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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I recognise that the noble Earl is concerned with the length of sanctions in Clause 18 when benefit will not be payable. I regret to have to tell the noble Earl that I cannot accept a maximum of six weeks. Our experience in the 1980s showed that maximum periods of disqualification of six and then 13 weeks were simply not effective in discouraging people from making themselves unemployed. Returning to six weeks as a maximum would send the wrong signals to unemployed people. We would, I am sure, again see a rise in the number of people leaving jobs of their own accord without making suitable arrangements for their future employment or income, or refusing for no good reason to take jobs offered to them.

It is important, however, to recognise that a sanction of 26 weeks is not the norm. Where adjudication officers find that there are mitigating circumstances they do not impose the maximum sanction. I wrote last week to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollis and Lady Seear, with the

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information that the average length was significantly less than 26 weeks. Only 21 per cent. of the cases leaving voluntarily attract a maximum sanction; only 40 per cent. of misconduct cases do so. That gives a clear indication that adjudication officers are weighing up the complex range of circumstances behind any decision to leave a job.

As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, where you have an average, that is the average of a scatter or a range with a top end and a bottom end. He also made a point about the time taken in clearing appeals. The important fact here is that that is dealt with by the independent tribunal service. We are trying to establish whether ways can be found to speed up the process. Ministers have discussed the importance of this work with the president of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and are committed to making improvements. Progress is being made. Clearance times for appeals against unemployment benefit decisions—

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I want to get the noble Lord right. Is he telling me that in 1995 there are people who say, "I will not leave this job voluntarily because I could be disqualified for 26 weeks", whereas if they could only be disqualified for six weeks they would leave their jobs? Is the Minister saying that that applies in 1995?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I was merely pointing to the evidence that has come to the attention of the Employment Service which lies behind the decision to adopt a flexible approach.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, what evidence?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I referred to it. For the reasons I have given, I cannot accept an amendment from the noble Earl which would seek to alter the current maximum of 26 weeks. The noble Lord also mentioned suspension, or the non-payment of benefit. We have made it perfectly clear, both in this House and in another place, that payment of JSA will not be suspended pending the adjudication officer's decision. In the case of sanctions under Clause 18, benefit will continue to be paid until the adjudication officer has made a decision.

Amendment No. 77 removes the stipulation that the minimum period of sanction that can be prescribed under Clause 18(2) is one week, and the maximum period that can be prescribed is 26 weeks. As your Lordships will be aware, these sanctions relate to the circumstances set out in Clause 18(5); that is, refusal or failure to carry out a jobseeker's direction or to attend a training scheme or employment programme. But let me assure your Lordships that the Government's intention, clearly set out in the White Paper, is that the regulations will establish a two-week sanction for these circumstances, rising to four weeks if the claimant persists in his refusal or failure. We believe it is right to set a clear penalty so that unemployed people will be under no doubt of the consequences if they reject our help and assistance without good cause.

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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, as the noble Lord is discussing subsection (5), I hope he will forgive me for returning to this matter. I strongly suspect that the officials in the Box did not expect to hear the question that I raised. Therefore, I hope the Minister will address it for a moment. I am not asking for an immediate answer. However, a serious situation arises from the absolute inability to be able to exercise a right of judgment that the training course one is on is totally useless to oneself and possibly also to the employer. I want to press the Minister on the point that there should be some channel under which a responsible and decent young man or woman on a training course which is wholly unsuitable should be able to complain or to raise the issue before the process of even a two or four-week sanction starts to operate. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, will understand that this is a reasonable question. It arises from my own experience of some terrible training schemes being run alongside some good ones.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I was hoping to try to elaborate on the reply that I had half given to the noble Baroness. She is absolutely right to say that this is an important point. There are two categories of people we are talking about. For those who fall within the scope of Clause 18, the provision which applies in these circumstances is that of good cause. That provides a safeguard for the person concerned. However—perhaps this is more important—one of the important differences that will be introduced by the jobseeker's allowance is the relationship that will exist between the jobseeker and the relevant employment officer whom the jobseeker will meet on a regular basis and with whom he will be able to discuss his particular problems and predicaments as they emerge. I believe that built into the system there is this beneficial characteristic of increased contact with the system.

