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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I could respond to the noble Earl. I do not think I can really go any further than I have gone. I repeat that any future use would have to be

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in respect of particular groups where the normal conditions need to be slightly adapted to the special circumstances because, as with the two cases we are dealing with, they are small groups which have access to JSA on a different basis from other claimants. I do not think that I can go quite as far as to promise him that the result would always be benign, and perhaps by using that word I was making a debating point at the beginning which I should not have put into the noble Earl's mind. However, perhaps I can look further at this and give him the assurance that I will study what he has said and perhaps write to him. I realise it is late in the passage of this Bill, but I hope he will accept that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 31, line 36, at end insert ("or
(iii) paragraph 17 of Schedule 1,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendments Nos. 25 and 26:

Page 31, line 40, leave out ("or").
Page 31, line 41, after ("35(1)") insert ("or paragraph 17 of Schedule 1").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Supplementary Provisions]:

[Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 46, line 31, leave out ("regulations made under").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

I am not sure whether it was fate dealing me an unkind blow, but just as I am about to do this particular deed on this Bill, the First Reading of another Bill in which I am involved comes to your Lordships' House, just to remind me of work that is to come. We examined the Bill in considerable detail in Committee, during re-committal of Clause 6, last week on Report and again today on Third Reading. Our deliberations have been thorough and, in the main, very constructive.

Many of your Lordships have contributed to the debate but perhaps I can extend thanks to noble Lords on the Benches opposite, particularly the noble Baronesses Lady Hollis, Lady Turner of Camden, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde and Lady Williams of Crosby, the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy, Lord Carter, Lord Richard and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who have all contributed to debates so eloquently. I should also like to pay tribute to the voluntary organisations which have contributed their knowledge and experience to the debate both directly and indirectly, and whose suggested amendments put down on the Marshalled List by your Lordships have formed the agenda of so much of our discussion. I am at a loss to know how we would go about our business if outside organisations—be they pressure groups, as largely on this Bill—or professional, commercial and

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business interests were unable to have their concerns raised and their amendments addressed in either this or the other place.

On this side of the House, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who moved many of the amendments standing in my name and who helped me to provide answers to many of the testing questions put by your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Swinfen, as ever, spoke persuasively for the cause of disabled people as did the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on the Cross-Benches.

The Government set three clear aims for the jobseeker's allowance: to improve the operation of the labour market; to get better value for money for the taxpayer; and to improve the service to unemployed people themselves. I am sure that your Lordships would endorse those aims. During the passage of the Bill, we have not always been able to agree, but I hope that we were able to go some way to address the concerns expressed in debate.

I pay particular tribute to the work of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I reminded your Lordships on an earlier occasion that I was a founder member of the committee, which perhaps gave me added insight into the force of the arguments which were so carefully and thoughtfully set out in the report. The House was invited to consider,

    "whether the Bill should be amended so as to provide more detailed framework within which Ministers may exercise the powers to be delegated to them under Clause 6"—

as it was then.

We took that recommendation, and the other findings, very seriously indeed and also listened carefully to the arguments advanced by several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton, and noble Lords opposite. In response, we introduced extensive amendments at recommitment defining the conditions of availability and actively seeking work on the face of the Bill, and ensuring that the regulations made under Clauses 6 and 7 should be subject to the affirmative procedure whenever they are made. We also made changes to Clauses 9, 10 and 11 which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, kindly attributed to my noble friend Lord Inglewood earlier, to make clearer our intention on the face of the Bill and dispense with some regulation making powers.

We have made a considerable effort to explain our intentions as fully as we can and to place them on the record wherever possible. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, pressed us hard by regaling us with his five questions. I hope that the explanations of our intentions with regard to the powers in the Bill have gone some way to assuage his fears of some future—and as I described them earlier—less benign government than the present one.

I hope that I was able to reassure the House that we entirely accept that jobseekers with disabilities need special consideration. We have drawn up the labour market rules with them in mind. They will be able to place restrictions on their availability for employment which are reasonable in view of their condition and with no requirement that such restrictions should be inhibited by any questions of their prospects of securing

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employment. Their condition will also specifically be taken into account when the steps that they have taken actively to seek work are considered.

