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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I am pleased to follow the weighty words of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, on the issue of how we treat unemployed people and what assumptions we make about them. Almost everything turns on the way in which the concept of actively seeking work is to be interpreted and on the independence and fairness of that judgment. That leads me to ask the Minister three questions.
The first concerns the reference made in the memorandum to which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred which states that the definition of "actively seeking work" will be that work must be actively sought in every single week. No reference is made to the possibility of illness or to other responsibilities that fall upon individuals even when they are unemployed. It is also stated that "actively seeking work" must mean availability,
The second question is: who will adjudicate in an appeal? In an earlier reply to my noble friend Lord Russell, the Minister said that there would be additional adjudication officers. However, when one reads the memorandum from the two departments, it is clear that greater reliance is to be placed on what are called "front-line employment officers" when making those decisions. It is also stated that training in adjudication will not be required for those front-line employment officers, although some will make crucial decisions. I am sure that noble Lords will take on board the point that I am trying to make as best I canthat the adjudication officer's independence is crucial and that we need an absolute assurance that his or her pay and the judgment made about his or her work will be independent of the decisions made.
My third point about the actively seeking work test also relates to the later amendments concerning the jobseeker's agreement. It was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. I refer to the question of whether or how the claimants will survive during what is today an average period of 20 weeks before an appeal is heard. One of the things of which we are most proud in this country is that people are held to be innocent until proven guilty, but in this Bill we shall be condemning people to 20 weeks without benefit until such time as the final adjudication is made. My noble friend Lord Russell asked the germane question: on what are they supposed to live during that time?
I conclude my brief intervention on this amendment by saying that as a Member of your Lordships' House who spends half her life working in the United States, I have seen the devastating consequences that occur when people who are unemployed because they cannot find jobs (because their education, training and circumstances do not fit them for those jobs that are available) are refused all forms of assistance and help by society. Some of those people turn extremely sour. We are concerned in this country about maintaining law and order. Therefore, I ask the Committee to consider long and hard whether, if we make benefits impossible to obtain for genuinely unemployed people who want to be employed, we are not driving those people in a direction which all of us will come to regret.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I should start by saying that people who claim the jobseeker's allowance will be doing so because they want to get back to work. We should hold that in our minds not only for the rest of this debate, but for the rest of this Committee stage.
The effects of the amendments would be to undermine the importance of a jobseeker's effort to find work. That point was underlined by my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton. Indeed, these are negative amendments which would not be in keeping with the principles that we are trying to establish in the
In Clause 6 we seek to define what the term "actively seeking employment" means. Clause 6(1) provides a definition of that term, while subsection (3) (a) details our intentions for the regulations to be drawn up under Clause 6. Those regulations will outline the steps that will be regarded as "actively seeking employment" steps. At present the list focuses on steps which amount to an actual job search. We shall be extending that list to include steps which improve a jobseeker's employability, such as drawing up a CV or obtaining references.
Some of the points that were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, relate to Clause 6 and will be dealt with in some detail when we come to the amendments to that clause. So perhaps I can invite her to contain herself until we reach some of those details, when we will go over them.
The general pointI am not sure that I want to get into an academic discussion about the form of legislationraised as usual with great interest by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was about how we frame legislationwhether we try to cover all eventualities or put out a few broad principles and leave it at that. The simple fact iswe will see it as the Bill progressesthat opposition parties will always try to argue from the particular to the general. They will always pick a case and say, "There is a case. You should be making sure, oh Government, that your secondary legislation or your primary legislation takes it into account". To think that we can just have nice broad principles, and hope they will be enacted in the way that we think, is not the way the world now works. Perhaps it would be less complicated if that were the way the world worked, but having been at the receiving end of piles of examples: why is this person not receiving benefit? Why is that happening? Why is the next thing happening? In other words, trying to argue from the particular to the general, and I do not see any great prospect of us managing to devise legislation, unless we change many other things and the way our country looks at such things, including, I suspect, going to court
Lord McCarthy: I do not follow the Minister. Is he saying that because, when we give him particular examples of the whole thing breaking down, he cannot find any general answers, he is not going to give us any answers? Why cannot he tell us why the system broke down in that case?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord is making my point. He is reinforcing the fact that those are the kinds of questions that he wants to ask me, and he wants me to reply in detail. That is what governments
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am obviously not explaining my position correctly. I am trying to counter the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that we should have legislation that embodies the broad principle and leave the detail to be dealt with by someone else. I am merely saying that I am usually attacked because the detail does not do all the things that the Committee would like it to do. Noble Lords want more detail, or they want the detail to shift an inch this way or that way. I see the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, looking at me, so perhaps I should remember that now it is a centimetre this way or a centimetre that way.
Earl Russell: If I might, I should like to concede that I recognise that the Minister is making a serious point. If he would like me to meet him halfway, and outside the Chamber, I should be happy to do so.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Earl has indicated neither the time nor the weapons. Perhaps I may return to the amendments. As I have said clearly, we believe that the principles currently in legislation of actively seeking work should be carried into the new legislation. The amendments would remove the word "actively" from the phrase "actively seeking employment" as it occurs at various places in the Bill.
It is clear that we wish people claiming JSA to be active in their job search. Present legislation uses the phrase, "actively seeking employment". If we dropped the word "actively" in moving to JSA, jobseekers, the Employment Service, the public, and, perhaps, ultimately the courts, could all be forgiven for supposing that we meant to signal by that some dilution of the condition; some lessening of the need for the jobseeker to go out to look for work, to try to take steps that would find him work. In practice, the amendments would mean a watering down of the principle that jobseekers should make every effort to get back to work.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who suggested that the real problem was that there were no jobs. Each year about 6 million jobs become vacant in this country. On any day, there are about 300,000 vacancies. About one-quarter of people who become unemployed leave unemployment within a month; about half leave within three months; about two-thirds leave within six months. Since the end of 1992, unemployment in this country has fallen by over 600,000. While of course I appreciate that, especially in certain areas, there are difficulties, there are still a lot of jobs available month after month, and it is right that in return for the JSA the jobseeker should be encouraged actively to seek work. That is what we wish to see in the Bill, and that is what I am invited to remove from
I know that many Members of the Committee opposite do not occupy the real world, but in the real world that I occupy, and the real world that most people to whom I have talked occupy I am afraid that there are people who have no intention of working very hard to find a job. Indeed, I can think of a few families who have made it their life's work to act like that, and it is very, very annoying for their friends and neighbours who go out to work and who work jolly hard. We should not live in a totally rose-tinted world where some pressure is not needed on some people to ensure that they actively look for work.
The figures I gave in response to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, indicated that many people find work month after month. Many people are on the register for only a month or two and back to work they go.
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