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Baroness Turner of Camden moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 19:

Line 35, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 42 which is grouped with it. The amendment seeks to remove a subsection from the Government's new Clause 6 which reads:

I am not at all clear what that means. I listened very carefully to the Minister when he made his speech in support of the new clause. I am still not clear about what

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is intended here. Presumably, the first determination will have decided the question of availability and, therefore, entitlement. Apparently the question is to be determined at another review for that particular week.

That seems to me to be very unclear indeed. In what circumstances will a weekly entitlement be reviewed? It seems to me that that is importing a degree of uncertainty into the whole question of entitlement, and so on, that is not acceptable. I am sure that the Minister understands that for many unemployed people, it really is an extremely traumatic experience. If they are to have further pressure put on them as a result of uncertainty as to whether, as I read it, they may keep what has already been described as their entitlement, seems to me to be very unsatisfactory indeed.

I really do not understand what is meant by the clause. Of course, I note that it is repeated in the section dealing with "actively seeking employment". I hope that the Minister will be prepared to give us some explanation. As it stands, I question whether the provision is at all necessary. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I should like to begin by welcoming back the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, to the long-running play of the Jobseekers Bill. As regards the two amendments to which the noble Baroness rightly referred, I can assure her that the two subsections do no more than carry forward current provisions. Indeed, Members of the Committee will find almost identical wording in Sections 25A(4) and 25A(5) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. Members of the Committee may consider that that is not bad as a starter defence, but it is not a complete one.

Perhaps I may explain why I believe that the provision is necessary. As the noble Baroness is aware, there are a number of situations where regulations treat a claimant as being available for employment and as actively seeking it. In fact, we have just discussed some of those situations. In many cases, that is where the claimant has been or is to be engaged in some sort of urgent, worthwhile activity that made it impossible for him to satisfy the conditions of entitlement in the usual way. Indeed, I gave such examples in the previous debate.

In such situations, for example, a voluntary member of a lifeboat crew may report that his duties took him to sea in an emergency. In that situation he is entitled to be treated as satisfying the conditions. That is what happens and his JSA payment is not affected. However, the legislation must make allowance for the possibility that the situation may, in reality, not have been as he described it. Perhaps I may put it bluntly, although I believe that my example is not a good one because I do not think that anyone would do so. In fact, the lifeboat may not have been out at sea that week, or the claimant himself may not have been a member of the crew. If that is the case, obviously the claimant is no longer entitled to be treated as satisfying the conditions. Subsections (6) and (7) and their predecessors enable us

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to have the treating decision reviewed on the receipt of new information. A fresh decision is therefore made as to whether the claimant did in fact satisfy the conditions.

I hope that that explanation will assist the noble Baroness to understand what I admit is a fairly convoluted piece of wording. My explanation should help the noble Baroness to realise why we believe that the provision is needed and the circumstances in which it might have to be used. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank the Minister for his explanation. As far as it goes, it seems to me to be quite satisfactory. The Minister seems to be saying that there may be a fraudulent claim made and that the provision would be a way of catching up with it and, presumably, ensuring that the individual who attempted to perpetrate the fraud pays back the money. That is my assumption. However, on the other hand, that really is not terribly clear from the wording, as I believe the Minister accepted. I believe that the wording as it stands could, as I said earlier, import into the whole system an air of uncertainty as far as concerns claimants. Claimants may feel that the first determination is the determination which matters and that they can go on receiving their benefit for that week, and so on. They may feel that their benefit is quite secure because they have had a first determination.

I wonder whether the Minister will consider looking again at the wording. As he rightly said, it is "convoluted". It does not give the impression of the kind of situation that the Minister described in his answer. Of course, I shall not press the issue at this late hour of the night, but I would ask the Minister to look again at the wording because it is most unclear. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 20:

Line 50, at end insert ("but circumstances constituted by or connected with a person's ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or religion shall not be treated as evidence that he is not actively seeking employment;").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the above amendment I shall, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendment No. 34. The amendments seek to ensure that the considerations, such as gender, ethnic origin, and so on, which may restrict the availability for the actively seeking work criteria, are, if you like, deemed good cause and should not be regarded as evidence that one is failing to make oneself available for work or failing actively to seek work.

