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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, what about us? At least he has civil servants.

Earl Russell: My Lords, of course, they might increase the work load.

On 23rd May, the Tuesday before the Recess, when the Bill was given a First Reading and the Jobseekers Bill was undergoing its Third Reading, the Minister was responsible for three Bills before this House at one time. That is a hat trick that I do not envy him. We on these Benches agree with practically every word uttered today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. He was one of those who showed us the way in 1991. We shall support his reasoned amendment, and if he chooses to put it to a Division we shall be happy to go into the Lobby with him.

We all know that in the Palace of Westminster we live in a micro climate. In respect of some issues a kind of culture sweeps across the Palace of Westminster and carries away everything, even when the rest of the world is unaffected by it. Any member of my profession knows that perfectly well. The 1991 Act was the product of one of those parliamentary cultures. When they grow, they seem to be proof against almost any manner of evidence or outside appearance. I cannot see how one can puncture them.

In respect of this matter, the media, much maligned, and justly maligned, though they often are, are a great deal nearer to understanding what is going on than those in the Palace of Westminster—and I do not refer only to the Government. Your Lordships know that it is the policy of the Liberal Democrats to repeal the 1991 Act lock, stock and barrel. I am grateful to the Minister for recognising that that does not mean that we abandon the principle that parents are financially responsible for their children. But we reject the formula, and we reject it first and foremost because it is a formula. The Minister said—and I believe that I have his words correctly—that a formula means that people in similar financial circumstances pay similar amounts. I am sorry, but that really is not accurate. It means only that people whose circumstances are similar in relation to those points which it has occurred to the draftsman to mention are treated alike.

Once again I must remind the House of the principle of the Renton Report: that no draftsman can possibly foresee all contingencies. I hope that the Department of Social Security possesses a copy of that report. Therefore, all that happens is that cases which in fact are very different are treated alike. That is why the defence of consistency in relation to a formula is entirely misleading.

Perhaps I may give two examples, both of which will be familiar to the Minister or at least to his department. A man in Henley-in-Arden lived 30 miles away from his

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work. There was no public transport. He was buying a car on hire purchase which was costing him £1,500 per year. He could not pay the amount which the CSA assessed him to pay and keep up the HP payments on his car. Because he was one of the very early cases when people still believed that some form of help, co-operation or negotiation was available, he rang the CSA helpline and was advised to sell his car.

I wrote to Mr. Burt about that and asked whether he could assure me that that was not government policy. He wrote back an extremely helpful and considerate letter, but he could not give me the assurance for which I had asked because the formula had not foreseen that case.

I have another example where I do not have to rely on ex parte information because the person in question is well known to some senior members of my party. The gentleman had been married and had made a settlement on his ex-wife and daughter which was well above any amount which the CSA might have asked him to pay. His ex-wife then married again and allowed her second husband to get his paws on the money. He put it into risky investments where it all disappeared. He then left her, leaving her on benefit, whereat her first husband was again clobbered by the CSA for the misdemeanours of his wife's second husband, for which he believed himself not to be answerable. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, to whom I wrote, was extremely sympathetic about that case, but he could not do anything about it because the draftsman had not foreseen it. That is what is wrong with the formula.

My second objection to the formula is that it attempts to make people pay too much. We are in favour of parents paying but we are not in favour of them paying what they do not have. The formula seems to produce a significant poverty trap in levels of income between £13,000 and £18,000 per year, which of course covers a very large proportion of the population.

I have a letter from somebody affected by the Act whose husband is paying to his daughter, aged 13, more than he is able to keep back for himself and his household. That is not right. That results also from the fact that the formula is assessed on gross income which, as we all know, is very different from our disposable income. For many years I never bothered to know what was my gross income. It was of no interest to me and had nothing whatever to do with how much I had to spend. That person sent me a payslip. His pay is £985 per month and the CSA assessment is £371. That sounds reasonable enough until one sees £49 council tax, £65 national insurance, £122 income tax and £58 for pension. Therefore, that person brings home £316 and is paying to his daughter £371. I believe that that is a disproportionate amount to be made available to one single daughter. That shows how misleading is the reliance on gross income.

