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That leave be given to bring in a Bill to promote the collection and recycling of waste paper.
Every year 90 million trees are chopped down to cater for Britain's demands for paper and board. Apart from the huge bill to import 90 per cent. of that raw material, it is estimated that 25 per cent. of the paper recycled in Britain is also imported. I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) for providing figures for 1988 produced by the Department of Trade and Industry today which show that the import bill for paper and paperboard was more than £3 billion, the import bill for pulp was £716 million, and the import bill for recycled waste paper-- used copies of the New York Times and the Washington Post, perhaps--was £9 million.
The percentage recycled is due to rise further when two new paper mills designed to use waste paper for the production of newspapers come into use. At the moment, less than 20 per cent. of domestic and commercial newspaper waste is recycled. If we are to cut the import bill significantly and keep those new mills operating on domestic recycled paper alone, the figure will have to increase to more than 40 per cent.
My Bill places a statutory duty on local authorities to draw up an approved scheme for recycling waste paper in their area. It also makes it compulsory for paper and board products to indicate on them whether or not they contain a specific percentage of recycled paper. Many local authorities, such as my own, the Wyre borough in Lancashire, already operate schemes. I want more and better schemes to be brought forward to enable the paper manufacturing industry to use ever increasing amounts of recycled paper from domestic and commercial sources in this country.
My Bill deals with the demand for recycled paper, as well as how it is collected in the first place. It is up to individuals, businesses and the public sector to create the demand for recycled paper. My Bill is designed to encourage them to do so. I also hope that other Government Departments will follow the lead of the Department of the Environment and start to use recycled paper. I have written to all Secretaries of State asking if their Departments will follow the example of the Department of the Environment. Closer to home, I hope that hon. Members will soon be communicating with their constituents on recycled paper. I shall shortly be in touch with the appropriate authorities to see how best that can be achieved. Within the Palace of Westminster, we produce a considerable amount of waste paper, as can be seen by a visit after lunch to the Library, where the wastepaper bins are full of waste paper which could be re-used. I hope that businesses, particularly newspaper offices, which consume a considerable amount of newspaper and general paper products, will also consider using recycled
Column 974paper. Some newspapers, though not all, are already printed on recycled paper. I hope that in future all will be. It is particularly important that paper products which are used only once, such as cleaning cloths and newspapers, which have a relatively short life, are made from recycled material. It is a great waste for such products to be produced from raw pulp.
It is also important that the demand for lower grade recycled paper should be increased, because most recycled material falls into that category. There is not yet a sufficient demand for lower grades of recycled paper to deal with the supply that is undoubtedly available. Germany and the United States have had quite sophisticated collection procedures for waste paper for some years. Unfortunately, those have not worked as well as they should, simply because the demand for the end products has not been there. One reason for the glut of waste paper in the United States and the fact that it is exported to this country is that there is not sufficient demand for the products that can be produced from it.
In presenting the Bill I hope that members of the Press Gallery will not report these proceedings in an over-lengthy fashion. I hope that they will not resort to the device--recently employed by a well-known Sunday newspaper which says that it is environmentally conscious--of printing a special weekday edition to publicise a particular subject.
This Bill, like the Unleaded Petrol (Engine Adjustment) Bill that I introduced under the same procedure last year, focuses on a particular area of environmental improvement--in this case, the minimisation of waste. That strikes a sympathetic chord in a great many people in this country. In the past, we have been described as a nation of hoarders--until recently we tended to frown on our American cousins, who were depicted as throwing everything away--and the general public are sympathetic to the idea of recycling items that have already been used.
Waste minimisation must be a central theme of any responsible policy towards the environment because it encourages the prudent use of the world's natural resources, while polluting the environment as little as possible. By collecting and using recycled waste paper we cut our energy needs, we preserve the world's forests and we encourage a tidier Britain. I commend the Bill to the House. Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. Andrew Mitchell, Mr. Julian Brazier, Mr. James Paice, Mrs. Gillian Shephard, Mr. Anthony Coombs, Mr. David Tredinnick, Mr. Simon Burns, Mr. James Arbuthnot, Mr. Henry Bellingham, Mr. David Nicholson and Mr. Hugo Summerson.
