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Column 1003Riddick, Graham
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Sackville, Hon Tom
Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shelton, Sir William
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Soames, Hon Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Walters, Sir Dennis
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Mr. David Lightbown.
Question accordingly negatived.
(3A) For subsection (4) of that section "meaning of suitable employment" there shall be substituted--
"(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, regulations shall (a) prescribe matters which are to be taken into account or determining whether a person does have good cause for any act or omission ; " '
No. 2, in page 6, line 31, at end insert
(a) whether the level of remuneration is reasonable for that employment, or
(b) any excuse that the person would be likely to incur in connection with that employment.'.
No. 3, in page 6, line 38, after which', insert
is unsuited to his skills or experience or'.
Government amendment No. 99.
No. 111, in page 7, line 40, at end add
(7) Nothing in sections 7, 8 and 9 shall prevent the adjudication officer when reaching any decision under sections 7, 8 and 9 taking into account patterns of employment associated with particular professions.'.
Mrs. Beckett : The amendments relate to clause 9 which, as indicated in the debate on amendment No. 5, is of a piece with other aspects of the Government's approach to wages and the nature of the job search required by clause
Column 10047. The effect of clause 9 as it stands will be to require people to apply for or take jobs or training places without regard to the suitability of those jobs or training places to their skills and experience, and without regard in particular--again, this is written on the face of the Bill--to the wages offered or to the conditions of work. Rejecting or failing actively to search for any work, at any wages and in any conditions, may lead to benefit being
suspended--probably, as seems to be the norm these days, for the full period of six months, as there is no evidence of discretion available to adjudication officers in that respect.
No Government have offered such a carte blanche to the greedy, irresponsible or exploitative employer since unemployment insurance was invented in 1911, and with it the idea that a job offer could be rejected without incurring disqualification from benefit if there was good cause and the offer was not of suitable work. It is important to emphasise that, under the law, after a period of unemployment people might be called on to widen their horizons beyond the direct field of their previous job, but they could not be disqualified for rejecting or refusing to pursue a job if the wages and conditions on offer were not reasonably fair once the scope of search had been widened. Through this clause, as through other measures such as the removal of wages councils, the Government seem to be trying to erase the idea that there is any such thing as a proper job or a living wage. In pursuit of that objective, people may be pressured by the threat of disqualification and suspension of benefit to take steps that they may believe--and may be correct to believe--are damaging to their long-term prospects of re-employment. Someone with a skilled job or a supervisory or managerial post might be pressed to take a job as a janitor or clerical assistant because that was all that was readily available.
Ministers claim that that will not happen, but that is not what the law says. What Conservative Back Benchers say is more interesting and truthful. They say, "Why not?" They want to know what is wrong with being a janitor or clerical assistant and why people should not be pushed into any job because any job is better than being on the dole. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear Conservative Members justifying my observations.
It is far from clear whether employers are as open-minded as Conservative Members. The Opposition regret that an employer receiving an application for a supervisory or managerial post from a former manager or supervisor now labouring on the shop floor may not get further down the application form than "present occupation" before throwing it in the bin and saying, "He must be joking." One of our prime complaints about the Bill is that the only way in which it seeks to affect the job market is by punishing the unemployed. It has nothing to offer on other obstacles to possible re- employment, such as the attitudes of employers.
Amendment No. 116 deals with the question of retaining the word "suitable" in section 20(1)(d) of the Social Security Act 1975. That subsection would otherwise be able to disqualify someone who has without good cause refused to carry out any recommendations given with a view to assisting him to find employment. When we are not even talking about a job which is necessarily available to that individual, but merely about the advice that he might be given to look for a job, it is right to retain the concept of people looking for "suitable" employment. Certainly it would be wrong to disqualify a person for failing to carry out a recommendation.
Column 1005Amendment No. 2 is directed specifically at the level of pay and would write into the Bill two exceptions to the general ban on taking into account at any stage the level of remuneration-- whether the rate of pay is reasonable for the job and also work expenses. It is plainly absurd to suggest that no account should be taken of the rate of pay. Someone is entitled to expect a reasonable rate of pay for the job on offer, whatever the job or however long the period of unemployment that the person has suffered. The Government's view on this is not altogether clear. In Committee the Minister agreed that "Someone who turns down a job offered to him privately at a derisory wage should not be disqualified from unemployment benefit." The Minister seemed to fear that someone in a private agency might tip off the Department of Social Security that a person had turned down a job which it was wholly unreasonable, even in the Government's view, for him to accept and he might then be disqualified from benefit. The Minister said :
"I want to find a way through regulations preventing that from happening, but cannot say exactly how it is possible to do it, nor what the impact might be on other sources through which the job might be advertised."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee F, 14 February 1989 ; c. 487-533.]
We pressed the Minister on that and asked what would happen if a job was advertised not just through a private agency--we agree that the Government should act in that case--but by a private agency and at the jobcentre, whether or not the person knew that the job was on offer at the jobcentre. What would happen if the person turned the job down because the wages were derisory? Will that be allowed if the job is offered privately, but not if it is offered at the same wages through the jobcentre? We asked the Minister that question in Committee, but there is no record of a reply, let alone one that makes any sense. The only way in which the Minister's proposal would make any kind of sense would be if it were extended to jobs offered through the jobcentre as well as through private agencies. That is the first leg of amendment No. 2.
The second part of amendment No. 2 would allow work expenses explicitly to be taken into account when deciding whether a person had good cause to refuse a job. Again, we discussed that at length in Committee. Although we challenged the Minister about work expenses such as travel and child care costs, and asked whether they would count as good cause for refusing a job on low wages, the Minister seemed to say that he thought that they "ought to" as opposed to "would." Because the provision in the Bill explicitly states that all questions of remuneration are ruled out, that might be taken to override the Minister's comments about what it might be nice to take into account in the way of work expenses. At one point the Minister said :
"There is no straightforward answer"--[ Official Report, Standing Committee F ; 9 February 1989, c. 408.]
about the kind of work expenses that might be taken into account.
Ms. Short : My hon. Friend will recall that there is provision in the Bill for the Government to make regulations allowing them to set minimum pay levels. If the pay for a job was below that, it would be reasonable to turn it down. The Minister explicitly refused to promise to make such regulations, so despite the undertaking to which my hon. Friend refers, unless the Minister changes his mind today he is explicitly ruling out making any regulations to provide for a minimum level of pay.