Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: As I understand this group of amendments, the essential point is the desire to take out of the Bill the provision that someone who is to obtain this allowance must be "actively" seeking employment and leaving it, presumably, on the basis that all they have to establish is that they were seeking employment.

I suggest that that would be an unfortunate amendment to the Bill. Whether or not one is really seeking employment—not actively seeking, but just seeking—may be a matter of opinion. If one sent a letter saying, "By the way, if you want to employ me I am available", is that seeking employment? The essence of the Bill as it stands is that one must be actively seeking employment. To carry an amendment to that effect will be extremely damaging both to the operation of the Bill and to the understanding of it.

5 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: When the Minister replies to this debate, will he answer one or two fairly straightforward questions for the benefit of those Members of the Committee who may not know the answers? My noble friend Lord McCarthy referred to performance related pay for the staff who are to implement these proposals. Can the Minister tell us what is the measurement of performance? Is it the number of applicants or the money saved? Are targets set for them? How substantial are the rewards if the targets are achieved? Conversely, are there penalties for failure to reach the targets? I believe that in this and in subsequent debates on this Bill

20 Apr 1995 : Column 602

it is very important that we should know the answers to these questions because the attitude of the staff in implementing all these proposals will be very important indeed. We need to know how they are driven.

Lord Renton: I agree with the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter about the true effect of these amendments, especially Amendments Nos. 2 and 4. They are of very limited scope and, as my noble friend quite rightly said, they simply raise the question of whether it is enough that there should be the seeking of employment, which is a pretty vague expression, or whether there should be the need for the active seeking of employment.

Having said that, perhaps I may now refer to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the recommendations in the report of the committee on the preparation of legislation, of which I had the honour to be chairman. I was glad that he made those quotations. I broadly agree with him that we should avoid detail if it is intended merely to cover a number of anticipated hypothetical circumstances. If we try to include too much detail we will generally fail: we are pretty certain to leave something out. I agree with the noble Earl that whether we have a need for detail or not, it is as well that the intention of Parliament should be made clear by the statement of principles.

I do not have a copy of our report with me, but my recollection is—in due course I can show the report to the noble Earl—that when we have legislation that financially affects the individual citizen's rights, as in a finance Bill, and as we have here in the entitlement to the jobseeker's allowance, we have to spell out exactly what the entitlement is. That is what Clause 1 and others in the Bill attempt to do.

I am very grateful to the noble Earl, as I always am when he refers to that report. However, I do not believe that governments—dare I say it: civil servants who instruct parliamentary draftsmen—have really taken advantage of the opportunities which that report presents through its recommendations. In the particular group of amendments to which reference has been made, I do not believe that the Government can be accused of doing something that the report felt should not be done. Although I of course welcome any broad statement of principle to implement what is in the Bill, I go along with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that as regards the particular points raised by these amendments the Government can well stand firm.

Earl Russell: Perhaps I may very briefly respond to some very generous remarks. I am not arguing with what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said about the Bill. However, this Bill is giving a power to produce many further detailed definitions of "actively seeking work" in regulations. It was that attempt at a more detailed definition which I was describing as "frenetic".

Lord Desai: Perhaps I may say a little in support of these amendments. Quite rightly, they correct the Bill, which is based on a fallacy. That fallacy is that we have unemployment because the unemployed are not actively seeking work. That is not the case. We have unemployment because there are no jobs for the

20 Apr 1995 : Column 603

unemployed to have. It is very peculiar that it is not enough to be seeking work but that one should be actively seeking work.

How does one define "actively"? If I sit here and listen to noble Lords, am I being very active? If I had to go to an office and prove that I am being active while I am sitting listening, people may not agree. I may be very actively seeking work sitting here and making many applications for work, but that may not satisfy someone sitting in a jobseeker's allowance office.

We shall get into more and more detailed regulations. The point is that, no matter how actively one asks a person to seek work, he or she is not going to find it if there is no work to be had. Therefore, rather than worry about the idea that somehow it is a lack of effort on the part of the unemployed which is the cause of this problem, one should be tackling the cause of unemployment in some other way.

This clause is not about the fact that people will get more jobs if they actively seek work, but, as many Members of the Committee have said, it is really about saving money. We are cutting people off for not seeming enthusiastic enough in finding work. That requirement will be screwed up tighter and tighter because there will be foolish attempts to save money and at the same time there will be clamorous demands for cutting taxes or something like that. It will not save very much money, as my noble friend pointed out, because the money saved on this particular benefit will have to be paid out elsewhere. This provision will not create any more jobs than there are already but an even bigger bureaucracy than we already have in this field, and that is bad enough.

Lord Henderson of Brompton: I am very happy to be speaking immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Desai, as he may well remember that a few years ago in this House, when the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was speaking for the Government on social security matters, he said of him and me that we were the only two Peers in the House apparently who were against the term "actively seeking work". He paused in case anyone wished to join us in our lonely position. He then went on to further business. Therefore, it is altogether appropriate that I follow the noble Lord.

The citizens advice bureaux, which are highly respected in this House, are very unhappy about the phrase "actively seeking work" and the way in which since, I believe, 1989 it has been turned again and again. That was a metaphor used by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. It has been, and continues to be, the turn of the screw. It is a tightening up all the time through regulations of one sort or another which are particularly intrusive into people's private lives. Therefore, for that reason alone, the measure should be resisted.

I am very unhappy with the evidence which the citizens' advice bureaux have accrued on this subject which proves indisputably that we should not persist in the turn of this screw. If only the Government would agree to respect human beings who are unemployed and who will, indeed, seek work conscientiously. The Government should not presume that they will not do so if that screw is not turned.

20 Apr 1995 : Column 604

In my brief Second Reading speech, I said that I was increasingly worried about the policing of society. One of the things that I find most disgusting is the way in which the unemployed are increasingly being policed more and more repressively.

The National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux states that the actively seeking work formula has been used in,

    "an increasingly authoritarian regime at the Jobcentre which has little to do with helping unemployed people find work".

I agree with that. However, in the form that it will take if the Bill is enacted, the actively seeking work formula means that the burden of proof on the claimant is heavily augmented. It has to be realised that the test whereby a claimant has to prove that he has been seeking work actively applies more than once. It has to be proved every week, so I am told. What a burden that is on a person who may have to seek work for miles around and who will have very little money with which to pay fares to and from the places where he is seeking work. What an intolerable burden it places on employers also. Surely the Government Benches might be sympathetic to the point of view that I am now putting forward because employers already find it extremely onerous to have to stamp chits to say that an unemployed person has been seeking work there when those employers know perfectly well that they do not have any places available. Apparently, they have to go through that rigmarole every week for every unemployed person who actively seeks work from them. For those reasons, I support the amendment and hope that it will be put to a Division.

Finally, the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, which is very experienced, is certain that the Jobseekers Bill, with this provision included, will further increase the surveillance —or what I call the "policing"—of all unemployed people and will inevitably lead to a further rise in the number of people who fall foul of the actively seeking work test. Do we really want that to happen? I suggest that we do not.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page