§ The Minister for Social Security and the Disabled (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
I beg to move,That the draft Unemployment Benefit (Disqualification Period) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.As the House will be aware, disqualification for unemployment benefit in various circumstances that are broadly termed "voluntary unemployment" has been part of the unemployment insurance scheme since 1911. Originally, disqualification was set at a maximum of six weeks and the Social Security Act 1975 maintained that figure while retaining the principle as well. However, the period was extended to a maximum of 13 weeks in 1986.
The present draft order has one clear purpose. It extends from 13 weeks to 26 weeks the maximum period during which someone may be disqualified for receiving unemployment benefit if his unemployment is brought about by his own action or failure.
Undoubtedly someone who is in whole or in part responsible for his lack of work should not be able freely to draw benefit. Under current legislation, a person may be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit for a maximum of 13 weeks in various circumstances that are generally termed "voluntary unemployment". As I announced to the House on 10 November, we now intend to strengthen that sanction.
We propose to extend the period to a maximum of 26 weeks. At the same time, we are amending the regulations relating to members of the armed forces to bring them into line. They contain a provision whereby a person who was a serving member of the forces is disqualified from benefit for a fixed period if he is discharged, cashiered or otherwise dismissed. If the House approves the order, that period will cease to be fixed and will become a maximum of 26 weeks.
We also intend to continue the position that someone who is disqualified from receiving benefit in any of those circumstances will have any income support to which he may be due reduced for the same period. The relevant legislation for this will be introduced shortly with other income support changes in amendments to the Income Support (General) Regulations. I stress that in all those situations the 26-week period that I have mentioned will be the maximum that can be imposed.
As the law stands at the moment, a person is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit if he loses a job through misconduct or leaves one voluntarily without just cause, or if he refuses a suitable job vacancy, fails to take advantage of a reasonable opportunity of receiving approved training or fails, without good cause, to carry out official recommendations to help him to find suitable employment. The current Employment Bill provides for the circumstances of disqualification to be extended to people who have lost a place on an approved training scheme through misconduct or have left such a place voluntarily without good cause and also to those who refuse without good cause to apply for or accept such a place.
In any case of voluntary unemployment, if a claim for supplementary benefit is made, entitlement is reduced, normally by deducting 40 per cent. from the claimant's personal benefit rate. Amounts for dependants are not so 836 reduced. The deduction is at the lesser rate of 20 per cent. if any member of the household is either pregnant or seriously ill and the claimant's capital does not exceed £100. The £100 capital limit is being raised to £200 with the introduction of income support in April.
The maximum period for disqualification for the various situations of "voluntary unemployment" was increased to 13 weeks in October 1986. However, for people leaving the armed services, there was no such change. For them the period has remained at six weeks. People leaving the armed forces are not, and never have been, subject to a penalty for leaving voluntarily. Nor has the period of disqualification for people dismissed from the armed forces ever been other than a fixed period penalty, leaving no room for former service men to show good reasons for the imposition of a lesser disqualification period. Following discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, we have decided that, in equity, former members of the forces should be subject to the same maximum—and flexible—penalty as other people.
The House will wish to know why, having increased the maximum period of disqualification to 13 weeks in 1986, we are now introducing a further increase. A main purpose of the voluntary unemployment sanctions is to discourage people from acting in a way which leaves them unnecessarily without work and a charge on the public purse. There will, I imagine, be few who will quarrel with the general principle.
Following the 1986 change, one would have expected the percentage of unemployed people claiming benefit in situations of "voluntary unemployment" to have fallen. On the contrary, the absolute number of instances where a disqualification or deduction was imposed rose, and that was at a time when, because of a strengthening economy, there was much work around and total claims for benefit from unemployed people were dropping significantly. The Government have concluded that more effective measures are required to discourage voluntary unemployment. Hence the increased maximum period that we are proposing.
Disqualifications are not imposed indiscriminately. Decisions on unemployment benefit and on the circumstances to which a disqualification or benefit deduction should be made are, as hon. Members on both sides of the House well know, taken by independent adjudicating authorities. The adjudication officers are the first tier of those authorities. Decisions are reached on the basis of applying the legislation governing the benefit, and the relevant case law, built up over the years, to the circumstances of the individual case. In ascertaining the facts, inquiries are made of the former employer, and the claimant is given the chance to comment on the employer's statement and to offer his own account of events.
The length of any disqualification is for the adjudication officer to decide. The chief adjudication officer's advice to local adjudication officers is that in each casea sensible discretion has to be exercised in such manner as the justice of the case requires. All the circumstances must be taken into account.He also points out:the statutory authorities have a complete, unfettered discretion, provided it is exercised judicially.Anyone who is dissatisfied with an adjudication officer's decision has the right of appeal to an independent 837 social security appeal tribunal, and from there, on a point of law, to a social security commissioner. In view of the quite proper independence of the adjudicating authorities, neither I nor any other Minister or departmental official can influence or interfere with their decisions.
This is a long-standing adjudication system which people who have experience of it believe to work well. We are not proposing any changes in the way in which the benefits will be administered or the decisions taken. Matters will still be decided by the independent adjudicating officers and there will still be the right of appeal against an adverse decision to an independent tribunal. Appeals can be taken on the length of a disqualification period as well as on the imposition of any period at all. All we are proposing now is to increase the maximum period for which the adjudicating authorities can impose a disqualification.
It is obviously not right, and never has been, under a Government of either party, that someone should be able to draw benefit without penalty if his unemployment is due to some action or omission on his part for which he has no acceptable reason. Someone dissatisfed with a job should not give it up lightly and expect to receive benefit. He or she should do everything reasonable to avoid becoming a charge on public funds, funds which are contributed to by many others who may be equally concerned to better their situation but who avoid precipitate or irresponsible action.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Knowing people who, in past years, have suffered from this sort of thing, could I ask the hon. Gentleman to explain precisely what he means when he says that a person should not lightly give up a job? Does he honestly believe that an ordinary working person who has to live on a weekly income gives up a job lightly? Could it not be that someone is working under very bad conditions? The employer might say that they are good conditions, but that worker cannot tolerate them any longer; so he leaves the job and finds himself in this situation.
§ Mr. Scott
The hon. Gentleman is going back to the principle which, if he was here at the beginning of my remarks, he will remember I said has been established since 1911. Other amendments to it have been introduced. A reduction in social security benefits was introduced by the Labour Government in 1948. The principle has not been challenged before.
§ Mr. Scott
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will restrain himself for a moment. The principle is not at issue, and that is what the hon. Gentleman has raised. The point that we are discussing today is the maximum period that adjudicating officers ought to impose in a situation in which voluntary unemployment takes place. The hon. Gentleman seems to me to be challenging the principle, and I do not believe that that is at issue. What we are arguing about today is whether it is right that this period should be extended from 13 weeks to 26 weeks at a time when unemployment has been consistently falling for many months, opportunities for employment are growing, and yet the incidence of unemployment has been growing. In those circumstances, I believe that the Government are justified in taking this step.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
The Minister has now said twice that, since the increase to 13 weeks was made, the number of those registering as voluntarily unemployed has increased. He will be aware of the answer that was given in the House only last month, which showed that, in the first three quarters after the increase to 13 weeks, there was a steady decline in the number held to be voluntarily unemployed, from 113,000 in the first quarter to 98,000 four quarters later. The numbers are reducing, not going up, and the Minister really cannot mislead the House twice in the same speech.
§ Mr. Scott
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not accuse me of misleading the House, but will listen quietly for a moment while I explain to him exactly what the figures are.
A parliamentary question was answered and it was, in a sense, quite right to suggest that during the period covered by that answer the figures had been falling. Nevertheless, the aggregate over the three quarters since the maximum period was increased from six to 13 weeks had increased compared with the same period a year earlier. Over the nine months from October 1985, there were 306,000 disqualifications, compared with 310,000 in the corresponding nine months from October 1986. That shows an increase of just under 2 per cent. As I say, that has to be set against the background of the drop in unemployment, the increase in the number of vacancies, and therefore the increasing opportunities for employment. Disqualifications have therefore risen over that period from 8 per cent. to 9 per cent. of the total claims for that period.
§ Mr. Cook
Is the Minister seriously telling the House that we have to impose this 100 per cent. increase in the period of disqualification because of a mere 2 per cent. increase in the numbers registering as voluntarily unemployed—an increase of a mere 5,000 out of a total of 300,000? If that is the best that the Minister can do, he might as well pack up now and withdraw this order.
§ Mr. Cook
The Minister must not mislead the House. No figures have been introduced, either by the Secretary of State in Committee or in Written Answers, that suggest the increase of 26 per cent. to which the Minister is referring. He must produce an entirely different set of figures, which will be wholly incompatible with answers given in the House by his colleagues.
§ Mr. Scott
The increase was in the proportion of the cases in which disqualification was applied and therefore the independent adjudicating authority made a judgment that voluntary unemployment took place. That is the basis of the figure, and that is the principle on which this has been operated for many years under both Governments. The hon. Gentleman cannot duck away from that.
The whole House recognises that unemployed people face considerable difficulties, even in an expanding jobs 839 market such as we have at the moment. Our aim as a Government is to respond constructively and positively to the task of helping the unemployed back to work. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is developing major initiatives in the area of employment and training to help people to find jobs and guide them to the training and other opportunities that will enable them to return to employment. It surely makes sense—perhaps I can even carry the Opposition Front Bench with me on this—to ensure that the benefit system does not offer people an acceptable alternative of unemployment benefit when useful training or employment is available to them. It is important to continue to discourage voluntary unemployment, and the purpose of this order is to do just that. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
In the six months for which I have held this Opposition brief, I have never taken so much pleasure in rising to oppose an order in the House. I regard this order as brutal and vindictive, and the Minister's speech as intellectually indolent and morally in a state of paralysis.
This is not a fringe matter; 400,000 people suffer from this rule every year. That is a number equivalent to the population of Edinburgh or Bristol. Most of those who have the rule applied to them lose all entitlement to benefit. A minority succeed in getting social security benefit in place of unemployment benefit, and they then have 40 per cent. of that social security docked for the period of the penalty. What makes these numbers so scandalous is that there is clear evidence that in the majority of the cases the rule is applied in error.
Let me put the debate in perspective by talking not about numbers but about individual cases—and I hope that the House will acquit me of any abuse of my privilege on the Front Bench if I begin by referring to a constituency case that I dealt with just before Christmas. It concerned a constituent who was a bus driver in a company which had been privatised by the Government, He had been encouraged, under his right to buy, to purchase his public sector house. He was clearly a man of our time in a company which had been privatised, buying his public sector house.
That man found, because his overtime was cut, that he could not afford his mortgage payments. He therefore decided, rather than lose the house wen he was threatened with repossession, to pay the mortgage and not pay his rates. The local authority took action to enforce payment of the rates. They arrested his wages. The bus company, as a matter of principle, will not employ people who have their rates arrested. They dismissed him. When he turned up to claim unemployment benefit, it was withheld for 13 weeks on the ground that he had been dismissed for industrial misconduct.
Is the Minister prepared to justify that case? Is he prepared to say that the rule was properly applied in that case? Is he prepared to say that it is that sort of case that he has in mind when he comes to the House to double the penalty period to 26 weeks?
Hon. Members will have had circulated to them the document prepared by the Low Pay Unit on the basis of 840 similar cases which have been sent to them by citizens advice bureaux throughout the country. Let me share with the House two such cases.
In the east midlands, a 17-year-old man resigned because he was expected to work over 12 hours per day, seven days per week. The adjudication officer imposed a four-week disqualification for leaving his job voluntarily. Is the Minister prepared to defend that case? Is he prepared to say that that is a case in which the penalty period should be doubled? Before he does so, I must tell him that it is an offence under the Factories Act 1961 to expect a person of that age to work those hours. Yet when that young man gave up the job, he incurred a penalty in the withdrawal of benefit.
One other case, from the same document, referred to a Buckinghamshire woman who was advised by her doctor to give up her job, which involved heavy lifting, following the threat of a miscarriage. She was disqualified from benefit. Is she the type of case which the Minister has in mind when he proposes that we double the period of disqualification? The fact that the Minister does not have the courage to get up and say that these are the cases which he has in mind suggests to me that even he is not prepared to defend the very people to whom the rule applies and who will now suffer twice the penalty because of the order.
