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Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde moved Amendment No. 128:


Page 11, line 27, after ("failed") insert ("without good cause").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 129. This is a straightforward amendment. It provides that the question of good cause must be considered before a young person loses his severe hardship allowance for failing to pursue an opportunity for training or employment or rejecting an offer of assistance, training or employment. The principle of good cause is not a new one to this Bill. It is specifically provided for in Clause 14. We welcome that. We think it is appropriate that it should appear in Clause 13, which is a much more punitive clause affecting young people than Clause 14.

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The amendment is modest. It would place a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State to consider a 16 or 17 year-old's reasons for failing to pursue an opportunity for training or employment or other assistance, or rejecting such an offer, before a direction is revoked. In another place the Minister of State for Employment has, I gather, already announced a new review procedure to be followed before the Secretary of State will revoke a direction. If that is to take place, we shall welcome it. We also think it assists us in asking the Committee to support the amendment.

It will be a general requirement. It will allow a dialogue with the young person and allow him or her to establish where there has been good cause. For instance, a young person in the South-East obtained a training place on youth training through a training agency. The young person had arthritis but was nevertheless employed as a shop assistant, which involved standing up all day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. She was required to meet her own travelling expenses, which is normal. That left her with £3.50 a week for all her necessities. The training agency understandably acknowledged that the placement was not suitable. The system worked—"good cause" under this amendment. The amendment seeks to introduce into Clause 13 that good cause will be taken into account just as it is in Clause 14. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: In rising to support the amendments I wish to ask one or two questions. As the Minister will recognise, the position is one in which a direction may be revoked if the young person concerned decides not to take up an offer of training or employment or rejects such an offer. I wish to pursue with the Minister the issue of good cause.

The Secretary of State—probably in most cases in the person of an official in his department—when he comes to consider the revocation of a direction will have before him certain facts. Without the addition of the words "with good cause" those facts will be limited to the actual physical facts of the case. He will not be required to produce the arguments that may arise—they may be in good faith arguments—for having rejected or refused to pursue an opportunity of employment or of training.

I would be less concerned about this failure to mention the words "good cause" if we had not at an earlier stage, when we were talking about availability for work and actively seeking work, failed to amend the Bill to list a series of requirements which apply to people with specific positions —for example, people with religious objections to working on Sunday, people with learning difficulties, people with difficulties with the language, and so on. What that means is that in the case of a 16 to 18 year-old whose severe hardship allowance may be removed he or she will not have the safeguard that would have been provided by that earlier amendment.

In that case "with good cause" must in effect stand for apparently those reasonable conditions that the Minister in responding agreed were reasonable conditions—ones to be taken seriously into account. But they would not even appear on the Minister's desk as something he or she had to bear in mind unless the words "with good cause" applied. Speaking as someone who, like Ministers

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themselves, has been involved in the discretionary judgment that has to be made, the absence of the words "with good cause" simply means that the arguments that might be legitimately advanced by the claimant will not need to be advanced when that case is put in the Minister's Red Box for final judgment.

I wish to make one other point and then, because of the shortage of time, I shall not pursue the matter further. As my noble friend Lady Seear pointed out, the truth of the matter is that some training schemes do not deserve those words. I say that having spent some part of last year looking at training schemes in my capacity as chairman of my party's employment commission. Some training places are simply a joke. Some are excellent. What we are doing at the moment is removing that best known of all market responses to a bad product—the right to be able to withdraw one's custom. That is a very troubling thing to do. The phrase "without good cause" will allow young claimants to be able to urge that they had good reason to refuse the product. Of all things, a Conservative government should sustain the customer's right to say, "I am sorry, the product was no good".

Lord Swinfen: In my own mind I am quite certain that the Government have the intention that no direction should be revoked without good cause. That is the intention. However, those words should be on the face of the Bill. To take the example which the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, gave of a young person with arthritis having to give up her training place, the vast majority of people in this country do not understand that some severe arthritic conditions can afflict very young people. Most of us consider arthritis to be a disease of the elderly. However, it can strike, sometimes in its most severe form, among the young of this sort of age. In my work with the John Grooms Association for Disabled People I have come across it on more than one occasion.

