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Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2013

Considered in Committee (Order, this day)

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Clause 1

Regulations and notices requiring participation in a scheme

I beg to move amendment 1, page 3, line 11, at end insert—

‘() Subsection (12) does not affect a person’s ability to apply for a revision or supersession of, or to appeal against, a decision to impose a penalty by reference to other grounds.’.

We tabled the amendment as a result of discussions we had with the right hon. Members for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) and for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who expressed concern that existing appeal rights might be brought into doubt. The Bill as introduced to the House is clear in its intent. Its provisions refer solely to the consequences of the Court of Appeal and High Court judgments. The amendment, therefore, will have no effect on the overall purpose or intent of the Bill. However, after constructive discussions with the right hon. Gentlemen, we decided to include something in the Bill to put it beyond doubt that a claimant’s appeal rights against a decision to sanction their benefit will remain unchanged in all other matters.

The clause sets out that any decision to sanction a claimant for failure to comply with the employment support allowance regulations or the mandatory work activity regulations cannot be challenged on the ground that the regulations are invalid or that the notices given under them are inadequate, notwithstanding the Court of Appeal’s judgment. In practice, claimants will retain full appeal rights on matters where a sanction has been imposed but they feel that they had good reason not to comply with the requirements of the scheme—for example, if they failed to attend training because of illness of a family member or one of the other standard reasons set out in either regulation or guidance around good cause. However, claimants will not be able to appeal against a sanction decision on the ground of the High Court or Court of Appeal judgment.

I hope that the amendment meets the concerns of the right hon. Member for East Ham and that there is support for it on both sides of the Committee.

The Government have got themselves into a terrible mess. As we heard, they ignored the advice of the Social Security Advisory Committee—that appears to be a significant part of what went wrong—but I welcome the amendment, because a straightforward reading of the Bill might, and indeed does, suggest that if one is hit, perhaps in particular by one of those stockpiled sanctions, that will be it.

I am grateful to the Minister and the Secretary of State for tabling the amendment, which helpfully clarifies—puts in the Bill—the fact that normal opportunities for reconsideration and appeal apply, but I want to ask the Minister about two points. I would be grateful for his comments on them during his winding-up speech for what I imagine will be a brief debate.

Some of the stockpiled sanctions, which we read about in the impact assessment, relate to events of quite a long time ago—up to eight months, which could be the beginning of August. I would like to know, because it is not entirely clear to us, whether all the 63,000 people affected by stockpiled sanctions already know that they have a sanction on the way. If, for example, they enter work straight after receiving a sanction that is in the stockpile, and so receive little benefit after the sanction is imposed, presumably the amount to be reclaimed from them will be very small. I ask for clarity. Is the intention, in taking the sanction out of the stockpile and applying it, that people’s benefits will be stopped for the appropriate period, or is it— [Interruption.]

Is it the Government’s intention to reclaim cash? Clearly, we are in a rather different situation from the one that obtains when somebody is sanctioned in the normal course of events, because the events to which the stockpile sanctions relate could have taken place a considerable time ago. How will the Department explain to those affected what is happening and what the effects will be in cases where a lengthy period has elapsed between the events that gave rise to the sanction and the application of the sanction, following the enactment of the Bill?

Will the Minister give us a little more explanation about one of the points raised on Second Reading, for example by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)? The advice that we all received from the Child Poverty Action Group made this point:

“Contrary to Government claims, it is not obvious that DWP would have to repay sanctioned benefits to all claimants, so the £130 million potential loss stated is inaccurate: the Government already has anti-test case law rules which would prevent it having to repay anything for sanctions served prior to 6 August 2012.”

Will the Minister clarify the advice that he has received, which I have no doubt is different? If that view had been taken, the Bill would not be necessary.

I can well understand why the Child Poverty Action Group has reached its view. Section 27(3) of the Social Security Act 1998 relates to court decisions like the one reached in the case that gave rise to the Bill, and it reads as follows:

“In so far as the decision relates to a person’s entitlement to a benefit in respect of a period before the date of the relevant determination”—

in this case, the Appeal Court’s determination—

“it shall be made as if the adjudicating authority’s decision had been found by the Commissioner or court not to have been erroneous in point of law.”

A natural and straightforward reading of that paragraph could well lead to the conclusion reached by the Child Poverty Action Group, which is that anti-test case law rules prevent the Department from having to repay anything for sanctions scored before the court determination. I presume, as I said, that the Minister has received contrary advice on that measure, and it would be helpful if he explained what the advice was and therefore why the Bill is before the House.

If the CPAG advice is correct, does my right hon. Friend have any idea by how much the £130 million could be reduced?

My hon. Friend asks a good question, and the answer is in the impact assessment that the Government have produced, which distinguishes between the amount that would be incurred because of people who were sanctioned before 6 August 2012 and the amount incurred in respect of people sanctioned since the court case, because those sanctions have been stockpiled.

The part of the impact assessment that contains those figures says that, by the look of it—to take the upper valuation—£24 million out of £130 million relates to sanctions that have been stockpiled. The CPAG view would be that of the £130 million, £106 million or £107 million would not apply, because of the Social Security Act 1998, whereas £24 million—the stockpiled sanctions—would. As I said, I am sure that the Department’s advice is different from the advice given to us by the CPAG, but it would be helpful if the Minister provided clarification so that we know the basis on which the measure has been introduced.

I would say again to the Minister that this is a helpful amendment. I do not think that it changes the position substantively, but it helps to clarify it, and to make it clear that anyone who will be presented with a stockpiled sanction will, as usual, have the opportunity to ask for a reconsideration and perhaps subsequently to appeal. That is a welcome clarification, and I am grateful to the Minister for providing it, but I would be grateful, too, if he commented on the two specific matters that I have raised.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a couple of points. In respect of payments where decisions have been stockpiled, when we received the High Court judgment, we did not proceed to make any further sanctions decisions, but claimants who were subject to a stockpiled decision are aware of that: we made it clear at the time, so they know what to expect. However, he asked whether we would recover sanctions from those who are in work now. The answer is no, we would not. That is a policy that we adopt elsewhere. We want to encourage people to do the right thing, and doing the right thing in this case is getting back into work.

