HL Deb 23 May 1995 vol 564 cc997-1019

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed.

Clause 9 [The jobseeker's agreement]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 7, line 37, leave out from ("officer") to second ("is") in line 38.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in rising to move Amendment No. 12, I should like, with the leave of the House and with the agreement of the Minister, to speak to two groups together since the issues are pretty well identical. Therefore, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 17.

These amendments all arise from an attempt to tidy up after the very big and particularly valuable series of concessions offered on the drafting of Clauses 9 and 10 on the second day of Report, the series I have come to think of as "Inglewood's easement". I said when those concessions were offered that I would need to read what was said and that indeed I thought I would need to read it several times. I have done so and I may say that it improves with reading. It is one of the most valuable series of concessions that we have had during the Bill and it is not in any ungracious spirit that I should like to try to add a little tidying up just to make it certain.

What concerned us about the drafting of the clauses, especially Clause 9, was the possibility that the wording of the jobseeker's agreement could come to provide a series of additional conditions for benefit beyond the conditions in Clause 1(2) (a) and (2) (c). The general purpose of the string of amendments is to restrict the eligibility criteria to Clause 1(2) (a) and 2(c)—to be "available for employment" and "actively seeking employment".

The words which particularly concerned us were the ones which Amendment No. 12 seeks to delete. An agreement, which complies with the prescribed requirements in force at the time when the agreement is made", is described as a jobseeker's agreement. Those words gave a suggestion of an introduction of additional conditions. I am entirely convinced now that that was not the Minister's intention, nor anything like the Minister's intention. What I am concerned with now is tidying up to make sure that it shall remain that way in the future.

Amendment No. 13 inserts the words, in the prescribed format". That is meant to give effect to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, on the second day of the Report stage. He said: The intention is to include things such as the jobseeker's name, his availability, the sort of work he is looking for, any period that is agreed in which he can restrict his availability and jobsearch … and rate of pay and a dated signature of both the jobseeker and the employment officer".—[Official Report, 16/5/95; col. 480] We are not arguing with what the noble Lord said. Our concern is to make sure that no one adds anything else thereafter.

The remaining amendments in the group are all concerned to restrict the conditions of eligibility to the ones set out in Clause 1(2). It binds the adjudication officer to judge by those criteria and no others. I hope that the amendments are helpful. They are intended to be and they are certainly not intended in any critical spirit. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Earl for his kind comments at the outset of his remarks and acknowledging that we receive them in the spirit in which they were given. We have debated these issues over a number of days. As the noble Earl said, I endeavoured to give a full explanation of our intentions at Report stage, and I do not propose to repeat all that today. Nonetheless, it may be helpful if I clarify some of the points. I sense that the noble Earl is seeking reassurance on a number of issues. If I can reassure him, I shall be satisfied and he may then feel able to withdraw his amendment.

As I have made clear in every debate during the passage of the Bill, the agreement is a supportive measure which will help jobseekers get back to work. It will not—I repeat not—allow the employment officer or the independent adjudication officer to impose individual conditions of benefit. I have given the House repeated reassurances to this effect. I am happy to do the same again now.

I have already reassured the noble Earl that the power in subsection (1) is benign. Perhaps it would help him and the House if I explain once again that the regulations made under it will be used to set out what will be needed to constitute an agreement—broadly speaking, the headings that it must contain. The intention is to include such things as the jobseeker's name, his availability, the sort of work he is looking for, any period that is agreed in which he can restrict his availability and jobsearch to his normal occupation and rate of pay and a dated signature of both the jobseeker and the employment officer. We have made all this clear. I can confirm that the word "requirements" relates to the specification of what must be in the document and not to actions which the jobseeker will take, as described in the agreement. I hope that that meets the point that the noble Earl is anxious about.

Having dealt initially with Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, I move on to the further Amendments, Nos. 14, 15 and 17. As regards Amendment No. 14, once the jobseeker has an agreement in force the key to his continued receipt of jobseeker's allowance will, however, be the actual steps that he takes to find work and his actual availability for employment. The agreement will be used as a basis for establishing what the jobseeker has agreed to do to meet the conditions of availability and active seeking, but whether the jobseeker has abided by the precise letter of what is in his agreement will not be the test of whether someone continues to meet the conditions.

For example, if a jobseeker has said in his agreement that he will apply for jobs in a factory but he then applies for a job in a supermarket in addition to or instead of a factory, that jobseeker will not be penalised provided he was still actively seeking employment. No one could possibly want that to be the case. This is an important point, and it is right that your Lordships should have focused on it now and previously. I want it to be absolutely clear that there is no question of the agreement setting different standards of availability and active seeking than are applied by the basic conditions.

I now move on to Amendments Nos. 15 and 17. As has been explained repeatedly in this House and in the other place, the Bill provides an extensive procedure for independent adjudication and appeal of jobseeker's agreements and variations. Both the jobseeker and the employment adviser will be able to have a proposed agreement or variation referred to an adjudication officer.

The adjudication officer will carry out his functions independently of government under the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and receive guidance on carrying out their adjudication duties from the chief adjudication officer, not the Secretary of State. If the jobseeker or the employment adviser is dissatisfied with the adjudication officer's determination, either may seek to have it reviewed by a different adjudication officer. If the jobseeker is still dissatisfied he, but not the employment adviser, will have the right of appeal to the Social Security Appeal Tribunal; and thence to the commissioner on a point of law.

Now let us turn to the matters which the adjudication officer will consider in making his determination. Again, I believe that the noble Earl is seeking, in particular, to ensure that the adjudication officer will not be able to say that it is reasonable to expect the jobseeker to have to comply with other conditions over and above the availability for employment and actively seeking employment conditions. That goes to the very heart of Clause 9(6) and Clause 10(5). They offer explicit protection to the jobseeker. They provide for the adjudication officer to consider two matters. First, would the jobseeker, if he complied with the proposed agreement (or variation) satisfy the availability and actively seeking employment conditions of JSA? And, secondly, is it reasonable to expect the jobseeker to have to comply with the proposed agreement? Let me make it clear: the adjudication officer will not—indeed, cannot—consider other matters.

