Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:49 pm on 21st March 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:49 pm, 21st March 2013

I thank the Minister for explaining that, but of course it was on precisely the fact that parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of the nature of these regulations is important that I understand the Court of Appeal found against the Government. At the very least, this was a pretty heavy hint from the Social Security Advisory Committee, one that the Government managed to ignore completely.

Then there is the issue of retrospection, to which I barely need to turn after the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. As my noble friend Lord Bach noted, the worst aspect of this debacle is the combination of retrospection and fast-tracking. That is a particularly toxic mix, but it is what we are faced with. I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation of how the circumstances here make it necessary to bring forward this particular form of retrospection with this astonishingly foreshortened timetable, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord German. If the Minister's response on that point is not compelling, I look forward to seeing the noble Lord join us in the Division Lobby should my noble friend Lord McKenzie decide to press his deplore Motion to a vote.

Like my noble friend Lord McKenzie, I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Royall of Blaisdon and Lord Bassam for trying to get us a few extra days to consider this matter. At least we now have the weekend to read the papers in more detail. I am also grateful that my right honourable friends Liam Byrne and Stephen Timms in the other place managed to get the Bill changed so that it would at least guarantee appeal rights for those affected by the sanctions process and ensure an independent review of that process.

It now falls to us in this House to do two things. The first is to register that this state of affairs is not right. The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton simply puts on record what we on these Benches think about the mess that the Government have got themselves into and the way they propose to get themselves out of it. I very much hope that the House will support it. We will then get down to the work that this House does best: doing our best, in the limited time that we have, to scrutinise the Government's plans to ensure that there are no more disasters lurking in the undergrowth of this fast-tracked Bill.

There is a whole series of issues to which we will have to come back in Committee on Monday. For example, we know that appeal rights are to be safeguarded, but how can those appeals be robust and when there is such a long time lag between the alleged breaches and the sanction being applied? As various noble Lords have said, how will the Government ensure fair treatment of a complainant who may have said that they had perfectly good cause not to comply with the requirement of a programme but who will struggle to evidence that months after the event? There is also the question of hardship. What kind of hardship regime will apply? The hardship regime is in the process of changing. How will the Government ensure that appropriate help is given to those who would suffer hardship as a result of sanctions?

Then there is the $64,000 question posed by my noble friend Lord Bach: will the Minister guarantee that anyone wishing to challenge decisions will have the same right to access to legal advice or aid as they would have done at the time the alleged breach took place, under regulations that have been found to be lawful?

There is so much more that I would like to ask, but we will have to wait until the dog end of Monday's sitting, to which the remaining stages of the Bill have been confined. The message from today is clear: this is a shambles. I am beginning to wonder whether the Government's entire approach to getting people into work is not itself a shambles. The evidence is clear. The Government are failing the unemployed of this country. They are failing to create jobs. They are failing to help them get back into jobs. Their flagship Work Programme-