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Lord Swinfen: I want to raise a small point which will help me and perhaps other Members of the Committee. When my noble friend replies on

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Amendment No. 182, will he say what qualifications an adjudication officer needs for his post and what training he receives? So much depends on the adjudication officer, and that is something we should know.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: At this time of night my noble friend may accept as an answer from me that I went into this matter in some detail on the first day of Committee in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. My noble friend may therefore be content to accept a reference from me to Hansard of last Thursday. I hope that that will suffice.

Perhaps I may point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that I said quite clearly that we do not propose to apply the additional ICA qualification of at least 35 hours a week caring. To qualify for access to JSA hardship payments, the claimant will need to be providing regular care, but there will be no specific hours rule. I think that that answers her point.

The noble Baroness also referred to falling between two stools. As my noble friend has said on one or two occasions when we have got into these difficult debates, we shall reflect on what has been said on these matters. No doubt we shall be returning to them at Report stage. We can then perhaps discuss any specific cases that seem to us to be falling between two stools.

With regard to defining hardship, the noble Earl's amendment tries to define how hardship should be assessed. Currently hardship is not defined in regulations but is left completely to the discretion of the adjudication officer. My noble friend Lord Inglewood answered this point in the debate on Amendment No. 59 while I was making my efforts with the photocopier. I wonder whether I can be forgiven for suggesting that your Lordships would just hear me repeating what my noble friend has already said. If I refer your Lordships to that earlier response, I hope that will be satisfactory.

The new clauses proposed under Amendments Nos. 101 and 102 seek to make payment of benefit on account where there is a delay in adjudication or in the determination of an appeal. The Government consider that many of the provisions of these new clauses will be achieved by other means. We have already announced in another place that there will be access to benefit for many of those people who are awaiting adjudication officers' decisions.

Where a person has established entitlement to the jobseeker's allowance but there is a doubt as to whether a sanction should be applied to him—because he left his last job voluntarily or was dismissed for misconduct—payment of the allowance, as has already been discussed, will be made in full pending the decision.

Where the person has not established entitlement because of a doubt over his satisfying the entitlement conditions, we do not believe, as my noble friend has said on a number of occasions, that it is right automatically to pay benefit until the doubt is resolved. Nevertheless, we intend to make benefit available on the grounds of hardship. Hardship payments will be available in the first two weeks for those in certain groups, such as those with dependent children, and will be available to all claimants who demonstrate hardship from the third week.

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The new clauses would seek to replace these hardship payments by payments of benefit on account. But your Lordships may be aware that provision already exists under Section 5(1) of the Administration Act for payments on account of entitlement to benefit to be made. This amendment would therefore mean double legislative provision for the purposes of the jobseeker's allowance.

However, the proposed new clause would go further than current provision. Existing regulations allow payments on account to be made only where the Secretary of State is of the opinion that there is, or may be, entitlement to benefit and then only on a discretionary basis. In cases where eventual entitlement to benefit is unlikely, automatic entitlement has never been considered a viable option.

Both this amendment and the existing regulations provide for the eventual recovery of payments on account either from the eventual entitlement to benefit or from other sources where there is no such entitlement. Because payments would be made automatically, inevitably they would be made to many people who were not, in the event, entitled to benefit. The administrative costs, and the difficulties where we have tried to recover benefit in such circumstances, do not lead us to believe that it is a very easy or cheap thing to do. That would be the same if payments on account were enlarged as the amendment would have us do.

The new clause on appeals, which is Amendment No. 102, would considerably extend the appeals procedure. It would allow appeals to a Social Security Appeal Tribunal against decisions of adjudication officers and decisions by the Secretary of State. That would introduce rights of appeal which do not exist for appellants in other benefits. I do not believe that would be equitable. Most decisions by the Secretary of State are excluded as they are mainly on administrative matters, such as how the claimant will be paid.

This clause would provide that, where an appeal has yet to be heard, the Secretary of State may apply to the appeal tribunal chairman for an order that no such payment should be made where the Secretary of State is of the opinion that the appeal is likely to be wholly unsuccessful. The proposal suggests further delay and further administrative costs both to the Employment Service and to the Independent Tribunal Service. There would be a greater burden on the chairman. Furthermore, I wonder what criteria the chairman of the tribunal would use when deciding to make a leaving order.

The aim of the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency is to ensure that decisions are taken as quickly as possible. We are examining ways of improving the speed of adjudication. But the primary goal must be that decisions whether of adjudication officers or appeal tribunals are taken after proper and full investigation of the facts. That will inevitably lead to delay in some cases. However, to make payments on account while the cases are under consideration, would present, as I have said, a considerable administrative burden, possibly lengthening delays, and could encourage more appeals. I hope that some of the things that I have said have been

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encouraging, but I accept that some of them have not been. I apologise for the quite long explanation, but there are a number of amendments here. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: Before we go any further and as the Minister has drawn attention to the time of night, it seems an appropriate occasion to ask how far it is intended that we should go tonight. This is a major Bill and one cannot judge its importance by its length. I have always maintained, and did so at the beginning of the Committee stage, that our timetable is not working. It is now clear that we have a choice between extra time and going a great deal later than it is normally preferred that we should.

I appreciate that there are difficulties in both directions. But the Minister might remember that in the report on the sittings of the House, it was pointed out that it was not possible to use the procedure of shortening time and proceeding by consultation and by meetings in areas of acute political controversy. We have used that procedure where we could and it has been most helpful.

