Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Renton: First, I wish to make it clear that I support the Government's view that the word "actively"—it is used in Clause 1, and again in Clause 6(2) and (3)—is vital to the application of the principles of the Bill. However, having said that, I believe that both the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, have made points which deserve our serious consideration.

25 Apr 1995 : Column 797

We should consider carefully the question of secondary legislation in order to explain primary legislation. Secondary legislation can only have the intention of attempting to describe a number of hypothetical circumstances. When my noble friend replies to the discussion, he may be able to say that I am wrong about that. But it seems to me in the circumstances that that is all, fundamentally, that secondary legislation would do.

It is perfectly plain from experience and from the terms of the Bill that, in the practical circumstances in which people who look for work live, hypothetically circumstances can vary widely. Instead of relying upon secondary legislation in order to amplify the expression "available for employment" and "actively seeking employment", I should have thought it worth considering whether it would not be better to leave the matter to those who will have to decide those cases—mostly not the courts but those who have to decide appeals. If we are to go into hypothetical circumstances, we should bear in mind what has already gone before in the Bill. Clause 1(2) clearly sets out a number of practical circumstances. It seems to me to be rather difficult to elaborate those in great detail.

I had considered with the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees that the amendment could well be discussed with Amendments Nos. 45 and 54, also in the name of the noble Earl; we shall come to those amendments. However, I shall be obliged to refer to them for a moment in order to see whether the suggestion of secondary legislation is suitable in the particular circumstances bearing in mind those later provisions.

The next provision which the noble Earl wishes to leave out relates to Clause 6(2) (c), which states,


    "A person who is not actively seeking employment is to be treated as actively seeking employment".

I find that a very strange contradiction in terms. I have never come across a more complete contradiction in terms in any Bill in my 50 years' experience in Parliament. We shall no doubt have it explained to us. However, it makes one wonder whether secondary legislation would fit well into that particular, strange concept.

The next omission which the noble Earl suggests in Amendment No. 54 is to leave out paragraph (a) of subsection (3). Subsection (3) deals with what the regulations may do. First, the regulations may,


    "make provision with respect to the steps which a person is required to take in any week if he is to be regarded as actively seeking employment in that week".

I must say that I find that provision a little more sensible. But, again, the variation and the circumstances stretch the mind considerably. If regulations have to be made taking into account all possible steps, and no doubt some leaving out steps that are to be ignored, then we enter into a further complication.

I hope that I have said enough to make my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who is always so diligent in these matters, feel on reflection that he will have to do a great deal to convince the Committee that we need

25 Apr 1995 : Column 798

secondary legislation, and, if so, whether the way in which Clause 6 contemplates that it should be achieved is suitable.

Baroness Faithfull: I should like some help from the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, on the words "actively seeking employment". I was in Easterhouse in Glasgow not so long ago. There is no work anywhere in that area. If a man is actively to seek work he will have to go into Glasgow. That involves fares, the money for which he does not have. Realistically, what does "actively" mean? In principle, it is right that people should actively seek work, but it is not always practical.

Lord McCarthy: I agree entirely with the noble Baroness's remarks. The problem is that so far we have not known what "actively" means; it means different things in different places. I take it that it now means what is in the jobseeker's agreement which will specify what the poor person has to do. If people do not follow the processes they will not be regarded as actively seeking work.

Lord Monkswell: The noble Baroness has highlighted one of the problems which will be caused by writing the precise arrangements into the regulations which will be approved by Parliament. There will be geographical variations in what will be considered acceptable in terms of actively seeking work. In the circumstances mentioned by the noble Baroness, reading the local paper may be the best that can be done. In other circumstances, attending the local Jobcentre and looking at the advertisements there may reasonably be expected. However, to write that variation into regulations is neither feasible nor practical.

As a way of dealing with the situation, one would be willing to consider the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Let us have a broad definition of what Parliament means by "actively seeking work" and "being available for work". Then we could say: "Yes, that will be for interpretation by the officials in the department". That interpretation will be subject to legal challenge from time to time and, as a body of case law develops, there will be guidance from the courts on the interpretation of Parliament's will. That is a tried and tested way of conducting business in the country and running our social affairs. I commend it to the Committee because of the regional variations that have been highlighted as well as the variations over time of human activity and endeavour. What may be expected as reasonable for a person at one time may in a few months or years be considered unreasonable.

The other problem with the text of the Bill is the totally unreasonable element under Clause 6(2) (a), (b), (c) and (d). That would give Ministers the power to say that black is white and white is black. We should be careful in Parliament about even hinting that Ministers should have that power. It is totally unreasonable to suggest that Ministers should aspire to such powers.

Earl Russell: Before the Minister replies, I owe it to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the Minister and anyone else who may wish to speak to take up the point about

25 Apr 1995 : Column 799

groupings. I apologise for not doing so straightaway. In the course of changing places at the end of the humble Address, I had not finished unpacking my papers.

Amendment No. 45 has many points of overlap with Amendment No. 40, but it makes one specific point dealing with compulsory training which I would prefer to keep ungrouped. Amendment No. 54 concerns behaviour and appearance, but Amendment No. 50, mentioned by the noble Lord, concerns next steps. I am happy for Amendment No. 50 to be grouped with this amendment, so if anyone else wishes to speak to it, they should take that chance now.

I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, as regards places where no work is available. I have a case in my briefing papers of a person required to make five job applications every week. He was disentitled to benefit because there were not five jobs available in the area in the relevant week.

Under Amendment No. 50 and the next steps, although prima facie it looks as though it is good draftsmanship, we may run into the risk of total enumeration in drafting. To touch briefly on Amendment No. 61, we may also be leaving out actions which people might take in order to seek work which regulations have not remembered to specify—of which there may be many examples. I accept the grouping in relation to Amendment No. 50. However, I would prefer to say a brief word later on Amendment No. 45. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for his remarks which were extremely interesting. I listened to them carefully and will read them carefully.

3.45 p.m.

Lord McCarthy: The noble Lord said that he was speaking to Amendment No. 50 which we wish to support. It leaves out lines 24 to 26 under which the Bill takes regulatory power to specify the steps which must be taken in any one week if someone is to be thought to be actively seeking work. It is a typical example of over-regulation, over-precision. It would give considerable power to the regulator, whoever it may be. Although the regulations may not be available to the unemployed, they will be available in the adjudicator's handbook and to those who work in employment exchanges. The wording is too precise and complicated and we support its removal from the Bill.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I suggest that "available for employment" and "actively seeking employment" are the type of terms which, by tradition, are defined in primary legislation. It is taking matters too far along the line of delegated legislation to leave the terms to subsidiary legislation in such circumstances.

Baroness Faithfull: I apologise for rising a second time, but I wish to make another point born of my personal experience. Three men came to me to ask whether they could run a children's nursery because all their wives were working and they were doing nothing. I made arrangements for them to run the nursery, first, by giving them training and, secondly, by allowing them to run it in a health centre. Then their social security

25 Apr 1995 : Column 800

was withdrawn because they were not actively seeking work. Each of them went to the Jobcentre once a day, but there was no point in actively seeking work because there was none. Cowley works had just closed, as we all know. I am sorry I did not make that point earlier.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page