press the Minister to indicate that he is prepared at least to consider that seriously.

Mr Hoban: I do not want to end up getting stuck in a laborious process of issuing interim reports when I would much rather let the reviewer get on with the job. As a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman will know that just getting interim reports out of the door can be time consuming. I would rather let the reviewer focus on good recommendations and good analysis instead of bogging him down in a bureaucratic process that will not benefit any of us. I take on board the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, but in the interests of expedition and speed an interim report would slow the process rather than accelerate it.

Andrew Miller: rose—

Mr Hoban: We have plenty of time for Third Reading. I will bring my remarks to a close by encouraging the House to support new clause 1.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Jim Hood): Mr Goggins, you did not inform the House whether you wanted to move your amendment formally, or withdraw it.

Paul Goggins: I hope that the Minister will continue to give my amendment careful consideration, but I do not want to press it to a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill, as amended, reported.

Bill, as amended in the Committee, considered.

Third Reading

6.27 pm

Mr Hoban: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had short but helpful debates on Second Reading and in Committee. I want to reiterate briefly and in a workman-like way that the Bill is vital to protect the proper functioning of the benefits system and to safeguard the public purse. I thank Opposition Front-Bench Members for the constructive way in which they have engaged with us on the Bill, and I hope that they believe that our amendment and new clause reflect their concern. I commend the Bill to the House.

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6.28 pm

Stephen Timms: This Bill has been an extraordinary fiasco. It is here because the Government made basic errors in drafting regulations. The danger was highlighted by their own Social Security Advisory Committee, which Ministers ignored. They were wrong to do so, and the consequence is the necessity for this unseemly piece of legislation. The question facing the House this evening is: what do we do? The alternatives to the Government’s proposals are pretty unappealing.

The danger of having to take £130 million from another part of the Department’s budget is that the cost will fall on people whose income is already very low. I was very grateful for what the Minister said a few moments ago to explain the necessity for the Bill and why the so-called test case rules do not apply in this case. The alternative is unappealing for that reason. In addition, if the correction were not made, there would be quite a fundamental breach of the jobseeking system, which was used so effectively by the previous Government to achieve—before the global crisis—the highest rate of employment in the UK since the 1970s. That is a rate of employment we are still some way short of today. That system involves sanctions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) pointed out, the system has done so since 1911, and it is right that it should continue to do so.

I shall certainly not urge my hon. Friends to oppose the Bill, but we have argued for a fundamentally different approach to supporting people into employment from that taken by the Government—one based on job guarantees—but it requires an effective system, which not passing the Bill would put at risk. We think that the guarantees approach is the right one, and the recent evaluation of the future jobs fund has strengthened our convictions in that respect, but we need a proper system in place to be able to introduce that arrangement quickly. Following a general election, it is our intention very quickly so to do, and for that reason I shall not urge my hon. Friends to oppose Third Reading.

6.30 pm

Dr Whiteford: I do not intend to detain the House for long, but it is worth reiterating the point I made on Second Reading, which is that people deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Throughout the afternoon, we have heard from a number of hon. Members the shortcomings of the Government’s Work programme and the failings of the rather blunt instrument that is the sanctions regime, but I have consciously refrained from going down the route of discussing those in detail, because the key issue is those sanctions that have already been found by the courts to be unlawful and whether it is right retrospectively to shift the legislative goalposts to penalise people who have been unlawfully sanctioned. I do not think that that is in any way justifiable, and nothing I have heard today has reassured me on that point.

The Government have had an opportunity today to hear concerns from Members on both sides of the House about the problems with unpaid labour in the sanctions regime. Even at this late stage, I urge Ministers to think again and take responsibility for the mistakes that have been made and to step back from a scheme that relies on unpaid labour. It is not helping people to find real jobs, it is actively preventing real job creation and it is

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undermining efforts from people in the voluntary sector and elsewhere, which are more likely to be effective in helping people who are a long way from the labour market to move into paid employment.