§ Mr. Scott
First, what we are doing is increasing the maximum, not saying that that is the penalty which will be imposed in all cases, as the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest. Secondly, these are matters for the independent adjudicating authorities, as I made clear. The report has been drawn to the attention of the chief adjudication officer and it is for him to decide what note he takes of it and what guidance he issues to local adjudication officers.
§ Mr. Cook
Very well; let us move on to what the chief adjudication officer says.
Having listened to the Minister's speech, I find it difficult to credit that he bothered to read the annual report submitted to him by the chief adjudication officer. If he had done so, he would have seen that in 1985, in the cases inspected where the rule was applied, the chief adjudication officer found that one in four was defective. In his 1986 report, he found that the position had got even worse and that almost one in three decisions was defective. That is the independent adjudication proceedings to which the Minister has referred. When the Minister says that the system is adequate and competent, as he did in his speech, he appears to be leaving out the opinion of the chief adjudication officer, who plainly does not regard it as adequate or competent.
The Minister has to accept responsibility for the errors. One reason why there are so many defective decisions is that, staggering though it may be for the House to hear it, each adjudication officer is allowed 16 minutes to decide on each case.
§ Mr. Cook
The Minister shakes his head. It is there in the 1986 report of the chief adjudication officer, who said:In all the Area Adjudication Sections visited it was a constant complaint from AOs that the time allowance was unrealistically low in today's circumstances … Improvement in the quality of decision-making is unlikely to occur if the number of decisions expected from each AO is as high as present.The Minister need not shake his head. It is his own people who say this.
§ Mr. Cook
The Minister has confirmed that the time taken on these cases is 16 minutes. I concede that that is the average rather than the maximum time, but it is still an average for each case. What is clear from the chief adjudication officer's report is that he was recommending more staff and longer time. The Minister has not provided that; he must take responsibility for that and for the fact that one in three decisions are wrong.
Moreover, the proportion of one in three refers to cases which are taken at random by the chief adjudication officer for investigation. If we consider the cases of claimants who had the confidence to appeal, we find that the figures are even worse. In the social security statistics for 1986, we discover that 22 per cent. of the cases where an appeal was lodged were changed on review; in other words, they were abandoned by the Department before they even got to the tribunal because they were so weak. Of the cases which continued to a tribunal, 29 per cent. were successful on appeal. In other words, in total over half of all the cases where an appeal was lodged were reversed. That was 1986,.
The figures for 1987 are even worse. We have the figures only for the first quarter of 1987, but they show that the number successful on appeal was not 29 per cent., as in 1986, but 46 per cent. If the number changed on review remains the same at 22 per cent., that means that two thirds of the cases where an appeal was lodged were abandoned before appeal, or were overturned by the tribunal.
Unless the Minister clambers back to the Dispatch Box and claims that the appeal provides the right of remedy, may I point out to him the answer given in another place last month which noted that it takes 17 weeks for an appeal to be heard? In other words, people cannot get their appeals heard and discharged within the present period of penalty of 13 weeks. It is only after the penalty period has been endured that they will succeed in getting their money backpaid. If the House is unwise enough to approve the order this evening, people will at least have their appeals heard within the 26-week penalty period.
Given all that evidence of official error and of unsuccessful cases at appeal, one is bound to say that the responsibility of Ministers might have been to concentrate on improving the rate of official decision-making, and at least on getting it up to a pass rate. Instead, Ministers have brought the order before the House to double the penalty period. As the Minister has fairly admitted, from 1911 to 1986, Governments of three different political colours all took the view that six weeks was an adequate maximum period. That period of six weeks survived through the mass unemployment of the thirties and through the very low employment levels of the fifties, when voluntary unemployment might have been regarded as a larger problem.
Moreover, during all that period it was always a temporary postponement and never a permanent loss, although I note that Ministers have given themselves the power to make this a permanent loss and to ensure that the six months are deducted from entitlement to unemployment benefit in the future.
842 The Minister stressed that 26 weeks and 13 weeks were maximum periods. I want to comment on the fact that the period of 13 weeks has proved to be not so much a maximum as the norm. Here I come to what I regard as one of the most objectionable features of the order — that both Ministers have sought to give the House misleading figures.
I start with the Under-Secretary of State. In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), who had asked him what figures he possessed on the number of times when the full 13 week penalty was applied, he said:Information is not collected on the length of disqualifications and it could be obtained only at disproportionate cost." — [Official Report, 18 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 698.]I have before me a letter from Mr. Bowen, secretary to the management side of the Department of Employment Whitley council. The letter is dated 18 February 1988, the same day as the Minister's reply. The subject of the letter isMonitoring the voluntary employment changes — extension of period of disqualifications".The letter says:The results of this survey will not be published.That is hardly surprising. The Minister has just told the House that the figures do not exist.However, the following information was obtained from part of the survey:There are two conclusions from that letter. First, the Under-Secretary of State chose deliberately to suppress information which was available to the Government and which was in existence within the Government when he tabled that answer. It was a deliberate attempt to withhold information which the House required in making up its mind on the order. One can understand why the Government sought to suppress the information and not to publish it, because it shows that in three quarters of the cases the maximum penalty is applied. If we pass the order, we can expect that in three quarters of the cases the maximum 26 weeks' suspension will be imposed and that the average on that basis will work out at 23 weeks.
- (a) 75 per cent. of disqualifications were for the full 13 week period;
- (b) The average length of disqualification was a little over 11½ weeks."
Why the change? The Minister sought to give as a reason for change the fact that the number had increased since the increase in the penalty period from six weeks to 13. There is a massive fault line in that logic. If doubling the penalty from six weeks to 13 weeks is accompanied by a rise in the number of people voluntarily unemployed., it scarcely makes the case for coming to the House and asking us to double it again. In any event, that is simply not true. The Minister is shifting his ground rapidly in respect of the basis on which he founds the order. He said:over the nine months from October 1986, when the maximum disqualification period was increased from six weeks to 13 weeks, the number of claims from people leaving work for this reason has increased".—[Official Report, 10 November 1987; Vol. 122, c. 155.]As the Minister was obliged to admit to the House, that is now seen not to be true.
In the quarter to September 1986, 113,000 people were held to be voluntarily unemployed. Four quarters later, in the quarter to June 1987, that figure had fallen to 98,000. On 10 November, the Minister made a statement which was not true and which he was in a reasonable position to 843 identify as not being true. The grounds on which he made that announcement to the House and to the press are now seen to be wholly false.
Why, then, do the Government go to the trouble of persisting with the order when, logically, the case of 10 November having been exposed, they ought to withdraw it? The order will save them a bit of pin money, some £25 million in a full year. The unemployment unit claims that it will cut unemployment figures by some 20,000 a month, but—here I differ from my hon. Friends—surely not even this Government could go through the odium of producing such a mean and nasty measure for such meagre pickings.
The order fits in with so much else that we have seen from the Government over the past year, such as the withdrawal of benefit rights from 16 and 17-year-olds. It fits in with their strategy of blaming the victim for his or her problems. Conservative Members do not care whether it is the right or wrong decision or whether somebody is voluntarily unemployed. Provided that large numbers are held to be voluntarily unemployed, the measure will encourage a culture in which the unemployed are blamed for being unemployed of their own choice.
The victims will be the unemployed and their families. The measure will hit their families. The 40 per cent. deduction for 13 weeks, now to be extended to 26 weeks, is only on that part of the benefit for the claimant himself. It is not a 40 per cent. deduction from the payment for his dependants, but anyone who believes that one can claw away 40 per cent. of the benefit from the principal claimant without affecting his family does not live in the real world. When the family sits down together for a meal, the senior claimant will not get 40 per cent. less food on his plate compared with the rest of his family round the table. The misery and hunger — there will be hunger— will be shared equally by the family.
§ Mr. Cook
With great respect, there was not a Labour Government in 1911 when the principle was introduced. This goes back to 1911, and spans Governments of all three colours.
The Minister is introducing a different principle, which he has clearly espoused today. The previous Minister of State said the same in Committee. The six-week period was a de minimis provision. I do not object to that provision, which was in effect the excess clause in the insurance policy. If one is held to be unemployed for six weeks or one is between jobs and has voluntarily given up one's job, there is no particular reason why the state should be obliged to pay unemployment benefit. I accept that that 844 is reasonable, to protect the state against minimal claims for that period by excluding a modest period, such as six weeks.
The period could be seven weeks or five weeks, but 13 weeks, and now 26 weeks, is not a de minimis provision. It is not an excess clause, nor did the Minister attempt to defend it as such. It is intended as a penalty.
§ Mr. Favell
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that somebody who is voluntarily unemployed should receive the same amount as somebody who is unemployed through no fault of their own?
§ Mr. Cook
I shall answer the question, but, from the fatuous nature of the hon. Gentleman's question, I wonder whether he has been listening to my speech. The majority of those people to whom this rule is applied are not voluntarily unemployed, and no reasonable person in this House would hold them to be voluntarily unemployed. In the majority of cases, the rule is applied to people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and find themselves unemployed, perhaps for a lengthy period.
My answer to the hon. Gentleman is, candidly, yes: those people's families are entitled to the same diet, clothes and heating allowances as the families of other unemployed people. I see no reason why we should hit their children as well.
There is a moral point behind the order. It is not a matter of statistics or individual cases of hardship. Decent incomes are enjoyed by the people who prepared the order. They are enjoyed by the Ministers who made the policy decision to introduce the measure. They are enjoyed by the civil servants who drafted the policy papers from which the Government selected this option. Decent incomes are enjoyed by the parliamentary draftsmen who reduced the measure to legal language. They are enjoyed even by Back-Bench Members of Parliament who, when the bell is rung, will no doubt troop loyally through the Lobby like Pavlov's dogs, and vote for the measure.
Those decent incomes provide a grotesque contrast with the poverty of the claimants whom those people are conspiring to penalise. That contrast makes the order a moral issue. I have not used the word "evil" before in the House, and I do not use it lightly on this occasion, but the order is evil. It has been introduced by Ministers who have given up any pretence that their job is to protect the unemployed against poverty and who are determined to ensure that the unemployed are kept in poverty. We shall vote against both orders tonight.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I wish that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) would speak much more often both inside and outside the House; the more he speaks, the more he makes the case of my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
I was amazed to hear what the hon. Gentleman said this afternoon, and I listened with great care. He attempted to wring the withers of the House by describing three 845 heartbreaking cases in his constituency. The first concerned a gentleman who drove a bus and the second concerned a person who was expected to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week — just like a Member of Parliament. He mentioned another case involving a pregnant woman who was unable to carry out her duties and was unfairly sacked.
The hon. Gentleman had gone into that at some length when my hon. Friend the Minister of State rose and said, "Hang on a minute. There is such a thing as independent adjudication rights in such cases." The hon. Gentleman then went on to give an extraordinary reading of the findings of those adjudication officials. He said that a quarter of the decisions were overruled. That meant that three quarters were all right. In another instance, he said that a third of the cases to come before adjudication officers were wrong. That meant that two thirds were right.
A little later, 1 found it extraordinary that he referred to a pass rate. He said that 29 per cent. —shock horror — of the cases that went before adjudication officers were overturned. However, that is not a pass rate and, as a matter of fact, 71 per cent. were OK, and 71 per cent. is a good pass rate.
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
I am following the hon. Lady's argument with care. Has it not struck her that the basic case that my hon. Friend was making is that, if one takes account of all those wrong decisions, the Government's case that the figures have risen significantly falls apart at the seams?
§ Dame Jill Knight
No, the hon. Gentleman said exactly what I am saying he said. He claimed that, because in one quarter of the cases that went before the adjudication process, the applicant won through, that shows that the whole thing was absolutely appalling. However, he did not mention the fact that three quarters of those original decisions were right, and surely that is what we should be talking about. I have no doubt that the cases that he put to the House would have been in the quarter, the third or the 29 per cent. that were overturned, because from the way in which he described them I certainly would not accept that in such cases the person had been fairly denied benefit. The hon. Member for Livingston must understand that he is using a double-edged weapon and that what he has said has supported, rather than destroyed, my hon. Friend's case.
When the Government came to power, Britain had reached a dangerous point. More and more the ethos of "Why bother to work? Why bother to save? Why bother to act responsibly?" had taken hold. It is absolutely true that more and more people were saying, "Why do I bother? If I do not bother, I am not going to starve or be in any trouble, so why bother?" The welfare system was increasingly seen not as a safety net for the luckless, but as a bed for the shiftless. That is what the Government have addressed themselves to. Thank God the majority continue to work, to save and to act responsibly.
