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Baroness Seear: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but he must think about this again. I beg him to do so. He says that carers should make arrangements. That means that they should have someone lined up to do the job, but they do not know when they will obtain a job. One cannot line up one's substitute and expect them to stand by until one has a job. One hopes that they will be off doing something else themselves. One may get a place in a nursery, and that place may be gone by the time the job is offered. One cannot make these arrangements, and I ask the Minister to reconsider this. One may make one's arrangements and not get the job. The arrangements then collapse.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness has missed two points that I made. The first point is that this is a concession. We are making a concession, because for everyone else it is immediate. If they find a job, they are expected to take it the following day, if that is when the employer wants them to start. The chances are that the employer will want them to start on Monday. An interview today would probably lead to a job being started next Monday. It is in fact already a concession. The point I made is that the current concession is 24 hours. If that were a real problem and not an imagined one, dare I suggest that some examples of the problem of the 24 hours might have come forward. We understand the point being made. We have made a concession that extends the immediate not just to 24 hours, as it is at present, but to 48 hours.
I will always look at any cases that suggest that even 48 hours is not enough, but if no examples can be given of the current 24 hours being inadequate, then I find it difficult to be persuaded that I should go further than 48 hours.
On Regulation 7, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, asked me what Regulation 7(3) means. Regulation 7(3) provides that once a person has agreed a pattern of availability, he should not be able to abuse that flexibility by not being available on the days agreed. If the person fails to be available on such a day he will lose benefit for the week. That does not bear upon pattern of availability which a person with a disability might agree under the regulations. He might agree a pattern of availability which may exclude a day. That is fine. If he has already agreed that, he cannot then say, "That day I have already agreed, I shall not be available for this particular job".
On Regulation 11, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me--I believe for his own protection more than anything else--to give him a considered view on what would happen in the case of part-time students having to rearrange their course hours. Part-time students have normally to be available for employment in the same way as other jobseekers. Regulation 11 modifies the availability rule for certain jobseekers--broadly those who have been unemployed for three months or more in the previous six--if they are willing and able to rearrange their course to take a job within the pattern of hours that they have agreed.
If someone cannot, or does not wish to take advantage of Regulation 11, he will have to be available in the normal way. Regulation 11 is therefore a concession. It is not an obligation. There will be no obligation on the teacher, but we hope that the increasing flexibility of education will mean that Regulation 11 will be a helpful provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and other noble Lords asked about volunteers. They come particularly under Regulation 12, although they come elsewhere as well. I was grateful to the noble Lord for saying that we had gone some way. He wants me to try to go a little further. I have already made the point about 48 hours' notice. What I have said is as applicable to this category as it is to carers. He asked me about the training and guidance we should be giving to our staff. All the staff involved in delivering JSA will be given training. That training will ensure that they give consistent advice everywhere in the country. The crucial aspect of the particular issue addressed is to ensure that the regulations are easy and clear to interpret. We have done that with the help of the consultation we have had with the voluntary bodies.
The Employment Service guidance will be based squarely on the regulations. I do not see a need for further consultation, but in line with our commitment to open government, we shall be making the relevant elements of the completed guidance available to the voluntary organisations if they wish to have a copy. The guidance to adjudication officers who make the decisions over benefit entitlement is a matter for the Chief Adjudication Officer who is of course independent of government. That guidance is published and readily available, but I understand that the normal practice of the Central Adjudication Service is not to consult on its guidance to adjudication officers.
I was asked why I should not recognise the value of training in voluntary work. As I think I said during the course of the Bill's passage, we recognise that voluntary work can help unemployed people stay in touch with the labour market and provide an opportunity for them to maintain and develop their skills. Our approach strikes a sensible and workable balance. It recognises the importance and the important role of voluntary work, without losing sight of the fact that all the time the person is doing voluntary work he or she still has as his or her first priority finding paid employment.
Although voluntary work may enhance a jobseeker's employability, we cannot count it as an active step towards finding a job. The regulations are however explicit that an adjudication officer should take into account the value of any voluntary work undertaken in determining whether a jobseeker has met the actively-seeking-work condition. However important the training benefit of voluntary work, the priority for all jobseekers has to remain to take a job if it is offered.
On Regulation 13, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me who was to judge whether a religious belief was sincerely held. Adjudication officers currently make that judgment when determining whether a claimant has good cause for refusing a job. We are not aware of any difficulties. Adjudication officers may ask for any information or evidence that they see fit. Current guidance points them to examine the length of time a person has held to his faith or evidence of that religious observance.
The flexibility in the regulations to determine a pattern of availability through the week will enable people who do not wish to work on Sundays to restrict their availability in that way provided that they retain reasonable prospects of securing work. The regulations provide also for religious considerations to be taken into account in determining good cause for turning down the offer of a job. I hope that that is helpful to the noble Earl.
Regulation 16 was linked to Regulation 9. I could not decide whether to put the matter in Regulation 9 or Regulation 16. It is the same point. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me about it. I do not believe that there is a contradiction. Regulation 16 allows jobseekers to restrict their availability to their usual rate of pay for a permitted period of up to 13 weeks. Regulation 8 allows them to continue placing restrictions on the rate of pay for which they are available, provided that they retain reasonable prospects of securing employment. Regulation 9 merely sets an overall limit of six months to such restrictions.
In fact Regulations 8 and 9 taken together are more generous to jobseekers than the current rules which allow no restrictions on pay after the permitted period. The permitted period will be determined in accordance with the adjudication officers' guidance and recorded in the jobseeker's agreement. If there is any dispute
As regards Regulation 14, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised a specific point about whether we were treating males and females differently. I believe that "he" means "she" and "she" means "he". In fact, that provision can be read for men or women. I suppose that "sexless" is the word I should use.
As regards Regulation 18, I was asked about the meaning of "violent" and "abusive" and about appearance and behaviour. We have had a great deal of debate about that. Regulation 18(4) deals with claimants who through unreasonable behaviour at a job interview or during the process of making an application to an employer effectively negate their actions to seek work. The words "violent" and "abusive" carry the clear dictionary meaning.
The noble Earl asked me about mens rea. Regulation 18(4) provides that the adjudication officer should not disregard the steps in which the circumstances were due to reasons beyond his control. It is clear from the words of the regulation--words such as "spoilt" and "undermined"--that we are not seeking to tackle accidental mistakes.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, before the Minister completes his references to Regulation 18, perhaps I may press him on a crucial point. May we take it that if the pattern of behaviour of the claimant indicated an effort to try to find a job but that his appearance is one which the unemployment officer does not find totally attractive he will be given the benefit of the doubt on the basis of the consistent pattern of action?
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