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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I am sorry to press the Minister on the issue of the real world, but just as the real world contains some people who are not seriously seeking jobs—of course we know that what he says is true of a minority—he recognises that in the real world there are officials and, for that matter politicians, who can allow their personal biases to get the better of them. I shall not pursue the issue of adjudications with regard to appeals and the way adjudication officers are rewarded if the Minister will be kind enough to tell me that he will allow me to raise those issues again when we reach Clause 6, because they seem also to be of the essence of the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: In fact what I invited the noble Baroness to be patient about was the first series of items she mentioned which pertained in particular to Clause 6. I shall turn to some of the specific points raised by her and others in the course of the discussion about other matters which do not arise later in the Bill.

I was asked about the independence of adjudication officers. They are independent. They take their advice about their performance from the statutory, independent Chief Adjudication Officer. There is no link between the performance targets of the Employment Service and the adjudication officers' decisions.

Public sector pay—the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and I have jousted about that on a number of occasions at the Dispatch Box—is related to the person's contribution to the organisation's performance. The Employment Service's annual performance objectives are translated into local office standards. Those are reflected in the individual's work-related objectives. In the case of an employment officer, they will include, for example, placings into work and the accuracy and speed of benefit payments. There is not, and will not be, any correlation between conditions of benefit for a jobseeker and an employment officer's pay.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I may press the Minister on that point. Are we wrong therefore in believing that in April 1994 the target for disqualifying

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people from benefit was doubled to 150,000 per year? Does not a target exist for disqualifying people from benefit, which has been doubled in 12 months?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I have said what I have said. I shall check that, and we shall no doubt be able to return to the point later. I shall answer the noble Baroness when I have the detail of the accusations she has just made.

On the training of employment advisers, staff act as adjudication officers, and those who act as adjudication officers will be trained. Employment officers, as I think I said in the previous debate, have their own training programmes. I have been to some. They are thorough and impressive. It is currently planned that about 15 days' training will be given to fully experienced staff. I hope that assures Members of the Committee that we are at one in wanting to ensure that the staff who run the new system are properly trained and have the kind of training, skills and knowledge that will enable them to do the job properly and fairly. There is nothing between us in the need to do the job fairly.

The Employment Service, in its annual performance agreement for 1995-96 with the Secretary of State, has a target of 185,000 submissions to adjudication, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred,


    "where there is an arguable case with supporting information to show that the claimant is not available for, actively seeking or willing to accept work".

I emphasise that there must be an arguable case with supporting information. The target is not, as has been mischievously suggested, a target for disallowance. It is designed to ensure that the cases of people who do not appear to be entitled to benefit are referred in good order to adjudication. I believe that to be a sensible way to proceed. There are targets in respect of many other aspects of the system—

5.30 p.m.

Lord McCarthy: The Minister would not deny that the figures show that the number of disputed cases which go to adjudicating officers is rising significantly.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It has doubled.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I must check before using the phrase "rising significantly". I shall return to that matter, given the figures as they stand. They may well have risen; but frankly, I do not suppose that anyone would complain if officials were ensuring that the system was running properly and fairly. It must be run fairly for the individual—and that is important—but it must be run fairly for the taxpayers who, at the end of the day, foot the Bill for the whole benefit system—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I push this important point once more.

The Minister appears to have failed to understand that the Employment Service has been given a target which was doubled between 1993-94 and 1994-95. That has been significantly increased again to a figure of 185,000. It is a target for referring cases to adjudication in the

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expectation that such claimants will be denied benefit. In other words, the employment officials are being encouraged, pressed and targeted to dispute claims and therefore to deny people benefit. That target has been doubled as an act of policy.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: No, they are being asked to put to adjudication any case where there is an arguable case with supporting information to show that the claimant is not available for, or actively seeking or willing to accept, work. I am amazed that the Opposition believe that trying to do that is wrong and iniquitous.

Perhaps I may return to the numbers in order to ensure that the noble Baroness does not repeat them. The year 1994-95 was the first that an adjudication submissions target was set and it was set at 135,000. It has been set at 185,000 for 1995-96. That is not doubling; it may be an increase but it is not doubling. I hope that answers the question which the noble Baroness asked—

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: What is the point in having a target? Surely the courts and the adjudication system exists to decide what is right and wrong in various cases. If one starts setting targets and choosing numbers, one immediately puts forward a presumption of what will be found, which is against abstract justice.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I regret to disagree with the noble Lord. Targets in the various agencies of government, in the social security service, have an important part to play. We are discussing one particular target but there are others relating to the speed with which cases are dealt. I am sure that the noble Lord will not dispute the fact that it is good to try to have targets that officials meet as regards the time they take to deal with cases. I am glad that he indicates, "Certainly not". It is important that we lay down targets to ensure that the system works fairly and effectively—

Earl Russell: I understand the Minister's point that this is a referral to adjudication and not a disentitlement. Does he agree that it is a little like giving the police a performance target for the number of people prosecuted for speeding? Does he understand that to many of us this appears to resemble a corrupt practice?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We must disagree about that. I do not believe that it is a corrupt practice because that assumes that the officials who carry out the work are carrying out some kind of corrupt practice. That is most unfair to them. They do a good job and they appreciate the importance of all the targets that are being used in order to improve the service provided by the Employment Service or by the benefit agency in general terms.

We have drifted away from the point about "actively seeking". Amendment No. 65 would remove the word "actively" from Clause 6(4)(b), which provides the power to require jobseekers to provide evidence of their attempts to seek employment. That is an important provision.

As I have explained, it is a condition of entitlement to JSA that jobseekers should seek employment actively. It is an important principle and we intend to continue

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with it. We believe that Clause 6(4) (b), providing as it does the power for regulation to require jobseekers to attend at a certain place and time and to provide information about their availability for work and the efforts that they have made to find work, makes clear to every jobseeker what he or she is expected to do. That will enable us to monitor whether jobseekers are continuing to meet the "availability" and "actively seeking employment" conditions, in addition to offering guidance and help to them in their efforts to find work.

I do not believe that the amendment should be accepted. It may not change much of the power that we have under Clause 6 but it certainly would water down the message that jobseekers should make every effort to return to work. That would not be constructive or worthwhile and it would not meet the approval of the country at large or all those people who are genuinely seeking work. I hope that the amendments will be withdrawn; but if the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, that we divide rules the day, I hope that my noble friends will support me in the Lobby.


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