Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I shall read the response given by my noble friend the Minister, but I may well return to the matter on Third Reading. Pensions granted to people who suffer disability as a result of their work are very often a way of compensation because their ability to work is limited and therefore their choice of jobs is limited. That means that they are likely to be unemployed for longer when they are looking for work. It is a matter which my noble friend does not appear to have taken into consideration. As I said, I shall read my noble friend's response and will perhaps return to the matter on Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 96B to 96D not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 96E:


Page 36, line 14, leave out ("only").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 96F. The amendments simply correct drafting errors in the provision and make no change to its effect. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 96F:


Page 36, line 15, after ("(2)") insert ("only").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved Amendment No. 96G:


Page 37, line 29, after ("may") insert ("not").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I move the above amendment partly for the purpose of discovering a little more about what paragraph 17 of Schedule l actually means. As one grinds one's way through such a complex Bill, gradually, rather like a mountain appearing through the mist, the essence of the legislation begins to become clear. I may be wrong, but I am increasingly convinced

16 May 1995 : Column 532

that the essence of the Bill is about removing people from benefit so that not only will public money be saved but also an impressive fall in official unemployment figures will be brought about.

I have in mind the current gap between the appearance given by the employment statistics of constantly declining unemployment and the reality which seems to be encompassed in news broadcasts every single morning when yet another firm announces its intentions to downscale—usually in thousands—the number of people it employs. Most recently, I recall BRB in York, National Westminster Bank and other banks. I could read out a long list, but I shall not bore the House at this late hour by doing so. However, one becomes aware that there are two ways of reducing unemployment; one is to put people in jobs and the other is to change definitions.

Paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 rather surprisingly suddenly says that additional conditions may have,


    "to be satisfied with respect to the payment of a jobseeker's allowance to any person who is, has been, or is to be, in employment".

That is a rather wide number of tenses to cover every possible situation. The paragraph continues,


    "which falls within a prescribed description".

One of the excellent things which has happened today is that Ministers have brought forward changes to the Bill which limit that dreaded phrase "prescribed conditions" and try to indicate more clearly what those conditions might be and what are the limits of prescription. But here, right at the very back of the Bill, buried in Schedule 1, we come across this troubling phrase, "within a prescribed description".

The prescription is presumably the result of regulations, the kind of which, the nature of which, and the category of which there are no clues to. As I read paragraph 17—I hope I am wrong—it looks almost like an open door to producing additional conditions which would have to be satisfied for jobseeker's allowance to be paid, with no indication of what those conditions might be. I very much hope I am wrong, because this paragraph by itself would almost undo most of what has been achieved in the past few days, and which Ministers have been kind enough to respond to.

I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, can tell me that these fears are all misplaced, that these possible regulations under which additional conditions can be laid down are circumscribed, narrow and are little more than technicalities. But I think that if he reads paragraph 17 again carefully he will at least see that it is not wholly unreasonable to think that this could be a wide open backdoor into the Bill. Above all, I am seeking a much closer definition of what paragraph 17 may mean. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I wish to add just one word to what my noble friend has already said. I hope, when the Government reply to this amendment, that they will not confine themselves to setting out their own intentions. We want to know what else could be done under these vires, not necessarily by them but by anyone else who might get them into their hands in future. We are thinking of the future as well as the present.

16 May 1995 : Column 533

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, those on the Liberal Benches have certainly explained well their thoughts on this matter. They have, of course, said virtually everything which could be said about this amendment, but it is a useful amendment and it gives the Government an opportunity to explain what on earth this particular part of the schedule means. We look forward to hearing what they say.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, this amendment would negate the power which enables us to require additional conditions to be satisfied by any person claiming a jobseeker's allowance who is, has been, or is to be in specified employment. The provision will be used to place additional availability requirements on share fishermen claiming contribution-based jobseeker's allowance and special availability conditions for those who have been temporarily laid off or put on short-time working. I shall explain this in some detail.

Your Lordships will be aware that this type of power is nothing new in social security legislation—similar powers are currently contained in Section 28(3) of the contributions and benefits Act 1992. Moreover, I should point out that, in carrying these provisions forward, the Government have actually restricted the scope of the power compared with that in the benefits Act, which provides for restrictions on the rate of allowance that can be payable. So what we have here is a more restricted power, which we nevertheless believe is necessary to allow for the fine-tuning of the benefit to meet the needs of individual groups.

It may help your Lordships if I explain in somewhat greater detail how this provision will be used. The first use concerns share fishermen. This is a group which your Lordships will be aware have special access to unemployment benefit at present. They do not pay Class 1 contributions, and so would normally not qualify. However, they are able to gain entitlement on the basis of their special Class 2, self-employed contributions, and this will continue to be the case for contribution-based JSA.

There is currently a rule in the unemployment benefit regime which requires share fishermen to demonstrate that they could not work on any day on which they claim benefit. That additional requirement reflects the self-employed status of fishermen and takes account of their particular work patterns, which are dictated by the weather and the availability of fish rather than the requirements of an employer. Similar regulations will be made in contribution-based jobseeker's allowance to require share fishermen to be available for work at all times and to prove that they could not work as fishermen if they wish to claim JSA. Those additional requirements are part of the overall package which applies to fishermen who are being given special treatment. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it would be a nonsense to treat those claimants as if they worked a normal 9 to 5 day for an employer.

The second use of the power is for short-time or temporarily stopped workers. We accept that the benefit system should offer some support to people who cannot work their normal hours because their employer is experiencing industrial problems, but we do not believe that that can continue indefinitely. We shall use this

16 May 1995 : Column 534

power to set out a special availability regime for this group which reflects their very particular circumstances. It is clear that we are not dealing here with the normal case of unemployment. Many of these claimants will have continuing contracts of employment.

We propose that if they are laid off because of industrial difficulties claimants will be able to look for temporary work only or, if they are on short-time working, part-time work only for the balance of the days on which they are not working. That arrangement will apply for a limited period of 13 weeks. After 13 weeks claimants will be expected to take a full-time job even it if means giving up their existing job. We must recognise that after a while the situation can no longer be regarded as a temporary period of adjustment. Claimants' best chance of returning to full-time work after a reasonable time may be to move to a different employer.

I believe that those proposals strike a sensible balance which is fair to claimants, employers and taxpayers. It would be wrong that a benefit system designed to help people back to work should be used as a means of support for employers indefinitely.

I have explained the two uses which the Government propose to make of this power. I believe that they are entirely reasonable adaptations of the benefit system. I know that the share fishermen system works already under the current regulations. There is nothing sinister here. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment; but I shall find it amusing, and some of my colleagues may find it useful, if she decides to divide against a measure which is designed to help share fishermen.

11 p.m.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will answer this question. He has given two examples. Are we to understand that, like earlier examples, there may be many further instances, or are they finite examples and the only two instances, in which case why can they not be put on the face of the Bill?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page