HC Deb 03 November 1999 vol 337 cc401-2

Lords amendment: No. 35, in page 59, line 12, leave out ("making") and insert ("who— (i) makes")

10.15 pm
The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell)

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 36 to 39, 52, 59, 78, 88, 124, 125, 176, 179 and 180.

Ms Jowell

This large group of Government amendments makes two main sets of changes. First, it implements the recommendations of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. Secondly, it clarifies that all claimants have the right to appeal against, or ask for a review of, a personal adviser's decision that they have failed to take part in an interview. It also makes a minor technical change to support joined-up government in the ONE service. All those—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call for order in the House. This is a complicated set of amendments; we must listen to the Minister.

Ms Jowell

All the amendments are technical. They do not change the ONE policy in any way.

Amendments Nos. 35 to 38, 78, 88, 176 and 179 implement the recommendations of the Select Committee. Amendments Nos. 35 to 38 are intended to exclude men and women aged 60 and over from having to take part in the mandatory aspects of the ONE service. Originally, we had planned to exempt that group through regulations, although we are now happy to accept the Committee's recommendations and to include the exception in the Bill.

As state retirement age gradually equalises over the next two decades, there is likely to be a need to amend the Bill to include all claimants who are below the age of 65. In the meantime, however, men and women aged 60 and over will still voluntarily be able to access support through the ONE service.

We are also happy to accept the Committee's recommendation that the first set of regulations under the clause should be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Amendment No. 39 clarifies that the clause gives all claimants the right to launch an appeal against, or ask for a review of, a personal adviser's decision that they have failed to take part in a work-focused interview. We have consistently made it clear that, where a personal adviser makes a decision on non-participation, the claimant should be able to challenge that decision.

In addition, we have always made it clear that claimants should also have a right of appeal against a decision that they have failed to participate. However, the original drafting of the provision failed to give effect to that policy intention. For example, a claimant who received a negative decision from a local authority personal adviser would not have had recourse to the disputes resolution procedures. Local authority personal advisers would not be able to revise their own or others' decisions, even where they were clearly incorrect. The amendment corrects that, making it clear that the disputes resolution procedure and rights of appeal should apply in all cases.

Mr. Willetts

May I help the Minister? So far as I am aware, the amendments to which she is speaking are not controversial. They are accepted in all parts of the House. As we have a guillotine, I assure her that the Opposition have no problem and are satisfied with the explanation that she has offered.

Ms Jowell

I am enormously grateful for the courtesy, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to hear the important clarification provided by amendment No. 180, ensuring that a claimant has a right of appeal against a decision that he or she has failed to take part in an interview.

Amendments Nos. 52, 59, 124 and 125 make necessary changes to support closer working. They give local authority staff working in the ONE service the same powers as the Employment Service and Benefits Agency to require jobseeker's allowance claimants to attend for interview. They also allow local authority staff to obtain the information that they need. With that explanation, I hope that the House will accept the amendments.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 36 to 39 agreed to.

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