Mr. Keith Mans accordingly presented a Bill to promote the collection and recycling of waste paper ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 129.]
Social Security Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
(2A) A claimant may show that he is actually seeking employment under subsection (1) above if he is working in a voluntary capacity in order to further skills and experience for future employment.'. No. 14, in page 5, line 28 at end insert--
(2C) if on a day for which benefit might fall to be payable, a person is a volunteer, then the Benefit Officer shall regard the voluntary work undertaken as evidence tending to show that the person is available for and actively seeking work.
(2D) A person shall be deemed to be available for and actively seeking work if that person provides continuous care and support as a volunteer to another person under an agreement with
(a) the other person ;
(b) a public authority ; or
(c) a voluntary organisation.
(2E) For the purposes of (2D) above, "voluntary organisation" means a body which is not a public body but whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit.'.
Mrs. Beckett : The amendment seeks to delete Clause 7. I propose to confine my remarks to our amendment and not to discuss the other two with which it is grouped--not because I do not sympathise with the motives of those who tabled the other amendments, but because they cover issues that we discussed in Committee and I want to talk about clause 7 as a whole rather than seek to amend it.
The amendment seeks to delete the clause because it is not merely objectionable and profoundly damaging : it is unnecessary. It paves the way for the infliction of considerable and direct distress which we believe will follow the passage of this legislation. That distress will be caused and exacerbated by the fact that the proposals in the clause are rooted in the collective gut instinct of the Government and their Back Benchers that the unemployed are responsible for their unemployment--that they caused it, that they could end it fairly easily if only they really tried, and that their unemployment, rather than being a symbol of society failing them, is a symbol somehow of their success at exploiting others.
That gut instinct in Conservative Members has triumphantly survived all the evidence to the contrary and even the most glaring and obvious gulf between the number of people seeking work and the number of jobs available to them. Today, some Conservative Members may well go through the form--I expect that the Minister will--of denying that in their heart of hearts they think that all the unemployed are workshy, but even those who make that denial drift with amazing speed away from the
Column 976formal assurances that only a tiny minority need the spur of the Bill towards discussing that tiny minority as if they constituted all the unemployed. I do not recall the Secretary of State for Social Security or the Secretary of State for Employment stressing in their speeches trailing this legislation at the Conservative party conference that only a tiny minority might be abusing the system. I should make it crystal clear, so that no one will have any excuse for asking spurious questions, that my hon. Friends and I believe that people who have to be available for work--and who do not suffer from some disabling illness or whose family responsibilities do not keep them away from work--and who are drawing benefit should be looking for work. That is what the law says ; it has stood unamended for 60 years ; we have always supported it, and we do today. We do not accept, however, that the law needs to be substantially amended and tightened as the clause suggests. We differ from some Conservative Members, because although we accept the framework of the law as it stands we are concerned about the way in which it may be exploited in its day-to-day administration to harry people off the unemployment register with no serious attempt being made to address the fact that they cannot find suitable work. Nevertheless, our amendment deals with the framework of the law, not with the use that is being made of it.
If the Government's argument is that the law is being broken or exploited, the answer is to enforce it and to use the remedies provided in it--which, heaven knows, are savage enough--not to introduce new and unneeded concepts.
Although we believe that the present law can potentially be misused, we are quite certain that the use--never mind the misuse--of the new law that the Government propose has enormous potential for causing untold misery and humiliation for those who are or become unemployed.
