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Lord Skelmersdale: Surely the expression "employed earner's employment" already exists in social security law in some abundance? For example, I have in mind the contributions Acts where one talks about employed earners' contributions. Therefore, the term "employed earner's" must be well trailed; indeed, I believe that the phrase "employed earner's employment" is also well trailed.
However, I turn now to the amendment. I can well understand why the noble Earl has moved it. I say that because, generally speaking, in the initial period of unemployment and, therefore, of jobseeker's allowance, a person's age, qualifications and experience should bear very heavily; but, after the permitted period, which my noble friend the Minister restated this afternoon is to be 13 weeks, it seems to me to be quite sensibleindeed, it should be expectedfor a jobseeker to be prepared to lower his sights a little to obtain work. In such a situation, an individual may be overqualified. Dare I suggest to the noble Earl that my noble friend the Minister might be slightly overqualified for the telephone job that he posited earlier.
I can see that there are circumstances in which the amendment would be appropriate, but I do not believe that that would always be the case. Therefore, one has to turn back to subsection(3)(a) of the proposed new Clause 6 (on page 2 of the Marshalled List) which describes,
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Following the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I cannot help wondering whether the gibberish in previous social security legislation enacted under both parties is a particularly good argument for continuing with such language. The phrase used in the Bill is clearly not very plain to the ordinary man and woman in the street. I much prefer the formula proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I wonder whether the Minister would consider it seriously.
One of our problems is that the test of reason is crucial and reflects on the wording of the Bill. The phrase "suitable employment" is one that is widely understood by the public and by those who look to Parliament to try to explain the situation clearly to them. Following what
Earl Russell: Yes, it is still proposed to do so. However, I would withdraw the amendment were the Minister to indicate any willingness to accept the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Renton.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: One would hope that the Minister would indeed be prepared to consider the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The point about "absolute availability" is surely a most important one. However, I should like to ask the Minister a question which enlarges the doubts about this part of the Bill which have emerged during our discussions. The Minister has already spoken this evening about employment and about work. In the White Paper issued by the Government last October, they took some prideand, indeed it was in a sense a bright spot in that documentin saying that there would be an extension of what people could offer as regards being available for work. For example, people may be available for self-employment provided that they are prepared to take a job as an employee. It was claimed that that was a widening of the scope of the availability condition which recognised that people were moving into being self-employed.
Can the Minister say whether that extension has disappeared? I may be wrong, but it seems to me that it might be arguable that it has disappeared because in the original Billif I may call it thatthere was no definition of the word "employment"; indeed, it was to be prescribed. However, in the Minister's new Clause 6(9),
It is of some importance for us to know whether that is a narrower formulation than that in the White Paper of being able to offer self-employment, especially in the case of people like those who have been cited this evening. For example, a carer may well be in a position of not being strictly in an "employed earner's employment". That is how I understand it, but the Minister can correct me if I am wrong. If that is so, the regulations would not be able to rescue someone in that situation who, although prepared to offer to take employment, could in fact only show that he was available for self-employment.
For once, I rather hope that the Minister and the Government have kept to their original intention. If the noble Earl's amendment were to be accepted, then being able to show that one could be suitable for a wide range of jobs in the broad sense would be quite important.
The Minister may wish to answer that question at a more suitable point. However, it is a thread which runs right through all the new clauses: employment is linked to "employed earner's employment" in the Benefits Act. Whether that has made any change in the intention of the original Bill and of the White Paper is, I submit, a rather important point which can suitably be discussed in regard to the proposed amendment.
Lord Inglewood: I must begin my comments on the amendment on rather similar lines to those that I used in connection with the previous amendment. I said then that I do not believe that, in terms of our aspirations, there is necessarily a great deal between the noble Earl moving the amendment and ourselves. However, we have approached the problem in a slightly different way.
Perhaps I may return to the principles which lie behind the Bill. To be entitled to JSA, jobseekers have to be available for any employment. That is one of the main labour market entitlement conditions of JSA, which carries forward existing case law and practice. The amendment seeks to qualify that basic condition in a way that, in our view, weakens the condition unacceptably.
Of course, we recognise one principle behind the amendment; namely, that jobseekers should have the opportunity to be available for and look for work in their usual occupation. That is why we are carrying forward the current provision of the "permitted period", as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, in which jobseekers may restrict their availability and jobsearch to their usual occupation and level of pay for up to 13 weeks from the beginning of a claim.
We will also accept, as we do at present, reasonable restrictions beyond the permitted period, provided that people retain reasonable prospects of employment. Any restrictions would be set out in the jobseeker's agreement and, like the rest of the agreement, would be subject to review from time to time. The longer the person is unemployed, the wider the range of work for which he is available should become. That is vital to the effective functioning of the labour market focus of JSA. The first priority for jobseekers is to get back to work. It is only fair to expect them to widen their jobsearch and to make the most of the opportunities available in the labour market.
There was considerable debate about the definition of the word "employment" and particular reference was made to the definition clause, Clause 6(9). Clearly our discussions have indicated that there is, perhaps, a degree of verbal confusion as regards the way in which the provision is formulated. However, we did that deliberately because of the relationship between this type of legislation and other social security legislation. The Government, as much as anyone else, want to see clear legislation. Of course, we can think about the matter to see whether we believe that any changes would help to clarify the meaning of the provision and thereby assist people who will actually be dealing with such matters on a day-to-day basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, raised an important point. Here, the condition is that they have to be availableperhaps I had better write to the noble Lord to explain it to him more clearly than I can at present.
I suspect that the noble Earl may be concerned that jobseekers may be forced to consider or apply for unsuitable vacancies notified to them by the Employment Service and be subject to a sanction if they do not do so. I emphasise that that will not be the case. When all is said and done, there is a difference between being required to be available, and having to do or apply for a particular job in question. If the claimant had good reasons why he should not accept the offer of a vacancy, they will be put to the adjudication officer, who will consider whether the jobseeker had good cause for his refusal. If the person's age, level of skill and experience meant that it was unreasonable for the jobseeker to apply for the job, the adjudication officer may well consider that he had good cause.
As regards a job as professor of history, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would be infinitely better suited to that job than I. I would be unsuitable for that job. As regards the second example which the noble Earl gave, I do not feel well able to comment on that. However, as regards the final example he gave of a job raising money over the telephone for the Labour Party, it is not often that I offer disinterested advice to the Labour Party; but even if I were the only applicant for the job, I would advise the party not to accept me. I hope that I have made the Government's position clear in this regard. I urge the Committee to reject this amendment, and I hope that I have covered the point about which the noble Earl is concerned.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Before the noble Lord sits down, I wish to ask him something. I do not wish to press him unreasonablyat least, not at this time. When he writes to me, I hope that he will send copies of the letter to everyone involved in this discussion. I hope that he will make clear whether we are debating a measure which is changing the range of those who come within the benefits which he claims the old clauses will offer. Will he make it clear in his letter whether those people are employees or whether they can be self-employed? The White Paper claims, at paragraph 4.3, that under the new scheme,
Is that still the case or is it not? I do not see how we can debate the Bill unless we know whether fundamentals of that kind are still there.
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