I gave examples of this at Report and I am happy to give them again today. Take, for example, a proposed agreement which stated that the jobseeker would apply for 90 jobs a week. Applying for 90 jobs a week would clearly enable him to meet the actively seeking employment condition but it would be unreasonable to expect him to have to do so. The adjudication officer would make a determination to that effect, and the jobseeker would not have to look for 90 jobs a week. Or a proposed agreement which stated that a declared anti-vivisectionist would be available for jobs as an assistant in a laboratory that uses animals for its testing would again be unreasonable because there are many other types of job which the jobseeker could be available for in order to meet the availability condition. Again the adjudication officer could make a determination to that effect and the jobseeker would not have to be available for work to which he was conscientiously opposed.

As I said at Report, the entitlement conditions apply to different individuals according to their particular circumstances. There is no absolute stipulated number of jobs that people in general should apply for in each week. But if the noble Earl's question is can an adjudication officer set a higher level for an individual in an agreement than would be sufficient for that individual to meet the conditions in Clauses 1(2) (a) and 1(2) (c), the answer is simple and straightforward: it is, no.

I believe the Bill is quite clear, but the noble Earl has suggested a drafting change to make it yet clearer. I have to say that I find that his amendment would make the Bill less clear. It speaks of reasonable steps for meeting the availability and actively seeking employment conditions, but there are no steps involved in being available. Steps are a matter of active seeking.

I believe that I can see the point the noble Earl is making. We could spend a long time debating fine drafting points. But I have given an explanation of what this part of the Bill means, and I believe that there must come a time in our deliberations when we leave the drafting to the draftsman. I very much hope, as I have gone through these various points and given reassurance to the noble Earl, that he can withdraw his amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister not only for the trouble he has taken about this matter, which is considerable, but also for the clarity with which he has understood exactly what our concerns are. It has made business a great deal easier to conduct. I am also grateful to him for four very specific reassurances he has just given.

First, and most crucial, is the exposition of the meaning of the word "requirements". That alone goes a very long way to reassure me on the points that we are concerned with. The second reassurance which he repeated was that the jobseeker cannot be held to the precise letter of the agreement. That provides a very valuable opportunity to react to circumstances as they turn up. The third reassurance is that it does not make it possible to bring in any different standards of availability and of seeking. That is an unambiguous reassurance and an extremely welcome one. In the fourth example of reassurance the Minister was only spelling out again what he said before, but with even greater clarity. That is the point that people cannot be compelled to take work to which they are conscientiously opposed. That is a valuable safeguard and a part of human dignity. I am extremely glad to hear it said so clearly. I thank the Minister warmly and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 15 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 8, line 16, leave out third ("of") and insert ("from").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 18 and 29. In the Report stage on 16th May, I spoke to a series of amendments to the clauses dealing with the jobseeker's agreement, which your Lordships were pleased to approve. I mentioned then that we proposed to make a small drafting improvement to the amended Clause 9(7) (a) and Clause 10(6) (a), which deal with the time-limit in which the adjudication officer makes his determination on an agreement.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 18 are purely technical, drafting amendments. I hope that your Lordships will welcome them. Amendment No. 29 is a small consequential amendment. Paragraph 42(3) of Schedule 2 amends Section 20 of the Social Security Administration Act so that the adjudication of a jobseeker's agreement will take place under the procedure set out in Clauses 9 and 10 of the Jobseekers Bill, rather than the Social Security Administration Act. The amendments to Clauses 9 and 10 which your Lordships approved at Report stage put the adjudication procedure on the face of the Bill. The reference to regulations in paragraph 42(3) must, therefore, be removed. This is a consequential amendment and I hope that your Lordships will welcome it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10 [Variation of jobseeker's agreement]:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 9, line 23, leave out third ("of") and insert ("from").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [Severe hardship]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 13, line 19, at end insert: ("( ) This section shall apply to any person aged 16 to 18 who has applied to join the armed forces but cannot join until the next enlistment date.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, it would be redundant to explain this amendment to the House at this time of night. I think that we all know what it is about. It relates to 16 and 17 year-olds applying to join the Armed Forces. I tabled this amendment in order to find out whether the Minister is able to be a little more forthcoming than he was in his mildly and intermittently encouraging answer on Report. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as the noble Earl rightly pointed out, we have discussed this issue previously. On those previous occasions, I recognised that there was an issue that we should look into. I promised to consult the Ministry of Defence and to write to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, with our proposals.

The noble Earl appeared to suggest at Report that the decision ought to be straightforward. But I regret to inform him that it is not that simple. As I have explained, there can be wide variations in the length of time between being offered employment with the forces and the actual enlistment date. There is little we can do to influence that. We have been informed by the Ministry of Defence that the waiting period can be as long as six months. I am sure that we would all agree that in those cases young people should not be encouraged to sit waiting for that enlistment date to arrive. It is reasonable to expect all young people to look for work and training during that time.

As the noble Earl knows, I do not normally consider amendments from a textual point of view, but the amendment as drafted states, applied to join the armed forces". I thought that we had agreed that we were talking about somebody who had been accepted by the Armed Forces and was awaiting an entry date. Therefore, we have a problem. I have already indicated that we shall have to consider whether all young people in that situation should be able to claim JSA or only those at risk of severe hardship. We are still discussing the matter with the Ministry of Defence, and, as I have promised, when we have concluded our discussions, I shall write to the noble Earl. However, even when we reach that conclusion, I do not think that this should be a matter for primary legislation. It is something about which we need to consult and I believe that we can then deal with it in regulations in due course. As I have promised, I shall write to the noble Earl when we have reached a conclusion on the matter. I hope that he will accept those assurances.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply and for the trouble that he has already taken over this matter. I take his point about six months. I had not realised that the waiting period could be as long as that and I agree that it makes a difference.