§ Dame Jill Knight
If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton wishes to intervene instead of mumbling from a sedentary position, I am quite ready to give way to him.
§ Dame Jill Knight
If the hon. Gentleman seeks merely to throw insults across the House, let him. People outside who read this debate will give what he has said due note. However, in my own defence, I say that I have never been shiftless. I have often been hard up, but I have never been shiftless.
§ Dame Jill Knight
Well, the hon. Gentleman will mumble, Madam Deputy Speaker, and is rather a trial to us all.
I shall resume the main tenor of what I was saying. Thank God the majority of people in this country continue to work to save and to act responsibly. It is a very good thing they do, or else the country would be bankrupt. We simply cannot sustain ourselves as a nation — those nations that have tried to do so have failed —if more than half the people in this country are being supported in idleness by the other half working like mad. That will not do. The majority of people in this country—who do work, and act responsibly — have been increasingly angered and embittered at seeing their hard-earned money doled out to those who refuse to bear responsibility for themselves or their families.
I am very sorry indeed for all those who are looking for jobs but who cannot find them. That is a tragedy, whether one is young or old. To be unable to find work when one is genuinely seeking it is a terrible thing. However, I have no pity for those who quit their jobs without good reason. Let us be fair, it must be a good reason, but we have the back-up on that, as I have already described. I have no pity for those who refuse to seek a job or to train for a job, in the blithe certainty that society will pay all their bills. There is all the difference in the world between those two groups—between the genuinely unemployed, and those who have become unemployed in the certainty that they will not suffer in that way.
There is widespread sympathy for the genuinely jobless. Not only have the Government done everything possible to help them — I hope that Opposition Members will join us as we rejoice in the falling figures for unemployment in Britain today — but the taxpayer is ready and willing to see his money used to ensure that there is no question of the unemployed not having enough to live on. There is real sympathy among taxpayers for genuinely unemployed people. I am sure that, even on a voluntary basis, people would give if they saw a man genuinely out of work, through no fault of his own, and suffering because of it. However, the generosity of the taxpayer turns to fury when he finds that he is being forced to subsidise the idle. As I see it, that is what the Government are taking steps to stop in this order.
If Opposition Members have any doubts about the taxpayers' bitterness on this issue, I urge them to seek some of the comments from their own constituents; many people who work hard and who pay taxes are actually worse off than those whom they are subsidising, and that is wrong.
We have a difficult situation in this country, in that there is sometimes a positive disincentive to save. I have 847 known cases where people have saved carefully all their lives, but at the end of their lives, they have been in a home and have found that they are the only people paying for their care in that home. That is an impossible dilemma, because if people have money it is right that they should pay, but it is hard to have denied oneself all one's life to ensure that one has enough money at the end, and then to find that one is subsidising people who have never bothered to act in the way in which one acted oneself.
Today we are dealing with people who perhaps have lost a place on an approved training scheme, either through misconduct or perhaps by leaving voluntarily without any good cause, and with people who refuse to apply for a job or to accept a job on an approved training scheme. How can Opposition Members support that and suggest that it is right for quite poor people to subsidise those who are able to work, or who could train, but will not do so? I shall have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Government tonight.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I do not want to speak for long, but I should like to give the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) my personal experience. My father joined the army when he was 13 years of age. He came out of the Army and for a short period became a policeman. He was then called up during the first world war. He was wounded four times and ended up as a regimental serjeant major. He was then trained to be a snob — that is, a shoe repairer or a cobbler. He never lost a day's work in his life. He worked very hard for his family, and ended up with 6d in the savings bank.
That is the story not just of one, but of millions of working people, and it is a fact. Indeed, that is why I became a Socialist—because I saw what my father and those around him had got from working hard all their lives. In the end, my father died of four cancers. I want that on the record, because that experience is not unique.
I want to talk about the penalties. Some of us, who also worked hard for our living in the shipyards and on the construction sites when we came out of the Army after the second world war, always resented even the six-week period. However, we tolerated it. We did not like that six-week period if, from time to time, we felt that we wanted to give up a job because of certain circumstances, perhaps because the foreman was a person that one could not stand. I remember one job where the foreman bricklayer was so bad that one lad lost his temper and broke the foreman's arms because he was so upset. That can happen.
Sometimes people cannot stand the individuals under whom they work. They may work, for example, in a machine shop where the fumes are very bad. They may have complained many times. It may not be a trade union-organised machine shop. So they leave and are immediately faced with six weeks' penalty, and they seek adjudication and so on. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost. The system has always been resented but it could be lived with. We did not like it but we could live with it.
Then the Government come along and change something that has been accepted for a very long time. In a brilliant speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was absolutely right to say that 848 from 1911 until the present time the period of six weeks has been an accepted fact. But there is a lot of difference between six weeks and six months. The Government are talking about taking people's livelihood totally away from them. These people cannot live on nothing.
It is working people who will suffer, who will starve collectively. The reason for the move is simple. It is a way of putting further pressure on working people to accept jobs which, in normal circumstances, they would not accept. That is the truth of it. When workers would like to say that they have had enough of a particular foreman and what he is doing, no longer will they protest; they will bow their heads even further. They will get a little further on to their knees and accept the treatment rather than place themselves and their families in such a situation.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston apparently does not even know what her own Government are doing by means of the present changes in benefits. Does she not know that, if people have built up a little nest egg of £6,000, after 1 April such people will find that nest egg taken into consideration, so that they lose some benefits that they might otherwise be given? Is that a choice?
§ Dame Jill Knight
The hon. Gentleman really must not ascribe to me ignorance that I do not possess. He has already insulted me once—and he is perfectly free to do so as often as he likes. What he must understand, however, is that insults are no substitute for fair, decent and sensible argument.
He has told the House tonight about his father, and I have no doubt that every single word he spoke was true. I wonder what his father, who obviously worked hard all his life on the different jobs that he did, would have felt if, while not earning very much but working consistently to provide for his family, he found that out of the meagre amount that he did have he was supporting and subsidising those who would not work.
§ Mr. Heffer
If I have insulted the hon. Lady, I did not intend to and I apologise for any insult. I do not like insulting people, so I apologise if I have unwittingly insulted her.
I will tell the House what my father did, even though the debate is not about him. When he was a cobbler and people used to come to him — working people, unemployed people or people in very bad circumstances—he would tell them, particularly if it happened to be a working woman, that he would mend the shoes for their kids and that they could pay him when they were able to. On many occasions they never paid him because they never had the money to do it with. But that is exactly what he did.
The result was that on one occasion he could not meet the repayments on some new equipment that he had bought, so it was taken away and he had to go back to doing all the work by hand. I am talking about someone who understood his own class, his own people, and who had a love of ordinary people. I think, too, about my mother, who believed that Christianity meant something.
I want to explain to the hon. Lady that, to Opposition Members, these things matter. It is important to have compassion for other people, to think about other people, to understand that some people are not in the same lucky situation as we are in. People do not voluntarily look for unemployment but may sometimes not be in a position, 849 intellectually and otherwise, to get employment. Are we to say that they must suffer six months of no income whatever, or of a very limited amount?
This is one of the worst things that I can remember any Government doing. I sometimes wonder whether the whole of my life has not been wasted when I see the destruction, one by one, of the good things that we have achieved over the years, the important things that we have done for society as a whole, the things that we have done for working people because we are part of them and they are part of us.
This is the last straw for me. It puts the character of the Government in a nutshell. The Government want to return to the position where workers will accept any job. It is a form of slave labour that they want to introduce. It is unforgivable and almost unbelievable.
I hope that some Members on the Government Benches will have enough decency about them not to listen to the silly arguments about people wanting to be unemployed. Of course there has always been a very tiny majority of people who manage to operate the system. It is so unbelievably small that no one need worry about it. The overwhelming mass of people to be affected by this despicable move by the Government are ordinary working people who want a job but who, from time to time, will feel that they cannot accept certain conditions and who, if they make a stand and if they are non-union and so on, will find themselves suffering because of the action of the Government.
It is dreadful. It is disgraceful. I feel very upset about it, more upset about this than about most things of late. I have been getting increasingly upset at the Government. What they are doing is despicable. Although I do not believe that it will, I wish that the House would turn its back on the Government today and say that it will not tolerate what is being done.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. There is a lot of interest in this debate and we have only a short time for it. I appeal to hon. Members to keep their speeches short; than no one will be disappointed.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I do not want to continue along the road followed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Many of us on the Government Benches also come from relatively humble origins and are proud of the fact. But we are living in 1988 and we are looking at what is to happen in future; we are not fighting the battles of 50 years ago. We are looking to represent the taxpayers, the honourable, honest working people who form the vast majority of the population. That is what we are addressing ourselves to this evening and we should not, as Opposition Members want us to, fight the battles of yesteryear, which have been won, but should go forward to the future.
All hon. Members on both sides of the House are extremely sympathetic to those who are unemployed. We all accept that to be unemployed must be soul-destroying for the individual, for his state of mind and, of course, for his family, whether children or parents. We read of many cases, and, as hon. Members, we have experience of many cases in our own constituencies of people who have lost their jobs for economic and financial reasons or because 850 of advances in technology. People may have worked hard and long and often given years of service to their employer, when some unfortunate incident occurs and they lose their jobs. Such people deserve and receive our sympathy and our support, as hon. Members, and as taxpayers. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is well known for his support of and sympathy for such people, and for many years and in many speeches he has stuck up for the under-privileged in our society.
The order, relates to another kind of unemployment problem, notably concerning those people who make themselves unemployed or who voluntarily choose unemployment. An important principle is involved; a principle that the Opposition Front Bench will not acknowledge. There is a fundamental difference between those people who voluntarily make themselves unemployed and those who, through no fault of their own, because of circumstances completely beyond their control, end up unemployed.
We heard from the hon. Member for Walton that in the past people have been responsible and have worked hard to look after their families. The vast majority of people today work hard, pay their taxes and look after their families, but we must consider the difference between the genuine unemployed and those who choose unemployment. I wonder how those taxpayers in the real world would view the comment of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that there should be no difference between the various types of people on the unemployment register. I do not believe that taxpayers would have much sympathy for people who voluntarily make themselves unemployed, when on the other side of the coin many people who are desperately striving for work cannot get it. They deserve our sympathy and support, not those who choose not to work.
I had the privilege and pleasure to serve on the Social Security Bill Committee in 1986 and the Employment Bill Committee in 1987. The Employment Bill Committee dealt with various aspects of the changes that have been alluded to this afternoon; the changes to benefits which will come into force in April and the other change which will come into law if the Employment Bill 1987 is passed in the other place—to disqualify people who have lost a place in an approved training scheme through misconduct, or who leave voluntarily without good cause. Today, more than ever before, people who leave school have more opportunities to be trained, to learn a skill and to get work experience.
§ Mr. Evennett
The hon. Gentleman says, "Nonsense," but the facts tell a different story. Today, young people aged 16 to 18 have more opportunities than ever before for real training — for example, on the youth training scheme — but they do not want to take those opportunities and voluntarily reject the chance for a great future. Do they deserve much sympathy? The vast majority of people would think not. If we consider tougher penalties for people who leave jobs voluntarily—
§ Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)
I recall that the hon. Gentleman was on the Social Security Bill Standing Committee of 1986 and the Employment Bill Standing Committee of 1987, because I was also on those Committees. Could the hon. Gentleman explain, having 851 had that experience, why in 1986 he and his colleagues thought that three months' disqualification was right, but a year later the period has doubled?
§ Mr. Evennett
We have discussed the matter in Committee and in the House. Things change and we reassess the position—that is what the Government are empowered to do. We must consider the position in the light of the facts and make a judgment, and the judgment is correct for today. I am sure that the majority of people would want to help the unemployed to get training and to get back into work, and to ensure that those people who, regrettably and tragically, are unable to get a job are looked after by the benefit system. That is what we are striving towards.
We must always consider seriously the point that there will be the odd case of hardship and distress, but we must remember that the money paid in benefits comes from taxation paid by people who have worked hard. The hon. Member for Walton told us about his father and how he had striven to look after his family and bring them up in the Christian tradition of hard work and looked after them with love and affection. That is the way most people behave.
We should encourage more people to train and get jobs, wherever possible, and not to throw away the opportunities that many other people would love to have. Therefore, I believe that the order is right and it will have my support in the Lobby tonight.
§ Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)
From 1911 until October 1986, the maximum period for disqualification from unemployment benefit was six weeks. As the House knows, that period was increased to 13 weeks. I ask the Minister: what has changed so drastically as to regard the period of disqualification of six or 13 weeks as being no longer a sufficient means of controlling unemployment? I make no excuse for repeating the question, and I hope that the Minister will respond firmly.
There may be only two logical reasons for increasing the disqualification period to six months: either the Government believe that many people are voluntarily leaving their jobs, confident in the knowledge that they can get unemployment benefit after six weeks, or it is yet another example of the cheap, petty, cost-cutting exercises that the Government have become so expert at in recent years, especially in recent months. There is simply no evidence that many people are leaving work without good reason. I find it difficult to imagine that even the Government believe that people prefer unemployment and low income to work and security.
The Government have admitted recently that the purpose of the disqualification period is no longer for insurance protection but is a penalty. If a penalty is to be effective, people must be aware of its existence, but the social security policy inspectorate has demonstrated that there is no evidence of that awareness. Most people are not even aware that there is a disqualification period for voluntary unemployment, let alone that it was increased recently. Many people would not be aware of the debate today, and I do not believe that our deliberations will have the slightest effect on someone who is determined to become unemployed.
852 The reality is that the order will cut public expenditure further, which is the attraction of the 26-week disqualification period to the Government. When the disqualification period was extended to 13 weeks, the Government calculated that £25 million to £30 million per year would be saved. That saving was made through reduced benefit payments and because those people who were unfortunate enough to be in that position were not credited with national insurance contributions during the disqualification period. The Bill may save a few million pounds, but it will cause a great deal of hardship and frustration to those who try to appeal, and no doubt a lot of understandable anger.
I believe that a member of the Minister's staff will come to Southport in May to inspect the DHSS office. That office is very well run. I believe that the visit will be made because of the rumour that the security in all social security offices will be strengthened.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Services(Mr. Michael Portillo)
I will be visiting the office, not a member of my staff, and I look forward to it very much.
§ Mr. Fearn
I welcome that, and I hope that I can be there to speak to the same staff. I hope that the Minister will clarify whether he will be there to man the barricades against the terrific opposition to the measure and to the withdrawal of other benefits.
There is strong evidence that the disqualification process is not administered efficiently or fairly because many people who leave jobs because conditions are unacceptable or they are dismissed unfairly are being caught in the same net as people who voluntarily make themselves unemployed. I am grateful to the Low Pay Unit for its excellent investigation into the problem, as there can be little doubt that adjudication standards are not good enough at present. Corners are being cut and mistakes made.
Even worse, the Low Pay Unit has shown that many of these mistakes are not adequately corrected. The chief adjudication officer's report for 1985–86 found that one in every three decisions examined was considered deficient in one or more aspects. The social security policy inspectorate discovered in its survey in 1981 that DHSS operational instructions were not being carried out correctly. In many cases the initial decision to suspend benefit was not being followed by subsequent checks to discover whether the suspension was deserved. Ninety-three of the 205 cases in the inspectorate's sample—46 per cent. — were decided in the claimant's favour. Almost half of those who suffered benefit reduction did so unnecessarily, and many of them had undergone the full disqualification period already. Many of the wrongful decisions were never refunded. In 21 of the 93 cases, the decision was never rectified.
The large number of decisions that were subsequently overturned on appeal gives further cause for concern about the workings of the system. The chief adjudication officer's report for 1985–86 shows that, of a sample 1,000 appeals, 17 per cent. were revised on review, and the report commented that that figurecasts doubts on the soundness of first-tier adjudication.Of the cases that proceeded to appeal tribunals, the report found that 29 per cent. were decided in the claimant's favour.
853 The position in 1987 seems to have been no better. Of the 1,002 appeals on disqualification heard in the first three months of 1987, 43 per cent. were found in the claimant's favour. The fact that the average time between registering the appeal and the hearing was 15 weeks causes even greater alarm. The facts are clear for the Minister to see. The system is working at breaking point. Staff are overworked and under considerable pressure, and terrible mistakes are being made which cause great hardship to, and mean terrible financial loss for, many people. Given the clear evidence of serious problems with the disqualification system, which is causing fairly widespread injustice, does the Minister still consider it sensible to extend the period of disqualification for six months? Enough unnecessary hardship is being inflicted on people whose benefit is affected for 13 weeks without compoundng the injustice by increasing the disqualification to six months.
Another major objection to the unemployment benefit disqualification system is that it works against flexibility in the labour market. I should have thought that the Government would welcome such flexibility; at the heart of their policies lies the belief in the "get-on-your-bike" mentality, but, as with so many of their slogans, they say one thing and do something completely different. The legislation prevents people from moving around and looking for better jobs and trying to improve their positions. An increase to six months in the disqualification period will only make things worse. People will not take risks to better themselves and their families if there is a danger of facing poverty. Instead, they will remain trapped in unsuitable jobs with poor conditions and I cannot support that. I urge the Government to reconsider this utterly disastrous proposal; I shall be voting against the order today.
§ Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)
I want to remind the House that April, when the order comes into force, will be the time of the Government's Budget, which is a Budget for the rich, who will benefit from it. So there will be a Budget for one group — the rich — and social security regulations that will screw another section of society harder and harder. The Social Security Act will also be coming into force. That, viewed alongside the loans, grants and the poll tax, makes it clear that a division in society is arising such as has not been seen since the 1920s and 1930s.
It is not only the Opposition who argue this. We have heard much about the views of the Church recently. Three days ago, the Bishop of Manchester, looking at the legislation before the House, said:No society can survive without serious damage to its social fabric if self-interest is encouraged at the expense of other values.But that is what the Government are doing. The Government are trying to fight unemployed people, whereas we are trying to fight unemployment, and they should realise the difference.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) spoke of how training and education were available, and how young people should take advantage of them. Ministers are sick of me telling them that on Teesside and in Cleveland those options are not available. I do not know how often I have to tell them that 500 young people between the ages of 16 and 18 this year cannot get 854 training places. After April, they will be hurt, just as people who are over 18 years old will be hurt, as a result of the legislation.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) acknowledged that the majority of people want to work but referred to the small minority who became voluntarily unemployed. She has no idea of the extent of the problem on Teesside. Since 1979, 43,000 people have lost their jobs. That is not due to idleness or being jobshy. They are desperate to work. The Minister said that people do not give up their work lightly — on Teesside, we know that better than many. The words that he used in his speech gave us some idea of the attitude of Conservative Members. They talked of "sympathy" for "such people". If they met and talked to them and saw the real world that people live in, they would not be introducing such legislation.
The introduction of the 26-week period for people dismissed from the armed forces has not yet been discussed. How can the Minister justify the double jeopardy that those young men and women will be in? They will have been thrown out of the forces — for whatever reasons — and will then come back and be penalised yet again for six months. If Conservative Members spoke to people leaving the British forces under these circumstances — they have to return to their families and try to resettle without the costs of such return being met — they would realise that their families are being made to suffer unfairly. That is a double jeopardy of the worst order, and I want the Minister to respond to it.
The order will have a particular impact on certain groups. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) spoke of some of his constituency cases, and I shall mention two of mine. I know of a case of a middle-aged man on a community programme who was dismissed for sexual harassment. His case is now on appeal and has been so for 36 weeks. Whether the man is rightly or wrongly accused, he and his family have suffered for 13 weeks. I dread to think how they would have survived — they would not have survived — a six-month period such as that proposed by the legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston discussed some of the problems of the appeal system, and of the delays on the ground. I want the Under-Secretary to examine the delays in Cleveland, because the case I have mentioned of a 36-week delay in an appeal is not unique. If such cases are left to the whims of civil servants, they will use the maximum period allowed by the regulations, that is, 36 weeks.
I know of a 19-year old lad who was put on a scheme but was clearly unsuited to working on it. He was ostracised by his workmates and tried to sort out the problem with the boss. He was physically suffering and became ill as a result of being so unsuited to the scheme. In the end, he left. Contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Edgbaston, if the case of a lad of that sort is left to the whim of civil servants and the adjudication officer, he may well not be treated positively by the system.
We are often told by Conservative Members that we moan and look for dark clouds. But we are looking at the cases of individuals in our constituency who will suffer as a result of this sort of legislation. The Minister did not explain why the Government chose a period of 26 weeks. Why double it from thirteen weeks? That was the sort of logic offered by the Minister. There was no evidence of 855 consultation on such a period or of why it was considered suitable. Let us be straight about this matter—I am sure that the Minister wants to be straight. It will be 26 weeks, because it is the maximum that usually operates.
The Government would never get away with this proposal in the private sector. I shall consider what it is doing to national insurance. People pay into national insurance, but they are being denied an opportunity to claim benefit for a set period. A similar example of what the Government are doing would be if an insurance company said, "Because the trees have fallen this way during the storm, I am afraid that we are changing the rules and you can no longer claim." That is exactly what the Government are doing to benefit, and in the private sector they would never get away with it.
We must put the order in context. With this order, the rest of the social security legislation and the poll tax, the Government are shooting themselves in both feet at the same time. They are hitting one group in society with loans and poll tax repayments, and the Minister knows very well that repayments for those will be deducted from benefit. Yet now people are to be denied benefit. Conservative Members try to suggest that we are talking of one, two or half a dozen people. That is wrong; 20,000 people a month will suffer. As a result of the kind of dogma that we have heard during the debate, these cuts, along with the other legislation that the Government have introduced, will create an intolerable and unmanageable position.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I shall pose one or two questions, which I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with when he replies to the debate.
I was concerned about what the hon. Members for Southport (Mr. Fearn) and for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) said about the possible injusticies to people who have fallen foul of the regulations but who are not genuinely voluntarily unemployed. If there were many such cases, it would be a matter of concern to hon. Members who are interested in justice. It would be interesting if my hon. Friend the Minister could say how many appeals there are from people who are disqualified and the number that are successful. Clearly, if less than 1 per cent. of people appeal against disqualification, one would not expect there to be a relatively large number of appeals. However, I should like the Minister to say how many disqualifications ultimately result in a successful appeal.
Will the Minister state the average time that is taken before those appeals are heard? Will he consider putting a time limit on the period for the first listing of an appeal? An appellant or his advisers may ask for an adjournment; if they do, that is their fault. Will consideration be given to a time limit, during which the first listing of an appeal should be made?
What publicity is given to an appellant's right of appeal against disqualification? Is it brought home to every disqualified person that he has a right of appeal? Many people who fall foul of the regulations may not be particularly well educated, so that right should be clearly spelt out for them.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of the order. I was surprised to hear that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) thought that people who are voluntarily 856 unemployed should be treated the same as those who are unemployed through no fault of their own. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) present in the Chamber. His father worked extremely hard all his life. He never chose to be voluntarily unemployed and he showed a great deal of sympathy for those who fell on hard times when life was not as easy as it is for many of us now.
It is remarkable how many people are prepared to work for relatively low rates of pay. Hon. Members are relatively well paid. Not unnaturally, we choose to work because we are well rewarded for what we do. Many people work long hours throughout their lives for pay that is little higher than the level of supplementary benefit. It is an insult to them to suggest—as did the hon. Member for Livingston—that people who choose voluntarily to be unemployed should receive the same amount of benefit as those who are unemployed through no fault of their own.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I was relatively low paid until a few years ago, but I always gave people the benefit of the doubt. I never thought that the majority of my fellow citizens were workshy.
§ Mr. Favell
I am not suggesting that it is a majority, but it is a substantial minority. That substantial minority should be encouraged to work.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument most carefully. If, as is rumoured, in the Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes changes in national insurance contributions that give considerable benefit to those who have considerable amounts of unearned income, will the hon. Gentleman, along with us, vote against that?
§ Mr. Favell
I am not talking about what encouragement should be given to the higher paid. I am talking about the encouragement that should be given to those on low pay who do not refuse to go to work regardless of the fact that they are paid relatively little more than people on supplementary benefit.
The hon. Member for Livingston described the regulations as evil. That is one of the most extraordinary allegations that have been made against Conservative Members. It is remarkable to assert that it is evil to encourage people to go to work.
One of the most evil things that has occurred recently has been the encouragement of young people by Labour Members, who have said that they should expect work, come what may, when they leave school and that they should not go on training schemes.