It is never reasonable to insist that people work for no pay. That is not sustainable and it just is not working. Although the debate has been heavily undersubscribed, with fewer than half the Members of the House turning up to vote on Second Reading, it has certainly received a lot of attention out there, and I am sure that I am not the only Member who has received lots of correspondence from constituents who are concerned about the underlying principles and who can see the inherent injustice of the proposition.

I hope that Members who share my conviction that these measures are unworkable, unfair, profoundly regrettable and retrospective will join me and my colleagues in opposing them.

6.32 pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I would like to congratulate the Government on their incompetence with the Bill. I would like to say that these are measures that a future Labour Government would support, but differently. We would have a human face to our approach, unlike this Administration.

First, let me deal with the point about incompetence. These are fairly simple regulations compared with what the Secretary of State is preparing for the nation with his universal credit. If the Department cannot get these regulations right, what hope for universal credit?

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): I am listening to what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, but it sounds a little rich coming from him. From his time in government, he and others well know that sometimes the view of judges is very different from a lot of other legal advice. The reality is that by saying that this is incompetence he must be claiming that his own Government were deeply incompetent throughout their time in office.

Mr Field: Well, if that is true, this Government have learnt nothing from our experience, so it is doubly worrying. Universal credit, which the Government are going to deliver, is an immensely complicated reform and if they feel that— [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says not true. Should the day ever arrive when universal credit began to be delivered, we would all be in a position to judge. However, these are arguments for another day. Let us congratulate the Government on their incompetence and their need to come here and seek out support to rectify the errors made in the Department.

The second issue is important. We are dealing with an attitude of mind whereby there is a feeling that, even without ever making a contribution, a person has a right to benefits and to a pension from other taxpayers. That attitude is now deeply ingrained in our culture, and the Secretary of State’s welfare reforms and universal credit will encourage it. Under his scheme, more people will think they have a right to benefits than do now. Many of us, even those in areas with high unemployment, know that there are people, particularly young people, who feel that unless they will be offered jobs at three

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times their benefit level, it is not in their interest to work. That is why it is so important to change—




The Secretary of State is making faces, but I am trying to support him in the case that he is making.

We are trying to move from unconditional welfare to welfare that attaches conditions to drawing benefits. The last Government started those important reforms, and we continue to support them. The big divide has been between a welfare state based on contributions, in which people are eligible for benefit only if they have paid the requisite number of contributions, and one in which people think that they should get benefits because they are citizens. The Secretary of State may continue his conversation, but he knows full well that as he tries to limit the entry of Bulgarians and Romanians into our welfare system, the weakness of his hand is that they will be able to claim benefit here, because large numbers of other people do, and we will be discriminating unless we give them benefit on the same terms.

The lesson that I hope we will draw is that the Opposition will go into the election with a clear mandate to move from a means-tested welfare system, in which people think that they have a right to benefits, to one in which people gain entrance to welfare because they have paid contributions. The difference is in job offers and job guarantees. The most crucial welfare reform that the last Labour Government made was the future jobs fund, which was destroyed by this Government when they came into office. If we are to build up a medley of worthwhile alternatives for people who cannot find jobs, we the Opposition and the Government must play some part in creating those opportunities.

There is debate on both sides of the House about the best routes back to full employment, but no certainty about what they are. In the immediate future, therefore, we will have to rely on an even more severely tightened future jobs fund than the Labour Government did. We know from our constituencies that the real test of whether people want to work is to have jobs to offer them. Without those, we are in difficulties. That is not to say that we would not sanction without them. London, for example, has the second highest youth unemployment, but in 10 years of Labour government, 1 million immigrants came to London to work. There is clearly some problem in people’s thinking about what is suitable for them to do versus what is suitable for immigrants.

In my short contribution, first, I congratulate the Government on their incompetence and on having to rely on the House to rescue them from it. Secondly, like them, we are moving away from an unconditional welfare state to one that attaches conditions, but unlike them, we believe firmly that they need to engage actively in trying to build up something like the future jobs fund, so our constituents are offered real opportunities to work. I hope that those of us who have Labour authorities or even decent Tory or Liberal authorities, despite their current budget difficulties, will seek to implement that approach so that over the years, we will be able to offer more people proper, dignified alternatives to sitting on their backsides on the dole.

6.39 pm