HC Deb 17 January 1996 vol 269 cc744-98 3.40 pm
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

I beg to move, That the draft Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 19th December, be approved.

Madam Speaker

I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss the following motions: That the draft Income Support (General) (Jobseeker's Allowance Consequential Amendments) Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 19th December, be approved. That the draft Social Security (Back to Work Bonus) Regulations 1996, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th January, be approved. That the draft Housing Benefit, Supply of Information and Council Tax Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 19th December, be approved. That the draft Employer's Contributions Re-imbursement Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 12th December, be approved.

Mr. Forth

The jobseeker's allowance is a major step forward in creating a labour market in Britain that will continue to generate jobs and help unemployed people get those jobs. It is the next stage in the Government's strategy, the success of which is becoming clear to everyone—or at least to almost everyone.

The unemployment figures that were announced this morning demonstrate the strength of that strategy. For the 28th successive month, there has been another welcome decrease in the unemployment rate, which is due to two main factors. First, the economic environment created by the Government is widely recognised to have created as favourable an environment as can be imagined for the start of new businesses and inward investment into the United Kingdom, which not only creates new jobs but consolidates existing jobs. Secondly, the policies that we are developing and the dedication of our Employment Service staff identify the needs of individuals who, regrettably, have lost their jobs and help them back into work.

The fall in unemployment is set against a background where this country now has lower unemployment and more of its people in work than any other major European Union country. Employment has grown substantially in recent years, and new vacancies continue to be notified to jobcentres at record levels. The number of people getting jobs through the help of Employment Service staff is also at a record level. In all, we have seen unemployment fall by almost three quarters of a million since the recovery began. We are determined to reinforce that success, and believe that the benefit system has a vital role to play in helping unemployed people find jobs.

The benefit system should help and motivate every jobseeker, but the truth is that the current system of unemployment benefit and income support has not always done that, and it is not providing that help now. The system contains disincentives to work. It is complex and out of date and it can be confusing for claimants. It fails, above all, to target help on those who most need it.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

The Minister mentioned the disincentives to work in the current unemployment benefit regulations. He is surely referring to the benefit traps that are created by the loss of income among people who move from a stable amount of benefit payments into paid work that may be quite low paid. Will he explain how the jobseeker's allowance exacerbates that problem by bringing forward means testing from 12 months to six months? Does not that create a positive incentive for the partners of people who are means-tested after six months to give up their part-time jobs?

Mr. Forth

I do not believe that that disincentive operates, because we are improving the position for couples, or people with partners. The change from 12 months to six months will not have the effect that the hon. Lady describes because, as she knows—and as was well rehearsed during the passage of the Jobseekers Act 1995—happily the bulk of people who find themselves out of work are back in work within a six-month period. That fact, combined with the detailed, improved provisions in the regulations, especially for couples or people with partners, means that the effect suggested by the hon. Lady will not occur.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Surely the Minister's arguments lead in the opposite direction. If most people are back in work within six months, why bring in the change? The change is necessary only if most people are still out of work after six months.

Mr. Forth

That does not follow. As the hon. Gentleman knows better than almost anyone in the House, the current regime was designed and has operated for many years in very different circumstances. What we have attempted to do by introducing the jobseeker's allowance, with its many different provisions, is to reflect the current position as accurately as possible. Therefore, as most people find work within the six-month period, we felt that it was appropriate that the regime should reflect that as far as possible.

I do not deny—I do not think it has ever been denied—that there is a balance in the regulations that means that some will gain from them and others will not. That is inevitable when one makes a change. I stand behind the provision—in the Act, not the regulations—on the six-month cut-off period. In a sense, that is not negotiable. It may be debatable, but it is not contained in the regulations.

The existing regime can be seen as having been designed to support people who are out of work, but unemployed people want help to get back to work. That is what the jobseeker's allowance seeks to do and that is what the regulations are about.

In the White Paper in October 1994, the Government set out the three main aims for the new benefit regime. First, we aim to improve the operation of the labour market by helping people in their search for work, while ensuring as far as possible that they understand and fulfil the conditions for the receipt of benefit. The JSA emphasises the responsibilities of unemployed people to take every advantage of the opportunities open to them to get back to work.

Secondly, we aim to secure better value for money for the taxpayer by streamlining administration; by closer targeting on those who need financial support; and by introducing a regime that more effectively helps them to find jobs.

Thirdly, we aim to improve the service that we give to unemployed people through a clearer, more coherent benefit structure and a better integration of the payment of benefits with the delivery of help and advice to find work. We want to give jobseekers the most effective and up-to-date system that we can devise. Through the new labour market computer system, employment advisers will have unprecedented access to information on vacancies and other opportunities so that they can be matched against the individual needs of the jobseeker. We have taken great pains to ascertain and to meet those needs.

In achieving those aims with the implementation of the JSA in October this year, we expect to make jobs—the pursuit of jobs and the winning of jobs—the focus of our efforts on behalf of unemployed people.

Our proposals were debated at length, in the House and in another place, during the passage of the Jobseekers Act 1995. The regulations provide a further level of detail and set out the rules that will apply when the allowance is introduced in October. In view of those earlier debates and the extensive nature of the regulations, I thought it best to cover matters in a general and relatively brief introductory speech. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), and I will of course listen carefully to comments made during the debate, and my hon. Friend will respond to as many of the questions raised as possible.

At the heart of the allowance are the labour market tests, which are designed to ensure that all jobseekers are open to as many as job opportunities as possible and are making all reasonable efforts to find work. There will be no change in the jobseeker's allowance to the basic availability condition that people must be willing and able to take up immediately any offer of employment. That has been a requirement for unemployment benefits for a long time. But the regulations do require, for the first time, that claimants should usually be available for employment for at least 40 hours a week; and that when they restrict the hours for which they are available, they should be able to agree an individual pattern of availability across the week. That flexibility is very much in line with the current labour market.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Can people in the tops of trees be described as available for work?

Mr. Forth

I was wondering which of my colleagues would be the first to raise that matter—I am not surprised to find that it is my hon. Friend. As she would expect, we have looked into it. I am satisfied that the Employment Service in the area where the difficulties have arisen—around Newbury—is treating everyone with the same fair-minded and even-handed approach that we would expect of that service. In other words, anyone receiving benefit from or through the local jobcentre will indeed be expected to demonstrate his availability for work and the fact that he is actively seeking work.

Some people have had their benefits disallowed because they have been unable to meet the conditions; others have been able, so far, to satisfy the jobcentre that they can meet the conditions applied to everyone. There may be some rather unusual circumstances at times. After all, one of the features of the current regime and of the jobseeker's allowance is that people are recognised as having hugely varying circumstances. We do not want to treat people in the mass; we have a flexible enough regime to deal sympathetically but firmly with people's varying circumstances. That is as it should be, as it is, and as it will be under the proposals in the Act and in the regulations.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Will the local Employment Service take these people's word for it that they are not taking part in the political activity? How will their good faith be tested? If there is evidence, photographic or otherwise, that they are taking part in the demonstrations, will the Employment Service be able to use it to disallow their benefits?

Mr. Forth

I have to be slightly careful when answering that question, because I must not intrude on the well-established relationship between Ministers and agencies. It is the responsibility of the Employment Service properly to implement the rules. As far as I am aware, taking part in what my hon. Friend describes as "political activity" will not in itself disqualify someone from eligibility for benefit. The key is availability for work and the fact that someone is actively seeking employment.

Political activity may sometimes be compatible with availability for work and with actively seeking it. A Member of Parliament seeking work might—who knows?—be able to do both things at the same time. I well understand the concern of many people about the fact that taxpayers' money in the form of benefits is being given to those indulging in activities of which we might not approve. That is not the test, however. The test in the rules, applied even-handedly and fairly, is whether people—regardless of their views and political activities—meet the requirements laid down for everyone in those rules. I am assured by the Employment Service—I am prepared to accept its assurance—that it is applying the rules even-handedly to everyone concerned.

Whether the Employment Service accepts a particular type of evidence is a matter for the service, but I should have thought it highly likely, if evidence came the way of the local jobcentre, that it would make it its business to look at it and then make a judgment.

Mr. Leigh

Of course we all accept that a person can be looking for work at the same as engaging in political activities—attending political meetings in the evenings and so on—but these people are devoting themselves full time to disrupting others in their lawful activities. They are clearly not available for work, so Conservative Members would be grateful for my hon. Friend's assurance—I think he has already given it—that evidence that people are taking part in these activities, which are full time by their very nature, will be held against them; and that they will be made to understand that they will immediately lose all their benefits.

Mr. Forth

What my hon. Friend may know that I do not, is whether the people engaging in full-time activity are in receipt of benefit.

Mr. Leigh

They are.

Mr. Forth

If my hon. Friend has evidence of that, I hope that he will let me have it and I shall certainly pass it on to the jobcentre. I cannot assume—it would be wrong of me to do so—that everyone we see on television and in the newspapers engaging in the sort of activity of which he and I might well not approve is in receipt of benefit. Equally, we are not sure whether those who are receiving benefit are participating only occasionally in those activities and are otherwise available for work and seeking it. I do not know that; the local jobcentre assures me that it does. Unless my hon. Friend can provide me with evidence, which I should be happy to pass on, there I must leave it.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Surely we are not going down the road of taking the lawful right to demonstrate away from someone because he is on the dole. I hope that we are not going down that road.

Mr. Forth

At the moment, I fear that we are not going down any road—that is the point at issue. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied from what I have said that there is no question of taking away that right. We must not confuse being available for and actively seeking work with someone's views, political activities and the like. I hope that that is not the case now and, from my point of view, I hope that it never will be. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance.

Mr. Campbell

I was worried about that.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman must not worry. The matter is safe in my hands.

To follow on from the points that have just been made, the regulations make provision for people wanting to restrict their availability on religious or conscientious grounds, for those with caring responsibilities for children or sick or elderly relatives and for people with disabilities. In line with the commitments that we made during the passage of the Jobseekers Bill, disabled people may restrict their availability in any way, provided that the restrictions are reasonable in the light of their physical or mental condition.

Having said that, jobseekers must actively seek employment in every week that they are unemployed. In this, we are making no significant departures from an approach which, since the benefit reforms of the 1980s, has become accepted as a key responsibility of claimants. We want jobseekers to be more flexible in their approach to the search for work, so the regulations broaden the range of steps expected of a claimant so that they include actions to improve prospects of employment, such as drawing up a curriculum vitae or seeking specialist advice. At the same time, we are ensuring that jobseekers who deliberately undermine their chances of finding work may be penalised. As a new condition of entitlement, claimants must enter—

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

The Minister said that he is introducing some new flexibilities to take into account people improving their prospects of employment. What view are the Government taking of an appropriate eligibility for benefit for people engaged in study and training that is designed to improve their skills in the labour market? The present system penalises people who choose to study and to improve their opportunities in the knowledge-based economy—an economy in which people's personal opportunities depend increasingly on their intellectual skills—which is perverse. Have the Government been able to introduce changes or do they contemplate any changes to encourage people to study, rather than penalising them for doing so?

Mr. Forth

I suppose that I am fortunate that that question is aimed at both my responsibilities—the hon. Gentleman probably skilfully designed it so—and I accept it as such. The direct response is that we are not seeking to use the jobseeker's allowance as a vehicle to improve the support for those who are studying. That is the straightforward answer. There are more detailed considerations. We are clarifying the detailed requirements for people who are studying—guided hours and so forth—in line with the Further Education Funding Council, with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar. The answer to his question, however, is that it is not our intention to use the regulations, or indeed the provisions of the Jobseekers Act 1995, which covers them, to provide some sort of new regime to support people who are studying. That is for another time and it is part of my other responsibilities. I certainly believe that it is something to which the House and the Government will have to return.

Our "Lifetime Learning" consultation document raises questions in that regard. We shall examine the replies that we receive and the overall provision through higher and further education and full and part-time study, to see how best we can define the responsibilities between individuals, institutions and the taxpayer to promote the development of skills and qualifications.

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful to the Minister for that thoughtful and serious reply. He said that he did not envisage that the powers provided under the legislation gave any positive enhancement of the incentives for people to study. Can he at least give an assurance that no penalties will be imposed upon people who decide to study—for example, that the jobseeker's directions, reinforced by benefit sanctions, will not be used to require unemployed people to take a Government-provided course that would interrupt or prevent them from pursuing a course of study on which they had already embarked, or which they reasonably judge may be more useful to equip them with skills to enter employment?

Mr. Forth

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman such an assurance in the form in which he is seeking it. The form of words that he used would provide an almost total discretion and give the individual carte blanche to say, "I believe that what I am doing is best for me, therefore, by implication, I expect you, the taxpayer, through the benefit regime to support me in doing that for as long as I consider that it is beneficial."

Mr. Howarth

I said that there should be reasonable discretion.

Mr. Forth

Even with the word "reasonable", that approach would open up far too widely a responsibility on the taxpayer to fund almost any study that any individual considered beneficial. We cannot approach the matter from that direction. We have to approach it from a different direction that will better define the areas and vehicles for study, self-improvement and the acquisition of skills and qualifications, and identify the best means of financing them. We shall have to consider where the responsibilities should lie—with individuals, institutions, employers or the taxpayer, or more probably a combination of them all. Although those are important matters, with respect, I do not consider that they can or should be resolved through the vehicle of the regulations before the House today.

Ms Eagle

Can the Minister confirm that, under the 16-hour rule, the regulations will force students who may be just approaching an examination to participate in a Government programme and be unable to attend their course, even at a crucial time in that course, so that they can be taught how to look for work? That seems rather absurd.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Lady understands that the requirements now and under the jobseeker's allowance mean that a person must take a job if one becomes available. If we devised more individual circumstances in which not taking a job would be permissible, we should end up not just back where we started, but further back beyond that. I am not prepared—and it is not appropriate, even during today's debate—to invent new rules to make matters different, easier or better for certain prescribed groups of people. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Lady the undertaking that she seeks.

I move on to a key part of the process. As a new condition of entitlement, claimants must enter into a jobseeker's agreement with the Employment Service. Each agreement will be individually tailored, recording how each jobseeker will be available for work and the best route for him or her to find a job. The agreement will ensure that jobseekers have information about the expert advice and services available at jobcentres. Trials of a prototype of the agreement have already been conducted in some jobcentres, with very encouraging reactions from jobseekers.

Many of the provisions relating to the agreement and the access to independent adjudication for the resolution of disputes lie within the Act. The regulations before us today, however, cover a number of more minor details such as the prescribed contents and the circumstances relevant to the backdating of an agreement.

While the vast majority of unemployed people make every effort to find work, we need effective measures against the minority who perhaps do not. Social security law has always included penalties for those who break the rules. It is wholly reasonable that people who pay taxes should not subsidise those, however few in number, who make little attempt to get a job. The sanctions regime in the jobseeker's allowance will make it crystal clear that persons who do not meet their obligations will suffer a loss of benefit. The 1995 Act sets out those obligations and the sanctions that may be imposed, but it also recognises that sanctions should not be imposed where a jobseeker has good cause for his actions in, for example, refusing the offer of a job or a place on an employment course.

