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Earl Russell: Perhaps I can help the noble Baroness. She might find it useful to look at the exchange on this between the Minister and myself on 23rd January when we had the Statement. The position is that the mileage is allowed but the costs of ownership—the ones to which I have been referring—are not. If anything, I think that that is the wrong way round but as we have a lot of things in front of us at the moment, and clearly with the regulations to come we have many more different arguments about this also to come, I shall beg leave to withdraw my amendment for the time being. However, discussion on this subject in public and, I hope, in private may continue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I beg to move that the House do now resume. I promised the noble Lord the Chief Whip, whom I am glad to see has returned to the Treasury Bench, that I would not move this Motion until 9.30. May I repeat what I said on the earlier occasion? The Committee is, like most second Chambers, an elderly Chamber. The Committee is, unlike most second Chambers, an unsalaried Chamber. It is quite

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unreasonable to keep the Committee up on a Bill of this importance at very late hours. However, the matter is far more important than that. At this hour of night, with the Committee as it is, it is quite impossible for the Committee to perform its proper parliamentary function. We saw that in 1991 and the result has been—it should be recognised—a legislative disaster. We do not want another one. It is extremely bad for the Chamber. So I hope we may be assured that the Committee will now adjourn as there can be hereafter no realistic test of opinion in the Lobbies. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Simon of Glaisdale.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I listened with care to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. However, I do not agree with him. We have a programme to get through and many amendments have been tabled. I know that it is late but, frankly, it is early in comparison to two of the Committee days last week. I believe we can go a little further. I shall try to exercise some restraint in the length of my speeches and I hope that that will encourage a precedent to be set. We shall try to make some progress because otherwise we shall be in exactly the same situation tomorrow night. I believe that we should make progress tonight as far as we possibly can, as has been agreed through the usual channels. I understand that the noble and learned Lord has tabled some interesting amendments to be discussed later and I understand his concern not to stay here too late. However, I rather fear that if we are to make progress we shall have to do just that.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wish to support the Minister. I, too, feel that we should continue, at least past 11 o'clock tonight, and possibly later, because otherwise we shall certainly be here until gone midnight tomorrow. It seems only reasonable that we should try to get the bulk of the business done today if we can.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: It is not ordained from Heaven that we have only two days on this Bill in Committee. Perhaps the Minister would say up to what hour he considers it reasonable—

Lord Carter: It is ordained from a much higher authority—the usual channels.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I am afraid that I do not quite know where I am at the moment, and my hearing instrument has come adrift.

The Minister has conducted this Committee stage to all our admiration. Perhaps he will indulge us by saying up to what hour he thinks it reasonable for the Committee to sit tonight on a Bill of this kind. However, I shall not hear what he says.

It is a matter of great joy to us that the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip has been honoured by being summoned to the Privy Council. This is an admirable opportunity for him to show his good will to the Members of the Committee.

On Question, Motion disagreed to.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Lockwood): Amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 32 have been wrongly marshalled. I shall call Amendment No. 31 first.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 31:


Page 25, line 40, at end insert:
("( ) costs incurred to support a young person in further or advanced education;").

The noble Earl said: I shall be very brief with this amendment because before we discuss it sensibly there needs to be discussion between the Department of Social Security and the Department for Education.

The liability to maintain a child continues only up to 18, but the need to pay a parental contribution for the child's university education extends well beyond that. The parental contribution may be considerable. A parent who is paying the parental contribution will need a departure in order to allow him to continue to do so. That may be in the interests of the children of the family as a whole.

Either the parent should not be bound to pay a contribution under the Department for Education regulations or, if he pays that contribution, the paying of the contribution needs to be taken into account by a departure under the formula. It is not of desperate importance to me which way that is done, but I hope that the two departments will succeed in getting their heads together and working out a way of making this work. We have enough problems in education with parents who cannot pay the parental contribution without adding any more. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The amendment proposes a further ground on which an application for a departure might be made—that of costs incurred in supporting a young person in further or advanced education.

Clearly the Government acknowledge the importance of further education and of educating young people. However, we cannot accept that expenses incurred by parents for this purpose should be placed above their responsibility to meet the basic needs of their dependent children. That would be the effect of the amendment. Children who are dependent must take precedence over those who are no longer dependent. Young people who are in further education are no longer dependent. That is a rule which child support has in common with social security benefits. We have always made it clear that a parent's first duty is to provide for the basic needs of his own children, whenever he is in a position to do so.

Where a parent with care has young children for whom she receives child maintenance under the formula as well as an older child in college, she would receive no additional maintenance in respect of the student. It therefore seems illogical to allow an absent parent to apply for a departure on the grounds that he is contributing towards the support of a young person in further education.

It would be quite wrong to let the costs of higher education for an older child take precedence over the basic costs of supporting younger children.

We propose, and are introducing, a system for departing from the formula amount for child support maintenance because we accept that there are cases where the lack of recognition of specific expenses in the formula

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can cause problems for both absent parents and parents with care. We carried out a thorough review of the child support scheme, culminating in the issue of the White Paper in January. We listened carefully to all representations from Members of Parliament, Members of this House, parents with care, absent parents and their representative organisations.

The list of special expenses that we propose to allow through the departure system reflects our careful consideration of what appeared to be the areas of greatest concern during that review. There were minimal representations on the issue of costs associated with supporting young people in further education in the context of child support. I do not believe that it is necessary, therefore, to include those costs in a scheme intended as a safety valve to relieve areas of greatest pressure.

I have made clear on a number of occasions that the departure system is designed to deal with the issues that have been of major concern since the Act came into operation. It is not our intention to allow any conceivable expense to be cited as grounds for a departure order. To do so would be to return to a discretion-based free-for-all. Therefore, I cannot accept the noble Earl's advice that I should reconsider the matter and accept the amendment. I am afraid that I cannot accept it. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: I shall do the Minister the courtesy of taking that answer as a smokescreen behind which real thought can take place. It was a reflex answer. If, at the end of the day, it were to be the Government's considered position, it would mean that the children of all parents caught under the CSA would be unable to go to university. That consequence would not be in the public interest. It certainly would not be welcome in universities; and it certainly would not be welcome to the children.

The Minister's position could make sense only if the parental contribution rules were to be adjusted by the Department for Education in such a way that maintenance being paid under the CSA were allowed for in the contribution rules.

Has the Minister in fact already had any consultation with the Department for Education on the subject; or will he undertake to do so before the next stage of the Bill? If he says yes to that question, then I should be prepared to leave the matter there.


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