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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like clarification on one point. I mentioned young people, not in connection with the technical phrase "young people" in earlier clauses, but with reference to training places which are likely to be largely, though not entirely, taken up by younger people. I do not mean specifically those aged 16 to 18, but the younger workers who are most likely to be sent to training places as a condition of the jobseeker's allowance.

I take the Minister's point about good cause. However, I was trying to point out that the word "suitable" would avoid situations where one had to go through the relatively long process of determining whether the claimant had good cause because the matter would never arise. Will the Minister say something about that?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I shall be pleased to try to elaborate on what I said in the light of the noble Baroness's subsequent remarks. The crucial point is the government amendment to which I referred and which was adopted during the Committee stage. As I explained, it introduced the safeguard that the sanction could be applied only when the opportunity had been offered by the Employment Service for access to the course. We return to the comments I made earlier about the approach that the Employment Service adopts. The whole object of the Employment Service is to try to get people back to work, either by placing them directly in jobs or by putting them on courses which, in turn, will improve and enhance the likelihood of the person finding work.

The whole nature of the jobseeker's system is to try to ensure that we have what I described on a previous occasion as a dialogue between the employment officer and the jobseeker. It is against that background that the placings will be made. I believe that the worst fears of the noble Baroness are misplaced.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, with the leave of the House and before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may make a point. He is relying on the wisdom of employment officers. I dare say that a great deal of the time they are right, but quite often they are likely to be wrong and they misunderstand what is suitable for the youngster. If the word "suitable" is in the Bill, attention can be drawn to the opportunity for the youngster or older person, as may happen, to say that the course is not suitable. If the word is included in the Bill, it is much easier for the point to be stressed.

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Lord Inglewood: My Lords with the leave of the House, we are painting a picture where an almost blindness to the requirements of the jobseeker is the reason for a jobseeker being put on a course that is entirely unsuitable. However, in the real world I suggest that whether or not the word "suitable" is on the face of the Bill will not give a great deal of assistance. What matters is the existence of the phrase "good cause" in a position for the adjudication officer to be able to unravel the mess—if I may put it that way—in which the parties find themselves.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of the Minister's explanation, I hope that everything he said will hold true. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde moved Amendment No. 81:

Page 16, line 23, at end insert:
("( ) In paragraphs (6) (c) and (6) (d), "good cause" shall include the fact that the claimant has completed at least half (and is within 6 weeks of completing) a course of training or study relevant to their prospects of obtaining employment.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Ministers have said on different occasions while we have been debating the Bill today, "That shows that we have been listening, we're prepared to accept changes". We too have been listening and have carefully read the Hansard report in response to a similar debate on training. Our amendment answers the point about the Bill where we are continually told how important it is to get people back to work. All too often today in the workplace the only way people can get back to work is for them to get added skills or retrain. As the Minister said, many people in work also take part in part-time training courses.

The problem with the Bill is that if such people become redundant and are judged not to be available for work because they are attending a training course, they can and will lose their benefit. Yet in taking a decision as to whether they will accept the benefit and come off the course, they may be determining that they will be unemployed for longer.

For instance, we discussed the issue of drivers of heavy goods vehicles. After the last debate I made it my job to see that I was up to date on this matter. I spoke to some people in Scotland who train heavy goods vehicle drivers. The cost of a course is just under £500 and the duration is two or three weeks depending on the ability of the individual. Someone who goes on such a training course will be regarded under this Bill as not being available for work. People who are given notice of redundancy and who may be on a training course will have to take a decision as to whether they come off the course and possibly blight their future prospects of employment.

This amendment is very straightforward. It states that the claimant must have completed at least half the course, or, in an attempt to answer the Minister's point about implied professional students, must be,

    "within 6 weeks of completing ... a course of training or study relevant to their prospects of obtaining employment".

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So we are not talking of someone taking a course in, let us say, ornithology, or in any subject that may not be related to their employment prospects. The course must be directly related to their prospects of obtaining employment, and for a period that will entitle them to benefit for no more than six weeks. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister knows that we believe there is a problem here. He listened to us and we are grateful to him for it. Something will have to be done in future. But meanwhile, we need a holding operation to try to keep the mess under control until a real solution is sorted out. This amendment would suit the purpose extremely well. I am glad that the noble Baroness has moved it, and I am happy to support it.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, we have previously debated the advantages of jobseekers undertaking study and training. We are all agreed that it can help a jobseeker improve his skills and chances of finding employment. There is no difference between us on that. However, we have on many occasions made clear that a jobseeker's first priority should be to get back to work as quickly as possible. Anyone whose first priority is to undertake a course of study should not look to JSA for funding. Jobseekers should be undertaking a course because they feel it will help them to get a job. They should continue looking for work while they are on the course. If a job becomes available, they should take it. Most jobseekers do find work very quickly, and that should apply to those who have started a course of study as it applies to all others.

I of course appreciate the amount of time and effort that people invest in their study and I understand the noble Baroness's concern that such an investment should not go to waste. However, I hope that in the majority of cases, a jobseeker approaching the end of a course would not have to give up the course or training if a job becomes available. Courses are becoming increasingly more flexible and I hope that most jobseekers would be able to rearrange their course in order to take a job.

As always, the noble Baroness and the noble Earl have argued their case most persuasively. Let me be quite clear. I do not propose to accept this amendment. But having said that, we are willing to reflect on the matter further. We think that we may—I stress "may"—be able to see a way forward. We have in Clause 28 of the Bill a power to pilot regulations with a view to

    "ascertaining whether their provisions will, or will be likely to, encourage persons to obtain or remain in work or will, or will be likely to, facilitate the obtaining by persons of work or their remaining in work".

This is an important flexibility to test out new approaches that have been welcomed on both sides of the House.

We propose to collect new and better information on the part-time study arrangements, and perhaps pilot new approaches. This would be intended to provide secure evidence on what kind of arrangements will best enhance jobseekers' prospects of obtaining work. With your Lordships' permission, I should like at the same time to consider whether an approach based on the noble

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Baroness's proposals might be tested alongside other ideas. I do not say that we will do so immediately after JSA is introduced. Indeed, I do not think that we shall wish to do so until JSA has been allowed to settle in for a year or so. But it is certainly something that we shall consider. We are all agreed that study can help a jobseeker's job prospects. What we want to do is to sharpen our understanding of that through research and piloting, and I can give an undertaking that we will consider what the noble Baroness said in that context.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and with the leave of the House, I wonder whether he can go a mite further. Since he accepts the principle behind the amendment, would it be possible to do something without waiting until the JSA has, as he put it, run itself in? Would it be possible in the meantime to give guidance and ensure that something like this would be encouraged by the Government? Must we wait all that time until the JSA has run itself in, when the Government believe in the principle behind the amendment?

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, with the leave of the House and before the noble Lord finally sits down—though, as he is in fact sitting down, perhaps I should say before the noble Lord rises again—as I understood him, he was requiring a person who was undertaking a course of training relative to employment to have to take a job, although that person had not quite finished the course. That seems absolutely mad.

Surely if you are training for something, you want to complete the course. If someone has nearly completed a course, what is the sense in telling the chap that he has to leave it before he reaches the end of it in order to take a job? He would be better qualified and do a better job and be less likely to become unemployed again if he completes the course. To say that we now have modules and the last little bit of the course can be found from somewhere else and added on at a later date is quite absurd.

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