I am also interested to hear that the provisions can be changed without primary legislation. That makes it easier to leave this matter beyond the completion of the Bill. If I had known that last Thursday, I would not have tabled this amendment. Having discovered that and having thanked the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 [Circumstances in which a jobseeker's allowance is not payable]:

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 15, line 40, leave out from second ("be") to end of line 42 and insert ("no more than two weeks in the first instance and a subsequent maximum of four weeks if the claimant persists in his refusal or failure to comply").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to Clause 19 and the circumstances in which a jobseeker's allowance is not payable. Two subsections spell out the circumstances in which that allowance is not payable. Subsection (5) refers to where a jobseeker has failed to observe a jobseeker's direction, has neglected or refused a place on a training scheme, or has been dismissed from such a scheme on grounds of misconduct. Subsection (6) states that the jobseeker's allowance will not be paid where the jobseeker refuses an employment opportunity, loses a job through misconduct or leaves without just cause. Those two subsections specify the circumstances in which the jobseeker's allowance shall not be payable.

The amendment deals with the fact that on the face of the Bill both of those circumstances—neglecting to go on a training scheme or being dismissed from a training scheme and what one would have thought the apparently more severe behaviour of refusing an employment opportunity, losing a job due to misconduct or leaving without just cause—carry the same statutory penalties.

Subsection (2) deals with the statutory penalties affecting subsection (5) and states: If the circumstances are any of those mentioned in subsection (5), the period for which the allowance is not to be payable shall be such period (of at least one week but not more than 26 weeks) as may be prescribed".

Subsection (3) uses almost precisely the same words but with reference to subsection (6), stating: If the circumstances are any of those mentioned in subsection (6), the period for which the allowance is not to be payable shall be such period (of at least one week but not more than 26 weeks) as may be determined by the adjudication officer".

Therefore, two different types of misconduct or behaviour which would disqualify one from receipt of the jobseeker's allowance are spelled out in subsections (5) and (6), with two almost identical subsections—subsections (2) and (3)—stating that the maximum penalty is 26 weeks in both cases. Anybody looking at the face of the Bill might think that the Government regard both types of behaviour as equally appalling, dreadful and awful and as equally justifying a 26-week refusal of benefit.

However, page 28 of the Notes on Clauses states as regards subsection (2)—that is, that which covers subsection (5): The intention is that the period of sanction should be for two weeks, rising to four weeks, if the sanction is imposed on a subsequent occasion". So, a mild sanction is intended for those offences committed under subsection (5)—two weeks in the first instance, but four weeks if you go on doing it.

Page 26 of the White Paper says much the same thing: People who refuse to attend or complete mandatory courses, or fail to act on a jobseeker's direction will be disqualified from benefit for a fixed period of two weeks, rising to four if repeated".

Finally, on Report, when turning down the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, which would have limited suspension to six weeks after repeated offences, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said: Amendment No. 77 removes the stipulation that the minimum period of sanction that can be prescribed under Clause 18(2) is one week, and the maximum period that can be prescribed is 26 weeks. As your Lordships will be aware, these sanctions relate to the circumstances set out in Clause 18(5); that is, refusal or failure to carry out a jobseeker's direction or to attend a training scheme or employment programme".

Then he goes on as a reason for refusing the amendment: But let me assure your Lordships that the Government's intention, clearly set out in the White Paper"— which I have quoted— is that the regulations will establish a two-week sanction for these circumstances, rising to four weeks if the claimant persists in his refusal or failure. We believe it is right to set a clear penalty"— I should not have thought it was very clear, as it is totally different from what is on the face of the Bill: so that unemployed people will be under no doubt"— because presumably they will know the regulations that we do not yet have rather than the face of the Bill, which we do not intend to follow— of the consequences if they reject our help and assistance without good cause".—[Official Report, 15/5/95; col. 371]

The Government will not accept an amendment to reduce the period to six weeks, and yet they say in Notes on Clauses, in the White Paper, and on the Floor of the House that they will, at some time in the future, prescribe something far less drastic than that. The purpose of the amendment is simple. Why cannot that be on the face of the Bill? I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, this is an important amendment. I support it warmly and with enthusiasm. In other circumstances I might have said so at some length, but as it is I think the Minister could write my speech to the amendment in his sleep, so I will not make him listen to it again.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, this is assuredly an important amendment. The object is, in a sense, to rectify an apparent disparity as to sanctions. That alters the whole balance of part of the structure of the Bill. On Third Reading, in a thin House, it is hardly appropriate that we should entertain such a proposition.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, we have been round this track a number of times. As I have said before, the overwhelming majority of people who become unemployed make every effort to find work at the earliest possible opportunity and are prepared to be available for as many jobs as possible. They need no further incentive from the benefit rules. However for those who are less firm in their intentions and who do not have the same resolve to get back to work, sanctions can play a very important role in influencing the behaviour of people who are claiming benefit and reinforcing incentives for them to take the right steps to improve their prospects of finding a job.

To make sanctions more effective we have sought to simplify and clarify them so that claimants will know exactly where they stand and what will be the consequences of failing, or refusing, to act on directions or failing to take advantage of government provision. It is reasonable to make things as clear in regulations as they are on the face of the Bill. It is all part of the law of the land.

We have made it clear in the JSA White Paper, and I have repeated that commitment many times in this House, that for all the circumstances set out in subsection (5) the sanction to be imposed will be a fixed two weeks, rising to four if the claimant persists in his refusal or failure to act. We have no plans for any change to those periods. We want it to be clear to claimants that that will be the period of sanction.

But I cannot accept the amendment moved by the noble Lord. The setting of fixed periods is a new approach to sanctions. At present it is possible to impose a sanction of up to 26 weeks for failure to act on an official recommendation or refusal to accept a place on an approved training scheme, so fixed periods of two and four weeks represent substantial changes to that provision. Sanctions must serve to provide disincentives to claimants against filing to take the right steps to get back to work. We made changes to the maximum periods of sanction in the 1980s precisely because we found that the provisions were proving unsuccessful in discouraging people from leaving employment. Should we discover in the future that the periods of two and four weeks are not proving adequate as disincentives, it would be reasonable for us to return to the issue of different periods.