The regulations set out the circumstances that we expect independent adjudication officers to consider and the circumstances in which a jobseeker is to be regarded as having good cause. A balance must also be struck between protecting the taxpayer and protecting vulnerable individuals from loss of benefit, which may subject them to unreasonable hardship. We shall protect persons most at risk of hardship. Claimants with children, who are sick, disabled or pregnant or who have partners in that position, and those with caring responsibilities will at any time be able to receive reduced payments if they would otherwise suffer hardship. They are also protected against delays in the system of deciding entitlement to benefit. The regulations provide for the making of hardship payments and identify the circumstances in which a person is to be regarded as being in hardship.

The Government also guarantee a suitable youth training place to every young person under the age of 18 who wants one. We are spending £676 million on youth training this year in England alone. That means that there is no reason for young people needing to be unemployed. We do not wish to encourage dependency on benefit at such an early age. The Government's guarantee to 16 to 17-year-olds removes the need for general access to benefits. The current approach in income support will be continued in the jobseeker's allowance. We recognise that there are circumstances in which young people need to claim benefits. We provide for them, and will continue to do so in the JSA.

The regulations provide that young people in vulnerable groups—for example, those who have recently left local authority care—will be able to claim JSA for a period, to allow them to overcome their temporary difficulties. Young people who are waiting for a suitable youth training place will be able to claim JSA if they would otherwise suffer severe hardship. But at the same time we aim to improve the help and service to young people. A specially tailored jobseeker's agreement will be introduced. That will reflect the Government's commitment to the importance of training for young people. It will build on a form completed at the careers service and will include details of the type of training and work that the young person is seeking and the action agreed to achieve his goals. The vital role of the careers service will continue, but as part now of a two-stop service—young persons need have contact only with the careers service and the jobcentre to make a claim for jobseeker's allowance. They will no longer have to attend the Benefits Agency as well.

The new allowance will provide financial help for unemployed people and their dependants according to their needs, and that will be paid as long as they need it. Persons who have paid national insurance contributions will receive a personal rate, irrespective of their capital or their partner's earnings, for up to six months—the point at which the majority of jobseekers leave unemployment. We expect that the majority of unemployed people will receive the income-related element of JSA. In bringing together the contributory and income-related elements in the one benefit, we shall provide a single coherent benefit for unemployed people. There will be an end to the confusion when unemployed people could be entitled to one or the other benefit handled by different agencies or both benefits at the same time.

Much of the content of the regulations deals with the assessment of the amount of benefit to which people are entitled—for example, regulations dealing with the applicable amounts and the treatment of income, capital or earnings. In the majority of cases, we have had the example of income support to follow. But there will be some significant updating and improvements to income support provisions. For instance, we shall provide new help for couples, enabling partners of JSA and income support claimants to work for up to 24 hours, not 16 as now. We believe that that will encourage partners to remain in or to take part-time work. Couples will also be able to earn £10 without their allowance being affected, even if only one is working.

Many unemployed people get substantial occupational pensions from their previous employer. Pensions are already fully taken into account in income support, and it is right that larger occupational and personal pensions should reduce the amount of contributory benefit for people of any age. The present limit is too severe, so we are removing the arbitrary age threshold and raising the amount of pension that can be paid without affecting benefit, from £35 to £50 a week.

Throughout the passage of the Jobseekers Bill, we emphasised that JSA should be seen as part of a far-reaching package of work incentive measures. The other sets of regulations before the House today complete the picture.

The unemployment and poverty traps have been significantly alleviated over recent years. Only a tiny proportion of the working population would not now be better off in work than remaining on out-of-work benefits. This imaginative package of regulations addresses three big issues. It gives direct encouragement to unemployed people to undertake part-time work and to use that as a stepping stone to full-time work. It removes uncertainty at the point of moving into work, encouraging employers to look more favourably on the long-term unemployed.

The back-to-work bonus is a clear demonstration of our resolve to remove disincentives within the benefit system. At present, unemployed people who take part-time jobs can lose benefit almost pound for pound. Yet if they could keep their part-time earnings on top of their benefit, they would surely have little incentive to go on to full-time work. The back-to-work bonus squares the circle. It is a far more effective measure than the calls that are sometimes made to raise earnings disregards across the board, because it is more targeted.

Jobseekers and their partners who take small amounts of work while on benefit can build up entitlement to a lump sum bonus of up to £1,000. They can cash that in when they move off benefit into work. We shall also pay the bonus to people who move off JSA at pension age and at the age of 60 to income support claimants who have participated in the scheme so that the bonus will not be lost.

Following commitments that were made during the passage of the enabling legislation, we are providing for extensive linking rules to protect the position of many people who leave JSA for incapacity benefit during long periods of sickness or disability. We expect to pay at least 150,000 bonuses to JSA claimants each year once the scheme is up and running. It will encourage people to stay in touch with the world of work while they are on benefit and to keep their skills up to date, and it will give claimants a financial boost at a crucial time by helping them to meet the expenses connected with the move back to work.

Building on the incentives for the long-term unemployed already provided by programmes funded by my Department, the regulations provide for a national insurance contribution holiday for up to 12 months for employers who employ someone who has been out of work for two years or more. That will encourage employers to take on long-term unemployed people. We estimate that about 120,000 people are likely to be helped by the scheme, and it is worth about £50 million to employers in national insurance savings.

In that context, I commend to the House the Housing Benefit, Supply of Information and Council Tax Benefit (Amendment) Regulations. Those regulations underpin the measures being introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to enable housing and council tax benefits to run on for four weeks regardless of earnings for people who leave unemployment for work.

The purpose of the measure is twofold. First, it protects the claimant from the gap in income that currently causes concern and difficulties on returning to work—a fear that I recognise can sometimes act as a deterrent to taking a job. Secondly, it ensures that local authorities give priority to dealing with continuing housing benefit and council tax benefit claims from those who take advantage from the run-on. That means that entitlement to benefit is established before the end of the four-week period and there is no gap in housing benefit if an individual continues to be entitled to it.

The House should be aware that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has drawn the special attention of the House to the JSA regulations. I am happy to say that the Committee has identified only one aspect. The fifth report has drawn attention to regulation 150, where there are two printers' errors in the formulae, and has reported regulation 152 as being defectively drafted to both Houses.

The formula contained in regulation 150(1)(a) should read N multiplied by A divided by 7. Similarly, the formula in regulation 150(1)(b) should appear as N multiplied by (A minus 1) divided by 7 minus B.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Forth

I hoped that I would not be asked a question.

Mr. Howarth

The implications of the text that the Minister has read to the House are clearly considerable and important. As the House does not have power to amend the regulations, what will he do about the errors?

Mr. Forth

I am assured that the rather unusual procedure in which I am now engaged will enable us to correct the regulations. That is why I am detaining the House, but only for another minute or two. I am sure that I have been correctly advised. I hope that Opposition Members will accept that in good faith we are trying to find a way to ensure that the regulations emerge from our process properly and in the way intended, and are not vulnerable to a printing error.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Forth

Yes, if the hon. Gentleman is not happy with my response.

Mr. Blunkett

Is the Minister saying that reading into the record a change that the Joint Committee has requested will ensure that the change will be made, irrespective of the fact that we are not able to amend the regulations this afternoon?

Mr. Forth

The Joint Committee has identified a printing error in the regulations, and I have been advised that there is a way to correct that. I should like, if I may, to take further advice on that. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can return to it.

I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and his colleagues will accept that it is the desire of the House that a printing error in regulations as important as these, and which are so important to individuals, should be corrected. I have been advised in good faith that there is a method so to do. If Opposition Members are unhappy with that, they are, of course, entitled to pursue the matter. However, if we could not correct the regulations this way, I should be very unhappy if they had to emerge from the House in an unsatisfactory condition, particularly when they refer to a formula that could affect people's entitlement to benefit.

Ms Eagle


Mr. Frank Field


Mr. Alan Howarth


Mr. Forth

I give way seriatim to Opposition Members, starting, of course, with the hon. Lady.

Ms Eagle

I thank the Minister for giving way to me first. I hope that he is doing so alphabetically rather than for any other reason.

Perhaps the Minister will explain the difference between the formula—with the so-called printing error that has appeared in the regulations—and the amendment that he is seeking to read into the record, and what it means in practice, rather than just reading out mathematical formulae.

Mr. Forth

It is concerned with the meaning of the term N, which is a definition of the week, or the number of days, which then gives rise to the calculation of benefit entitlement. All that we are trying to do is ensure that the formula is correct and that its meaning is correct in the terms of the regulations. It is one of the ways in which benefit entitlement is calculated, and that is why I want to go to these rather extraordinary lengths to ensure that it is correct. There is no more and no less to it than that. The error has arisen, of course, after the report of the Joint Committee, which we are trying to follow in spirit.

Mr. Frank Field

What the Minister is saying could not be more important. He suggests to the House that we should not pass regulations that are wrong, but he hopes that by reading a correction into the record all will be well. If we discover that the Minister cannot change the regulations merely by standing at the Dispatch Box and reading something different from what they say, as a result of which they will emerge wrongly, should we agree them? Is he suggesting that he will withdraw them? As he said, he has no wish for the regulations to be passed today if they are wrong.

Mr. Forth

Subject to advice, I think that I would still have to ask the House to approve the regulations today, including the error. I would ask the House to approve the regulations with this small drafting error, which has arisen from a printing mistake—

Mr. Field

It is a small error that affects benefits.

Mr. Forth

If the hon. Gentleman will wait, I shall answer his question.

I envisage that I would then have to introduce amending regulations subsequently to correct the error.

Subject to further advice that I may take, I or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will seek to clarify the matter for the House. I have no desire to confuse. Nor do I have any desire to undermine the authority of the House. I hope that Opposition Members will accept this in good faith. If it is found that this approach is not reasonable or, indeed, that it is in breach of any of the rules of the House, I shall still ask the House to approve the regulations and will then proceed with amending regulations subsequently. I think that that would be less satisfactory, given the enormity and complexity of implementing the jobseeker's allowance across the country.

I hope that Opposition Members will bear with me and that during the debate, or perhaps in his winding-up speech, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will return to that matter with further advice. I can understand the points raised by Opposition Members. I am attempting only to get this right.

Mr. Field

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. How long must we exist in our present limbo, not knowing whether the regulations that we are approving are wrong or right? Should we not know that now?

Madam Speaker

The Minister is attempting, in good faith, to help the House as much as he can. He has explained his position. It is a printing error; that is all. He has said that, between now and the winding-up speeches, the Minister who will wind up the debate will have time to make the position clear. The Minister who is now at the Dispatch Box is doing his best to deal with a little difficulty involving a printing error. I think that the House should be tolerant, and wait a while until the Government have been able to make a clear statement. The Minister hopes to do that shortly.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker. Let me continue what I was saying in the spirit in which I began, for the sake of completeness.

The correct formulae are reproduced in a memorandum sent yesterday to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments by the Department of Social Security, attached as an annexe to the fifth report. As both mistakes resulted from a printer's error, we undertake to correct them in the version of the regulations that will be published subject to the approval of both Houses.

As for the defective drafting, it appears that printing gremlins have also got into the Joint Committee's system. The definition of the variable N for whose absence regulation 152 was reported as being defectively drafted is, in fact, missing from regulation 151. As the Committee pointed out, the meaning of N is reasonably clear, but should nevertheless have been included. For the avoidance of doubt, let me explain that N should be defined as the number of days in the part week. That partly answers the question posed by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I should like to give an undertaking—subject to the guidance that you have given us, Madam Speaker—that the deficiency will be corrected by means of an amending instrument as soon as possible.

I am about to end my speech. If any hon. Members are not happy with what I have said—or, dare I say, with what Madam Speaker said—

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I shall come back another day.

Mr. Forth

I shall quit while I am behind.

We are debating an extensive and far-reaching package of legislation, but the regulations have one simple common theme: the Government's commitment to offer every help, encouragement and incentive to unemployed people to find work as quickly as possible. We already offer 1.5 million opportunities to unemployed people on Government programmes, and will continue that commitment next year. I am happy to say that the Employment Service is already placing a record number of people in jobs; we want to build on its achievement, and the introduction of the jobseeker's allowance will further that success.

I commend the regulations to the House, subject to further advice that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary or I may wish to give.

4.22 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

On 24 January last year, the Jobseekers Bill commenced its stormy passage through Standing Committee. During the Committee's first sitting, I described the actions of the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), as inequitable and monstrous. The regulations with which we are dealing today lay to rest any pretence that the Tories are a party with one-nation values.

Both here and in the other place, the Bill was criticised for its lack of appropriate detail, before and after its enactment. In truth, the Act was a mere skeleton; all the vital issues and draconian measures contained in it were removed from public awareness and parliamentary scrutiny. If the motion is passed, the Secretary of State will have 116 powers to control the lives of the unemployed without further recourse to the House. Expansively drafted catch-all clauses, to be implemented by non-negotiable and, at the time of the Bill, non-defined regulations, would prescribe circumstances leading to the loss or reduction of benefit for upwards of a quarter of a million unemployed people and their families.

This contemptuous sleight of hand, devised to evade parliamentary scrutiny and deceive the public about the real purposes of the legislation, was forced through the House with all the subtlety of an elephant sitting on a pinhead. The Bill was badly drafted, ill thought out and socially divisive—51 pages of legislative vitriol directed at innocent victims of the Government's failed economic and social policies. Following scant consultation, the Government revealed the real Act under the guise of the regulations. They are a mesmerising 160 pages long, have 13 parts, 172 regulations and eight schedules. To that can be added a sprinkling of back-to-work regulations. The Act had only 51 pages and contained three parts, 41 clauses and three schedules.

The regulations are controversial and technical, but they will be forced through the House in approximately two and a half hours' time. The whole process brings Parliament into disrepute, and demeans this place as a democratic legislature. During the Minister's speech there were points of order and he asked us to bear with him. During the passage of the Bill, there was a complete negation of all attempts at dialogue with Opposition Members, behind the scenes, across the Dispatch Box or in Committee, about the nature of the regulations. All attempts, whether with the Minister of State or the Under-Secretary of State, to have such a relationship were rejected out of hand.

I want some clarification. If the Minister can seek by a verbal statement to amend the regulations, is it possible for the Opposition to do likewise? At least one regulation is seriously defective. If I am correct, it renders another two regulations ineffective, or at least in need of redrafting or of being withdrawn altogether.

If there is to be such an arrangement, as a matter of principle it must be for all hon. Members. If the Minister knew about this matter before he came to the House, he should at least have had the courtesy to consult behind the Chair and elsewhere with my right hon. Friends who have Opposition responsibility for the business of the House. If that had been done, perhaps we would be a little more forgiving about the shambles that the Minister outlined at the end of his speech.

The shambles does not stop there. In the Bill, the Minister claimed savings to the Exchequer of £10 million in the financial years 1996–98. That was reduced to a net saving of £320 million after taking into account measures relating to the national insurance contribution rebate.

So ill planned has been the introduction of the jobseeker's allowance regulations that the costs of implementation have escalated. On 8 November 1995, I questioned the Minister of State about the implementation cost, and I was advised in a written answer that it was £270 million for the four main areas of implementation. The cost for information technology was £110 million; for training, it was £70 million; for premises, £45 million; and for project management and communications, £45 million.

No costs were given for other areas of implementation. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) wheedled out of the Minister a further range of figures relative to implementation costs. A sum of £979,000, rising to £2.147 million, was for private consultancy fees and advice. Just as worrying as the private sector consultancy financial bonanza was the Minister's statement that he could give no firm figure for the additional support costs.

