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Point of Order

5 pm

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether you might exercise discretion in favour of Members who wish to table questions. You will have noticed today that the Secretary of State for Transport, when replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), introduced a blocking statement which would have the effect of preventing further questions being asked in relation to a part of his statement. If I recall correctly, my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr questioned the right hon. Gentleman about what happened during the course of the argument about the security scare.

May we, in view of what appears in Hansard at column 605 for 22 December last, ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider whether you might be willing to accept questions and not treat that blocking statement as valid, remembering that the Secretary of State gave an assurance to the House on that earlier occasion, when he said :

"there can be no constraint. We must get at the truth. I hope, however, that it may be possible at an earlier stage to give the House and the public more information if there are immediate lessons to be learnt".--[ Official Report, Thursday 22 December, 1988 ; Vol. 144, c. 605.]

Throughout his statement on 22 December the right hon. Gentleman gave repeated assurances that all the information would be made available to the House, and he did that again today. I am concerned lest the words he used-- I think the record will show that he said, in effect, "I have nothing further to add to the statement that I made earlier in my opening remarks"- -may prevent hon. Members from tabling questions.

Mr. Speaker : I will look carefully at the record in Hansard and consider what the hon. Member has said.

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Orders of the Day

Social Security Bill

Order for Second reading read.

Mr. Speaker : In view of the late start to this debate and the number of hon. Gentlemen who wish to take part in it, I propose to limit speeches for Back Benchers between the hours of 7 and 9 o'clock to 10 minutes.

5.2 pm

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Moore) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is not a long Bill, but it is no less important for that. I believe that it is our duty as a Government to keep the social security system under review, to adapt it to meet the changing needs and circumstances of the 1980s and to look ahead to the challenges of the 1990s. The world clearly does not stand still, and social security cannot do so either.

It is simply not good enough unthinkingly to retain arrangements which were adequate for the problems of the 1960s, or even less--as some Labour Members seem to wish to do--to cling to the shibboleths of the 1930s. This Government have the will to challenge those outdated attitudes and to advance social policy in this country. The Bill seeks to achieve just that.

In no area has the change in Britain over the last few years been more marked than in the labour market. New jobs in the new industries and services--the jobs of the future--are being created in growing numbers ; employment prospects have been transformed ; and unemployment, as a consequence, is falling dramatically in all parts of the country--the longest and most sustained fall since records began.

By introducing family credit earlier this year, the Government took a huge step towards removing perverse incentives for the parents of children either to remain in the shrinking pool of the unemployed or, once in work, to limit their efforts to do better. Yet month after month, firms report vacancies that they are finding difficult to fill. There are about 700,000 jobs on offer in a typical month, and these are not just jobs for those with specialist skills. Many of them need no special training.

Each and every one of those vacancies is an opportunity for an unemployed person to gain the self-respect and independence that comes from supporting themselves and their family by their own efforts. It is clearly, therefore, the duty of the Government to help them to realise that potential, not only for their own sake but for the good of the country as a whole. That is the imperative behind the major changes to unemployment benefit that the Bill will introduce. There have always been conditions attached to receiving unemployment benefit. Most Members will agree that that is only proper. Unemployment benefit is for those who want to work, but who are temporarily unable to find a job. But how can one hope to find work without making any effort to look for it?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) rose --

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Mr. Moore : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to continue for a while longer. I am conscious of the comments made by Mr. Speaker about the time available for this debate, but I shall give way shortly if the matter is pressing.

It is not right for those who are claiming benefits because of unemployment to receive them without doing everything reasonable to find work. I believe that most people would support that view. Indeed, many will be surprised, if not horrified, to learn that there is no such requirement in the legislation already. Let me make it quite clear that these powers do not exist at the moment. Claimants can currently argue that by attendance at a job centre and claiming benefit every two weeks, they have done all they need to satisfy the present requirements.

The vast majority of claimants--I stress this--do take the initiative in looking for work, but there is ample evidence that this is no longer true for everyone. As hon. Members will be aware, the 1987 labour force survey showed that 730,000 benefit claimants were not taking active steps to seek work and that no fewer than 360,000 claimants did not even pretend to want a proper job of work at all.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : The Minister is bragging about the number of people he is helping with income support. Will he now admit to the number of people he has robbed of money from the point of view of income support? [Interruption.] I wonder why the Minister for Social Security, the new junior Minister, seems to be bawling his head off over this.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the number of constituents who come to my surgery to complain about this matter? One of them told me last Saturday that he and his wife had lost £14 a week. Let us hear about cases such as that and about the people the Government have robbed of money.