As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, it is a fundamental change which is proposed at this stage of the Bill. It is important to retain the right degree of flexibility on these matters, which is why we propose to provide for the period in regulations in the manner I have described to your Lordships. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, if I understand what the noble Lord is saying, he is saying, "Don't believe what I say". He is saying, "It's in the White Paper. I have told you about it. It is on record that that is what we mean—two weeks and four weeks—and we don't mean it. Because we might at some further moment in the future want to be really nasty and make it 26, we are going to shove it in the Bill". That is not an argument. That is ridiculous. In view of the time of night, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Clause 29 [Pilot schemes]:

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

Clause 37 [Parliamentary control]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 31, line 34, leave out second ("or").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 23 to 26 have the effect of ensuring that any regulation made under paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 will be subject to the affirmative procedure at all times. Similar provisions at Section 28(3) of the Benefits Act are affirmative. Your Lordships will remember that when we discussed this I explained in response to an amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the two groups we had in mind in this clause were share fishermen, who need to be dealt with specially—I do not want to repeat what I said about them, but I am sure that all noble Lords agree with me on that—and those workers who are on short time or who are temporarily stopped.

Having reflected upon our discussion, I decided that it was appropriate in the case of regulations which may require certain groups to satisfy additional conditions to receive a jobseeker's allowance, that we should make that change. The amendments add regulations made under paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 to the list of those in Clause 37(1) (c) which are subject to the affirmative procedure at all times.

Consequent upon that, these regulations are also added to the list in Clause 37(1) (a). This sets out the regulations which are subject to the affirmative procedure only if made before the date JSA becomes payable. It is necessary to exempt paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 from that list because the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure at all times.

I know that the noble Earl has tabled art amendment. Perhaps I may leave the matter with my remarks about what we propose to do in that regard and then with the leave of the House perhaps I may return after the noble Earl has spoken. I beg to move.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's agreement as regards the affirmative procedure. It is extremely helpful. I rise to speak to Amendment No. 28, which is in this group. It relates to the same line of questioning as arose in the issues that I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, in relation to Clause 9. The words in the Bill that concern us are at paragraph 17 of Schedule 1. It reads: Regulations may require additional conditions to be satisfied with respect to the payment of a jobseeker's allowance".

That was the point about the Bill that caused Members on these Benches the most anxiety. We listened carefully to what the Minister said, and has repeated now, about the purpose for which the power is intended; that is, share fishermen and temporarily-stopped workers. We have no objection to the Government's stated intention. However, the vires in the paragraph go a good deal wider than the Government's stated intention. Your Lordships know that I am anxious about leaving unexploded vires lying about. If your Lordships read this morning's Independent about the clearing of mines in northern France they will appreciate my concern.

I appreciate that the Government's intention is benign. However, the wording of paragraph 17 contains no specification that it must be benign. I can see nothing in the wording of the paragraph—if there were anything I should be glad to hear about it—which makes it legally necessary that its use should be benign.

If the Minister suggests that either in this House or at a stage which will inevitably follow in another place the Government will include words to that effect I shall not feel inclined to insist on the words of my amendment. They were designed to incorporate what the Minister said were the purposes of the paragraph; that is: Regulations … may … require additional conditions to be satisfied by … share fishermen … short-time or temporarily stopped workers. For the avoidance of doubt, it is declared that the ejusdem generis rule applies". I hope that I have it right.

I am aware that the amendment does not specifically define the genus. With more time we might have done better. The genus I have in mind is contained in the words of the Minister. It is clear that we are not dealing here with the normal case of unemployment. Many of these claimants will have continuing contracts of employment".—[Official Report, 16/5/95; col. 534.] That is the genus that I had in mind. If we can find a way to tie the vires to the intention for which they are being taken, the gap between us will be closed and an anxiety will be removed. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall respond to the points made by the noble Earl in speaking to Amendment No. 28. He has, as frequently in this House, expressed concern about the potential wider uses of this power by a perhaps less benign future government than this Government.

Clause 1 sets out the basic conditions for entitlement to a jobseeker's allowance. The Bill is clear and we have stated that for the average JSA claimant those are the conditions that will apply. However, we must recognise that there are cases where small groups have access to JSA on a basis different from other claimants. As I explained on Report, the two uses of the power so far identified are for groups which have particular circumstances of employment and where the normal availability rules would be inappropriate. The wording of the power makes clear that it cannot be used for the generality of claimants and that any regulations made under it must apply only to specific groups which are identified with respect to their form of occupation. Any future uses would also have to be in respect of particular groups where the normal conditions need to be slightly adapted to special circumstances. I hope that having that explanation on the record will provide some reassurance to the noble Earl as regards the basic scope of the provision.

I understand his desire further to clarify the limits of the provision on the face of the Bill. The main aim of the amendment is to use share fishermen or short-time or temporarily-stopped workers as a benchmark against which other potential uses of the power can be measured. I do not believe that any such comparisons will be possible or desirable. New paragraph 18 would restrict any future uses of the power to groups who are similar in nature to share fishermen or short-time or temporarily-stopped workers.

The amendment suggests that that would avoid any doubt but I am not sure that it is likely to be the case. The two benchmark groups listed are very different in nature. Their employment status, the type of work that they undertake, the length of claim, the frequency of claim and other factors vary considerably. There is a great deal of difference between a self-employed fisherman based in Grimsby who cannot work for a week because of storms in the North Sea and an unemployed carpet maker in Axminster who has not been able to work for two months because his employer has no work for him.

They differ not only from the usual unemployed JSA claimant, but also from each other. The two examples illustrate very well the difficulties we face in setting down a general rule even by way of illustrative example, to govern the use of a power which by its very nature is intended to cater for exceptional circumstances. If we try to do this we risk limiting our ability to deal with other groups in future which might not exactly fit the mould of the normal unemployed claimant, who could legitimately look for help from JSA, provided slightly adapted conditions were met.

