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Earl Russell: The Minister asks me to trust him and at the same time asks to retain flexibility. That reminds me a little of a Member in another place who once said that the King was like a debtor who said "I owe you nothing, yet pray trust me". He cannot really use both of those arguments. I should like to know which he will rely on.

The Minister seems a little surprised about my not trusting the Government. I can recall the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, saying in this Chamber that it is not the business of Parliament to trust the Executive; that is

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entirely independent of party. We are here to distrust the government—nothing personal, nothing to do with party. We are here to distrust governments of all sorts and all types. It was, after all, a Prime Minister of my own party, I regret to say, of whom it was said:

    "Count not his broken pledges as a crime. He meant them, how he meant them, at the time".

The person who wrote that is said to be none other than Lloyd George himself.

Therefore, I am sure that the Minister understands why I believe that it is important that we have a little more certainty. The Minister says that a problem would arise from a specific requirement to make regulations. I accept that. I understand it very well. However, I was not the one who insisted that this Bill should go down the regulation-making road. If the Government wish to put matters as vital as this in regulations, they must give us an assurance that they will actually make the regulations. Is the Minister prepared to give that assurance?

Lord Inglewood: Yes. I am in a position to give that assurance and do so willingly, if the noble Earl will believe me.

Earl Russell: I beg leave to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt and to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 7, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, as amendments to Amendment No. 4, not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Lord Wise moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 11:

Line 14, at end insert:
("and may provide for voluntary work by unemployed people to be recorded as a positive outcome at any Restart interview carried out by an employment officer.").

The noble Lord said: When this matter was last debated many examples of the way in which volunteering helped the unemployed were quoted. My noble friend the Minister appeared to be impressed by the arguments put forward. That is why I ask that the matter be considered again.

I believe that comparisons need to be made between government-sponsored schemes for the unemployed and the successes achieved by both formal and informal voluntary schemes.

Everyone accepts that the first priority of jobseekers must be obtaining paid work. However, it is also accepted that for a number of reasons jobseekers are often advised to take a place on a training scheme. Sometimes there are long waiting lists for such places. Many voluntary organisations are able to offer both formal and informal schemes to the unemployed which are just as helpful. I ask again that such opportunities are recognised as positive outcomes.

That happens informally now. One positive example was given to the National Association of Volunteer Bureaux only the other day by a woman graduate who is now employed by a local development agency in Cumbria. Her local employment office gave her every assistance when she wished to become a volunteer with

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the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. She gained administrative and managerial experience and found herself negotiating with parish councils and other bodies in the course of that work. She is adamant that but for that experience she would not have obtained her present post, which is not in the environmental field.

The negative side is that she told NAVB that people in a neighbouring area were discouraged from joining such a scheme because of the time commitment of 15 hours a week. If paid jobs were available it would be difficult to argue with that ruling, but they were not. It seems to many of us that such a scheme compares favourably with many official training schemes.

In 1993 Professor Alan McGregor of the University of Glasgow wrote an independent evaluation report which examined the work of five programmes run for unemployed people in the Greater Glasgow area. One of them consisted of work normally associated with a volunteer bureau. The unemployed were not compelled to join up nor asked to do set amounts of hours. During their involvement with the Glasgow Volunteer Centre they continued to sign on and had to meet normal benefit regulations—for example, regarding availability for work. The positive outcomes from this scheme were 57 per cent. Nearly 70 per cent. of those positive outcomes were job entries. That compares very favourably with official training schemes.

For those reasons, I once again ask that voluntary work be recognised as a positive outcome. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said in the last debate on this subject, that is not the first outcome. That must always be obtaining paid employment. But surely it is on a par or just behind official training schemes.

I should like to make one further point. The new allowance will be dealt with by benefit offices and employment offices. Will that cause further confusion? If it were to do so, surely that is another valid reason for counting volunteering as a positive outcome so that at least that situation is clarified.

In view of the considerable support that this ordinary amendment received at an earlier stage, and the response that the Minister gave, I hope that he may yet be persuaded to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I strongly support the amendment. Perhaps I may add two points to those that the noble Lord, Lord Wise, so eloquently made.

First, the term "positive outcome" is, as he indicated, a state of the art term. That it should be a positive outcome will affect what employment officers do. The term does not simply mean a positive outcome in the sense that we might say that it was a good thing for someone to gain a job as a volunteer if they were unemployed. The term involves an incentive for employment officers to encourage people to accept voluntary work, as I understand it.