The right hon. Gentleman then raised the note circulated to Members of Parliament by the CPAG. I touched on that point in opening the debate. Section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998 applies only when a challenge is brought by way of an appeal to a court or tribunal. The Wilson/Reilly case began with an application for judicial review, and on that basis, section 27 does not apply. With that, I hope that the Committee will approve the amendment.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1


‘(1) The Secretary of State must appoint an independent person to prepare a report on the operation of the provisions relating to the imposition of a penalty during the period of a year beginning with the day on which this Act comes into force, so far as that operation relates to relevant penalties.

(2) The person must complete the preparation of the report and send it to the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the period mentioned in subsection (1).

(3) On receiving the report, the Secretary of State must lay a copy of it before Parliament.

(4) In this section—

“penalty” means a penalty that may be imposed for—

(a) failing to participate in a scheme within section 17A(1) of the Jobseekers Act 1995, or

(b) failing to comply with regulations under section 17 A of that Act;

“relevant penalty” means a penalty that, but for section 1 of this Act, would not be or would not have been lawfully imposed on a person.'.—(Mr Hoban.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Amendment (a), in subsection (1), leave out 'a year' and insert 'six months'.

Amendment (b), in subsection (2), leave out

‘as soon as reasonably practicable'

and insert 'within three months'.

The new clause provides for a report on the operation of benefit sanctions affected by the provisions of the Bill. Again, I thank the right hon. Members for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) for their constructive approach to the Bill. We discussed this topic with them as we drew up the Bill. After our discussions, we decided to bring forward the new clause to satisfy the concerns of the right hon. Member for East Ham to provide for an independent report on the operation of benefit sanctions subject to the provisions in the Bill.

The new clause requires the Secretary of State to appoint an independent person to prepare a report on the operation of the provisions relating to benefit sanctions during the first year after the Bill has come into force. The report must be prepared as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of that period.

Subsection (3) requires the Secretary of State to lay a copy of the resulting report before Parliament, which meets the right hon. Gentleman’s requests. It is important to say that as a Department, we keep the functioning of sanctions under review. A number of comments on that were made on Second Reading. It is important to ensure that sanctions are applied fairly and consistently across Jobcentre Plus. It is an important part of the regime, so the sanction should be credible, and something that we keep under review.

Let me pre-empt the arguments made by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins). I understand the purpose of his two amendments. He is keen to ensure that the review is expedited, and we will try to complete it as quickly as possible. The time period for someone to launch an appeal against the sanction is 13 months. By imposing a six-month deadline, we might miss appeals that are made at a later point. He then requires a report to be laid within three months of the end of the six-month period, so that is nine months. There is a risk that we will miss out on three months’ worth of appeals, so we would not necessarily get a full view of how the sanctions under the Bill have operated. Although I understand his arguments for haste, may I suggest, as a counter argument, that we take things at a slightly more leisurely pace, which will ensure that we get a full year? None the less, I share his view that once we get to the end of that year, we should be moving as quickly as possible to complete the review and to lay the report before Parliament. It is not in any of our interests unduly to delay a measure such as this. I commend new clause 1 to the Committee.

I warmly welcome the new clause which, as the Minister has said, was proposed and suggested in the discussions between him and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne). It is something genuinely valuable to emerge from this debacle, which has been entirely of the Government’s own making. We do need to know what is going on with sanctions. The independent review, which is required by the new clause to be conducted over the coming year—I will comment in a moment on the further amendments proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins)—could be crucial in getting to the bottom of what is going on. From the standpoint of anyone who is concerned about what is going on in our social security system, as very many people are, this is a valuable initiative.

The scale of the sanctions that are being imposed at the moment is extraordinary. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made that point in the earlier debate. He correctly suggested to the House that the number of sanctions being issued trebled in the two years between the period just before the general election and subsequently to more than half a million per year, and that number is still going up. The impact assessment tells us that the number of sanctions that has been issued under the defective—as we now know them to be—employment, skills and enterprise regulations is “between 221,000 and 259,000”; that those sanctions involved between 136,000 and 159,000 people and that their cumulative value is between £80 million and £99 million.

The first thing that puzzles me is why the Government do not know how many sanctions have been issued. It seems pretty strange to me that all they can tell us is that somewhere between 221,000 and 259,000 have been issued. Surely the systems in the Minister’s Department are sufficiently robust to tell us how many there have been, rather than our being given that wide range—there is a difference of almost 40,000 between the low point and the high point. I am puzzled as to why the Department cannot tell us precisely how many sanctions have been issued. After all, we are not talking about minor matters: the average value is some hundreds of pounds, so it is not unreasonable to expect the Department to know precisely how many of these things it has handed out.

Looking at the figure of up to 160,000, I ask, why is the number so large? We are told in the impact assessment and other information on this Bill that 90% of the people on whom sanctions have been applied are on the Work programme. The figure that I quoted relates to the period before cases were stockpiled—the period before 6 August last year. Up to last July, 877,880 people were referred to the Work programme, so slightly more than that will have been referred up until 6 August. Comparing those two figures suggests that 15% of those who have been referred to the Work programme have been sanctioned.

That is a surprisingly large figure—almost one in six of those referred to the programme has had a sanction imposed on them. It would be helpful to know, and I hope that the independent review will be able to tell us, what those sanctions are for exactly. Why is it that the requirements being imposed on people by the Work programme are apparently so unpopular? The numbers are bigger than in the past. Is it because the Work programme is much more irksome than previous provision, or is it because the system has become far more trigger-happy over sanctions? We need to know the answer to that question.

The sums involved are not small. Again, the impact assessment tells us that the average value of one of these sanctions—we should bear it in mind that we are talking about people who depend on benefit for their income, so we are not talking about well-off people—is between £600 and £800 in the case of mandatory work activity. That is a huge sum to take away from someone who depends on benefit for their livelihood.