As I mentioned when I moved my own amendment, although I cannot accept this one, I understand the concerns raised by the noble Earl earlier and again today over what he perhaps sees as the potential wide-ranging use of this power. I brought forward the amendment to make it clear that the affirmative procedure will be used, and that of course ought to ensure greater parliamentary scrutiny of these measures. I accept that perhaps it does not go quite as far as the noble Earl would like, but I hope that it provides some reassurance, in addition to my words, on our view of this clause and the potential use of these provisions. In view of that, I hope the noble Earl will accept these assurances and will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, perhaps with the leave of the House I might respond very briefly to the Minister. He has given me a good deal of reassurance, which I welcome. He has also fastened unerringly on the weaknesses in the drafting of my own amendment which might have made me slightly chary of pressing it had it come up at a different time. What he has not quite reassured me on—and I should be very grateful if he could go a little further on this—is the restriction of paragraph 17 to being benign. I can see that it is restricted to categories of employment which are of a prescribed description. However, I do not see in the words "prescribed description" anything which is necessarily benign.

The Minister talks about groups. He occasionally expresses surprise about my suspicion of the use of regulation-making powers; but it was precisely this sort of power to make special regulations for a group which was used by the Government to disentitle students. That was the beginning of my serious concern with regulations. Nothing which the Government could ever do with regulations could possibly cause more surprise to me than that. Therefore, if we can tighten these words "prescribed description" and make it clear that they are benign, I think that would help very considerably.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I could respond to the noble Earl. I do not think I can really go any further than I have gone. I repeat that any future use would have to be in respect of particular groups where the normal conditions need to be slightly adapted to the special circumstances because, as with the two cases we are dealing with, they are small groups which have access to JSA on a different basis from other claimants. I do not think that I can go quite as far as to promise him that the result would always be benign, and perhaps by using that word I was making a debating point at the beginning which I should not have put into the noble Earl's mind. However, perhaps I can look further at this and give him the assurance that I will study what he has said and perhaps write to him. I realise it is late in the passage of this Bill, but I hope he will accept that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 31, line 36, at end insert ("or (iii) paragraph 17 of Schedule 1,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendments Nos. 25 and 26:

Page 31, line 40, leave out ("or").

Page 31, line 41, after ("35(1)") insert ("or paragraph 17 of Schedule 1").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Supplementary Provisions]:

[Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 46, line 31, leave out ("regulations made under").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

I am not sure whether it was fate dealing me an unkind blow, but just as I am about to do this particular deed on this Bill, the First Reading of another Bill in which I am involved comes to your Lordships' House, just to remind me of work that is to come. We examined the Bill in considerable detail in Committee, during re-committal of Clause 6, last week on Report and again today on Third Reading. Our deliberations have been thorough and, in the main, very constructive.

Many of your Lordships have contributed to the debate but perhaps I can extend thanks to noble Lords on the Benches opposite, particularly the noble Baronesses Lady Hollis, Lady Turner of Camden, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde and Lady Williams of Crosby, the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy, Lord Carter, Lord Richard and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who have all contributed to debates so eloquently. I should also like to pay tribute to the voluntary organisations which have contributed their knowledge and experience to the debate both directly and indirectly, and whose suggested amendments put down on the Marshalled List by your Lordships have formed the agenda of so much of our discussion. I am at a loss to know how we would go about our business if outside organisations—be they pressure groups, as largely on this Bill—or professional, commercial and business interests were unable to have their concerns raised and their amendments addressed in either this or the other place.

On this side of the House, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who moved many of the amendments standing in my name and who helped me to provide answers to many of the testing questions put by your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Swinfen, as ever, spoke persuasively for the cause of disabled people as did the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on the Cross-Benches.

The Government set three clear aims for the jobseeker's allowance: to improve the operation of the labour market; to get better value for money for the taxpayer; and to improve the service to unemployed people themselves. I am sure that your Lordships would endorse those aims. During the passage of the Bill, we have not always been able to agree, but I hope that we were able to go some way to address the concerns expressed in debate.

I pay particular tribute to the work of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I reminded your Lordships on an earlier occasion that I was a founder member of the committee, which perhaps gave me added insight into the force of the arguments which were so carefully and thoughtfully set out in the report. The House was invited to consider, whether the Bill should be amended so as to provide more detailed framework within which Ministers may exercise the powers to be delegated to them under Clause 6"— as it was then.

We took that recommendation, and the other findings, very seriously indeed and also listened carefully to the arguments advanced by several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton, and noble Lords opposite. In response, we introduced extensive amendments at recommitment defining the conditions of availability and actively seeking work on the face of the Bill, and ensuring that the regulations made under Clauses 6 and 7 should be subject to the affirmative procedure whenever they are made. We also made changes to Clauses 9, 10 and 11 which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, kindly attributed to my noble friend Lord Inglewood earlier, to make clearer our intention on the face of the Bill and dispense with some regulation making powers.

We have made a considerable effort to explain our intentions as fully as we can and to place them on the record wherever possible. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, pressed us hard by regaling us with his five questions. I hope that the explanations of our intentions with regard to the powers in the Bill have gone some way to assuage his fears of some future—and as I described them earlier—less benign government than the present one.

I hope that I was able to reassure the House that we entirely accept that jobseekers with disabilities need special consideration. We have drawn up the labour market rules with them in mind. They will be able to place restrictions on their availability for employment which are reasonable in view of their condition and with no requirement that such restrictions should be inhibited by any questions of their prospects of securing employment. Their condition will also specifically be taken into account when the steps that they have taken actively to seek work are considered.

Importantly, in JSA—for the first time—we have included explicit provision for people with caring responsibilities to restrict their availability. They will be able to restrict the hours in which they are available for work below 40 hours. We also recognise that it would be unreasonable to expect people with caring responsibilities to be available to take up work immediately. That is why, following the persuasive arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and of my noble friend Lord Swinfen, we agreed that carers will be entitled to 48 hours' notice of any job or job interview. That will allow them time to make any arrangements necessary.