Mr. Moore : I shall endeavour to continue to illustrate what the Government are introducing in the Bill. I shall continue to address my remarks to the key elements of the Bill concerning the 700,000 unfilled jobs about which I was speaking, some 140,000 of which are in London.

A report about the London labour market compiled in the summer of last year --I am sure that, with their diligence, Opposition Members will have studied it with great care--showed that employers reported receiving job applications from long-term unemployed people for only about one fifth of recent vacancies. Over 25 per cent. of the claimants interviewed had not looked for work in the previous week, and of those, nearly half had not looked for work in the previous four weeks, and 5 per cent. had never looked for work at all. This is a sad and wholly unacceptable picture. The Government are determined to ensure that unemployment benefits are paid only to those who are genuinely unemployed.

In the course of 1988, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment took a number of steps to ensure that people claiming unemployment benefit were satisfying the current requirement to be available for work. In particular, unemployed people are now called to a restart interview every six months for as long as they remain out of work. As part of that interview, they now have to complete a questionnaire which is designed to

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establish that they are still available for work. Despite the existing powers, it was clear from these initiatives that a number of claimants are simply not looking for work.

Mr. Tony Banks : I appreciate that the Minister is trying to prove to the House that unemployed people are largely workshy and shiftless-- [Interruption.] Whatever Conservative Members may think, that is precisely what it sounds like to the Opposition. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a number of things militate against people taking jobs in London? First, many of them are low-paid jobs. Secondly, accommodation is not available because of the cuts in council house building and the decreases in housing benefit. Thirdly, fares in London have just gone up by 12 per cent. He must understand that all those factors militate against people going to find those jobs that are available.

Mr. Moore : If the hon. Gentleman had studied the report to which I was referring, he would not have made such an absurd attempt to reinvent the GLC. It is quite wrong, as I was saying, that these people should continue to be supported at the expense of working people paying contributions and taxes.

Nor is it doing any service to claimants or their families to allow them to drop out of the world of work when so many vacancies are available. Therefore, clauses 7 and 10 of the Bill will ensure that benefit claimants must show that they are seeking work actively. What exactly they have to do will depend obviously on circumstances such as the local job market and the claimant's capabilities.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : rose--

Mr. Moore : Perhaps the hon. Lady will permit me to continue for a little longer.

Employment service staff will give advice and question claimants periodically. They may suggest alternative or additional courses of action. If there is doubt about whether a claimant is doing all he can, the independent adjudication officer will decide whether benefit is to continue. But the local staff in employment service offices will have the powers that they need, following the passage of the Bill, to help those people into work.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear, as we have had an intervention from the Opposition, that the main thrust of Labour party policy on this subject seems to be that those who could work and are not prepared to work should receive hard- earned taxpayers' money to support them in their idleness?

Mr. Moore : My hon. Friend knows that he and the Government are far more closely in touch with the general public on this matter. The general public are conscious of the opportunities that are available. However, I must continue

The second major element of my proposals for unemployment benefit ensures that claimants cannot continue indefinitely pricing themselves out of any job they might realistically be expected to get. It is of course quite right that newly unemployed people should be able to concentrate their efforts on finding employment in their usual occupations and at wages similar to the ones they have been used to receiving, but it would be quite wrong for unemployed people to be able to continue to restrict their search to jobs that are beyond the rates of pay that

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they can realistically now command. Clause 9 will therefore make provision for a permitted period during which unemployed persons can seek jobs of a kind and in a wage range familiar to them. The length of the permitted period will be decided on an individual basis but would depend on the skills of the individual and the sort of employment available locally. But we do not think it right that it should extend beyond a maximum of 13 weeks.

But even after the permitted period we have no intention of forcing people, on pain of losing benefit, to accept jobs which are genuinely unsuitable. "Good cause" for declining a job is well set out in case law, as hon. Members know. It covers factors such as health, family circumstances, religious beliefs, travelling difficulties, and so on.

Let me stress again that the only significant change that the Bill will make to reasons for refusing jobs which fall under the general heading of "good cause" will be to limit the period for which the wages on offer can be a factor. It will remove the temptation for unemployed people to continue indefinitely to delude themselves about the wages that they can command.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : One of the principal employment problems for some people is the fact that temporary jobs are on offer. Those jobs are perfectly good, and well paid, but they are temporary from the beginning, lasting perhaps for three months or six months. Under the existing law, if someone takes such a job, at the end of the temporary period that person would again be newly unemployed and therefore would lose many of the benefits that had been accumulated previously. Is care being taken to ensure that people will not be forced to take temporary jobs when at the end of the temporary job they will be in a worse position?