What is becoming clear is that the proliferation of sanctions—the very large increase in the number of sanctions being imposed, and the increase in the size of the sanctions being levied—is one of the principal drivers in the growth of demand for food banks throughout the country. The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, the impressive organisation behind the explosive growth in Church-based food banks over the past few years—it is opening three new food banks per week and there are now well over 300 of them across the country—said in a statement that appeared in the press yesterday that in 2009-10 the trust had about 29,000 referrals of people to food banks, but in 2012-13 the figure will be almost 300,000. That is a tenfold rise in three years, and the number is still growing fast. The Trussell Trust reports that about 40% of referrals to food banks result from Jobcentre Plus mistakes or delays. It also makes the relevant point for this debate that Jobcentre Plus performance is clearly getting worse.

Beyond that Trussell Trust statement, people running food banks say that sanctions are a big driver. They say that people often have no idea why they are being sanctioned; all they know is that their money has stopped and, as they have none to buy food with, they have to go along to the food bank to get some help. According to the impact assessment for the Bill, the number of sanctions is up to 260,000, and the number of people affected is up to 160,000. Meanwhile, the number of people going to food banks is up from 30,000 three years ago to 300,000 now. The order of magnitude is comparable. The people running food banks often report that the increase in sanctions has been a very big driver in the growing recourse to food banks around the country over the last three years, and that certainly appears to me to be the case.

I am slightly confused. The right hon. Gentleman said that when people get sanctioned, they have no idea why, but I would have thought the first thing they would do, if they did not get a letter or a warning about this, would be to go straight to Jobcentre Plus and ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Why does that not happen?

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting and telling point. Why, indeed, do people not go to jobcentres to get an explanation? The reason is that it is very difficult for them to get through on the telephone, and if they do go and speak to somebody, they probably do not get a clear explanation.

The Minister said in one of our recent statutory instrument Committees that Jobcentre Plus will now inform people in writing of the reason for their sanction. When the Minister responds, he will, perhaps, give us a little more information. I am not sure whether that has already started or whether it is still due to happen, but it will certainly be a welcome step. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) will be very familiar with the experience that I have often come across, however, which is that people do receive a letter from Jobcentre Plus, but, frankly, making sense of it is very difficult. I hope that the written explanations people receive will make more sense than some of the other communications they bring to our surgeries, sent to them by jobcentres and the Department.

I want to set out 10 questions that I think the independent review should answer. Other Members may have other questions, of course, but I consider these 10 to be important, and putting them on the record will serve to give some terms of reference from the House for the independent reviewer.

First, we need to know the precise figures. It is not good enough for us to be told that the Department has issued between 221,000 and 259,000 sanctions. We need to know precisely how many have been imposed. We also need to know what exactly they are for. Is it that people are failing to turn up to appointments, or that they are failing to do the work-related activity they are required to do? We need to be given some clear categories of the grounds for sanction, and then to be told how many of the sanctions imposed fall into each of those categories. How tough are those sanctions? How many maximum three-year sanctions for the basic element of jobseeker’s allowance have been imposed so far? In the recent debate on JSA regulations, a colleague rightly reaffirmed our opposition to the three-year sanction introduced by the Government. It would be useful to know how many people have so far been denied benefit for a full three years, which the Government’s legislative change now makes possible.

Secondly, we need to know how many people on whom the sanctions are imposed request reconsiderations —the kind of people who, as the hon. Member for Beckenham suggests, might go along to the jobcentre and ask what the sanction arises from. How many people have asked for reconsideration, and when it has been refused, how many subsequently appealed? What are the outcomes when reconsiderations are requested and appeals made?

Thirdly, we need the independent reviewer’s opinion on whether the reconsideration and appeal process is working correctly and properly. When people have a sanction imposed on them, do they know that they can apply for reconsideration and, if they are not happy with the outcome, submit an appeal? Is that whole process working correctly?

Fourthly, how many of those being sanctioned are on employment and support allowance—and perhaps other benefits as well—rather than JSA? Ministers have given commitments during debates in this House and the other place that they will not normally issue sanctions to somebody on ESA—somebody who is out of work on health grounds, for example—other than after a face-to-face discussion with the applicant and, if necessary, a home visit. We need to know from the independent reviewer whether those assurances are being honoured in practice. It does not require much imagination on the part of Members to realise that it may well be wholly inappropriate to impose a sanction on someone who is on ESA as a result of a serious mental health problem or a fluctuating health problem of the kind we have often debated in the past couple of years, thereby removing their benefit for the potentially very long periods that are now permissible, unless they have had a proper face-to-face discussion with an appropriate Jobcentre Plus official. It would be helpful if the independent reviewer answered that question.

Fifthly, it would be useful to know how many of the large number of sanctions being imposed are being initiated by a Work programme provider rather than Jobcentre Plus. As I understand it, the initial step can be taken by either, or by another kind of provider on one of the other schemes. It would be useful to know what the split is.

I appreciate that it is not going to be easy for the independent reviewer to find the answer to my sixth question—it relates to the point the hon. Member for Beckenham made a few minutes ago—but we need to know it. To what extent do people understand the reasons for the sanctions being imposed on them? As I mentioned earlier, food banks are reporting that people who turn up, having been sanctioned—who therefore do not have any money and cannot buy food for themselves and their families—commonly do not know why the sanction has been imposed. I hope that the independent reviewer can establish how widespread a problem that is. If it is widespread, as anecdotal evidence suggests it may well be, that is a serious difficulty with the system.

The seventh question concerns the extent to which managers are promoting sanctions. In answering an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill on Second Reading, the Minister gave a very clear assurance that there are no targets for sanctions and that Ministers and managers do not require specific targets to be fulfilled.

The Minister will know that there are reports and growing numbers of complaints that some sorts of targets are being applied in jobcentres. The independent reviewer could get to the bottom of what is going on and tell us whether that is the case. Two years ago, there were press reports about targets for sanctions being set in Jobcentre Plus districts. When those reports were published, the Secretary of State rightly made it clear that he had no wish to see any such practice in jobcentres and told everybody that it should stop forthwith. I wonder whether it has stopped or whether it is creeping back into the jobcentre network. The independent reviewer could perform a valuable service by telling us whether sanction targets of any form are in place in parts of the jobcentre network.

