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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, this is assuredly an important amendment. The object is, in a sense, to rectify an apparent disparity as to sanctions. That alters the whole balance of part of the structure of the Bill. On Third Reading, in a thin House, it is hardly appropriate that we should entertain such a proposition.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, we have been round this track a number of times. As I have said before, the overwhelming majority of people who become unemployed make every effort to find work at the earliest possible opportunity and are prepared to be available for as many jobs as possible. They need no further incentive from the benefit rules. However for those who are less firm in their intentions and who do not have the same resolve to get back to work, sanctions can play a very important role in influencing the behaviour of people who are claiming benefit and reinforcing incentives for them to take the right steps to improve their prospects of finding a job.

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To make sanctions more effective we have sought to simplify and clarify them so that claimants will know exactly where they stand and what will be the consequences of failing, or refusing, to act on directions or failing to take advantage of government provision. It is reasonable to make things as clear in regulations as they are on the face of the Bill. It is all part of the law of the land.

We have made it clear in the JSA White Paper, and I have repeated that commitment many times in this House, that for all the circumstances set out in subsection (5) the sanction to be imposed will be a fixed two weeks, rising to four if the claimant persists in his refusal or failure to act. We have no plans for any change to those periods. We want it to be clear to claimants that that will be the period of sanction.

But I cannot accept the amendment moved by the noble Lord. The setting of fixed periods is a new approach to sanctions. At present it is possible to impose a sanction of up to 26 weeks for failure to act on an official recommendation or refusal to accept a place on an approved training scheme, so fixed periods of two and four weeks represent substantial changes to that provision. Sanctions must serve to provide disincentives to claimants against filing to take the right steps to get back to work. We made changes to the maximum periods of sanction in the 1980s precisely because we found that the provisions were proving unsuccessful in discouraging people from leaving employment. Should we discover in the future that the periods of two and four weeks are not proving adequate as disincentives, it would be reasonable for us to return to the issue of different periods.

As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, it is a fundamental change which is proposed at this stage of the Bill. It is important to retain the right degree of flexibility on these matters, which is why we propose to provide for the period in regulations in the manner I have described to your Lordships. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, if I understand what the noble Lord is saying, he is saying, "Don't believe what I say". He is saying, "It's in the White Paper. I have told you about it. It is on record that that is what we mean—two weeks and four weeks—and we don't mean it. Because we might at some further moment in the future want to be really nasty and make it 26, we are going to shove it in the Bill". That is not an argument. That is ridiculous. In view of the time of night, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Clause 29 [Pilot schemes]:

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

Clause 37 [Parliamentary control]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 31, line 34, leave out second ("or").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 23 to 26 have the effect of ensuring that any regulation made under paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 will be subject to the

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affirmative procedure at all times. Similar provisions at Section 28(3) of the Benefits Act are affirmative. Your Lordships will remember that when we discussed this I explained in response to an amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the two groups we had in mind in this clause were share fishermen, who need to be dealt with specially—I do not want to repeat what I said about them, but I am sure that all noble Lords agree with me on that—and those workers who are on short time or who are temporarily stopped.

Having reflected upon our discussion, I decided that it was appropriate in the case of regulations which may require certain groups to satisfy additional conditions to receive a jobseeker's allowance, that we should make that change. The amendments add regulations made under paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 to the list of those in Clause 37(1) (c) which are subject to the affirmative procedure at all times.

Consequent upon that, these regulations are also added to the list in Clause 37(1) (a). This sets out the regulations which are subject to the affirmative procedure only if made before the date JSA becomes payable. It is necessary to exempt paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 from that list because the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure at all times.

I know that the noble Earl has tabled an amendment. Perhaps I may leave the matter with my remarks about what we propose to do in that regard and then with the leave of the House perhaps I may return after the noble Earl has spoken. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's agreement as regards the affirmative procedure. It is extremely helpful. I rise to speak to Amendment No. 28, which is in this group. It relates to the same line of questioning as arose in the issues that I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, in relation to Clause 9. The words in the Bill that concern us are at paragraph 17 of Schedule 1. It reads:

    "Regulations may require additional conditions to be satisfied with respect to the payment of a jobseeker's allowance".

That was the point about the Bill that caused Members on these Benches the most anxiety. We listened carefully to what the Minister said, and has repeated now, about the purpose for which the power is intended; that is, share fishermen and temporarily-stopped workers. We have no objection to the Government's stated intention. However, the vires in the paragraph go a good deal wider than the Government's stated intention. Your Lordships know that I am anxious about leaving unexploded vires lying about. If your Lordships read this morning's Independent about the clearing of mines in northern France they will appreciate my concern.