There cannot be the slightest doubt that this clause offers the opportunity for such humiliation. We believe that it might happen even if it is unintended. In the best possible case, if an unemployed person is looking for work and that work is available and not difficult to find, irritation and perhaps even distress will be caused because the provision will be unnecessary. It will be seen as a bureaucratic nuisance--an interference and a diversion from the serious business of finding another job. For those for whom the prospects of the search for work are not a matter of minor disturbance but of major difficulty, the clause will have a more seriously damaging effect. It requires that the unemployed person should provide on a week-to-week basis an account of all the steps he has taken in each week to look for work. That was made quite clear in Committee. It will not be enough to apply for, say, 17 jobs in one week and to do nothing in the following week. The whole point of the clause is that the search should be a continuing one, not that it should be averaged out over a period.
The Minister of State even made it explicit in Committee that an unemployed person who has the opportunity to benefit from a family holiday--perhaps arranged by one of the charitable organisations--will not be excused from continuing his job search in that week or weeks, and that failure on return from holiday to convince the local office that the job search had continued, could lead to the withdrawal of all rights of benefit.
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : I am sure my hon. Friend also remembers that the Minister said that anyone attending a funeral away from his home would be expected to prove that he was actively seeking work while attending the funeral.
What primarily concerns us is the harm that this unnecessary proposal may inflict particularly on three groups--those who are, for whatever reason, long-term unemployed ; those who suffer from a sickness or disability which is not only distressing in itself, but handicaps their search for work ; and the young homeless, who will have special difficulty combining the search for work with the search for a roof over their heads and who, for that reason, may be particularly unacceptable to employers.
In these debates Conservative Back Benchers have tended to raise a series of ridiculous objections which we have had to knock down. We recognise that the technique of keeping and discussing a log of job search activity and methods may have some value for some people, whose main problem is not the lack of available work or an inherent mismatch between their skills and capacity and the jobs on offer, but some hitherto unrecognised defect in the methods and approach of job search. No doubt those are the kind of people who are helped by a job club.
But Ministers know perfectly well that many assiduous attenders and participants at job clubs do not find work because the difficulties that they face cannot be resolved just by correcting their search techniques and are entirely outside their power to
resolve--difficulties such as there just not being enough jobs or their not being offered the jobs that there are.
Those are the people for whom being compelled to keep a log, to reveal its contents, to discuss it--no matter how sympathetic the hearer--means, by definition, a compulsion to chart, record, justify, explain and apologise for failure. That must be so, by definition, because the people who succeed will not have to do it any more. The Government know, as we know, that not just hundreds but hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, will be charting failure, because, in spite of anecdotal evidence about jobs here or there or somebody whose friend had a job on offer for which no one applied, the overwhelming evidence is that, on the Government's own figures, there remain at least 2 million to 3 million people for whom there is no work. Even if the number of vacancies and unemployed people could ever be brought to match, they will never match in terms of skills, abilities and capacity.
We ask the Government just this once to think again ; to use their imagination. By the law of averages, some Conservative Members must have some. The long-term unemployed already live--in many cases with great difficulty--with the fact that our society regards them as failures. They already live with the fact--most with great difficulty--that many of their fellow citizens tacitly or openly blame them for their condition, especially those who have never been unemployed and imagine that it is easy to do something about. The people who care for the mental health and stability of the unemployed have long sought to advise them not to
Column 978give up, not to drop out, but to do their best to adjust to their circumstances in ways that allow them to maintain their self-confidence and their self-regard because, apart from anything else, that is likely to increase their chance of finding a job in the circumstances in the town in which they find themselves or in one where they can realistically look for work. Under clause 7 they will be forced up against their defects or their lack of success, but in any event their failure, week after week after week.
That will also apply to the already more evidently vulnerable--the army of those with some disability whom the Department's doctors in their wisdom have ruled to be fit for light work, sometimes in the face of strenuous opposition from the person's own general practitioner. Some are already being caused distress by being put through the restart process because often there is no light work available and even more often, employers are unwilling to hire them for that light work if it exists. Like others now required to be available for work, in future those people, too, will have to prove what steps they have taken every week, week in, week out, on holiday or not on holiday, to search for that light work.
