Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Will the Minister tell us what is the average disqualification period?

Lord Inglewood: I am afraid that I do not have that information immediately to hand, but I will give the figure shortly if it is available.

In this context, if one looks back at subsection (6) of the clause, it is clear that this is not triggered by any occasion of leaving, and so on. It must, in the case of subsection (b), be someone who left employment without just cause. Otherwise, the good cause test is triggered again.

The noble Baroness made reference to workfare. It is terribly important that we put our position on this matter on the record. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment said in another place that workfare will not be imposed if that word is used in the sense that it implies the state acting as employer of last resort with benefit paid as a surrogate wage. The Minister of State for Employment made quite clear to the Employment Select Committee in November that there are no plans to introduce universal compulsory work schemes of this type. We want to have people doing things that will enable them then to enter real jobs. I was asked by the noble Baroness about the average figure to which I referred earlier. I am afraid that I do not have the average figure here, but I will willingly write to her and provide it.

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1100

Finally, a suggestion was made that in some way or other these provisions were intended to assist the TECs which would otherwise be unable to fill up their places on employment schemes. I should like to put on record unequivocally that that is not so. I hope that those comments will reassure the Committee and that your Lordships will feel able to oppose these amendments.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The Minister said that it was in the Government's mind that there should be a maximum of four weeks' sanction for those who left employment or refused or left a training course without good cause. That is nowhere to be found on the face of the Bill. How do the Government expect their mind to be transposed into practice? Is it to be done by regulation and, if so, is it to be by negative or affirmative procedure?

Lord Inglewood: The proposal is to carry forward the existing arrangements where they apply. It will be done by regulation, as is made clear in Clause 16(2). The noble Baroness will know that the provisions that deal in particular with transitional regulations are to be found in Clause 33 of the Bill. Because they are transitional arrangements they will be dealt with by the affirmative procedure.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Obviously, I am being very stupid. Clause 16(2) does not mention four weeks. It provides:


    "If the circumstances are any of those mentioned in subsection (5) the period for which the allowance is not to be payable shall be such period (of at least one week but not more than 26 weeks) as may be prescribed."

The Minister said that it is in the Government's mind to confine it to four weeks on certain conditions and that it will follow existing practice. How will that be ensured?

Lord Inglewood: I apologise to the noble Baroness for not making myself clear. That will be specified in regulation.

Baroness Seear: The noble Lord said that he would provide the average figure. Would it not be better if he provided the median figure which would give a more accurate impression?

Lord Inglewood: Since the noble Baroness is being so statistically literate, I shall certainly do that.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wonder whether the Minister does have this information. The matter was pressed in the Commons and the Minister could not answer. I do not believe that it has been forthcoming. The noble Baroness is absolutely right in saying that what is important is what happens on the ground in practice, as opposed to minimum and maximum penalties.

I shall study the answer of the Minister and, if appropriate, perhaps return to it at Report stage. With the leave of the Committee, I should like to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 140 to 149 not moved.]

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 150:


Page 14, line 10, leave out paragraph (a).

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1101

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 150 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 158. The object of the two amendments is simple: to abolish the jobseeker's direction. The jobseeker's direction is oddly named. One might have thought that the direction would be given by the jobseeker. However the jobseeker receives the direction. It would be better called the jobseeker's additional burden. It is something more that the jobseeker has to do. If there is anyone who does not know by now what a jobseeker is, he is someone who used to be unemployed. We do not now have any unemployed people; they are all jobseekers who are trying to make themselves active and available. This idea may spread. We may have old age pensioners who are dependant-seekers, looking for people on whom they can be dependent. We may have sick people who are health-seekers, trying to stop eating unhealthy food. If they eat enough healthy food they may qualify for some benefit. We may have widows who perhaps can be spouse-seekers, trying to find ways to get off the parish. However, so far it is only the unemployed who have been turned into seekers after activity. If they are available and active enough they get some benefit, except under Clause 16. The purpose of Clause 16 is that, however active the seeker and whether or not he qualifies under every other regulation, he can still be caught. The main way that the Bill catches him is that he is given a jobseekers' direction.

