Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: Since the Minister has spoken at such length to Amendment No. 121, perhaps I may be allowed a few words in reply.

I am aware of the provisions of the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act. The word in that legislation which does not occur in this amendment is "imminent". There are situations in which a belief is held sincerely, rightly or wrongly, that a process is, in its nature, unsafe. My amendment provides only for benefit to be available while the matter is under sub judice. It seems to me that where there is a genuine disagreement about whether a process is safe, it is perfectly proper for that to be resolved in the courts. A refusal of benefit in those circumstances may risk interfering with the rule of law.

Lord Inglewood: In the context of the circumstances which the noble Earl describes, where there is a serious situation which may lead to an immediate walkout—and I use the words in a lay sense—from the place of work, the appropriate action is to involve immediately the Health and Safety Executive. That is an extremely effective and immediate way in which to determine the nature of a problem about which there may be anxiety in the workplace.

Secondly, as I explained, if the employees are faced with a situation which they believe is so serious as to merit them having to depart from the place of work, that is outside the definition of a trade dispute and therefore falls within the circumstances that I described in my earlier comments.

Lord Rochester: Would it not be a good idea to clarify the situation by making an addition to the Bill and thus make that point absolutely clear?

Lord Inglewood: As I explained, when one has knowledge of the circumstances, the matter is clear. We can certainly reconsider the matter. However, the basic principle involved is one which is actually straightforward. I suspect that many of the problems about dealing with such legislation lie in the fact that there is so much of it in general. Putting such a provision on the face of the Bill would not necessarily mean that anyone will immediately be much the wiser. I hope that Members of the Committee understand my explanation.

Lord McCarthy: I believe that it is time to withdraw the amendment. Amendment No. 121, not having been moved has nevertheless been answered and further discussed. There is much that I could say about it, but I shall not. It is for those who did not move it to decide what they wish to do.

One of the points I was trying to make with Amendment No. 120A—and one which the Minister does not appear to have engaged in—is whether or not we accept that the direct interest definition is adequate and works well. Some say that it works, while others say that it does not. However, you have to appeal to approve it. You have to say that you have no direct

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1055

interest. What we are looking for is something, so to speak, factually beyond debate. It is self-evident that a worker did not vote. There is no argument about it: either he voted or he did not. I agree that such a provision may benefit non-unionists; indeed, they are clear straightaway. But I am in favour of that. We are asking for something which is clear and unambiguous. You either vote or you do not. It is a matter of fact. It is not necessary to go somewhere to explain that you were not directly involved and either convince or fail to convince someone. That is the difference.

I turn now to Amendment No. 122. It is rather like the argument about the very small baby. The Minister kept saying that there are not many such people; indeed, Mrs. Widdecombe said the same thing in another place. However, there are a few people like that. There will be a few people who did not go on strike for a week and there will be people who were laid off for a week. Just because the Government, for their own convenience, changed the way that unemployment benefit is calculated so that it is calculated on a weekly basis, it does not seem to us fair to make the unemployed person or the person who was laid off suffer for what is an administrative convenience of the Government. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 121 to 123 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Effect on other claimants]:

[Amendment No. 124 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 13 [Severe hardship]:

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde moved Amendment No. 125:

Page 11, line 19, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 127, 130 and 133 and in support of Amendment No. 126. The amendments deal with Clause 13 of the Bill which is specific to young people under the age of 18 and the circumstances under which severe hardship allowance will be paid.

On Clause 13 hangs whether or not a young person between the ages of 16 and 18 will receive any allowance. Yet, as presently worded, the legislation does not even carry the normal elements of equity, balance or fairness. It puts the Secretary of State or, in reality, the employment officer, in a position of tremendous power as regards a young person who may well view such power as omnipotent. That young person is probably inexperienced, with no previous knowledge of claiming welfare benefit.

I wish to address the amendments individually. As presently worded, the clause gives the Secretary of State discretion to decide whether the circumstances are mandatory. Amendment No. 125 would make it a mandatory requirement in the circumstances set out in the Bill. It would provide a safety net for young,

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1056

potentially vulnerable people in that age group who fall between the criteria of the Bill and who are not entitled either to welfare provision by way of jobseeker's allowance or to income support. Alternatively, to put it another way, as young people they could find themselves destitute, and for what? They have committed no offence. They will be penalised merely because of their age.

Even with the wording of the proposed amendment, the clause would not be an open-ended or risky arrangement for the Secretary of State. All the protections for the taxpayer and the welfare system are there in Clauses 2 and 3. And, indeed, Clause 4 is quite specific concerning the period of time for which benefit will be paid. I suggest that there is also the protection for the Secretary of State in that even "training" and "other assistance" will have such meaning as will be prescribed in the regulations which we have not yet seen.