Let me remind the House that for all those affected by this legislation, the fact that they have to be available for work does not necessarily mean that they are getting any money. They may be signing on only to maintain their pension credits. Some may have worked for 30 or 35 years but still not have enough credits to satisfy the long period of contributions or credits required to qualify for a full pension. If they are ruled not to be actively seeking work, they will lose those credits and perhaps their right to a full pension, even though they may have spent what most of us would consider a full working life in employment and become injured or sick or made redundant towards the end of that working life. Are even this Government prepared to make that group jump through hoops to satisfy the prejudice of the ignorant and the comfortable who tend to call the unemployed "these people"?
What I have described is the law as it will be unless the House carries the amendment. The Minister says that matters will not be as bad as that in practice, not because that is not what the law says but because it will be sympathetically administered. It might be, and then again it might not be. Recent social security legislation is riddled with examples of cases where Ministers have assured us that in practice there will not be any problem, but that turns out not to be quite the case.
But in this case the problem is that the rigidity is in the law. It is on the face of the Bill. The Bill says that the test, abolished as long ago as 1930 because of its harshness and injustice, should be applied every week on a week by week basis.
Now that unemployment benefit is paid in arrears, those ruled not to be actively seeking work will lose their benefit for the two weeks at the end of which the judgment is being made. The chances must be extremely high that they will not be able to satisfy whoever has ruled them not to be actively seeking work that they are now actively seeking work for at least another two weeks. The chances are high that anyone who falls foul of the test will lost all right to benefit and possibly all source of income for, at the minimum, a month. The clause is savage in its potential, it will be savage in its effects and it will lead inexorably to harassment and persecution of some whose only fault is that they cannot
Column 979get work. I beg hon. Members on both sides of the House to vote for the amendment and for the removal of the clause.
Mr. John Hannam (Exeter) : I shall not follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) in calling for the removal of clause 7. I want to speak to amendment No. 14 in my name and the names of right hon. and hon. Members of the all-party disablement group. The amendment seeks to take account of the special situation facing people who work as volunteers in our society. We talk a lot these days about care in the community policies and we are all anxious that the Government should soon bring forward their decisions on the Griffiths report, the report of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. But regardless of those factors, we have to recognise that during recent years of high unemployment the Government have actively encouraged unemployed people to become active citizens through community care work. The voluntary organisations on which we rely for a great deal of our social provision have become heavily involved in using unemployed volunteers in community care. Organisations such as the Spastics Society, Age Concern, MIND and Mencap run everything from local befriending schemes to specialist day centres with volunteers who are expected and trained to develop close relations with those for whom they care and to develop a special trust with the persons cared for. There are some 370 volunteer bureaux in the United Kingdom, recruiting about 110,000 new volunteers every year. Their average age is 29, and about 60 per cent. are women. Between one quarter and one third of the population take part in some kind of regular voluntary work.
Unemployed people are a significant proportion of volunteers and among the most active and energetic. They are used in all the caring professions from advice work through citizens advice bureaux, housing aid centres and law centres through to community care agencies, working with elderly people, people with disabilities, mental illness and mental handicap and homeless people and ex-offenders. Hospitals, homes for children and old people, conservation work and many worthwhile environmental projects make up a pattern for which Britain is unique. They rely largely on voluntary help.
At present, under the existing system, volunteers face a number of difficulties in claiming benefits to which they are entitled, and because benefit officers have a great deal of discretion in deciding on the position of a volunteer, there are many inconsistencies of practice across the country. My amendment has the backing of all the voluntary organisations and seeks to provide the necessary clarity and uniformity of practice.