This Act attempts to stand on a one-legged tripod, which is a rather unstable position. We think that there should be three different legs to support separated families. First, we think that the father should pay what he really can afford to pay. Secondly, almost all mothers who are caring for children on their own say that they would like help with childcare in order to go out to work so that they can make a contribution towards supporting the

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children. We support that, as does the noble Baroness. We believe that one of the problems with the Act is its reliance on the old-fashioned world of the breadwinner, which disappeared quite a long time ago. In relying on childcare, we go with the grain of letting people do what they want to do, which is a much more constructive way in which to legislate.

Thirdly, when we have relied on what the father can pay and what the mother can earn if she has help with childcare, the state must accept that it must bring up the tail and look after what is left. The state is entitled to wish to reduce the amount that it spends in that regard, but it cannot abolish it altogether.

Who gains from the 1991 Act? The Treasury does not. We have a new study which shows that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, was right all along in what she told us in 1991; that the trouble arose because of cut-backs in the number of staff in the liable relative unit, which was doing a fairly good job until those cut-backs were made. That just goes to show that if economies are not undertaken intelligently, they may become an extremely expensive habit.

The CSA's claims of savings are based on some fairly questionable figures. According to a Written Answer of 7th March in another place, of the amount that it is bringing in, £108 million is from old maintenance achieved by the liable relative unit, which is still continuing; £44 million is from new maintenance, not a particularly impressive figure; and £165 million is from people no longer claiming benefit. But we are not told how those figures are compiled. Before the Act, an average of 24,000 parents every month went off benefit for the ordinary normal reasons: they got married; they left the country; or occasionally they even managed to find a job. It looks as though all those are lumped together as savings which are all ascribed to the Act. That is misleading.

We are told also that all those women who have gone off benefit rather than naming the father of their children are savings due to the Act. Occasionally the Secretary of State tries to make out that that is uncovering fraud. I should like to know whether there is any concrete evidence for that statement because, if it is only a hypothesis, I can offer a contrary hypothesis. Most people do not understand quite how terrified women are of contact with the men who have inflicted domestic violence upon them. I know that there is the harm and undue distress provision for which I am grateful. Ministers do their best to make it operate. But a case which came to me only last week involved a woman who not once, but twice, had had her name revealed to a violent former partner and who had had to change her name and move house at a loss on each occasion. I do not blame Ministers for that. I blame Ministers for creating a situation in which that can happen all too easily.

Also, most men do not understand—I am sure that I do not myself, although I try—quite how much women may mind intrusive questioning about the circumstances of a former relationship. One case which came to me from a CAB involved a woman who was questioned about the putative father of her child. She was asked how many times she had had intercourse with him and how long it had lasted on each occasion. The noble Viscount, Lord

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Astor, was as horrified as I was by that case. But if you set up "Jacks" in office—or nowadays one should add "Jills"—you give them power, and sometimes people will abuse it. I should like to know how many women who have come off benefit rather than name the father have done so for such a reason. I should also like to know in how many such cases there is evidence which can be ascribed to fraud and in how many such cases we simply do not know what actually happened.

The noble Baroness is entirely right to say that women have not benefited from the Act. By "women" we must include second as well as first wives: they are not honorary men and are not to be treated as such.

I agree with what the noble Baroness said about the disregard. We on these Benches will work for it. I also agree with what the noble Baroness said about passported benefits. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, divided the House on that subject in 1991; indeed, he was quite right to do so. I believe that the noble Baroness also mentioned the benefit penalty. That was something which the House rejected in 1991. I hope that it will do so again.

I very warmly welcome something for which the noble Baroness and myself have pressed; namely, the concession to women on family credit. I refer to those women who lose family credit because of child maintenance but who, when the child maintenance is reduced, do not have the family credit returned to them. However, now that the Minister has made a concession in that respect, why is it only partial? Why not go the whole hog? That is a matter to which we must return in Committee.

On these Benches we also believe that an injustice is an injustice no matter whether it is done to men, to women, to children or to people having a sex-change operation. The Act has done no more justice to men or to children. We were told in 1991 that children come first. But Mr. David Pannick QC, appearing for the Secretary of State in the case of Biggin v. Secretary of State, told the court that the welfare of the child is not a paramount or even a particularly significant consideration under the 1991 Act. Now they tell us! They did not tell us that when the legislation was before the House. We said it; but it was hotly denied from the Government Bench. I am glad to see that the truth has now come to light.

