Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, why did the Minister raise that point given that my noble friend Lord Russell said in specific terms within the last two minutes what I heard him say in his speech before the Minister rose to his feet? My noble friend said that then, so why did not the Minister take it in then?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I seem to have stunned the Liberal Democrat Party into a great deal of righteous indignation. I am simply making a point and I am sorry that noble Lords opposite seem to be so thin-skinned that they cannot take it. Perhaps they are having it both ways as usual, but they appear on the one hand to want to stick to the principle, while on the other hand they are extremely critical of the agency and the Act. I am delighted that members of the Liberal Democrat Party in this House have now clearly stated that they are in favour of the continuation of the system whereby an absent parent continues to meet his financial responsibilities and, as I am sure that we all hope, his other responsibilities to the children of the marriage which he has left.

I turn now to the various points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, asked me about the Australian system and the grounds for appeal there at the outset. I think it is fair to say that the Australian system is much more broad-brush than our own. It is based on taking a percentage of gross income and varying it depending on the number of children. The only allowances in that system for exempt income are income support equivalents for the basic living costs, with nothing for housing costs. There is no equivalent of protected income in Australia. Assessments there can cause real hardship. That is why it was recognised there that an appeals system was essential from the outset. As the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, knows, we shall shortly be introducing a Bill to establish a system whereby people will be able to find a way to depart from the formula if their individual circumstances justify that.

I was asked whether we shall be compensating persons with care who are on family credit or disability working allowance where the maintenance assessment is reduced by the regulations. We recognise that recipients of family credit or disability working allowance whose maintenance decreases as a result of

6 Apr 1995 : Column 376

the changes contained in the regulations cannot have their benefit adjusted immediately in the way that those on other income-related benefits can. We shall therefore be making special compensation payments to those families, based on half the amount of the reduction for the outstanding period of the family credit or DWA award.

The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, asked me about the costs of visiting the children as opposed to the costs of travelling to work. It is proposed that the costs of visiting the children shall be one of the specified special expenses for which a parent will be able to apply for a departure from the formula assessment under the scheme which it is proposed to bring in once the new Bill becomes an Act.

We are changing to two-yearly reviews from annual reviews, and I was asked whether it is our intention to reinstate annual reviews at some point in the future. We have no intention at present of returning to annual reviews because experience suggests that biennial reviews are more practical and still provide for much more frequent and regular reviews than did the old system. However, we shall continue to monitor and evaluate the procedures.

I was asked why the property and capital transfer allowances apply only to settlements made before 5th April 1993. The reason is that settlements made after April 1993 were made in the knowledge that maintenance for the children would be calculated in accordance with the formula prescribed under the Child Support Act. We believe that it is right to take account of the fact that after April 1993 people knew about the Child Support Act and that maintenance would have to be paid under its rules. It is to help those people who made a settlement prior to April 1993 that we are introducing the provisions.

I was pulled up by the noble Earl with regard to the phrase a "clean break". He suggested that perhaps I should call it a "dirty break". My real point is that although I appreciate that a man and a woman can make a clean break from each other, neither of them can make a clean break from the children of their marriage. They still have a responsibility to the children.

The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, asked about the disclosure regulations and what level of detail would be given in those circumstances. Only essential information will be given. One example may be where an absent parent denies paternity. Clearly, it is essential to be able to tell a parent with care that the absent parent has denied that he is the father. However, it would not be essential to tell her that he claimed to have had a vasectomy and this information would not be given. Another example is where an absent parent makes a maintenance application that cannot be accepted as the parent with care is claiming benefit. The CSA would reveal that the parent with care received a prescribed benefit. However, it would not be essential for the agency to tell the absent parent that the parent with care had a partner who claimed income support for the family. That information would not be given.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about absent parents, many of whom would see their maintenance reduced by much less than the property and capital

6 Apr 1995 : Column 377

transfer allowances in the exempt income. The allowances are based on the normal deduction rate of 50 per cent. Where an absent parent is paying maintenance at that rate his assessment will be reduced by £10, £20 or £30, depending on which of the three rates he is entitled to. These are fairly substantial reductions.

I accept that if an absent parent has sufficient income to pay the additional element he will have a lower reduction. The allowance is intended to be only a broad recognition of a property or capital settlement. It is not intended to reflect the value precisely. If either parent feels that it does not reflect the value precisely and is not fair, once the departure system comes in an application can be made under it.

I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about travel to work costs and straight line costs. I thought that the example he chose was particularly inappropriate. Almost no one in his right mind would make the journey that he suggested. There is one small exception. He is clearly not up to date. There is a possibility of a ferry between Tarbert and Tighnabruaich. The proposal is there. It has started to run, albeit not all the year round. If that ferry runs regularly the journey will be much shorter as the crow flies.

Earl Russell: My Lords, one cannot eat possibilities.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I was going on to say that in those circumstances the noble Earl might be able to find one person who would be prepared to commute from Tarbert to Tighnabruaich or—perhaps much more likely—vice versa. However, I do not believe that we can start to devise legislation on hypothetical journeys that may be made by one absent parent in about a million. That is especially so when it is very doubtful whether anybody—be he a parent with care, absent parent or any kind of parent—will ever consider making that journey as a daily commute.

We decided that we would measure it in the way suggested simply because it was the easiest and most convenient method of attacking this in a broad brush way. We are trying to help those people who have high travel to work costs. I believe that the broad brush approach is the right one. When the departure system comes in they will be able to apply under it if that broad brush approach is unfair to them.

The noble Earl also suggested that the figure of 10 pence a mile was too low. The whole idea of the travel to work allowance is not to pay the absent parent's

6 Apr 1995 : Column 378

travel to work costs. That would be a little unfair to all the other people who travelled to work and did not get an allowance for them in their income tax or any other kind of arrangement. This is designed simply for those people whose costs are extremely high. It is intended to help them. We believe that a broad brush approach is the right one. I believe that the position is equally true in relation to car ownership and the like.

I have attempted to answer most, if not all, of the questions that have been asked. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for his support. I take his tease. I expected nothing less. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his support. I take his tease. I also tell him that I expected nothing less. I believe that the regulations and changes will improve the workings of the child support scheme. I hope that they will make it more acceptable to absent parents and that they will appreciate that they have a responsibility to their children. We hope that, via the Child Support Act, they will be able to carry out that responsibility. Therefore, I commend the regulations to the House.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may remind him that I asked him how much the total full-year costs of the regulations will be, how much will go to the absent parent, and how much to the parent with care.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall have to ask the noble Lord to allow me to write to him with those details. The overall long-run costs of the changes are expected to be about £50 million a year, but I shall have to write to him about the breakdown of the figures.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


3.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn. In moving the adjournment of the House, perhaps I may wish all your Lordships a happy Easter Recess. On behalf of the House perhaps I may thank all those who work in and around the House and wish them some happy days of respite before we all return for a very long summer indeed.

        House adjourned for the Easter Recess at sixteen minutes past three o'clock until Tuesday, 18th April next.

6 Apr 1995 : Column 377

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page