I drew the Government's attention to the major contentious issues in this Bill as early as 27th November and not enough common ground emerged for it even to be worth proceeding to a meeting. We have been finding important things. It has not been a set scrum: it has been open play, passing movements and openings have emerged. We have more important amendments to come than any that we have moved tonight. What is the opinion of the Committee on the best way to proceed? Something needs to be done. We cannot both rise early and complete our timetable.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Is it possible to allow discussions to take place? Perhaps we can go on for just a little while longer until those discussions have taken place and we have seen what emerges. If the noble Earl is satisfied with that, I am content that we proceed in that way and shortly all will be revealed to those of us who are labouring at this Bill.

Is it helpful if I indicate that I have stopped speaking on Amendments Nos. 71, 101, 102, 180 and 182? I believe I invited the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to withdraw her amendment in the light of my detailed explanation.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I do not make any promises about not returning to some of the issues at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [The jobseeker's agreement]:

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 72:


Page 6, line 9, leave out from ("officer") to second ("is") in line 10, and insert ("whereby the claimant agrees to carry out a set of reasonable jobseeking activities in return for the provision by the employment officer of appropriate assistance, including relevant training or jobsearch schemes,").

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The noble Lord said: If the Committee wants the good news —we have finished Clause 6. If it wants the bad news: on the original plan for this Bill we should have got to this point at 10 o'clock last night. We have been all day on Clause 6 and now we have reached Clause 7. I propose to move my four amendments very quickly.

The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum tells us that Clause 7,


    "governs the jobseeker's agreement which will be entered into by a claimant and an employment officer. It also sets out how questions in relation to the terms of a jobseeker's agreement will be decided, and provides a right of appeal".

That is a very flattering view of what the clause does, because it is a one-sided agreement. Clause 7 prescribes that the employment officer and the adjudication officer will decide what goes into the agreement, and the applicant has no rights. In Amendments Nos. 72, 74, 76 and 82 we are trying to set out what some may describe as a rather disparate set of proposals which, if they were all acceptable to the Committee, would constitute something of a transformation in the jobseeker's agreement, which would then become something of a joint affair.

Amendment No. 72 inserts a definition of a jobseeker's agreement which includes a reasonable set of activities in return for appropriate assistance, including training, from the Employment Service; in other words, the concept would be that the jobseeker's agreement is a joint agreement. That is what an agreement is. One side has advantages and responsibilities; the other side has advantages and responsibilities; and there are obligations on both sides. In Amendment No. 72 we try to spell out what a balanced jobseeker's agreement might contain.

Amendment No. 74 has been grouped with the other amendments, and I saw no particular reason to take it out. But it is somewhat different because it deletes that part of the jobseeker's agreement, now subsection (2), which we are told bans any access to private law as a remedy. I have never understood why the Government want it to be so clear that the worker has no appeal against any part of the jobseeker's agreement, however wrongly it may be constituted from his point of view, and why there should be a subsection which rules out any access to external redress. So we propose to delete that part so that the Minister can tell us why it was put in in the first place.

Amendment No. 76 specifies how the terms of the jobseeker's agreement should assist the employment of the worker and only assist the employment of the worker, which is what the jobseeker's agreement is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be an institution to assist the employee. Either side can be allowed to propose terms and changes in the agreement. Once again in Amendment No. 76 we are trying to specify the kind of jobseeker's agreement which would be a truly joint agreement.

In Amendment No. 82 we add to subsection (6) an obligation —in some ways this is the most significant amendment—to find the worker employment which is appropriate to his age, skills, training or professional attainment. In other words, in the jobseeker's agreement there should be something that is reciprocal and does

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not merely say that the would-be employee has to be active and available, but that certain minimal, but important, responsibilities lie also with the Employment Service.

One might ask why we need such a transformation in the jobseeker's agreement. The answer comes from the evidence, much of it from the Government themselves, of the way the existing system is working; of the defects of the present jobplan system; of the remarkable evidence in the l993 survey of the Employment Service when over 3,000 users were interviewed on how the present system works. Of those 3,000, 25 per cent. said they had never received any back-to-work plan; 50 per cent. said that they felt the existing back-to-work plan was useless; and 70 per cent. said that they thought that it was irrelevant.

We are saying that the objective way in which the Employment Service is working suggests that this is the last time one should seek to impose through the jobseeker's agreement a more coercive and bureaucratic system in which one forces people into a position in which they will become increasingly alienated from the operation of the Employment Service.

The Government's central problem is that getting jobs is getting more difficult. It has been getting more difficult throughout the recession and it is still extremely difficult. It is very difficult in particular for male workers and semi-skilled and unskilled workers. There are few full-time jobs of the kind they wish to take. If the Government were logical and humane, far from making more difficult the conditions under which one obtains unemployment benefit they would be making them easier. They would be saying, "However active and available these people are, we do not expect them to get jobs because we have to accept the fact that there aren't many jobs".

Of course, the Government cannot accept that because, if they did, people might ask, for example, "Why aren't you doing what as a Government you did in the 1980s, when through the job creation programme you took half a million people off the unemployment register?". That was a positive reaction to the previous recession but this time we do not have that reaction. We have the pretence that the reason why we have the long-term unemployed is that they are not sufficiently active and available and that they are not working hard enough.

We are saying that the contrary is the case; that if one wanted to bring the Employment Service up to date one would not impose a new form of coercion but would try to embody a joint agreement. That is what the four amendments seek to do. I beg to move.


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