I appreciate that the Government's intention is benign. However, the wording of paragraph 17 contains no specification that it must be benign. I can see nothing in the wording of the paragraph—if there were anything I should be glad to hear about it—which makes it legally necessary that its use should be benign.

If the Minister suggests that either in this House or at a stage which will inevitably follow in another place the Government will include words to that effect I shall not

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feel inclined to insist on the words of my amendment. They were designed to incorporate what the Minister said were the purposes of the paragraph; that is:

    "Regulations ... may ... require additional conditions to be satisfied by ... share fishermen ... short-time or temporarily stopped workers. For the avoidance of doubt, it is declared that the ejusdem generis rule applies".

I hope that I have it right.

I am aware that the amendment does not specifically define the genus. With more time we might have done better. The genus I have in mind is contained in the words of the Minister.

    "It is clear that we are not dealing here with the normal case of unemployment. Many of these claimants will have continuing contracts of employment".—[Official Report, 16/5/95; col. 534.]

That is the genus that I had in mind. If we can find a way to tie the vires to the intention for which they are being taken, the gap between us will be closed and an anxiety will be removed. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall respond to the points made by the noble Earl in speaking to Amendment No. 28. He has, as frequently in this House, expressed concern about the potential wider uses of this power by a perhaps less benign future government than this Government.

Clause 1 sets out the basic conditions for entitlement to a jobseeker's allowance. The Bill is clear and we have stated that for the average JSA claimant those are the conditions that will apply. However, we must recognise that there are cases where small groups have access to JSA on a basis different from other claimants. As I explained on Report, the two uses of the power so far identified are for groups which have particular circumstances of employment and where the normal availability rules would be inappropriate. The wording of the power makes clear that it cannot be used for the generality of claimants and that any regulations made under it must apply only to specific groups which are identified with respect to their form of occupation. Any future uses would also have to be in respect of particular groups where the normal conditions need to be slightly adapted to special circumstances. I hope that having that explanation on the record will provide some reassurance to the noble Earl as regards the basic scope of the provision.

I understand his desire further to clarify the limits of the provision on the face of the Bill. The main aim of the amendment is to use share fishermen or short-time or temporarily-stopped workers as a benchmark against which other potential uses of the power can be measured. I do not believe that any such comparisons will be possible or desirable. New paragraph 18 would restrict any future uses of the power to groups who are similar in nature to share fishermen or short-time or temporarily-stopped workers.

The amendment suggests that that would avoid any doubt but I am not sure that it is likely to be the case. The two benchmark groups listed are very different in nature. Their employment status, the type of work that they undertake, the length of claim, the frequency of claim and other factors vary considerably. There is a

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great deal of difference between a self-employed fisherman based in Grimsby who cannot work for a week because of storms in the North Sea and an unemployed carpet maker in Axminster who has not been able to work for two months because his employer has no work for him.

They differ not only from the usual unemployed JSA claimant, but also from each other. The two examples illustrate very well the difficulties we face in setting down a general rule even by way of illustrative example, to govern the use of a power which by its very nature is intended to cater for exceptional circumstances. If we try to do this we risk limiting our ability to deal with other groups in future which might not exactly fit the mould of the normal unemployed claimant, who could legitimately look for help from JSA, provided slightly adapted conditions were met.

As I mentioned when I moved my own amendment, although I cannot accept this one, I understand the concerns raised by the noble Earl earlier and again today over what he perhaps sees as the potential wide-ranging use of this power. I brought forward the amendment to make it clear that the affirmative procedure will be used, and that of course ought to ensure greater parliamentary scrutiny of these measures. I accept that perhaps it does not go quite as far as the noble Earl would like, but I hope that it provides some reassurance, in addition to my words, on our view of this clause and the potential use of these provisions. In view of that, I hope the noble Earl will accept these assurances and will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps with the leave of the House I might respond very briefly to the Minister. He has given me a good deal of reassurance, which I welcome. He has also fastened unerringly on the weaknesses in the drafting of my own amendment which might have made me slightly chary of pressing it had it come up at a different time. What he has not quite reassured me on—and I should be very grateful if he could go a little further on this—is the restriction of paragraph 17 to being benign. I can see that it is restricted to categories of employment which are of a prescribed description. However, I do not see in the words "prescribed description" anything which is necessarily benign.

The Minister talks about groups. He occasionally expresses surprise about my suspicion of the use of regulation-making powers; but it was precisely this sort of power to make special regulations for a group which was used by the Government to disentitle students. That was the beginning of my serious concern with regulations. Nothing which the Government could ever do with regulations could possibly cause more surprise to me than that. Therefore, if we can tighten these words "prescribed description" and make it clear that they are benign, I think that would help very considerably.

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