Importantly, in JSA—for the first time—we have included explicit provision for people with caring responsibilities to restrict their availability. They will be able to restrict the hours in which they are available for work below 40 hours. We also recognise that it would be unreasonable to expect people with caring responsibilities to be available to take up work immediately. That is why, following the persuasive arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and of my noble friend Lord Swinfen, we agreed that carers will be entitled to 48 hours' notice of any job or job interview. That will allow them time to make any arrangements necessary.

We also propose to introduce a special linking rule for the purposes of the back-to-work bonus for people who take short spells out of the labour market because they are sick. The rule will affect those people who have accrued a bonus and then fall sick and have to claim incapacity benefit or need to care for another person and claim invalid care allowance. During debate on the Bill in another place, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment said that she would consider the linking rules for people in those situations. I am pleased to announce now that people in that position will have their bonus protected for up to two years.

We have never been in any doubt about the magnitude and complexity of introducing JSA smoothly and successfully throughout the network of 1,200 jobcentres. This undertaking entails the development of two substantial computer systems, extensive organisational change and very large-scale training programmes. I have made clear on more than one occasion that the Government will take no risks to jeopardise the smooth introduction of the jobseeker's allowance. That is why I announced to your Lordships last week that the Government had decided that the jobseeker's allowance should be introduced in October 1996. We made that decision because we do not want to put at risk the improved service which we will be offering to jobseekers under the new arrangements.

I am glad to have been able to respond positively to at least some of the amendments from noble Lords on the Benches opposite. We have amended the Bill to protect from sanction a person refusing to accept an offer of employment arising from a trade dispute. We have replaced the power to make regulations for trial periods with a duty and reduced the qualifying period of unemployment whereby a person can qualify under the employment on trial rules from six months to three months.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was responsible for an amendment, which we accepted, that regulations provide that any variation in the terms or conditions of a jobseeker's agreement be referred forthwith to an adjudication officer. However, we have had considerable disagreement on the adequacy of benefit levels, the length of time over which they should be paid and a number of other issues. We heard on a number of occasions from the Benches opposite that they regard

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benefit levels as mean, inadequate, at poverty levels and other such words. Based on the superlative nature of these words I have deduced that the Benches opposite might reasonably be expected to want to increase benefit by, say, £10 a week. A £10 increase in the adult personal allowance in contributory based and income related JSA would cost more than £1 billion at 1994-95 prices and benefit levels.

I also had to resist amendments which would either have reduced the savings which the new system will bring or increased expenditure. In the day following the interesting Mais lecture by the Leader of the Opposition in another place in which he appeared to join us in determination to control public spending, it is interesting to note that the message has not yet spread to the Benches opposite in your Lordships' House. A quick glance at the amendments placed by the Benches opposite on the Marshalled List over the consideration of the Bill shows a reduction in revenue of £150 million, a reduction in the savings of £50 million and expenditure of around £200 million. Perhaps before we consider our next Bill noble Lords opposite should read, mark and inwardly digest the new financial prudence advocated in this week's Mais lecture.

We have also had disagreements over the quid pro quo issue of benefits in exchange for certain conditions like availability and actively seeking and, in addition, over jobseeker's directions and whether a claimant should always have the right to pick and choose his jobsearch and ultimately his job.

Sir William Beveridge himself recognised those difficult issues half a century ago when he argued that:

    "The danger of providing benefits which are both adequate in amount and indefinite in duration is that men as creatures who adapt themselves to circumstances may settle down to them";


    "Men and women in receipt of unemployment benefit cannot be allowed to hold out indefinitely for work of the type to which they are used. Men and women who have been unemployed for a certain period should be required as a condition of continued benefit to attend a work or training course".

We are attending to those important aspects of our social security and unemployment system in this Jobseekers Bill. I believe that it will mark a major improvement in the way that benefit is delivered to the unemployed person, the jobseeker. It will also act as a sensible safeguard for taxpayers' money.

