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Baroness Faithfull: We have considered the clients, but we have not considered the people who have to administer this legislation in the local offices. I cannot imagine that they will ever understand what they have to do under these provisions. I support the amendment.
Lord Inglewood: Clause 6(2) (d) allows regulations to prescribe circumstances in which for the purposes of this Act a person who is actively seeking employment is to be treated as not actively seeking employment. That would do no more than carry forward the provisions of the current legislation. The amendment, however, seeks to ensure that no such regulations could be made. Nevertheless, I can understand why other noble Lords should have some concern about what may appear to be an unusual provision. Let me therefore give the assurance that this provision, just like the power to treat
Many Members of the Committee will be aware that, when the issue was discussed in another place, Ministers were asked to consider whether there was a need for a provision of this kind to be carried forward into JSA. We have now given the matter careful consideration and concluded that we do have such a need.
We have made clear that it is in the interests of young people that they should not be on benefit and have provided the guarantee of a place on a youth training programme for all 16 and 17 year-olds. Where, however, in exceptional circumstances they are claiming jobseeker's allowance, the conditions of benefit which apply to them should be appropriate to their particular circumstances. We therefore intend that they should be required actively to seek training as well as employment.
That is where this provision will show its utility. We intend to provide that, unless they are actively seeking both employment and training, young people will be treated as not actively seeking employment. I believe that this is a sensible use of the provision to enable regulations to be made which will fully reflect the particular needs of one particular group of jobseekers.
In reply to my noble friend Lady Faithfull, in the offices the regulation, not the power, will determine what is done in any particular instance. I therefore invite the Committee to reject the amendment.
Lord Renton: Before my noble friend sits down, I have done my best to follow him but, as I understand it, he has made it clear that paragraph (d) is intended to cover circumstances where people are undergoing training. The Minister has mentioned no other circumstances, as I heard him, to be covered by the proposition. If that is so and it has that narrow effect, could that not be stated in the Bill instead of being left to regulations?
Baroness Seear: Also before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will clarify one point which I have raised on a number of occasions in previous debates. The Government talk about training, but it is not just any training. It is futile to encourage intelligent people to take training for jobs which they do not wish to have and for which they have little talent. Is there no way of limiting the requirement for training to training for something after they have been positively advised and have agreed that they wish to train for it? We are always told, "There is training". That is not good enough. It must be appropriate training. Is there not some way for that to be recognised on the face of the Bill? Also the point is not limited to the youngsters, because nothing could be more awful for the trainers than having to train someone who does not wish to learn what is being taught, has no facility for it and will not use it later to any effect. The point needs clarifying.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Again before the Minister sits down, perhaps he could help me further. Like everyone else, I was trying to puzzle out the meaning of paragraph (d). The Government's memorandum to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee gave cases of 16 and 17 year-olds. The legislation tries to ensure that certain groups of people who are actively seeking work will, if they fail to obtain it, nevertheless not qualify for benefit. The Minister gives the example of 16 and 17 year-olds. Also, can he tell us about the habitual residence test? Will it apply to British nationals returning from abroad after 20 years who may be actively seeking work but who fail the habitual residence test? Will they be caught under the regulation?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: But is the Minister saying that someone coming back from abroad who is actively seeking work and who is, in a sense, a foreigner, will not fall into this category or will not be treated as though he is not actively seeking work and is therefore not eligible for benefit? Is that so?
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: I hope that the Minister will go a little further than he did in response to my noble friend Lord Renton. He put a reasonable proposition and I hope that the Minister will agree that this was so. Apart from the immediate point which arises, frankly, as it stands, the Bill looks ridiculous. Paragraphs (c) and (d), if they were in the press, would make it look as though the Government had gone crazy in their legislation. It is necessary to make it clear that, contrary to how it may look on paper, the Bill is not contradicting itself in successive paragraphs: it has an intended meaning. Although I believe I understand from the Minister what that meaning is, it is important that it should be spelt out and not brushed aside, if the Minister will allow me to say so, as it was when my noble friend Lord Renton raised the matter.
Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments corroborating the value of the Bill. I listened carefully to his remarks and of course I did not intend any discourtesy or cursoriness in the manner in which I dealt with my noble friend Lord Renton's point. I assure my noble friends that this is a point which we shall have to examine carefully.
Earl Russell: It is not the Minister's courtesy that anyone has called in question: none of us would presume to do so. We call in question his flexibility. He has been uttering the word "flexibility" all the afternoon and we are asking him to practise what he preaches.
I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lady Seear for her comment on suitable training. We have put down an amendment which bears on that point. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for the distinction which he made between paragraphs (c) and (d). Paragraph (c) is the prerogative of mercy. It is my understanding that, for example, it protects women in refuges who sometimes dare not go out to seek work for fear of pursuit.
Last night I wrote to the Minister on the point, but, since the letter will not have reached him yet, I would not presume to ask him to reply to it. Were we to attempt, against the interests of the subject, to do things as far-reaching as we can do under the prerogative of mercy, that would be very dismaying. It would be a kind of prerogative of mercilessness. That is not what we want.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for his intervention, which I found extremely helpful. What I did not hear from the Minister was any real suggestion of a possibility that the provision might change. I was listening carefully and did not hear it. If I am mistaken I shall give way to him now. I ask the Minister one question: if it is my wish to vote against disentitlement under this power, would he rather that I did it now or when the regulations are placed before the House? I shall wait for his answer and act on it.
Lord Inglewood: It is rather like being asked, "When did you stop beating your wife?". It is a matter for the noble Earl to decide. It is entirely in his hands as to whether he would rather do it now or on some other occasion.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.