We also propose to introduce a special linking rule for the purposes of the back-to-work bonus for people who take short spells out of the labour market because they are sick. The rule will affect those people who have accrued a bonus and then fall sick and have to claim incapacity benefit or need to care for another person and claim invalid care allowance. During debate on the Bill in another place, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment said that she would consider the linking rules for people in those situations. I am pleased to announce now that people in that position will have their bonus protected for up to two years.

We have never been in any doubt about the magnitude and complexity of introducing JSA smoothly and successfully throughout the network of 1,200 jobcentres. This undertaking entails the development of two substantial computer systems, extensive organisational change and very large-scale training programmes. I have made clear on more than one occasion that the Government will take no risks to jeopardise the smooth introduction of the jobseeker's allowance. That is why I announced to your Lordships last week that the Government had decided that the jobseeker's allowance should be introduced in October 1996. We made that decision because we do not want to put at risk the improved service which we will be offering to jobseekers under the new arrangements.

I am glad to have been able to respond positively to at least some of the amendments from noble Lords on the Benches opposite. We have amended the Bill to protect from sanction a person refusing to accept an offer of employment arising from a trade dispute. We have replaced the power to make regulations for trial periods with a duty and reduced the qualifying period of unemployment whereby a person can qualify under the employment on trial rules from six months to three months.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was responsible for an amendment, which we accepted, that regulations provide that any variation in the terms or conditions of a jobseeker's agreement be referred forthwith to an adjudication officer. However, we have had considerable disagreement on the adequacy of benefit levels, the length of time over which they should be paid and a number of other issues. We heard on a number of occasions from the Benches opposite that they regard benefit levels as mean, inadequate, at poverty levels and other such words. Based on the superlative nature of these words I have deduced that the Benches opposite might reasonably be expected to want to increase benefit by, say, £10 a week. A £10 increase in the adult personal allowance in contributory based and income related JSA would cost more than £1 billion at 1994–95 prices and benefit levels.

I also had to resist amendments which would either have reduced the savings which the new system will bring or increased expenditure. In the day following the interesting Mais lecture by the Leader of the Opposition in another place in which he appeared to join us in determination to control public spending, it is interesting to note that the message has not yet spread to the Benches opposite in your Lordships' House. A quick glance at the amendments placed by the Benches opposite on the Marshalled List over the consideration of the Bill shows a reduction in revenue of £150 million, a reduction in the savings of £50 million and expenditure of around £200 million. Perhaps before we consider our next Bill noble Lords opposite should read, mark and inwardly digest the new financial prudence advocated in this week's Mais lecture.

We have also had disagreements over the quid pro quo issue of benefits in exchange for certain conditions like availability and actively seeking and, in addition, over jobseeker's directions and whether a claimant should always have the right to pick and choose his jobsearch and ultimately his job.

Sir William Beveridge himself recognised those difficult issues half a century ago when he argued that: The danger of providing benefits which are both adequate in amount and indefinite in duration is that men as creatures who adapt themselves to circumstances may settle down to them"; and: Men and women in receipt of unemployment benefit cannot be allowed to hold out indefinitely for work of the type to which they are used. Men and women who have been unemployed for a certain period should be required as a condition of continued benefit to attend a work or training course". We are attending to those important aspects of our social security and unemployment system in this Jobseekers Bill. I believe that it will mark a major improvement in the way that benefit is delivered to the unemployed person, the jobseeker. It will also act as a sensible safeguard for taxpayers' money.

I conclude by once again thanking all Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in the eight or nine days of our deliberations on this important Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, the Question that the Bill do now pass is usually an occasion for some pleasant camaraderie in which we tell each other, and even mean it, that the Bill is a much better Bill than when it entered the House. We said that about the Pensions Bill; I believe that we may have been correct. We look forward to the Disability Discrimination Bill and the Child Support Bill—I believe with the same teams—and we hope that that statement may be correct. However, such a statement is not true about this Bill. The Bill remains as malign and thoroughly nasty as when it came to us on 3rd April.

We have certainly learnt more about it. The more we learn about it, the more vicious it seems. But improve it, modify it, amend it or ameliorate it, my Lords?—no, that we have not done. And why? The Bill cuts contributory benefit to the unemployed, even though they have paid for it through national insurance as part of their social contract, from 12 months to six months and to nothing if a spouse is claimed for. The Bill attaches to even these grudging benefits harsher tests for availability and actively seeking work, built around a new jobseeker's allowance, which can then require a person to take a job which pays less than income support. If there is any doubt about whether someone unemployed receiving jobseeker's allowance is actively seeking work, the benefit will be stopped while that doubt is investigated, so that a person is punished in advance of being found guilty.

The Bill is authoritarian in the worst sense, allowing the employment office staff to impose their prejudices on unemployed men and women. It increases the poverty of the unemployed. Ninety thousand people will lose their benefit; 150,000 people will have cuts in their benefit; and many for the first time ever will have no benefit, no income, on which to live. Disabled people coming off incapacity benefit remain vulnerable. In other words, the Bill will finger the unemployed for their unemployment and will bully them into unlimited availability for unending jobsearch for non-existent jobs in an overstocked labour market. It is a demeaning, demoralising and contemptible Bill.

I believe that only two amendments from the House have been accepted by the Government. The first will allow youngsters with good cause to leave a bad training scheme without penalties. Surprise, surprise, my Lords. The second will allow carers and parents of young children 48 hours rather than 24 hours for availability for work.

The significant change to the Bill in the old Clause 6 came about not because the House was concerned with the lot of the unemployed but because it was rightly concerned at the overweaning powers that the Executive is taking to itself. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, on an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Richard, forced the Government to define "available for" and "actively seeking" work on the face of the Bill and to ensure that all the regulations associated with the provision came with affirmative resolution. That was, I think, salutary; but all too seldom, thwarting a Government whom I believe—and I think the public believe—have been in power so long that they have come to consider that public office is to some degree a piece of private property for which they are not fully and democratically accountable. I am glad that on this occasion at least the House of Lords managed to check the Executive. We hope that those changes will at least have given leverage to the other place to reopen some of the more significant debates.