We have had the revelation that to tart up the fading image of Department for Education and Employment Ministers, they spent a total in the past five years of more than £74 million on furnishings, carpets and curtains in the Department. That gave the staggering total of £346,329,791 as the cost of implementing this so-called legislation. Even if we take out the cost of carpets and furnishings, the costs so far, with the meter still ticking, are near to £320 million, reducing the savings to about £40 million. And for what?

Mr. Forth

It is difficult to imagine how the hon. Gentleman thinks that Ministers in the Department could sit on £73 million-worth of furniture. I hope that he accepts that, rightly in my view, we upgrade the quality of accommodation for officials working in the Department and in the jobcentres and make jobcentres fit for people to work in and for claimants to come to receive advice.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with placing contracts with expert outside private consultants to help in the implementation of a system as complex as this. If he imagines that it could be done without them, I should like to know how he thinks it would be possible.

Mr. McCartney

I shall deal with the last point first. It would have helped the House if it had been informed of the cost of private consultancies, and if implementation costs had been subject to public scrutiny. Secondly, the vast majority of jobseekers and unemployed people believe that the Government would do better to squeeze the budget for new chairs rather than budgets for training and other job creation activities.

At one point in the summer, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was, we understand, offered three options on the regulations—to scrap them, to introduce further delay or to implement them in a less sophisticated form. She was also told, at all costs, to prevent another Child Support Agency debacle. Such is the Government's loathing for unemployed people that they are blundering on regardless.

Chapter II of the regulations, which deals with availability for employment, had a mini run-out in yesterday's debate on training. The Secretary of State claimed, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), that the Government had worked an economic miracle and had got rid of the north-south divide—and so they have, but in a uniquely Tory way: not by decreasing unemployment, poverty and insecurity in the north, but by dramatically increasing them in the south.

From the time when the Prime Minister took office to his relaunch at last year's Tory conference, we have witnessed the scale of the problems that the regulations in chapter II are supposedly designed to deal with. In the south-east, unemployment has increased by 82 per cent. In Greater London, it has rocketed by 73 per cent. In East Anglia, the message is much the same—it is up by 61 per cent.—and in the south-west it has increased by 55 per cent.

In the country as a whole, unemployment has increased by 32 per cent., and among young people it has grown by 23 per cent. Among those out of work for at least six months, it has increased by 54 per cent. In Great Britain, in the past five years, long-term unemployment has gone up by 70 per cent. More than 1 million people are still out of work compared with when the Prime Minister took office.

Figures released today show that vacancies are down by 3,400 and that an average of 12 people chase each advertised vacancy in Britain. In London, the average is 20 for each vacancy, and in the north it is 18 for each vacancy. That is the real extent of mass unemployment in the United Kingdom. That is the real problem we face, but these regulations do not recognise it.

The real cost of unemployment is more than £23 billion—equivalent to 4.6 per cent. of our gross domestic product and to almost two thirds of the Government's current borrowing. Without Government borrowing to finance mass unemployment between 1990 and today, the basic income tax rate would have had to increase from 25 to 30 per cent.—taxing for failure instead of investing for success.

With that record, the Government deserve no plaudits for the minuscule reduction in the benefit claimant count, especially in view of the fiddled nature of the figures. Independent Library estimates show that 900,000 unemployed people are no longer included in any Government measure of the true level of unemployment.

What is the Government's response?

Mr. Forth

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the labour force survey figures or the figures produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and by the European Union are all wrong? He will know that they all mirror closely our claimant count figures for people in work and those out of work.

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. In its entirety, the labour force survey reflects what has been said by the House of Commons Library: that about 900,000 to 1 million unemployed people are not included in the Government's measure of unemployment. In the past 12 months, we have already had an inquiry and report saying that the way in which the Government are conducting their so-called count of the unemployed is unsatisfactory and does not accurately reflect the real unemployment figure. It recommended that the Government should change the way in which the number of unemployed people is recorded. There has been a deafening silence from the Minister since that independent report was published.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McCartney

I shall give way in a minute.

What has been the Government's response? Has it been to invest in training? No. That has been cut by 50 per cent. in real terms. Schemes have closed with alarming regularity. Many of the programmes are ineffective in helping unemployed people to gain access to the labour market. Have the Government ended insecurity at work? They have not done that either. Insecurity is a plague across the nation.

No one, and I mean no one, has job security any more. The jobseeker's allowance, the supposed miracle cure, means what? The costs have escalated since its symbolic introduction. There is no genuine assistance for people to gain access to employment. Instead, additional benefit traps have been introduced that empower the Minister to reduce the period for unemployment benefit from 12 to six months.

Let us put the record straight—we are talking about a national insurance contribution scheme. People have paid thousands of pounds over many years to provide benefit should they become unemployed. Yet, at the same time as cutting the benefit period, the Government have increased national insurance contributions. They have awarded themselves a windfall increase of £2 billion in taxation, while cutting benefits for which people have already paid.

If it were a private sector insurance scheme, the provider would be in the High Court for breach of contract. It is scandalous that, having taken thousands of pounds of national insurance contributions from millions of people, the Government are now cutting the benefit period from 12 to six months.

Mr. Duncan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way now?

Mr. McCartney

Sit down. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute. I will give him more chances than he would ever give the unemployed.

After six months, there will be no benefit for people with partners in full-time jobs, and reduced benefit for people with partners in part-time jobs. That is a real disincentive for low-paid workers on minimum wages. Irrespective of their level of income, if they work more than 24 hours a week, they will be required either to give up their jobs and go on to benefit or to maintain the partner, irrespective of that partner's financial circumstances. That will disproportionately hit women in employment.

There will be no benefit after six months for people with more than £8,000 savings. That is a real attack on middle England, at a time when job insecurity and joblessness are rising in some sectors of banking and insurance. Those who receive more than£8,000 in redundancy payments will, after six months, have to maintain themselves, because they will receive no benefit. For those with £3,000 savings, after six months there will be a cut in benefit—despite the fact that they may have paid thousands of pounds into the national insurance fund.

Mr. Duncan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way at last. If he believes that the unemployment figures, including those released today, are unduly optimistic, will he categorically confirm that, if Labour ever came to power, it would immediately revise the basis on which the figures are calculated, resulting in the higher figure that he believes to be valid?

Mr. McCartney

Let us get the language correct—today's unemployment figures are a disaster, because more than 2.3 million people are unemployed. It is nonsense to say that the figures are good. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, I have twice given a commitment that a Labour Government would implement the recommendations of the independent inquiry. I ask the Minister to give a similar commitment and bring some common sense, understanding and legitimacy to labour market figures. I have given a clear and precise commitment to do so after the general election.

People undertaking study to improve their chances of obtaining a job will be hit, because the 20-hour rule will become the 16-hour rule. There will be no automatic increase in JSA in line with inflation, so the principle of state unemployment benefit will wither on the vine. The regulations say nothing about that; it is not something that the Government have trumpeted. However, for the first time, the Act will remove the legal requirement for the annual uprating of unemployment benefit in line with inflation.

The setting of the next JSA level will remain in place not for one or two years, but for three, four or five years, thus dramatically reducing the actual value of the benefit, despite the contributions paid by the recipients. That is the first step towards removing the concept in principle of the state being involved in the funding of unemployed people.

The truncated time available for this debate prevents me from going into greater detail about the regulations, and I therefore give notice to the Secretary of State that I shall be putting before her in the coming days a significant number of questions in order to clarify a range of ambiguities thrown up by the regulations, some of which seem contrary to guarantees given during the passage of the Bill. The questions will cover areas including young people, new jobseekers, age-related distinctions, and definitions of "seriously ill", "low pay", "actively seeking work", "variation of the jobseeker's agreement", "good cause", and "part-time study".

For the moment, I shall seek clarification in five areas of the regulations. Regulation 9 is about low pay. I call it the no-pay regulation. It describes the basis on which people may be offered a job for £1 an hour after—we thought—13 weeks, and if they do not take it, they lose their right to benefit. That regulation opens up the labour market to cowboy employers, to impose any level of wages, irrespective of the individuals' skills.

The regulation states that, after six months, a person may not restrict his availability for employment by placing restrictions on the level of remuneration in employment for which he is available. Does that mean that, in that six-month period, a person can restrict his availability for employment by restricting the level of remuneration in employment for which he is available? That is what the regulation implies, yet it clearly contradicts regulation 16 on the permitted period, and regulation 72(7)(a) relating to sanctions for refusing a job offer because of the level of remuneration.

Is regulation 9 the result of having to meet international labour law requirements? If so, the Social Security Act 1989, which introduced the permitted period and the regulations preventing claimants from refusing job offers after 13 weeks because of low wage levels, was a contravention of International Labour Organisation regulations.

If regulation 9 is linked to international labour law, preventing disqualification from national insurance or employment benefit for refusing low-paid job offers, it raises serious questions about claimants penalised in such circumstances since the implementation of the 1989 Act.

I know that detail bores the Minister—we could tell that from his speech—but it is not boring for those it affects. After study of the regulations, crucial points arise—more serious than the spelling errors he mentioned.

A regulation similar to regulation 9 covering unemployment benefit would have protected claimants from being disqualified during the first 12 months of unemployment for refusing a low-paid job if they were in receipt of unemployment benefit. If that is the case, the Government have been wrongfully disqualifying claimants for periods of up to six months since the 1989 Act was implemented in 1990. I would like some legal clarification on that. It could have serious implications for thousands of benefit recipients, as well as the Government's financial commitments in the Budget to the paying of benefits.

Regulation 12 deals with volunteers. The Government agreed to conduct consultation following pressure during the passage of the Bill in another place, and I thank the Minister for carrying it out. There is, however, at least one unresolved question to be addressed.

The voluntary sector has given examples of considerable inconsistencies between employment offices in their interpretation of the regulations. That has led to a person in one part of the country being penalised for volunteering, while someone else is allowed to do exactly the same type of voluntary work and not be penalised. Will the Minister give details of the training that will be given to employment officers on the eligibility of volunteers for the jobseeker's allowance, so that consistency can be achieved?

During the passage of the Bill, I was given a commitment by the then Minister of State, Department of Employment, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), that, from 1 April 1996, all staff training would be completed. Has that timetable been met or has it to be extended to, say, October? I would welcome information on that.

Regulation 18 deals with the so-called spoiling tactics of claimants. That provision was a shambles in Committee.

The then Minister argued against the wearing of earrings by certain job applicants, despite the fact that her civil service adviser, who was sitting 2 ft away from her, was wearing two earrings at the time. Now that the Minister is Minister of State at the Home Office, she is positively enthusiastic about the wearing of chains, although she is obviously still against the wearing of earrings by those claiming unemployment benefit.

Regulation 18(4) is particularly vague. It provides grounds on which claimants who otherwise meet the actively seeking work regulations can be disqualified. Employment staff can say that a claimant has an abusive manner or has spoiled the application form. They can say that his behaviour or appearance has undermined his prospects of securing the employment in question. During the passage of the Bill, spoiling an application form was not mentioned. Will people who are not proficient at filling out application forms be disqualified from benefit for that reason alone?

What standards will be used to determine what behaviour or appearance is suitable? Will the Secretary of State place in the public domain the Employment Service and adjudication officers' guidance on those issues?

What is involved is a matter of opinion rather than a matter of fact. If we are not careful, many people will be disqualified from benefit on the basis of factors that are outside the regulations, such as the length of their hair or their style of dress—whether they have a clean shirt on for the interview. There could be a shambolic number of complaints and appeals because of the wording of the regulations. It is important that the advice of adjudication officers and of the Employment Service is published and placed in the public domain.

Regulation 73 defines what is good cause for not attending a Government programme, and relates to the reduction from 21 hours to 16 hours. Again, the Minister owes us an adequate explanation. There is no provision in regulation 73, which covers people who are studying under the 16-hour rule, to protect people from being forced to give up their studies so that they can attend a Government programme, under threat of a benefit sanction.

Under the current system, Employment Service staff are advised to refer people in that position to compulsory re-motivation courses, such as restart and jobplan, during the vacations. Yet evidence suggests that that flexibility is rarely offered to claimants, and that the majority have their studies disrupted by attendance at those courses. If they do not attend the courses, they suffer a 40 per cent. deduction from their income support.

That has become an even greater problem with the introduction of workwise and worklink, the compulsory course for 18 to 24-year-olds. The course lasts for four weeks. Missing that amount of time from a part-time course can leave people with little opportunity to fulfil the coursework requirements. The jobseeker's allowance sanction for missing the compulsory courses will be much harsher, forcing more claimants to give up their studies to attend them.

In addition, the jobseeker's direction will enable Employment Service staff to instruct claimants to attend much longer Government programmes, such as training for work and job clubs. That will force more claimants to give up their part-time studies for inappropriate placements on Government schemes. How does that square with the Government's desire to improve access to skills to assist a person's employability?

A recent report, under the heading "Policy Analysis", says that there will be regional variations in the 16-hour rule, which will add further complexity to the regulations. Will the Minister give a clear explanation of the rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland? Why will the rules there be different from those applying to people studying for 16 hours in England? Why is there a change? Why was that change not explained clearly during the passage of the Jobseekers Bill?

Regulation 17 deals with workers on short time. Some workers whose companies are suffering difficulties, thanks to the Government's economic failures, temporarily stop work or are put on short-time working. At present, workers who are laid off temporarily or who work a certain number of days a week or weeks a month are allowed to claim unemployment benefit, and do not have to be available for work on the days when they are working at their normal jobs.

Under regulation 17, after a 13-week permitted period, a worker will be disqualified from benefit. To continue receiving benefit, claimants must be available for any job, irrespective of the fact that they are on short-time working for their employer. The rule will force workers who are temporarily laid off or who are working short time to give up their jobs. Many of those thus forced into unemployment will remain unemployed.

As I have said, most businesses that have introduced short-term working or laid off staff are in difficulties. For some, losing experienced staff will be the final straw, forcing them to make further redundancies among the remaining work force. I wrote to the Minister on this issue, but received a bit of a non-answer. Perhaps the implications of the regulation will be clarified during the passage of the Bill.

Regulation 63 deals with a range of issues affecting young people, on which I shall write to the Minister again. Why are the Government not giving a commitment during the passage of the legislation to help young people who are coming out of care and young people with special needs? The Minister said that the regulations protect them, but we know that the regulations will lead in some circumstances to vulnerable young people coming out of care—some without a family and some who may have been sexually or physically abused—being disbarred from benefit.

The regulations may also lead to a young person being sent on a training course or employment opportunity. If it is the second occasion on which the young person has been sent on such a course, there is no requirement on the employer to guarantee the quality of training, employment opportunities or the level of wages, and no prior check of the health and safety environment of the premises will be carried out by the Department. That is unacceptable in any circumstances, and I therefore ask the Minister to have another look at the young jobseeker's agreement and the complaints that we have consistently made about it.

The Government need a rethink, and there is an issue that I would like to raise that could form part of that rethink. In yesterday's debate on the cuts in training, I asked the Secretary of State to confirm the arrangements for the new project work pilots. She kindly confirmed to me that one of the two areas selected was the Medway travel-to-work area, which includes the constituency of the former Minister of State, Department of Employment, the hon. Member for Maidstone—the person largely responsible for this legislation.

