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Lord Renton: My Lords, although I yield to none in supporting your Lordships' right to amend any primary legislation coming from another place, and voting for or against secondary legislation when it comes before us, I feel that on this occasion regarding this specific matter it

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is essentially a matter for another place. It would be idle for us to think for one moment that we could vote against it. The issue is for another place to decide.

Having said that, perhaps I may comment on a view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, about the register. Perhaps I may remind him that entitlement to be on the register, or the need to be struck off it, varies in every constituency by dozens of people every day of the year. For us to have a shorter period than one year for the publication of the register—it is an expensive cost for the public to bear—is to my mind quite impracticable, with great respect to the noble Lord.

The only other matter—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the noble Lord is moving to another subject, perhaps I may say that if that publication were done in isolation, he would be right. But for local taxation purposes, registers are provided which change from day to day. That was the whole basis of the poll tax and why the tax was so wicked.

Lord Renton: My Lords, quite frankly, in a sense that parliamentary register is the foundation of our democracy. We have to reach a specific date for young people to become qualified; and we have to give them the opportunity of ensuring that they get on to the register in time for its publication. I believe that we should not yield to that temptation.

Perhaps I may refer to the point which arises in relation to Huntingdonshire which in effect in future will be North and South Huntingdonshire. I looked to see where St. Neots was to be. It is now a large town. It is not mentioned in the order. That is because of the method which the Parliamentary Boundary Commission has to use; namely, by fixing constituencies in relation to wards of local government. St. Neots, important though it is, is not a ward of local government. Therefore we have Eaton Ford, Eaton Socon, Eynesbury and Priory Park; and St. Neots, strangely enough, will be covered by all of those. I mention that only for the record because a number of local people may have wondered.

However, apart from that, I congratulate my noble friend on her presentation of the order and the interest she has aroused in so doing.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, first, I note all the comments of welcome which have been made regarding this substantial piece of work.

Perhaps I may address straight away the issue regarding the size of the House of Commons. It is important, first, that the ratchet effect of the present system be addressed. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State confirmed during the debate in another place that he would initiate a review of the statutory rules in Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 as soon as this fourth general review is complete. That will be when the report of the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission has completed its parliamentary passage. One of the issues which no doubt will have to be addressed is the growth of the size of the House of Commons and what is known as the ratchet effect in the rules. It has the effect of creating an upward pressure as to the size of the House of Commons at each successive review. If that rule is not

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modified in some way, then that ratchet effect continues because of the methodology that is suggested in the rules as they stand.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, raised the point about the inadequacy of the electoral register. I note what the noble Lord and my noble friend say. It is an important point. The Government are most anxious that we have as complete a register at is reasonable and practicable. I wish to add to the words of my noble friend; they were important and pertinent. With regard to having a good, effective register, we fund an annual publicity campaign to encourage people to register to vote. That campaign is targeted at a group of people where the level of registration is known to be below the average. We also carry out annual research on which we base regular advice as best practice to electoral registration officers. A number of matters to do with electoral registration are under review in the department. We consult with the political parties. That process will continue.

I wish only to make reference to the abolition of hereditary peerages. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, took licence to bring the matter into the debate. The issue has absolutely nothing to do with the debate in hand. However, I cannot let it pass. I believe that hereditary Peers add greatly to the work of this House and to the effectiveness of this place, and their contribution is considerable. I have to say to the noble Lord, it is underpinned by centuries of tradition. I put this on record because I believe that the noble Lord ought at least to be forewarned because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. I, and I suspect many, both inside and outside the Chamber, will prove doughty fighters against abolition of hereditary peerages. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.20 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.57 to 8.20 p.m.]

Child Support Bill

House again in Committee.

Clause 6 [Departure directions]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 21:


Page 5, line 21, leave out from ("Part") to end of line 24.

The noble Earl said: In the first instance, this is a probing amendment. If I receive the answers I want about the intention of the Bill, I hope that I shall be able quickly to withdraw it. If I do not receive those answers, it might be a different matter.

The point concerns Clause 6, the conditions for a direction for departure from the Bill. The words which I seek to delete are condition (b) for a departure direction:


    "The Secretary of State may give a departure direction if ...


    (b) it is his opinion that, in all the circumstances of the case, it would be just and equitable to give a departure direction".

My question is this: does that add a further restrictive condition to subsection (a), that,


    "he is satisfied that the case is one which falls within one or more of the cases set out in Part I of Schedule 4B or in regulations"?

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In other words, I wish to know, if a request for a departure direction fits all the conditions set out in the schedule and the regulations, does the Secretary of State nevertheless have an unfettered right to stop it going forward, if it appears to him not to be just and equitable to do so? If that were a further restrictive condition on the operation of the departure system, it would give me anxiety. I hope that the Minister can tell me that my fears are misplaced. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As the noble Earl pointed out, the amendment removes the requirement placed on the Secretary of State to consider whether giving a departure direction would be just and equitable, before he gives such a direction. It will have the result of allowing a departure direction to be given in any case so long as that case falls within one of those set out in Part I of the new Schedule 4B, as introduced by Schedule 2 to the Bill. Subsections (2) and (3) of the section, however, remain in place. That means that certain aspects of the "just and equitable" issue are expanded upon without the concept itself having been introduced.

I assume that it is the intention that the Secretary of State would still be required to consider whether a departure was just and equitable, taking account of the financial circumstances of both parties and the welfare of the children, but that the requirement to consider all the circumstances of the case, rather than only the financial circumstances of the two parties, would be removed.

The requirement to consider whether it is just and equitable, in all the circumstances of the case, to give a departure direction is a very important feature of the departures scheme. I should like to give an example of the kind of case in which such a consideration may and indeed ought to be material to the decision whether to make a departure direction.

Let us suppose that an absent parent has requested a departure because he has a debt which costs him £25 a week to repay. It is clear that the debt is a reasonable one, that he has not been able to reschedule it and that he therefore has to meet the payments. On the face of it, he may qualify for a departure. However, perhaps we may suppose that he is a horse-racing enthusiast, a car enthusiast or something similar and has a part share in a racehorse which costs him £2,500 a year—not that I indulge in such activities, but I gather that it is pretty expensive. The parent may have other enthusiasms that cost him a great deal of money. The Secretary of State may consider that, in view of the circumstances of the case, it would not be just and equitable to allow a debt to reduce support for the absent parent's own child, when he is spending much more on an expensive hobby.

In other proceedings on Bills, I have been urged to put in words like "just and equitable". This is a novelty in that this time I am being urged to remove the concept of "just and equitable". I hope that the noble Earl can realise that it is a reasonable concept to include in the Bill a provision to ensure that in such circumstances as those that I mentioned—and there will be other examples which we could devise—the Secretary of State can take into account all the circumstances of the case. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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