Many Labour Members have encouraged youngsters who have no skill whatsoever to expect work. They have positively discouraged youngsters from going on training schemes. There is a lost generation of young people, aged 20, 21 or 22, who were encouraged by Labour Members not to go on training schemes because they should expect a job as of right.
§ Mr. Favell
I have heard Labour Members say that young people are entitled to a job, that training schemes are not real jobs and that training schemes should be discouraged. Labour Members have thrown cold water on Ministers' efforts to encourage young people to go into 857 training that will equip them for the rest of their lives. Those youngsters who were discouraged from going on training schemes have found themselves unskilled, at the age of 20, 21 and 22, and they have been condemned to the scrap heap because of the evil actions of Labour Members.
§ Mr. Henry McLeish (Fyfe, Central)
I am pleased to stand with my colleagues and oppose the order. What has made the most impact on me so for is the crass ignorance of Conservative Members about what being voluntarily unemployed means. They throw in that concept without any regard to the different elements that go to make it up. One lasting commentary on the debate should be that they go away and think more deeply about the net that nearly 400,000 people are dragged into every year, as a consequence of which they suffer greatly.
No one doubts the wisdom of the insurance principle; we are all concerned that it must be protected at all costs. However, we must be concerned about the concept of voluntary unemployment. We are allowing a huge number of people to be subjected to a regime that the Government intensified to ensure that where possible their benefit can be stopped. It is as clear and simple as that, and the Government should acknowledge that fact.
The measure is significant in itself. As my hon. Friends have said, there are a number of sinister, shabby and seedy aspects to the order. The real significance of the order can only be seen when it is considered alongside the unprecedented assault on the unemployed that the Government have mounted over the past two or three years, and which they are accelerating as they work towards the hidden agenda and goals of the Cabinet to reduce the unemployment figures.
It is clear that there is no moral, social or economic justification for this measure. However, there are obvious and compelling political reasons for the Government bringing it before the House. The order represents a policy that is prejudiced, punitive and provocative, as many of my hon. Friends have said. We should be talking about this measure not as a social security measure but as a means of controlling the labour market.
For the first time since the war, two great Departments of State—the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Employment — are colluding. They are working together. That fact is not debated in the mass media, but we know that the agenda is there and for the first time we have direct evidence of the Government's social security policy strangling any credibility that their employment policy might have had.
Conservative Members say, "So we are dealing with 400,000 people; why worry? They are voluntarily unemployed and deserve no credit. They are scroungers." That mentality permeates the Government Benches. But, it should be put on record that not only will the disqualification be for the maximum period in most cases, but that it is automatic. Little regard is given to people leaving jobs. The decision to disqualify is automatic and in three quarters of cases the maximum disqualification period is imposed. It is no more and no less than that.
People will face disqualification from unemployment benefit and a 40 per cent. cut in the supplementary benefit allowance that goes with it. It is objectionable beyond belief. The Minister should address himself to the real concerns of Opposition Members rather than to the 858 crocodile tears of his hon. Friends. The Government's case is extremely weak; they have accepted that. Ministers have found great difficulty in explaining the changes.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
I wonder whether my hon. Friend would pause to consider the dilemma of the Conservatives, who have run out of speakers. The Whips have been scouring the highways and byways and have brought in the hon. Members from Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) with whom we should have some sympathy, as they are studying the order as we speak — [Interruption.] I do not propose to contribute to the debate.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to take part in the debate, Mr. McLeish has the Floor.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that I often come into the Chamber at this time of day to get the flavour of what is going on. I saw on the television screen that an important order was being discussed and I decided to come in. I am not aware of having sought to catch your eye. I have come in only to listen to the debate — as I wish other hon. Members would — and to hear the important speeches that are being made.
§ Mr. McLeish
I enjoyed that impromptu speech, but now I must get on, as many of my hon. Friends wish to participate.
The real issue is how this measure fits into the Government's increasingly sophisticated and ruthless strategy to cut the number of people on the unemployment register. The order has nothing to do with protecting the national insurance fund. It has more to do with state coercion — a phrase not often used in the House. Tragically, the Government are now pursuing a policy that can be described only as state coercion—and ironically, it is a Conservative Government for whom choice is supposed to reign. How laughable that is, when one considers the order.
§ Mr. McLeish
No, I shall not give way.
Let me highlight the ways in which the Government have altered the unemployment count. We reckon that there have been 28 changes in the eligibility criteria, statistical adjustments, intensification of the benefits regime and the introduction of schemes and other measures such as restart. [Laughter.]
Conservative Members may laugh, but the tragedy for them is that the arrogance, ignorance and complacency of the Government have led them to let the cat out of the proverbial bag. Let them reflect on the press coverage of the Government's objective, which is to reduce unemployment to 2 million by the end of the year. They can achieve that without creating one single job. They need only pursue the present line — disqualifications and so on — and extend that to a broader canvas and, hey presto, they have a success story.
§ Mr. McLeish
I am not giving way.
859 The Government's policy will create mass hardship among families and will not do a great deal for individuals who want to find work.
I have rushed through my remarks to give my hon. Friends an opportunity to speak, but finally, I shall identify the key issues in this debate. When the Rayner report was published in 1981, it was clear that the Government would have liked to accept the suggestion to abolish unemployment benefit and replace it with a means-tested measure of income support. I believe that the order represents just another step towards the eventual abolition of unemployment benefit and its replacement with a means test.
It is clear from the various reports that we read and discuss that there is now a pressing need for an independent inquiry into how the philosophy, policy, powers and procedures of the present Government are being used in a great assault on the unemployed. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) made the salient point that Opposition Members tackle unemployment, whereas Conservative Members tackle the unemployed. If the Government had any pride in their craft—[Interruption.]
It is OK for the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), who is the Government Whip, to sit there and laugh about 400,000 people languishing. If the Government had any pride in their craft, they would reflect on the 28 changes, which are objectionable and obscene and an insidious reflection of the fact that the Government have gone badly wrong. However, the Government have no remorse; I find that fact even more objectionable than their policies.
The unemployed will be caught not only by an intensification of the benefit regime but by the withdrawal of employment rights in workplaces all over the country. The withdrawal of employment rights is forcing more people to become voluntarily unemployed, and the prize for that is to be made the victim of the six months' disqualification.
I am a new Member. I have been here only eight months. However, in my limited time here this is the most odious measure that I have come across and if the Government continue to go over the top we shall relish the prospect of the next general election.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), who unfortunately did not stay to hear much of the debate, told us most movingly how unfair it is for those on low incomes to have to subsidise unemployed people. I suggest to her and to her hon. Friends that the way to tackle that problem is to raise the tax threshold so that those on low incomes do not pay income tax. I suggest earnestly that she bring that simple remedy to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the appropriate time. However, in this debate, that argument is simply a red herring.
The order is part of a large package to make it harder to qualify for unemployment benefit. Various disqualifications have already been imposed — not only on those deemed voluntarily unemployed. For example, carers have become disqualified as a result of the ending of the crediting-in system. After a carer has spent a long period looking after an elderly relative and comes back to the 860 labour market, the crediting-in that entitled him or her to unemployment benefit is being ended. It has become harder and harder to qualify. I shall not list the ways in which it has become harder, although, if I am challenged, I shall be glad to do so. This is probably the most despicable part of the package, although it is hard to rank them. Perhaps the treatment of the carers is in the first rank of evil, and this is the second rank. That is the kind of discussion that we find ourselves led into, because every part of the package is unjustified and unjust.
I can give examples of cases in which someone might leave a job and be told haughtily, "You have no right to make yourself unemployed." For instance, someone might want to change his or her job, be promised a new job and give notice, but then find the job offer withdrawn. Employers, after all, can be extremely capricious. That person would then find himself out on a limb.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
The hon. Lady has drawn attention to a case which I accept could happen. She should, however, be aware that if a valid offer of a job has been made and accepted, there is clear legal redress for fairly substantial compensation to be paid.
§ Mrs. Wise
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman does not live in the same world as most of us. I cannot advise my constituents to seek legal redress in such circumstances. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because they cannot afford it, that is why not. Moreover, in such cases employers can be very well advised legally, and can no doubt come forward with all sorts of plausible reasons. That person would still be out in the cold.
A young girl might feel that she was being sexually harassed. It might be said that she ought to complain; however, she might be afraid to do so. The person harassing her might be her boss, and she might fear that she would be accused of leading him on, as is commonplace: women are usually so accused if they try to make any accusations. It is not unnatural for a girl in that position—especially one who is young and inexperienced, and lacks confidence—to feel that the best thing to do is to leave the job, but that girl will be penalised with six months' loss of benefit.
Again, someone might be working for unduly long hours. In his opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) gave an instance of an employer acting illegally and breaking the Factories Acts. Yet it was the unfortunate employee who was penalised. I did not observe the Minister get to his feet and say that the matter should have been taken up, and the employer should have been acted against. We know perfectly well that employers constantly impugn legislation of this kind—that they constantly break the Factories Acts and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and are very rarely brought to book. When they are brought to book, the penalty is miserable.
A constituent of mine, a young girl, is working as a waitress. She has to come home very late at night, and I know that her mother is very anxious about her. There is a tension in the family about her job, because the girl wants to work but the mother does not want her on the street late at night. Sooner or later, the girl may give up the job. Perhaps that would be best for her safety and welfare, but nevertheless she will have made herself voluntarily unemployed, and will be treated as a criminal.
I remember the case of a young girl, a shop assistant, who worked in a shop where there was a big heavy mat 861 in the doorwell. Suddenly, her employer decided to include shaking the mat in her duties. When the girl said no, she was sacked and was disallowed for industrial misconduct.
The girl in that case was wise enough to have joined a trade union. She was represented, and she won her case. Many girls in the same position, however, would not win their cases, and many will risk doing themselves an injury to save their jobs. The other difference is that that case occurred when unemployment was not as bad as it is now.
Shop assistants usually work in places that are either too hot or too cold. It might not be thought that in this day and age, when people can go to the moon and so forth, it would be so difficult to obtain comfortable conditions for shop assistants. But, as a long-time member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, I know that that is a fact. Little shops are cold and draughty; big shops are hot and badly ventilated. People working in such conditions may decide that enough is enough, and that they cannot tolerate it any longer.
Until very recently, when such people left their jobs, they would have to swallow a six-week disqualification; at present, they must swallow a three-month disqualification. Such criminals are they, however, that the Conservative party will now deprive them of their rights for half a year. The objective, of course, is to ensure that they do not leave their jobs—that they do not get stroppy, and that they put up with their conditions, whether cold and draughty or hot and ill-ventilated, because they will be too afraid to raise their voices, and certainly too afraid to leave their jobs.
Supermarket checkout staff frequently suffer, hour after hour, a most uncomfortable twisting of the spine. Some supermarkets provide decent seating, which swivels, and makes the job easier, but some do not. Consequently the checkout worker has to swivel her spine. Is the worker to wait until she indubitably has a bad back which will last the rest of her life, or will she have the right to say, "Enough is enough."? Do people make themselves unemployed voluntarily if they leave their jobs because they think that if they keep their jobs they will be ill? It seems they will have to wait until they are actually ill or injured, and then it will possibly be conceded that they were justified in leaving.
It has been mentioned that there is an appeal system. I suppose that we are lucky that, so far, such a system still exists. Give them time: that will go as well, as it has with the social fund. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston pointed out that the average waiting time is already longer than the disqualification time, so that people are treated like criminals, fined heavily and have to serve their sentence while waiting for their appeal. I do not think much of that as a consolation for those who find that they win in the end, because they have had to endure it in the meantime.
I trust that the Minister will spare time to explain why, in families in which a woman is pregnant, there will nevertheless continue to be a deduction of 20 per cent. of supplementary benefit or income support. The Government are very kind; they realise that pregnant women may have special needs, so they do not dock 40 per cent. In doing that, they acknowledge by implication that docking the benefit of the main claimant affects the rest of the family, but they cannot bring themselves to concede that a pregnant woman should not be penalised at all in such circumstances. They know—or, if they do not, it is because they refuse to know—that it has already been 862 established by medical authorities that pregnant women on supplementary benefit cannot obtain adequate nourishment. That is a fact.
A pregnant woman on supplementary benefit, less 20 per cent., will obtain even more inadequate nourishment. It is that woman and her child who are punished. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says to justify that. If he does not choose to answer during his reply, I shall remind him.
