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Lord Inglewood: I merely reiterate what I said before. No one should be allowed to hold out indefinitely for a given level of pay. The noble Baroness gives examples which she says are not hypothetical, and yet they are hypothetical because we are not changing current provision. She has not given a concrete example from the current arrangements. We do not believe it appropriate to insert minimum wage levels in this provision. It is clear that there is a gulf between us.

Lord Swinfen: I do not know whether my noble friend is aware that in the selling of cars in the motor industry there are a number of jobs with no salary, just commission. At certain times there is little likelihood of commission, because the newest person in will be the most junior who will not have built up a client base of his own. There will also be the temptation for employers to take on people at salaries lower than the state will pay.

I am sure that my noble friend realises that no one will be willing to accept a job paying less than the state will pay on benefit, because the person probably cannot afford it. He may well have a mortgage and commitments of one kind or another, all of which need to be taken into account. There are questions arising not just from the car industry but in other industries where the commission can be hefty, but it may be many months before one earns commission.

Lord Inglewood: The point about in-work benefits is that they are designed to make people better off than they would be if they were dependent wholly on the state. That is a crucial characteristic which cuts across the argument which my noble friend is making in that

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regard. As I said, we do not believe that it is appropriate to insert into this provision a minimum wage level. Therefore, that gulf exists between us.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Will the Minister please tell us to which in-work benefits a single person or a childless couple may be entitled, apart from housing and council tax benefits?

Lord Swinfen: Perhaps my noble friend will agree to consider this matter between now and the next stage. I am sure that Members on all sides of the Committee wish him to do that. He does not have to commit himself to anything but surely he will agree to consider the matter with his advisers.

Lord Inglewood: I shall certainly give the matter consideration but our position is very clear. We do not believe that it is appropriate to include in the Bill any form of minimum remuneration level.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Will the Minister answer my question? Which benefits are available to a single person or a childless couple? Which benefits does the Minister have in mind?

Lord Inglewood: Very few people in that category are worse off in work, but we have plans to pilot a new benefit for that group, as the noble Baroness knows.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I know that there may be pilot schemes in some areas but other people outside those areas will not be eligible for that benefit. Will the Minister please answer my question? To which benefits will a single person or a childless couple in work be entitled?

Lord Inglewood: I have already replied to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The Minister has done many things but he has not replied. At the end of this debate the Minister is accepting that he has no answer. From a sedentary position the other Minister says that he has an answer but we do not like it. The answer that we have been given is that a single person or a childless couple shall be required, may be required, or can be required to accept a wage for a job which is below the jobseekers' allowance. The Minister then says that to his surprise we do not like that answer.

The two Ministers should be ashamed of that answer. It is all right for us because we are all here. But the Ministers are saying that people out there without children may be required to work for a wage which even the Government recognise is below poverty levels and below income support levels. They then have the gall to say that there is a difference between us and that we are being unreasonable in failing to accept those answers.

That is truly, truly pernicious. I would use stronger language but parliamentary conventions prevent my doing so. I should be surprised if Members of the Committee can sleep comfortably tonight if they are willing to allow people to work for a wage below income support levels. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 157A:


Page 15, line 7, at end insert:
("( ) "employment" means employment of 24 hours or more per week in either employed earners employment or self-employment.").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, earlier, even though it was not grouped with his amendment. It relates to the 24-hour rule. We would like assurances from the Minister regarding two situations. First, we would like to know whether those currently unemployed and seeking full-time work but who refuse part-time work will be sanctioned if they refuse part-time work of under 24 hours. Secondly, if someone gives up part-time work of under 24 hours, we would like to know whether he or she can be sanctioned. The Minister said that we are dealing in hypotheticals. Perhaps I may tell him about a case reported by the CAB. It concerns an unemployed man in his late 50s in Yorkshire who was doing a paper round for £5 a week which he was allowed to keep without jeopardising benefit because it was part of the disregard of income support. The man gave up the paper round because of bad weather during the winter. He had his benefit sanctioned by £18.30 for giving up a £5 a week newspaper round. That was a genuine case produced by the CAB; it is not a hypothetical one. It relates to something that already happens.

