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Lord Inglewood: We seem to be going back over a debate that we have had before. However, in a country where Parliament is sovereign and cannot bind its successors, that is a matter ultimately for Parliament in the future.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I also wish to ask the Minister a question before we decide what to do with this amendment. Will the Minister tell us whether there is any aspect of Amendment No. 43 concerning religious belief, conscience, childcare responsibilities, caring, mental or physical condition, attendance on a course of education or working on the sabbath, or concerning the matter of fire-fighters, on which I accept the Minister has given us a helpful reply, or concerning Amendment No. 52, that he disagrees with? Is there any of this that he is not proposing should not be covered by regulation?
Lord Inglewood: Without going through it with a fine toothcomb, I am not prepared at this point to give an unequivocal reply to that question. However, I can say that it is our intention to implement what I have described, as well as many other matters besides.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In that case, would the Minister care to enlarge on that answer? Is he saying that in principle he accepts all of these matters and in addition he has some other matters to cover, as yet unspecified, which therefore we will not be scrutinising in this part of the Bill? Will he tell us what he has in mind?
Lord Inglewood: There is an enormous amount of detail needed to get a comprehensive picture of the matters that we are discussing here. Certain new matters have been raised this afternoon. Therefore it is difficult for me to give a reply with the level of detail which I have been asked to do. I will merely return to my original proposition and say that we are committed to what I have already describedthe general principles, and those principles will be implemented in the legislation. They overlap considerably with a number of the topics that the noble Baroness has raised.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before the noble Lord concludes his remarks, I wish to pursue two matters. First, the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. Are we correct in believing that there was a target set in the Employment Service performance target for 1994-95 for 135,000 cases to be referred? Am I correct in understanding that the number of cases disallowed has risen more than twice over between the nine months of January to September 1994 and the same months in 1993? Will he stand by his assurance that this has no effect whatever on the decisions that are made by employment officers, because there seems to be some
I wish to press the Minister on a further issue. He mentioned that there was a 24-hour period in which benefit was not disallowed to mothers of children who were given that period of time to make provision for childcare. Will he accept my assurance as a mother and the assurance of other mothers and fathers in the Chamber that it is difficult to arrange childcare of a satisfactory nature within 24 hours? I may have misunderstood the noble Lord but to drive mothers into making unsatisfactory childcare arrangements at the present time seems to me to have nothing whatever to do with the belief in the family to which most of usindeed all of uson both sides of this Chamber subscribe.
Lord Inglewood: To reply to the second point raised by the noble Baroness, if one is actively looking for work, which is the test, one has to have some idea of how one will deal with these matters. It should not come as a complete surprise. That is an important aspect to be borne in mind when considering whether one wants to go down this particular avenue.
It is the case that the Employment Service has a target for its annual performance agreement, which this year is 135,000 submissions. I believe that the noble Baroness is correct in saying that that figure is an increase on the previous figure. The policy of the Employment Service is that those people who are entitled to benefits should have them and those people who are not entitled to benefits should not have them. That is a rather trite truism, but that is the basis on which the service operates. If the number of disallowances increases, that is a consequence of the policy.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am still puzzled by the Minister's reply. He seems to suggest that we are throwing unreasonable demands at him by tabling these amendments. I remind the noble Lord that this Bill has been through the other place and has been explored. The amendment has been tabled for some considerable time. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, rightly said in relation to Amendment No. 52, the general statement of principle is a fairly standard clause which is inserted into all sorts of local authority and government Bills and contracts.
We are trying to establish whether there is a difference of substance between us. In other words, we are trying to establish whether the Government do not accept that any of these grounds are reasonable causes for restricting availability for work or whether the only difference between us is whether they should be set out on the face of the Bill or in regulation. Will the Minister please tell us?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I take the Minister to be telling the Committee that he accepts the principle of the amendments. It is important to have written in Hansard, given the legal aspect, that he accepts the substance of the amendments and that he expects to embody the amendments in regulation.
Lord Inglewood: I cannot give a commitment that every nuance or item contained in the Opposition's proposals will be included in regulation. I can give the Committee a commitment that we accept the vast bulk of what has been proposed and that we intend to deal with those matters in regulation.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In that case, is the Minister saying that, after the Bill has spent several weeks in the other place and these amendments have been tabled, the Minister does not yet know what will be included in regulations under a Bill which is due to take effect in fewer than 12 months' time, despite the level of consultation? The Minister should knowin which case he should be able to tell us. Alternatively, if the Minister does not know, then we revert to the consideration discussed earlier by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that this is a framework Bill to which the Government will subsequently give whatever meaning occurs to them when eating their cornflakes.
There is a real issue here. If the Government mean the Bill to cover those categories of people who are among some of the most socially valuable people in our societysuch as carers, ethnic minorities or those with a learning disabilityand the Minister accepts, as I believe he does, that it is right that those groups should be able to have a reasonable limit on their availability for work and should not be disqualified from benefit, can he explain to us why, apart from a devious wish to fill in the details later when he has had some thoughts, that should not be stated on the face of the Bill? If the Minister agrees with us that these groups should be covered, as it appears from his answer that he does, what is the advantage of dealing with the matter in secondary legislation, which your Lordships cannot discuss, which Parliament has no right to amend and which this Chamber has no right to negate, as opposed to having it on the face of the Bill? Why should it be left to the Government to define with hindsight rather than for this House to clarify what constitutes effectively a conscientious objection, or a mitigation or limitation on availability for work?
The Government opened by saying that with these amendments we were turning away from JSA. On the contrary, we are trying to make clear what it means to be entitled to JSA and what would constitute a reasonable limitation on availability for work in claiming JSA.
All that the Minister has said, and he has repeated it endlessly, is that the Government prefer to do this by regulation. He has given no reason. He simply reiterated it ad nauseam. We can only believe that he wants that flexibility either because he does not know what would
Lord Inglewood: I do not feel that I can usefully go over again what I said in reply to earlier comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. The position is clear. We believe that it is appropriate to deal with these matters by regulation. We had a debate on the subject earlier today and I explained to the Committee that we shall consider very carefully the matters that were raised in that debate.
We accept the general principles of the matters which the noble Baroness has raised and that, in the practical world, they should be dealt with along the lines she suggested. There will be other related matters which we shall also wish to deal with. All the circumstances outlined in the amendments will be grounds for acceptable restriction, and JSA will provide for them in regulation. However, in our view the terms of the amendment are unacceptable.
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