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Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may raise one other point before the Minister replies. He was extremely helpful on this issue at earlier stages of the Bill. I hope he will forgive my saying that I thought his answer had a certain bureaucratic ring to it. I fully accept that the phrase "positive outcome" may not be the appropriate phrase; but I am sure that it is well within the ingenuity of the Minister to find another phrase which would provide an incentive to employment officers to accept volunteering as a truly positive outcome, although he may want to use a word that is not a term of art, as this one is. Surely it would be possible in regulations to use such phraseology as, "It will be regarded as an outcome that can be widely accepted although it may not be in technical terms a positive outcome". I am sure that the noble Lord can easily find language which implies that the outcome

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is positive without necessarily using the term of art to which his brief clearly objects. I ask him to consider that point.

Lord Inglewood: In relation to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, as to schemes, the crucial requirement in respect of the jobseeker's agreement is that the two tests must be met: availability for employment and actively seeking employment. Therefore any volunteering has to fall within the framework of those two criteria.

The point about voluntary work is that the volunteers who do it are willingly and constructively working for some organisation. The approved government schemes are exclusively focused on getting people back to work. We have already heard examples—most of them, I am glad to say, from my home county of Cumbria—of how voluntary work is of positive benefit in achieving a job. At the same time when people are doing voluntary work, that is not the prime purpose of the activity. The point about referrals to approved government programmes is that they are exclusively focused on the overriding objective; namely, to get the people concerned back into work.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps the Minister will forgive me for intervening. The Government's new Clause 6A states that,

    "For the purposes of this Act, a person is actively seeking employment in any week if he takes in that week such steps as he can reasonably be expected to have to take in order to have the best prospects of securing employment".

Why should that not include volunteering?

Lord Swinfen: I get the impression that my noble friend is on a slightly different tack to the rest of us. I get the feeling that he considers voluntary work to be an alternative to fully paid employment. I do not think that any other Members of the Committee take that view. What we suggest is that an unemployed person doing voluntary work can do it quite happily without it interfering with his or her jobsearch and at the same time can be of benefit to the community. Such people can give themselves additional skills, and possibly put themselves in a position to build up Brownie points, credit points and good referees who might help them towards finding work. I have the feeling that there is a misunderstanding on my noble friend's part. None of us suggests that voluntary work is an alternative to full-time employment, but it can be a very good adjunct to seeking full-time work.

Lord Inglewood: My noble friend Lord Swinfen is right. However, what he describes can be done now. Voluntary work has obviously in the past been of benefit to many people and will no doubt continue to be so in the future. The other point to remember is that voluntary work is one of the list of circumstances that are taken into account when determining whether someone has met the "actively seeking employment" condition. It is not the only criterion; it is one of the criteria.

Baroness Seear: Is the noble Lord's trouble that "positive outcome" is a term of art, and means something quite specific? Would it be preferable to use the term "a positive activity" or "a suitable activity" to be taken into

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account at the restart interview? In that way we could get over the "term of art" problem which I believe is the noble Lord's difficulty.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: The noble Baroness is right. As I endeavoured to explain in my remarks, this is part of the means whereby the Employment Service measures itself for its own purposes. I do not believe that any Member of the Committee would dissent from the general proposition that doing voluntary work is helpful to people and should be encouraged. I am merely trying to make the point, and to emphasise, that the purpose and whole thrust of this legislation is to get people back into employment. That is the first and principal target that we have.

Earl Russell: The Minister has illustrated the harm that is done by the performance related concept of "positive outcome".

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The problem is that "positive outcome", as the Government now have it, has two possibilities. The first is work—and we all agree that that is what we wish to see people able to accept. But it also includes steps to getting work: for example, a training place. We argue that voluntary work, subject to any conditions of consultation, should also be regarded as a step to getting work and should therefore count as a positive outcome. Voluntary work is not ultimately an alternative to full-time salaried work. It may be a worthwhile route to getting work and may take more than 16 hours a week, in the same way as training may take more than 16 hours a week. But it is an approved, recognised, well-regarded and appropriate step to work and should therefore be treated as a positive outcome in the same way as training is, although not in the same way as work is. That is the distinction that we ask the Minister to join with us in accepting. Can the Minister help us?