I received a fax this morning advising me that that travel-to-work area was not the original choice for the pilot scheme, which had been an area in London. The fax alleges that, because unemployment in the hon. Lady's constituency has risen by 91 per cent. in the past five years—and by 39 per cent. in the marginal constituency next door—a lobbying exercise was undertaken by the former Employment Minister to ensure that the project was placed in her area, despite unease and unhappiness among Employment Service advisers. Perhaps, before the end of the debate, the Minister will clarify the process of placing the pilot scheme.

Mr. Forth

I can do that for the hon. Gentleman now. In the normal way, the Employment Service and officials from my Department came to me with a number of different options. These were discussed and considered, and they included a number of different areas, including Maidstone. With advice from my officials, I decided on what I thought would be two reasonably representative areas to give us usable results for the pilot project.

The hon. Gentleman should not read conspiracies in everything. There was a perfectly straightforward process, and it illustrates the harmonious relationship among Ministers, officials and the Employment Service, which I am confident will continue.

Mr. McCartney

That was an interesting and revealing answer. I offer no conspiracy theory—I just asked a clear question. It was interesting to note that the Minister referred to the "harmonious relationship" between Ministers. [HON. MEMBERS: "And officials."] Fair enough. I apologise to the officials, who are neither seen nor heard in this place. But his answer seems to indicate that there was at least some discussion between the Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone about the matter. Is that the case? Were any representations made to the Minister on the placement of the pilot scheme?

Mr. Forth


Mr. Blunkett

The Minister must be careful what he says.

Mr. Forth

I shall be very careful, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's advice.

I had no discussions with any colleague, other than the Secretary of State—I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that that was correct—about the decision, which was mine to make. I gave advice to the Secretary of State, and she was content with the advice I gave. I had no discussions with other colleagues, parliamentary or ministerial.

Mr. McCartney

I accept in good faith what the Minister said. [HON. MEMBERS: "So apologise."] I will apologise for nothing. I raised a pertinent point, which the Minister has clarified to my satisfaction. Let us hope that the matter will rest there. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But we must wait and see. There are enough lawyers in this place to make mischief on almost any issue. I am not one of them. I am not a lawyer, but mischief-making is another matter.

It is important that, if the regulations are passed in their present form, when hon. Members seek, either collectively or individually, to discuss their implications with Ministers, there is an open-door policy. The regulations are complex. There is insufficient time today to cover all the issues which arise from the regulations, but I have tried to express—I hope without boring the House unduly—how seriously we take their implications. We need some assurances and some clarification of the regulations from the Minister, which I hope he will provide in his reply.

We reject the JSA and all it stands for. The only vote that will count, however, will be at the next election, when we will get rid of not only the JSA but this Government. We will then introduce employment policies to benefit the whole nation.

4.55 pm
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

The speech—

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

Some sense at last.

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend might want to make that judgment after I sit down.

The speech by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) was very revealing, and I hope that those who look after such things will ensure that Conservative central office has it duplicated and sent out to business men.

Mr. Duncan

We will.

Mr. Hughes

While the hon. Gentleman's leader goes around making speeches about a conservative economy and taking tough decisions, and even mentions workfare and the need to crack down on people who do not deserve to receive benefit, not one bit of that has washed through to any of his colleagues, including his spokesmen. It is clear that old Labour, which is real Labour, is alive and well and living in the whole of its policies.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

We can hear it.

Mr. Hughes

Not only can we hear it, it is clear that the country will hear it as time goes on. The speech of the hon. Member for Makerfield was grossly old-fashioned and demonstrated a lack of understanding that the only people in the world who do not believe in a conservative economy are those in the British Labour party.

Is it not curious that the Labour party leader must go around pretending to believe in a conservative economy? Perhaps he does, but his party plainly does not. I shall provide a brief tutorial for the Labour party, before I turn to the regulations. Unemployment does not cause excess Government spending, as the hon. Member for Makerfield suggested. Excess Government spending causes unemployment. If he understood that, he would understand a great deal more.

Ms Eagle

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, after significant and hard cuts in public expenditure in the Budget, only £3 billion was saved for tax cuts? Year on year, however, we are spending at least £20 billion, and possibly as much as £22 billion, to support the mass unemployment that has persisted for the entire life of this Government.

Mr. Hughes

I have no doubt that the figures given by the hon. Lady are correct. There were not cuts in public expenditure; the rate of growth was reduced, which is a significant difference.

Mr. Duncan

Let us be intellectually honest.

Mr. Hughes

As my hon. Friend says, it is intellectually honest, but that is not something that one would expect from the Labour party. What the hon. Lady has said shows that she does not understand new Labour either. Perhaps there is someone on the other side who does understand new Labour and who will explain it to us. It is a bit rich for the hon. Member for Makerfield to say that the regulations are being forced through in three hours, because a proper piece of primary legislation has been put before the House. I have no doubt that Ministers, Back Benchers and Opposition spokesmen spent many hours in Committee discussing the regulations.

Ms Eagle

The problem is that the regulations had not even been drafted when the Jobseekers Bill was in Standing Committee. This is, in effect, the first sight that we have had of them, yet they form much of the detail of that Act. That is one of the objections we had to the shape and status of the Act as it went through the primary legislation stage.

Mr. Hughes

If we reach the dark days of a brief sojourn under a Labour Government, we will remember those words about every detail being on the face of every Bill which that Government might bring forward. However, I believe that we are unlikely to have a Labour Government.

Undoubtedly, there is much confusion among people who administer the system and, most important, among the people who receive the benefits. There is confusion between unemployment benefit and income support. Therefore, it is important that we should replace that confusing and out-of-date two-benefit system. Those two benefits cover different periods and play different roles. They require different bureaucracies, offices and computer systems, so it is not surprising that people are confused about it. The system is probably too complex for staff to administer, and it is bound to be more expensive for the taxpayer. Therefore, I welcome the principle behind the Bill.

I also welcome another element of the regulations, which I might describe as the carrot. That element is the way in which the new jobseeker's allowance will encourage people back into work. We all understand, from different perspectives, that the longer people remain on benefit, the more their motivation and skills decline, thus reducing their chances of finding a job.

I welcome the fact that the new system will attempt to keep people in touch with the labour market by encouraging them to take part-time work, and will help people to move from part-time to full-time employment. It will also allow others to take unfamiliar work without being unfairly penalised if the jobs do not work out.

The back-to-work bonus enshrined in the legislation is very inventive. At present, after a small initial level of earnings—£5 per person or £10 per couple a week—income support is reduced pound for pound, which discourages part-time work by claimants and partners. Under the new back-to-work bonus, the Government will set aside 50p of every £1 by which benefit is reduced when claimants enter part-time work to pay to them, up to a maximum of £1,000, when they enter full-time employment. That will have a genuine effect of increasing the incentive to begin work again. It will certainly reward honesty and encourage part-time work as a stepping stone to employment, while retaining the essential difference between a benefit that is paid to people out of work and one that is paid to people who are in full-time employment.

I also welcome another aspect of the regulations which could be called the stick—the regulations take the carrot and stick approach. I have a genuine criticism of what the hon. Member for Makerfield said in his speech, because the Labour party is good at talking about incentives, carrots, and not very good at contemplating the idea that one has to be tough sometimes and make people seek work, sticks. I welcome the sanctions on people who are simply working the system—those whom one might call the workshy—although everyone in the House, especially Conservative Members, recognises that most claimants make every effort to find work and that the jobseeker's allowance will assist them.

Taxpayers are rarely mentioned in the equation, but they have rights as well. They have the right to be protected against those who are not genuinely available for and looking for work. The discussion that my hon. Friend the Minister had earlier with my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) is very important. Of course, claimants' politics and the fact of taking part in political activity are no bar to their getting employment and should not be any bar to benefit. Nor will they be, but if people set themselves up as full-time political activists and deliberately make themselves unavailable for work, why should the taxpayers, who are suffering from those activities, pay the bill?

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend was present when I asked the Minister how one could prove whether people were available for work. There is a simple way, because if we had a full system of workfare, which I would fully support, people would either work in return for their benefits or have an ordinary job. [Interruption.] There would be no doubt about whether they were engaging in full-time political activity.

Mr. Hughes

That is certainly one of the merits of such a scheme. The reception given to what my hon. Friend has just said by Opposition Members is interesting. He was heckled when he suggested workfare. I thought that the Leader of the Opposition had recently floated that idea. Opposition Members must decide whether they are on the side of their leader or whether they will toddle off to join Arthur Scargill, where their hearts really are.

Under the existing scheme, in order to receive the jobseeker's allowance, unemployed people will have to be available for and actually seek work. The tests will be extended to ensure that people who take steps that deliberately undermine their prospects of finding work will be penalised. We have read enough in the papers about Government officials paying benefits to people living in tree-tops, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster put it. Those officials can continue making those visits, but with a different purpose. We can find out who is demonstrating and whether the taxpayer is having to support them.

Mr. Purchase

And penalise them when the officials catch up with them.

Mr. Hughes

No, I wish to penalise them only if they are not available for work. If the hon. Gentleman does not support that, that is an interesting commentary on how much he supports the leader of the Labour party.

People must be available for work for a minimum of 40 hours. That will reinforce the message that people should be prepared to be open to as many job opportunities as possible and should be prepared to work full time for a full-time benefit. In other words, if people are prepared to take full-time benefits, they should be available full time to seek work. The existing official recommendation whereby Employment Service staff can instruct people to take certain steps to find a job will be widened under the new jobseeker's direction, and I welcome that. If unemployed people refuse all the help that is offered to them, it is right that the trained advisers should be able to require them to take opportunities for improving their prospects of finding a job.

I am sure that my hon. Friends and anybody else listening to the debate will have been deeply unimpressed by the way the hon. Member for Makerfield failed so dismally to welcome today's unemployment figures. Of course, any unemployment figure is too high if it means that people are actively seeking work but cannot find it. Nobody welcomes that, but the hon. Gentleman was so churlish that he did not welcome the reduction in unemployment.

Mr. Ian McCartney

Will the hon. Gentleman give his view, as a London Member of Parliament, on why there are 20 unemployed people in London for every one vacancy, even after today's figures? When will he start advocating for those people instead of being a sycophant to the Government?

Mr. Hughes

I gave my views on that at the beginning of my speech. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the economics involved. No one welcomes unemployment; it is important to reduce it. But it is wrong to believe that we can buy our way out of unemployment—although that is Labour policy. The Labour party wants a tax on windfall earnings; Opposition Members believe, farcically, that that will do the trick. The Labour party has already tried to spend the money 11 times over and doubtless will come up with other ideas for spending it again. That is not a formula for improving the job prospects of anyone's constituents.

Unemployment has been falling and is lower here than in most of our European partners' countries. The European unemployment average is 10.5 per cent. of the population of working age. In this country, unemployment averages 8.2 per cent.; in Germany, it averages 8.4 per cent.; in France, 11.4 per cent.; and in Italy, 11.3 per cent. Of course it is important to give young people the best possible training opportunities to enable them to find jobs. In socialist Spain, youth unemployment is 40.3 per cent.; in the United Kingdom, it is 17.2 per cent.—quite a difference. Suggesting that those differences have nothing to do with the policies followed by the Governments concerned is ludicrous.

Mr. David Shaw

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that we have heard nothing from the Opposition on whether the stakeholder economy will increase or reduce unemployment? Why cannot the Opposition tell us whether it will reduce unemployment by 500,000, or a million, or any other number? Is it because "the stakeholder economy" is an empty and meaningless phrase uttered by the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Hughes

As a vegetarian, I find the idea of the stakeholding society offensive—but my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. It is designed as an empty and meaningless phrase, among many other such phrases. The leader of the Labour party, interviewed on the television on Sunday, seemed to think—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues, may I inquire how this relates to the regulations under consideration?

Mr. Hughes

The number of people seeking jobs, Madam Deputy Speaker, is directly affected by the handling of the economy—but I agree that I have gone a long way down this road. I had intended to finish soon, but I was being egged on by my hon. Friends who, as ever, have been a bad influence on me.

We are told that the Labour party has embarked on a project to "think the unthinkable" on social security. The party has proved by its attitude to this subject that it has not yet got as far as the first word of that phrase. If Opposition Members started to think, they might come up with good ideas. So far, they have not even begun.

5.12 pm
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I speak in today's debate because of the bad news given to me about the employment figures in my constituency. I welcome the fact that unemployment generally is falling, but I regret that today's figures show that it has risen in my area. That is because of redundancy problems; most recently, 520 people lost their jobs at a local steelworks. Most of them will not register in the figures until January, however. On top of that, there will be another 100 redundancies in a local foundry unless a buyer for it can be found.

Like many hon. Members, I take a keen interest in the jobseeker's allowance. I have read the regulations, and I am interested in how they are supposed to work. I am forced to the conclusion that they will not significantly help to bring people back into work. The main way to increase the number of jobs in an economy is to increase demand. In this and many other countries, however, the right sort of demand has been absent. Increasing consumer demand has not led to increased demand for British goods; it has merely sucked in imports throughout the economic cycle. According to the most recent trade balance figures, manufactured imports are running four percentage points ahead of exports. That represents a crisis for the British economy in what must be the longest recession, properly defined, since the war.

Even if these regulations were brilliantly thought out, novel and expeditious in their application, they would not significantly help people back to work. The Government must take responsibility for the debilitation of thousands of people, young and old, who have become disenchanted and lost all understanding of the world of work. People's understanding of the society in which they live may be summarised by the three Ws: work, wealth and welfare. We have to work hard to create the wealth that we can then distribute in the form of welfare. There is no purpose in going to work apart from improving the condition of all the people of this country through the distribution of welfare, in the widest sense of that word.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) talked about the earnings from windfall profits. That was a contradiction in terms. If they are a windfall, they have come, by definition, accidentally or fortuitously. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is how your Government defined the word when they decided to tax the windfall profits of the banks. I am doing no more than your Government did at the time—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he should be addressing me.

Mr. Purchase

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The hon. Gentleman is banging on with commendable compassion about unemployed people. He seems to want to do more for the unemployed, but if a Labour Government were returned to power they would introduce a minimum wage which, it has been said, would make 1.7 million more people unemployed, because of differentials erosion and because employers would not be able to afford to employ them. How would the hon. Gentleman explain that to his constituents?

Mr. Purchase

I shall deal with that directly in a moment, but I want to make some progress with my speech.

The Government have succeeded in breaking the link, especially for young people, between work and welfare. It is worth considering how many young people understand where wealth and welfare come from. Many of them see wealth and welfare as a girocheque dropping through the door on to the mat. They are disconnected from the process of work and wealth creation, and that is wholly due to the policies of this Government. Trying to mend the failure by these regulations—they did not appear in the Bill; Ministers claim that their details could not have appeared in the Bill—is disgraceful.

The Minister claims that the regulations have been forced on him because of printing errors, at least in respect of the arithmetical formula used. One wonders whether he should have got out of bed this morning. It is farcical to introduce regulations and Bills that are incomplete. It is not fair to the people who are forced for the foreseeable future to depend on benefits.

We know the purpose behind the Government's welfare regulations. They are not about targeting; one could make a respectable case for targeting limited resources. The whole purpose is to save money. That is what they will be doing and that is their intention with this new set of regulations.

As we all know, the social security and unemployment regulations are already so complex that there is considerable and continuing underclaiming. With the type of formula being brought before us today, the people who have to administer the system will not properly understand what people are entitled to. They simply cannot unravel the regulations to ensure that people are cared for properly by the unemployment benefit offices.