As regards the category of young people we were discussing earlier, not only is there contact with the Employment Service if they come within the scope of JSA, but there is also the Careers Service, the TECs and possibly an employer, if that is appropriate, with whom they can discuss their problems. I do not believe anyone in this House would dissent from the basic proposition which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made; namely, if one mismatches trainees and training, one will not take matters forward.

As the amendment appears to recognise, we must retain flexibility in the whole matter we are debating. That is particularly important bearing in mind the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lord Swinfen. If there are matters which would subsequently lead the Government to think that there was a requirement to adjust the periods of sanction, we believe that the way we have arranged matters will enable that to be done satisfactorily and easily. If this period is to be revised—-

Baroness Seear: My Lords, the Minister is being understanding about the points we have made. I wonder whether between now and Third Reading he could consider the possibility that where the trainer or the employer and the trainee agree that the training on

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which the trainee has embarked is not suitable, there could be no penalty, or a greatly reduced penalty, and that that could be written into regulations if not on the face of the Bill. That seems a sensible arrangement. The people involved in the training could reach an agreement that it is not appropriate. If that is mutually understood and agreed, surely there could be a safeguard of the trainee's position.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I shall certainly reflect on the comments of the noble Baroness. However, I suspect that what she suggests may not be necessary.

To return to the amendments, we believe that we need more flexibility than is offered by a maximum of six weeks. I can confirm that we have no intention of ever prescribing a longer period than 26 weeks. For that reason I urge the House, if we vote on the matter, to reject the amendment.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all the noble Lords who supported the amendment. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for what I might describe as his very supportive opposition to it. I take his point. I agree with it, and in a perfect world I might have drafted the amendment accordingly.

I am grateful to the Minister for his attempts to accommodate the points made by my noble friends Lady Williams of Crosby and Lady Seear about training. Those are important points. No useful purpose is served by training which does not train.

As recently as last Sunday one of the people in our Whips' office, when coming to see me about amendments, spoke while waiting on the station platform to someone who attends a job club. The person described how he was being taken through a long process of identifying colours. He was not being tested for colour blindness. That sort of thing is a waste of time and a waste of public money. It serves no useful purpose except the creation of a hoop through which people have to jump. Therefore, it would be very much appreciated if the Minister would look into the matter.

Some time ago my noble friend Lady Seear produced a case of somebody who wanted youth training as a garage mechanic and was offered training as a hairdresser. That is not suitable, and the person will not learn anything from it.

The basic bones of the reply underneath the Minister's attempts to be reasonable in every way he could were, nevertheless, not acceptable. I do not believe that he expected them to be acceptable any more than I expected the amendment to be acceptable. The Minister said that during the 1980s the Government discovered that a benefit penalty of six weeks was not effective. Has the Minister considered whether that may possibly have been because there were no jobs for people to find? Has the Minister considered that it may have been partly due to the fact that it is not only Cabinet Ministers who ought to have the human right to say that there are some circumstances in which they cannot serve with honour? I was going to use the phrase "the dignity of labour", but in the end I am thinking of human dignity. That is the right of every person on earth, and beyond a certain point, if one imposes sanctions on people who feel that they cannot stay in a

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job, one deprives them of their human dignity. One comes very close to crossing the line that separates labour from slavery. That causes us deep concern.

I have listened to the Ministers throughout this evening. I hear a rapidly changing attitude to benefit, in particular, a rapidly changing attitude to the concept of entitlement in which this Bill is itself a milestone. I hear the end of the Beveridge concept of the safety net to which every person in the country is entitled. That is not a concept that Beveridge invented. To my certain knowledge, it goes back to the Poor Law of 1601. I believe that it goes back a great deal further than that.

Therefore, in this very conditional approach to benefit, there is almost a justification by works, earning benefits step by step. We hear a rejection of many centuries of our culture. That causes me deep concern. It is an abdication of responsibility, and an abdication of responsibility which makes us very much less one nation than we were previously. If the Government abdicate responsibility, what can they say if the unemployed abdicate responsibility equally? Nobody should abdicate responsibility, and if we do not want other people to do so we should set an example.

I shall not push the matter to a Division tonight, because of the generosity of the Minister's response to those points on which he was free to think about the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but we have not heard the last of it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.

Clause 2 [The contribution-based conditions]:


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