Mr. Moore : I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that point, given his experience of such matters. I was going on to say that clause 9 also introduces a further measure to encourage unemployed people to broaden their job search and their efforts to find work. That is a very similar point to that raised by my hon. Friend and I am sure that it will be welcomed in all parts of the House.

As my hon. Friend said, after a lengthy period of unemployment, a person may often be unsure of his capability. Taking up any employment may well constitute something of a risk. He may fear to try an unfamiliar job because, as my hon. Friend said, if he takes a job which simply does not work out and leaves voluntarily he may be disqualified from unemployment benefit. We therefore intend that anyone who has been out of work for at least 12 months can be sure that he can leave a job voluntarily without fear of disqualification, provided he has given the job a fair trial.

That concession will apply not only to those who have been signing on for 12 months but to those who, for instance, have been out of work for the same period due to sickness.

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Moore : I shall complete my point. Despite attempts to get me to give way, I shall try to proceed a little.

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To counter abuse, the concession will apply only once in any 12-month period, and only to people leaving a job after a decent trial of six weeks or more, but not to anyone leaving after 12 weeks once they have had more than ample opportunity to realise that the job was not right for them.

Overall, these measures are expected to reduced the roll of the unemployed by as many as 50,000. That is entirely to be welcomed. Claimants stand to gain absolutely nothing from unemployment when there are jobs as an alternative.

The Bill will also be breaking important new ground in other areas.

Ms. Short rose --

Mr. Moore : It is our aim to bring about equal treatment between men and women--

Ms. Short : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. The Secretary of State has made it clear to the occupant of the Chair and to the House that he is not prepared to give way for the present.

Mr. Moore : I have given way more times than most Opposition Front Bench spokesmen-- [Interruption.] I wish that the rabble on the Opposition Benches would occasionally listen. As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker rightly drew our attention to the limited time. I shall continue, if I may.

It is our aim to bring about equal treatment between men and women in social security and occupational pensions. Clause 19 takes a further important step in this direction by tackling discrimination in occupational schemes. They will no longer be able to deny access to occupational pensions or pay lower benefits on the basis of sex. Our Community colleagues are dealing with such discrimination across Europe as a whole. The measures in the Bill therefore also implement the EC directive on the issue. The legislation will apply to schemes from 1 January 1993. Broadly it will override any difference of treatment in occupational pension schemes, whether that difference relates to entitlement to membership, to the contributions that members and employers pay, or to the benefits members receive. There are, however, special safeguards for those absent from work for maternity or for family reasons.

Schemes will also be able to make changes to come into line with the requirements before the overriding provision takes effect. We are introducing powers to enable the Occupational Pensions Board to authorise such modifications specifically to achieve that. Many schemes still have different pension ages for men and women. The equal treatment directive contains a derogation which excepts such differences from its scope. We intend to take advantage of that in our own legislation, but the scope of the derogation has only recently been clarified following responses to a consultation paper we issued in the summer. We will therefore bring forward a suitable amendment during the passage of the Bill to take advantage of the derogation in the light of that advice.

Mr. John Watts (Slough) : Will the amendment deal with the problem faced by schemes which already have a common retirement age of 60 for both men and women

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and which currently pay a higher rate of benefit to men for the five years before they become entitled to state retirement pension, and reduce it to the same level as women thereafter? As I understand it, under the Bill as drafted that would be precluded. That seems to be a kick in the teeth for companies with schemes that have not discriminated on grounds of sex or age for many years.

Mr. Moore : My hon. Friend is referring to the Mars case, as I recall from past discussion with him. The Bill should ensure that the exception covers all schemes, but we are discussing the matter. As I said earlier, that is why I have drawn the attention of the official Opposition to the particular point that definition as to the breadth of the derogation is a slightly complex legal matter. That is why I apologise again for having to table an amendment in Committee that brings the derogation forward. I know that it will be more helpful if we get it right.

A short but important clause in the Bill, clause 2, abolishes from April next year the Treasury supplement to the national insurance fund. When the national insurance fund was established in 1948, it was funded on Beveridge's "tripartite principle", roughly equally by employees' contributions, employers' contributions and general taxation--the Treasury supplement. At the time, that subsidy from taxation was essential. Contributions were flat rate and could have covered the contributory benefits and pensions met from the only national insurance fund if they were set at rates too high for a substantial number of people to afford. Since 1975, contributions have no longer been flat rate, but are levied as a proportion of earnings.

