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Division No. 1


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Avebury, L.
Barnett, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Broadbridge, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Chapple, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Dahrendorf, L.
David, B.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Desai, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Ezra, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Fitt, L.
Gallacher, L.
Geraint, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]
Glenamara, L.
Gregson, L.
Grey, E.
Halsbury, E.
Hanworth, V.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hooson, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Hughes, L.
Hylton, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kennet, L.
Kilbracken, L.
Kintore, E.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lockwood, B.
Longford, E.
McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Molloy, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Nicol, B.
Peston, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Rea, L.
Richard, L.
Rix, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B.
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.]
Seear, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Serota, B.
Shepherd, L.
Simon, V.
Stallard, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Tordoff, L.
Varley, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Wharton, B.
White, B.
Wigoder, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.


Aberdare, L.
Addison, V.
Ailsa, M.
Aldington, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Ampthill, L.
Argyll, D.
Arran, E.
Ashbourne, L.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Atholl, D.
Balfour, E.
Biddulph, L.
Blake, L.
Blatch, B.
Blyth, L.
Boardman, L.
Borthwick, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brigstocke, B.
Brookeborough, V.
Brookes, L.
Burnham, L.
Cadman, L.
Caithness, E.
Caldecote, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Carr of Hadley, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L.
Chelmsford, V.
Chesham, L.
Clanwilliam, E.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Coleridge, L.
Colnbrook, L.
Courtown, E.
Craigavon, V.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Cross, V.
Cumberlege, B.
Davidson, V.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denham, L.
Dilhorne, V.
Donegall, M.
Dormer, L.
Downshire, M.
Ellenborough, L.
Elles, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Gisborough, L.
Goschen, V.
Gray of Contin, L.
Gridley, L.
Haddington, E.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Harmsworth, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Hemphill, L.
Henley, L.
Hives, L.
Hogg, B.
Hood, V.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Inglewood, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L.
Killearn, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kitchener, E.
Lauderdale, E.
Lindsay, E.
Liverpool, E.
Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.
Long, V. [Teller.]
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Lyell, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Macleod of Borve, B.
Malmesbury, E.
Manchester, D.
Manton, L.
Marlesford, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Morris, L.
Mottistone, L.
Mountevans, L.
Munster, E.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Norrie, L.
Northesk, E.
Onslow, E.
Orkney, E.
Oxfuird, V.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Pender, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Quinton, L.
Rawlings, B.
Reay, L.
Rees, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Renwick, L.
Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Romney, E.
St. Davids, V.
Saint Oswald, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B.
Selborne, E.
Shannon, E.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Slim, V.
Strange, B.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Sudeley, L.
Teviot, L.
Teynham, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Trumpington, B.
Vivian, L.
Walker of Worcester, L.
Whitelaw, V.
Wise, L.
Wolfson, L.
Wynford, L.
Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

25 Apr 1995 : Column 816

4.54 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 5, line 12, at end insert:
("( ) A person who imposes restrictions on his availability for employment for one or more of the following reasons shall not, for that reason or reasons, be regarded as not available for employment—
(a) his religious belief,
(b) his conscience,

25 Apr 1995 : Column 817

(c) his childcare responsibilities (including responsibilities in respect of foster children),
(d) his caring for a disabled or elderly person,
(e) his mental or physical condition,
(f) his attendance on a course of education, training or instruction designed to improve his prospects of obtaining suitable employment, or
(g) his objection to working on Sundays or the Sabbath.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 43, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 44A, 52, 53 and 60. They are probing amendments which seek to build into the Bill protection against discrimination as regards particular groups of people. We fear that they might otherwise fail the actively seeking work test either because of their ethnic origin, gender or religion; or because they are involved in voluntary activities such as childcare, study or are, say, retained firemen; or because of their mental or physical condition.

Employment staff are drawn from the same cross-section of the population as the rest of us. We know that the vast majority do their job professionally and impartially. However, inevitably they bring to bear past experiences and sometimes present prejudices. That was confirmed to me when some months ago I spent time in a social security office discussing social fund payments.

Most of the experienced and professional officers disagreed among themselves as to whom they would award social fund payments. They all aligned themselves with the experience of the person to whom they were giving the loan. The woman who favoured giving a social fund loan to the woman who was caring for an elderly parent was herself caring for an elderly parent. The woman who favoured giving additional funds to a lone parent was herself a lone parent. In other words, I know from my personal experience that good, trained, decent and sensitive staff nonetheless come with a perspective that is understandable, drawn from their own experience. We wish to press that issue in this cluster of amendments.

