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Page 7, line 37, leave out from ("officer") to second ("is") in line 38.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in rising to move Amendment No. 12, I should like, with the leave of the House and with the agreement of the Minister, to speak to two groups together since the issues are pretty well identical. Therefore, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 17.

These amendments all arise from an attempt to tidy up after the very big and particularly valuable series of concessions offered on the drafting of Clauses 9 and 10 on the second day of Report, the series I have come to think of as "Inglewood's easement". I said when those concessions were offered that I would need to read what was said and that indeed I thought I would need to read it several times. I have done so and I may say that it improves with reading. It is one of the most valuable series of concessions that we have had during the Bill and it is not in any ungracious spirit that I should like to try to add a little tidying up just to make it certain.

What concerned us about the drafting of the clauses, especially Clause 9, was the possibility that the wording of the jobseeker's agreement could come to provide a series of additional conditions for benefit beyond the conditions in Clause 1(2) (a) and (2) (c). The general purpose of the string of amendments is to restrict the eligibility criteria to Clause 1(2) (a) and 2(c)—to be "available for employment" and "actively seeking employment".

The words which particularly concerned us were the ones which Amendment No. 12 seeks to delete. An agreement,

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    "which complies with the prescribed requirements in force at the time when the agreement is made",

is described as a jobseeker's agreement. Those words gave a suggestion of an introduction of additional conditions. I am entirely convinced now that that was not the Minister's intention, nor anything like the Minister's intention. What I am concerned with now is tidying up to make sure that it shall remain that way in the future.

Amendment No. 13 inserts the words,


    "in the prescribed format".

That is meant to give effect to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, on the second day of the Report stage. He said:


    "The intention is to include things such as the jobseeker's name, his availability, the sort of work he is looking for, any period that is agreed in which he can restrict his availability and jobsearch ... and rate of pay and a dated signature of both the jobseeker and the employment officer".—[Official Report, 16/5/95; col. 480.]

We are not arguing with what the noble Lord said. Our concern is to make sure that no one adds anything else thereafter.

The remaining amendments in the group are all concerned to restrict the conditions of eligibility to the ones set out in Clause 1(2). It binds the adjudication officer to judge by those criteria and no others. I hope that the amendments are helpful. They are intended to be and they are certainly not intended in any critical spirit. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Earl for his kind comments at the outset of his remarks and acknowledging that we receive them in the spirit in which they were given. We have debated these issues over a number of days. As the noble Earl said, I endeavoured to give a full explanation of our intentions at Report stage, and I do not propose to repeat all that today. Nonetheless, it may be helpful if I clarify some of the points. I sense that the noble Earl is seeking reassurance on a number of issues. If I can reassure him, I shall be satisfied and he may then feel able to withdraw his amendment.

As I have made clear in every debate during the passage of the Bill, the agreement is a supportive measure which will help jobseekers get back to work. It will not—I repeat not—allow the employment officer or the independent adjudication officer to impose individual conditions of benefit. I have given the House repeated reassurances to this effect. I am happy to do the same again now.

I have already reassured the noble Earl that the power in subsection (1) is benign. Perhaps it would help him and the House if I explain once again that the regulations made under it will be used to set out what will be needed to constitute an agreement—broadly speaking, the headings that it must contain. The intention is to include such things as the jobseeker's name, his availability, the sort of work he is looking for, any period that is agreed in which he can restrict his availability and jobsearch to his normal occupation and rate of pay and a dated signature of both the jobseeker and the employment officer. We have made all this clear. I can confirm that the word "requirements" relates to the specification of what must be in the document

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and not to actions which the jobseeker will take, as described in the agreement. I hope that that meets the point that the noble Earl is anxious about.

Having dealt initially with Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, I move on to the further Amendments, Nos. 14, 15 and 17. As regards Amendment No. 14, once the jobseeker has an agreement in force the key to his continued receipt of jobseeker's allowance will, however, be the actual steps that he takes to find work and his actual availability for employment. The agreement will be used as a basis for establishing what the jobseeker has agreed to do to meet the conditions of availability and active seeking, but whether the jobseeker has abided by the precise letter of what is in his agreement will not be the test of whether someone continues to meet the conditions.