Whatever the noble Baroness said, what is done for men is not done in response to law breaking; it is done, first and foremost, in response to a careful, well-argued campaign in letter writing. I have received many hundreds of such letters and they are very powerful and well argued. Most of those people to whom I have talked are attempting to use the legitimate, democratic and political channels. The noble Baroness's response in that respect may run the risk of discouraging them from doing so. I would regret that. We all agree that law breaking should be discouraged, but one way to do that is to allow people the hope of achieving change by legitimate means.

I turn now to travel costs. At 250 miles a person has £10 a week exempt income and £1.50 maintenance reduction a week. That is not especially generous. Then there are capital settlements. Over £25,000, a person has £60 a month exempt income and £9 maintenance reduction. That, too, is not especially generous. It reminds me of Richard Hooker on irresponsible child minders, who, he

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said, used to eat the baby's dinner and then smear its mouth with a spoonful so that when the parents returned and found the child crying they could say, "It must be colic; you see he has eaten". In my view, the concessions are really a little like that.

On capital settlements, people have to produce documentation dating from a settlement which was made before the Act to show what proportion was for the wife and what was for the children. Before 1993, no one felt the need to do so. That shows the problems of retroactive legislation. That retroaction must go.

The Minister knows my views on the use of cars for people who cannot travel to work by any other means. He will hear them again. Why does the White Paper say that departures are allowed only in a small minority of cases? Why is there no general reduction in the amounts assessed, which are generally and universally too heavy? Why is there no change in the 104-night rule? Further, why is there no change in the principle of spousal maintenance? Why are caring costs allowed for stepchildren only in exceptional cases; and which "exceptional cases"? What if the father is dead and cannot maintain them? Why is there such a patriarchal and limited assumption?

I shall not detain the House by discussing the wording of the Bill. But once again we have words with such meaning as may be prescribed. I should like to know when the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is going to receive the letter that he has been promised stating where that has been done in previous legislation. When the noble Lord receives that letter, I should be grateful if I could have a copy of it.

Most of the big changes in the Bill are ones which this House cannot address. The House of Lords lives by its capacity to amend government legislation. If such legislation is to be done in a form which we cannot amend, that is something which threatens the future of this House more than anything that has been said by the Opposition.

4.27 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, first, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for his explanation of the Bill. Secondly, I must offer him my deep condolences for the fact that, although he has charge of this Bill, he did not take the 1991 legislation through the House; indeed, I have great sympathy with him, especially after listening to all the speeches that have been made hitherto.

I should like to begin by looking at the past to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, also made reference. In about 1985 I went to a member of Her Majesty's Government and pointed out that there was a rise in unemployment and that, because of such a rise, the social security offices were being overworked and overburdened. Those concerned were quite unable to deal with all the applicants who came to the social services departments. At that time, as has already been said, there was the liable relative unit of the Department of Social Security. As a director of social services and a children's officer, I came into contact with that unit. Its officers did a magnificent job of work. The cases came before the court; the court made a decision; and the officers of the

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unit—who used to be called "the matrimonial men"—would visit the father who was not paying the wife according to the court's recommendations.

The procedure worked very well. On a casework and mediation basis, fathers were persuaded to pay. But if they could not do so, the matrimonial men would help them to return to court and ask for a readjustment. The courts did not have a formula and were able to judge each case on its merits and determine how each father could pay. Therefore, it was a court-centred discretion.

As I said, in about 1985, I went to the social security offices and I found that because there was growing unemployment the matrimonial men were being taken off their matrimonial work to be put on work on the counter. I could not believe that that was the case and therefore I went to see Sir Peter Barclay who was then the chairman of the Social Security Advisory Committee. Sir Peter Barclay and his committee then looked into the matter and made recommendations to Her Majesty's Government. They advised Her Majesty's Government that as the matrimonial men were being taken off their matrimonial work, the men they had been pursuing for non-payment of moneys were no longer being pursued and taken to court and the sums of money owed were therefore gradually accumulating. Her Majesty's Government sent someone to report on the situation in a social security office. That person reported that things were awful in the social security office and that staff were having a terrible time. However, nothing was done about that.