The tripartite principle is already effectively a dead letter. The rationale behind it has gone, and the supplement has been shrinking steadily as a proportion of the fund's income from about one third in 1948. It now stands at only 5 per cent. We consider that there is now no need for it at all. The £26 billion of expenditure from the fund is fully covered by contributory income, and the abolition of the supplement will have absolutely no effect on that expenditure. The Bill also addresses another feature of the benefit system which dates back to 1948. When someone is injured, for example in an accident, he may become entitled to social security benefits. But if he can establish that some other party was liable, he may also receive compensation through the legal system for those identical injuries. But how should each form of payment take account of the other?

The courts have ruled repeatedly in recent years--the latest occasion being in November last year--that an injured person should not get this windfall from double payments, once in compensation and again in benefits. What that means at present is that payments of a range of benefits simply and directly reduce the amount of compensation to be paid to injured people by defendants. The injured person gains nothing from this arrangement, but ordinary people paying taxes and contributions are effectively subsidising defendants and their insurers.

There are a number of other benefits--those listed in the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948--for which different arrangements were made. The 1948 Act made a compromise based on the assumption that, because of the industrial injuries scheme not many people would claim damages. In those cases, compensation is reduced by 50

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per cent. of the value of the benefits to be paid by the state over five years. So in those cases too, the taxpayer or contributor is effectively subsidising defendants and their insurers. The law is manifestly ripe for review.

The National Audit Office, endorsed by the Public Accounts Committee, highlighted the inconsistency of this mixture of 50 and 100 per cent. offsets. It also drew attention to the overwhelming objection to these offsets. In the words of the report, under the present system

"the wrongdoer can have the cost of his negligence partly or fully met by public funds".

In seeking to reform the law, we have adopted two principles, both endorsed by the Public Accounts Committee. The first is that accident victims should not be compensated twice. The second is that the party responsible for the accident should not be able to escape part of that liability at the expense of the taxpayer. That cannot be right. It could also undermine incentives to improved safety standards. Clause 18 provides the framework for a straightforward scheme. The value of benefits paid as a result of an injury up to the point of the legal settlement will be deducted from the compensation which is due for the same injuries. That sum will then be paid to the Department. If, for example, £5,000 compensation is agreed or awarded and the injured person has already received £1,000 in benefits for his injury, he will be paid £4,000, and the other £1,000 compensation will be paid to my Department. Further, hon. Members will wish to note that the amount recovered from defendants will not include any sums in respect of benefit payments made after the date of the settlement of the claim and that recoveries will be made only in the case of compensation payments above a certain level--possibly £1,500. I emphasise that benefit entitlement is not affected in any case. Nevertheless, recoveries to the taxpayer from compensation paid by those liable for personal injuries is estimated to be about £55 million a year.

The Bill contains other modest but useful amendments clarifying and consolidating existing legislation and making it more relevant to today's circumstances. Clause 4 brings social security legislation more into line with family law by extending the liability of non-custodial parents to maintain children in full-time education up to the age of 19.

Clause 21 reorganises the numbers and functions of war pensions committees, which have remained broadly unchanged since 1921. The Bill strengthens the link to recent work in the test for requalifying for unemployment benefit in clause 8 and takes account of the mushrooming of personal pensions in the abatement of unemployment benefit which operates for other occupational pensioners aged 55 and over in clause 6. It also introduces in clauses 1, 3, 11 to 17, 20 and 22 to 29 other, largely technical, amendments relating in particular to national insurance contributions and to housing benefit.

Mr. Janman : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Moore : Yes.

Mr. Janman : My right hon. Friend has listed what the Bill does, but one thing that the Bill does not do is get rid of the loophole whereby a person can continue to receive benefit because he has turned down a vacancy that has

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arisen as a result of an industrial dispute. Why has my right hon. Friend decided not to close that loophole? Will he consider closing it in Committee?

Mr. Moore : As my hon. Friend noticed, the Government have specifically not included that point, because we do not agree with the view that my hon. Friend is expressing. Obviously, my hon. Friend can table a new clause, which we can debate.

Ms. Short : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moore : Of course.

Ms. Short : I am grateful. I shall take the right hon. Gentleman back a bit, because I tried to intervene earlier. The Secretary of State relies on a study of the London labour market of which perhaps he is giving a distorted impression, but it relates only to the London labour market. The Secretary of State must be aware that, if one analyses vacancies across the country, one sees that there are far fewer vacancies for unemployed people in the rest of the country than in the London area.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that whether people will count as actively seeking work will depend on the state of the local labour market. I want to ask him most seriously what distinction he will make in an area of high unemployment with few vacancies. Will he spell that out, because it is causing enormous worries across the country and the right hon. Gentleman owes us an explanation?

