HC Deb 24 July 1997 vol 298 cc1028-9
4. Mrs. Fyfe

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what steps he will take to ensure that genuine reasons for refusing an opportunity to work or train are recognised; and if he will make a statement. [8599]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Alan Howarth)

The Government recognise that there are occasions when a jobseeker has good cause for refusing an opportunity of employment or training. The Jobseekers Allowance Regulations 1996 make provision for that. Employment Service procedures ensure that a jobseeker has the opportunity to set out his or her reasons for refusing an offer before a decision is made.

Mrs. Fyfe

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I draw his attention to the fact that in Glasgow high unemployment among young people continues, and it is not because they are workshy? What would happen if places were not readily available? Will my hon. Friend examine carefully the reasons for reducing benefit? The regulations are confusing and there is misunderstanding at local and national level. I hope that that will be sorted out before the new deal is in place to ensure that no injustice is done to any young person.

Mr. Howarth

As my hon. Friend has rightly pointed out, unemployment is all too high, and there is all too much poverty in her constituency of Glasgow, Maryhill. We will do all that we can to ensure that a full range of high-quality options is available for her constituents under the new deal. As for sanctions, I believe that the rules are entirely clear, but I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no question of a sanction being imposed if an appropriate option is not available to one of her constituents.

Mr. Willetts

Will the Minister elaborate on the remarks that he made the other day to his old soulmates at the Adam Smith Institute? Will he confirm that employers who participate in the scheme will have to give an undertaking that those whom they take on will not displace others who are working for them? Will those employers have to agree that there will be an overall increase in employment in their firms? Are these new-style planning agreements with businesses really the best way of increasing employment?

Mr. Howarth

I relish the ideologically challenging character of the hon. Gentleman's question. He and I always welcome the play of ideas.

I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is a risk that employers will abuse the opportunity provided for them through the offer of a £60-a-week subsidy to enable them to take on a young person under the new deal. He may also agree that we cannot simply be inactive. We cannot say to employers, "Go your own way; let market forces operate, and let people take their chance." It is clear that young people who have been unemployed for more than six months are in difficulty in the labour market, and we must therefore do our best to encourage employers to provide them with work opportunities. At the same time, we must do all that we can do to ensure that a number of employers do not abuse the subsidy, and that is what we are doing.