In 1990 the figures were considered and it was discovered that there was a tremendous amount of arrears. Then the Government began to consider the Child Support Bill. As has already been said, the Government produced the White Paper, Children Come First. We all thought at the time that it was a good White Paper. However, I must say that the mediation method of dealing with cases before 1985 and before the matrimonial men were drafted onto work on the counter was usually successful. However, it was not always successful and when it was not successful the matrimonial men returned the case to court and the court decided what should be done. Something was worked out which was to the benefit of the mother, the father and the children.

I now wish to discuss a completely different point. I hope that in the very near future a divorce Bill will come before your Lordships' House. The divorce Bill lays down that there should be mediation between the divorcing parents before a divorce is granted, and that there should be a year in which the divorcing parents can work out the arrangements that are to be established for the father, the mother and the children. I take this opportunity to say that I hope that reference to the divorce Bill will appear in the Queen's Speech because I think that the mediation system which is recommended in that divorce Bill will possibly forestall a great many of the problems that we face today.

I wish to pay tribute to the staff of the Child Support Agency. I believe they have had an impossible task and they have had to face almost insoluble problems. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, they have had to work with a formula which they must have known could not

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work. I pay tribute to them for having to deal with such a difficult Bill. I particularly pay tribute to the staff in the appeals section who have tried hard to show compassion and understanding of the problems. However, they have been held back by the formula with which they have had to work, as has already been said by many noble Lords.

All the parties supported the principle that absent parents should accept a responsibility where appropriate rather than rely on the state to meet obligations which should be those of a parent. It is the detailed implementation of the measure which has created so much disagreement. The two main areas of contention appear to be first, balance; and, secondly, efficiency. First, where should the balance be between the rights of the first family and the second family; between the interest of the lone parent on the one hand and the absent father on the other; between the state/taxpayer and the deserted wife/mother and her children? The second issue concerns administration, which by all accounts has been pretty chaotic during the first year. The wrong decisions have been taken; the wrong letters have been sent to the wrong people; and not enough cases have been dealt with in a timely manner.

Here again I must say that I still support the principle of court centred discretion which meant that the court took into account all the circumstances. That is something which the formula cannot do. I suppose it will never be possible to return to the principle of court centred discretion, but nevertheless the Child Support Agency might well take into account all the circumstances of all the members of a family. I refer again to the White Paper Children Come First. However, in this instance, children do not come first. I submit that in this Bill, as it stands at present, it is a case of the Treasury coming first, and not children. In the Children Act 1989 the welfare of the child is paramount. However, that is not the case in this Bill.

I do not believe that we have thought about research. When I opposed the Bill when it came before your Lordships' House in 1991, I particularly asked for some research to be done. I was grateful to Mr. John Eekelaar, a research worker at Pembroke College, Oxford, who carried out some careful research. That research was forwarded to the Ministry and it was given to me. That, together with my own experience of having worked with these families, made me realise that the Bill would not work, and that it would not be possible to make it work. The various points that I wished to make have already been made by other speakers. I cannot see how the formula can ever be successful unless it has much more flexibility than at present.

I fully support the comments made today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. If there is a Division on his amendment, I shall vote with him. I shall not detain your Lordships further because, as I said, the points I wished to make have already been made. But could we not consider what has happened in the past and build on the best of the past instead of on the poorest of the future?

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4.37 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby: My Lords, when we finished with the Child Support Act 1991 some of my noble friends accused me of having used intemperate language about the principal Act. I do not apologise for that. I regret that it stirred me to a state of mind that no previous legislation had done. I thought it was an affront to a large section of the people and an insult to the magistracy and other machinery that dealt with these matters in a more temperate way.

The Minister in his introductory speech this afternoon spoke as if little had happened for which he had to apologise. The chaos behind the child support scheme, the near disaster to which it came, and the drastic steps that had to be taken to change management while the engine was at full steam all showed what a morass had been created in this field of administration. It is all very well for the noble Lord to say that it is easy to speak with hindsight. But as my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale said, it was not hindsight that was needed but foresight. We were telling the Government that they were entering a minefield of delicate emotional human relationships. One feels that the original Act intruded a new bureaucracy, a new instrument of interference, with powers in hand to settle difficulties and disputes between men and women who had a responsibility for children.

