Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The proposed amendment seeks to introduce into the contribution-based jobseeker's allowance an increase in respect of adult dependants. We do not accept that it is necessary to introduce such payments.

Contribution-based JSA is an entitlement built up by an individual work record and will be paid as a personal benefit which does not take into account the claimant's family circumstances. No adult dependency increase will be paid. On the other hand, no account will be taken of a partner's earnings.

We recognise the anxieties of the noble Baroness about provisions for claimants who have dependants. However, claimants with partners will be able to claim income-related jobseeker's allowance. Indeed, under existing rules, the great majority of unemployment benefit beneficiaries receiving an adult dependency increase already also receive income support. The increase in unemployment benefit is already dependent on the partner's circumstances. It is currently payable only if the partner's earnings are less than the extra amount of benefit.

I accept that the removal of the adult dependency increase from the contributions benefit means the income test will be applied to more people earlier. We estimate, and the noble Baroness herself mentioned, that at any one time 5,000 people will be entitled to income-related jobseeker's allowance as a result of there being no adult dependency increase in the contributory element. However, that is in line with the aim of targeting help through the benefits system at those who need it.

We accept that it would be unfair to remove the adult dependency increase from the benefit of those who are receiving it when the jobseeker's allowance is introduced. Therefore, people receiving adult dependency increases when the allowance is introduced will be protected and may continue to receive the increase for the balance of their entitlement.

I do not suppose that I have persuaded the noble Baroness of the good sense of what we are doing. I noticed that a general attack was made on most of the Bill, but I am awaiting any indication that the party opposite might pledge, between now and the next

20 Apr 1995 : Column 689

election, that if it were elected it would restore the six months to 12 months. I understand that there was total silence on that subject in the other place.

On the subject we are discussing with this amendment, I explained why we came to the conclusion we did. I hope that, having listened to my explanation, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The Minister did not offer an explanation; he offered a description. That is not the same thing at all. He described what the Government intend to do, but he neither explained, justified or excused it. He said that somebody who has paid national insurance for a contributory benefit based on the family principle that that benefit supports both claimant and partner will immediately come off that contributory benefit if he seeks to claim the benefit for his partner and will move to means-tested benefit. In other words, anybody who seeks to claim for their partner is not entitled to any contributory benefit, despite having paid national insurance contributions for that purpose.

If that is not an attack on the family and on savings and the principle of insurance I do not know what is. It is too late at night to pursue the issue further, but it is one of the more shabby and despicable elements of a despicable Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 36:


Page 4, line 2, after ("amounts") insert (", which shall include a premium for lone parents,").

The noble Earl said: I hope that we may be able to dispose of this amendment quickly.

The amendment is moved in order to ask the Minister for an assurance for which I asked him at Second Reading. Again because of the immense press of paper that these matters produce, I did not receive an answer. I asked him about a story which appeared in the Independent just before Second Reading that the Government intended to withdraw the premium for lone parents. I invite the Minister to tell me that that is not true. I am perfectly ready to accept such an assurance if he does, and I would be much relieved. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not believe that there is any need for this amendment. The income-based jobseeker's allowance will closely follow the income support rules and will include provision for appropriate premia to be paid, including to lone parents and families, in addition to the personal allowance. This ensures that lone parents who wish to look for work will be able to claim JSA and that their benefit will be no less than they would have received on income support.

As we made clear in the JSA White Paper, lone parents will have a choice whether to register for work or claim income support. But we will support and promote measures that encourage lone parents into work. There will be a £15 earning disregard for lone parents in JSA, as in income support, recognising the particular difficulties faced by lone parents in returning

20 Apr 1995 : Column 690

to work. Our new back-to-work bonus, together with the child-care disregard that we have already introduced in family credit, provide positive help to lone parents who wish to move into more substantive work.