Clause 7 provides that unemployed persons will have to show that they are actively seeking work, and I do not dissent from that principle. But if the clause is not amended there may be serious problems for a great many volunteers. Benefit officers may, in many cases, conclude from the fact that a person is volunteering that he is not actively seeking work--a misunderstanding which hasbeen common under the present system. Volunteers who are actively seeking work, but whose voluntary work
Column 980involves caring for people with whom they must build up trust and commitment, surely cannot be expected to break off that trust and commitment within 24 hours. They must be given longer notice, both to protect the disabled or other persons being looked after, and to give sufficient time for the various local authority and voluntary organisations to arrange for other volunteers to come forward to ensure continuous care.
Disabled people form a strong and supportive personal relationship with their volunteer carers. These are mutually beneficial. Crucially, these personal elements of care depend on a relationship of trust, care and familiarity, built up over a period. If a volunteer is forced to break off that relationship at 24 hours' notice, emotional and practical difficulties for the disabled person will be created. The voluntary caring organisations --the Spastics Society, Mencap and so on--will not have sufficient time to arrange cover by another carer. Our amendment would ensure that this special relationship was protected from the effects of benefit requirements designed to address a totally different problem.
It would also ensure that the special position of volunteers and volunteering was recognised, within the benefit system, as an important way into the job market. Volunteering is an important form of training by which skills are acquired and a person made more employable. Many people who have taken on volunteer roles have moved on into professional caring jobs, having gained the necessary skills in their volunteering relationships with disabled and other people. I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security is right in his promotion of community care and active citizenship, but it would be sad indeed if one of the unintended consequences of this legislation were the disruption of the supporting relationships built up in the community. That would, of course, be another push to the already spiralling residential care budget.
There are precedents for recognising the contribution of volunteering. Social security regulations of 1983 allow those involved in emergency services to be counted as actively seeking work. The proposed subsections (2C) and (2D) in amendment No. 14 simply seek to extend this recognition to an equaly important area of volunteering, where people are similarly concerned with the life and death of others unable to assist themselves. The proposed subsection (2C) states :
"if on a day for which benefit might fall to be payable, a person is a volunteer, then the Benefit Officer shall regard the voluntary work undertaken as evidence tending to show that the person is available for and actively seeking work."
I do not believe that I am going against the grain of Government policy with this amendment. Indeed, I believe that I am correcting an oversight. I know that my hon. Friend values the work of the internationally and nationally respcted organisations that have asked for it, and I hope, therefore, that he will give us some encouragement when he replies.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : I listened very carefully to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam). The thrust of his amendment certainly does not go against the grain of Government policy. Similarly, amendment No. 109, which is part of this group, seeks to move with the grain of Government policy. Its purpose is to allow claimants to show that they are seeking employment under subsection (1) if they are working in a voluntary capacity in order to
Column 981further skills and experience for future employment. That seemed to be the nub of the argument by the hon. Member for Exeter, and it is the thrust of the brief remarks that I want to make.
Related matters were given some consideration in the Standing Committee. I wonder whether the Minister of State has had time to give further consideration to, and to develop, Government thinking in this direction. Problems could be solved, and benefits accrue, from these amendments. I certainly support the purpose of amendment No. 1--the lead amendment in this group--for reasons that I made clear on Second Reading and in Committee. The thrust of clauses 7, 8 and 9 is wrong-headed, and I remain unconvinced that they are necessary at all. However, I accept that the Government have set their face against any attempt to withdraw those clauses, so the best course that the House can adopt is to seek to amend them positively. The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Exeter and the amendment in my name both seek to do that in a constructive way.
The new provisions will certainly have an effect on voluntary organisations and charitable organisations, which do very good work--a point that is of crucial importance. But perhaps even more important is the effect of the new legislation on the people who will be unable to continue to claim unemployment benefit, people who in the past were doing voluntary work. I am particularly concerned about people with disabilities. They are in a "Catch 22" situation. Although attempts are being made to encourage employers to take on quotas of people with disabilities, those people are in a very difficult situation in the employment market.