A young, inexperienced person dealing with a young teenager who came back to say that they had given up their job, would not understand about arthritis and could recommend revocation of the direction without really going into the facts. This provision is a safeguard. In my own mind I know that it is intended to be there, but it should be written into the Bill. Without it, the ordinary person in the street will not have any opportunity to come back and say that their case had not been properly dealt with.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The purpose of these amendments is to provide that a direction may be revoked under Clause 13(3) (b) only if the 16 or 17 year-old has refused or failed to pursue training without good cause. Young people wishing to claim JSA on severe hardship grounds, because that is what we are talking about, must register with the careers service. As a result, most will be quickly offered and accept suitable training or other assistance. If a 16 or 17 year-old receiving JSA on severe hardship grounds fails to take up such opportunities and thereby fails to remove himself from severe hardship, then it is surely right that his direction should be revoked. That is why Clause 13 gives the Secretary of State the power to revoke the direction if it appears to him that the 16 or 17 year-old has failed to pursue or has rejected training places or other assistance.

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I recognise that some Members of the Committee are concerned that this system must be operated fairly. I can assure your Lordships that young people will be able to reject unsuitable opportunities. As my honourable friend the Minister for Employment made clear on more than one occasion in another place, the Government recognise that young people may not always be completely clear as to their vocational needs and aspirations. That is why we intend that those newly covered by the Government's youth training guarantee should be allowed, without penalty, to turn down one offer of training or to leave one training place early for any reason whatsoever. The regulations will provide that if they turn down two suitable training places or leave two such places early, or a combination of those, they will receive a penalty of a 40 per cent. reduction in the personal rate of JSA for two weeks. I addressed the reasons why I think that is correct policy in my original speech on this clause.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He said that the distinction between his reply and the wording on the face of the Bill was "suitable training". Is the Minister saying that he would be prepared to sponsor or accept an amendment from us as regards subsection (3) (b)? It would then read:


    "it appears to him that the person concerned—


    (i) has failed to pursue an opportunity of obtaining suitable training or other assistance ... or


    (ii) has rejected an offer of suitable training or other assistance".

Will the Minister accept such an amendment? Those were the words the Minister used which seem to take up the point made by his noble friend Lord Swinfen of "good cause" or "suitability". As the Minister used that word to gloss the words of the Bill, will he either accept our amendment or move one of his own to make the matter clear? In that event some of our fears will be allayed.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is a good try by the noble Baroness. If she re-reads my superior speech this afternoon she will be wanting me to qualify the training with a lot of other adjectives or whatever they are. I am sorry, I am concentrating on the Bill and not on the grammar. She will want a number of other descriptions of the training. I have already mentioned "suitable".

In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I referred to the quality controls which are in the Bill. I believe that we could go on at length on this matter, but perhaps I may try to continue my remarks. I hope to be able to persuade the Committee that we do not need any description such as "without good cause" or "suitable" or "reasonable" or any other words like that. As I said, if a youngster receives a penalty and subsequently returns to the guarantee, a reduction will be applied on each occasion when a suitable training place is turned down or one such place left early. That will apply similarly to other returners to guarantee.

Perhaps I may now turn to the safeguards in the system. I have already mentioned some of them. There is a risk that we repeat ourselves quite a good deal. I make no apology because I appreciate that this is a serious point and I should try seriously to address it.

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The careers service will decide whether or not a training place is suitable for that young person. They are bound, under arrangements which I described earlier, to provide impartial guidance to young people. They will not offer a young person a training place unless it meets his or her needs, circumstances or ability. They will take into account anything else which might limit the type of training which the young person can accept, including their preferences, aptitude, level of approved qualification and so on.

In the example which the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, read out, I must say that the Machiavelli in me watched carefully to see if she read out the last sentence and I acknowledge that indeed she did. The example that she gave was a justifiably worrying example. The last sentence of the example states that the training agency acknowledged that the placement was not suitable. I hope that that is the kind of conclusion to which we shall come.


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