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Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: You cannot. The noble Baroness has asked leave to withdraw the amendment. That must be put to the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 117 to 120 not moved.]

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Trade disputes]:

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 120A:

Page 9, line 22, at end insert ("and
(c) the person was eligible to vote in the ballot that authorised the stoppage of work,").

The noble Lord said: I want to speak also to Amendment No. 122 and support Amendment No. 121 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I shall not move Amendment No. 123 which has been grouped with these amendments.

I was going to say that this is a probing amendment, except that a probing amendment is one—I take it—upon which one will be wondering to oneself what the Government are going to say. I rather think that I know what the Government will say, but I do not see how the Government can say that these amendments will cost any additional money because they represent what we are doing now and what the Government propose to stop doing. In fact, they will probably cost less and less money as we go on—as the Government believe—because they are all about strikes. They relate to what one might receive or might not receive if one goes on strike or becomes involved in strikes. We all know that the Government believe that strikes will disappear if, in fact, they have not already gone. So we do not have to worry about money.

The clause relates to disqualifications for benefit if one is involved in a trade dispute. We are trying to say that there has been a change in established practice, and Amendment No. 120A deals with the situation where the Government appear to be changing the position from

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what it was previously, when those involved in a trade dispute were of course not given unemployment benefit. Of course not, and we do not suggest that they should be. But if people were not directly interested in the outcome of the dispute they could appeal and perhaps provide themselves with some benefit.

In our amendment we say that that is a long-winded and much too wide a way of trying to decide whether people are involved in the dispute, and that it should be made clear on the face of the Bill that if people do not vote in a strike ballot it may be assumed that they are not directly involved in the strike. After all, the Government have now made it essential in law, as a result of Section 227 of the 1992 Consolidation Act, that anyone who is involved in a strike—anyone who may be called out on strike—will have to vote in the strike ballot to validate that strike.

Therefore, we have here a simple, straightforward way of bringing into effect what the intention, I should have thought, always was: to distinguish between those who are involved in a dispute and so may benefit from a dispute and are not entitled to unemployment benefit and those who may be laid off as a consequence of the dispute—laid off accidentally or directly, if the employer decides to discipline the strikers for any one of a range of reasons. We believe that there is a straightforward and easy way, without going through an appeal procedure, to distinguish between those who are involved directly and those who are not involved directly in a dispute, which is what appears on the face of the amendment.

Amendment No. 122 seeks to deal with a situation which changes the status quo, because we have changed to a weekly what I still call unemployment benefit and which the Government call a jobseeker's allowance. In the past anyone involved in a strike was not eligible for benefit for the days of the strike, but because we have here an allowance which works for a week, if one is on strike for a day one loses a week's benefit even if for the rest of the week when one is laid off one is not on strike. Nevertheless, because we have created a weekly benefit we say that the striker has to have a weekly disallowance or deduction.

We consider that most of those things are reasonable and that the Government should have an answer. It is in the hope that they have an answer, that I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Rochester: I have sympathy with Amendment No. 120A. In Clause 11(1) it is already conceded that where there is a stoppage of work due to a trade dispute at a person's place of work, that person is not disentitled to jobseeker's allowance if he can prove that he has no direct interest in the dispute. On the face of it, it seems reasonable to suggest, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has done, that where a person is not eligible to vote in the strike ballot which is needed to validate or make legal the stoppage, he should equally not be disentitled to the allowance. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to that amendment.

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As regards Amendment No. 122, which is grouped with Amendment No. 120A, it is surely the case that when a person is involved in a trade dispute that person is disentitled to unemployment benefit only in respect of the day or days on which he was involved in it. I too should like to know why the jobseeker's allowance should be treated differently in that respect.

Lord Inglewood: Perhaps I may deal first with Amendment No. 120A. It has been a feature of benefit legislation since the National Insurance Act 1911 that benefit is not payable to people who are not employed because of a stoppage of work due to a trade dispute at the premises at which they are employed. Since 1911 the merits or otherwise of the issues involved in the dispute have been immaterial with regard to benefit entitlement, and the adjudication authorities are not required to take a view on those issues.

