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Earl Russell: My Lords, Amendment No. 24 deals with training. It attempts to tighten the definition of training by adding the word "suitable" training. It does not require people to make themselves available for absolutely any old form of training: it has to be suitable.

Some of your Lordships may remember Mr. Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby who used to greet the members of his class with the words: "w-i-n-d-e-r, winder, a casement. Go and clean it!" In Dotheboys Hall that passed under the name of education. I do not wish to suggest that anything as extreme as that has happened in training, but the law has to provide for contingencies. If training is to have the usefulness we would all like it to have, it must be suitable. There is an actual case of employment training in carpentry where the organisers carried on with the course, although they were not able to afford any wood.

The purpose of training—

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend and I are having some difficulty. The noble Earl is speaking to Amendment No. 24 and the word "suitable" which he wishes to insert would come not before "training" but before the words "employed earner's employment". I know how careful the noble Earl is, but I wonder whether he has picked up the wrong piece of paper. I marvel at the way he manages to juggle all the amendments and to speak almost without notes. I am quite envious of him. But in this case, while I understand the point he is making, I believe that he is addressing it to the wrong place.

Amendment No. 24 states:


The subsection would then read,


    "For the purposes of this Act, a person is available for employment if he is willing and able to take up immediately any suitable employed earner's employment".

I believe that the noble Earl is speaking about training. I hope that that is helpful.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. As he may have observed, I had not merely picked up the wrong piece of paper, I had not had time to return to my place to pick up any piece of paper. Although I would have begged to move the amendment, my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby has the right piece of paper.

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved Amendment No. 24:


Page 5, line 12, after ("any") insert ("suitable").

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I apologise on both our behalves. However, I was locked outside the Chamber at the time.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, surely the right procedure is for the Question to be put and for the noble Baroness to say her piece.

Noble Lords: No.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, was the noble Earl, Lord Russell, moving the amendment, or has it been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby?

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I must apologise for whatever confusion my noble friend and I have managed to put the House in. However, I am glad to say that I believe I rose to my feet at the right moment. I am learning slowly.

The purpose of the amendment is to follow up a significant point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, during the Committee stage. Noble Lords will recall that we had considerable discussion about the definition of the words "available for work". In seeking to meet that condition, we were concerned that a claimant might find a job proposed to him that was unsuitable in terms of his capabilities, training, experience and possibly even his age and physical and mental condition.

The introduction of "suitable" before "employment" ensures that when a jobseeker fulfils the conditions of a jobseeker's allowance—and if he fails to fulfil those conditions he may lose benefit for a period of several weeks or even months—the employment officer would be obliged to consider carefully whether the employment was suitable for the claimant.

One of the arguments for the Bill which Ministers advance is that the jobseeker's agreement is a step towards a closer fit between claimants and the jobs which they might be sent to fill. That is a perfectly proper ambition. But as Members of this House, we are concerned that the fairly draconian steps which can be taken vis-o-vis a claimant's entitlement should not fall at the first fence because the employment officer has suggested as a condition that the jobseeker seeks jobs which simply do not suit his or her capabilities, talents and, for that matter, experience.

Noble Lords on this side of the House believed that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was extremely sound. The amendment lays upon the employment officer some responsibility to reach his side of the agreement so that agreement is genuinely mutual and not another word for a form of coercion. Therefore we picked up the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and embodied them in an amendment. We sought to reach the noble Lord to discuss the matter with him, but for various reasons were unable to do so.

I add one further point. Although the word "suitable" is tiny, it helps to give the Bill some validity in terms of meeting the needs of both sides—the employment officer and the claimant. Concern has been expressed again and again on this side of the

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House that the agreement might be little more than a set of conditions which have to be satisfied without considering the specific human characteristics of the person before the employment officer. We wish to make it a genuine agreement. We genuinely wish to remove elements of unacceptable coercion. Therefore I strongly commend this small word to the House. Both sides will then have to meet on a reasonable basis without the scales being heavily weighted in one direction or the other. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, I remind the House—in particular the supporters of the Government on the Benches behind the Ministers—that the agreement is between three parties rather than two: the Employment Service, the claimant and the person who will employ him. No employer wishes to have an unsuitable person foisted on him. If one is considering satisfactory employment lasting for any length of time, all three parties have to be satisfied that it is suitable, not least the employer.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I support the amendment. When we discussed the recommitted Clause 6, we had a little amusement at the possibility of a Member of the Government Front Bench, perhaps after the next general election, being offered a job as a Labour Party fund-raiser. However, the amendment raises a serious point. There is a widespread view—I confess that I share it—that the Bill is intended to get people off the unemployment statistics and into employment —perhaps any employment—so that they can no longer be classified as unemployed, and, even more important from the Government's point of view, off contributory benefit which they can have as of right.

During discussion of the Bill, the Ministers' responses to a range of amendments have done little to allay that fear. There may well be mismatches which are almost as great as the example of a former government Front Bencher being offered a Labour Party job. The discussions yesterday made it clear that there will be pressure on employment officers and others concerned with the administration of this legislation to get people into employment and off benefit.

Once the legislation gets down to the grass-roots operational level, so to speak, that pressure may well be translated as getting the applicants into any job. Unemployed people have real fears that they could be forced into unsuitable work—and work, moreover, which would make it much more difficult for them later to get back into the type of work for which they have skills or training. The unemployed insurance or bank clerk—there are many more of those than there used to be since financial services are no longer a secure employment area—could well feel that a stint at stacking shelves in a supermarket might mean that he or she will not be able to get a job in financial services again. Future employers would not be impressed by the job record, and openings in their chosen field could well be blocked off. Moreover,

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people used to desk work or white collar employment may not be physically suitable for work requiring manual effort.

These are genuine fears of people cast out of employment through no fault of their own but simply because of reorganisation, restructuring, introduction of new technology, increased competitiveness, and so on. Those people are the victims of government policy. It is the Government who have encouraged companies to become ever more competitive, to cut back on staff, to introduce job flexibility, and so on. That has introduced widespread insecurity in the employment field, even among people who are in employment.

If what the Minister said is to be given credence, let him accept the amendment and spell out on the face of the Bill that people will not be forced against their will into unsuitable employment or risk losing the very low level of benefit which will be available to them as a jobseeker's allowance. I have pleasure in supporting the amendment. I hope to hear that the Minister agrees to accept it.


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