Mr. Moore : I wish that I had given way to the hon. Lady before.

Mr. Tony Banks : So do we.

Mr. Moore : One reason that I did not do so was the character of the preceding intervention.

I draw the hon. Lady's attention to the fact that, if she had listened carefully to me, she would know that I did not start by drawing attention to the survey "The London Labour Market", although it was a factor. I drew attention to the 1987 labour force survey, which was a national survey. However, the hon. Lady is right to say that different areas of the country have different employment opportunities.

Clearly, as a consequence, the system and the ways in which the system operates must be handled differently. The adjudicating officer--and the clerks in the unemployment benefit offices--will be given the opportunity to have powers consequential upon all the other "good causes". These are already well established in case law. One factor will be the character of the job opportunities in the local area. Therefore, I can reassure the hon. Lady on that point. Simply because I was quoting some of the most recent data in London should not lead the hon. Lady to concern herself that all judgments will be on the same basis. They cannot be, because they must vary depending on the character and the needs of the area.

To return to what I was saying, clause 5 also carries out the intention I announced in my uprating statement to introduce legislation to extend the upper age limit for payment of mobility allowance from 75 to 80. This is an interim measure until we have the opportunity to give full consideration to the large volume of information which has been collected during the surveys carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.

We are well aware of the important part mobility allowance plays in improving the quality of life for severely

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disabled people. That extension will be a valuable help to the oldest recipients of the allowance to make plans for meeting their future mobility needs in the knowledge that payments will be made for five years longer than under the present arrangements.

To sum up, this is a Bill which promotes, I believe, a more coherent social security system and one which takes account of a changing world. It reflects the environment of a modern labour market and creates conditions of still greater flexibility to vitalise the economy of the 1990s. It challenges difficult issues where the easy course might have been to let matters run--like the differing treatment of men and women in pension schemes ; like the outdated funding of the national insurance scheme ; or the anomalous and unacceptable relationship between benefits and awards of damages. Above all, the Bill embodies our vision of the social security system : one which gives full support to those who cannot support themselves ; which stands on a firm link between benefits and contributions paid in work ; and which encourages people to take on their full responsibilities to support themselves and their families by their own efforts. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

5.28 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : This is, if I dare use the phrase, a curate's egg of a Bill. There are elements in it which at first sight appear to merit at least a cautious welcome, bitter experience having taught us to beware social security Ministers apparently bearing gifts. There are also elements that concern us, and at the centre of the Bill there is a set of proposals that are potentially the most catastrophic that we have seen yet from this Government.

Two elements that we can welcome are the lifting of the age barrier for mobility allowance and the moves, following an EEC directive, towards equal treatment for men and women in occupational pension schemes. However, we shall want to probe the Government's full intentions in Committee. Nor do we object to the Government rectifying a few of their many mistakes--such as in the uprating of the reduced earnings allowance paid, as it is, only to those disabled by industrial injury or disease. We well remember that in 1986 thousands of those so disabled saw their benefit frozen as they reached retirement age, with a saving to the Government, at their expense, of millions of pounds per year. Not content, in 1988 the Government cut their payment by 75 per cent. at retirement, with a further saving of £10 million per year, and individual losses for the majority of recipients on reaching retirement of almost £20 per week. Against that background, we entirely agree that these disabled people should not be inadvertently cheated by mistake of a few pence extra on the amount that the Government still permit them to retain. We shall want to examine other aspects of the Bill in more depth, although perhaps it is right to place on record our strong reservations about the proposals on the treatment of damages awarded by the courts--whatever the defects may be of the present law--to which the Secretary of State drew attention, and which were apparently rejected by all those consulted, including the CBI, the Law Society, the TUC and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. Such unanimity has not been seen since

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the Government's initial proposals for family credit to be paid through the wage packet--and look what happened to that.

Other proposals we whole-heartedly oppose. First is the decision to scrap the three-day contract on which national insurance was established by raising the entire cost of national insurance benefits--such as pensions for the old, the sick and the widows--from national insurance contributions. The Government are shifting the burden again towards those on low or average pay, while the wealthy not only do not pay their fair share: they do not even pay the same share as the less well-off. From any Government this blatant exploitation of the less well-off to benefit the much better off would be damaging, but from this Government, who use the excuse of what they call the burden of national insurance contributions to cut the State earnings-related pension scheme--indeed, to try to abolish it --it is rank hypocrisy. Everyone who pays national insurance contributions and everyone who draws retirement, invalidity or widow's pension has been cheated by the Government, because money raised in earnings-related contributions has not been paid out in benefits.

