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Earl Russell moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 22:

Line 50, at end insert:
("Provided always that no words in this Act nor any regulations under this Act shall restrain the adjudication officer from considering factors which appear to him to be relevant to the claimant's eligibility under section 1(2) (a) and (c).".

The noble Earl said: This amendment is to be inserted after a provision that regulations may list factors which an adjudication officer may take into account in determining the period in any case. The amendment would provide that those factors listed in regulations should not be the only factors which the adjudication officer may be able to take into account. I hope that we may have a slightly better response on this amendment than we received on the last amendment.

What concerns me—and this is at the bottom of my concern about the accidental creation of new conditions of entitlement—is that if a whole series of factors which may be taken into account are set out, it may make it much more difficult to take into account other factors, those which any reasonable adjudication officer, hearing the case de novo and guided only by case law and by discretion, would obviously take into account. For example, a woman might refuse to take a job if her battering former partner happened to work in the same building. One would have thought that would have been perfectly reasonable. But if that is not listed as one of the

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factors which the adjudication officer is allowed to take into account, is there a risk that he will not be able to do so?

I hope that the Minister understands the basis of my anxiety and that he can reassure me. If he cannot, then I may have to take the matter further but I hope that I shall not have to do so. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: The permitted period, which was introduced into benefit legislation in 1989, is an important concept. It is only right that claimants who have been regularly engaged in a particular type of work should have a reasonable opportunity to return to that work. The existing permitted period rule therefore allows claimants to refuse employment outside their usual occupation and at the rate of pay which they used to enjoy in that occupation for up to 13 weeks, and to restrict their availability accordingly.

I am pleased to say that in amending the original Clause 6, we are able to make it clear on the face of the Bill that in JSA the permitted period concept also applies both to claimants' availability and to their jobsearch activity. Members of the Committee will note that Clause 6(8) is worded in similar terms to the current Clause 17(5) and the provision in current legislation, and it is our intention that the prescribed factors for determining the permitted period will follow the precedent of current provisions. I should mention that this new Clause 6(8) enables Clause 17(5) to be deleted, and we shall be bringing forward an amendment to that effect on Report.

In particular, Clause 6(8) (c) enables regulations to prescribe factors which the adjudication officer may take into account in determining a permitted period. We intend broadly to continue the current list of factors: that is, the claimant's usual occupation and any relevant skills and qualifications which he has acquired; the length of the periods during which the claimant has undergone training relevant to his usual occupation; the length of the period during which the claimant has been employed in his usual occupation, and the length of time since he was so employed; the consideration that the more skilled the usual occupation and the greater the extent to which the skills in that occupation have been exercised recently, the longer the permitted period; and the availability and location of employment in his usual occupation.

But I should make it clear that Clause 6 does not mean that that must be taken as an exhaustive list. I hope that that answers the noble Earl's point. The adjudication officer will be able to take into consideration any other factor which he considers to be relevant. I believe that that is exactly what the noble Earl's amendment seeks to achieve, and I therefore hope he will agree to withdraw it.

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister. I have received exactly the reply for which I was hoping and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 22, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 24 to 31, as amendments to Amendment No. 4, not moved.]

Earl Russell moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 32:

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Line 66, leave out subsection (3) and insert:
("( ) A person's relevant acts (including his behaviour or appearance) may be considered when judging whether that person is actively seeking employment.").

The noble Earl said: The above amendment relates to the clause which deals with appearance and behaviour. It is a very much more moderate amendment than that which I moved in Committee. I still believe that the one I previously moved was the better amendment. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby will probably say so. She believes that it is an extremely mild amendment. I must say that I have some sympathy with that view.

However, I like to compromise wherever I possibly can. Therefore, I have tried to retreat from a position where I would have asked that appearance and behaviour were not taken into account. My amendment merely asks that a,

    "person's relevant acts, (including his behaviour or appearance)".

be taken into account. What I found so disconcerting about the original proposals of the Bill was the provision that a person's jobseeking activities may be disregarded if those concerned do not like his behaviour or appearance. That seems to me to be an impossibly automatic slot-machine way of getting at intention. I say that because the person may have worked like a Trojan, and indeed may have held many jobs. He may also have applied for many jobs. But, on the form of the Bill, if someone does not like his face, it can be ruled that he is not actively seeking employment and he will be denied benefit.

We have before us again the point to which I keep returning about tests of intention. As I understand it, the concern of the Bill is to use appearance as a way of getting at people whose intention is not to find work. That case was dealt with by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on Second Reading. However, one does not get at a person's intention by disregarding altogether some of his actions. That is simply a way of pinpointing one particular thing and never working out what a person really means. It will lead the Government into many problems. Once one starts to argue about people's appearance, one gets into problems.

I remember a case in the 1950s which was reported in the newspapers. It concerned a policeman on duty outside Buckingham Palace who was dismissed because he refused to shave off his beard. The official statement said, "In the opinion of the authorities, the beard was an unsatisfactory one". I can understand why there might have been a case for redeploying that person or for putting him on different duties; or, even, possibly, for dismissing him for insubordination as he was in such a job. But to say that that person was not actively seeking work when he was in fact proud of parading up and down with his brand new beard really does not seem to me to be at all reasonable. One simply cannot use a single thing as evidence of intention without taking the whole of the person's behaviour and actions into account. That is the most unreasonable part about the provision in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I support the amendment with great reluctance, as my noble friend pointed out, because I do not believe that it goes far enough. For one thing, I find it very odd to consider that

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an act—and it is actually stated within the Government's amendment—is in fact behaviour and appearance. It seems to me to be an act of God rather than an act over which someone has any control.

However, I am more worried about something which is relevant to what my noble friend said, but not quite the same. I am most bothered about what is generally the difference in judgment between generations. I do not really understand why people like wearing nose-rings in their noses, or for that matter why young males like wearing earrings in their ears. However, I notice that many of my children's friends do wear earrings in their ears. It seems to me to be an inoffensive if not a strange activity. I am also well aware that many of their parents' generation become terribly upset about young men wearing earrings in their ears and about young women wearing nose-rings in their noses. But the essential point is that subsection (3) gives a very disturbing degree of credence to whether the behaviour or appearance of a person does or does not recommend itself to an employment officer—and well might not do so.

I think that there are strong arguments for pressing that point hard. I believe that behaviour and appearance are irrelevant to this issue, as distinct from willingness to try to seek work, willingness to fufill conditions every week as regards showing a real desire to be actively employed and a real desire to be available for work. I cannot see what behaviour or appearance have to do with that unless they constitute a deliberate attempt to avoid being employed—which seems to me highly unlikely—which would be caught by many other provisions of this Bill. I therefore ask the Minister to reconsider whether behaviour or appearance should be listed in subsection (3). This is not a matter of an act of a person but in some cases of acts beyond his control.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Seear: Does the Minister agree that some people have extraordinary appearances—extraordinary, that is, in the eyes of the employment officer, and possibly of the noble Lord and someone like me—which may be a positive recommendation for certain jobs?

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