In introducing this Bill, I had thought that the Minister would tell us something about the present state of affairs in the Child Support Agency. It is the first debate on the issue since we parted with the relevant Bill in 1991. Much has happened since then, but there is still something to be told. The noble Lord just brushed aside that aspect as though all were well. However, the explanatory notes refer to a backlog which has still to be overcome. The truth is that a large slice of the work of the agency had to be set aside completely in order to leave the agency free to deal with other work which appeared to be more urgent. What was that work? We ought to know whether the Government are within sight of getting on top of that complex task and how many more staff will be required to do so. We have heard nothing about the increases in expenditure or staff which have been given to the agency over several years.

Noble Lords might have known that any legislation coming out of the 1990-91 Session would be faulty. Look what came out of that period, my Lords. I refer to the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The Government went through the most amazing parliamentary gymnastics to prevent both Houses from registering sympathy with the idea of a national registration scheme for dogs. But it was the dying period of the Thatcher despotism. The Government also took from the magistrates their customary role with regard to mandatory death sentences in the Dangerous Dogs Act. They relieved magistrates completely of their powers in that delicate field of human relationships.

Bills which require regulations have needed a wheelbarrow to take the regulations from one part of a department to another. Look what we have coming in the field of regulation, my Lords. Look at the Jobseekers Bill. Look at the Disability Discrimination Bill. Heaps of regulations are still to come. With regard to this Bill, the regulations are still to come. It is a regulation-creating

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Bill. If noble Lords want to know what the regulations will be, let them read the schedules. Your Lordships will see the hairsplitting which will be brought into the regulations. Regulations may be made to see whether assets which do not produce income are capable of producing income in order that those assets may be brought into the picture regarding allocation income. That is not the only provision. I invite noble Lords to read Schedules 1 and 2 and they will see what is coming.

I assume that the Bill is largely concentrating on that part of the work which formula assessments could not reach, or if they reached it they messed it up, or were unfair or inadequate. The first nine clauses of the Bill create a new superstructure of assessments of liability which goes under the name of departure directions. That is nothing to do with "goodbye" or "au revoir". Departure from what? What directions? The Bill almost states that a departure direction means a departure direction; it is almost as informative as that.

The Bill provides a departure from the inadequacy or unfairness of what are called formula assessments. We ought to have a glossary of words and phrases in common use in the bureaucracy of Britain today. I note that a list of abbreviations is published in many official publications in which initials are used and the Government do not want to print the whole word every time. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to follow the technique of legislative practice.

There is another aspect of this superstructure. I surmise that the provisions deal with cases which brought so many people out on the streets. It is no good glossing over the difficulties of the past when more than once women paraded with children in perambulators protesting about the injustices of the Child Support Act. I guess that in those cases an allocation of income had already been made towards the children but the agency decided to have a go to see whether it was right. The agency increased agreements which had been reached, in some cases doubling the contribution of the father towards the maintenance of the children.

With regard to Clauses 1 to 9, the Bill deals with a small minority of cases. What is "small minority" in this context? How many? Are they cases where no state funds are employed? Are they cases where it is a matter of an allocation or re-allocation between the parties but no state benefit is being paid? I do not know. Should those cases be in the scheme? We want a little information on that.

Let us turn to the consequences regarding staff and expenditure. That is where we find a clue to what things mean. My estimate is that the Bill will cost the expenses of 1,000 extra staff; 750 are already mentioned as being necessary for the initial reassessment of cases which will come within the provisions of the Bill. The departure directions can have two stages: applications can be thrown out at a preliminary stage, or they can go straight to a final stage. The strictest discipline will be exercised on discretion. It is a form of taxation far more meticulous and rigid than income tax.

The Minister puts the proposals over in his benign and persuasive way but he is an expert in the art of persuasion. I remember his maiden speech from the Back Benches when he was so persuasive in his promotion of the consumption of Scotch whisky that a number of us went

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out and bought a bottle to see what it tasted like. What can you do with a Minister like that! He tells us that this is a benign scheme, holding the hand of justice evenly between the parties. However, the Act has already created more additional domestic worry than probably any other similar Act. There may be benefits in the legislation but what a price has been paid for them. I have in mind the results of various monitoring bodies throughout the country which have sent reports of what they experienced at the hands of the system. Those reports were very worrying indeed.

My noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale referred to the part played by the Inland Revenue in the matter. I took the strongest objection to the inclusion in the principal Act of a provision for child support officers to be entitled to apply to local inspectors of taxes for the right to look at the payroll particulars delivered to them by employers in their district. The provision was surrounded by conditions: the officers were not to be told the person's earnings; they were not to be allowed to roam over all the payrolls in the office; they had to know which firm was suspected of having in its employment someone who was wanted for child benefit payments. The applications had to go to the board of the Inland Revenue.

I was shocked to find that in the first period of a year or less no fewer than 113,000 applications had been made to the Inland Revenue for permission to look at payrolls. That is an unjustified intrusion into the affairs of the revenue and the relations between the Inland Revenue and taxpayers. What is more, not even the police are allowed to do what child support officers are asking for. Police officers are not permitted by tax officers to scour through payrolls, except in cases of murder. So the child support officer has been put in a position equal to that of a policeman looking for a murderer. What a state of affairs!

I believe that there are some things which you do not do, even if it means that you have to find alternative methods of pursuing your purpose or even if you are frustrated. Sometimes the means matter more than the end and we must beware of that. We must beware of anything that imposes a feeling of inferiority on a large section of society, with people having lost their dignity and being put in the hands of bureaucracy, in order that officers may go into the intimate details of relationships and why people are not paying more towards the support of the child. In some circumstances, it would be worth while the state taking over the responsibility rather than allowing the kind of problem that can occur between a father and a mother. I went into all that on the original Bill and I am not without hope that one day something better than this scheme may be used.

I finish by saying that we have quite a Committee stage on the Bill in front of us. I sometimes wonder what the House of Commons is doing after what we went through on the Jobseekers and the disability benefit Bills, the flaws that could be found and the difficulties that might arise. When we consider what was needed to make the legislation better understood and more acceptable, there is something wrong with the system. This Bill ought to go to a committee which could go over all the details with care, free from the spirit of debate. The difficulty with the administration of the Act is that it began with a perfectly

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good intention and a simple purpose. The intention was to provide better provision for children who ought to receive support from a parent. The principle was, in civil terms: "Make the blighters pay". That is all we need say. The child support scheme was set up, with nothing like the consultation that was necessary as a precaution to introducing legislation of such complexity and sensitivity.

I believe that my noble and learned friend Lord Simon was fully justified in putting the amendment on the Order Paper. Why do I call him "my noble and learned friend"? Because he has been a friend of many years; not all our friends are on one side of the House. I say to noble Lords that if they do their duty, they will pass the amendment and let the Government know that, at any rate in this Chamber, we are sensitive to all that has happened under the Act, moving the House to refer to the agonies which we know have arisen behind the scenes in recent times. I hope that out of the Bill will come a better approach to the problem. Perhaps the Minister has introduced a more benign climate with the Bill, it is not laced with hostility, as was the original Act. It does not confer the disgrace of defaulter, deserter, repudiator of responsibilities and all the language that can be used about someone who is believed not to be doing what he ought in the interests of his family.

I welcome the amendment, although I wonder whether we are spending time and money on rearranging the allocation between fathers and mothers, who are above the range of social benefits, to support the children. I do not know why the agency had to assume a wide brief over the subject when in the beginning its main purpose was to ascertain whether the public interest was being properly defended in the application of social benefits to thousands of cases. What shall we do about the women who refuse to have anything to do with the agency? Presumably they are now themselves defaulters or have got on the wrong side of the agency and lost its sympathy. And why an agency? This is a matter of public administration. Under this scheme we have removed maturity from those who deal with the clients of the state, when some better understanding would probably have been needful and possible at the level of court jurisdiction.

I have made my speech. I hope that I shall have the energy to go through a Committee stage if it lasts from now until Christmas. Let us see whether we can improve the Bill. I hope that my noble friends will see that the final stages of this Bill are kept free—as the final stages of other Bills should be—at Third Reading and Bill do now pass for some summary to be given of what we have done with the Bill and where we are proceeding with it. To put down amendments at the last minute, and then at two o'clock in the morning debate the Motion that the Bill do now pass, is not fair given all the work that will have been put into it. Let us have a little space for an assessment of what we are doing and of the impression that we are making upon red tape and a Ministry that has less resilience than any in my long experience.

