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Earl Russell: The Minister is not the first representative of an Executive to say that he does not feel he has unfettered power. King Charles I said in 1641, "I do not feel in myself any such excess of power". Those words are familiar. I accept it feels that way to the Minister; it does not necessarily feel that way to the rest of us. He is of course right; it is not a reassurance to us to say that it has happened before. He heard my noble friend Lady Seear refer just now to a long-in-the-tooth despotism. We hope it might at some time receive a departure direction. However, I appreciate the attempts the Minister has made to describe the circumscription of the vires. I hope to hear him say that it is confined to the regulation-making powers in this Bill. It is confined, I presume, in spite of the general wording, by its presence in this clause. That is one mercy. He said—if I heard him right—it was further confined to the child maintenance bonus and compensation. That restricts it a great deal further. What I cannot actually see, in words which are governed, as far as I can see, by the provision,

are any words there imposing this specific restriction. If the Minister could direct my attention to such words I would be grateful and I would find it extremely helpful.

The Minister says that we want a system with no discretion at all. Of course we do not. Like Lady Bracknell we say, "Discretion to do what, may I ask"? We want to see discretion governed by general principles and by vires which are circumscribed enough for us to understand what they mean. The Minister referred to discretion for an adjudication officer. That in many circumstances—we had a good few of them on the Jobseekers Bill—can be entirely acceptable, but he ought to remember that there is, in our eyes, a fundamental distinction between judicial and administrative discretion.

My noble friend Lady Seear just now used the phrase, "judge and jury in its own case". It is not the court's own case save only in the sense that it is hearing it. It does not have an interest in the decision. The Secretary of State regularly has an interest in the decision. That is the principal reason why we do not think that he should be trusted with the amount of discretion that he is claiming.

If our positions should at some future time be reversed, and should we be tempted by the arguments that the Minister is deploying now, I hope he will

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remind us of these things that we are saying at the moment. People in office need to be reminded of what they said in Opposition, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, earlier this afternoon. Is the Minister in any position to assist me yet about the circumscription of the vires to the child maintenance bonus and to compensation?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I think I am. As regards Clause 26, the two regulations that we are discussing, and which I have mentioned, are the only two regulation-making powers brought in by this Bill. The other regulation-making powers we have discussed are insertions in the 1991 Act and are therefore controlled by the equivalent clause at the end of that Act.

Earl Russell: I am very relieved to hear it. Like Tom Lehrer, I find that there was a reason. That does just enough for me to save me from completing my hat trick, which I had not wanted to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 not moved.]

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clauses 27 to 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Short title, commencement, extent etc.]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 110:

Page 22, line 40, leave out ("paragraph 1") and insert ("paragraphs 1 and 15A").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 110 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 113.

These are minor, technical amendments which rectify omissions from the Child Support Act 1991. The Child Support Act currently refers only to Part I and Part III of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 and does not indicate to which schedule the parts belong. The amendments make clear that it is Parts I and III of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 which are amended.

The amendments also rectify a similar omission from the parallel amendment to the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975, where again the relevant schedule is not indicated.

I hope that the Committee will accept the amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Minor and Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 29, line 33, at end insert:
(". In section 33 (liability orders), at the end add—
"(5) If the Secretary of State designates a liability order for the purposes of this subsection it shall be treated as a judgment entered in a county court for the purposes of section 73 of the County Courts Act 1984 (register of judgments and orders).").

The noble Lord said: I seem to be coming into my own in what I hope is the home stretch regarding amendments.

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This amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to apply for a liability order to be entered in the register of county court judgments. I believe that it will encourage absent parents to pay their child support maintenance liability, particularly in cases where they are self-employed. Experience in other areas has shown that the threat of an entry in the register acts as an incentive for debtors to pay their liabilities because it can result in difficulties in obtaining credit for personal and business purposes.

Unfortunately, there are some absent parents who are reluctant to pay maintenance, and where the absent parent is self-employed there is a particular difficulty because it is not possible to issue a deduction from earnings order. If the absent parent does not co-operate in making payment, it is necessary for the Child Support Agency to apply to a magistrates' court for a liability order. That is then followed by distress action, or if this is ineffective by garnishee proceedings or charging orders in appropriate cases.

But that process can be protracted and some absent parents are deliberately unco-operative, using every means to avoid or delay for as long as possible payment of maintenance for their children. It is therefore right that we do everything we can to ensure that parents with care receive payment of maintenance promptly.

Liability orders will not be entered automatically in the register. When a liability order is granted, the absent parent will be warned that consideration will be given to making an application if the absent parent has not made arrangements to meet his liability within a reasonable period. This measure is not intended to be punitive, and absent parents can easily avoid the consequences by co-operating with the agency and making an agreement to pay maintenance and to contribute to clearing the arrears. But I believe that it is right that we do all we can to frustrate the deliberate attempts of a few absent parents to avoid meeting their responsibilities for their children. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: I seek a little clarification. The Minister proposes to give judicial force to an administrative decision. He proposes to do something, as he said, which will affect people's credit rating. That is a matter on which damage done through an error may be with one for the remainder of one's life. So mistakes need to be carefully supervised, and any real injury done to someone ought to be a matter for compensation. Can the Minister tell me, first, whether that will be so?

Secondly, when the Secretary of State designates a liability order for entry as a judgment, will the court be bound automatically to register that judgment or will the courts have power to conduct a hearing to see whether the facts are as stated? It is the second question which is crucial. I need to hear the Minister's response. With such a power, the provision is acceptable. Without it, at this time of night it would put us in considerable difficulties.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I hesitate to intervene at this hour. Indeed, I regard it as quite disgraceful that we are still sitting here after half past ten—again a very late

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sitting on the second day of this Committee. Indeed, to conduct our business like this is virtually a frustration of your Lordships' legislative role in the constitution.

However, I have a question that I should like to ask the Minister because I confess that at the end of our discussion on the remedy of distress I was left in a state of considerable confusion. I realise that that was partly because I had not had time to master a letter which the noble Lord had written to me which I received only yesterday morning, although the matter had been raised on both the 1991 Act and at Second Reading of the Bill. The other reason was that the noble Lord was not at the time in a position to answer in relation to the specific matters to which I referred in Section 35 which seem to give the Secretary of State exceptional power as a distrainer—powers well over and above those that the ordinary creditor has.

I understood the noble Lord to tell me that there were, in fact, no exceptional terms: that what was in question was merely the procedure under the County Courts Act which is, I believe, that which is now referred to. If that is so, I ask again why Section 35 is necessary. Is there any other purpose than to give the Secretary of State exceptional powers of distress, well over and above what is enjoyed by the ordinary citizen? Why cannot the powers under the County Courts Act which are now to be invoked not sufficient?

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