The Government have rightly accepted in the new Clause 6 that there are external circumstances which may, with good cause, affect availability for actively seeking work. Indeed, we have gone through some of them already, such as caring responsibilities, physical and mental disabilities, religious convictions, and so on. The amendment adds to and overlaps that list. It is a perfectly standard formulation which is often now attached to job descriptions in local government and is, I should have thought, entirely unobjectionable. I doubt that any Member of this Chamber could argue that those

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are not reasonable grounds. But, equally, I would doubt that any Member of this Chamber would argue that such discrimination does not currently occur within the labour market.

The CAB's report of a year ago entitled Unequal Opportunities proved just how extensive discrimination was in the labour market. There is sex discrimination; for example, where women working in a leisure centre were required to wear very short skirts, for reasons that we can guess. When that made some of them uncomfortable, they were dismissed. We also have countless cases of bosses harassing female staff, especially hotel managers. Very often, women fear to complain because, if they do so, they may lose their job. If they lose their job and go to a tribunal they will not find another job. Therefore, women tend either to endure what they should not or they go quietly and the harassment continues.

Equally, on racial discrimination, the CAB reported the case of an Asian client employed in a shop who, when he requested holiday pay, was told that it was only paid to white workers. There was also a black woman who was racially harassed at work by her personnel manager. She complained several times but with no result. The woman felt unable to take the matter to a tribunal because the personnel manager was also the chairman of the tribunal. There are also disabled clients in similar situations. Indeed, we could all recite examples in well-attested circumstances from the CAB, from newspaper reports, and so on. We can all give instances of discrimination in the labour market. Such stories hit the newspapers every day. But, beyond that, there are many more cases which go to the CAB which are never taken up by tribunals because the clients feel that their card would be forever marked as a troublemaker. That applies particularly in the case of women.

Therefore, we believe that the amendment is important because it serves two functions. First, we hope that it will tackle any prejudice that may exist in the minds of the Employment Service about availability for work. Secondly, if claimants are dismissed from work on those grounds, they are given additional protection when facing an adjudication within the Employment Service on whether they voluntarily left work or, possibly, left work through misconduct.

The Government may argue in a moment that, although this unfortunately and regrettably may still be true as regards some employers, it does not apply to the Employment Service and therefore such an amendment is unnecessary. I wish that were the case. When recently a highly paid, well trained professional police force could apparently enjoy the viciously racist so-called jokes of a well known so-called entertainer, and when dozens of cases are brought each year by serving police officers against their fellow officers as regards prejudice on grounds of race or gender, why should we expect comparatively untrained employment officers to be any different, particularly where so much is left to their discretion and their subjective interpretation?

However, there will of course be one difference between them and the police force: the cases brought by serving police officers were brought by people who

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were themselves confident, trained and knowledgeable about their rights. How many clients of the Employment Service will have the same confidence, the same training and the same knowledge of their rights, especially when English is not their first language, or when they may have mental health problems or learning disabilities which make it hard to understand a conversation even though the employment officer may think with good reason that he has made himself unambiguously clear, or whose disability, appearance or religious beliefs may not be ones with which employment officers readily sympathise?

Our worries in this field are sharpened by three matters that have already been explored in Committee. First, the Government have increased the rate of doubts as a target figure. Secondly, there is an increasing suspension of benefit and, thirdly, there is an increasing refusal of hardship payment. Together these serve to legitimize a referral which is less an honest doubt than a less than honest and covert exercise of prejudice. Before the Minister replies, I wish to ask him whether he disagrees with any words in this amendment. If he does not, will he include them? What I hope he will not do is say that he agrees with the words but they are not necessary, when, in the world of work and of employers and in the world of the public service such as the police service, there is ample evidence to show just how necessary such protection is on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

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