Lord Inglewood: The noble Baroness has helped me, but there is still a difference between us in emphasis and in the way that we describe these matters.

Lord Wise: I must confess to becoming more and more confused as the debate went on. Obviously I am somewhat disappointed in the remarks of my noble friend the Minister. I listened carefully to them. I thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who supported this amendment. I cannot for the life of me see why my noble friend cannot accept it. I am somewhat concerned that under the present arrangements unemployed people who volunteer can be treated inconsistently by local employment officers. Given the new regulations and the new allowance that will come into being, I fear that unemployed people may be unduly deterred from volunteering. That will possibly be so.

However, on the basis of the Minister's comments, I shall withdraw the amendment. I look forward to seeing at the next stage of the Bill how he proposes to deal with the issue of volunteering and consultation with the voluntary sector. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 11, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, by leave, withdrawn.

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Baroness Trumpington: I beg to move that the Committee do now adjourn during pleasure until 7.50 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.19 to 7.50 p.m.]

Earl Russell moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 12:

Line 14, at end insert:
("Provided always that regulations shall not have the effect of creating any new conditions of eligibility").

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 12 is an amendment of some importance and needs to be argued on two different levels. I heard what the Minister said on the first amendment about the use of regulations for detail. He will have heard what I said in reply; that from time to time what is defined as a detail tends to grow, as it has always been said the prerogatives of princes daily grow. The amendment attempts to put a line under that, to say that any new condition of eligibility for benefit such that a person could be deprived of benefit if he did not need it, is not a detail and should not be put into regulation under the Bill.

There is a perfectly serious political case to be made for that. Conditions of eligibility for benefit are serious matters. People's livelihoods are at stake. Last Sunday I heard the Secretary of State for Employment, speaking on "The World This Weekend" say that the British people should be subject only to laws made in the Parliament which they have chosen. With appropriate reservations and on the appropriate subject matter, we would agree with that entirely. But the Secretary of State's Bill does not entirely live up to his criterion. Regulations are not made in the Parliament which the British people chose; they are made by the Minister, as ministerial language occasionally reveals, and are merely rubber stamped, passed or put through a consultation process very much like that of the social security advisory committee in this Chamber.

That is the first point of principle. The other point, which goes to the nature of the way the Bill is drafted, is that the Bill sets out to prescribe so carefully all the tests, all the criteria, all the steps, that it is easy for some of them to go over the watershed and become in effect new conditions of eligibility for benefit. For example, the power by regulation to define, "good cause". The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, went to great trouble to assure me about "good cause" earlier this evening. But, since regulation can change what is to be taken for "good cause", those reassurances can be valid only until the next lot of regulations are introduced. After that we must begin all over again. We are seeing a long series of steps being set out as proof that the claimant is actively seeking employment. They may not be the same steps that appear to the claimant to be the ones that put him in the best position to obtain employment. So, from the claimant's point of view, they may very well resemble conditions.

I can understand the Minister saying that he would not accept the claimant's word without question. That would be only proper. But what is or is not "good cause"; what are or are not "sufficient" steps to prove one is actively seeking employment are not the sort of things that

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legislation can set out in exhaustive detail. They are matters which must be left to judicial resolution. If we set them out in detail the Government may find that they are prescribing new conditions of eligibility for benefit almost before they are aware that they have done so. This is something which needs judicial oversight and attention if respect is to continue to be given to the sovereignty of Parliament. Parliament must be able to spell out what are the conditions of eligibility for benefit and what are not. If Parliament cannot do that, the Minister will be left doing it on his own, which will get us into a situation where his will is law. That is not something which any real defender of parliamentary sovereignty could possibly stomach. I beg to move.

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