I believe that the order is bad for everyone, especially for the young. However, in particular, it is bad for women, in common with so much of Conservative legislation.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) that we must consider this legislation, this latest attack upon the unemployed, in the context of the Government's broader labour market policy. What they are seeking to do is to achieve increased profitability on the backs of the poor. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that this is an evil, brutal and vindictive order. Indeed, I do not believe that those words are strong enough.
The Government are attempting to find a scapegoat —every piece of legislation currently going through the House is about finding scapegoats. At the moment, the unemployed are to be the scapegoats. They are to be despised by the rest of society; that is the aim of the order. I have listened carefully to some of the language that has been used this afternoon. Words such as "shiftless", "workshy" or "scroungers" have been used deliberately. I have no doubt that those comics that support the Government will use such words in their banner headlines.
If the Government succeed in marginalising the unemployed — they are yet another group that the Government are seeking to marginalise—they hope that a desperate army will be formed, a reserve army of malleable people, willing to go to work for anything. This is all part and parcel of the Government's plan of State coercion about which my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston spoke so well.
Let us consider the real world of the unemployed. Until recently, unlike Conservative Members, I was part of the labour market. For most of my life I have been employed in low-paid jobs. Some of my constituents are now suffering as a result of doing similar jobs to mine.
One young man came to my surgery a couple of weeks ago. He has a history of mental illness, but he desperately wants to work. He answered an advert for a job, came off sickness benefit and tried to do that job. However, he then found out that he was expected to do permanent night work—he had expected to do some night work, but not permanently. The rate of pay was £2 an hour. Incidentally, his job was in an old mill that was recently visited by the Prime Minister. We have been told about the new industrial revolution, but his rate of pay was £2, with no unsocial hours pay.
That young man eventually became ill again and the stress of that work and the low pay caused him to have another nervous breakdown. He lost his money and he had been without money for five weeks when he came to see me. He was desperate, and various charities had been helping him. We are now trying to get his employment 863 benefit back. However, he was deemed to have made himself unemployed and the inescapable fact is that he was forced to live without any recourse to income.
Another young man came to see me—
§ Mrs. Mahon
I shall happily give way when I have described this case.
A young man came to see me who was working for a security firm. He was also working for £2 an hour—that seems to be the going rate as a result of the wonderful entrepreneurial regeneration that we have witnessed in Halifax. The company for which that firm worked introduced a night shift and, by definition, his job went. The firm offered him a part-time job in another part of the country. He told me that he was deemed to have made himself voluntarily unemployed as a result of his changed circumstances.
§ Mr. Hind
I appreciate the hon. Lady's argument. There are some circumstances in which the argument can be made for benefits to be restored. However, the hon. Lady must bear in mind the fact that 3,427,000 people changed jobs between October 1986 and June 1987. That is a large number, and surely we should consider the problem carefully. There are many people who voluntarily leave jobs. The people to whom the hon. Lady has referred are a minority, and the appeal system deals with them.
§ Mrs. Mahon
I do not accept that the 420,000 people who have been disqualified made themselves voluntarily unemployed.
We must also consider the effects of other Government employment legislation. Anyone who tries to claim constructive dismissal cannot do so for two years. Constructive dismissal is something that employers often use, especially when they want to get rid of somebody or wish to reduce staff numbers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has already mentioned harassment. It is a fact of life that women simply leave their jobs if sexually harassed. They find it difficult, for many reasons, to complain. Indeed, society does not accept the scale of the sexual harassment problem. Obviously, the younger and more inexperienced the woman, the less likely she is to complain. Women leave their jobs and lose benefit. Racial harassment also occurs in the workplace.
People may take a job and find that they are so low-paid that they have lost their passport to all kinds of benefit; that is another reason why they may leave their jobs. People may have extremely low-paid employment and may incur travelling costs, but they will still lose the right to free school meals. The Minister would regard such cases as examples of misconduct, but I believe that the people affected are victims. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston has already said that many such people win their appeals against the loss of benefit, but there is an intervening time in which they have to live before they start to receive benefit again.
I wish to address some of my remarks to a group of people who have not been mentioned today — active trade unionists. I can speak about them from experience. In one of my last jobs, I was on a final warning and I know how easy it is for the management to set traps for the trade 864 unionist. I also recognise that, in the few years since I left the labour market, the problems have got considerably worse. Victimisation in the workplace is on the rampage. The Government have mounted the most malicious and malevolent attack upon active trade unionists, who represent a large proportion of those we have discussed today.
I already said that 420,000 people per year face disqualification on the grounds of voluntary unemployment. I absolutely refuse to accept that the majority of my fellow citizens are workshy—that is nonsense. My hon. Friends and myself have outlined viable reasons why people leave work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Mullin) asked the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) why he had changed his mind. In Committee last year he had said that a three-month disqualification was all right, but he now says that six months is the proper disqualification period. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford would not answer my hon. Friend, but I believe that the unemployment register has caused his change of mind. The Government want that register to reach the 2 million band and they are going to get rid of thousands of the unemployed as a result of the order. It is a fiddle—the 25th Government fiddle.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford spoke of the past, and the romantic notion of nobility of poverty. I would like to tell him some of my family's past and about some true poverty. My grandad was blacked as a miner and found it extremely difficult to get work in Yorkshire, even in the textile industry. When he did, the whole family had to work for very low wages indeed. There is nothing romantic about working for such low levels of pay. The Minister would take us back to slaving in the mills. Out of 11 children in that family, nine died below the age of 60 and four died under 50. That is what happens when people live in grinding poverty, working for slave wages, and have bread and dripping in the mornings. The Government would take us back to that.
What will the unemployed live on for six months if they receive nothing? What will happen to them? I ask the few Conservative Members who are present, how they think the unemployed will live. The Minister would take us back to those days. When I was in Standing Committee on the Social Security Bill, I appealed to the Minister, when we were told, as we have been told in the debate, that the Minister cares.
I made a special plea on behalf of the youngsters leaving care. I asked the Minister whether we could have an exemption for YTS youngsters who have been severely emotionally damaged or have had experiences that none of us would like to undergo. It is more difficult for them to settle in employment, and training schemes are particularly difficult for them. The Minister's answer, in the very quiet, bland and benign manner that he uses, was simply no. Those youngsters will still exist. They will disappear into homelessness and drug abuse, and it will be on the Government's conscience when they do.
The order will lead to more family breakdowns. My mother taught me that, during the 1920s and 1930s, when poverty came in, love went out. I grew up with that expression. There were breakdowns then and there will be massive breakdowns now. The Government will pay for this vindictive measure.
865 As a nation, we have never over-reacted — we are a very placid and calm nation — but I believe that this order is rubbing the noses of the poor into the mire, and the Government will pay for it.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
I shall speak for only a few minutes, as other hon. Members wish to speak.
The measure can be described as nothing more than a bad employers' charter. It is about the fear of those who are privileged to have a job. No matter how low-paid or how bad the conditions or the harassment, they will feel that they have to keep that job, or they will be penalised by the state. It is a charter for bad employers; it is almost a charter for slavery. Any time that one tries to escape from a job that is nothing more than slavery, one will be hounded by the state and fined by being put into poverty for six months with one's family. There is no argument about that.
We all know what employers are doing now and what they will do in future when there is the threat of no income whatsoever or very little income if employees do not toe the line. It happens every day in the working lives of many of those whom we represent.
I understand the enthusiasm of Conservative Members who believe that this is a good measure. They represent the very employers who will exploit the situation for profit and greed at the expense of the workers that they employ, in very bad conditions. We can all give chapter and verse of the number of cases that we meet in our surgeries.
In my constituency, a woman became pregnant and took maternity leave. When the baby arrived and maternity leave finished, she could not go back to her job because she could not afford a child minder as it was a very low-paid job. She used her initiative and applied for other jobs but unfortunately the DHSS said, "You are deemed to have made yourself voluntarily unemployed; therefore you get no benefit." So her debts went up.
Hon. Members may say that there is an appeal mechanism, but that young lady went through the appeal mechanism and the adjudication officer ruled in her favour. However, she was then asked, "Have you been paying your stamp?" The employer apparently had lost her national insurance number. We are now approaching 26 weeks with no money and no pay for a lady with a baby. She is getting more and more into debt. When this measure goes through, that will happen all the time.
It is a matter of discipline. There was another example of a poor sod—if I may use that word—who had lost his job and after three months he could get no work. One of his neighbours was building a garage and said to him, "Come on son, we do not want you wasting time looking for jobs when there are no jobs. Help me build this garage." He got £20 for three weeks' effort. The neighbour was asked by the DHSS, "Is that your son?" and he replied, "It is one of the neighbours who has nothing to do and I thought that he might like something practical to do to keep him off the streets." Immediately, that man was deemed to have been employed, and he lost benefit from then on. For the sake of £20, he lost benefit for the next few weeks. Under the new system, he will lose benefit for six months. He will be fined for six months for earning £20 helping a neighbour to build a garage.
Is that democracy? Is that fair? We are not talking about skivers; we are talking about people who want dignity, who want real jobs, but are not prepared to crawl 866 or to be hounded by the state or by bad employers. The Government are blackmailing those people into taking those jobs because they and their families will suffer. The Government hope that sooner or later people will accept slavery without dignity.
I hope and pray that the Government will push people so far that, although we are a conservative nation with a small "c", sooner or later people will rise up and take you on. Whether or not you have a police force and even if all the press are in your hands, the people will rise up and put you out of office by the ballot box—
§ Mr. Michie
I have great respect for you, Mr. Speaker. I was simply getting wound up. I shall wind up and wind down now.
I finish by saying that this is not an amusing issue for those who will be subjected to the order. It is not amusing to Opposition Members who are fighting every case. We are dealing only with the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of people will be subjected to a measure of which the KGB would have been proud. The Government are using exactly the same system, and the sooner they are overthrown the better.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
There are few occasions when I have felt so emotional about a subject. The Minister has not thought it out. The Government think that they can simply throw someone on to the dole for 26 weeks.
At one time, a Conservative Member tried to live on the dole money, without an income. After five days, had he been living in Scotland, he would have died of malnutrition. He was cadging pints in the pub, and he could not survive on the dole money. He was a talented, able and clever young man, the heir to £100,000 a year, and he could not survive on the dole.
Now this suggestion has been plucked out of the air, to increase the period from 13 weeks to 26 weeks. That decision has no logic and no reason, except that someone voluntarily chucks in their job. That is life. I know many people on low pay who have dignity and who would like to work in a job for decent money and be able to bank something. Many people work six days a week and do not bank anything. They are desperate to look after their wains, but they have dignity. If a foreman or anyone pushed them around or tried to grind their noses into the ground, they would chuck in their jobs. They would chuck it then and there and the Government would ban them from benefit for 26 weeks. The Government would punish their families and drive such people to desperate acts.
I live in a constituency where 4,000 people are unemployed and many of them were put out of work or left their jobs because of their pride. If the Government think that such people will watch their children suffer, they have another think coming. The Government are living in cloud-cuckoo land if they think that they can force this measure on men and women who have worked to make this nation one of the richest in the world. They should be showing more compassion to the unemployed and low-paid.
I can give many reasons why people leave jobs and do so with dignity. Other hon. Members have spoken about how people are not prepared to grovel because of a bad 867 foreman, a personality difficulty or poor safety standards, with a lack of guards on machinery and people working in unsafe conditions. I have not seen many firms fined for failing to meet safety regulations.
I hope that this punitive measure will be defeated tonight. To live for 13 weeks without money is hard enough. As I have already said, a Conservative Member could not survive for five days on the dole, yet the Government are now asking people to survive for 26 weeks without it. People who have never committed a criminal act in their life will be driven to crime to seek aid and security for their families. The Government will make criminals of decent ordinary and good people.
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
Everyone who has been present throughout will agree that this has been an excellent debate and one in which strong feelings have been expressed, understandably so, on the Opposition Benches.
The proposals have a strange history. Several hon. Members have mentioned that a period of disqualification was introduced as long ago as 1911 and managed to survive for a substantial number of years until the Government's arrival in office without it being thought necessary to revise that period. It survived the commission set up to study the abuse of benefits under a Tory Government in 1973—at a time, incidentally, when the levels of disqualification on such terms were running at 600,000 a year, compared with the 300,000 or so at which they are now running. Nevertheless, that committee, which was set up specifically to discuss the abuse of benefits, saw no necessity for a change in the provisions.
