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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am somewhat surprised by the Opposition Chief Whip and the tone that he used. He made a suggestion to the effect that if the next item of business were completed by the time that the Private Notice Question was asked in another place, we should repeat the Statement at that time. I entirely agree with that. If, however, the next item of business has been completed and the debate has started, it seems to make sense for us to break into the debate, however undesirable that may be, as otherwise we should have to wait until the end of the debate, which will not be until round about 8.15 this evening.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, the Chief Whip did not reply to my noble friend as to why there was no consultation. That is the real issue. It is usual that consultations take place before making statements of that sort.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my understanding of these matters is that when a Statement is proposed and

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accepted by the Opposition, a Business Statement is made in the way that I have just made it; that at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. the Statement will be taken. I cannot see why any discussion which has taken place this afternoon should change that. The Opposition Chief Whip suggested that it could be taken after 3.30 p.m. before the debate, if we have not started the debate, and I entirely agreed. It is not a question of consultation, but I shall make a point in the future to involve the Opposition and other usual channels at the earliest possible opportunity to decide when we should take these Statements.

Business of the House: Debate this Day

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Viscount Whitelaw set down for this day shall be limited to five hours.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

Lord Richard: My Lords, I presume the noble Viscount refers to the first Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Jobseekers Bill

3.11 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I apologise to the Leader of the Opposition for any confusion that may have arisen.

The House will be aware that since the Committee of the Whole House concluded its consideration of the Jobseekers Bill, the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has published a further report commenting on the provisions of the Bill. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to comment on the work of the devolved powers scrutiny committee because it is relevant to the question before us this afternoon.

The work of the committee is rightly considered in your Lordships' House as being of increasing importance. It was for that reason, as well as many others, that I was particularly pleased that my noble friend Lord Alexander was asked by the House to take over the chairmanship of the committee in view of the regrettable illness of my noble friend Lord Rippon.

It is important that the devolved powers scrutiny committee should be authoritatively chaired in your Lordships' House in view of the increasing importance that secondary legislation is playing in our legislative programme. It is equally important that the Government, having made the commitment they did to the devolved powers scrutiny committee, should listen with the greatest care to the recommendations contained in the reports of the committee and, indeed, that they should seek to respond quickly and positively to the views expressed in them. It is in that spirit that I move the second Motion standing in my name this afternoon.

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As your Lordships will see, the Motion seeks to give the House an opportunity to consider Clause 6 of the Bill further in Committee so that the matters to which the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has drawn attention may be debated at further length. While I believe I am right in saying that noble Lords opposite would wish to recommit more clauses than merely Clause 6, I hope that your Lordships will feel that what is proposed will give the House an opportunity to take into account the comments in paragraph 5 of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee report which particularly seeks for definition of the terms "available for employment" and "actively seeking employment" to be introduced onto the face of the Bill. The Government will do their best during the course of the recommitment on Clause 6 to satisfy the strictures contained in the reports.

I should like to make one further comment. I understand through the usual channels that, following various representations made to me in the past 24 hours in my capacity as Leader of the House, further representations have been made regarding the time available for consideration of the remaining stages of the Bill. It is extremely important that the business of this House should proceed on the basis of good will and consensus. There is no other way in which your Lordships have ever proceeded with success and I feel that it is part of my duty to ensure that that spirit is maintained.

If that is the wish of the substantial part of your Lordships' House, I would be the last to try to stand in the way of its fulfilment. I shall be extremely happy to ask the usual channels to see whether additional time can be found beyond the additional time we have already found for further consideration of the Bill. I hope your Lordships will feel therefore that the Government have done their best, not only to meet the recommendations of the devolved powers scrutiny committee, but also to ensure that the business of your Lordships' House is addressed and managed in the most constructive way possible. I commend the Motion to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Jobseekers Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday 11th May in respect of Clause 6 and that Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Report of Clause 6 to be received on the same day.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

Lord Richard: My Lords, I listened with great care to the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal. However, his Motion is unsatisfactory for two main reasons. One is that the scope of the recommital is not sufficient; the other is that the arrangements, which I appreciate the Leader of the House mentioned towards the end of his speech, in relation to the taking of the recommitted stage of the Bill are profoundly unsatisfactory.