The Government have made a steady and increasing profit out of the national insurance scheme--some £3,000 million last year alone. They are able to abolish the taxpayers' contribution to the scheme not because of prudent management or because of any growth in employment or because the economy is booming, but because they have been prepared to defraud pensioners.

That brings me to the proposals that form the centrepiece of the Bill. It would be misleading to call it the heart of the Bill, because it could not be put forward by a Government who retained a heart. The Minister's description of the Bill made it sound quite innocuous, technical and inoffensive, designed to help people back into employment--what a pity that it is not so.

Careful examination of what is proposed shows that the Government have moved on from merely wishing to blame unemployment on its victims. They are now prepared to harass and to hound them to an extent which is without precedent in our employment or social security law. The Secretary of State was, perhaps, not clear on this point, but existing law allows for people's availability for work to be tested if it is called into question. However, the Government have decided to resurrect a test for willingness to work that was abolished in 1930, which makes it somewhat extraordinary for the Secretary of State to call us the people who were relying on the shibboleths of the thirties.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) : Does the hon. Lady believe that people claiming unemployment benefit should look for work and should take a job if one is offered, or that they should not?

Mrs. Beckett : That is an extraordinarily silly question and is quite unworthy of the hon. Gentleman, who is supposed to be one of the intellectuals on the Conservative Benches. Of course we do not believe that people should not try to find work. We are conscious of the feelings that many unemployed people have when they cannot find work. That is not the point, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

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Quite harsh tests already exist--even more harshly employed by this Government--to test people's willingness to work. The Government are reintroducing a test from the 1920s, which, indeed, was abolished in 1930. As I believe was generally accepted at the time, the test was introduced not to help people to find work, to which it was quite irrelevant, but to limit the costs of supporting the unemployed. Those who introduced it then had three excuses not available to their successors today. First, as it was a new test, they had by definition no experience, as we have now, of how it might work in practice. Secondly, they were facing one of the most grave economic crises in our history, whereas the Government tell us that our problems today are of overweening success. Thirdly, and perhaps most serious of all, they introduced the test alongside safeguards intended to prevent its unreasonable use. The test in this Bill has not only had those safeguards removed, but the entire onus of the test is reversed. Let no one say that the Conservative party has learnt nothing in the 60 years since the test of genuinely seeking work was abolished--it has learnt how to make it harsher.

I have not the smallest doubt that, during these debates, we shall be told that we exaggerate or that we misunderstand how the test will work. I shall remind the House, therefore, of how in 1930 William Beveridge described it, even in its original and, by today's standards, safeguarded form. He said when referring to the test : "The condition will not, it may be hoped, ever rise from its dishonoured grave."

Clearly, we should regard the Secretaries of State for Social Security and Employment as first and second gravedigger, prepared to resurrect the 1920s test not just with full but with increased rigour.

Prior to the test's abolition in 1930, someone was required to show that he was seeking work in "suitable" employment--not any old employment, but "suitable" employment, which is a word removed completely from the test in the Bill. In the 1920s, they did not leave it at that. They defined the context of suitability, and did so in terms that, clearly, the Conservative party of the 1920s found less unacceptable than the Conservative party of today. Without losing benefit, people could refuse to seek or to take a job with lower wages or worse conditions in their own area. Even a job elsewhere had to be on offer at fair terms and conditions for that area. Account was taken of the likelihood and the danger of skill impairment and the prevention of a return to his normal employment if someone was forced to take any job.

Most important of all--this brings me to the question raised by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester)--they could be pressed, even against these safeguards, to take only full-time work. The sting in the tail of clause 9 is that any or all of the pressures that it imposes can be used to push someone against his will or his best interests into part-time or temporary work. Yet despite those qualifications, in practice the test became hated and discredited, because it was a test of a willingness to work which was divorced from whether there was any work.

This Government of prosperity, in any case, want no truck with any safeguards. They refer to such things as fair wages and conditions. One can be drummed out of the Brownies for using words like that in today's Tory party. Indeed, the Government have reversed the entire import of that part of the law. Far from it being the norm, the standard, to take account of the nature of the job on offer, under clause 9 the norm, the standard, is that the wages

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