The eighth thing that we need to know is what people who have been sanctioned are doing for support. How big a factor are sanctions in the growth of charitable food banks? As I have suggested, the numbers show a striking similarity in the order of magnitude. Are there other things that people do for support, because clearly they still have to obtain food and to live?

The ninth question for the independent reviewer concerns how the hardship provisions are working in practice, including the requirement that hardship payments need to be repaid by those who benefit from them. Provisions were written into the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which we debated when they were passed, for hardship payments to be made when people would otherwise face serious hardship. Are those provisions being taken up? Are people receiving hardship payments? Are they being required to repay them later and are they doing so? A significant chunk of work needs to be done on that matter.

The tenth question and the last that I want to suggest, although other Members may want to raise other matters, is perhaps the most important of all. How effective are the sanctions in changing people’s behaviour as they are intended to? That is supposed to be the intention of sanctions, not just getting money off people—I certainly hope that that is not the wish of Ministers. The purpose of sanctions is to encourage people to take steps that will lead to their getting into employment. The independent reviewer could do a great service by assessing whether the sanctions are effective in encouraging people to do the right thing and get a job.

I hope that, with the endorsement of the Minister, the independent reviewer will take a thorough look at all 10 questions over the next 12 months and come back to us with some answers. If the reviewer does that, the independent review will be one valuable initiative that has come out of this debacle of the Government’s making.

Finally, I will comment on the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East who will speak in a moment. He campaigns effectively on behalf of his constituents, and thinks carefully about these matters. The Committee will understand why he is calling for a shorter time scale for the measure that new clause 1 will include in the Bill. Will the Minister help the Committee by indicating whether he would welcome an interim report from the reviewer, perhaps after six months, on the way to the 12-month period envisaged in the new clause? It is not necessary for the reviewer to say nothing for 12 months and only then say what their work has unearthed; they could provide some sort of interim report on the way to the milestone set out in the new clause. That would be helpful.

I say to my right hon. Friend, however, that we should not look for a quick piece of work. The 10 points that I set out, which I hope the independent reviewer will address, include some substantial pieces of work—including research—to be carried out among those on the receiving end of sanctions. In many ways I would welcome a proposal for such work to continue beyond the 12-month period envisaged in the new clause. We are dealing with the culture in jobcentres, and such work will not be done and finished and that will be the end of it: we need continued scrutiny of the sanctions contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, and I caution my right hon. Friend about seeking too speedy a piece of work. He is right to suggest that having some findings from the independent reviewer within six months would be helpful to the House—and probably to Ministers as well—but it is likely that the full work required will take at least 12 months, as envisaged in the new clause.

It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and I say to him and other right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that if new clause 1 has emerged from their discussions with DWP Ministers, the Bill has provided at least one bit of good news. I commend them for their efforts.

In listing 10 questions, my right hon. Friend has done the Committee a great service because one thing missing from new clause 1 is any mention of terms of reference—if I had been a bit quicker this afternoon, I might have included that in the amendments standing in my name and those of my hon. Friends. My right hon. Friend’s questions give the work of the independent reviewer a good starting point, and I say to my Front-Bench colleagues and the Minister that I know time is pressing, but if it were possible—perhaps even before deliberations in the other place—to draw up draft terms of reference based on my right hon. Friend’s 10 questions for the other place to consult on when debating the Bill, that would be helpful.

I will not go through each of my right hon. Friend’s 10 points because he spoke eloquently about them, but, of course, the numbers and quality of decisions are important. His question—I think this was point No. 7—about how people are surviving when they have been sanctioned and have no income is relevant and an issue on which Members of Parliament from all sides of the House will increasingly have to focus in the weeks and months ahead.

Let me say at the outset of my short contribution that I am in favour of, and not opposed to, sanctions. If we offer something to young people and others who are out of work, we need effective sanctions to back that up. Unfortunately, however, at the moment we do not have a proper offer for young people and others who are out of work, and that is part of the problem. It is important for sanctions to be fair and lawful, yet we heard in earlier debates this afternoon that the Court found the regulations and notice to be unlawful, which is why the Government have introduced this Bill.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the large numbers of people who are being sanctioned. All hon. Members know from their work in their constituencies of the increasing number of sanctions cases. We take a view on how fair or unfair those sanctions are, but I increasingly question the quality of decisions. A number of my hon. Friends have referred specifically to representations they have made to the Department for Work and Pensions on looking at decisions again because they were plainly unfair. In many cases, the decision is overturned, because any common-sense look at them would tell us that the decision was wrong. There are serious questions to be asked about both the quantity and the quality of sanctions. It is important that the review takes place—it is a welcome concession in the discussions between those on the Front Benches.

I have dealt with lots of soldiers in my life, some of whom are not very literate. One thing that always frightened them was letters. I have a feeling that people get sanctioned because they ignore the letter that comes through their letterbox and are frightened to open it because of the consequences of doing so. In one or two cases even in my constituency, which is relatively wealthy, people have ignored letters, and are therefore sanctioned because they are fearful of opening the envelope. When they have nothing, they need to try to get money. Sadly, people might try to get money by turning to crime.

Once again, the hon. Gentleman, for all his seniority in his earlier career, demonstrates great sensitivity to his constituents and others and he has done so before in debates in which I have been involved. I put it to him that people will increasingly have to apply for their benefits online, which could involve them utilising skills with which they are unfamiliar. There are difficulties with that. The hon. Gentleman speaks eloquently.

In pre-empting some of my remarks, the Minister was correct that I should like to inject some urgency—I reassure my right hon. Friend that I seek not a slapdash, hasty report, but urgency. I will listen carefully to the Minister when he responds to the debate in deciding whether to press the amendments to a Division. I want urgency from him—he gave one or two encouraging signs but I should like him to go further.

