Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: I had some sympathy with the Minister when he said that he wondered how many times he would have to explain that this should not happen. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, however, the point is that it does happen. I am afraid the answer is that the Minister will have to explain that it should not happen until he finds a way of doing something to make sure that it does not. Surely that is fair.

I suggest that the Minister, before saying that the suggestion of Magna Carta was not to be taken seriously, first takes legal advice. He might get a shock. When he takes his legal advice he will see that Clause 40 was in the 1215 and 1225 enumeration.

Lord Swinfen: I do not know what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, intends to do with her amendment but I shall not be pressing mine. I shall take the opportunity of reading what my noble friend said and will probably come back at a later stage.

As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, the issue is not the incapacity benefit but the conditions of entitlement to the jobseeker's allowance of disabled people. If people have a disability sufficiently substantial to warrant an appeal under incapacity benefit it is ludicrous to expect them to have to show in each week of their claim that they are taking steps to find work when they may never be regarded as being capable of work.

We have on the statute book the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Act; we are working through the Jobseekers Bill and we will soon be dealing with the Disability Discrimination Bill. All those fit together as regards disabled people. My noble friend should consider bringing forward a consolidation Bill in order to pull all three together to see how they work.

11 May 1995 : Column 253

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I strongly commend the proposal suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. We are illustrating the point that some of the proposals could be included in the Bill. What the Minister said was much more attractive and sympathetic than what is written in the Bill. That illustrates precisely the matter that we were discussing earlier today when we first discussed the issue of primary and secondary legislation; namely, a requirement that has nothing to do with the flexibility of the labour market and everything to do with the rights of disabled citizens.

Perhaps the Minister will be able to see his way towards putting some of the comments that he has made from the Dispatch Box into law; not least his useful phrase about what is appropriate to the physical and mental condition of the claimant. All Members of the Committee would be much happier. I thank the Minister for what he said and hope that he will draft it as an amendment to the Bill on Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 14, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 15 and 16, as amendments to Amendment No. 4, not moved.]

Earl Russell moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 17:

Line 24, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Earl said: The amendment seeks to delete subsection (4), which states:

    "Regulations may prescribe circumstances in which, for the purposes of this Act, a person is or is not to be treated as available for employment".

That is our old friend Humpty Dumpty in fancy dress. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, pointed out at an earlier stage, a distinction is to be made between the two parts of the clause. I raise one for probing purposes and the other in the hope of seeing it changed. There is no objection to the prerogative of mercy. People are treated as available for employment when they are not available for employment. The case of women receiving statutory maternity pay has already been mentioned. That is a proper case.

I wish to ask the Minister about a point on which I trust he has now received my letter. It relates to women who have taken shelter in refuges as a result of domestic violence. I understand that the present position is that women in that situation, who very often cannot go out for fear of pursuit, are able to continue to receive benefit because they are treated as though they are available for work when they are not. That is a good illustration of why one needs to be careful about the drafting and why my own attitude to it cannot be cast in stone. I recognise the validity of those cases.

On behalf of Women's Aid, as well as on my own behalf, I should like to say how grateful I am to Mr. Alistair Burt for the care that he took on this subject when I had occasion to write to him in 1992. Therefore, I am concerned whether that exemption still stands.

But it is quite a different matter when one moves from the prerogative of mercy on to what one might describe as the prerogative of mercilessness—that is, treating people as though they are not available for employment when they are. When that is turned into plain English, it is a

11 May 1995 : Column 254

power to deprive people of their right to benefit. Does the Minister now understand why I was not entirely satisfied by his answers about creating new conditions of eligibility for benefit?

If you disentitle a group of people to benefit because they are not jumping through one of the particular hoops set out in the Bill, that is in effect creating a new condition of eligibility for benefit. That is something which I cannot regard as proper ever to do by regulation. Therefore, I hope that the Government will spell out what they mean or will take it away. Next time they bring back Humpty Dumpty, perhaps they will put a rather thicker disguise over him. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The provisions which this amendment seeks to delete are not new. I believe that it was my noble friend Lord Inglewood who addressed this matter on the last occasion and many remarks were made about Humpty Dumpty and Gilbert and Sullivan. Therefore, as Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, it is perhaps more appropriate that he should do so. However, I have decided that I shall attempt to address the issues this evening. Having watched a rather excellent performance of the said "Yeomen of the Guard" performed by Welsh National Opera a week or two ago, I am an expert on the subject, or nearly.

I hope to be able to persuade the noble Earl that the powers that he wishes to delete are there for very good reason and the regulations made under the current provision have been used extensively for a long time. They do not deal with hypothetical situations, but with a wide range of very specific instances where I am sure all Members of the Committee would agree that it is appropriate for a claimant to be entitled or not entitled to benefit. The list is extensive, and therefore a wide power is needed; we intend to follow the same approach in JSA.

First, people engaged in certain emergency duties will be treated as available for the periods when they are undertaking those duties. These include lifeboatmen and part-time firemen, and people helping in a fire, flood, explosion, accident, natural catastrophe or a search for a missing person. Secondly, we intend to prescribe other situations which will enable claimants to be treated temporarily as available: for example, a domestic emergency, the need to look after a child while the person normally responsible is ill, or attendance at an Open University residential course.

But we also need a power to treat a limited number of groups as not available for employment—full-time students, women who are receiving statutory maternity pay within the maternity pay period, and prisoners on home release. They may be able to make themselves available for work, but the Government have made other provision for their support. The power will ensure that if any people in those groups make a claim for JSA, they will be treated as not available. I accept that that is not a power to be used lightly, but it is nonetheless important.

There has been some consternation over the original Clause 6(2). But the fact is that use is made of very similar powers under existing long-standing legislation, and in very large measure we intend simply to continue this usage. The regulations under new Clauses 6 and 6A will

11 May 1995 : Column 255

be permanently subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That will be a change to the way in which similar regulations are dealt with under existing statutes.

I understand the point which the noble Earl has made about women in refuges. We are still giving careful consideration as to how they should be catered for within the new benefit. At this stage, I am not in a position to give a firmer answer than that we are looking at that small group of women who have a serious problem.

I have explained which are some of the important groups of people who are covered by and who benefit from the provisions—lifeboatmen, firemen and people who do other similar jobs. Those are voluntary part-time jobs which people often do in addition to their normal work. When those people become jobseekers, we wish to ensure that they will carry on with those activities without their position being damaged. Therefore, I hope that explanation persuades the noble Earl that Humpty Dumpty has some justification in that regard.

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said about women's refuges. I hope that we shall hear how they are to be protected before the Bill leaves this Chamber. I shall give the Minister an opportunity to come back on that at a later stage. I do not believe that it will be contentious because I think that our hearts are in the same place; it is just something that we want to get right.

The Minister very nearly pushed me into the Division Lobby when he started mentioning full-time students as an example of a category that he wished to be able to disentitle under this provision. That was a major change in the law which has caused massive hardship around the country, as I know very well. It struck me then and it strikes me now that to be able to do that by a procedure by which this Chamber had absolutely no right to vote was an outrage. In fact, the Minister's example has illustrated precisely why I am not content to let that power remain.

I hasten to assure the Minister that I am not going into the Lobby now unless he attempts to force me, in which case I shall be happy to do so. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment; but I assure him that we shall hear more of this issue on this Bill and many others.

Amendment No. 17, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, not moved.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page