In 1979, the Supplementary Benefits Commission expressed its anxiety at any suggestion that these provisions might be tightened, believing that that would be unnecessary. Indeed, the present Social Security Advisory Committee expressed similar reservations and its great concern and anxiety when, in 1986, the Government last doubled the period of disqualification.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) said that there would always be cases of hardship. Many hon. Members would accept that some of the cases quoted by Labour Members did represent cases of hardship. During the lifetime of the Conservative Government, the leniency that was once available for those in hardship has been steadily reduced and the conditions have been tightened. It was this Government who made the statutory deduction of 40 per cent. It was this Government who tightened the provisions whereby that amount could be reduced in cases of hardship and reduced those only to cases of serious illness or pregnancy, although even then, the deduction was 20 per cent.
Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) most ably pointed out, the range of criticisms that have been made, not from the Opposition Benches but by the chief adjudication officer and other independent studies, such as the social security inspectorate study of the means of judging these cases, show that not only is it a fact that so many cases are overturned on appeal and it is shown that wrong decisions have been made, but the history of the report of the social security inspectorate shows that often those incorrect decisions were never communicated to the people who suffered from them. 868 Money was never repaid. We had to drag the Government kicking and screaming through the courts to make them repay even the 9,000 or 10,000 current claimants illegally denied benefit under these provisions.
Who in those circumstances can have confidence, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) said, that all those denied benefit whose cases were not overturned on appeal must have been correctly so denied? Let me quote a case given to us by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux of somebody whose disqualification was, indeed, ruled to be correct and who therefore, on the hon. Lady's judgment, should have been denied benefit.
A 17-year old labourer in a bus depot in the north-east was expected to work eight-hour shifts seven days a week for £50 a week. He was dismissed because he tried to arrange to have one day off each week on alternate Saturdays and Sundays. His dimissal was ruled to be correct under the law. The hon. Lady bows her head. Clearly that is a disqualification with which she agrees. She will not find many Labour Members who agree with her, and I doubt whether she will find many in the community. If I am misinterpreting the hon. Lady, I shall gladly give way.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I said that an appeal procedure was available and ready for people who felt that they had been wrongly dismissed. It is fair to say that one cannot give all the facts of a case in a few sentences. I would not say whether it was right or wrong on the facts that I have heard so far.
§ Mrs. Beckett
The hon. Lady has given her point of view. I merely rest on the observation that she said that she believed that those whose cases were not upheld on appeal must, by most criteria, have been rightly dismissed. All I am saying is that some of us on the Labour Benches would say that that is called into question by cases such as the one that I have just outlined.
I cannot recall the hon. Lady's exact words — if I misrepresent the tenor of her remarks, she will no doubt tell me, but I do not think that I do—but she referred to a direction in the operation of the welfare state of what she seemed to regard as increasing shiftlessness. She spoke of the way in which people were irresponsibly giving up job opportunities or jobs themselves and exploiting the provisions of the welfare state. In that context, the hon. Lady justified the changes that the Government made in 1986 and are seeking to make today. I do not agree with the hon. Lady, but I understand her case.
But what I find extraordinary, and what I entirely fail to understand, what neither the hon. Lady nor any other hon. Member, including any Minister, who has ever spoken on the matter has ever been able to make clear to me, is how the Government reached this conclusion. The initial doubling of the period to 13 weeks was not trailed in the Green Paper—the most fundamental review since Beveridge — that the Government published prior to their legislation. It did not even appear in the Government's White Paper. It did not appear in the Social Security Bill that was introduced in 1985 and debated in Committee for 160 hours. It did not even appear in a consultation paper in the way that the new clauses on industrial injuries and statutory maternity pay did —after the Bill had been guillotined, but still with enough thought and preparation for a consultation paper to be prepared.
869 Literally the week before the 13-week doubling was announced, we had been debating the very matter about which I have just reminded the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford—the Government's default and the number of people wrongly denied benefit, who had never been notified of their appeal and who had never had their lost benefit repaid to them.
We were debating that the very week before the 13-week doubling was announced and the Government, apparently, had not sufficiently made up their mind. This increasing trend which the hon. Lady had detected over decades struck them all of a heap suddenly between one week and the next and they thought it right to rush in this new clause.
The notes on clauses which were introduced to explain this proposal said nothing whatsoever, not a single word, about the Government's reasons for making it. They said what was being done, but nothing about why.
Nor, indeed, were we much wiser when we listened to the Minister of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton). He spoke for 10 minutes introducing the precursor to this order, the measure that laid the groundwork for this order being able to be carried out without further primary legislation. In that 10 minutes, he said not a single word about the reasons for the proposal. All he spoke about was the mechanics of what was being done; he said nothing at all about the reasons.
Certainly he said nothing about the evidence, for reasons which became a little more clear when he was questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay). The Minister said—and this was about as far as he went in a quite tentative justification of the proposals that he was putting before us:there was now a distinct, but I accept not a very rapid, rising trend.That was his way of describing the fact that the number of disqualifications had fallen substantially over the previous few years but had now begun to rise very slightly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North asked the Minister why he thought that was happening; had he a breakdown of age brackets, had he a breakdown regionally; had he a breakdown of the earnings brackets in which the numbers that he had quoted fell? The right hon. Member for Braintree replied:No, I do not have any breakdowns. I shall, of course, explore whether there is further information that I can make available to the hon. Gentleman, although I could not pretend that I should be able to do that tonight."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 30 April 1986; c. 1871.]That was on 30 April 1986. It is now 1 March 1988 and the Government still do not seem to have come up with much in the way of statistics to justify the change that they made then, let alone this further doubling that they are putting before us tonight.
The right hon. Member for Braintree, did say, finally, that there was a question mark over the way in which the period of disqualification had been operating, that it was a matter of judgment to extend—and he emphasised this most noticeably — not the automatic period of disqualification, but the maximum period over which that disqualification could be applied.
Of course, what we saw then and what we are seeing now is that, unfortunately, it is the maximum period that tends to be applied in the vast majority of cases —according to the survey which my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston quoted and which the Government have 870 not yet published, but which I hope that they will choose to publish — apparently running now at 75 per cent. of the cases judged.
The Government had no real evidence to put before us in 1986 and now, tonight, they have very little; they have no real further evidence to pad out the total lack of grounds that they offered us then.
If the Government were concerned that perhaps 13 weeks might not be enough or might not work properly, if they were concerned that some variation might be needed of the period of disqualification, why did they not monitor what was happening? Why did they not seek independent evidence? Why did they not make a study? Why is it that the Minister is still — truthfully or otherwise—able to say to us that no real monitoring of the periods of disqualification and the reasons for disqualification is being carried out?
What justification could there be on the Government's own terms, for the doubling of the disqualification period when they have little, if any, judgment to offer of why that should take place? Whenever the figures that they offer are questioned, they rapidly shift their ground, as my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston has pointed out.
To call the Government's case flimsy would be over-complimentary. The Government's case is tranparent. The Government have no case; they have a wish, a decision, a judgment that they have decided to exercise. Grounds for making it they have none—other, possibly, than their wish to make public expenditure savings, and one other, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) referred and to which I shall return in a moment.
Turning from the thinness of the Government's case, unfortunately the background, the reality and the experience of those who will lose from these changes is all too real. There seems to me to be—my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), I think, used this phrase—a substantial amount of double jeopardy, some in the provisions themselves and some in the different provisions which the Government have put forward and of which this order will, unfortunately, be likely to be part after its passage tonight. Adjudication officers deny people one benefit in a variety of circumstances because, they say, people who have some degree of illness or sickness are fit for light work. The question whether there is light work is irrelevant; they are judged to be fit for light work and are denied benefit on those grounds.
One of the cases quoted by a west midlands citizens advice bureau is that of a pregnant woman who left her job in the fourth month because it involved heavy lifting and standing for long periods, which made her feel dizzy. She was refused both unemployment benefit and supplementary benefit because she was available only for part-time light work. That is double jeopardy.
In income support, housing benefit and board and lodging regulations, the Government tell us that the young are expected to live at home. The phrase which the Government used in the Green Paper and the words that they have used over and over again are:it is clear that at the age of 18 the majority of claimants are not fully independent and that the great majority of claimants above the age of 25 are. The government have concluded that an appropriate dividing line is age 25.871 The Government have argued that, justified it and stated it over and over again since 1985, although it is a view that we have questioned. But that is the Government's view, so they tell us.
However, when we turn to the order, we discover that young persons who move from their jobs, because their parents have moved and their family home has been transferred to a different part of the country, are liable to find themselves in jeopardy under these proposals regarding their claim for benefit. The Government's argument in the adjudication officer's guide is this:Claimants aged over 18 who leave jobs because their parents are moving will, in general, only avoid disqualification if they, or their parents, can show that there is strong reason why they should continue to live with them.When it is the board and lodging regulations, housing benefit or income support, young people are expected to live with their family, but when it comes to these regulations they are expected to stay behind, not to live with their family any more, because then it suits the Government to save money at their expense in a different context.
The most obvious double jeopardy of all is that with regard to persons who may be offered a training place or a job which they fear may be unsuitable. By the use of this order, the Government, if the Employment Bill is passed, are intending to extend it to the offer of a suitable—by the Government's standards, which means undefined—job or training place in any circumstances. So people, young or otherwise, who are offered a job or a training place which they fear may be unsuitable or unsafe will, if they refuse to take up that offer, have these regulations applied to them, and lose benefit. But if, under that compulsion, they take that place, job or offer and their fears turn out to be justified and they wish to leave, they will again be caught by the provisions of these regulations and will be denied benefit because—again I quote the adjudication officer's guide—if the conditions which prompt a claimant to leave his employment were known to him when he began the employment, and he accepted it in spite of them, he cannot turn the clock back and say that he has just cause for leaving simply because the employment was unsuitable in the first place.Many of my hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate have made the point, and made it ably, that the Government are catching people both ways round; that it is, in effect, a new and refined form of slavery at work, because they will force people into unsuitable jobs. Indeed, the order can be used on the one hand to force people into such training places or jobs and on the other to catch them if they dare to leave, their worst fears having been realised.
The Minister said in opening the debate that these proposals had one clear purpose—to discourage people from remaining voluntarily without work. Unfortunately for the Minister, we had that discussion too in 1985. My hon. Friends raised over and over again with his predecessor the right hon. Member for Braintree the point that, if the Government were really worried about people against whom misconduct could be proved and against whom there could be a case that they had no just cause for leaving their place of work, they should wait until misconduct had been established and justified and then say that if there were to be disqualification from benefit it should apply from that date.
872 In resisting it, the then Minister of State told the Committee that he was not prepared to say that the disqualifications could apply only from the point at which misconduct had been proven, because by that time the person might be back in work. In other words, it did not have anything to do with discouraging someone from wilfully staying without work; it was specifically to penalise a person for daring to leave work or for daring not to take a job, a training place or an offer of any kind which the Government might have put before him primarily to reduce the numbers on the unemployment register.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central put his finger on the main point in drawing the attention of the House to the report by the Rayner scrutiny team "Payment of Benefits to Unemployed People", which said that although it had considered recommending the abolition of unemployment benefit, it had felt thatthe idea of means testing every claimant might not be politically acceptable".The Government have not got the guts to do that, or to make the case head-on. They have not got the guts to say that they will not pay unemployment benefit when the people know well that there are not just hundreds of thousands but millions of their fellow citizens not in work, because there is no work. Even this Government have not got the guts to do that. Instead they steadily eat away at the benefits by abolishing earnings-related supplements, tightening the credit rules, making it more and more difficult for people to establish entitlement to unemployment benefit and making it easier to take benefit away.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the progress in his lifetime and how he had seen it destroyed. I am reminded of a conversation which I had with a colleague who is well known to many in the House, Mr. Jack Jones, once the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union. He said, "My wife and I have discussed this often. We feel that we have spent our whole lives dragging a cart uphill and now someone has cut the rope." Many people will get hurt when that cart rattles down the hill. I hope that Conservative Members are among them.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I may be briefer than I had intended; if I do not cover every point, I apologise to the House in advance.
It may be worth beginning on first principles and saying that the purpose of unemployment benefit is to insure claimants who normally derive their income from employment against short periods of unemployment which they cannot foresee. It follows, as in any insurance scheme, that a person cannot be covered for circumstances or conditions which he brings upon himself. In the case of unemployment insurance, that means leaving a job with no other job to go to or being dismissed from a job for misconduct.