Amendment (a) calls for “six months” rather than “a year”. The Minister pointed out that the number of cases in six months might be limited, but there would be a number of cases of public interest, and they ought to be evaluated. My right hon. Friend suggested an interim report after six months, which might be a reasonable compromise—there would be a full report in a year but an interim report after six months, so that Parliament and the public can see how the inquiry is going, the kind of evidence that comes out and the quality of decisions. The report could then be completed within a year. I am thinking about that, because if we have a compromise, the measure would be urgent but allow sufficient time for the quality of investigation required.

I have a difficulty with new clause 1, which I am seeking to correct in amendment (b). New clause 1 states that the report should be sent

“to the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable”.

All hon. Members have experience both in Parliament and elsewhere of how soon “reasonably practicable” is. With the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), I am trying to put a time limit on “reasonably practicable”. I am not saying that the time limit must be three months, but suggesting that it ought to be “within three months”. This is an urgent matter, because decisions are being made that are questionable in many cases and unlawful in others. The Minister has to indicate clearly what

“as soon as reasonably practicable”

means. We have to have a clear end point to this process.

I have not tabled an amendment on what “On receiving the report” means, but I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. Does it mean that the Secretary of State has to lay the report before Parliament on the same day he receives it, or a week or a month later? It would be helpful if the Minister provided some clarification on that. One sensible suggestion that could be the basis of a compromise is to have an interim report. It would be helpful if the Minister provided clarity in particular on what

“as soon as reasonably practicable”

and “On receiving the report” mean, and reflect the sense of urgency that he correctly identified as being the prime motive for tabling these amendments.

In conclusion, I think we all know that there are far too many cases of applicants being wrongly sanctioned. Some are being correctly sanctioned and I support having sanctions, but there is growing unease about too many mistakes being made. I commend my right hon. Friend and the Minister for tabling new clause 1, which could help to lift the lid on this. If wrong decisions are being made about people in hardship, that is a matter of concern to everybody in this House. The report could go a long way to lifting the lid on that and ensuring that we have a fair, just and lawful system in place.

New clause 1 presents an opportunity. I congratulate my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench on getting it agreed with the Government, but of course there are weaknesses and flaws that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) has outlined.

There are genuine concerns, based on constituency surgeries, telephone calls and e-mails, about people being wrongly or unfairly sanctioned. I quoted a case in which the benefits of a constituent who attended the funeral of a brother were stopped. I contacted the DWP and got that changed, but it should never have happened. There are other cases that cause great concern. People who can work should work, and should be helped to do so. Clearly, it would help if there were more jobs around for people to get into work in the first place. That is an issue in areas such as mine and elsewhere, but if someone persistently, and for no good reason, refuses to take a job or look for one, sanctions should apply. However, in a number of instances sanctions are being operated unfairly.

Mental health is a matter of particular importance. We say a lot on the Floor of the House about how we want to support better those who suffer from mental health problems, and how the system should take the issue more seriously. From the evidence that is presented to me in the surgeries in my constituency, this is one area where the decisions taken to sanction people are particularly hard. Mental health affects a range of people, but particularly young single men. I have concerns about how the system works, and how those with mental health issues are sanctioned and given penalties. It is important that the review process takes this serious matter into consideration, and the Government need to provide some impetus to that.

I visited a food bank in my constituency recently. There are a growing number of single men using the food bank—they are struggling to survive. There are referrals from jobcentre plus for people who need food to be able to continue. It is a concern that people who have no money are receiving penalties. What do the Government think should happen then, particularly for those who have mental health, family or social problems? The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made a point about illiteracy. In the poorer areas of the country, in constituencies such as mine, there are still significant problems relating to illiteracy, because people have poor reading or writing skills, or perhaps cannot read. That impacts on people’s ability to interact with the system and unfairly works against them. Whether they are former soldiers or other people, it is a problem that has not been properly addressed. I hope that the review will consider that as well.

I am concerned about the time scale, which is why I put my name to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. I accept what the Minister said—that this has to be done properly—but I see no reason why an interim review could not be carried out. We need to get to the bottom of this, because every day people are being unfairly penalised. We need to look at the system and get it changed as quickly as possible. The terms of reference of the review are also crucial, so I hope that the Minister will bear it in mind, when the Bill goes to the Lords or on another occasion, that we need to see, and have some input into, the terms of reference. I feel strongly that the review will be an important part of our consideration of the whole system.

I hope that the Minister will consider those problems. We are here because the Government got the legislation wrong, as they have got it wrong elsewhere on welfare—for example, we know of disabled children whose families are affected by the bedroom tax, on which the Court of Appeal ruled. The Government are getting these things wrong, and the most vulnerable people in our society are suffering as a result of the mistakes in the Government’s welfare policy. I hope that they will reconsider some of these issues and how they want to proceed.

I want to begin by commenting on the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), whom I have known for 20 years, since he returned from Bosnia with the Cheshire Regiment. People whom he and I know personally are among those described today. The soldiers damaged by the dreadful events that he recorded in his well-known book are real people, and some of them live in my constituency. They are the kinds of people on whom we should try to focus our humanity.

We must admit that there is an enormous lack of clarity in the regulations governing the system. That is the fault of successive Governments and has built up over many years, as things have got more and more complex. Faced with that complexity, someone with a learning difficulty or who is mentally scarred might respond illogically—I think, for example, of the person who leaves the envelope behind the clock in the hope that it will go away. We have to deal with this matter seriously, therefore, and separate those people from the people the Minister is rightly targeting—there is no dispute between the parties on that.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has been a friend of mine for a long time, for giving way. One problem is that people who are hurt, mentally scarred or not as bright as they might be need a friend to go with them to Jobcentre Plus. They need a neutral umpire to help them. I just wish we could get that a bit better.

If we developed this too far, Mr Hood, I would be outwith the scope of the amendment, but the hon. Gentleman is very perceptive and makes the point about people not understanding the documents or conversations they have had.

To move this forward we need to inject a degree of urgency. I understand the points about the time frame, but I nevertheless think we ought to look at this matter carefully.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) has outlined the framework for a set of terms of reference, and I hope we can agree on that and invite the Department to start gathering the necessary statistics and information to respond to some of the basic questions, so that the independent reviewer can be well equipped with solid information when he or she starts the job. That could provide a practical way of producing a review sooner than after the envisaged 12 months.