Amendment No. 120A would largely have the effect of distinguishing, for benefit purposes, between union members who are eligible to vote in a strike ballot and non-union members who are not. I appreciate that non-union members might find themselves unemployed as a result of a stoppage of work which they did not want to happen. The same could of course be said of those union members who voted against the stoppage. What should happen in relation to a strike not called by a union? This is really irrelevant. The crucial question must continue to be whether they are directly interested in the outcome of the dispute. That has been defined widely by the courts and it may be that that is what the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, seeks to redefine. For example, if the dispute is over pay, and if any pay rise won by the union would go to union and non-union members alike, then the non-union members are directly interested. It is a long-standing principle of benefit legislation that those who are directly interested in the outcome of a dispute should not be entitled to benefit, and I see no reason to depart from that principle.

I turn now to Amendment No. 122. We are all agreed that people who are unemployed because of involvement in a trade dispute at their place of work should not be entitled to benefit. The original National Insurance Act of 1911—which goes back to a Liberal Government—contained a provision to this effect. Equally, people who withdraw their labour in sympathy with a dispute elsewhere should not be entitled to benefit, and there has been specific provision to that effect since 1986. Clause 11 carries forward these provisions.

The clause is designed to operate in as straightforward a way as possible. If a person is involved in a dispute, or has come out in sympathy with one for any one day in a week, he is not entitled to JSA for the whole of the week. The reasons for any continuing unemployment in the rest of the week do not need to be considered.

In fact, the circumstances in which this amendment would make a practical difference would be very rare. The only circumstances I can conceive of where the amendments would make a difference would be where the jobseeker had been genuinely unemployed for six days and then taken up employment on the seventh, only immediately to come out on strike in furtherance of someone else's trade dispute. Alternatively, he might withdraw his labour for one day in the same

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circumstances, then immediately be made redundant and be unemployed for the rest of the week. Both are extremely unlikely scenarios.

The amendments would mean that where a week consists of six days of genuine unemployment and one day of unemployment due to a trade dispute, we had to pay six-sevenths of the weekly amount of JSA. That may be an unlikely situation, but I do not consider it an acceptable one. JSA is designed to be a weekly benefit, and any change to this would unnecessarily complicate its operation.

For the avoidance of doubt, it may be helpful to explain that anyone who is disentitled under Clause 11 will continue to be able to claim income support on behalf of any dependants he has.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said that they are probing amendments and I hope that in the light of the explanation that I have given him he will feel able to withdraw them.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him to deal briefly with Amendment No. 121 to which I did not speak in order to save the time of the Committee. However, it refers to the specific case of a health and safety dispute where there may be very strong grounds for a dispute and where disentitlement to benefit seems to be a rather harsh penalty.

Lord Inglewood: I am delighted to be able to deal with that amendment because I do not believe that there is any fundamental problem in relation to it.

Amendment No. 121 suggests that that long-standing principle should not apply to disputes concerning health and safety. Of course I fully agree that health and safety are of paramount importance, but giving people what would in effect be a form of subsidy for strikes over health and safety would be an unfortunate and, as I hope to explain, unnecessary development.

Employees are, of course, free to take industrial action, as defined in Clause 31, over any issue, including health and safety; but the decision is theirs and there is no reason to afford them any special protection or privilege if they do so. Taking such action may well be only one among a number of options, including bringing their concerns to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive. Employees already have important rights in that area. For example, the Health and Safety Executive can issue prohibition orders to stop work at unsafe workplace sites.

I should stress that if employees leave the workplace and there is a stoppage of work because of a belief that to remain would expose them to serious and imminent danger that does not, in itself, constitute taking part in industrial action or being involved in a trade dispute and the Clause 11 disentitlement would not apply. Benefit is payable in temporary adverse conditions which stop work, even though the workers may still be employed. If there is a doubt about whether employees were acting in furtherance of a trade dispute, or whether they simply left the premises because of serious and imminent danger, the adjudication authorities would decide the

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facts in the usual way. But benefit should not be payable when cessation of work was a move in a trade dispute, whether or not health and safety was involved.

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