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Division No. 1

CONTENTS

Addington, L.
Airedale, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Brookes, L.
Carter, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Craigavon, V.
Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Eatwell, L.
Falkland, V.
Fitt, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Halsbury, E.
Hamwee, B.
Hardinge, V.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L. [Teller.]
Henderson of Brompton, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Hylton, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kilbracken, L.
Lawrence, L.
Longford, E.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McNair, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Monkswell, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Nelson, E.
Oxford, Bp.
Perry of Walton, L.
Richard, L.
Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.]
Seear, B.
Shepherd, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Wharton, B.
White, B.
Wigoder, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

NOT-CONTENTS

Abinger, L.
Addison, V.
Aldington, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.
Ashbourne, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Balfour, E.
Barnard, L.
Beloff, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Blyth, L.
Boardman, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L.
Cadman, L.
Caithness, E.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Chesham, L.
Clanwilliam, E.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Crickhowell, L.
Cumberlege, B.
Davidson, V.
Denham, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Downshire, M.
Elton, L.
Flather, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Gage, V.
Geddes, L.
Gisborough, L.
Goschen, V.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Harlech, L.
Henley, L.
Hogg, B.
HolmPatrick, L.
Howe, E.
Inglewood, L.
Ironside, L.
Jeffreys, L.
Killearn, L.
Kingsland, L.
Leigh, L.
Lindsay, E.
Long, V. [Teller.]
Lucas, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Macleod of Borve, B.
Malmesbury, E.
Marlesford, L.
Melville, V.
Mersey, V.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Mottistone, L.
Mountevans, L.
Munster, E.
Norfolk, D.
Northesk, E.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Orkney, E.
Orr-Ewing, L.
Oxfuird, V.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Prior, L.
Quinton, L.
Rawlings, B.
Renton, L.
Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Seccombe, B.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Stewartby, L.
Stockton, E.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Sudeley, L.
Swansea, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trumpington, B.
Tugendhat, L.
Vivian, L.
Wakeham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1068

6.6 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 127A:


Page 11, line 19, at end insert:
("( ) This section shall apply to any person who is pregnant and registered for Youth Training.").

The noble Earl said: This amendment relates to the list of exemptions and changes in the system of severe hardship payments. There are a lot of flaws in this system. I should like to speak to the group of amendments that addresses them. The first directs that a person who is pregnant and registered for youth training and is without other means of support shall be found to be suffering from severe hardship.

I hope that the Minister will not waste the Committee's time by telling us that women who are pregnant up to (I believe) the 29th week in these calculations are normally perfectly capable of work. That is common ground. The question is whether employers or training providers are prepared to employ them. A great many people have a great deal of prejudice against employing or training pregnant women. There was one case in Cardiff of a man who refused to employ a pregnant woman on the ground that it was unnatural. I do rather wonder how he got here! A great many of the cases of really acute hardship that we come across are the result of pregnancy. I remember one in particular of a woman living on the £15 a week bridging allowance who had only one skirt that she was capable of wearing. She had no chance at all of buying another. It must have been extremely difficult to keep it clean.

The next amendment deals with people who have completed a course of youth training or have lost a place through no fault of their own; for example through a training provider going bankrupt. I regret to say that that does happen. It is one of the central difficulties of the reliance on the supposedly guaranteed youth training place that, according to MORI, the median length of a youth training place is three months and the period of time for which a guarantee is supposed to be provided is two years. Clearly, there is a considerable shortfall.

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1069

We very often come across people who have completed a youth training course and are waiting for another, and for whom there is not one available; all that they can get is the ridiculous £15 bridging allowance which has not been up-rated since 1988. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, when he was Minister, said he thought that MORI had got it wrong, and that the figure of three months for the median length of youth training courses was not correct. I put down a Question to ask what the correct figure was. I got the answer that the Government did not know. If they do not know, how can they deny the claim of MORI that is based upon a piece of research commissioned by the Government themselves?