Having recognised that that might be difficult to achieve, however, we ought to consider a fallback position that gives the framework of the terms of reference an extra dimension, to enable the reviewer to start reporting on the information as and when it becomes clear. If we approach the matter in that way, we will inject some urgency into the situation and get people to realise that there is acceptance across the House that we are trying to separate the genuine cases from those that are less solidly based. Let us ensure that we target the benefits on the people who ought to get them.

I urge the Minister, in considering the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins)—to which I have belatedly put my name—to think about the arguments that have been presented and to agree to an early set of terms of reference before coming forward with a sensible time frame that will enable us to achieve the goals that Members on both sides of the House want to achieve.

I want to follow up on some of the issues that have been raised. I recently asked the Minister how many people had had sanctions imposed on them. He revealed that 540,610 sanctions relating to jobseeker’s allowance had been applied last year. In the same answer, he told me:

“Statistics on how many such people speak English as a second language; and how many such claimants had moved to jobseeker’s allowance from income support or disability-related benefits are not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 103W.]

Those are examples of the vulnerable groups that Members on both sides of the House have been talking about.

I want to support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) on the speed of the proceedings, but I also want to add another question for the reviewer to consider. Shortly after I had tabled that question, I asked the Minister about assaults on jobcentre staff. If we compare the period from October 2012 to January 2013 with the period a year earlier from October 2011 to January 2012, we see that the number of assaults on jobcentre staff increased from 76 to 98. The seriousness of the assaults increased as well. In the first period, there were three that resulted in cuts and bruises, and three that resulted in more than cuts and bruises. A year later, 13 had resulted in cuts and bruises, with eight resulting in more.

I fear—although I do not know for certain—that those increases in assaults on jobcentre staff are a product of frustrated claimants who have been sanctioned. It has been pointed out that they do not always know why they have been sanctioned. If the sanctions regime is resulting in this kind of behaviour—as I have said, I do not know whether that is the case—it would be appropriate for a reviewer to consider whether the regime has consequences for the safety of jobcentre staff. If there are consequences for the safety of the people responsible for giving claimants explanations, their explanations might become less clear and they might retreat behind letters rather than actually talking to people.

I should be grateful if the Minister assured the House that such issues will be included in the review. I fear that if they are not, vulnerable claimants will not get the service they need.

We have had a helpful debate on the review. I note the comments of the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms)—I think he actually asked 11 questions, but I will allow him an extra one. The scope of the review is set out in the new clause. I take the point about the terms of reference, but we have set out the area that the review will cover.

My memory is not bad, and I recollect that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) was a Minister in the previous Government so he should know what “reasonably practicable” might mean; I am sure he has probably used the phrase.

The sinner has repented on this occasion.

Let me be clear. I want the review to proceed as quickly as possible. It is in all our interests for it to do so. I am keen that we improve the quality of decision making on sanctions and that we ensure that they are applied consistently. The right hon. Member for East Ham was right to highlight the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that there should be no targets, and that if there was evidence of targets being used at any jobcentre, we would stamp them out. We do not want targets; we want good quality decisions made consistently from jobcentre to jobcentre. I do not think targets have a role to play in that regime. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) laughs. Is he saying we should have targets? I suspect not.

Given that my right hon. Friend said that he would stop the practice, we would stop it again if it reappeared. We do not want to see it happening.

I want to pick up on some of the points raised in the 10 or 11 questions put by the right hon. Member for East Ham. We have published, and will publish annually, tables setting out the number of sanctions. The data for 2011-12 were published online on 15 August 2012, and we gave a breakdown of sanctions, so it is not correct to say that there is no information. There were 108,000 variable length sanctions for employment-related failures; 378,000 sanctions were of fixed length, which included 58,000 that were for not attending ESE—employment, skills and enterprise—regulation schemes, 55,000 for not complying with training requirements or for not carrying out a jobcentre’s direction or for a failure to participate in mandatory work activity.

The reason there is a range in the impact assessment is that we were trying to be helpful to the Committee. We used a combination of official statistics and an estimate based on management information to give Members an up to date figure of the numbers involved. The final numbers will be available when we publish the next official statistics. Having been a DWP Minister, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we take the validation and verification of statistics seriously. These are official national statistics and they need to be published to appropriate quality. That is the basis for the numbers in the impact assessment.

Communication is really important, and we need to ensure that we get it right. We talked about some of the measures that we set out in the recent regulations to ensure clarity in universal credit. There is a challenge here. We want to ensure that communications between the Department and jobseekers are clear, whether they are oral communications between a personal adviser and a claimant, or items of correspondence. But I think there is a tension here. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said in her Second Reading speech that she felt that the notice we sent out was defective, and the courts said the letter should have contained more detail about the sanctions regime.

Absolutely, but the hon. Lady repeated that, and by virtue of the quote I think she was supporting their view. Another hon. Member said that people “may be” sanctioned. I think there is a tension here between clarity and disclosure. The more detail there is in the letter—maybe to comply with what is in the law—the harder it can be for people to understand what is in the letter. It is possible to go into lists, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill did—to list a whole set of “good cause” reasons in a letter. One could put in a letter every detail of the graduated sanctions regime. We need to ensure that our communications are very clear and legal; sometimes the two do not go as easily together as we would like them to, but we do need to ensure that there is clarity.

The right hon. Member for East Ham talked about what happens if people are sanctioned, and then immediately answered his question by referring to hardship schemes. He and I have debated the revised sanctions regime and discussed hardship at length, as we did on a previous occasion with the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire). There is a hardship scheme in place for people, and it is right that it is there. We do ask people to look to see whether there are any other ways in which they could find financial resources to live off, and that is very carefully set out in the Bill, but those hardship schemes are available. It would be wrong to give anyone the suggestion that there is no hardship scheme in place, but the rules on access are very tight indeed.

