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Lord Swinfen: I support the amendment. My noble friend Lord Inglewood is probably too young to remember the days of the teddy boy. As a rule, teddy boys had a very poor reputation, 95 per cent. of which was totally undeserved. Of course, there were one or two tearaways but the rest of those who were teddy boys and who wore long greased hair, sideburns and what I considered to be rather unusual clothing, did so because they thought it was the height of fashion.
There are people in this country today who believe they are the height of fashion with coloured hair and odd bits of metal sticking out of their ears, noses and, indeed, lips. It is their right to dress in that way. It may not be suitable for every job, but it may well be perfectly all right and acceptable in other employment. The Government must be extremely careful about how they deal with the problem. They should not give
Lord McCarthy: The best quotation regarding the amendment that I know is one from Miss Ann Widdecombe who said, "If he goes to an interview but presents himself in such a way that he negates the value of going, we can issue a direction and take that into account". One can see how that would happen. Of course, it would not happen if the poor person had a job. That is what happens to someone who keeps coming back to the employment office and keeps saying that he is doing his best. You cannot get him because he is inactive or because he is available, so you say, "Well, look what you look like! That's why you can't get a job". Indeed, we have all said it to all sorts of people. But, fortunately, we were not in charge of an employment office and we could not deny benefit. That is the power that the Government want to give.
Let us be clear on another factor. We are not saying that people in employment offices should not give advice because mothers and fathers give advice, as indeed do tutors; for example, they say, "If you don't get your hair cut, you won't get a job". But that is advice and of course you should give advice. However, you should not make threats, and you should not be able to say to someone, "Clean yourself up, or you won't be actively seeking work". Only a government who are totally obsessed with the fact that there must be jobs out there somewhere will go in for such considerations.
Lord Inglewood: As the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said, the context of the debate is a definition of the phrase, "actively seeking employment". As I explained, we regard it as axiomatic that jobseekers should keep in touch with the labour market. That is why the requirement to seek work actively is a condition of entitlement to JSA. The rules, as we have seen, will be contained in regulations under Clause 6. Clause 6(3) (a) and (b) elaborate on our intentions for the regulations which will be drawn up under Clause 6. Like Amendment No. 50, this amendment seeks to remove that clarification.
It is surely right that if a jobseeker undermines his chances of receiving a particular employment by, for example, his behaviourand that is one of the aspects covered in the clause; it is not merely the way people dressand is abusive to an employer at a job interview, he should not be able to claim attending that interview as an active jobsearch step.
Lord Inglewood: The message will come back to the employment officer who will then, no doubt, make inquiries of the person concerned as to what happened. However, if I may say so, that does not seem to me to be a very strong point in the context of the debate.
I turn now to what will not be done under the clause. Dress codes will not be established. Indeed, we return to the fact that we are talking about actively seeking work. As has already been described, in certain circumstances,
However, the main pointand it is one that I believe has been recognised by Members of the Committee on the opposite sideis that one's appearance does matter. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was talking about the old days of the Court Circular, but the modern word for those opposite is "Folletting", is it not? In other words, one has to "Follett" oneself properly so that one looks the part.
The regulations will not go into detail about specific actions which will negate jobsearch. The other matter that I should like to make clear is that decisions will be taken by adjudication officers on the facts of the case.
I am sure that Members of the Committee will agree with me that the majority of jobseekers are genuinely committed to looking for work, and that they make every effort to try to find a job. They would not dream of undermining their chances of doing so by their behaviour or other such things. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene. I give way.
Lord McCarthy: I am much obliged. The debate is becoming curiouser and curiouser. If the employment officer was not there, the adjudication officer could not possibly have been there. Therefore, how would he know what to say?
Lord Inglewood: It is quite possible to form an objective opinion on the basis of the facts as they have been reported. That is the basis of the adjudication process. The way in which such matters are determined is that the information is, in the first instance, sent to the adjudication officerand I understand that this is the way in which the system works currentlyand the process of appeal moves on from that point.
Baroness Seear: What sort of information will be sent to the adjudication officer? Will a colour photograph be sent or will they just say that a chap turned up with a ring in his nose? For Heaven's sake! What will be sent to the adjudication officer?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: On a more serious point, I believe that we established on the previous day of Committee that, in some cases, an employer might have 200 applicants for a job. He will not interview, perhaps, more than a dozen of them and he will not actually see all of them. The remainder will be rejected. A person may then say, "I am actively seeking work", but the officer will say, "No you're not, because of your appearance". What would constitute evidence for that?
There are, unfortunately, a few supposed jobseekers who are not prepared to put their best efforts into finding work and who are even prepared to sabotage their chances of finding employment. We want to ensure that people in that minority group cannot, on the one hand, undermine their chances of getting a job and, on the other, claim that the very activities that they have undermined are active jobsearch steps. That is why Clause 6(3) (b) makes it clear that regulations under Clause 6 will provide that actions that would otherwise be active jobsearch steps will be disregarded if they are undermined by the jobseeker. Amendment No. 54 seeks to remove that new and important provision. I urge Members of the Committee to reject it.
Myself, have naught to do".
Nevertheless, I accept what the Minister said; namely, that appearance does matter. Indeed, I believe that every parent in this Chamber accepts that fact. However, I also believe that every parent in this Chamber is well aware, as I am, that if one tells one's children that they are not keen on working because of their appearance and one then looks at what they do, one finds that one was absolutely, totally and unjustly wrong. It is that possibility of error which it seems to me is not allowed for in the regulation-based approach that we are discussing. There is simply no allowance for the possibility that one single item of appearanceor, indeed, one aspect of behaviourmay be supposed to be designed to avoid work when in fact it is no such thing.
I know people who hold highly responsible and senior posts who go about wearing earrings with a punk hairstyle. If I looked at those people, I would immediately think that they were not seeking work. However, I could not possibly be more wrong. Indeed, they are holding down highly responsible and onerous positions of a sort that I would not envy anyone. It is surely a subject in which we must know that the possibility of prejudice is infinite and the possibility of prejudice face to face is particularly clear.
I simply cannot accept the attempt to go down the road of taking one single overt act as being evidence of intention. Indeed I think the actual words of the Bill rise against the Minister, for the Bill provides for acts,
The Minister shakes his head, but how can the Bill mean anything other than that? I have read this clause a good many times by now and I cannot get any other meaning out of it. If there is any explanation on how it comes to have another meaning, I would be extremely grateful to hear it. It is attempting to make the single act the test. That, I have already argued today, is a profoundly mistaken approach to legislation. The intention should be based on a hearing involving all the person's conduct. But since I would much rather return to this issue with the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee available to the Chamber, I think it would be inappropriate for the Committee to reach a decision tonight. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.