I have a little to say on this matter and I hope that the House will bear with me because it raises issues of not inconsiderable importance, not only in relation to the Bill, which in itself is extremely important, but also, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, in relation to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.

The Motion is moved by the Government today in the light of the reports of that committee on the Jobseekers Bill. Those noble Lords who sat through the Committee

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stage—I did not sit through the debates but I read every word that was uttered—will feel that the committee has been heavily critical of a heavily criticised Bill. I am not concerned in this part of what I wish to say with the merits or otherwise of the Bill as such. It is a thoroughly nasty, mean, unpleasant measure which will cause considerable hardship to some of the most vulnerable sections of our society. But leaving that point aside, I am much more concerned, at this moment on this Motion, with the way in which the legislation has been framed and what should now be done about it.

The reports of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee raise some fundamental questions, two in particular. The first relates to the convention in this House that we cannot amend and do not vote against regulations, delegated legislation, coming to this House. When we have a Bill of this nature in which all the meat is to be introduced by delegated legislation, if we pass the Bill in its present form we are in effect disenfranchising this House from taking a decision upon the real issues which will be legislated upon. We can take a decision on the general skeleton and framework of the Bill, but if the Bill remains in its present form we cannot take a decision on the actual pieces of legislation which will implement it and affect people in this country. We cannot do that because it will be done by delegated legislation and we have the convention I mentioned.

Secondly—this is important too—a fundamental point arises as to what is to be done with the reports of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. The report is in front of your Lordships tangentially today only because the Leader of the House has introduced a Motion in which the Government say, "We have looked at the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. We think we should do a, b and c in order to respond to that report." With respect, that is not wholly satisfactory. Surely there ought to be a procedure whereby, if at all possible, the reports of the committee come out before the beginning of the Committee stage of a Bill, and when they do come out they are debated perhaps at the initial stages of the Committee stage itself.

I am grateful for what the Leader of the House had to say in relation to Clause 6. In the middle of an offensive Bill Clause 6 stands out as perhaps the most offensive part of all. I wish to read one subsection of Clause 6 because in a sense it encapsulates what is wrong with the Bill and why in our submission to the House more of it should be recommitted than is contained in the Motion which the Government have put down. Subsection (1) states:

    "For the purposes of this Act, 'available for employment' and 'actively seeking employment'"—

those are two very important phrases in the Bill—

    "have such meaning as may be prescribed".

In other words, the Government will tell us what "available for employment" and "actively seeking employment" may at some stage mean and they will do it in the form of regulations. We have a clause the like of which I have never seen before. It goes on to state:

    "Regulations may prescribe circumstances in which, for the purposes of this Act—

    (a) a person who is not available for employment is to be treated as available for employment;

    (b) a person who is available for employment is to be treated as not available for employment;

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    (c) a person who is not actively seeking employment is to be treated as actively seeking employment; or

    (d) a person who is actively seeking employment is to be treated as not actively seeking employment".

I have never heard such rubbish in my life! Quite frankly, if that is the kind of legislation this House is being asked to pass, it is time we had a full-scale recommittal of large chunks of the Bill. That part of the Bill is breathtaking in its imprecision, and we have to do something about it.

Perhaps I may say one thing to the Government about their proposal to recommit Clause 6. In our view it will not be enough merely for the Government to come along and provide two definitions—in other words, to say that "available for employment" means X and "actively seeking employment" means Y—and then to pretend that that satisfies what the sub-committee of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee asked for, which was "a more detailed framework"—that was the phrase it used in relation to Clause 6. Merely to supply two definitions will not be sufficient to do it.