I conclude by once again thanking all Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in the eight or nine days of our deliberations on this important Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Question that the Bill do now pass is usually an occasion for some pleasant camaraderie in which we tell each other, and even mean it, that the Bill is a much better Bill than when it entered the House. We said that about the Pensions Bill; I believe that we may have been correct. We look forward to the Disability Discrimination Bill and the Child Support Bill—I

23 May 1995 : Column 1013

believe with the same teams—and we hope that that statement may be correct. However, such a statement is not true about this Bill. The Bill remains as malign and thoroughly nasty as when it came to us on 3rd April.

We have certainly learnt more about it. The more we learn about it, the more vicious it seems. But improve it, modify it, amend it or ameliorate it, my Lords?—no, that we have not done. And why? The Bill cuts contributory benefit to the unemployed, even though they have paid for it through national insurance as part of their social contract, from 12 months to six months and to nothing if a spouse is claimed for. The Bill attaches to even these grudging benefits harsher tests for availability and actively seeking work, built around a new jobseeker's allowance, which can then require a person to take a job which pays less than income support. If there is any doubt about whether someone unemployed receiving jobseeker's allowance is actively seeking work, the benefit will be stopped while that doubt is investigated, so that a person is punished in advance of being found guilty.

The Bill is authoritarian in the worst sense, allowing the employment office staff to impose their prejudices on unemployed men and women. It increases the poverty of the unemployed. Ninety thousand people will lose their benefit; 150,000 people will have cuts in their benefit; and many for the first time ever will have no benefit, no income, on which to live. Disabled people coming off incapacity benefit remain vulnerable. In other words, the Bill will finger the unemployed for their unemployment and will bully them into unlimited availability for unending jobsearch for non-existent jobs in an overstocked labour market. It is a demeaning, demoralising and contemptible Bill.

I believe that only two amendments from the House have been accepted by the Government. The first will allow youngsters with good cause to leave a bad training scheme without penalties. Surprise, surprise, my Lords. The second will allow carers and parents of young children 48 hours rather than 24 hours for availability for work.

The significant change to the Bill in the old Clause 6 came about not because the House was concerned with the lot of the unemployed but because it was rightly concerned at the overweaning powers that the Executive is taking to itself. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, on an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Richard, forced the Government to define "available for" and "actively seeking" work on the face of the Bill and to ensure that all the regulations associated with the provision came with affirmative resolution. That was, I think, salutary; but all too seldom, thwarting a Government whom I believe—and I think the public believe—have been in power so long that they have come to consider that public office is to some degree a piece of private property for which they are not fully and democratically accountable. I am glad that on this occasion at least the House of Lords managed to check the Executive. We hope that those changes will at least have given leverage to the other place to reopen some of the more significant debates.

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The second significant change, based on a discussion earlier today, involves a delay in introducing the jobseeker's allowance to October 1996. However, by cutting unemployment benefit from 12 months to six months we see a failure of the system again. We welcome the delay because it means that the benefits to the under-25s and the cuts to dependent spouses will be deferred for some six months. Otherwise, the delay stands as a condemnation of the Government's haste to cut benefits in advance of their administrative system being in place.

This is an occasion for "thank-yous". First, perhaps the one point of agreement that we have with the Minister today is that our thanks go to the voluntary organisations, the disability organisations and citizens' advice bureaux, who supplied us with many formidable briefs. Secondly, our thanks go to the members of a team which has always been both a social security and an employment team on the Labour Benches. That is my noble friend Lady Turner who led for us on Second Reading but retired from the proceedings on the Bill on her bereavement. She then gallantly returned to the fray. Our thanks go to my noble friend Lord McCarthy, whose unrivalled knowledge of the employment field and unlimited good humour did much to cheer us up, while simultaneously wrong-footing the Government. Both were equally welcome.

Our thanks go to my noble friend Lord Carter, who argued the case for disabled people with conviction, and to my noble friend Lady Dean, who spoke with such compassion for young people at risk. We also thank those noble Lords all round the House, on the Government Benches, the Lib-Dem Benches and the Cross-Benches who contributed to our debates.

The Ministers were always courteous, sometimes informative, usually cheerful, seldom cross and almost never helpful. Even as his speech on Bill do now pass expired, the Minister sought to tally the costs of the putative promises that we would have made if only we could. That came from a Government who managed, in one administration going from the rates to the poll tax to the council tax, to spend £3 billion. It is a bit rich to lecture—

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