Unemployment has increased massively. There are a million fewer jobs than when the Conservatives came to power. What has been made up in part-time jobs in no way compensates for the loss of full-time jobs, particularly in west midlands constituencies such as mine, where there has been a proud history of innovation, scientific endeavour and engineering and technology to create the wealth from which we have all benefited for so many years. This country has been losing jobs in manufacturing industry year on year—200,000 every year. How do we count that unemployment?

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

The hon. Gentleman lists a catalogue of gloom and doom about the employment statistics. I have the figures for his constituency here. In December 1994 there were 4,914 unemployed, whereas in December 1995 there were 4,433. That represents a drop of almost 10 per cent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Mr. Purchase

I was moving on to that very point. It is an excellent illustration of the way in which the Government have tried to fiddle the unemployment figures.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

It cannot be a fiddle. Those are the figures.

Mr. Purchase

I am telling the hon. Gentleman that it is a fiddle and a farce. I shall give the real figures for my constituency. My figures were compiled by the economic development unit of the local authority, which takes them from proper census information rather than from the imagined benefit claimants on which the Government's figures are based.

Another 149 people have been claiming benefit in my constituency—149 additional people on top of the total of almost 4,000 men and women claiming benefit. I shall give the House some of the ward figures, which are accurate because they are based on proper, up-to-date information about people who are of economically active age, but who are not in work. In the Heath Town ward, 25 per cent. of all men are unemployed. In the Low Hill ward, 25 per cent. are unemployed. Those are the real figures.

However one tries to disguise the fact, the evidence of people's eyes and their experience shows that they are unemployed now, they were unemployed 12 months ago and, sadly, in 40 per cent. of cases they have been unemployed for much longer than 12 months. That is the sort of problem that we have to face.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Is there not one loophole that states that anyone over the age of 50 who has not been gainfully employed for 10 years does not come under the rules? Surely that will help the Conservatives. After the next election, half their Members will not come under the criteria. They will still be able to claim.

Mr. Purchase

My hon. Friend is right. That helps the Conservatives. It is appalling for my constituents and for everyone else's, but that is not part of the equation that they bring before us today, or any other day.

Let us move on and find out how else the Government have made the position so much worse and how much more they are spending on benefits and unemployment pay.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but we are dealing with the regulations that relate to the jobseeker's allowance. Although it is in order to adduce various examples, I hope that this will not become a general debate on unemployment, because that is not the purpose of this afternoon's debate.

Mr. Purchase

I take your guidance on that matter, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am trying to show that the regulations will not assist in the way in which the Government say they will, because the problems lie deeper and, to some extent, are buried elsewhere. The regulations simply do not tackle the matters that the Government claim they are tackling. They will not assist my constituents and many others back into work, which is the express purpose of the regulations.

The question is: how much money is having to be spent and how could it be reduced without attacking people's benefit? The drive towards market rents in the local authority and housing association sectors means that rents have doubled and trebled. People are forced to stay unemployed because, if they work for the very low wages that some people are earning, they will not be able to meet any of the costs that they normally can because their benefits will be withdrawn. They will be in what we used to call, and still call, the poverty trap, because they will not get back into work, and they will not be assisted by the regulations.

I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but I want briefly to mention the way in which the Government deal with the problems. Boardroom scams in the privatised industries have been mentioned. This may be an old-fashioned, old-Labour way to put it, but I am proud to be associated in that sense with the sentiments that I am about to express. When a chief executive of a nationalised industry is given £250,000 in bonuses—earned or unearned—it is called market forces, and it is because we need to attract the right calibre of people into those jobs. They do not need a jobseeker's allowance—it is not on the cards. But when the labourer asks for an extra 2 per cent., it is a scandal and the ruination of the economy.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) mentioned the minimum wage. He is not correct in saying that it would lead to X million job losses. That is not the evidence, which is that, in the short and medium term, employment would increase. The evidence shows that demand would increase within the economy and that, because that increase would be from those on the lowest incomes, home-manufactured goods would be purchased in the shops and in the high street, which would assist in getting people back into employment. That will happen when the labour market gets back into balance and people can properly demand a reasonable day's pay for a reasonable day's work.

Mr. Forth

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier in the debate, I drew the attention of the House to the report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments of yesterday's date, which pointed out printing errors in the regulations as laid before the House. Perhaps I made slightly heavy weather of dealing with the matter, but I did so in a spirit of openness, as I hope the House will accept. Labour Members expressed some concerns about the approach that I suggested. I have since had the benefit of conversations with Opposition Members, the authorities of the House and even more mysterious figures whom I dare not even mention because their anonymity is total. All the advice is that, since it is a printer's error and the Joint Committee's report makes that clear, it will be in order for that error to be corrected. If the House approves the regulations at the end of the debate, it can be corrected. That would be proper and that would be accepted. I hope that Opposition Members can accept that. I have raised the matter in good faith and that was the advice that I received. I hope that the House will be prepared to accept that that is how we should proceed in this important area.

Mr. Ian McCartney

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can confirm that the hon. Gentleman has had discussions with me and with what he claims to be other mysterious persons on the Opposition Front Bench. We have accepted his explanation in good faith. We have checked all his pockets, his wallet and other parts of his anatomy to ensure that he is not sneaking anything else through. On the basis that we could find nothing, we have accepted that this is simply another Government error—another bungle.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. That seems to deal with the matter satisfactorily. I call the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan).

5.28 pm
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

The rather large batch of regulations that we are debating today has the merit of fitting coherently into the Government's intellectual path in their reform of social security. Nothing points out more clearly the benefits of the Government's wider economic policy and the detail of the regulations under discussion than the fact that unemployment figures have fallen for the 28th month in succession. That is important to every individual who manages to get a job, although, sadly, the Opposition have acknowledged it so begrudgingly. The Government's economic policy is working, and the regulations that we are studying today will help that policy work further to the advantage of individuals to whom getting a job actually matters.

Ms Eagle

I thank the hon. Gentleman, to whom I always listen with interest. Does he realise that the regulations are not yet in force, therefore, by definition, they cannot possibly be working.

Mr. Duncan

Had she listened carefully, the hon. Lady would realise that I described the regulations as an extension of an economic and social security policy that is already in practice. It operates under the watchful eye of the Secretary of State, whose reforms have been to the advantage of the economy generally and the many individuals who have secured a job and have concentrated benefit on those who are most in need. It sits in stark contrast to the intellectual dishonesty of the Opposition that has been in clear evidence today.

The Opposition say that the Government are financing mass unemployment. That slogan is designed to deceive. It is a concoction of two economically illiterate concepts in an attempt to convince the public that Opposition policies would somehow deliver more employment. Regulations that properly assess how the labour market and the housing market work will deliver the progress that we seek.

When the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) accuses us of financing mass unemployment, is he saying that he would reduce what I loosely call unemployment benefit? Is he saying that he would stop paying those who are unemployed and compel them to take jobs and that if Labour were in government resources would be diverted into forcing people to accept work in sectors for which they are not appropriately trained? That is economic nonsense. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues know that it is a deceit. They should go back to the drawing board and devise policies that are intellectually more honest.

The reforms are good because they have been thought through in considerable detail, which is here for us all to see in rather too many pages of regulations. None the less, the regulations are designed to work.

The House will recall that I spoke in the debate on Second Reading of the Bill that produced the regulations. The jobseeker's allowance has much merit in simplifying the benefit system and combining unemployment benefit and income support into a single benefit. I regret that Opposition Members have not welcomed the simplification of a system that has caused many distortions in the past. The reform is designed to address the distortions and remove the traps and disincentives that many people have faced in the past.

The regulations improve incentives to work. Perhaps I find a common cause with the hon. Member for Makerfield in seeking regulations that do not give individuals an undue incentive to remain out of work and on benefit. He and I agree on that, and it is the purpose of the regulations, yet he does not give them the welcome that they deserve.

Mr. Ian McCartney

Has the hon. Gentleman read them?

Mr. Duncan

I am asked whether I have read them and the answer is yes. There are 200 pages of regulations and I have taken the time to read them all. They did not make the most exciting reading, and are slightly more expensive than Mogadon, but I have gone through every page. I even read the printing error. The Opposition made heavy weather of the printing error, but the format of the equation is obvious further down the page. I am glad that the Minister and the Opposition spokesman have reconciled their differences and reached an accommodation to allow the regulations to continue.

I am concerned that the regulations are so extensive. I have an innate objection to regulations and, wherever possible, would like fewer, simpler, easier and less complicated ones. I rather feel for the employee at the Benefits Agency who has to administer this rather complicated, long and extensive series of documents—the regulations that we are debating today.

There is much to grasp and many rules over which there is bound to be dispute. When regulations are so complicated and designed by the best brains in the civil service in an attempt to cover every eventuality, there are bound to be problems. However, they are worth swallowing—albeit they are a lot to swallow—to deliver the benefits that Government policy rightly considers will work to the advantage of those who are unemployed and seeking a job or income support.

Although Conservatives take the view that Government involvement in such matters should be as limited as possible, the Opposition do not appear to share the same restraint. Opposition Members should realise that were regulation—in this case, properly designed for a good cause, so I welcome it—applied to other areas of Government and policy, it would produce a bureaucratic nightmare. It is in the nature of the beast that state involvement will produce just that, and the less of it we have, the better.

I confess that I would like the language and the drafting of the regulations to be much plainer and simpler. The House should address with a great measure of concern and concentration the fact that the convoluted language that bedevils so much of our legislation is translated into practice not by lawyers, but by people making decisions about delivering benefits to people in genuine need. Inasmuch as the regulations have been drafted with that in mind, those who produced them have done a good job, but we must be watchful in trying to work out the detail. The devil is in the detail and regulations should be as simple and practical as possible.

The regulations are an improvement on what went before. I found, from my heavy reading of them and my study of the Act on which I spoke, that they remove some of the distortions that have crept into the labour market and the housing market to the disadvantage of those who genuinely seek work and to the advantage of those who wish to make the most of the regulations and claim money from the state in return for no work at all.

Whenever the state becomes involved, the labour market faces certain distortions. We judge that the distortions that are caused by paying unemployed people are worth while in order to alleviate the pain of unemployment, but we have to beware of further distorting the labour market. The combination of benefits in the regulations draws together the incentives and disincentives in a far more practical way, to the advantage of a freely working labour market.

I draw attention to the regulators relating to housing costs, which does the same in the housing market. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) said about the grave distortions introduced in the housing market by the housing benefits system, the way in which the regulators will apply to younger people represents an improvement. Otherwise, there is an incentive—that also applies to regional variations—for people to take the most and for rents to rise to the level of the benefit available, which ultimately does no one any good.

One effect of any package of such regulations is that people learn how to use them. Regulations are constructed on the assumption that people will behave decently and claim only when they genuinely need to do so. Nevertheless, when state money is available, some people will realise that there is a way of getting some of that money and will use regulations and the system to get money for nothing if they can. The detail in the regulations is effectively designed to ensure that risk is minimised. I commend that approach because whereas the Department of Social Security properly wants to attack fraud, it has been cleverer of late in designing regulations that can be practically applied, to ensure that a system designed to help people in need cannot be abused.

After 28 months of successive falls in unemployment, the House should pause for a moment to consider what would happen if these regulations were being introduced in a different climate and under a different Government. Contrary to Labour's claims, if its policies of a social chapter, minimum wage and so-called stakeholding were implemented—under which trade unions would be back in control and demanding so much from the Government in return for power—the total number of unemployed would be far higher than today and the figure would be rising, not falling. Labour has had great fun over the past couple of years in trying to convince the electorate that it would deliver an economic miracle. The public are gradually waking up to the deceit contained in many of Labour's slogans and so-called policies. Economic reality is dawning again, and the public realise that our policies will deliver the prosperity that this country is increasingly enjoying.

5.41 pm
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I will concentrate mainly on the jobseeker's regulations because they are the most controversial, but I will speak briefly to other regulations as well.

The Employer's Contributions Re-imbursement Regulations are welcome but are likely to get an insufficient number of long-term unemployed back to work. Unfortunately, most long-term unemployed are perceived by employers to be a liability. I doubt that the average of £375 per employer will encourage many employers to take on that many unemployed. A proper benefit transfer scheme is needed, which would get the long-term unemployed back into work.

The Housing Benefit, Supply of Information and Council Tax Benefit (Amendment) Regulations are also welcome. They recognise the difficulties that confront unemployed people when they take a job, such as the extra money needed to travel to and from work and other difficulties experienced in the first few weeks of employment. The Social Security (Back to Work Bonus) Regulations are welcome but do not go far enough, and how they work in practice remains to be seen. I imagine that they could create an administrative nightmare, and we will have to monitor those regulations carefully.

The most complimentary remark that I can make about the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations is that the Government had the good sense to delay implementing some aspects of them until October—those relating to the computer system and staff training in particular. Anyone who followed the fiasco of establishing the Child Support Agency's computer system can only welcome that decision. I hope that the computer system will be got right in this case. Otherwise, the jobseeker's allowance will risk being in the same mess as was caused by the implementation of the Child Support Act 1991.

The Government are not delaying the majority of the jobseeker's allowance provisions—such as the non-means-tested reduction in payment from 12 months to six months, which will go ahead in April. Partners of unemployed people, usually women, will be encouraged to leave part-time employment even sooner, to ensure that their husbands or wives have entitlement to benefit. Even more important is their entitlement to passported benefits. Many people entering employment discover, having lost passported benefits, that they were better off out of work.

At the heart of the regulations is the desire to coerce people back to work. Since 1986 the Government have introduced stricter tests and more benefit sanctions. In 1986, the sanction for leaving a job or being dismissed for misconduct was increased in terms of non-payment of benefit from six to 13 weeks, and doubled in 1988 to 26 weeks. Stricter measures affecting availability for work were introduced, and now the Government have introduced the jobseeker's allowance. We have seen one stricter regulation after another.

The regulations will make all Government employment and training schemes compulsory. Regulation 25 states that entitlement to the jobseeker's allowance will cease if the person fails to attend a training programme. Is that power really necessary? Are not the Government just conceding that many training schemes offer little hope of employment after completion? I would like an answer from the Minister when he winds up. Instead of coercion, surely the answer is better training and better employment schemes that people want to join.

Some of the conditions imposed on people actively seeking work relate to their appearance. Again, I would like the Minister's clarification. Will a young man with a ponytail have to cut it off? Will a young woman have to wear make-up, a shorter skirt or a longer skirt? Who will decide—the interviewer? Will guidance be issued? Will the interviewer have to provide the jobseeker with specific guidance on his or her appearance for a particular job?

Ms Eagle

Has the hon. Lady noticed that regulation 18(4), to which she refers, introduces a new criterion for disallowing benefit—that of an inability to fill in the application form properly? Is not that worrying, particularly when there is the problem at the lower end of the labour market of people being unable to read or write properly?

Ms Lynne

I totally agree and share the hon. Lady's deep concern. People who are now denied incapacity or invalidity benefit and who go to a jobcentre to sign on for the jobseeker's allowance may encounter extreme difficulty in completing the necessary form.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Roger Evans)

Perhaps I may end that controversy by directing the hon. Lady to regulation 18(4)(b). The act that causes disallowance to be triggered is spoiling the application—not something due to disability, but a deliberate act for the purpose, of not getting a job. We are not talking about people who are unable to complete the form or who have difficulties with it.

