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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, was it not set out in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, that is my point. I was not here at the time. Therefore, I shall have to refresh my memory when I leave the Dispatch Box. However, undoubtedly, considerable savings were prophesied for the taxpayer. I do not suppose that anyone complains about that saving. Everyone thinks that absent parents have a responsibility for their children and that they should not offload it on to the taxpayer.

Unfortunately, it is true that we have not made the savings that we would like to see. But we believe that as a result of the actions I have outlined today—which will cost us a little money—we shall make net savings. Most importantly, the parent with care will receive the maintenance from the absent parent which she deserves.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the Minister said that the Act was passed without a dissenting voice. That may have been the case in the other place but, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out, some of us—including my noble friend Lord Carter on the Front Bench—spent night after night, day after day, trying, into the early hours, to talk some sense into the Government. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, played his part very well during those long watches of the night.

At that time we warned that the Act would be an administrative and financial disaster comparable with the poll tax. No notice was taken of us at all. No amendments were accepted or agreed by the Government. We were told that we did not know what we were talking about and that the Government wished to save £400 million. In spite of our protests that that was an undemocratic way to proceed, the Bill was passed by this House and another place with 100 Henry VIII clauses which allowed the Government to do just what they wished. That is what has happened.

If there is any criticism to be levelled it should not be directed at the Child Support Agency, which had a difficult job thrust upon it. The criticism should be directed where it is deserved—at the Government, for bringing forward such a Bill and forcing it through Parliament without proper and reasonable consideration even of proposals by people like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who is an expert on the law and who foresaw the difficulties which would occur in relation to the Act.

Having delivered myself of those remarks, I should like to ask one or two questions. First, can the Minister say whether those cases which are not related to income support will be brought into the net from 1996 as the Act states? My noble friend shakes her head. I did not understand whether that was the case. Perhaps the noble Lord would confirm that. I was also not clear as to

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whether the action to be taken in relation to clean-break settlements will be retrospective. Will the Minister clarify that point?

My final point relates to allowances for expenses incurred by non-custodial parents visiting their children. Will they be paid in full in respect of whichever means of transport is adopted? In answering that question I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that in France there is only a 16 per cent. loss of contact between children and non-custodial parents in divorce cases compared with a 50 per cent. loss of contact in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure me that the full costs of non-custodial parents visiting their children will be allowed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am glad that my Statement has allowed the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, to get so much off his chest in one afternoon. That is probably a good thing for your Lordships' House in relation to other questions which may arise as the week progresses.

In relation to the noble Lord's question about non-benefit cases, as I made clear, we shall take powers in the legislation to defer the taking on of those non-benefit cases.

On the question of the departures—as these would be, since this is not a change in the formula—which would be allowed if the expenses incurred by parents visiting their children were excessive, that would be a matter for the appeals procedure to determine. I do not believe that all the expenses would be allowed, because at least some of the normal expenses would be part and parcel of the absent parent's use of his normal income, less any maintenance he has to pay.

The broad-brush provision for property and capital assessments will deal with property and capital transfers made before 1993.

Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I also welcome the Statement. It appears to deal with most of the difficulties which have arisen in practice since the agency came into being. Can my noble friend give an assurance that the agency will not interfere with agreements which have been freely reached on divorce and are properly documented regarding property and the maintenance of children?

Can my noble friend also give an assurance that nothing in the Statement in any way undermines the fundamental principle that wherever possible parents should be responsible for their children and should not pass the buck to the taxpayer?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his support. To answer his question, as I mentioned, the take-up of those cases which were not on the benefit system before 1993 will be deferred in the legislation to come, although at some stage in the future, when the agency has caught up with the new departures and with its workload, it will consider taking them on board.

I have explained how the property settlements and capital settlements will be accounted for. In cases where the benefit system is involved—and I understand that

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the same applies under the court system—there is no such thing as a clean break between a parent and his child. There may have been a clean break between the spouses, but there cannot be a clean break between the parent who has left and the child. With regard to those cases which will be dealt with in the courts, there was no such thing, and there cannot be, in the Child Support Agency's work. As I believe my noble friend mentioned at the end of his question, it remains the major item of principle in the whole business, agreed by almost all noble Lords, that the absent parent has a financial responsibility to his children which he cannot and should not shrug off.

Lord Kilbracken: My Lords, as a so-called absent parent, I wonder whether I may make two observations. First, I wish to object most strongly and strenuously against the use of the offensive and misleading phrase "absent parent". I know that it is the phrase used throughout the Act, but I wonder whether the Minister could set a good example by using some other phrase such as, for instance, "a non-resident parent". My son spends about a hundred days a year with me. During those hundred days his mother is the absent parent and I am the parent with care. The phrase is much resented by fathers—and they almost always are fathers—all over the country.