Our first anxiety is reflected in some of our debates about Sunday trading. Religious beliefs might lead someone not to want to work on the Sabbath, whether that be a Saturday, a Sunday or any other day of religious observance. Given present developments in the labour market, that might restrict them as regards working in the retail trade. It is important that on such grounds they do not lose their right to benefit, and we seek the Minister's clarification.

Similarly, there is the issue of conscience. At the extreme end of the scale is the person who is a Quaker, for instance, and is unwilling and morally unable to work in an industry associated with the arms trade. Another example might be a vegetarian who refuses to work in an abattoir or a meat processing factory.

The anxiety relating to ethnic origin can work both ways. I have seen it assumed that a well-educated black male will be more willing than his white counterpart to engage in manual labour. On the other hand, we have received reports from a London citizens advice bureau of a Bangladeshi man who was barely able to speak English and who sought a job in a kitchen precisely so that language would not be a problem. As proof of his

25 Apr 1995 : Column 818

job search he was required to submit the checking of advertisements in the Evening Standard, newspaper cuttings and letters. As he was unable to read, write or speak English, all those conditions were impossible and he could not meet them.

People may have caring responsibilities for children, the elderly or the disabled. With enough notice they can rearrange that caring responsibility but we fear that, unless they have the time and they can show evidence of that, they will not be regarded as properly available, even though we would all wish to help them to continue to be effective carers.

Local authorities have raised with us another group of concerns. The first relates to foster parents, in particular temporary foster parents who will take children for a short time until they go on to permanent placements. At present such temporary foster parents are not required to sign on as being available for work because that would inhibit the very flexibility that local authorities and we as a society require them to have; to be available almost at a drop of a hat to take on a baby or a deserted small child as and when necessary. That is the present situation in respect of income support and unemployment benefit and we hope that it will continue in respect of JSA. We look to the Minister for reassurances to that effect.

Another situation which the local authorities have raised is that of retained firemen or lifeboat men. At the moment they are entitled to retain their benefit even though they may fall foul of the actively seeking work provisions. We seek an assurance from the Minister in that regard.

Equally, we must consider those undertaking part-time studies and those with a mental or physical condition. We wish to be confident that there will be no variation among local offices. The Government have accepted the question of hours but not, for example, the pattern of hours or the location of work. It may be essential for someone with a physical or mental condition to be close to home.

In other words, this is a portfolio of concerns which we believe may trespass on the notion of the availability for and actively seeking work. The worry is the degree of discretion to be exercised by front-line staff in determining the content of the jobseeker's agreement; the degree of discretion shown in determining whether or not the conditions have been fulfilled; and the degree of discretion exhibited by those officers when deciding whether or not to stop benefit for two weeks or indefinitely.

If the problems raised by this amendment are not addressed satisfactorily by the Government, we fear that certain groups—on grounds of ethnicity or health, or because they are in voluntary occupations or such occupations as being a foster parent, or because they have mental or physical disabilities—may disproportionately be denied benefit as they cannot be fitted easily into the tidy category of actively seeking work.

We believe that the likelihood of discrimination is considerable. The penalty or fine for the claimant is huge: he loses benefit. The opportunity to rectify that is

25 Apr 1995 : Column 819

belated and problematical. Therefore, we should welcome the Minister's reassurances in relation to those categories of claimants. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: Amendment No. 52, which stands in my name, is grouped with this amendment. Therefore, I shall now speak to that amendment. I welcome the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. My amendment is also a probing amendment.

The purpose of the amendment is to provide protection against discrimination by Employment Service staff in the exercise of their powers under the Bill which, as the Committee will know, gives them new powers in relation to drawing up and enforcing the jobseeker's agreement. I am sure that most members of staff are conscientious but firm guidelines are needed to guard against discrimination and abuse of powers. I am sure that there will be no intention to abuse those powers but that may happen, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, as a result of the circumstances and experience of the staff.

There is anxiety about discrimination against those with disabilities, particularly hidden disabilities, which are not taken into account in the incapacity for work test. For example, I understand that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux sees many people who are refused employment on the grounds of being epileptic. Those with histories of mental illness also encounter prejudice in the employment market.

Other groups affected by prejudice in that market are older employees, young black men—I understand that the unemployment rate for that group in London is in the region of 62 per cent.—and refugees, whose abilities are often considerably underestimated. Unless the Employment Service staff are aware of those factors in the job market, the treatment of their clients, particularly in relation to the jobseeker's agreement, may also be discriminatory.

In addition, the pay and promotion structure of the Employment Service now includes targets for referrals of cases for adjudication. Those who have the greatest difficulty in finding work will be those who are most vulnerable and mostly likely to have their cases referred. A clear commitment to anti-discrimination practices is vital to ensure that jobseekers are protected and Employment Service staff are not pressured into making discriminatory decisions.

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