For example, if a jobseeker has said in his agreement that he will apply for jobs in a factory but he then applies for a job in a supermarket in addition to or instead of a factory, that jobseeker will not be penalised provided he was still actively seeking employment. No one could possibly want that to be the case. This is an important point, and it is right that your Lordships should have focused on it now and previously. I want it to be absolutely clear that there is no question of the agreement setting different standards of availability and active seeking than are applied by the basic conditions.

I now move on to Amendments Nos. 15 and 17. As has been explained repeatedly in this House and in the other place, the Bill provides an extensive procedure for independent adjudication and appeal of jobseeker's agreements and variations. Both the jobseeker and the employment adviser will be able to have a proposed agreement or variation referred to an adjudication officer.

The adjudication officer will carry out his functions independently of government under the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and receive guidance on carrying out their adjudication duties from the chief adjudication officer, not the Secretary of State. If the jobseeker or the employment adviser is dissatisfied with the adjudication officer's determination, either may seek to have it reviewed by a different adjudication officer. If the jobseeker is still dissatisfied he, but not the employment adviser, will have the right of appeal to the Social Security Appeal Tribunal; and thence to the commissioner on a point of law.

Now let us turn to the matters which the adjudication officer will consider in making his determination. Again, I believe that the noble Earl is seeking, in particular, to ensure that the adjudication officer will not be able to say that it is reasonable to expect the jobseeker to have to comply with other conditions over and above the availability for employment and actively seeking employment conditions. That goes to the very heart of Clause 9(6) and Clause 10(5). They offer explicit protection to the jobseeker. They provide for the adjudication officer to consider two matters. First, would the jobseeker, if he complied with the proposed agreement (or variation) satisfy the availability and actively seeking employment conditions of JSA? And, secondly, is it reasonable to expect the jobseeker to have

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to comply with the proposed agreement? Let me make it clear: the adjudication officer will not—indeed, cannot—consider other matters.

I gave examples of this at Report and I am happy to give them again today. Take, for example, a proposed agreement which stated that the jobseeker would apply for 90 jobs a week. Applying for 90 jobs a week would clearly enable him to meet the actively seeking employment condition but it would be unreasonable to expect him to have to do so. The adjudication officer would make a determination to that effect, and the jobseeker would not have to look for 90 jobs a week. Or a proposed agreement which stated that a declared anti-vivisectionist would be available for jobs as an assistant in a laboratory that uses animals for its testing would again be unreasonable because there are many other types of job which the jobseeker could be available for in order to meet the availability condition. Again the adjudication officer could make a determination to that effect and the jobseeker would not have to be available for work to which he was conscientiously opposed.

As I said at Report, the entitlement conditions apply to different individuals according to their particular circumstances. There is no absolute stipulated number of jobs that people in general should apply for in each week. But if the noble Earl's question is can an adjudication officer set a higher level for an individual in an agreement than would be sufficient for that individual to meet the conditions in Clauses 1(2) (a) and 1(2) (c), the answer is simple and straightforward: it is, no.

I believe the Bill is quite clear, but the noble Earl has suggested a drafting change to make it yet clearer. I have to say that I find that his amendment would make the Bill less clear. It speaks of reasonable steps for meeting the availability and actively seeking employment conditions, but there are no steps involved in being available. Steps are a matter of active seeking.

I believe that I can see the point the noble Earl is making. We could spend a long time debating fine drafting points. But I have given an explanation of what this part of the Bill means, and I believe that there must come a time in our deliberations when we leave the drafting to the draftsman. I very much hope, as I have gone through these various points and given reassurance to the noble Earl, that he can withdraw his amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister not only for the trouble he has taken about this matter, which is considerable, but also for the clarity with which he has understood exactly what our concerns are. It has made business a great deal easier to conduct. I am also grateful to him for four very specific reassurances he has just given.

First, and most crucial, is the exposition of the meaning of the word "requirements". That alone goes a very long way to reassure me on the points that we are concerned with. The second reassurance which he repeated was that the jobseeker cannot be held to the precise letter of the agreement. That provides a very valuable opportunity to react to circumstances as they

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turn up. The third reassurance is that it does not make it possible to bring in any different standards of availability and of seeking. That is an unambiguous reassurance and an extremely welcome one. In the fourth example of reassurance the Minister was only spelling out again what he said before, but with even greater clarity. That is the point that people cannot be compelled to take work to which they are conscientiously opposed. That is a valuable safeguard and a part of human dignity. I am extremely glad to hear it said so clearly. I thank the Minister warmly and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 15 not moved.]


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