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Lord Swinfen: Between now and the next stage of the Bill, I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will ponder very seriously the wording "without good cause" in this subsection and compare it with the Government's arguments made on Amendments Nos. 128 and 129. They have drafted this clause. I do not see why an amendment similar to the previous amendment should not be brought forward by the Government themselves at the next stage.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I want to raise one other issue on this amendment. I wholly share the consternation advanced so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Russell. I too find it extraordinary that directions of this kind should be able to be given by one human being to another, not least by someone employed in the public service to a citizen, and a rather disadvantaged citizen.

The issue is a separate one. I should be most grateful if Ministers would respond to it. One cannot help wondering whether one purpose of the Bill is to lead to a dramatic reduction in the figures for statistical unemployment. Obviously, if people are disallowed benefit in large numbers, the effect will be to remove them from the register of people who are seeking work. I suppose that following the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, we should now call everyone a frustrated jobseeker instead of an unemployed person. But, whatever the word used, I take it that the statistics will reflect something. I wonder what they will reflect. I suspect it will be something more and more removed from the actual realities of unemployment. As the Minister knows, the statistics have already been changed many times.

My question therefore is this. Since it is important for the nation to have some idea of the real level of unemployment, in view of the legislation that is now being passed, which will make it increasingly difficult for someone without work to count as unemployed (they will count as something else), will the Government consider shifting the basis of raising statistics on those without work to assist them with labour censuses, such as those in the United States, which allow people to answer questions such as, "Are you seeking work?", "Are you able to find work and how long have you been seeking it?" and so forth? I fear the basis towards which we are now moving and what it will increasingly mean for whatever statistics are offered. I should also like to ask whether there is to be a monthly figure for those still seeking jobs who have not been placed but who are not on benefit as well as those who are. I should like to press the Minister on that because the statistical question is an important one from the point of view of drawing up economic policy. I am not at all

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clear what proposals are now being made for advancing employment statistics in any reasonable and transparent way.

Lord Inglewood: My noble friend Lord Swinfen, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, raised a number of important points. I shall do my best to give them answers which I hope they will find satisfactory.

These amendments would seriously undermine the necessary powers to ensure that unemployed people take the right steps. Unless their actions actually called into question their availability for employment or whether they were actively seeking work, unemployed people could ignore, with impunity, any reasonable direction given to them by Employment Service staff. That is not acceptable. Unemployed people must make every effort to get back to work and for those who do not, it is right that we should require them to take action to do so. That is what these provisions are about—enabling activity to be required of unemployed people where appropriate in order to increase their chances of getting a job.

As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, for many years there has been a provision whereby Employment Service staff can instruct unemployed people to take certain steps to get a job. The official recommendation to take such steps carried with it the threat of a benefit sanction if the claimant failed to take action. However, the provision is difficult to use because recommendation must relate to a specific type of employment in the locality. We are following in JSA that same approach but extending it. We plan to make sure that Employment Service staff can use this provision more widely across the range of actions that unemployed people may need to consider to increase their prospects of getting a job.

Jobseeker's directions will be specific to individuals. It may help the Committee if I read out from the Bill Clause 16(10) (b), which talks about the jobseeker's direction. It defines its terms of reference. The noble Earl was particularly concerned about the extent to which it might be possible. It reads:


    "'jobseeker's direction' means the direction in writing given by an employment officer with a view to achieving one or both of the following"—

I should like to emphasise this point—


    "assisting the claimant to find employment [and] improving the claimant's prospects of being employed".

That seems a very important element of the jobseeker's direction. It defines its purpose.

The directions will underscore the approach of actively seeking work. For example, the Employment Service officer might specify that the jobseeker should follow up specific job advertisements, that he might register with an employment agency, that he joins a job club or that he attends a suitable course. The Employment Service will, I am sure, never need to issue a direction to the vast majority of genuine jobseekers who will be happy to take such steps on the advice of the Employment Service. But for those who wish to avoid such help the consequences will be clear: loss of benefit for two weeks—as prescribed in the regulations—rising to four weeks if the jobseeker refuses consequently to carry out a subsequent direction.

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Of course there must and will be proper safeguards for individuals who fail to carry out a direction. It is important to be clear. The trigger for potential sanctions is only when a failure takes place without due cause. It was the noble Earl who raised the question of the definition of what "good cause" might be. Currently, there is a considerable body of case law defining good cause. It is the Government's intention that this should be to some extent defined in regulations to provide a non-exhaustive list of the types of matters that adjudication officers should take into account in making this determination.

A decision to impose a sanction will only be taken by an independent adjudication officer, not the Employment Service officer who has issued the direction in the first place.

Earl Russell: I should be grateful for clarification. The two courses I mentioned have hitherto been good. Will they continue to be so?

Lord Inglewood: It is my understanding that they will be.

Lord McCarthy: If I understand the Minister correctly, he seems to be saying that the employment officer will decide in the first instance that the direction has not been complied with. That will then go to the adjudication officer. It is the adjudication officer who will decide that that is the case. Where does the individual go to appeal against the decision of the adjudication officer who is the first person, the Minister says, to take the substantive decision? There seems to be no appeal at all.

Lord Inglewood: The Employment Service officer has to operate within the terms of the law in deciding, first, whether to impose a direction. Secondly, after a direction has been imposed, he has to be the first gate to see whether in his judgment the breach that may have occurred was one which occurred without good cause. Then, as the noble Lord says, the matter is passed to the adjudication officer. It is worth emphasising in this context that there is no question of any kind of disqualification from benefit until after the adjudication officer has looked at the matter.

Lord Swinfen: Will the passing of the matter to the adjudication officer mean that the jobseeker will have an opportunity to see the adjudication officer face to face, or will it be a purely paper exercise from which he is excluded?

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before the Minister replies to that question, perhaps I may seek his guidance on another part of subsection (10), which is the issue of,


    "such other person as may be designated for the purposes of this section".

If in giving a direction the employment officer has the kind of power we have been discussing, the extension of this power to some other person as may be designated, who presumably might be someone on a short-term contract, raises yet further disturbing issues.

Lord McCarthy: With respect, I was attempting to get the Minister to answer a question of mine. He has not yet answered it. If it is now being said to be the case that in this instance the benefit is not stopped until one gets to

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the adjudication officer, that is strange indeed, because in other cases the Government did stop the benefit. They stopped the benefit from the point when the employment officer took the decision. If it is the case that there is no real decision—and that is the answer—until one gets to the adjudication officer, then there is no appeal from the adjudication officer. The only way the adjudication officer could act as an appeal is if the decision were taken prior to him being involved. How do the Government reconcile all this?


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