5.1 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this debate has been, sadly, short in numbers of speakers. That is perhaps because it has taken place on the first day back

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following a week's Recess and on a day when the House of Commons does not seem to think it worth while working. However, it has certainly not been short on quality or understanding and sympathy with the issues that arise in relation to this Bill. And it has certainly not been short on agreement on the fundamental ends that we all seek to achieve. We disagree in many respects about the means to achieve those ends, but I believe we are all agreed, as my noble friend Lady Hollis said at the very outset, that the principle on which we base our approach to the legislation is that you cannot divorce children. You can divorce a wife or husband, but responsibility for children continues throughout their childhood. That means financial responsibility on both sides.

This problem of the break-up of marriages and of lone parents is only one aspect of a whole series of social problems which have been, as I believe everybody would agree, getting worse in recent years. We have to look at the life chances of children and what makes those chances more difficult to achieve. It could be low pay; it could be the unemployment, disability or sickness of their parents. Now, added to that is the undoubted increase in family break-up.

When, over 50 years ago, Beveridge set out the skeleton, and indeed some of the detail, of the welfare state, he made assumptions that we cannot any longer make. He made assumptions about stable family relationships; about a divorce rate that was far lower than it is now; about a level of full employment to which at the moment we can only aspire without doing anything very effective to achieve; and even, for those in employment, about lifetime stable employment conditions, which we do not seem to be able to achieve either. All these aspects, from the point of view of children, have gone to make life enormously more difficult and to increase the numbers of children in families that are themselves subject to dependency on the state.

There has been much philosophical discussion about that aspect—not so much this afternoon, but particularly in the United States. I find that unrealistic and very often unwelcome. I do not find acceptable some of the talk about dependency on the state being replaced by dependency on communities in the way that Etzioni and his rather unwelcome disciple Newt Gingrich seem to think is possible. I certainly do not believe, along with Charles Murray, that we should look on dependency as the cause of family break-up. It is fairly clear that dependency is the effect of family break-up and all the other sorts of insecurity. Therefore we are bound to look to the state as the saviour, the provider, where other conditions do not exist to give children the life that they deserve.

The problem has been that, increasingly, demands on the state have meant that dependency has itself led to a degradation in the quality of life of those who are forced into dependency. Some of that seems to me to be quite avoidable. It seems to me that the conditions imposed, for example, on jobseekers, on those who are unemployed, must affect the children in those families and must affect their life chances. The Social Fund replacing grants for household equipment and so on with loans that have to be repaid is surely an avoidable way of degrading those in a dependency situation.

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There can be no doubt that the Child Support Bill before us now is a special case of a much more general problem. But it is a very important special case. My noble friend Lady Hollis said that there are nearly a million children in families where the parent or parents are unemployed and on income support, but there are nearly two million families with lone parents who are on income support. We must—and I believe it is possible—do better than we have been doing in making life better for those children. After all, dependency of the kind that we have created in this country is not universal in civilised Western countries. In the UK 70 per cent. of all lone parents are in families on income support. However, in Sweden, which has a much more coherent social security and welfare state system, 70 per cent. of lone parents are in the labour market. That is the kind of objective that we must seek in our approach to this aspect of social policy.

I shall not go over the history of the Child Support Act and what has gone wrong with it. That has been very fully aired in the debate, and in any case I am not particularly qualified to deal with it. However, I wish to make clear that when we consider the policy that underlies this Bill, we are considering not only the Bill but the regulations that were introduced in April this year. It is that package of regulations plus the Bill that we have to judge. That is what I propose to do.

I have to say a word about the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for whom I have an enormous respect and with whose judgment on these matters I do not normally find myself in disagreement. The noble and learned Lord is of course right in two of the three parts to his amendment; namely, that the Bill does not fully obviate the faults of the 1991 Act and that it is a skeleton Bill, leaving far too much to regulation. But these are matters that we ought to address in Committee. It would be a grave mistake—I say this having made the same mistake myself—to put such an expression of opinion about the content of the Bill into a reasoned amendment of this kind, have it inevitably defeated by the Government in a Division, and then find ourselves up against the argument in Committee that the House has already expressed an opinion on the matter that we seek to amend—

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