Ms Lynne

I am grateful to the Minister, but is there a reference to "deliberately" spoiling? I believe that there is not. Unless there is such a reference, the provision could be interpreted to apply to anyone who is unable properly to complete the application form. If the Minister intended the provision to mean deliberately spoiling the application form, surely he should have made that clear. He did not.

Mr. Evans

I did not read the whole of the relevant provision to the hon. Lady. If she reads the concluding words, she will find the clear proviso: unless those circumstances were due to reasons beyond his control. In other words, spoiling must be intentional. It cannot arise "due to reasons beyond" someone's "control", such as inability to write.

Ms Lynne

I do not want to delay the House because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. I do not think that the provision to which the Minister has referred gives a guarantee. I would like to see "deliberately" inserted. I shall move on because time is short.

One of my most serious concerns is that the regulations will force claimants into taking low-paid work. Claimants will not be able to say that they will work for a certain wage. They will be debarred from taking that approach even if the wage on offer is inappropriate to their skills and financial circumstances.

The idea of a public employment service matching individuals to appropriate vacancies has now been abandoned. We are seeing an attempt to drive more people into low-paid employment.

It is right, of course, that some people should take work with lower wages than those that they were receiving before becoming unemployed.

Mr. Duncan

I am.

Ms Lynne

Of course some people should do that.

I am concerned that individuals will not be able to opt out. That is entirely wrong. We know that individuals could give specific reasons for being unable to take a job at a certain wage level.

The regulations will encourage more employers to pay low wages. They know that the unemployed person will be forced to take their jobs whatever the wage. With the abolition of the wages councils, the position is even more serious.

Conservative Members have been talking about the taxpayer. The consequence of the regulations is that the taxpayer will be asked to subsidise the low-paying employer. That cannot be right. The JSA will increase employees' financial hardship. What they need is encouragement, training and proper job opportunities. They do not need further coercion and benefit sanctions.

5.52 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

1 am glad to have the opportunity to speak briefly on the regulations, especially on the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 1996. I was delighted to hear the speeches of the hon. Members for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase). They prove that the old Labour party is still alive, kicking and well. Employers throughout the country should be wary of the prospect of a future Labour Government when a social security spokesman makes a speech of that sort.

There is a fundamental difference of philosophy between the two sides of the House. We believe that the social security system should provide for those in need. But those in need, and genuinely claiming it, need to help themselves, so that they can organise their affairs and do not claim benefit indefinitely. The Labour party is content for the present system to remain in place so that claimants can remain on benefits for as long as they want, or for the rest of their lives.

Under the present system, a millionaire can claim unemployment benefit for up to a year without being means-tested. That is daft. I recently participated in an audience-contribution television programme. The spokesman who appeared on behalf of the Labour party defended her party's wish—this was her interpretation of it—to have universal benefits available for all. Half the audience was unemployed and the other half consisted of floating voters. When I said, "It is you people who deserve benefit if you are eligible for it, not every millionaire in the country," they fully agreed with me.

I think that the country will agree with that approach. We should target the huge amount of benefit we pay to those who genuinely need it, not to millionaires. It is—[Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but the country will make a judgment in due course. If Labour Members oppose the regulations, they must tell us how they will find the extra £4 billion to pay for the present system. Implementation of the regulations will save £4 billion. If Labour Members do not like them, what will they put in their place?

According to the Red Book, we shall spend £98 billion on the social security system this year. It so happens that income tax raises £68 billion and corporation tax £20 billion. The two taxes raise about the sum that we spend on social security. Without the present system, we would not need income tax or corporation tax. That demonstrates the scale of our expenditure on social security.

We are not advocating, of course, the abolition of the social security system, but we want to ensure that what we spend on it is directed to those who really need it. Surely—[Laughter.] Again, I do not know why Opposition Members laugh. The regulations make eminently good sense.

We are channelling two benefits into one. In other words, we are simplifying the system. The process will be of benefit to claimants, because they will have to complete only one form and go to only one office to obtain their benefit. The regulations will simplify and reduce the cost of administering the system. That is also important. We shall need to have only one office, as it were, one set of regulations and one set of annual upratings under the new system. That must make sense.

Conservative Members are all keen on reducing social security fraud. If we simplify a system, we are bound to reduce fraud. I believe that I have common cause with the hon. Member for Makerfield and others, because I accept that the vast majority of our people want to work. Unfortunately, a few are prepared to work the system. That being so, we must do all we can to ensure that the system cannot be defrauded.

It must be right that those who are unemployed for more than 12 months must be made to go on one of the myriad of schemes that are set out in the regulations. Indeed, the regulations propose an element of coercion to embark on such schemes. It cannot be in the taxpayers' interests or those of claimants that they, claimants, should be able to sit at home, go to the office once a week to draw money and have to do nothing else for the rest of their lives. That culture is not in the interests of the country or of claimants.

I welcome the raft of extremely sensible schemes set out in the regulations. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends carefully to examine the Labour party's proposed windfall tax and the changes that it presages in introducing a workfare system. I have worked closely with my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Sir R. Howell), and I know that the idea of a community job creation programme is not a new one, although the Labour party claims it as its own. He produced two papers in the early 1980s, called "Why Work?" and "Why Not Work?", long before the Labour party had even begun to think about the subject.

I would like to see a more general element introduced into the community workfare scheme. Two such schemes have been introduced in north Norfolk, but at large cost, because they are trial schemes. I believe that, through the private sector, we could introduce a workfare scheme that would benefit both the unemployed and the country. We would all be a lot better off morally and spiritually, if not economically, because such a scheme is not cheap, as the Labour party has proved by its windfall tax.

The problem with a windfall tax, as has already been proved this evening, is that one can use it only once. The Labour party has so far pledged to use it about 11 times. I do not know how many more times it will pledge to use it before the election. It is also completely economically illiterate, because one cannot spend the money twice. If one takes the money away from the companies, the utilities that the Labour party proposes to tax—I am straying from the subject, Madam Deputy Speaker, while you are not listening—they will not be able to reinvest in the infrastructure, and then it will complain about leaks next week.

I come back now to the regulations, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Not before time.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I take note of your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I now come to housing benefit regulation 5. Housing benefit is one of our single most costly benefits. It will cost us a huge £12.5 billion this year, and that figure is rising rapidly. Until we recently introduced the housing benefit reduction scheme, there was no incentive whatever for local authorities, which have to administer that costly scheme, to investigate the claims to see whether they were genuine or not. The scheme that I have just described will encourage local authorities to investigate claims. The regulations before us will further that process.

It is vital that we find a mechanism for people to get off the raft of benefits and back into work. There is no doubt that housing benefit is one of the greatest deterrents for people to go back into work. Under the present regulations, there is a huge, marginal tapering tax rate with which an unemployed person gets clobbered the moment he goes back into work. The thrust of Conservative philosophy is to reduce those rates, so that people have every incentive to take part-time jobs and to work gradually into a full-time job, which is what we all want.

Housing benefit has the additional stigma that it tends to be concentrated in what are called "housing benefit ghettos". I should like to see that slowly broken down. Our housing policy has a much more imaginative part to play. We can have much more imaginative mixed housing schemes, so that people on housing benefit can start to live among people who are in work and be part of that culture. I believe that the regulations further that aspect, but we should go further still.

Regulation 6 relates to national insurance payments. I warmly welcome the changes that were announced in the Budget, and the national insurance holiday for employers who take on people who have been unemployed for two years or more. Employers will get a national insurance holiday of 12 months.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that it was a small amount, but I think that some £300 is quite a reasonable incentive for employers to consider taking on the long-term unemployed. I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor is about to announce a general reduction in the rate of employers' national insurance, because I believe that the tax is a disincentive for businesses to take on new employees.

I am hopeful that, if—as should happen—we are re-elected after the general election, we will be able radically to cut the amount of national insurance, and, if necessary, put a small amount on corporation tax. That would help this country to become the enterprise centre of Europe that Conservative Members are determined it should be. I am determined that the regulations should enable us to build on the record number of people in this country who are.currently employed.

The Labour party derides and opposes the regulations, but there is no disputing the fact that more people in this country are in work today than ever before—almost 26 million people. If it opposes the regulations, it behoves the Labour party to tell the House what it would put in their place, and what economic policy it would follow to ensure that we have the lowest unemployment rate in Europe.

It is no accident that this country has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe, particularly among the young. The young people are the real people of tomorrow. We must ensure that we employ them, and the regulations will build on that. It is no coincidence that the countries that have a minimum wage have the highest rate of youth unemployment. Just look at what the Labour party would put in place of the regulations. It would put in place a minimum wage, which—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is becoming a little excited and is going off the point, so could I bring him back strictly to the regulations?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I hope that I am not getting excited, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am using my normal passion to ensure that the debate on these somewhat humdrum regulations is a little more easy to listen to, and I had hoped that it would encourage other hon. Members to take part.

I wholeheartedly welcome the regulations. It behoves the Labour party, if it opposes them, to tell us what it would put in their place; how much it would spend on the social security system; and how it would run the economy so that more people are employed.

6.5 pm

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I agree that the passion of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) perhaps unhinged him from the debate on the regulations.

As hon. Members have said, many people, thankfully, are unemployed only for a short period. But others in our constituencies are unemployed for long periods and—although they have been on endless training schemes, the number of which they cannot recall—are still unemployed. To what extent does the bundle of statutory instruments that we are considering today help that group?

We are considering 10,000 lines of regulations in a little over 200 minutes. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) assures us that he has read them all. We could be forgiven for thinking that the Minister has not, for it was the Joint Committee, not he, that spotted the errors in them.

There is a slight element of farce to the conclusion of our debate—that we have 10,000 lines of regulations to consider in under 200 minutes; and that we were assured that, although there was an error in them, if the Minister read the proper words on to the record, all would be well. He follows a long tradition of Ministers who produce regulations. Most social security legislation is followed by regulations that are amended before the regulations take effect. The Minister, by reading changes on to the record, broke that record.

There is, of course, another important lesson to draw from our debate tonight, as the population is being taught a very important lesson. The regulations tear up a contract that the Government made with those who contribute to the national insurance scheme.

The Government rightly draw attention to the decline in moral standards, the decline in honesty and the decline in the number of people who keep their word. Yet tonight we are debating regulations which teach people that, although they should keep those standards, the Government should behave differently.

The Government do not really understand the power of legislation. We have passed divorce law reform in the House that allows divorces to take place—for a contract to be broken—after only half the length of an average hire purchase agreement. Then the Government turn around and say, "We are immensely worried about the number of divorces." Today, we are passing regulations that teach people that it does not matter whether they keep their word—and the Government will turn around and say, "Isn't it appalling? More people are breaking their word."

We are required to make payments to the national insurance fund, and a contract was laid down in the previous regulations. The Act, and the regulation that has followed it, breaks that contract. We were paying for 12 months of unemployment; now, by edict, the Government are changing the period to six months. That means that all the people who made contributions expecting to draw 12 months' benefit will receive half that amount. The Government have broken their word.

Mr. Forth

In fact, the Act rather than the regulations that followed it changed the position. It is also questionable whether, strictly speaking, this was ever a contract in the normally accepted sense of the word; but I accept the burden of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He must surely recognise, however, that nothing in the relationship between Government and people is set in concrete. Circumstances change.

It must be generally accepted in the political environment that Governments are free to make changes from time to time. It is for them to justify those changes, and, indeed, to live with the consequences. It cannot be right to suggest that, once an arrangement is in place, it can never be changed on the basis that it is to the advantage or disadvantage of those involved.

Mr. Field

If this were a private contract, people would be able to enforce their rights in the courts. The courts would say that breaking the contract was improper behaviour. But we have a sovereign body here in the Chamber; the Government control the Chamber, and can therefore break their word. They could have said that all who made contributions expecting to receive 12 months' benefit could continue to draw that amount, whereas those who paid under a different contract from this day forward could receive only six months' benefit; but they have not said that.

The Government are breaking a contract, and breaking their word. That teaches the country a powerful lesson. When we are trying to teach children not to deface areas with graffiti and to keep their word with school, parents and friends, it does not help when the most powerful authority in the land decides to break its word because it is a sovereign body and, unlike any other state authority, can take such action.

Mr. Nigel Evans

I have considerable time and respect for the hon. Gentleman, but surely his argument applies to previous Labour Governments. It was a Labour Government who cut benefit from 18 months' worth to 12.

Mr. Field

They were equally wrong, as would any future Government be who broke a contract.

What we are really debating is whether the national insurance fund is safe in Government's hands. That is why some of us have talked about stakeholding, and believe that those who have made contributions—both employers and employees—need to run the schemes themselves. The Government should not be able to put their sticky fingers into them.

Let me say a little about the word "flexibility". We were given an example of flexibility today: we found that there were errors in the regulations, and that the Minister wanted to read changes on to the record. We understand from certain faceless creatures that that is allowed. In general, we all like flexibility, provided that it does not apply to us. Today we are applying it to the unemployed—but I believe that, in important respects, the Government remain inflexible. Indeed, the regulations suggest that they are becoming less flexible in regard to the needs of the unemployed.

Under existing income support regulations, a couple who have been receiving benefit for more than two years are allowed a £15 disregard; under the regulations, that disregard is cut to £10 for everyone. Those in receipt of the £15 would have thought, "Yes, this is flexibility"—but presumably flexibility in the wrong direction, if the aim is to reintroduce people to the world of work.

Let me give a second example of flexibility working to the claimant's disadvantage. The regulations tighten controls on those who spend their time profitably while they are unemployed by undertaking courses: the 21-hour rule becomes a 16-hour rule. That is another Poor Law, allowing people to claim benefit only if they are doing nothing profitable. It represents flexibility from the Government's point of view, and inflexibility from that of the claimant.

My final example of inflexibility is the worst. Our economy increasingly involves households with no workers, and households with many workers. The benefit system is a major reason for that, and it is reinforced in the regulations. The partner of someone who is unemployed and receiving insurance benefit is free to work: indeed, it pays that person to work. Under existing law, as soon as the 52nd week is reached and the recipient is dragged down to means-tested benefit, it pays almost no partners to continue working; in fact, if they do so, they will be substantially worse off. So what happens? People think economically, and give up their jobs.

The Secretary of State has said that one of the most important reasons for the growing inequality in household incomes is the fact that people have unequal access to the labour market. On the one hand, there are many households without work; on the other hand—thank God—there are many households with many people in work. The regulations are driving an even greater wedge between the two groups.

We are discussing 10,000 lines of regulations, but what we are debating is how those regulations will affect people. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton was right: most people, thank goodness, move quickly from one job to another. Others, however—because of their lack of skills, and because of their age—find that immensely difficult. All of us represent many people who have found it impossible for decades to secure work.

We no longer collect the information on how long people have been out of work. In a fantastically powerful passage in "Doctor Zhivago", the storyteller condemns the wicked Bolsheviks not just for killing Lara, but for not even keeping a record of where the evil deed took place. We no longer know how many people have been out of work for five, 10, 15 or 20 years.

Aspects of the regulations, the new Act and the training schemes should be supported, but I beg the House not to kid itself that, by limiting ourselves to the present agenda, we shall either solve the problem of unemployment or—much more important—help those who have stood the longest at the end of a very long queue.

6.18 pm
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

It is always a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I know that he is sincere, although obviously I do not agree with all that he says.