Many disabled people can make a very positive contribution to society as a whole in terms of the organisations with which they work as volunteers, but they also benefit in terms of the personal development that they can achieve and the confidence that they can re-establish by serving in a useful capacity with organisations such as we in our constituencies know so well. Such people are in a vicious circle. Voluntary work gives disabled people an opportunity to acquire office skills, computer skills, and so on. It gives confidence and provides material for a practical curriculum vitae that can be shown to prospective employers. Paying unemployment benefit to volunteers like that constitutes an investment, and is not a subsidy for any sort of easy life.
The only other point that I want to make is that the long-term unemployed, too, could be helped very substantially if the Government were to accept these amendments. Anybody who has been unemployed for a long time loses confidence. That is clear to any hon. Member who has constituents in this situation. The air of defeat with which some people come to see me actually depresses me. If such people could be provided with constructive and helpful positions as volunteers while claiming unemployment benefit, they could be kept much more mentally alert. Very often they would be in the right place at the right time when job opportunities came along. Their voluntary work would show future employers that they were determined to get out and about and to try to improve their situation. It would keep their skills ticking over, and make possible the development of new skills if old ones had atrophied.
Column 982For all these reasons, the scheme that is proposed in these amendments, which seek to mitigate the effect of the new regime, are commendable. The opportunities are easily to hand to set up such as system. I am led to believe that the voluntary bureaux have worked out what I am fairly satisfied is a reasonably workable scheme. The Minister of State must not hide behind the difficulties of bureaucracy. That argument will not wash at all. The opportunity is readily to hand. There is no reason for resisting these amendments--certainly not on ideological or political grounds. They would provide substantial benefit to a significant number of people, and would go a long way to mitigating some of the disastrous effects that I suspect clauses 7, 8 and 9 may have if they are introduced unamended. I support the amendments in my name and in the name of the hon. Member for Exeter, and I hope that the Minister will give them very careful consideration.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) painted a picture of the economy in London that one does not recognise. She talked about the shortage of job opportunities. Just before coming to the House, I went out and bought a copy of the Evening Standard. I counted a total of 15 pages of job opportunity advertisements.
Mr. Marshall : It means that, if one considers the number of registered unemployed and the number of job vacancies notified to jobcentres in London, and if one then applies the usual quotient, it becomes clear that there are many jobs available in London for those registered as unemployed. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) knows that a large number of jobs, particularly in the south-east, are not even notified to jobcentres because of the difficulty of filling them. For every vacancy notified to a London jobcentre there are probably three or four more waiting to be filled. One can say that in London there are about 100,000 vacancies available for people to fill.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : In the borough of Croydon, which includes the constituency of the Secretary of State for Social Security, there were in January 8,000 unemployed chasing 1,000 vacancies. Will the hon. Gentleman explain how all those people can obtain employment when there are insufficient jobs available? That pattern does not match the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, even in London.
Mr. Marshall : There is a strict convention. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that right hon. and hon. Members do not speak about the constituencies of other right hon. and hon. Members. I am sure that Mr. Speaker would not expect me to talk about his constituency.
Mr. Marshall : The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) refers to 1,000 vacancies notified to Croydon jobcentres, but he knows full well that for every notified vacancy, there are three or four unnotified jobs available. The hon. Gentleman knows also that London is a travel-to-work area, so that people living in Croydon do not have to work in Croydon but can work somewhere
Column 983else. Because of London's wide travel-to- work area, a whole host of jobs are available to Croydon residents--both in Croydon itself and outside it.
When I visited the Golders Green jobcentre in my constituency, I was told that about 800 vacancies were on offer, but great difficulty was experienced in filling many of them--mainly because people are unwilling to accept them because the salaries offered do not compare favourably with unemployment benefit, However, some people do those jobs at those salaries, and they pay taxes. Why should they pay taxes to provide unemployment benefit to people who refuse to undertake those same jobs? Opposition Members do not understand the anger that the situation creates among those in work.