We have the same objections to the jobseekers' direction as we have to most of the rest of the Bill. In effect, it is all in regulation; in other words, we do not know what the jobseeker will be directed to do. We are not told what will be in the direction, only that if he refuses it or fails to carry out any reasonable direction having regard to the circumstances on the face of the Bill, he will suffer loss of benefit.

We all know the general nature of the jobseeker's direction. On the face of the Bill, the purpose is to assist and improve the chances of employment. But we also know that the department has had something similar to the jobseeker's direction before there were jobseekers. In the days when we still had unemployment there was something called jobsearch assistance. We know that from the evidence submitted by the CABs about individual claimants who were put on endless restart programmes. In particular, one claimant in London was told, "The trouble with you is that you will not change direction". That is very apt, because in future if he does not change direction he will get a jobseeker's direction, will he not? He will have to change direction. A Berkshire claimant, an Afro-Caribbean, was repeatedly sent to low-paid manual jobs when he thought that he had excellent O and A-level qualifications and might be sent to other jobs. In future he will be given a direction. Of course, if one is given a direction and one does not carry it out there will be loss of benefit. The presumption is that one will have to enter some kind of appeal process to try to persuade the adjudication officer that the direction given is not adequate or appropriate.

We say that this is not necessary. It is now half past eight. We have debated for a long time the many ways in which the Bill is more than sufficiently coercive in placing further impositions upon a person who was once

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1102

unemployed but is now a jobseeker. There is no need whatever for jobseeker's directions, and that is why I move this amendment.

Earl Russell: I listened with great amusement to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. When he talks about spouse-seekers, I have one little piece of advice for him:


    "Beware of widders, Sammy!"

It is a matter of shame to me that my name is not added to this amendment. It is the result purely of an oversight. Almost certainly the oversight is mine. In spite of the absence of my name, this is probably the most important issue left in the remainder of the Bill. The jobseeker's direction is, I think, the most arbitrary power that I have ever seen conferred in English law, if indeed it is conferred. It has not yet happened. It gives to one person almost total control over the life of another. It gives them the power to direct those people to do all sorts of different things (most of which we probably have not yet imagined) on pain of total loss of benefit. It is a penalty which in my book is rather worse than imprisonment. What would we have said if the Bill had introduced a power to imprison the jobseeker if he did not obey the direction? I can reassure the Committee that I should have resisted a power to imprison the jobseeker, but I think that I would not have been quite so shocked as I am by a power to disentitle. The power to disentitle leaves the person to rot away slowly. That is the crueller of the two.

I know that the Minister will invoke "reasonable" and the adjudication officer. I shall not dwell on the point that we do not yet know the criteria of "reasonable". They will only come in the regulations. I shall dwell on the fact that the adjudication officer, on present figures, is 22.4 weeks away. That is 22.4 weeks before one gets the next little amount of money. It is a bit steep. It raises the question of what will be regarded as good cause for not taking up a job offer.

I want to ask a question of the Minister. It needs an answer at some stage before the Bill is put through. Will it be good cause to refuse a job that the travelling is too long and too difficult? There are many jobs—such as the one that I mentioned recently near Cardiff, where a man ceased to go to his job because his workmate had left his job and could not give him a lift there—which are too far for people reasonably to be expected to go.

Secondly, will it be a good reason for refusing a job that the work-related expenses form too high a proportion of the wages to make it worth a person's while? In my local Jobcentre, advertisements for plumbers or electricians almost always say "own tools essential". That condition can create genuine problems. Moreover, it can often happen, even in London, that the costs of travel are so great as to be prohibitive. Is that to be a reasonable ground for refusing a job? Those questions need answers.

In general, we on these Benches tend to believe that people are usually, but not invariably, the best judges of their own interests. People are usually the best judges of their own family interests. There may be reasons inside the internal dynamics of a family why one type of job, circumstances or hours in particular are simply not viable. For example, it may break down the whole of the care

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1103

arrangements. We do not know whether the employment officer will be interested in that point. He may very well not be interested.

This is the kind of arbitrary power which, in my opinion, nobody ever ought to have over another. In fact it comes remarkably close to forced labour. That is something which I did not think we would ever see in English law. I am very sorry to see it put before this Chamber.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page