Secondly, it is most unfair that boarding school fees paid by a father are not taken into account in calculating the sum payable to the mother. The father has to pay the same amount whether the son is at a fee paying boarding school—Eton, or wherever it may be—or is a day boy at a state school. I do not see how that can be justified. I wonder whether that point can also be considered.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, of course I shall take away the last point and consider it. I understand the noble Lord's point about the names used. Many children will have two parents who consider themselves to be "with care". I accept that in the kind of case to which he refers, where one parent may look after the child for 100 days and another for 265 days, or 266 if it is a leap year, it is a little unfair to make the assumption, which is built into the phrase "parent with care", that the absent parent (if I may use that phrase) does not have care. Perhaps we may apologise to the noble Lord and say that it becomes complex to seek labels which will encompass every situation. I am afraid that we are stuck with the two that we have.

I shall certainly consider the question about school fees. I do not suppose that it affects very many people. However, I understand that those who are affected find it a serious point.

Lord Kilbracken: My Lords, can the noble Lord consider the phrase "resident" and "non-resident"?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, of course. But, frankly, we are a little too far down the road to start changing some of the fundamental definitions in the Act.

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Agricultural Tenancies Bill [H.L.]

4.33 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 4:


After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

("Guidance to be issued by the Minister

. The Minister shall, after consultation with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and such bodies as appear to him to represent the interests of landlords and tenants of farm business tenancies, issue guidance setting out the matters which in his view need to be considered by the parties to any farm business tenancy before entering into any such tenancy.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 4 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 36, which is consequential.

When we debated the issue on guidance at Committee stage, my noble friend Lord Gallacher and I had put forward more prescriptive amendments than the present amendment. We suggested that the Government should be required to lay down regulations to deal with matters which should be covered in a tenancy agreement. As I said on the previous amendment, I am always ready to be persuaded by the Minister's eloquence. Therefore, we have now come back with what we believe is a more acceptable amendment. It is not so prescriptive, does not require the issue of regulations, but rests on the central point about which we feel strongly: that it is the Government's job to issue guidance and that that job should not be left to outside bodies, however worthy those bodies are.

I am sure that the Minister will quote the Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG). But however much I admire the work of the group—I know its members well—I still believe that it is the job of Government to issue guidance as set out in the amendment. We know that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is working hard. It has kindly let me have a list of the headings that it is considering. It is a full list. That body has divided itself into working parties. Obviously they are doing a good job. They are drafting their own guidance notes. I understand that in the spring that body intends to go out to consultation more widely with other interested bodies in the industry. It is hoping that by the summer most of the work will have been done. There seems no reason why the Government should not allow that work to continue and, when completed, to consider the guidance notes and issue them with the Government's own gloss. They could have the imprimatur of being guidance notes issued by the Government and not by an outside body. The examples which the RICS gives cover all the areas that one would wish to see considered. It is a full list.

I emphasise that we do not suggest, as we suggested at Committee, that the Government should be required to lay down regulations. The guidance will not have the force of law. We have not even suggested that it should be a code of practice which would be stronger than guidance notes.

Perhaps I may paraphrase briefly what I stated in Committee. The Government's argument appears to be, "Just leave it to the landlord and tenant". If the matter is left to the landlord and tenant in this new,

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free-wheeling era which will surround the new system, we shall end up by not doing that but leaving it to the courts. It is worth repeating what I said at Committee: that a number of lawyers who specialise in this area of the law have said that they are licking their lips in anticipation of the kinds of cases that they expect to bring forward.

If the Act is successful in producing a large number of farm business tenancies, by the regularisation of the existing share farming, the contract or the Gladstone v. Bower arrangements, or it attracts new tenanted land which is now in the owner-occupied sector, then the Act will govern a large area of our rural land mass. I do not believe that the Government should be able to wash their hands of responsibility in that area. Therefore they should take on board the job of issuing guidance notes for those who will be drawing up the new tenancy agreements. They should at least take responsibility for providing suitable guidance; I do not refer to regulation. However, within that guidance there will still be the considerable freedom of manoeuvre for landlord and tenant which the Government wish to see. The guidance will not have the force of law. It will be there to help the prospective parties to the contracts.

It is obvious that the department, in particular MAFF, issues guide notes and codes of practice on many subjects. At Question Time we often hear guidance notes on sheep dipping cited. On reading the newsletter of the Dairy Industry Federation I learnt today that the Government are issuing guidance notes on foot and mouth disease. I believe that there is a code of practice on pollution. The Government are not averse to issuing guidance notes or a code of practice to deal with specific areas of agricultural policy.

I emphasise that we suggest guidance and not a code of practice. Such guidance does not have the force of law. We suggest the kind of guidance which the Government are prepared to issue on a range of subjects in the industry. The Government seem to have washed their hands entirely of providing guidance as to what should go into the new tenancy agreements.

The Minister is very fond of quoting (and I do not blame him) the industry group. Perhaps he can reflect on the remarks of the chairman of the TFA in January 1994 when, referring to the Bill that was likely to come forward, he said:


    "I'm sure that in spite of all the safeguards we build in it will still be possible for sharp agents, owners and even ... tenants to write 'funnies' into the agreement which will do nothing but bring the system into disrepute and I do urge everyone to avoid that route".

The way to avoid that route is for the Government to issue some decent notes of guidance so that we all know what sort of things should be in the new agreements. To summarise the argument, we believe that it is the Government's responsibility; it should not be left to outside bodies. The Government should be prepared to take that responsibility. I beg to move.


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