If the Government propose to sanction people for giving up part-time work, such people would be very wise not to accept that work. In the process they may fail to do what Members on both sides of the Committee wish them to do; namely, to regain access to the labour market. Therefore, can the Minister reassure us that those currently unemployed and seeking full-time work but who refuse work of under 24 hours' duration will not be sanctioned and that those currently in part-time work of under 24 hours will also not be sanctioned if they stop such work. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: As I explained previously, the effect of current regulations is that people are not subject to sanction for refusing an offer of employment or for neglecting to avail themselves of a reasonable opportunity of employment if the employment concerned is for fewer than 24 hours a week. I can assure the noble Baroness that the Government intend to continue that broad approach. People who refuse work of less than 24 hours a week will not normally be subject to sanctions.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In view of the Minister's response, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 158 and 159 not moved.]

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 [Exemptions from section 16]:

[Amendments Nos. 160 to 164 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 agreed to.

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Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 164A:


After Clause 18, insert the following new clause:

("Carers of children under the age of two

. For the purposes of this Act no person who is a mother nursing her child or a parent with the main caring responsibility for a child under two years of age shall be required to seek for, or to accept, employment other than the employment of caring for his or her child in order to qualify for the jobseekers allowance.").

The noble Lord said: I must apologise to Members of the Committee for the fact that I was not able to be present at Second Reading. However, I believe that the amendment, which is a probing amendment, raises a point of importance about which we need to have information regarding the Government's intentions.

There is substantial and increasing evidence to show that the quality of parenting in the first two years of a child's life is extremely important for emotional stability and for the child's sense of self-worth. Without them, children tend to have problems when they go to school and they also have problems with their personal relationships. That can, and very often does, lead to disruptive behaviour, problems of truanting, juvenile crime and so on; and, indeed, poor job prospects in the future. Therefore, it is very costly to the state and to society for children not to have an appropriate start in life.

There is also growing evidence that bonding between a child and its mother or surrogate mother, which may include the father, takes place in the first weeks of a child's life. The sense of predictability, security and love which a bonded relationship with a parent, or with a surrogate parent, gives to a child is fundamental to that child's successful rearing. All but the best childcare is a poor substitute for the latter; but the best childcare can, of course, be an appropriate substitute.

Caring for a one year-old or a two year-old child is a tough job. Giving each child a good start in life is surely an enormously important job for society and yet many mothers and fathers want to do it. This amendment does not force any mother or father to stay at home and look after their child; it merely enables them to do so without suffering a penalty if they want to do so. This amendment is gender neutral although I have taken the risk of suggesting that breast feeding would probably be undertaken by the mother. It would be perverse if this Government, who claim to care about children and about families, were to prevent parents, through economic sanctions, from giving their children the parenting they need through the functioning of this legislation. I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for reasons additional to those he has already given, which I share. This is a group of jobseekers for whom it is particularly difficult to meet the directions that may be associated with a jobseeker's agreement. Any mother of a young child knows how difficult it is to move by public transport from one area to another carrying or dragging young children after one. The person concerned may not easily be able to get care from other quarters. It is often difficult to arrange

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1133

childcare to meet the requirements of a job, especially if childcare or nursery arrangements simply do not fit in with the hours of that job. It is difficult to take night work and it is difficult to take weekend work. There are many difficulties that arise for parents of young children in this regard.

In addition to the arguments put forward so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, there is a whole set of other arguments as regards parents of young children and their problems with meeting directions under a jobseeker's agreement, unless we have a full assurance from the Minister that no such directions will be made that are incompatible with caring for children of a young age. I do not think that it will be easy to do that. Therefore I suggest that the Government might want to look sympathetically at this amendment and the spirit in which it has been moved.


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