I take entirely the Minister’s point about the hardship schemes, but I wonder what he thinks has driven the huge increase in the number of people referred to food banks over the past three years—a tenfold increase between the year just before the general election and the current financial year. I wonder whether he can understand why many of us think that the growth of sanctions must have been a big part of the driver.

The practice of the Government the right hon. Gentleman was a part of when he was a Minister in this Department differed from that of the present Government. When the Labour party was in power, it refused to have any material in jobcentres about food banks, to try to deny their existence. It did not refer people to food banks. We decided, when we came into office, to reverse that policy—to ensure that people were aware that food banks were in place.

People do go to food banks. They go for a variety of reasons. It is right for there to be a hardship regime in place for sanctions. If people do not choose to apply for that hardship regime, that is their choice, but people know it is there.

The Minister is right about the hardship regime, but he is surely not trying to tell us that the number has gone up from 30,000 to 300,000 because there are some leaflets in jobcentres, is he?

Well, actually it is not about leaflets. It is about signposting people to food banks. The right hon. Gentleman and his Opposition colleagues forget the way in which they tried to airbrush food banks out of history when they were in government, and to use them now as political pawns is beneath them.

I hope that the Committee will accept new clause 1. As I said in response to amendments (a) and (b) tabled by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and his colleagues, we want to ensure that the Bill proceeds as quickly as possible; I do not think there is any interest in spinning it out. But we do need to ensure, as the right hon. Member for East Ham said, that it is properly and thoroughly considered. As a consequence of a measure introduced by the previous Government, we have an independent reviewer of work capability assessments. That is a very thorough process and no corners are cut, neither would we want them to be. It is helpful that there is clarity.

I know from other dealings with the Minister that if he says he wants something to happen urgently, he will get on with it—I accept his word in good faith. However, one matter he has not dealt with is the clear commitment to get on with it as a matter of urgency. My amendment proposes six months and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr Timms) suggested an interim report. There seems to be a coalition of ideas, and I press the Minister to indicate that he is prepared at least to consider that seriously.

I do not want to end up getting stuck in a laborious process of issuing interim reports when I would much rather let the reviewer get on with the job. As a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman will know that just getting interim reports out of the door can be time consuming. I would rather let the reviewer focus on good recommendations and good analysis instead of bogging him down in a bureaucratic process that will not benefit any of us. I take on board the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, but in the interests of expedition and speed an interim report would slow the process rather than accelerate it.

We have plenty of time for Third Reading. I will bring my remarks to a close by encouraging the House to support new clause 1.

I hope that the Minister will continue to give my amendment careful consideration, but I do not want to press it to a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill, as amended, reported.

Bill, as amended in the Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had short but helpful debates on Second Reading and in Committee. I want to reiterate briefly and in a workman-like way that the Bill is vital to protect the proper functioning of the benefits system and to safeguard the public purse. I thank Opposition Front-Bench Members for the constructive way in which they have engaged with us on the Bill, and I hope that they believe that our amendment and new clause reflect their concern. I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill has been an extraordinary fiasco. It is here because the Government made basic errors in drafting regulations. The danger was highlighted by their own Social Security Advisory Committee, which Ministers ignored. They were wrong to do so, and the consequence is the necessity for this unseemly piece of legislation. The question facing the House this evening is: what do we do? The alternatives to the Government’s proposals are pretty unappealing.

The danger of having to take £130 million from another part of the Department’s budget is that the cost will fall on people whose income is already very low. I was very grateful for what the Minister said a few moments ago to explain the necessity for the Bill and why the so-called test case rules do not apply in this case. The alternative is unappealing for that reason. In addition, if the correction were not made, there would be quite a fundamental breach of the jobseeking system, which was used so effectively by the previous Government to achieve—before the global crisis—the highest rate of employment in the UK since the 1970s. That is a rate of employment we are still some way short of today. That system involves sanctions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) pointed out, the system has done so since 1911, and it is right that it should continue to do so.

I shall certainly not urge my hon. Friends to oppose the Bill, but we have argued for a fundamentally different approach to supporting people into employment from that taken by the Government—one based on job guarantees—but it requires an effective system, which not passing the Bill would put at risk. We think that the guarantees approach is the right one, and the recent evaluation of the future jobs fund has strengthened our convictions in that respect, but we need a proper system in place to be able to introduce that arrangement quickly. Following a general election, it is our intention very quickly so to do, and for that reason I shall not urge my hon. Friends to oppose Third Reading.

I do not intend to detain the House for long, but it is worth reiterating the point I made on Second Reading, which is that people deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Throughout the afternoon, we have heard from a number of hon. Members the shortcomings of the Government’s Work programme and the failings of the rather blunt instrument that is the sanctions regime, but I have consciously refrained from going down the route of discussing those in detail, because the key issue is those sanctions that have already been found by the courts to be unlawful and whether it is right retrospectively to shift the legislative goalposts to penalise people who have been unlawfully sanctioned. I do not think that that is in any way justifiable, and nothing I have heard today has reassured me on that point.

The Government have had an opportunity today to hear concerns from Members on both sides of the House about the problems with unpaid labour in the sanctions regime. Even at this late stage, I urge Ministers to think again and take responsibility for the mistakes that have been made and to step back from a scheme that relies on unpaid labour. It is not helping people to find real jobs, it is actively preventing real job creation and it is undermining efforts from people in the voluntary sector and elsewhere, which are more likely to be effective in helping people who are a long way from the labour market to move into paid employment.

It is never reasonable to insist that people work for no pay. That is not sustainable and it just is not working. Although the debate has been heavily undersubscribed, with fewer than half the Members of the House turning up to vote on Second Reading, it has certainly received a lot of attention out there, and I am sure that I am not the only Member who has received lots of correspondence from constituents who are concerned about the underlying principles and who can see the inherent injustice of the proposition.

I hope that Members who share my conviction that these measures are unworkable, unfair, profoundly regrettable and retrospective will join me and my colleagues in opposing them.

I would like to congratulate the Government on their incompetence with the Bill. I would like to say that these are measures that a future Labour Government would support, but differently. We would have a human face to our approach, unlike this Administration.

