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Lord Inglewood: As I explained on Second Reading, the agreement will set out what the jobseeker has agreed to do to meet the availability for work and actively seeking employment conditions of JSA, which will be set out in regulations made under Clause 6 and approved by Parliament. Dealing quickly with one of the points in these amendments, both the jobseeker and the employment officer will be able to propose terms. Moreover, if they cannot reach agreement on the terms, either will be able to refer the proposals to the independent adjudication officer and then on through a defined series

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of appeals if appropriate. They will determine whether or not they will allow the jobseeker to meet the availability and actively seeking employment conditions, and whether it is reasonable to expect the jobseeker to comply with them. That is hardly a one-sided arrangement.

The jobseeker's agreement is at the heart of JSA. It is the key to ensuring that jobseekers receive individual help back to work. But it is clear from these amendments that, as the noble Lord concedes, the Opposition want something very different. They want to use the agreement as a means of placing specific, perhaps almost contractual, responsibilities on the employment officer. Certainly, the agreement will have attached information on the help that the Employment Service, as a whole, offers jobseekers in their efforts to find work. And the jobseeker, subject to eligibility rules and availability, will have access to the full range of Government help to get him back to work. Contrary to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that is far from negligible, anticipating the order of 1.5 million opportunities for unemployed people next year. But it cannot be right that the individual employment officer should be bound to provide specific help. The agreement will not stipulate in advance in precise detail what help will be offered to individual jobseekers at particular points in their claim. The amendments are clearly intended to undermine the purpose of the agreement and we believe that they should be rejected.

Lord McCarthy: I did not expect anything else, especially at this time of night. I wish to make two points. First, of course we expect the agreement to be contractual. That is what an agreement is. One of the most annoying aspects is that the Government use a word of which I am very fond; that is, "agreement". It should be called "the jobseeker's imposition". It is not an agreement at all; it is being imposed upon people and they have no response.

Secondly and finally, we are not saying that the contractual obligations should be the personal responsibility of the employment officer; of course not. We are seeking to make them the responsibility of the Government. But you cannot make this Government responsible for anything. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.45 p.m.

Earl Russell had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 73:

Page 6, line 11, at end insert:
("( ) A person shall not impose a condition upon a jobseeker, under this Act, if that person has a direct financial interest in that condition not being, or being, fulfilled.").

The noble Earl said:

Before I do anything with Amendment No. 73, may I ask what decisions have been reached about our future business for the rest of the evening?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: All Members of the Committee will know that we are making slow progress. Equally, Members of the Committee know that there is a lot of important business to be dealt with on Thursday in

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relation to the Bill. If we could make some further progress this evening, that would ease the problems which may arise on Thursday. I hope that we can make progress this evening, before we eventually draw stumps. Speaking for myself and in particular for my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who is to deal with the next amendments, we shall try to keep our remarks as brief as we can, consistent with answering the points made. If we all try to do that, we should make progress before it gets too late, and that would relieve us of difficulties on Thursday, when there are important issues to be discussed.

Earl Russell: Is close of play being defined in terms of amendments to be reached or in terms of an hour for drawing stumps?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is almost like one of the amendments to the Bill. May I tell the noble Earl that it will be defined in regulations? It is not in my hands entirely but it would be extremely useful if we could reach the end of Clause 8. That seems to me to be a compromise between the point which we hoped to reach and where we are at this moment.

Earl Russell: Amendment No. 73 not moved.

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 73A to 76 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 77:

Page 6, line 18, leave out ("in the officer's opinion").

The noble Earl said: This amendment proposes simply to delete the words "in the officer's opinion". I shall not explain again why I want to do that, because the Committee knows it well enough. But I should like to hear the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his explanation of his concerns about the role of the employment officer in the drawing up of jobseeker's agreements. I believe, however, that they are misplaced. I should like to take the opportunity to explain our proposals in some detail. I hope thereby to reassure the noble Earl that his amendment is unnecessary.

When someone makes a claim for JSA, he will be given an interview with a trained employment officer. Together, they will seek to draw up a jobseeker's agreement which will give the jobseeker his best prospects of getting back to work. We expect that in most cases the jobseeker and the employment officer will quickly reach agreement. But, in cases where they cannot, the employment officer will not have the power to decide that the jobseeker's proposals are unsatisfactory. I make it quite clear that that will be a matter for the independent adjudication officer, not the employment officer.

If, in the employment officer's opinion, the jobseeker's proposals would not allow him to satisfy the availability for work or actively seeking employment conditions set out in legislation, he must refer the case forthwith to the adjudication officer. If the adjudication officer determines in the jobseeker's favour, that will decide the matter. The employment officer will enter into an agreement on the terms proposed by the jobseeker.

I fear that the noble Earl may have been misled by the use of the word "opinion" here. It does not mean that the employment officer can simply take his own view on the

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merits of the case. The position is the opposite of that. If, in his view, what is proposed by the claimant would not meet the availability and actively seeking employment conditions, he must pass the matter to the independent adjudication officer for a decision. I hope that that reassures the noble Earl.

Earl Russell: I know perfectly well that the Government refer to two sorts of amendment only: the unnecessary and the wrecking. I am not at all sure whether I am pleased that the present amendment is considered unnecessary rather than wrecking. I really do not see that the employment officer is in a good position to form a view. However, as I have not moved Amendment No. 73, I am not in a position to explain one of the reasons involved. Similarly, I shall not take Members of the Committee into debates on hardship payments yet again. The Minister knows my views and he can, therefore, assume that they are what they are. I believe that he understands them well enough. The Minister's response is totally unsatisfactory. But, at this time of night, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 78 to 84 not moved.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 85 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 86 to 89 inclusive.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 6, line 26, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Earl said: The above is another delegated-powers amendment. The Government say in their memo that subsection (7) contains a power for regulations to prescribe the shortest and longest periods that a claimant may restrict his availability in respect of jobsearch during the early days of his claim. The Government wish to retain the flexibility to change that period as "circumstances require". Why do they wish to change that period? Do they want to make it longer or shorter? What sort of circumstances would, in the Government's opinion, require them to do so? Further, why is the department entitled to make law without Parliament being able to give its consent? I know that I have asked that question before, but it keeps on recurring and I have not yet heard an answer that satisfies me. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: We will be carrying forward the current provision in which for up to 13 weeks from the beginning of a claim, jobseekers may restrict their availability and jobsearch to their usual occupation, if they have one, and to their usual level of pay. The period is to be specified in the jobseeker's agreement. The period should also correspond with the "permitted period" provided for in Clause 17 during which a claimant may refuse job offers outside his usual occupation without sanction. The length of the permitted period is determined by the adjudication officer in accordance with regulations.

If the correspondence between the provisions in the jobseeker's agreement and the Clause 17 period is to be maintained, it is clearly important that regulations under Clause 7 should specify the shortest and longest periods

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in the same way as regulations will do under Clause 17; the two must not come out of step, otherwise the determination of a permitted period might become unworkable. That is our concern.

Nevertheless, we accept that the correspondence between the provisions in Clause 7 and Clause 17 is not perfect. We are, therefore, considering returning to the provision at Report stage with an amendment which clarifies the relationship as regards the availability condition, the jobseeker's agreement and the sanctions provisions. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Earl.

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