I welcome the fall in unemployment about which we have heard today. I consider it good news for those who have been unemployed even for a short time: unemployment is a worry for them if they are not certain of securing employment immediately, although two thirds of those who become unemployed will find jobs within six months. Their circumstances must be stressful for them and their families. Unemployment is an individual tragedy for each unemployed person. I am fortunate because unemployment is low in my constituency, but I am not complacent because, as the hon. Member for Birkenhead said, we are talking about people and about individual tragedies, stress and worry, and that applies even if there is only one unemployed person in a constituency.

As well as this month's drop in unemployment, I welcome the drops that we have had in the past 27 months. I hope that we shall be able to welcome unemployment falls in the months to come. We must make sure that we have policies that allow our businesses, especially the smaller ones which created so many jobs in the 1980s, to be able to create jobs in the 1990s. If each of those businesses took on just one extra person, there would be no unemployment problem.

It is of little consolation to the 8 per cent. of people who are unemployed to hear comparisons with France and Spain where far more people are unemployed. That 8 per cent. of people live in the United Kingdom and they are interested in our policies to try to get them jobs and keep them in employment. The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) had an opportunity to welcome the drop in unemployment in his constituency. Even over the past 12 months, it has gone down by 7.1 per cent. and, since 1992, it has gone down by 34.8 per cent. I acknowledge that, during the recession, there was a massive increase in unemployment, but we must welcome the current trend. I hope that other hon. Members who speak in the debate will welcome the drop in unemployment in the past few years.

The regulations are complicated and there are many of them, but we have to guarantee that those who implement them have the best available training so that those at the receiving end of the rules and regulations will get a fair deal.

Ms Eagle

The hon. Gentleman demonstrates a commendable worry about the unemployed. Why is he supporting regulations that increase coercive measures and apply them across the board to everybody rather than targeting them at those who are cheating the system? How can he welcome that while at the same time pretending that he is concerned about the unemployed? The regulations attack the unemployed rather than the causes of unemployment.

Mr. Evans

Of course they do not. The hon. Lady had an opportunity to speak about unemployment in her constituency dropping between December 1994 and December 1995 from 5,298 to 4,827 and about a drop of 17.4 per cent. since 1992, but we hear nothing about that.

The regulations help those who are looking for work. The jobseeker's allowance is changing the culture of unemployment. I was on the Standing Committee that examined the legislation and we spent many happy days going through the Bill that led to the Jobseekers Act 1995. I welcome the Act and the fact that we are able to discuss the rules and regulations. Opposition Members had an opportunity to talk about the back-to-work bonus that is paid to people who use the stepping stone from unemployment to part-time employment. Part of the problem faced by those people is the obvious one of losing benefit and income support. It applies pound for pound at an early stage after 10 and a bonus of up to £1,000 will be paid to people who move from benefit to full-time employment. That money will be extremely valuable at the time that they enter full-time work. They get it when they need it most, and that is an imaginative way to help people to escape from the benefit or poverty traps that too many have experienced in the past.

Hon. Members have spoken about people who are workshy. I am the first to admit that there are few such people. The vast majority of people—92 per cent. of the working population—are in work. I recognise that only a small percentage of those who are out of work are not interested in any work whatever. The regulations will help them. We speak about appearance and ask whether the unemployed are putting enough energy into looking for work. That is a proper question because all hon. Members want to ensure that the available money will be targeted at those who need it. Therefore, those who are not serious about seeking work ought to face sanctions, and that is exactly what they will face under the regulations.

Earlier in the debate, we spoke about people who seem to spend 100 per cent. of their time on demonstrations, one of which is being held at the site of the proposed Newbury bypass, where demonstrators are living in trees. The Minister said that such people would face exactly the same rules and regulations and scrutiny as anybody else. I was delighted to hear that, and I hope that those who are enforcing the regulations in Newbury and in other parts of Britain and who witness such demonstrations, where it is obvious that some of the demonstrators have committed 100 per cent. of their time to demonstrations rather than to looking for work, will ensure that they face the full rigour of the regulations. If some of those people spent as much energy looking for work as they spend demonstrating up trees, they would not be in receipt of benefit.

In an intervention during the speech by the hon. Member for Birkenhead, I said that the benefit rules were being simplified by bringing unemployment benefit and income support together and by reducing the time from 12 months to six months. That is the continuation of a policy of a previous Labour Government, and it is right. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) spoke about millionaires and those who are extremely wealthy because of a good pay-off from a previous job. Those people would be able to get some of that money for an extra six months, but the Government have a duty to all taxpayers to ensure that money is targeted at those who definitely need it, and a means test after six months is the appropriate way to do that.

The jobseeker's agreement on page 30 of the regulations places a responsibility on those who are seeking work to demonstrate that that is exactly what they are doing. It is useful for people in the Employment Service to be able to see what their clients are doing so that if there are deficiencies, whether in the CVs or the letters that people are sending out, they can be picked up at an early stage and people can be given assistance to look for work. That is an onus on the Government under the contract. The legislation is not a draconian measure saying, "We do not trust the unemployed." It is a way of bringing the Employment Service and its clients together to see how one can help the other.

We have a responsibility to taxpayers because it is their money that is being utilised to pay unemployment benefit. There is a responsibility on those who seek work and a responsibility on the Government. We have heard a good deal about training, but it is pointless to say that we will cajole people into training that they would prefer not to do while at the same time not providing the schemes that will he absolutely necessary to give such people the opportunities that they seek. A marvellous book called "The UK at Work", which was published by the former Department of Employment, details some of the schemes that are available. Programmes in 1995–96 offered opportunities to almost 1.5 million people. We must ensure that such programmes are available.

If one had to be critical about those programmes, one could say that there are too many of them, and that, perhaps, many people find them too complicated to know what is available; but I welcome the fact that they are available for those who are seeking work.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

I apologise for not being here for the earlier part of my hon. Friend's speech, but I have greatly enjoyed the remarks that I have heard. Is he aware of the appalling problems faced by tourist resorts, especially in constituencies such as mine? He may have noticed the rapid and incredibly large increases in housing benefit and unemployment benefit in the past five years. Does he share my concern about the way in which tourist resorts continue to be affected by such benefit problems and to be a magnet for people who come to them, often from all over the United Kingdom? They do not genuinely look for work, but are an appalling strain on the tourist industry. Does he not think it time that we dealt with that problem?

Mr. Evans

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. Obviously, it was his loss that he did not hear the first part of my speech, but he will, no doubt, have the opportunity to read it tomorrow. I know that he is a doughty fighter, not only for people who live in his constituency, but for people who visit it. It is vital that tourist resorts are able to present a picture that will attract tourists and not people who are obviously trying either to avoid work or just to claim benefits. I know that he has been working hard on that matter with a number of other hon. Members who represent seaside resorts.

We have heard so much whining—we are still hearing it and, no doubt, we will continue to hear it before the end of the debate—from the Opposition. The regulations aim to increase opportunities for jobseekers. We hear that the Labour party really cares for unemployed people, but we know that its measures would wreck jobs. We hear about the introduction of the minimum wage and of the social chapter. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) disputed that view and said blindly that the minimum wage would create more jobs, but even the deputy leader of his party has said that there would be a massive shake-out if a minimum wage were introduced.

It has been estimated that, if the minimum wage were introduced at £4.50, because of differentials, 1.7 million people would become unemployed. We need an enterprise economy that is backed up by a jobseeker's allowance which will help people into work, not policies that will throw people on to the dole. That is what they would face if the Opposition ever came to power.

6.31 pm
Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington)

We are debating five sets of regulations, principally the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 1996. The point has been well made that the way in which we deal with regulations is unsatisfactory. That is especially true of those regulations, which are 160 pages long and more extensive than the original Bill, were laid before the House only at the end of December, are to be debated tonight in less than four hours and, crucially, are unamendable—at least by Labour Members. Suffice it to say at this late stage that I hope that we will introduce more sensible ways of dealing with regulations in the House to enable better parliamentary scrutiny on behalf of our constituents, to whom these matters are critical.

The main regulations refer to the jobseeker's allowance, but I shall briefly deal with the other regulations, which have not had proper debate in the time available. The Housing Benefit, Supply of Information and Council Tax Benefit (Amendment) Regulations amend the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987 and the Council Tax Benefit (General) Regulations 1992. The new regulations extend housing benefit and council tax payments for four weeks to people who have been out of work and subsequently start work. That is clearly welcome.

Regulation 6 inserts new schedule 5A into the housing benefit regulations, and regulation 14 inserts a new schedule into the council tax benefit regulations to allow for extended payments. Eligibility is limited, however, to certain categories, which exclude one important group of people: the chronically sick or disabled who move into work. Regulations 6 and 14 make no provision for extended payments for people who move off incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance or income support where a disability premium is payable on the ground of incapacity for work. Will the Minister explain the reasoning behind that exclusion and give a commitment to review the scheme's progress with a view to extending it to other groups? There are other points on those regulations to do with the linking rules and the way in which claims are processed, but I shall write to the Minister on those for detailed comment.

The Employer's Contributions Re-imbursement Regulations 1996 are welcome. However, regulation 2 provides for circumstances where someone is to be treated as entitled to jobseeker's allowance for two years immediately before employment. That can include periods when the claimant was in receipt of a training allowance, a carer or a lone parent. Again, there is no mention of disability. Will the Minister agree to review the position at the earliest opportunity with a view to extending the national insurance contribution holiday to employers recruiting disabled people who return to work?

The Social Security (Back to Work Bonus) Regulations were not even laid until last Thursday, so limiting even further the amount of time that hon. Members have had to scrutinise them. Clearly, the back-to-work bonus is the element of the jobseeker's allowance that the Government have promoted most. Although that bonus may receive a cautious welcome, it is no more than meagre window dressing of the whole range of measures. I shall do no more than quote Samuel Brittan, who said in the Financial Times on 20 October 1994: The scheme is typical of the minimalist reform that civil servants with the Treasury breathing down their necks, produce for Conservative ministers". Declaring earnings and calculating and allocating the bonus will require complicated and costly administrative and technical procedures and could result in disputes between claimants and the Employment Service. Will the Minister confirm that all the necessary administrative arrangements, the computer system required and the training of staff to deal with the back-to-work bonus are in place and will be ready for implementation in October?

The main regulations relate to the jobseeker's allowance. As we have heard in elegant speeches from Labour Members, the crucial aspect of the new regulations is the benefit cut from 12 to six months, so moving people at an earlier stage to means-tested benefits. That is being introduced at a time when national insurance contributions have risen by more than 50 per cent.—from 6.5 per cent. in 1979 to 10 per cent now. With those regulations, people will pay more in work and receive less if they have the misfortune to become unemployed.

As we have heard, key groups of people will be especially disadvantaged by the regulations. We can highlight further the problems of people who have savings or who receive large redundancy payments. Those will be taken into account six months earlier. Those people may lose all entitlement to benefit because of those savings or redundancy payments.

Similarly, under new regulation 79 of the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations, 18 to 24-year-olds will receive reduced benefit, although they may have paid the same amount of national insurance contributions as a person over 24 years of age. Will the Minister yet again explain why he believes that 24-year-olds have fewer costs and should therefore be entitled to less benefit than a 25-year-old?

Regulation 13 of the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations affects disabled people. Sick and disabled people face particular problems from the combined effect of the jobseeker's allowance and incapacity benefit, which came into effect last April. The Government have said that, eventually, 250,000 people who would have qualified for invalidity benefit will not qualify for incapacity benefit and will have to claim jobseeker's allowance. Many sick and disabled people are especially concerned that they may fall through what may be described as the "incapacity trap". Some people will not be able to pass incapacity benefit's tighter incapacity test, but will still have severe problems that limit their opportunities to work.

To enable people entitled to incapacity benefit, who want to look for jobs, to claim JSA, the Government have allowed them to limit their job search in line with conditions under regulation 13(4). However, it is not clear how that will work in practice and how extensive the limitation will be. For example, will a person with sickle cell disease who wishes to claim disability benefit be able to avoid being forced into a job where there are cold or damp conditions? I am aware of a case in which an adjudication officer ruled that someone suffering from irritable bowel disease was available for work which started early in the morning—yet because of the disability that person could not be available. Will the Minister give us further details of how the regulation will work in practice?

There is not time to touch on the important issue of how hardship payments will be made and how vulnerable groups will be provided for. Suffice it to say that the amount of discretion allowed to adjudication officers will need to be monitored carefully.

There is also not time to do justice to regulation 46 on waiting days. Most of the alignment of JSA between unemployment benefit and income support regulations brought it into line with the latter, because the Government claim that that is a modern benefit and therefore more appropriate. However, for waiting days the alignment has been with unemployment benefit, so claimants will have to wait an extra three days before being entitled to benefit. Yet again, we are debating measures that are basically about finding the lowest common denominator to limit benefits in any way possible. Will the Minister comment on that?

I want to highlight the problems that have already been experienced because of the way that the administration of JSA has been piloted in different parts of the country. When the legislation was in Committee, we raised the potential problem of aligning the service under a one-stop agency. The practice of one benefit officer not only making a decision about someone's availability and eligibility for benefit, but informing that person that he will not receive any money, could lead to confrontation. There have already been disputes in various parts of the country, especially the north-east. Will the Minister assure us that all the fears that we expressed about the same officer dealing with the two aspects that I have mentioned have not proved to be valid? Will he confirm that all the relevant training of staff has been completed and that all the necessary administration is in place to ensure the smooth implementation of the new benefit?

It is clear from our debate tonight, our various discussions and the questions still being asked of Ministers that there is a real danger that the introduction of JSA will result in the same disarray as other measures such as the Child Support Agency. We know that JSA is not about helping people under a strategic welfare-to-work plan, but is a mean-minded attempt to cut benefit for unemployed people as part of the Government's aim further to reduce the social security budget and public expenditure to find money to fund tax cuts to bribe voters at the next general election. We know that that will not work.

We are disappointed that we have not had sufficient time to scrutinise the regulations. However, we are absolutely sure that when they are implemented it will be Conservative Members who will be looking at the fine print, because after the general election they will be, searching for jobs.

6.44 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Roger Evans)

We have been debating the original Bill—now an Act—and the regulations over a considerable period and I therefore feel it fair to say that I am not surprised by the peroration of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), even if I disagree with it. Where was the flash of lightning? Where was the comment that no one expected? Where was the interesting idea?

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) criticised the actions of previous Labour Governments in the same way that he criticised our actions—on a point of principle. He is not in his place, but I want to explain why I believe that his argument is fundamentally misconceived. He said that the arrangement in the regulations to alter the national insurance fund should be likened to a breach of contract. In other words, he believes that an understanding reached at a particular point in time is binding on everybody for life. That is an interesting model, which is used in personal pension plans and retirement annuity contracts. It is the classic model of the private provision of a personal pension—someone pays in contributions for a certain period and at the end takes out of the fund what has been paid in, with the ability to sue if that amount is not actually paid.

The difficulty with the private model, ideal though it may be, is that it is not entirely followed in the private sector. With occupational pension schemes, discretion must be given to trustees over how much they will pay, especially when the payment is linked to final salary rather than what one puts in being what one gets out.

