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Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister just said that we are dealing with a case where entitlement ceases. That is not our understanding; we are dealing with a case where entitlement is called into question. The cases are different.
I return to the point that I was about to make. So far as concerns loss of entitlement, there must be satisfaction of the relevant criteria which includes the existence of a jobseeker's agreement which has been entered into by the person in question. The crucial point about that jobseeker's agreement
Earl Russell: My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again, but I have checked the text of the amendment and I do not read it as saying what the Minister mentioned. Indeed, it does not refer to a loss of entitlement. It provides that,
I wish to conclude by stressing that, in order to have a jobseeker's allowance, one must have met the entitlement conditions and have entered into a jobseeker's agreement. It is specified in Clause 9(5) of the Bill that the,
All that a jobseeker need do to be sure that he is meeting the two criteria is to follow what has been set down in his jobseeker's agreement to which he has put his name. There are other ways of meeting such criteria. It is possible that the jobseeker would prefer to meet those criteria in other ways. The right thing for him to do in those circumstances is not to walk away from it; the right thing to do is to try to negotiate a variation in the jobseeker's agreement or to appeal against it. It seems to us that that is the responsible way for a person to deal with the predicament where he wishes to change his course of action. The mechanics of the system enable him to do so in a manner which would enable him to keep his allowance.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, with respect, and before my noble friend the Minister sits down, I must point out that that is not quite the issue that is troubling me. I agree with everything that my noble friend said, but the issue is not quite as he put it. The issue is: on what grounds is the entitlement to be removed? It is not a question of walking away from the situation or of knowing what is in the agreement. The question is: what is the person doing that is contrary to the agreement which constitutes the grounds upon which the entitlement is being removed? I have put it very badly, but that is the issue.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, where there is an agreement, all that a jobseeker need do to ensure that he is meeting the available for work and actively seeking work test is to meet the steps that have been set out in
Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I have to tell the noble Lord that he has not clarified the position. We are more confused than we ever were before. No doubt we shall read what the noble Lord said in Hansard with great care. Perhaps, as the noble Lord said, we shall find that it is something to do with a computer. I do not know. However, it is certainly no clearer than it was before.
It seems to me that everyone who has spoken in the debate, except the Minister, has been absolutely clear. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, saidand he is absolutely rightthat it is a matter of natural justice. It is a matter of whether or not there are reasonable grounds; it is a matter of doubt. It is a matter of what happens under the principles of natural justice if, as it were, a charge, an allegation or a suggestion is made or, indeed, a suspicion advanced. Is the God-forsaken individual to be told what it is and given the opportunity to answer and say, "I don't think that I have broken the agreement"? Is he to be able to do so in some kind of quasi-judicial way?
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that that should be the case. I agree with him. However, I am not convinced that it is still the case. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that it is all about the second letter. I was glad to hear that. I have one piece of clarity: I now know that there are two letters. The first one does not matter, while the second letter does; but I doubt that it exists. I do not believe that the noble Lord understands what that second letter is supposed to do. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, also agreed. He said that we might not often need such a letter. However, the noble Lord went on to sayand I agree with himthat it is as well to put something in writing because otherwise those God-forsaken people will not be quite certain as to the nature of the charges that they have to answer. They must be given some idea.
During his reply, the Minister talked all the time about a new system which is entirely different. I would not like to believe that; indeed, I would not like to believe that helping jobseekers, or unemployed people as they used to be called, is something totally new to the Employment Service and that those concerned have never given jobseekers any information, never told them what is expected of them and never told them what they needed to do to get jobs. I do not believe that. From the inception of the Employment Service, I am sure that that was its objective. It is not anything new, except in the sense that it seems to want to get those people off benefit. That is what is new. That is the basic difference.
I do not believe the statements that the poor job applicant will be informed of his responsibility. All the language that the noble Lord used was about informing the jobseeker of what he or she had to do, not whether he or she had gone beyond what was said to be
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.