The second significant change, based on a discussion earlier today, involves a delay in introducing the jobseeker's allowance to October 1996. However, by cutting unemployment benefit from 12 months to six months we see a failure of the system again. We welcome the delay because it means that the benefits to the under-25s and the cuts to dependent spouses will be deferred for some six months. Otherwise, the delay stands as a condemnation of the Government's haste to cut benefits in advance of their administrative system being in place.

This is an occasion for "thank-yous". First, perhaps the one point of agreement that we have with the Minister today is that our thanks go to the voluntary organisations, the disability organisations and citizens' advice bureaux, who supplied us with many formidable briefs. Secondly, our thanks go to the members of a team which has always been both a social security and an employment team on the Labour Benches. That is my noble friend Lady Turner who led for us on Second Reading but retired from the proceedings on the Bill on her bereavement. She then gallantly returned to the fray. Our thanks go to my noble friend Lord McCarthy, whose unrivalled knowledge of the employment field and unlimited good humour did much to cheer us up, while simultaneously wrong-footing the Government. Both were equally welcome.

Our thanks go to my noble friend Lord Carter, who argued the case for disabled people with conviction, and to my noble friend Lady Dean, who spoke with such compassion for young people at risk. We also thank those noble Lords all round the House, on the Government Benches, the Lib-Dem Benches and the Cross-Benches who contributed to our debates.

The Ministers were always courteous, sometimes informative, usually cheerful, seldom cross and almost never helpful. Even as his speech on Bill do now pass expired, the Minister sought to tally the costs of the putative promises that we would have made if only we could. That came from a Government who managed, in one administration going from the rates to the poll tax to the council tax, to spend £3 billion. It is a bit rich to lecture—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

More than that!

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

It was £3 billion. That is what it cost this Government, not the local authorities but central government. In the lifetime of one government they changed their mind twice on the system of local government finance. We take no lectures on the custodianship of taxpayers' money from the Benches opposite when, to meet the prejudice and pride of senior Ministers, the Government throw taxpayers' money at legislation which they themselves have to reverse twice.

The Ministers were always courteous, never helpful! No doubt their briefs said, "Resist", and they resisted well. Pity about the unemployed. We are glad to be rid of the Bill. I only wish with all my heart that we could have abated it even a little, for the sake of those who will suffer by it. Our one pleasure is that despite our pressure to remove regulation from the face of the Bill, there is at least scope for a change of government to do something in the future.

9.37 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, my former supervisor, Mr. J.W. Gough, once remarked in an edition of the works of John Locke that perhaps it is only when it is possible to treat politics as a game and not as a war that democratic government is possible. I keep changing my mind about whether that is an optimistic or a pessimistic remark. However, one way or the other, I am certain that it is true.

In so far as it is possible to treat the Bill as a game, the two Ministers responsible—the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—deserve our warmest thanks. Those of us who have never spoken from the Government Dispatch Box—and that means everyone who has led on both Front Benches on this side of the House, save only my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby—find it hard to imagine quite how difficult it must be to take all the flak that comes across that Government Dispatch Box: all the anger, all the persistence, all the speed, one thing after another. It must be rather like facing the West Indian fast bowlers. When I watched the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, at the Dispatch Box, I was reminded of watching John Edrich playing his first test at Lords, on the day when Wesley Hall came within a yard of bowling a six in byes. He showed an iron determination to play down the line at whatever risk to himself. The next time I watched him batting, he scored a century against Australia.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has the straightest of bats. But every now and then he displays a mischievous sense of humour that reminds me of the late cut that Denis Compton used to play when he had run too far down the pitch and the ball did not pitch where he expected. That sense of humour has been one of the great joys of this Bill, and I thank the Minister for it.

During the Bill's passage I have been reminded of the man who visited a south Indian village and went to look at the shrines. He saw the shrine of Brahma, that of Shiva and that of Vishnu. Away in the corner was a fourth shrine. He went to look at it and saw that it was to the judicial committee of the privy council. I should like to think that somewhere a Hindu jobseeker who will benefit by the changes in this Bill may erect a shrine to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. The committee has earned it.

The report was late, for reasons that were not the committee's fault, but it was very, very useful. I shall not make a meal of its being late. One such accident might happen to anyone. I shall say only that I hope, when we come to the Child Support Bill, to which we gave a First Reading tonight, that the memorandum will reach the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee in reasonably good time because there are many delegated powers issues in that Bill.

I give warmest thanks to Anton Obholzer in our Whips' Office. He is one of the architects, after the Minister of course, of the amendments that I classified collectively as "Inglewood's easement" and for which we are extremely grateful. He is responsible for much of the thinking that identified the questions to which the Minister responded.

I should like to thank those in the Box who have helped us. It was a very great comfort during the passage of the Bill to have a Box on this side of the House as well as one on that side. The Bill has been improved. The drafting of Clause 6 is improved. I offer particular thanks to Conservative Back-Benchers and Cross-Benchers, whose help with Clause 6 was conspicuously honourable and constructive. The remarks of noble Lords, Lord Renton, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Henderson of Brompton—and two crucial interventions from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—have been of great help.

However, it is not too easy to treat the Bill itself as a game. People will die because of this Bill—not in any conspicuous way but among the anonymous statistics of deaths on the streets among the London homeless. I shall not dwell on the point. But it does not make it easy to treat the Bill as a game.

At Second Reading I under-stated my case when I said that this was one of the two or three worst Bills with which I had been involved. I think it is in fact the worst. Some Bills, such as that on the poll tax, were as bad for substance. Some, such as the Education (Student Loans) Bill, or the 1993 Education Act, before we got at it, were as bad for form. But I cannot think of another Bill that has been quite so bad for form and substance. Grateful though we are for the changes that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has achieved, I do not regard this for the future as an acceptable form of legislation.