But there remain in the Bill Clause 4, Clauses 7 and 8 and Clause 16. I shall not weary the House by going through them in great detail but I shall say this. All of them at some stage received the attention of the Select Committee. All of them were criticised by the Select Committee in different terms. Perhaps some criticisms were made in the first report and some in the second report, but they all fit into the general criticism made by the sub-committee:

    "There is nevertheless a strong argument that the bill is no more than a skeleton bill, in spite of the Departments' arguments as to why the powers are needed to the extent provided for. The Committee must accordingly draw to the attention of the House the extent of the powers Parliament is being asked to delegate to Ministers".

Clause 4 relates to the calculation of the amount of the jobseeker's allowance itself. I should have thought that it is pretty fundamental to a Bill on a jobseeker's allowance that the precise clause which deals with the way in which the jobseeker's allowance is to be computed is blank. All it says is that regulations will be made to deal with it in the future. That clause, too, should be recommitted. The first report of the Select Committee raised the issue as to whether such a fundamental point should remain undefined. In our view, it should not.

Clauses 7 and 8, which deal with the jobseeker's agreement, give enormous power to the adjudication officer—power which in paragraph 38 of their own memorandum, the Government say:

    "Clause 7 ... has no precedent in the legislation relating to unemployment benefit and income support".

Those clauses should be recommitted also.

Finally, Clause 16 allows regulations to prescribe circumstances in which an adjudication officer is, and is not, to take into account in determining the period for which the allowance is to be paid. The first report of the Select Committee said that,

    "there is no indication of what is intended in substantive terms".

It is quite wrong that this Bill should leave the House when citizens do not know and cannot ascertain their rights in relation to the entering into of the agreement, the criteria to be employed by the adjudication officer, the circumstances in which he or she might lose the allowance, the amount that the allowance is to be, and the circumstances to be considered when deciding whether

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the applicant is available for employment and/or actively seeking it. There should be a comprehensive recommittal of the relevant portions of the relevant clauses in the light of the Select Committee's report.

That brings me to two further points. I am sorry to take up the time of the House. No, I am not actually sorry because, quite frankly, this Motion raises some fundamental issues and it is right that the House should consider them. I apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, if I am holding up his debate but these are important issues and this is the time when they have to be raised.

I turn to the procedures for the regulations—the affirmative procedure or the negative procedure. As I read the Bill, it is a most extraordinary provision. The Act is due to come into force on 1st April 1996. If the regulations are introduced before the Act comes into force it has to be done the first time by the affirmative procedure. Thereafter, any regulation, whenever introduced, has to be by negative procedure. We are giving powers to the Government and we are allowing them after 1st April 1996 to do everything by the negative procedure. That cannot be right. That is not the proper way for the Government to legislate in relation to rights and issues as fundamental as those dealt with in the Bill.

Secondly, the Government have from time to time said in various memoranda and pieces of paper what their intentions are. They have said, "It is our intention that we should do X or we should do Y". Intentions are not good enough. The Select Committee pointed that out. The Select Committee said that instead of intentions, what we should have is a series of ministerial undertakings. I should have thought that the least the Leader of the House could do for us this afternoon is, first, to deal with the issue of the affirmative or negative procedure and, secondly, to say something about whether or not he accepts the obligation to upgrade the Government's statement of their intentions into ministerial undertakings.

I am not sure what the Leader of the House has now said in relation to time. If the only result of this afternoon is that Clause 6 is recommitted I would hope that what he means is that on Thursday 11th May the half-day which is down for the consideration of the Bill shall be confined to the recommitted Committee stage. The Leader of the House shakes his head. If he does not mean that, I am bound to say that I do not think he is giving us anything at all. If all that is happening is that we are to have a recommittal of one clause of the Bill and that that is to take place on the same day that the Government have already slated for consideration of the Report stage, so that on that day we shall have the consideration of one Bill first, then the recommitted Committee stage of this Bill, followed by the Report stage, I am bound to say that I think that that is behaving with an arrogance and insensitivity to the rights of the Opposition and the rights of this House which I find profoundly disappointing.

I shall listen with great care to what the Leader of the House has to say in response to the debate but I have to tell him now that we do not find the proposals the Government are making satisfactory.

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