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Lord McCarthy: My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that it cannot be exploitation and that it cannot be unreasonable if it is just a matter of money? Is the noble Lord saying that if, after six months, the jobseeker is sent somewhere, offered a job or presented with an opportunity by an employment officer and the only thing wrong with the job is not that it is illegal, but that it offers starvation wages that are way below the level of the jobseeker's allowance, that is perfectly reasonable and is not exploitation?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I said earlier that I was not going to enter into a hypothetical Dutch auction because we had plenty of opportunities for that in Committee. I go back to the point that I made: very large numbers of people are dealt with by the Employment Service and we cannot find an example to back up the extreme hypothetical instances quoted by the Benches opposite.

16 May 1995 : Column 443

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, but that is because the noble Lord will not accept, and would not allow an employment officer to say, that an offer was unreasonable if it involved starvation wages. He does not recognise that as exploitation. That is why he cannot find a case. He prevents any case.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, no. I think that I explained it absolutely clearly.

It is in the interests of jobseekers to show maximum availability to get back to work, and not to restrict their jobsearch. The main cause of poverty, as study after study has shown, is not low wages but the lack of a job—and the more jobs, the more income tax. It is gratifying to note that seasonally adjusted unemployment fell in April to 2.328 million, a decrease of 18,900 on the month, which is the 20th consecutive monthly fall.

As the honourable Member for Birkenhead commented in the same document as the noble Earl, Lord Russell:


    "Defining the poverty line is a political Eldorado for any welfare scheme".

We do not believe that that is the right way to approach this. We believe that the effect of the amendments might be to close off opportunities for jobseekers of getting back into work. That is why I cannot accept them.

Earl Russell: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he discuss some of the arguments that have been raised about the cost to the Exchequer?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the possible extent of such a debate is limitless. However, we do not believe that the right way to mitigate the open-ended commitment to helping people is by going down the route which the noble Earl advocates.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, particularly those on the Liberal Benches. The Minister made two points. First, he challenged us by saying that the amendment is defective because it is unclear. The Minister knows perfectly well what we are talking about—perhaps I should say that he would have known perfectly well if he had been listening to the speeches. We were saying that nobody should be required to accept a job which pays less than the jobseeker's allowance which, as I spelt out, is £37 per week for a single person under 25; £46.80 per week for a single person over 25, and £73 for a couple. I had hoped that I had made that abundantly clear. I am sorry that the noble Lord felt obliged to say that it was not clear.

We dealt with the question of mortgage payments last night. That point is covered by the changes in the mortgage procedure. We are talking about the level of JSA as a benefit by comparison with the pay offered in a Jobcentre. I had hoped that I had made that perfectly clear. I do not think that the noble Lord was fair to suggest that the amendment, as moved, was unclear.

The noble Lord's second point was that we were not sufficiently clear about who might be affected. The noble Lord is the most courteous of Ministers, but on

16 May 1995 : Column 444

this occasion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, I do not think that he paid us the courtesy of listening to what was said.

I had hoped that we had made it clear that we were distinguishing between couples without children and couples with children. We said that the consequences of failing to pass the amendment would be equally devastating, but in different ways. Why? Because a couple without children or a single person will not be entitled to an in-work top-up benefit. Therefore, they are required to accept a job which pays less than income support or JSA. That is what they are stuck with. They will be earning an income that is below the poverty line. We have said that that is an exploitative wage by any definition. We are talking about jobs that pay less than the noble Lord, myself or anybody else in the Chamber accepts as the minimum poverty level. That is why income support is set at the level that it is—because it is the minimum poverty level; yet those without children are being asked to work for less than that. We are saying that that is unacceptable because it is exploitative.

Although those with children get family credit to top up wages, and that overcomes their immediate poverty problem, it does so at the expense of creating a social security problem for the rest of us. What happens? We, as taxpayers, then top up that poverty exploitative wage to above the poverty line because they have children. What does that mean? It means that the employer can cut wages to wherever he will, because he knows that he can export his wages bill onto us as taxpayers.

Without children, a couple are below the poverty line; with children they are above the poverty line, courtesy of the taxpayer subsidising the employer. I had hoped that we had made it clear that either of those alternatives is unacceptable. It is unacceptable if a couple have no children because they are semi-destitute; it is unacceptable if they have children, because we, as taxpayers, are subsidising the wage bill which should be paid in the wage packet.

The Minister's third argument was that we had no evidence of that happening. I have to tell the Minister—we said this in Committee—that a recent survey of Jobcentres in Manchester showed that nearly one-third of the jobs on offer were paying less than JSA/income support rates. They are no longer protected by wages councils.