As we have gone through the Bill, I have perhaps been most struck by the changes in the concept of entitlement. I shall not run through any of the detail, but I think I have understood a little further what is going on. I believe that the Government are relying on the notion of reciprocity, which I believe is accepted on both sides of the House. It flows from the stress on this benefit being conditional. But when one party to a reciprocal obligation appears to default on its conditions, it does not destroy the reciprocity; it does not destroy the obligation; and it does not end the relationship. I believe that Ministers agree with us quite strongly that if we fail to pay anything to those who deserve payment legally or morally, that does not entitle those people to commit crime.

But, equally, if they do not seek work in precisely the way in which we think that they should, that does not entitle us to say that they have nothing to do with us and we have no responsibility for them. I believe that the Bill is diminishing the sense that there is such a thing as society, and I regret it.

I shall not dwell at any further length on the regulation-making powers. But I believe that this Bill will be seen—perhaps even more than any of the things that are going on down at the other end of the Palace—as part of the decline of Parliament in the late 20th century. I know that the other place has faults but I love it and I am very sorry indeed to see its decline.

We have had defence after defence of disentitlement. I feel that we need to know the costs of that before we go any further. I intended to give the Minister notice of a string of questions to which I would like answers over the next year but, since the time advances, I shall perhaps give him those questions in writing.

We have a bad Bill. It is not quite so bad as it would have been otherwise. It is attempting a principle which the Social Security Advisory Committee warned the Government in 1992 was impossible. It commented: We understand that it is not possible to draw up regulations in such a way as to identify precisely those people who clearly have no intention of actively seeking work and who seek to maintain an alternative lifestyle supported by state benefits".—[Official Report, 20/4/95; col. 599.]

The Government are still trying to make that distinction. They have not made it, because it cannot be done. If we have the opportunity, we shall repeal the Bill, lock, stock and barrel. I was very sorry not to hear that commitment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. We hope that we can persuade her and her party to it over time. It is something that we very much hope is possible, because this legislation will have to go.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, from these Back Benches perhaps your Lordships will allow a word or two to mark the manner in which your Lordships' House has discharged its revisory role as regards Clauses 6 to 8 of the Bill, irrespective of the merits of the Bill and on a plane which transcends political allegiance.

As guardians of the unwritten constitution, your Lordships' House can take full credit for having introduced this requisite constitutional safeguard against potential ministerial misuse of delegated legislation. Your Lordships will remember how, on 25th April, the old Clause 6 came under very heavy crossfire, and how immediately my noble friend Lord Inglewood agreed to take it back.

Noble Lords know full well—two of them in particular: the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell—what efforts were taken on a non-party basis by the usual channels, the Leader of the House, the government Chief Whip and many noble Lords from different parties to improve and bring this matter into a proper state of affairs. That eventually has been done. Its importance is that, although on secondary legislation we may not amend, we have the power to reject, yet that power is never exercised. That power has not been exercised since the Rhodesian order, which was revoked within two days without a vote. It is a matter of political will, parliamentary prudence and, in the context of an affair such as this, it would never be exercised unless there was serious and manifest abuse. That is why the only safeguard is to bring these matters by definition on to the face of the Bill and to define the scope of the implementing regulations. Your Lordships have achieved that and it is to the eternal credit of your Lordships' House.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish for persuading the usual channels that while dealing with this Bill we should not also deal with the Disability Discrimination Bill. All of those who took part in the debates on this Bill will probably be taking part in the debates on that Bill and would have had an exhausting time, so it was a great relief.

I echo what was said by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in regard to regulations and delegated powers. We see more and more delegated powers in Bills that pass through this House. As he said, and as the House knows, this Chamber cannot alter regulations. I feel that somehow we must provide a method whereby regulations can be properly examined and altered before they are completely accepted. Some method of agreement must be reached between this House and another place. The amount of secondary legislation being introduced is far too great.

As the House will also be aware, I have, as I normally do, striven to improve the lot of disabled people in this Bill. I do not feel that I have done a particularly good job because I have not been all that successful. One small success, in company with other Members of the House, was in procuring for carers of people with disabilities at least 48 hours warning of having to take up employment. In my view that still gives them precious little time to arrange care for those they love and for whom they are responsible.

I take this opportunity also to thank the voluntary organisations which have been advising me on the Bill. Without their help I can do very little. They know to whom I am referring and I do not feel that it is proper to mention names. I am extremely grateful to them. I hope that in the near future my noble friend will bring forward another Bill on jobseekers considerably to improve the poor position in which this Bill will leave them.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I may respond briefly. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, intrigues me with the comparisons he makes and the quotations he dredges up from either the books he has read or the people he has met. I wish that I had a memory like that for all the wise or clever things people have said in my presence. I was particularly struck by the noble Earl's comment about whether this was a game or a war. In fact it is too serious to be either. If it was a game we would demean democracy and if it was a war we would be destroying democracy. Therefore it must be something in between.

I do not want to make too many political points in response to what has been said. But perhaps I may reiterate that I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will take the opportunity of the Recess to read her right honourable friend's Mais lecture. I was intrigued, as was my noble friend Lord Inglewood, when the noble Earl, Lord Russell—for the second time in my recollection—indicated that the Liberal Democrats would repeal the Bill, and he invited the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, to indicate that the Labour Party would make a similar commitment. Like him, I have not noticed that commitment.

On a lighter note, my noble friend Lord Inglewood and I were pleased at being described as batsmen facing the West Indies fast bowlers. Dare I say as a mere Scotsman that we seem to have managed to carry our bat for a bit longer than the average English batsman in recent years.

I thank noble Lords for their kind remarks. I appreciate that they in no way negate their objections to the Bill. But it is right and proper—and I hope that we would all do it—that we approach the issues which arise in a Bill such as this, and every other Bill, seriously and attempt to address them. While I do not expect noble Lords always to agree with the answers, I like to think, as does my noble friend, that I attempt to answer the questions that have been put to me.

With our thanks to all the officials who have helped us and, as I think noble Lords opposite mentioned, to the people who have been in the Box on their side to help them, I ask the House to pass the Bill.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.