The free-market right argues for the privatisation of all national insurance schemes. However, the national insurance fund—rightly or wrongly, and it is a creature of some antiquity—has always been a public scheme regulated by successive Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments that Parliament approves. However, the House is an elected body and from time to time priorities alter. There has never been a pledge cast in concrete, unalterable from 1948 to the present day. Successive Governments have argued from time to time—not without some controversy as it is a serious matter—that the national insurance scheme should be slightly altered or reformed. That is what the regulations do.

I understand that Labour Members do not approve of many, if any, of the alterations. However, I believe the principle to be well established. We are entitled by Act and statutory instrument to alter the arrangements for the national insurance fund. I reject the moral charge that what we are doing is dishonourable. It may be a matter of controversy, but it is a perfectly acceptable action for a Government, of any persuasion, to take from time to time.

The two examples of unfair flexibilities in the regulations given by the hon. Member for Birkenhead—which he used to support his argument against flexibility—included the abolition of the long-term disregard for couples. In fact, the purpose of the back-to-work bonus is a much better way of helping that category and, indeed, a wider one. It is thought that currently only some 15,000 people benefit from the disregard.

I am glad to note that the hon. Gentleman has now returned to the Chamber. The second example he gave, which is a matter not of substance but simply of changing definitions in the context of a fluctuating education system, is the change from 21 hours to 16 guided learning hours. The Department believes that the effect of that on eligible people will be neutral. It is simply that the education system has altered its terminology. Instead of people being made to turn up and sit behind desks so that the number of hours can be measured, they now follow modules and have guided learning hours.

I contrast what I regarded as a serious attack—intellectually and morally—on what we are proposing with the views of the official Opposition, especially the Front-Bench team. The House was left baffled and bewildered about what the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) proposes to do in place of the Jobseekers Act and the regulations. He has fought them tooth and nail at every stage. He tabled a large number of amendments, many of which would have had the effect— or would have had if they had been agreed—only of increasing public expenditure and not carrying out the labour market improvements that we have effected.

Judging from his opening remarks, I thought that the hon. Member for Makerfield was going to oppose all the regulations, but his hon. Friend—

Mr. Ian McCartney


Mr. Evans

I shall come to the specifics in a moment if the hon. Gentleman is patient. I thought that he was going to say that he opposed all the regulations, but the goodies—I gathered from the hon. Member for Withington—in the form of regulations dealing with the back-to-work bonus appeared to be welcome.

I come to the specific queries raised by the hon. Member for Makerfield. I am very conscious of the fact that I have been asked a large number of questions. I shall try to answer as many as I can, and I shall obviously write to hon. Members if I do not complete answering the very long list and I miss out sickle cell disease. That is a serious question, but very specific.

I begin with the general point made by the hon. Member for Makerfield. He was complaining about the lack of opportunity to discuss and amend the regulations and the skeleton nature of the Act. I regret the complexity, length and detail of the regulations. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), but it is difficult to draft such regulations. They are long and complicated. My hon. Friend said that we had done a pretty good job. I merely suggest to him—and I can understand the arguments of the hon. Member for Makerfield on this point—that were we to have a bundle of private insurance policies to cover the range of misfortunes and disasters encompassed in the Act to fit the whole population of the United Kingdom, I doubt whether even the private sector, using the plainest of English, would manage to do it very quickly.

Mr. Frank Field

If we had private insurance policies, they could be enforced in the courts if the contractor broke his word—unlike the Government's national insurance scheme.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman did not hear my argument, although I appreciate the force of his point. Under a contract for a personal pension scheme, one pays in so much, one is entitled to the fund invested and one can withdraw it. That can be enforced as a ordinary contract. It is like buying an annuity; it is fixed and simple. The difficulty with that model is that under the occupational pension scheme, for example, which guarantees X per cent. of final salary, there cannot be a simple contract. Therefore, one has a system involving trustees, a comparable system of regulation and a comparable series of discretions. It is more complicated because of the flexibility necessary. In the case of the public system, Parliament has always been involved, and rightly so.

I return to the specific questions asked by the hon. Member for Makerfield. I accept his point on uprating, but he should bear in mind the relative absurdity at the moment, whereby two thirds of the people who are unemployed draw income support, not unemployment benefit. Whether they are better off on unemployment benefit or income support depends on whether unemployment benefit, being uprated by the retail prices index, nudges ahead of income support, which is uprated by the Rossi index. That is simply the choice; there are two separate indices. The hon. Gentleman is of course right to say that one is a discretion and one is a mandate from Parliament, but there is a record of that.

Mr. Ian McCartney

Is that a commitment on the record that there will be an annual uprating of allowances?

Mr. Evans

It is a historical reflection on an accurate description of the state of law.

I am advised that regulation 9 has nothing to do with international law. On regulation 12, the new regulations, for very much the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman, are very detailed. That is their purpose. I give the assurance that training is being given and will be given to staff to implement those new regulations.

Mr. McCartney


Mr. Evans

I should be delighted to give way, but I am concerned that I have only six minutes in which to deal with rather a lot of queries.

On regulation 18, the earring point as somebody helpfully called it, I ask the hon. Member for Makerfield to bear in mind the words of his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who said: If it is simply a matter of dress, deportment and drawing up a good curriculum vitae, or trying to motivate people, no one could object."—[Official Report, 24 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 635.] That is the responsible response to regulation 18, which will be applied reasonably by the Employment Service. There is also of course a right of appeal.

I was asked in respect of regulation 73 why the rule was drawn differently for England and Wales on one hand and Scotland and Northern Ireland on the other. That is simply because Scotland's education system has a different legislative structure and the terminology is different. Northern Ireland is not dealt with at all in the regulations. That is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will deal with it in due course.

I was asked about regulation 17, which refers to the 13-week rule and temporary work. The point that the hon. Member for Makerfield did not seem to appreciate is that it is all very well talking about a permanent job when one is not working or not working regularly, but there comes a point at which the jobseeker's allowance must be about getting people back into full-time employment, not simply perpetuating short-time working.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about young people coming out of care. They will be a prescribed group and will be able to obtain the jobseeker's allowance without having to satisfy the severe hardship test. Young people generally will be able to restrict their availability to jobs offering suitable training.

The hon. Gentleman finally asked me whether students could be forced on to full-time training. I was a little concerned about the precise definition of the question, but as I understand it, the answer is that students who are part-time educated—up to 16 guided learning hours under the regulations or 21 hours under the existing regime—have of course to make themselves available for work. At the moment, the position is analogous to that referred to by the hon. Gentleman. A part-time student may have to drop an examination or the completion of a course because a job is offered of a certain sort, which satisfies all the characteristics.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) asked whether benefit will cease if a claimant refuses any training scheme. I can assure her that sanctions will apply only to particular prescribed employment programmes and training schemes. The details of the framework for that are set out in regulation 75. For many years there have been mandatory programmes, which have a proven record.

The hon. Member for Rochdale further asked about the administrative training and other preparations necessary for the introduction of the jobseeker's allowance—a point taken up by the hon. Member for Withington. I can assure her that training has begun. It began in the summer of 1995. All staff will be trained to carry out the jobseeker's allowance functions for which they will be responsible in October 1996. We are confident that the computer systems will be ready as planned for model office testing in the summer and for implementation in due course in October.

The hon. Member for Withington asked whether the national insurance contribution holiday for long-term unemployed people of two years or more and the housing benefit and council tax run-on should be extended to disabled people. The measures are designed specifically to help the long-term unemployed get back into work. The issue of disability is separate and there is separate provision for it.

I repeat more specifically, in respect of the back-to-work bonus, that all necessary administration, computers and staff will be in place. I shall deal with all the other points in correspondence.

I commend the five statutory instruments to the House, as part of a firm-minded Government programme to promote employment.

Question put: —

The House divided: Ayes 282, Noes 260.

Division No. 26] [7.00 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Boswell, Tim
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Alexander, Richard Bowden, Sir Andrew
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Bowis, John
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Arbuthnot, James Brandreth, Gyles
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brazier, Julian
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Bright, Sir Graham
Ashby, David Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Browning, Mrs Angela
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bruce, Ian (Dorset)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Burns, Simon
Baldry, Tony Burt, Alistair
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Butterfill, John
Bates, Michael Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Batiste, Spencer Carrington, Matthew
Beggs, Roy Carttiss, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Cash, William
Bendall, Vivian Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Beresford, Sir Paul Chapman, Sir Sydney
Biffen, Rt Hon John Churchill, Mr
Body, Sir Richard Clappison, James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hicks, Robert
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Coe, Sebastian Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Congdon, David Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Horam, John
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hordem, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, James Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cran, James Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jack, Michael
Day, Stephen Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jenkin, Bernard
Devlin, Tim Jessel, Toby
Dicks, Terry Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Dover, Den Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Duncan, Alan Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Duncan-Smith, Iain Key, Robert
Dunn, Bob King, Rt Hon Tom
Durant, Sir Anthony Kirkhope, Timothy
Dykes, Hugh Knapman, Roger
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Elletson, Harold Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knox, Sir David
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evennett, David Legg, Barry
Faber, David Leigh, Edward
Fabricant, Michael Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lidington, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fishbum, Dudley Lloyd, Fit Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Forman, Nigel Lord, Michael
Forth, Eric Luff, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) MacKay, Andrew
Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley) Maclean, Rt Hon David
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger McLoughlin, Patrick
French, Douglas McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gale, Roger Madel, Sir David
Gallie, Phil Maitland, Lady Olga
Gardiner, Sir George Malone, Gerald
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Mans, Keith
Garnier, Edward Marland, Paul
Gill, Christopher Marlow, Tony
Gillen, Cheryl Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mates, Michael
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Gorst, Sir John Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs) Merchant, Piers
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Moate, Sir Roger
Grylls, Sir Michael Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James
Hague, Rt Hon William Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Neubert, Sir Michael
Hannam, Sir John Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hargreaves, Andrew Nicholls, Patrick
Harris, David Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Norris, Steve
Hawkins, Nick Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hawksley, Warren Ottaway, Richard
Hayes, Jerry Page, Richard
Heald, Oliver Paice, James
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Patrick, Sir Irvine
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Patten, Rt Hon John
Hendry, Charles Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Pawsey, James
Pickles, Eric Sweeney, Walter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Sykes, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Powell, William (Corby) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Rathbone, Tim Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Redwood, Rt Hon John Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Temple-Morris, Peter
Richards, Rod Thomason, Roy
Riddick, Graham Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Thumham, Peter
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Tracey, Richard
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Tredinnick, David
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Trend, Michael
Sackville, Tom Trimble, David
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Twinn, Dr Ian
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Shaw, David (Dover) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Walden, George
Shepherd, Rt Hon Gillian Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford) Waller, Gary
Shersby, Sir Michael Ward, John
Sims, Roger Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Skeet, Sir Trevor Waterson, Nigel
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Watts, John
Smyth, The Rev Martin (Belfast S) Wells, Bowen
Soames, Nicholas Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Spencer, Sir Derek Whitney, Ray
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Whittingdale, John
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs) Widdecombe, Am
Spink, Dr Robert Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Spring, Richard Wilkinson, John
Sproat, Iain WiIletts, David
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Wilshire, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Steen, Anthony Wolfson, Mark
Stephen, Michael Yeo, Tim
Stem, Michael
Stewart, Allan Tellers for the Ayes:
Streeter, Gary Mr. Timothy Wood and
Sumberg, David Mr. Derek Conway.
Abbott, Ms Diane Byers, Stephen
Adams, Mrs Irene Callaghan, Jim
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Allen, Graham Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Alton, David Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Campbell-Savours, D N
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Canavan, Dennis
Armstrong, Hilary Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Chisholm, Malcolm
Ashton, Joe Church, Judith
Austin-Walker, John Clapham, Michael
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Barron, Kevin Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Battle, John Clelland, David
Bayley, Hugh Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Coffey, Ann
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cohen, Harry
Bell, Stuart Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bennett, Andrew F Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Benton, Joe Corbett, Robin
Bermingham, Gerald Corbyn, Jeremy
Berry, Roger Corston, Jean
Betts, Clive Cummings, John
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Cunliffe, Lawrence
Blunkett, David Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Boateng, Paul Cunningham, Roseanne
Bradley, Keith Dafis, Cynog
Bray, Dr Jeremy Darling, Alistair
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davidson, Ian
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Johnston, Sir Russell
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Denham, John Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Dewar, Donald Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dixon, Don Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Dowd, Jim Jowell, Tessa
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Eagle, Ms Angela Keen, Alan
Eastham, Ken Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Etherington, Bill Khabra, Piara S
Evans, John (St Helens N) Kilfoyle, Peter
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Kirkwood, Archy
Faulds, Andrew Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Liddell, Mrs Helen
Flynn, Paul Litherland, Robert
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Livingstone, Ken
Foster, Don (Bath) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Fyfe, Maria Llwyd, Elfyn
Galbraith, Sam Lynne, Ms Liz
Galloway, George McAllion, John
Gapes, Mike McCartney, Ian
Garrett, John McFall, John
George, Bruce McKelvey, William
Gerrard, Neil Mackinlay, Andrew
Gilbert Rt Hon Dr John McLeish, Henry
Godman, Dr Norman A Maclennan, Robert
Godsiff, Roger McMaster, Gordon
Golding, Mrs Llin McNamara, Kevin
Graham, Thomas MacShane, Denis
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Madden, Max
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Maddock, Diana
Grocott, Bruce Mahon, Alice
Hain, Peter Marek, Dr John
Hall, Mike Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Hardy, Peter Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Harman, Ms Harriet Martlew, Eric
Harvey, Nick Maxton, John
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Meacher, Michael
Henderson, Doug Meale, Alan
Heppell, John Michael, Alun
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Hinchliffe, David Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hodge, Margaret Milburn, Alan
Hoey, Kate Miller, Andrew
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Home Robertson, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hood, Jimmy Morgan, Rhodri
Hoon, Geoffrey Morley, Elliot
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hoyle, Doug Mowlam, Marjorie
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Mudie, George
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Mullin, Chris
Hutton, John Murphy, Paul
Illsley, Eric Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Ingram, Adam Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Jamieson, David O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill Speller, John
O'Neill, Martin Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Pearson, Ian Steinberg, Gerry
Pickthall, Colin Stevenson, George
Pike, Peter L Stott, Roger
Pope, Greg Strang, Dr. Gavin
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Straw, Jack
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Primarolo, Dawn Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Purchase, Ken Timms, Stephen
Quin, Ms Joyce Tipping, Paddy
Radice, Giles Touhig, Don
Randall, Stuart Turner, Dennis
Raynsford, Nick Tyler, Paul
Reid, Dr John Vaz, Keith
Rendel, David Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Wallace, James
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Walley, Joan
Roche, Mrs Barbara Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Rogers, Allan Wareing, Robert N
Rooker, Jeff Watson, Mike
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Welsh, Andrew
Rowlands, Ted Wicks, Malcolm
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Salmond, Alex Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Sedgemore, Brian Winnick, David
Sheerman, Barry Wise, Audrey
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Worthington, Tony
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wray, Jimmy
Short, Clare Wright Dr Tony
Simpson, Alan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Mr. Eric Clarke and
Spearing, Nigel Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 19th December, be approved.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER then put the remaining Questions required to be put at that hour.

Resolved, That the draft Income Support (General) (Jobseeker's Allowance Consequential Amendments) Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 19th December, be approved. That the draft Social Security (Back to Work Bonus) Regulations 1996, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th January, be approved. That the draft Housing Benefit, Supply of Information and Council Tax Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 19th December, be approved. That the draft Employer's Contributions Re-imbursement Regulations 1996, which were laid before this House on 12th December, be approved.—[Mr. Forth.]