HL Deb 26 July 1979 vol 401 cc2070-3

4.32 p.m.

LORD CULLEN of ASHBOURNE rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 18th July, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of these regulations is to continue, unchanged, the existing special rules for seasonal workers who claim unemployment benefit during their off-season. These rules are broadly, that a seasonal worker should have registered for work during all his periods of unemployment in the past two years and that, in his current off-season, he has either worked for at least a quarter of that period or can reasonably expect to get work for that length of time.

The rules have operated for many years but when the new National Insurance legislation was introduced in 1975, fresh regulations for seasonal workers were not made. This was because the whole question of special rules for these workers was about to be reviewed. Therefore, the existing rules for people insured under the National Insurance Act 1965 were continued by the making of transitional regulations, pending consideration of the issue by the National Insurance Advisory Committee.

That committee concluded by a majority in June 1977 that additional conditions were still needed because the normal availability for work condition for the receipt of unemployment benefit could not be effectively applied during a seasonal worker's off-season. At the same time, the committee recommended some easements in the arrangements which would have led to additional expenditure. On 23rd November 1977, the previous Government announced that the Committee's recommendations had been accepted but, because of the additional expenditure involved, their implementation would depend on the priority which they could be given within the resources available for social security expenditure. On 5th February 1979, Mr. Orme announced in a written Parliamentary Answer in another place that he had no further proposals for amendment of the regulations at that time.

In the short period of under three months since we took office, there has not been time for a detailed examination of the recommendations. However, we are unlikely to be able to implement them in the near future because they involve additional estimated expenditure of some £2¾ million rising eventually to £3¾ million. But the transitional regulations, which apply the special rules to people insured under the 1965 Act, now need to be replaced by new regulations to ensure that the existing rules will apply to all contributors including those who entered national insurance after April 1975. This is because some of those new entrants to insurance could now be affected by the special rules since a person can be recognised as a seasonal worker after he has followed an on-season off-season pattern of work over a period of three or four years.

The National Insurance Advisory Committee recommended unanimously on 10th July 1979 that these new regulations should be made in the form submitted to them. The details of the regulations, which are made under the powers in Section 20(3) of the 1975 Act, are as follows: Regulation 1 is formal. Regulation 2 revokes the transitional Regulation 19 and provides for a new Regulation 19. The new regulation 19(1) is formal and gives explanation of the terms used. Paragraph (2) sets out the additional conditions to be satisfied by a seasonal worker claiming unemployment benefit in his off-season.

Paragraph (3) makes provision so that registration for work before 1st April 1978 with the Employment Service Agency, shall be treated as registration with the Manpower Services Commission for the purposes of claims to benefit made after the regulations come into force. It ensures that periods of registration with the Employment Service Agency—which was responsible prior to 1st April 1978 for running the local employment offices where claimants register for work—should count as periods of registration with the Manpower Services Commission (which took over the running of these offices from 1st April 1978) for the purposes of Regulation 19(2).

The regulations, as originally drafted, included at the end of this paragraph the words in relation to unemployment benefit for 1st April 1978 or any day thereafter".

The Joint Committee for Statutory Instruments questioned whether these words might not be regarded as giving the regulations retrospective effect. There was no such intention, and since the words were not strictly necessary for the operation of the regulations, the regulations were withdrawn and have now been relaid with the words in question omitted.

If the existing rules for seasonal workers claiming unemployment benefit in their off-season, are to continue to apply to all contributors likely to be affected by them, these regulations need to take effect before the end of the current summer season. Therefore, I recommend to your Lordships that the regulations be approved. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 18th July, be approved. —(Lord Cullen of Ashbourne.)


My Lords, once again we are grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. I am fairly familiar with this kind of situation. However, in the noble Lord's opening remarks he used the phrase, …" can reasonably expect to get work, I do not know what that means. Does it mean that there is some test as regards " reasonably expect to get work? " I do not know whether the noble Lord could give us an example of the function of the seasonal worker and tell us how it all works out. It would be of benefit to the House if he could do so. I would also be interested to have an explanation of what is meant by " reasonably expect to get work." Apart from that, I have no other comments to make.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, we too are grateful to the noble Lord for his clear explanation, both of the need for these regulations and of their nature. On Tuesday, we dealt with an additional qualifying condition for students in respect of unemployment benefit, and here we are dealing with additional qualifying conditions for seasonal workers. However, as I understand it, these regulations introduce no new condition; they merely continue the original regulations. Therefore, the purpose of the regulations is limited and quite acceptable to us on these Benches.

In their report dealing with this order, the National Insurance Advisory Committee draw attention to three changes in the special provisions relating to seasonal workers which they recommended in their earlier report in November 1977. The first was the need to amend the definition of " seasonal worker ". The second was the extension from 7 to 13 weeks of the period of off-season which would not require a person to be treated as a seasonal worker. The third was the abolition of the requirement that the seasonal worker must have registered for employment during all, or virtually all, the period of unemployment in the preceding two years. I wonder whether the noble Lord can say when the Government will give their attention to these recommendations.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for welcoming the continuation of the regulations. Perhaps I could try to explain in simpler words what the first paragraph that I read out really means. I should like to give the example of a shop assistant working at a seaside resort. Let us suppose that he works for 32 weeks and then registers for work, either nearby or elsewhere. Further, let us suppose that, in fact, he does not do any work during the off-season. He can go on like that for three years or so, and draw unemployment benefit. At the end of three or four years he is likely to be designated a seasonal worker and from then on, supposing that he had a 20-week off-season, he would have to work for five weeks—that being a quarter of the off-season period—or show that he had a reasonable prospect of doing so, in order to receive unemployment benefit during the off-season. I hope that that explains the situation adequately to the noble Lord.

On Question, Motion agreed to.