When the Minister therefore says that there is no point in someone holding out for a rate of pay which is not realistically obtainable—I quote his words—what is he saying? A rate of pay that is no longer realistically obtainable? If all the employer is willing to offer is £2 a week are jobseekers supposed to accept that? Are they expected to accept £1 a week, £1.50, or 50p a week? Is it reasonable for a couple without children to work for 30 hours a week at 50p an hour and earn £15 a week and have no in-work benefit? Is that what the Minister is saying? It is reasonable to work for £15 a week—30 hours a week at 50p an hour? That is the implication of the Minister's refusal to accept the amendment.

The moment one refuses to put in a floor below which wages cannot fall, some employers—the most exploitative—will take advantage of that to pay below it, because they know that people in the labour market

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have no choice: without children they will be below the poverty line; with children we, as taxpayers, will be subsidising them because the employer refuses to pay an adequate wage.

I ask your Lordships to support us tonight. While we want —as indeed we do want—people to enter the labour market, we are equally concerned about the cost of the social security bill. How will we stop the social security bill for family credit, rising and rising, and rising? We can only stop that happpening by ensuring that employers cannot pitch wages where they will, knowing that we will prop them up. A vote for the amendment is a vote not just to help people back to work but to cap the social security bill, rather than offer employers an open invitation to pay what they will, knowing that you, I, us, will take the strain. I should like to test the opinion of the House.

5.3 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.25) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 121; Not-Contents, 160.

Division No. 3

CONTENTS

Addington, L.
Airedale, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Avebury, L.
Barnett, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Birk, B.
Blackstone, B.
Bridges, L.
Brookes, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L.
Castle of Blackburn, B.
Chapple, L.
Chorley, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B.
David, B.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Erroll, E.
Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Falkender, B.
Fitt, L.
Foot, L.
Gallacher, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]
Gregson, L.
Grey, E.
Hamwee, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Healey, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Hooson, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Howell, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes, L.
Hylton, L.
Inchyra, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Jay, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
Kennet, L.
Kilbracken, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Listowel, E.
Lockwood, B.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McCarthy, L.
McGregor of Durris, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McNair, L.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Mayhew, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Nelson, E.
Nicol, B.
Northbourne, L.
Ogmore, L.
Palmer, L.
Parry, L.
Perry of Walton, L.
Peston, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Redesdale, L.
Richard, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B.
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Scanlon, L.
Seear, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Serota, B.
Shepherd, L.
Simon, V.
Stallard, L.
Stedman, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Tonypandy, V.
Tope, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wallace of Coslany, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whaddon, L.
White, B.
Wigoder, L.
Williams of Crosby, B. [Teller.]
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.

NOT-CONTENTS

Aberdare, L.
Addison, V.
Ailsa, M.
Aldington, L.
Ampthill, L.
Arran, E.
Ashbourne, L.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Balfour, E.
Banbury of Southam, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Blake, L.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Borthwick, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brookeborough, V.
Bruntisfield, L.
Burnham, L.
Butterfield, L.
Butterworth, L.
Cadman, L.
Carnock, L.
Carr of Hadley, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Charteris of Amisfield, L.
Chelmsford, Bp.
Chesham, L.
Clanwilliam, E.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Coleridge, L.
Courtown, E.
Cox, B.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Cumberlege, B.
Davidson, V.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Dilhorne, V.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dudley, E.
Dundonald, E.
Eden of Winton, L.
Ellenborough, L.
Elles, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Foley, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Gisborough, L.
Goschen, V.
Gray of Contin, L.
Gridley, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L.
Haig, E.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Hives, L.
Holderness, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Hood, V.
Howe, E.
Inglewood, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kinnoull, E.
Knollys, V.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lauderdale, E.
Leigh, L.
Lindsay, E. [Teller.]
Liverpool, E.
Long, V.
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Macleod of Borve, B.
Malmesbury, E.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Massereene and Ferrard, V.
May, L.
Merrivale, L.
Mersey, V.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Monk Bretton, L.
Moore of Lower Marsh, L.
Morris, L.
Mountevans, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Moyne, L.
Munster, E.
Norrie, L.
Northbrook, L.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Orkney, E.
Orr-Ewing, L.
Oxfuird, V.
Pender, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Prior, L.
Pym, L.
Quinton, L.
Radnor, E.
Rankeillour, L.
Rawlings, B.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Renton, L.
Renwick, L.
Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
St. Davids, V.
Salisbury, M.
Sandford, L.
Seccombe, B.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Skidelsky, L.
Slim, V.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Strange, B.
Strathcarron, L.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Sudeley, L.
Teviot, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Torphichen, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Trumpington, B.
Ullswater, V.
Vivian, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wakeham, L.
Westbury, L.
Wise, L.
Wolfson, L.
Wynford, L.
Zouche of Haryngworth, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

16 May 1995 : Column 447

5.13 p.m.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 26:


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