The third of these exception cases concerns people who want to enlist in the Armed Forces. Any country that wishes to defend itself must have armed forces, and in any country where there are armed forces it must be possible to enlist in them. It is clear enough that somebody who wishes to enlist in the Armed Forces does not seek a life of unemployment and benefit dependency. It is an occupation in which a good deal of training and hard work occur. In particular, the Army recruits by means of a limited series of enlistment days on which people can join up. If one wants to enlist one has to wait for the next enlistment day. A great many of the gross cases of hardship that have arisen have concerned people who have put themselves down to enlist in the Army and the period of time before the next enlistment day has been too short for them to undertake a youth training course. No trainer will take them on because they cannot complete the course. Their claim to severe hardship payment has not been recognised. I admit that the situation is better than it used to be. However, the last case in this category of which I heard emerged last week, and I was distressed to know that it was still going on. If the Government were to accept this amendment, which they could well do within the basic principles of their policy, this situation could never arise again. Amendment No. 127C is about as mild an amendment as can be. If the Government do not accept it, they will need a very good reason. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: I support this group of amendments, and in particular the first one. It is absolutely essential that a pregnant woman is able to feed herself properly for her own health and that of her unborn child. If she is not able to feed herself properly she may create problems for herself and perhaps greater health problems for the rest of the child's life, which may last 70, 80 or 90 years. The pure economics are such that from the point of view of the public purse it is an investment to pay a severe hardship allowance to the mother so as to make a considerably greater saving to the National Health Service for the rest of the child's life.

I also support Amendment No. 127C too. Quite obviously, the Army needs a certain number of people at each intake for the training programme to be viable. Therefore, until they are ready to start a new intake they cannot enlist an individual. Obviously, that individual is

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1070

desperate to get a particular job. He will probably have been accepted and is only biding his time until he is allowed to start work.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation of the three amendments. His purpose in tabling the first amendment is to make special provision in JSA for pregnant 16 and 17 year-olds. I can well understand his concerns. I welcome this opportunity to look at the issue and explain to your Lordships what will happen under our proposals. The amendment before the Committee seeks to provide that, if a pregnant 16 or 17 year-old who is registered for youth training makes a claim for JSA, a direction to allow her to claim JSA should automatically be made without it being necessary for her to prove that there is a risk of severe hardship. I understand the thinking behind such a proposal, but I believe that it is inappropriate to make such special condition.

Perhaps I may explain the position to your Lordships so that the arguments on both sides are understood. I appreciate that the noble Earl does not need my explanation because he knows about it. Pregnant 16 and 17 year-olds are able to claim income support for the period starting 11 weeks before the expected week of confinement, and ending seven weeks after the confinement, without having to be registered for training or having to be available for, or actively seeking, employment. That is provided for in income support regulations and will continue to be so after the introduction of JSA. Outside that period, in which they may claim income support, pregnant 16 and 17 year-olds—just like other 16 and 17 year-olds—will be able to claim if they will otherwise suffer severe hardship. To do that, they must apply for a direction under Clause 13. Indeed, that direction will be issued if it appears to the Secretary of State that the conditions discussed earlier in Clause 13(1) are satisfied. The guidance in the severe hardship directions makes clear that all relevant circumstances must be taken into account. This guidance, which is publicly available, deals specifically with pregnancy. It states that, if a young person is pregnant, a note of any health problems should be taken and consideration given as to whether they may increase the risk of severe hardship. I hope that that helps to explain why I cannot accept Amendment No. 127A.

I deal next with Amendment No. 127B. By this amendment the noble Earl seeks to make special provision for 16 and 17 year-olds whose training places come to an end, or who have left such a place with good cause. I understand the point that is made. I hope that I can offer him some reassurance that young people in that position will not be left stranded. If such a young person re-registers for training and is at risk of severe hardship, he will be able to seek a direction. If he is not at risk of severe hardship, a direction will not be issued. I do not believe that it would be right to make special provision for this group of young people. Of course, when they come back on to the scheme, the training providers and the careers service will take immediate steps to try to find them another training scheme in order to replace the one that they have had to leave for whatever reason. The noble Earl mentioned the

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1071

bankruptcy of the training provider as one such case. Clearly, that would be a case where efforts would be made immediately to try to find the young person another training course. But that young person would not fall to be paid money unless a direction was given on the ground that he was at risk of severe hardship.

I deal next with Amendment No. 127C. I do not believe that there is any disagreement between us on the importance of the Armed Forces and the career opportunities that they provide to many young people. This amendment seeks to provide that a direction should automatically be made for those youngsters who are waiting for an enlistment date to join the Armed Forces without it being necessary for them to prove that there is a risk of severe hardship. I confirm that it is our intention to ensure that that happens. I believe that this amendment was tabled only on Tuesday. As with many matters dealing with social security legislation, it is slightly more complicated than it may appear at first sight. Arrangements for recruitment to the Armed Forces are undergoing some changes at present. This is an example of why it is appropriate to deal with matters in secondary legislation. The complexity and variability of this issue is quite considerable. I appreciate the noble Earl's concern and that he will want to have a more detailed assurance once I have had the chance to consider the points that he has made and looked into the issue. Perhaps if he is content to leave this amendment at that, I shall reflect on what he says and take the opportunity to look into what I understand is a complicated issue and see whether there is indeed a problem.


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