Ms. Short : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman really understands what he has just said. He claims that some people refuse jobs because they would be financially worse off by comparison with the unemployment benefit they receive. He is saying, then, that people should accept jobs that will give them a lower income than they have from unemployment benefit. Does he really mean that? Are there to be no minimum employment standards in this country?
Mr. Marshall : If the hon. Lady listens to my remarks, or if she reads them in Hansard tomorrow, she will learn that, not for the first time, she has distorted the remarks of a Conservative Member. No one is saying that people should receive less income in work than they might receive in benefits. We introduced family credit to ensure that families in work are not worse off than families out of work. The hon. Lady seeks to distort our true intentions. Our belief is that it is wrong that people who refuse work should automatically receive unemployment benefit, which is a view taken by the vast majority of the British people.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I support all the amendments in the first group because they would allow the useful development of people undertaking voluntary work. Many Conservative Members, including the Minister, want to see more of that because they support voluntary effort in society. That is why a Conservative Member has tabled an amendment. I hope that the Minister accepts that voluntary work should be taken as evidence of a person's determination to seek employment.
I support the wholesale opposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) to the noxious new clause giving the Secretary of State power to introduce regulations. When the Department introduces regulations, they are generally of an oppressive and complicated nature, hurt the poorest most and erode the civil liberties of those in the worst position in society. I am not in favour of the Minister for Social Security having any additional regulating powers. All the cuts implemented after 11 April 1988 were introduced by regulatory powers. Large chunks of oppressive legislation afflicting the poorest of the poor were introduced by the Minister with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. I do not think that he is a fit or proper person to legislate for anyone. I am not in favour of him. I recall the years when he pretended to be a liberal in the Tory party, and how he sacrificed those pretensions to crawl after the Prime Minister for position.
Mr. Cryer : I shall certainly not withdraw one dot or comma of what I have just said. The Minister is a particular object of my contempt for taking the position of being on the wet side of the Tory party but then, like a number of Tory party wets, caving in at the flick of an eyebrow by the Prime Minister. If anyone wants me to make the position absolutely clear, I shall be delighted to do so.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend that I entirely agree with his remarks. During the progress of the Bill last year which took away benefits from many young people, I pleaded with the Minister for a special dispensation for groups which he now admits are in dire need and sinking into homelessness and despair, but the Minister could not give a guarantee then that he would help them. I agree with every word that my hon. Friend has said about the Minister for Social Security.
The regulating powers available to the House are far from satisfactory. I am concerned about giving more time to primary legislation on the Floor of the House. If the Government were to withdraw the water privatisation Bill, for example, the House would have an opportunity to deal with more primary legislation, which is what it should be.
The availability for work test is an example of tried and tested legislation which has stood the test of time. When stories of benefits abuse arise, they are published mostly in the tabloid press and have little substance. I recall a press campaign during the last Labour Government's period of office, when they were accused of being soft on the unemployed and allowing benefits abuse. The evidence produced--which was supported, of course, by The Sun --was found to be almost wholly without substance. Of about 700 cases investigated, often arising from anonymous reports about neighbours, only four were found to have genuine substance, and were in any event already being investigated by the DHSS.
One of the Government's faults is that they cannot leave anything alone. Because of their doctrinaire beliefs, they have to tamper with everything, and that doctrinaire belief is generally about attacking those who are most vulnerable. Labour Members accept the approach to availability for work that civil servants are used to administering. People applying for benefits also understand it. But now the position is to be changed and civil servants and applicants will have to make a new assessment of the position. New difficulties will be created, and any judgment to be made will be on the side of the Government, with the result that more people will be refused unemployment benefit. Guidelines will be issued by the Minister to supplement the delegated powers and will almost certainly instruct civil servants, in cases where a judgment has to be made, to decide against the applicant.
