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Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 8, line 16, leave out third ("of") and insert ("from").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 18 and 29. In the Report stage on 16th May, I spoke to a series of amendments to the clauses dealing with the jobseeker's agreement, which your Lordships were pleased to approve. I mentioned then that we proposed to make a small drafting improvement to the amended Clause 9(7) (a) and Clause 10(6) (a), which deal with the time-limit in which the adjudication officer makes his determination on an agreement.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 18 are purely technical, drafting amendments. I hope that your Lordships will welcome them. Amendment No. 29 is a small consequential amendment. Paragraph 42(3) of Schedule 2 amends Section 20 of the Social Security Administration Act so that the adjudication of a jobseeker's agreement will take place under the procedure set out in Clauses 9 and 10 of the Jobseekers Bill, rather than the Social Security Administration Act. The amendments to Clauses 9 and 10 which your Lordships approved at Report stage put the adjudication procedure on the face of the Bill. The reference to regulations in paragraph 42(3) must, therefore, be removed. This is a consequential amendment and I hope that your Lordships will welcome it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10 [Variation of jobseeker's agreement]:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 9, line 23, leave out third ("of") and insert ("from").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [Severe hardship]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 13, line 19, at end insert:
("( ) This section shall apply to any person aged 16 to 18 who has applied to join the armed forces but cannot join until the next enlistment date.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, it would be redundant to explain this amendment to the House at this time of night. I think that we all know what it is about. It relates to 16 and 17 year-olds applying to join the Armed Forces. I tabled this amendment in order to find out

23 May 1995 : Column 1002

whether the Minister is able to be a little more forthcoming than he was in his mildly and intermittently encouraging answer on Report. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as the noble Earl rightly pointed out, we have discussed this issue previously. On those previous occasions, I recognised that there was an issue that we should look into. I promised to consult the Ministry of Defence and to write to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, with our proposals.

The noble Earl appeared to suggest at Report that the decision ought to be straightforward. But I regret to inform him that it is not that simple. As I have explained, there can be wide variations in the length of time between being offered employment with the forces and the actual enlistment date. There is little we can do to influence that. We have been informed by the Ministry of Defence that the waiting period can be as long as six months. I am sure that we would all agree that in those cases young people should not be encouraged to sit waiting for that enlistment date to arrive. It is reasonable to expect all young people to look for work and training during that time.

As the noble Earl knows, I do not normally consider amendments from a textual point of view, but the amendment as drafted states,

    "applied to join the armed forces".

I thought that we had agreed that we were talking about somebody who had been accepted by the Armed Forces and was awaiting an entry date. Therefore, we have a problem. I have already indicated that we shall have to consider whether all young people in that situation should be able to claim JSA or only those at risk of severe hardship. We are still discussing the matter with the Ministry of Defence, and, as I have promised, when we have concluded our discussions, I shall write to the noble Earl. However, even when we reach that conclusion, I do not think that this should be a matter for primary legislation. It is something about which we need to consult and I believe that we can then deal with it in regulations in due course. As I have promised, I shall write to the noble Earl when we have reached a conclusion on the matter. I hope that he will accept those assurances.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply and for the trouble that he has already taken over this matter. I take his point about six months. I had not realised that the waiting period could be as long as that and I agree that it makes a difference.

I am also interested to hear that the provisions can be changed without primary legislation. That makes it easier to leave this matter beyond the completion of the Bill. If I had known that last Thursday, I would not have tabled this amendment. Having discovered that and having thanked the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 [Circumstances in which a jobseeker's allowance is not payable]:

23 May 1995 : Column 1003

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 15, line 40, leave out from second ("be") to end of line 42 and insert ("no more than two weeks in the first instance and a subsequent maximum of four weeks if the claimant persists in his refusal or failure to comply").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to Clause 19 and the circumstances in which a jobseeker's allowance is not payable. Two subsections spell out the circumstances in which that allowance is not payable. Subsection (5) refers to where a jobseeker has failed to observe a jobseeker's direction, has neglected or refused a place on a training scheme, or has been dismissed from such a scheme on grounds of misconduct. Subsection (6) states that the jobseeker's allowance will not be paid where the jobseeker refuses an employment opportunity, loses a job through misconduct or leaves without just cause. Those two subsections specify the circumstances in which the jobseeker's allowance shall not be payable.

The amendment deals with the fact that on the face of the Bill both of those circumstances—neglecting to go on a training scheme or being dismissed from a training scheme and what one would have thought the apparently more severe behaviour of refusing an employment opportunity, losing a job due to misconduct or leaving without just cause—carry the same statutory penalties.

Subsection (2) deals with the statutory penalties affecting subsection (5) and states:

    "If the circumstances are any of those mentioned in subsection (5), the period for which the allowance is not to be payable shall be such period (of at least one week but not more than 26 weeks) as may be prescribed".

Subsection (3) uses almost precisely the same words but with reference to subsection (6), stating:

    "If the circumstances are any of those mentioned in subsection (6), the period for which the allowance is not to be payable shall be such period (of at least one week but not more than 26 weeks) as may be determined by the adjudication officer".

Therefore, two different types of misconduct or behaviour which would disqualify one from receipt of the jobseeker's allowance are spelled out in subsections (5) and (6), with two almost identical subsections—subsections (2) and (3)—stating that the maximum penalty is 26 weeks in both cases. Anybody looking at the face of the Bill might think that the Government regard both types of behaviour as equally appalling, dreadful and awful and as equally justifying a 26-week refusal of benefit.

However, page 28 of the Notes on Clauses states as regards subsection (2)—that is, that which covers subsection (5):

    "The intention is that the period of sanction should be for two weeks, rising to four weeks, if the sanction is imposed on a subsequent occasion".

So, a mild sanction is intended for those offences committed under subsection (5)—two weeks in the first instance, but four weeks if you go on doing it.

Page 26 of the White Paper says much the same thing:

    "People who refuse to attend or complete mandatory courses, or fail to act on a jobseeker's direction will be disqualified from benefit for a fixed period of two weeks, rising to four if repeated".

23 May 1995 : Column 1004

Finally, on Report, when turning down the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, which would have limited suspension to six weeks after repeated offences, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said:

    "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".

Then he goes on as a reason for refusing the amendment:

    "But let me assure your Lordships that the Government's intention, clearly set out in the White Paper"—

which I have quoted—

    "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"—

I should not have thought it was very clear, as it is totally different from what is on the face of the Bill:

    "so that unemployed people will be under no doubt"—

because presumably they will know the regulations that we do not yet have rather than the face of the Bill, which we do not intend to follow—

    "of the consequences if they reject our help and assistance without good cause".—[Official Report, 15/5/95; col. 371.]

The Government will not accept an amendment to reduce the period to six weeks, and yet they say in Notes on Clauses, in the White Paper, and on the Floor of the House that they will, at some time in the future, prescribe something far less drastic than that. The purpose of the amendment is simple. Why cannot that be on the face of the Bill? I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, this is an important amendment. I support it warmly and with enthusiasm. In other circumstances I might have said so at some length, but as it is I think the Minister could write my speech to the amendment in his sleep, so I will not make him listen to it again.

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