The noble Earl referred to a newspaper report. As it appeared some weeks ago, if I have seen it I have probably forgotten it. Perhaps I may assure him that there is no campaign against lone parents. We recognise that many do an excellent job bringing up their children, often in difficult circumstances. But we have to make sure that, while supporting children of lone parents, we also give a fair deal to couples with children, and that married couples are not disadvantaged compared with others from a financial point of view. We need to look at this. We also believe that it would be socially irresponsible not to look at some of the more general problems caused by lone parents.

It is not the easiest of circumstances, especially in the sub-group that I define as unmarried mothers, as opposed to the other sub-groups of lone parents who may be divorced or, happily less frequently nowadays, widowed. There is a lot of evidence that for a young teenage girl to get pregnant and become an unmarried mother is not the best situation for her or her child. Perhaps on another day we may have an interesting debate about what responsibilities we have as a society, dare I say, to try to prevent that happening. If it does happen, one hopes that there are benefits in place to help lone parents, whether unmarried or of any other kind.

With that explanation, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Russell: The Minister has said everything that I hoped he would say. I would be delighted to withdraw the amendment. Before doing so, I say only the following. If he finds a way of preventing people from becoming unmarried mothers he will achieve something that has eluded every ruler since Adam.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 38:


Page 4, line 37, leave out subsection (12).

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 38 is genuinely a delegated power amendment. It relates to subsection (12) in Clause 4:


    "Regulations under subsection (5) may provide that, in prescribed cases, an applicable amount is to be nil".

Put another way, someone may be disentitled to benefit.

I have my usual five questions. I have read the Government's memorandum to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It says that this power will be used for people in religious orders and other small groups. People in religious orders normally cannot be available for work. If they keep their rule they cannot actively seek work. I do not see why this clause is needed to disentitle them. But even if this is the only intention, is it not the case that the vires of the clause will enable any future government to disentitle any group of people at any time? If so, how will the House have an opportunity to withhold its consent? There may be some cases where benefit is withdrawn and this House as a whole, perhaps on an all-party basis, may passionately

20 Apr 1995 : Column 691

want to withhold its consent. If we vote through these vires, how can that be done? While thought is being given to that, we might think about why the vires needed to be so wide. I simply do not see it. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As the noble Earl rightly pointed out, this amendment would remove our power to award a nil applicable amount of jobseeker's allowance to people in prescribed circumstances. The power will be used to ensure that small groups cannot receive jobseeker's allowance where it would not be appropriate for them to do so. The noble Earl mentioned people in religious orders. That indeed would be one small group; so would prisoners; so would certain people coming from abroad who come here on the basis that they will not in fact be a burden on the state in any way; and, at the risk, at this late hour, of rejoining a battle that we had much earlier in the day, so would those not habitually resident in the United Kingdom.

The power to prescribe a nil rate of benefit is longstanding and pre-dates income support. We believe that it would be inappropriate to specify in primary legislation the special very small categories which it excludes. The power to prescribe in secondary legislation provides a more flexible and sensible mechanism whereby regulations can provide in certain circumstances that a person is or is not to have access to benefit.

The noble Earl asked me whether we could not just give a nil amount to anyone and perhaps extend the groups. The power enables us to take out particular groups. It could not be used to take out the generality of claimants because quite clearly they could not be defined as a group as in this clause. I hope that that reassures him.

In very general terms, I am afraid that one can never give a guarantee that a future government will not behave with regulated powers in a way of which the noble Earl, or even myself, does not approve. But equally one cannot guarantee that they will not behave with primary legislation in ways of which we do not approve. Certainly, if a government tried to put through material of which the other place did not approve, that Chamber could prevent that happening.

This Chamber has conventions, but life can be made a little more difficult for government if we do not try to take on board deep-seated problems. With the kind of doomsday scenario so beloved of the noble Earl in this matter, I think that some of the conventions might not necessarily be held to, not if we are talking about a doomsday scenario with the end of the world as we know it coming about because an iniquitous government is doing quite iniquitous things with the regulations, right, left and centre.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page