In discussions that I have had while canvassing over the years, people of previous generations have told me that they do not want to go back to the practices of the 1920s and 1930s, when the means test humiliated people
Column 985genuinely seeking work. Labour Members canvassing in the last two elections often heard it said that the Prime Minister was taking us back to the 1920s and 1930s. Some of us thought that people who had had a hard time during the inter-war period might have been feeling that the situation in recent times was a rehash of the earlier experience and might perhaps be exaggerating slightly, but we were wrong because the Prime Minister is clearly taking us back to the 1920s and 1930s, when people were subjected to harrowing scrutiny and humiliation. That will be the effect on society of clause 7 of the Bill. That provision is a further attack on the unemployed. The Government claim that the number of unemployed is falling, although it has not yet fallen to the number in 1979 when the Conservatives came to office. Conservative Members are always making comparisons with the situation under the Labour Government, but they have a long way to go to achieve an unemployment level as low as in 1979. It would be interesting to hear when the Government expect that figure to be reached. In the meantime, the unemployed are suffering under the legislation affecting them. Provisions protecting people against unfair dismissal have been diminished. The rights of an employer have been enhanced so that a person who is dismissed faces the possibility of an extended period without unemployment benefit. Industrial tribunals relating to unfair dismissals have had their jurisdiction removed or diminished.
All this is part of a general pattern to attack the unemployed. I have no doubt that, like all Labour Members, Members representing smaller parties have constituents who tell them that many of the jobs advertised are for skilled engineers and the like, so a person who has been a labourer all his life is unlikely to get one. People genuinely seeking work often despair at not being able to find a job. One of my own offspring applied for several jobs over a period of many weeks and was in despair when he was unsuccessful. Although it was for a relatively short period that he was unable to find a job--fortunately, he subsequently found a position--he showed the despair that people feel at the continued indifference of many employers to applications for work.
It will be difficult to clarify what is involved in a test of whether a person is actively seeking work. It will be extremely difficult to verify people's intentions. Will they have to show that they have written letters seeking employment? Will it thus be incumbent on them to make sure that they keep a carbon copy or take a photocopy of all their applications? Will they have to produce bus tickets to show that they visited places of employment to apply for jobs? If their application is refused, will they have to get a letter to that effect so as to continue receiving unemployment benefit? Because of the great sea of legislation which already exists, people face the task of filling in a large number of forms in scrupulous detail to satisfy the Minister's civil servants and obtain benefits--a situation rather different from what people in the City seem to be able to get away with in relation to share applications, and so on. It is difficult to determine how much evidence people will need to produce under clause 7 in support of their applications for benefit. This will impose yet another burden on ordinary people who have already been rejected inasmuch as they are unemployed. Recently I had an interview with a man who was made redundant two years ago. As he was 58 years old, he
Column 986wondered what hope he had of getting a job. The Minister may say that changes are afoot which will mean older people being called back to work, but that does not apply now. In Bradford, the
Tory-controlled council is actually creating redundancies by sacking people and forcing them on to the dole. Indeed, one of the Government's proud boasts is about the way in which they have got rid of civil servants. A further instance of unemployment being created is the closure of the shipyard at Wearside. The Government have no proud record of creating and sustaining jobs in the public sector, but rather the reverse.
Unemployment is still a serious social problem, with 2 million people on the dole. Many thousands of people have been put out of work by the reduction in manufacturing activity--a total of 2 million since 1979. Under this Government all those people still walking the stones have a shadow over their shoulders of yet more bureaucratic interference and form- filling. They will have to produce more proof of their efforts to find work and satisfy more civil servants to obtain unemployment benefit.
If the Minister wishes to redeem himself in my eyes and those of other Labour Members, he must accept at least one of the amendments--preferably amendment No. 1--to show that he has some sympathy for the unemployed. He needs to show that he accepts their collective word when they tell him that they are genuinely seeking work because 99.9 per cent. of those people are desperately looking for work, want work, and are critical of a Government who seem unable to produce an economy that will provide it.