First, let me deal with the point about incompetence. These are fairly simple regulations compared with what the Secretary of State is preparing for the nation with his universal credit. If the Department cannot get these regulations right, what hope for universal credit?

I am listening to what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, but it sounds a little rich coming from him. From his time in government, he and others well know that sometimes the view of judges is very different from a lot of other legal advice. The reality is that by saying that this is incompetence he must be claiming that his own Government were deeply incompetent throughout their time in office.

Well, if that is true, this Government have learnt nothing from our experience, so it is doubly worrying. Universal credit, which the Government are going to deliver, is an immensely complicated reform and if they feel that— [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says not true. Should the day ever arrive when universal credit began to be delivered, we would all be in a position to judge. However, these are arguments for another day. Let us congratulate the Government on their incompetence and their need to come here and seek out support to rectify the errors made in the Department.

The second issue is important. We are dealing with an attitude of mind whereby there is a feeling that, even without ever making a contribution, a person has a right to benefits and to a pension from other taxpayers. That attitude is now deeply ingrained in our culture, and the Secretary of State’s welfare reforms and universal credit will encourage it. Under his scheme, more people will think they have a right to benefits than do now. Many of us, even those in areas with high unemployment, know that there are people, particularly young people, who feel that unless they will be offered jobs at three times their benefit level, it is not in their interest to work. That is why it is so important to change—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is making faces, but I am trying to support him in the case that he is making.

We are trying to move from unconditional welfare to welfare that attaches conditions to drawing benefits. The last Government started those important reforms, and we continue to support them. The big divide has been between a welfare state based on contributions, in which people are eligible for benefit only if they have paid the requisite number of contributions, and one in which people think that they should get benefits because they are citizens. The Secretary of State may continue his conversation, but he knows full well that as he tries to limit the entry of Bulgarians and Romanians into our welfare system, the weakness of his hand is that they will be able to claim benefit here, because large numbers of other people do, and we will be discriminating unless we give them benefit on the same terms.

The lesson that I hope we will draw is that the Opposition will go into the election with a clear mandate to move from a means-tested welfare system, in which people think that they have a right to benefits, to one in which people gain entrance to welfare because they have paid contributions. The difference is in job offers and job guarantees. The most crucial welfare reform that the last Labour Government made was the future jobs fund, which was destroyed by this Government when they came into office. If we are to build up a medley of worthwhile alternatives for people who cannot find jobs, we the Opposition and the Government must play some part in creating those opportunities.

There is debate on both sides of the House about the best routes back to full employment, but no certainty about what they are. In the immediate future, therefore, we will have to rely on an even more severely tightened future jobs fund than the Labour Government did. We know from our constituencies that the real test of whether people want to work is to have jobs to offer them. Without those, we are in difficulties. That is not to say that we would not sanction without them. London, for example, has the second highest youth unemployment, but in 10 years of Labour government, 1 million immigrants came to London to work. There is clearly some problem in people’s thinking about what is suitable for them to do versus what is suitable for immigrants.

In my short contribution, first, I congratulate the Government on their incompetence and on having to rely on the House to rescue them from it. Secondly, like them, we are moving away from an unconditional welfare state to one that attaches conditions, but unlike them, we believe firmly that they need to engage actively in trying to build up something like the future jobs fund, so our constituents are offered real opportunities to work. I hope that those of us who have Labour authorities or even decent Tory or Liberal authorities, despite their current budget difficulties, will seek to implement that approach so that over the years, we will be able to offer more people proper, dignified alternatives to sitting on their backsides on the dole.

Yet again, the Government have clearly shown whose side they are on. Yesterday, a great deal of sympathy was expressed by Members from all parts of the House for Cypriots who may have more than 5%—perhaps up to 10%—taken off their bank savings. I have a huge amount of sympathy for those people, but today, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs do not seem to have any sympathy for some people on the lowest incomes in this country.

Those people are entitled to that money—the Court of Appeal has made that clear—but the Government have made it clear today that their political priority is to make sure that they get that money back from those individuals. All of us have constituents who will be affected, and over the coming months they will come to see us. I hope that those who support the legislation can look them in the eye. We know from the court cases that have been described today that many of those people are hard-working individuals who want to work. They genuinely want that opportunity, but they have not been offered the kind of work experience by the Government, whether we call it training or work experience—whatever we call it—that they need. They have not been given the opportunities that will give them what they need if they are to be offered real employment.

In constituencies such as mine, there has been an increase in the number of people suffering long-term unemployment, but there is also a generational problem, as we have not recovered from the industrial decline that took place over many decades. In surgery after surgery in areas such as mine, more and more people are coming to talk about the sanctions imposed on them by the Department for Work and Pensions. That is not just in relation to workfare but in relation to all aspects of benefits. The Department has clearly been given a political lead by Ministers to do everything that it can to make it hard as possible for people to get the benefits to which they are entitled.

In my constituency, and in the constituencies of many hon. Members up and down the country, there are thousands and thousands of people who genuinely want to work. They want opportunities for education, training and work experience that will enable them to improve their lot. What we should be discussing today is what kind of work experience and training will give our country the skills that enable us to compete internationally. It is an absolute disgrace that the Government have introduced this legislation, and are trying to do everything that they can to take money away from some of the poorest communities and individuals in the country.

I want the last words of the debate to be a thank you to two young people, because if they had not taken the Government to court, we would not have had this debate. I want to thank them for having the courage to say no when they were forced into unpaid work. I want to thank them for their courage in pursuing it through the courts, and I also want to thank them for allowing us at least to have some debate today to expose the regime that the Government have introduced.

I also want to thank the two organisations that have launched a week of action: Boycott Workfare and the Right to Work campaign. They are campaigning around the country to expose what companies are doing to exploit unpaid labour; the threats to benefits; and the harassment that people have endured. They are also coming out with a simple demand on behalf of young people across the country: they just want a job, but they want one with decent pay. I do not think that that is too much to ask in the seventh richest country in the world in 2013. I want to thank all those organisations for enabling us at least to have some form of debate on this issue today.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.