But we are not discussing in the debate people who leave one job to go to another. They are free to do that if they are able to find another job. We are not discussing people who are sacked because they are made redundant or people who are sacked because they are not up to a job. None of those apply. We are talking about people who are 873 sacked for misconduct or who leave their job voluntarily. That is a point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) put his finger.
That is why, since 1911, penalties have existed to discourage voluntary unemployment. Those penalties were explicitly restated in the Social Security Act 1975, passed by the Government formed by the Labour party. The reason they were restated was that they had been formulated very clearly in the Beveridge report, which said in paragraph 326:Disqualifications, as at present, will apply to men refusing suitable employment, dismissed for misconduct or leaving their work voluntarily without just cause".The reason Beveridge included that in his report was made clear in paragraph 130:The correlative of the State's undertaking to ensure adequate benefit for unavoidable interruption of earnings, however long, is enforcement of the citizen's obligation to seek and accept all reasonable opportunities of work, to co-operate in measures designed to save him from habituation to idleness, and to take all proper measures to be well. The higher the benefits provided out of a common fund for unmerited misfortune, the higher must be the citizen's sense of obligation not to draw upon that fund unnecessarily.That, in similar language, was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight).
May I point out to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that there is nothing in the Beveridge explanation about de minimis or any of the other terms which he used to try to explain why a Labour Government had consistently applied the principle. The case advanced by Beveridge is the concept of enforcement of the citizen's obligation. No amount of wriggling by the hon. Gentleman will get him away from that point.
The objective in 1911, the objective in 1948, the objective in 1975 and the objective today are the same—to discourage voluntary unemployment. As I understand it, and as the hon. Member for Livingston stated clearly, the Opposition have no disagreement on the purpose or on the means, because they used the same means — disqualification from unemployment benefit and the downrating of supplementary benefit. They downrated supplementary benefit even at times when it was much lower in real terms than it is today. Apparently the only disagreement between the two sides is that we are interested in making the penalty effective and the Opposition are not interested in so doing.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) talked about the evidence from the numbers of disqualifications. In the year to October 1986, there were under 414,000 disqualifications, at a time when there were 5.35 million claims for benefit. In the year to October 1987, there were over 420,000 disqualifications; that is to say, the number went up at a time when the total number of claims went down to 4.9 million. So the proportion showed a considerable increase. The increase was from 7.7 per cent. to 8.6 per cent.
Since the hon. Member for Livingston raised different quarters, I will discuss those quarters with him. He wanted to discuss two quarters taken at random, one ending at 30 September 1986 when the number of disqualifications was 7.03 per cent. of claims. He wanted to compare that with the quarter ending 30 June 1987, when disqualifications were 8.83 per cent. of claims. Therefore, the increase was particularly marked in the period which he chose. The 874 increase from 7.03 per cent. to 8.83 per cent. was an increase of 26 per cent., as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Minister in his opening remarks.
§ Mr. Robin Cook
May I stress to the Under-Secretary that I did not choose those nine months at random? The Minister of State chose those nine months in his press statement when he said that in those nine months the number of claims from people leaving work had increased. The Under-Secretary will admit that that statement was wholly untrue and that the figures provided to the House clearly show that the numbers fell. The only reason the proportion went up was that the numbers of those made redundant fell even faster over the same period. Is he suggesting that if the numbers of those made redundant halve in the next year, and the proportion increases, he will come back and double the penalty once more?
§ Mr. Portillo
I continue to maintain that the proportion is a significant figure. I notice that the hon. Gentleman has not disputed the fact that the quarters which he has chosen to quote, both in this morning's Guardian and in the debate, actually strengthen our case. That is the point that I make to him.
Many questions have been raised about the quality of adjudications and the number of appeals. Let me put it in context for my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). In 1986, there were 5.3 million claims arising from unemployment. Of those, 720,000 were referred to adjudication officers and about 40 per cent. of them were allowed at that stage. Then 6,428 were appealed on the grounds that the voluntary unemployment deduction should not have been made. Of those, 2,548 were decided in the claimants' favour.
Out of 5 million claims. 2,500 were decided in the claimants' favour and voluntary unemployment deduction should not have been made. That is about one twentieth of one percentage point. If errors are made in adjudication, they are probably few, but, however few they are, I regret them. However, it is ludicrous to say that a policy is void because, out of five million claims, there may be some errors. On that basis, we should have no benefit system at all. I ask the Member for Livingston to accept that.
Several hon. Members have asked whether the maximum period is always imposed. The guidance given by the chief adjudication officer on 23 September 1986 is clear about that. He said:It is wrong to say that the only two possible approaches to deciding the period of disqualification are by starting at the maximum and working down, or by starting at the minimum and working up.It is not correct to say that the maximum period should be imposed unless the claimant proves that there are mitigating circumstances. … The correct approach is to regard each case as one in which a sensible discretion has to be exercised in such manner as the justice of the case requires. All the circumstances must be taken into account.The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) wanted to know what the effect on claimants would be. The effect will be the same as it was under the Labour Government, as the 40 per cent. rate of deduction on supplementary benefit remains unchanged. The difference is that, in real terms, supplementary benefit is now double what it was in 1948 and has been rising under this Government.
§ Mr. Portillo
No, I am coming to the end of my remarks.
875 The reduction in supplementary benefit amounts to 40 per cent. of the personal rate. Amounts for the family continue to be calculated on the benefit rates, so a single person aged over 25 would have his income support reduced by £13.35 but, for a couple with children, the deduction would be exactly the same, so that their full income support rate would be £79.10. Assuming a rent of £30, on average rates, the total receipts for that family, including housing benefit, would be £114.30. That is a deduction of some 10 per cent. in total support and ignores free school meals and agency benefits which continue unaffected. If the 20 per cent. deduction applies, the total amount of downrating is about 5 per cent.
§ Mrs. Beckett
The Minister will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston asked him how he came to give an answer on 18 February, suggesting that information was not being collected on the length of disqualifications, when, apparently, it was being collected. His answer appears to have been misleading. Will he tell us how that situation arose?
§ Mr. Portillo
I have no hard and fast information on the length of disqualifications. I have only a sample of about 500 which may give a reasonable indication. I should not have dreamt of giving that information to the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), as though it were scientific evidence of what was occurring.
The debate has been characterised by muddle and embarrassment on the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Livingston has had to engage in considerable sophistry. He has argued that the 40 per cent. reduction could cause hunger—those were his words—but not, apparently, when the same deduction of 40 per cent. applied under the Labour Government. He said that six weeks was a de minimis and not a penalty. In that, he flatly contradicted Beveridge. He agreed that suspension of benefit was right, but he does not wish it to be effective in discouraging voluntary unemployment. We wish to be effective. That is the difference between the Government and the Opposition and that is why I commend the order to the House.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 274, Noes 219.878
|Division No. 200]||[7.3 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Alexander, Richard||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Boswell, Tim|
|Allason, Rupert||Bottomley, Peter|
|Amess, David||Bottomley, Mrs Virginia|
|Amos, Alan||Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Bowis, John|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard|
|Ashby, David||Brandon-Bravo, Martin|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Brazier, Julian|
|Atkins, Robert||Bright, Graham|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Brittan, Rt Hon Leon|
|Baldry, Tony||Brooke, Rt Hon Peter|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Browne, John (Winchester)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Buck, Sir Antony|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Budgen, Nicholas|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Burns, Simon|
|Burt, Alistair||Hind, Kenneth|
|Butcher, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Butler, Chris||Holt, Richard|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Carttiss, Michael||Howard, Michael|
|Cash, William||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Chope, Christopher||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Irvine, Michael|
|Colvin, Michael||Irving, Charles|
|Conway, Derek||Jack, Michael|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Jackson, Robert|
|Cope, John||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Couchman, James||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Cran, James||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Curry, David||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Key, Robert|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Day, Stephen||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Devlin, Tim||Knapman, Roger|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Knowles, Michael|
|Dover, Den||Knox, David|
|Dunn, Bob||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Durant, Tony||Lang, Ian|
|Dykes, Hugh||Latham, Michael|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Evennett, David||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Fallon, Michael||Lilley, Peter|
|Farr, Sir John||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Favell, Tony||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lord, Michael|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||McCrindle, Robert|
|Forman, Nigel||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Forth, Eric||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Maclean, David|
|Franks, Cecil||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Freeman, Roger||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|French, Douglas||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Gale, Roger||Madel, David|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Gill, Christopher||Malins, Humfrey|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Mans, Keith|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Maples, John|
|Gow, Ian||Marland, Paul|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Marlow, Tony|
|Greenway, Harry (Eating N)||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Gregory, Conal||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')||Mates, Michael|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Grist, Ian||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Ground, Patrick||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Miller, Hal|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Mills, Iain|
|Hannam, John||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Harris, David||Moate, Roger|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hayes, Jerry||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Morrison, Hon Sir Charles|
|Hayward, Robert||Morrison, Hon P (Chester)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Needham, Richard|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Neubert, Michael|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hill, James||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Shersby, Michael|
|Page, Richard||Sims, Roger|
|Paice, James||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Patnick, Irvine||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Patten, Chris (Bath)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Pawsey, James||Squire, Robin|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Portillo, Michael||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Steen, Anthony|
|Price, Sir David||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Raffan, Keith||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Stokes, John|
|Redwood, John||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Renton, Tim||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Thurnham, Peter|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Riddick, Graham||Tracey, Richard|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Tredinnick, David|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Walters, Dennis|
|Rost, Peter||Wheeler, John|
|Rowe, Andrew||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Ryder, Richard||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Wilshire, David|
|Sainsbury, Hon Tim||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Wood, Timothy|
|Scott, Nicholas||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Tellers for the Ayes|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.|
|Allen, Graham||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Alton, David||Corbett, Robin|
|Anderson, Donald||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cousins, Jim|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Cryer, Bob|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Cummings, John|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Dalyell, Tam|
|Barron, Kevin||Darling, Alistair|
|Battle, John||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Beckett, Margaret||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Beith, A. J.||Dewar, Donald|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Dixon, Don|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Doran, Frank|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Douglas, Dick|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Blair, Tony||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Blunkett, David||Eadie, Alexander|
|Boateng, Paul||Eastham, Ken|
|Boyes, Roland||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Bradley, Keith||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Fearn, Ronald|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Buchan, Norman||Fisher, Mark|
|Buckley, George J.||Flannery, Martin|
|Caborn, Richard||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Foster, Derek|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Foulkes, George|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fraser, John|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Galbraith, Sam|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Clay, Bob||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Clelland, David||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Cohen, Harry||Gordon, Mildred|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Gould, Bryan|
|Graham, Thomas||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Morley, Elliott|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Hardy, Peter||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Mullin, Chris|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Murphy, Paul|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Nellist, Dave|
|Heffer, Eric S.||O'Brien, William|
|Henderson, Doug||Patchett, Terry|
|Hinchliffe, David||Pike, Peter L.|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Holland, Stuart||Prescott, John|
|Home Robertson, John||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hood, Jimmy||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Radice, Giles|
|Howells, Geraint||Randall, Stuart|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Redmond, Martin|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Reid, Dr John|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Richardson, Jo|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Illsley, Eric||Robertson, George|
|Ingram, Adam||Rogers, Allan|
|Janner, Greville||Rooker, Jeff|
|John, Brynmor||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Rowlands, Ted|
|Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Salmond, Alex|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Kennedy, Charles||Sheerman, Barry|
|Kilfedder, James||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Short, Clare|
|Lambie, David||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lamond, James||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Leighton, Ron||Soley, Clive|
|Litherland, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Livingstone, Ken||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Livsey, Richard||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Stott, Roger|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Strang, Gavin|
|McAllion, John||Straw, Jack|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|McCartney, Ian||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|McCrea, Rev William||Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Turner, Dennis|
|McFall, John||Vaz, Keith|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|
|McKelvey, William||Wall, Pat|
|McLeish, Henry||Wallace, James|
|Maclennan, Robert||Walley, Joan|
|McNamara, Kevin||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|McTaggart, Bob||Wareing, Robert N.|
|McWilliam, John||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Madden, Max||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Mallon, Seamus||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Wilson, Brian|
|Martlew, Eric||Winnick, David|
|Maxton, John||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Meacher, Michael||Worthington, Tony|
|Meale, Alan||Wray, Jimmy|
|Michael, Alun||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Mr. Allen Adams.|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Unemployment Benefit (Disqualification Period) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.