What circumstances are likely to arise which would signify that a young person in that age group is suffering from severe hardship and should therefore qualify for payment? A young person would have no wage coming in, no benefit, and would probably be registered for training; but he or she may be one of the 15,600 young people who, last October, were waiting for the careers service to give them a course to attend. Alternatively, he may be among the 1,000 young people who have been waiting for over six months. Can Members of the Committee imagine that situation? Such young people are registered for a training course, but there is no course available. That group may well fall within the category under discussion.

Moreover, such young people may well be homeless and, for a whole host of all too-tragic reasons, not living at home. There may be family problems. There may even be unemployment in the family which has driven them to leave home. Indeed, there are many problems that young people of that age group can face. They are all hallmarks of a desperate situation for an extremely vulnerable and immature group. We read all too often of the experiences of those young people.

I should like to express my support for Amendment No. 126, but I turn now to Amendments Nos. 127 and 130 which are similar. They, in turn, would give a young person covered by Clause 13 the right of appeal—not the right of benefit, but the right of appeal—should the Secretary of State refuse to give a direction that this provision applies in his or her circumstances. I remind Members of the Committee that it is a part of the Bill that seeks to recognise that severe hardship can and does apply to that group of young people. Therefore, it is right and appropriate that the right to appeal should be placed within the clause.

We must remember that the young people seeking help under the clause will probably be doing so for the first time. They will be suffering hardship; it is probably their first encounter with the welfare system. They are highly likely to have no knowledge at all of the rules, their individual requirements and their responsibilities and even less likely, according to statistics I have been given, to have advice or representation when they make their applications.

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1057

In reality, those young people will be on their own. Yet similar evidence shows that awards of severe hardship allowance are more likely to be granted where a young person does have help, advice and representation. Without the right of appeal, the only real alternative is judicial review. That is difficult enough at the best of times. It is hard to imagine a 16 to 18 year-old even knowing about judicial review let alone having the wherewithal to take such proceedings. And, of course, if they did so, they would not qualify for severe hardship payment. That is an avenue that young people would not even know is open to them and, in reality, it is not.

We are dealing with key and serious issues. If the Secretary of State refuses or revokes the application there is no right of appeal, which means that the individual is penniless with no income. Indeed, there is no provision at all in that respect. I suggest that that makes it even more important for young people to have the right of appeal. I am sure that the Minister will agree that no government of whatever colour would wish to see such vulnerable, young people in a position which probably makes them destitute, penniless and even more at risk of the ills of society without an appeals system. I hope that the Minister will indicate acceptance of the amendment.

I now turn to Amendment No. 133. This will require regard to be given to the welfare of a young person in the event of a potential reduction in benefit. It is not intended to protect that small group of people who are always dragged up as examples to show that people are trying to get the most out of the benefit system or are trying to get out of their responsibilities as regards work and training. This amendment is aimed at the vast majority of young people who are genuine, who do not know the rules, who have difficulties and who need protection from the worst elements within society. I suggest that it is a reasonable and responsible amendment. It will ensure that an officer dealing with a young person will be required to have regard to the welfare of that young person in arriving at a decision. I suggest that therein lies the reasonableness of this amendment as regards the age group we are discussing.

I will give the Committee two examples of real young people. The first example is that of a 16 year-old with learning difficulties. Wirral youth services reported that that young person had left training due to a lack of support for his learning disability and difficulties with other trainees. He was homeless and estranged from his family because of his disability. He was also cut off from benefit. I do not believe—I cannot believe—that that is the intention of this Bill. If it is, the Bill has the potential to create a group of young people who have nowhere to go. We know where those young people all too often end up. We see them in our streets day after day.

The second example is of a young woman who was trying to come to terms with her life after having been subjected to abuse at home. She was forced to leave home and, as a result of her home difficulties and the emotional problems she experienced, she found it

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1058

difficult to sustain her training place. I ask the Minister whether it is appropriate that in that case benefit should be cut. I am sure that cannot be the intention.

Generally there is a problem with young people who must juggle their appointments with housing services, if they are homeless, and their appointments with other services while trying to maintain attendance on a training course, as this Bill will require. I believe that problems may arise which were not foreseen when the Bill was drafted. If they were, the Bill is substantially deficient in this regard. The young people affected by this clause are acknowledged through their receipt of benefit to be facing severe hardship. Many are estranged from their families. Some are care leavers. A young person leaving care is entitled to only eight weeks' allowance before having to prove that he is in severe hardship. I suggest that that eight weeks' period is all too often inadequate to give that person the time to find somewhere to live, to find a training place and to establish a settled way of life. To reduce such a person's benefits because, supposedly, he cannot show just cause, is wrong, punitive and is certainly counter-productive as regards trying to help young people in the manner in which I would hope this Bill is intended to do. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page