Secondly, perhaps I may make this brief point in strong support of the noble Lord, Lord Wise. One of the greatest dangers of being unemployed over a period of time, even for someone highly motivated to obtain work, is the gradual rotting of that motivation and of losing the habit of work —not having to get up in the morning or to make

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provision to get to work. That loss of motivation gradually begins to sour and undermine even the strongest personality. Any of us who have experienced living with unemployed people know that phenomenon.

The great advantage of permitting voluntary work to stand alongside the attempt actively to seek remunerative work is of significant and great importance. It is also of great importance to those who benefit from the work of volunteers, many of whom are becoming increasingly dependent on volunteers for assistance.

It is in strange symmetry that noble Lords today discussed the Mental Health (Patients in the Community) Bill which puts great emphasis on the work of volunteers in the area of care in the community. There is vital need for volunteers in that field, as in the care of aged people. Surely we should do everything possible to encourage and to respect volunteering. I strongly commend the noble Lord's amendment. I very much hope that the Minister will find it acceptable.

Lord Norrie: I, too, support my noble friend's amendment which gives full recognition to the value of volunteering where this would improve an unemployed person's experience, skills or job prospects.

Amendments Nos. 23 and 45 in this group concern unemployed people who offer their services as volunteers for charities or other voluntary bodies. The exact purpose of my amendments is to ensure that, before regulations are brought before Parliament, the voluntary sector will be consulted on relevant aspects of those regulations. As noble Lords may be aware, provision for consultation about regulations is relatively commonplace in legislation.

Let me give noble Lords two examples. Part of Section 91 of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 provides that regulations be subject to consultation with persons having experience of land agency and farming. In this case, it would be, for example, the National Farmers' Union which would discuss the content of the regulations. Part of Section 77 of the Charities Act 1992 provides for consultation with appropriate persons or bodies before regulations are made. For example, it might be the Church Commissioners or the NCVO. I believe that regulations arising from the Jobseekers Bill are a proper subject for consultation with the voluntary sector.

The Committee is aware of the extent and value of work undertaken by charities and voluntary organisations. We heard during Committee stage about the confidence, experience, self-discipline and skill which can come from volunteering. We heard of cases where volunteers had been deterred from valuable voluntary work because of benefit rules. We heard of the fears that the Bill could make matters worse for unemployed people who volunteer. Those fears are shared by the many voluntary organisations to which I alluded when we last debated the clause.

I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Inglewood was able to give very helpful assurances on that occasion. He confirmed that jobseekers who undertake voluntary work will continue to be allowed 48 hours' notice before taking up an offer of a job. He also stated that any volunteering work which a jobseeker is undertaking will be taken into consideration when assessing whether he or she is "actively seeking work".

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My noble friend Lord Wise asked my noble friend the Minister to confirm that the Government will consult the voluntary sector on the drafting of any new regulations. The Minister said that he confirmed those matters. In the spirit of that reply, I trust that the intention of the amendment that I have tabled will be accepted by the Government.

Members of the Committee have expressed concern that regulations may be prepared without proper consideration or guidance from this House. One way to provide greater opportunity for reflection and avoid the pitfalls of haste would be to ensure that proper consultation takes place. This sort of consultation would help to draw from the enormous practical experience which exists within the voluntary sector. It would also assist in making the intention of regulations clearly understood and avoid inconsistency of application. It would help to ensure that the intention of Parliament and the Government at least to carry forward existing provision for unemployed volunteers is put into practice. In that context, I welcome the comments made by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish this afternoon concerning Clause 6(4) of the Bill.

The commitment of the Prime Minister and the Government to volunteering is not at issue. I should like to remind the House that on 1st April 1995 the Prime Minister extolled the virtues of volunteering at the Conservative Central Council meeting in Birmingham. He said:

    "Duty and Responsibility are instinctive to Conservatives as a Party, and as people. Ask the huge number of Conservatives who run Voluntary Services, Meals on Wheels, Citizens' Advice Bureaux, Red Cross shops, and a hundred thousand charities up and down the land ... I ... want to provide more opportunity for people to help others".

The Prime Minister has publicly proclaimed the value of volunteering. We need to consider how best we can ensure that the regulations made under the Bill will encourage volunteers rather than impede them. It is in that spirit that I ask my noble friend to accept the principle of my amendments.

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