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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The two debates are linked to a certain extent. I did my best to explain the answers to the points raised by the noble and learned Lord from the point of view of a layman in the law. I am sorry that he is still in doubt as to whether I gave him a proper answer. I shall certainly read again what happened earlier and if I feel it necessary I shall write to him in order to—

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I did not complain when the noble Lord declined to answer in regard to the specific matters to which I drew attention. The question now is a perfectly simple general one: why is Section 35 necessary at all if the powers exist under the County Courts Act 1984?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for clarifying in my mind what I have no doubt was absolutely clear in everyone else's as to the question he asked. I shall go back a little in order to deal with the questions in order. We are discussing someone who has declined to pay over a considerable period and there is no other possible way of ensuring that he pays. Those are the circumstances.

As I said in my introductory remarks, in the first instance it will require a liability order from a magistrates' court. That order will have to exist and we have discussed it. The absent parent will know about the order and, if I recollect what I said earlier, he will have the right to make any points he wishes to the magistrate. If the magistrate grants that liability order, once again the absent parent will be given time to deal with the problem and prevent the next step being taken. In a way I am trying to help the noble Earl, to show that there are plenty of opportunities for the person to reach an agreement with the agency to prevent each step in the process from happening.

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Earl Russell: The Minister is being helpful, but perhaps I may ask for crucial clarification. Has the court the right to refuse to enter?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We discussed what the court could or could not do earlier, but my understanding is that the court does not have the right to refuse to enter and that is the position. We have reached the stage where a liability order has been granted by the magistrates' court.

Baroness Seear: Is the noble Lord telling us that all the court can do is to rubber stamp a decision which has already been made? If not, what can it do that is different?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My problem is that, as the noble Baroness knows, I am not a practitioner in the courts. I have given my understanding of the position and, if in practice the position is different, I shall tell her.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Will the noble Lord forgive me again? He has not answered my question at all. He has merely repeated the argument that there is no need for distraint or distress if the debtor goes quietly. We have heard that argument and are not impressed by it.

However, that was not what I asked. If a liability order is issued in the magistrates' court and it is registered under the County Courts Act, why is there any necessity for Section 35, unless it gives remedies to the Secretary of State over and above the ordinary remedies under the County Courts Act? That is the question and I hope that the noble Lord has now received the answer.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for helping me. I was coming to the answer but I was trying to address two issues at the same time—the issue that he raised and the one raised by the noble Earl—and to look at the procedural point.

We have a liability order from the magistrates' court. The question is then: why do we need Section 35? The liability order from the magistrates' court will have the status of a county court judgment. Therefore there will be no role as such for the county court. The order would go directly on for registration. As I say, the liability order is not a county court judgment. If it were, this provision would not be necessary. Perhaps that answers the noble and learned Lord's question.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I am afraid that it does not. Would not the county court order follow if it were applied for?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I believe I pointed out earlier that we are looking for a simpler proceeding, not one that takes time but one that will deal with the proceedings expeditiously. I explained that the order will have to go to the magistrates' court, so there will be a judicial stage, and the person involved will certainly know all about it at that stage. He will then have the opportunity to do something about it before it is moved to the next stage; namely, to be registered.

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Because the order will have the status of a county court judgment, there will be no role for the county court. It would go directly for registration.

I can appreciate that the noble and learned Lord and the noble Earl do not particularly agree with what I am trying to do here; but I hope that I have explained the position. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: This gets worse and worse as it goes on. The Government are moving into the courts and using them to rubber-stamp an administrative decision. The point about a judgment is that it follows a hearing; and it follows consideration of evidence by an impartial authority. That is what the Secretary of State cannot pretend to be.

I have sympathy with the Minister not being a lawyer; after all, I am not either. Clearly a lot of questions have been raised tonight that were not foreseen and on which expert legal advice is needed. Would it be for the convenience of the House if the Minister were to defer moving this amendment until Report when he has been better advised about it? I hope that he will do that. It will be very difficult if he does not.

Lord Carter: I have listened to this debate with great interest. This is a point which I am sure could be answered in correspondence. I am satisfied with the Minister's answer. If the noble Earl decides to divide the Committee, I shall persuade my colleagues to vote with the Government.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It is late, and we shall be in the same position at Report stage. I have tried to answer all the questions. In particular, perhaps I may clarify this point—I might have made a mistake earlier on. The magistrates' courts would always have a hearing before making a liability order. I hope, given that additional explanation, the noble Earl will accept that I am not withdrawing the amendment and that he must do what he feels he must do.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 112:


Page 30, line 8, after ("or") insert ("under").

The noble Lord said: This amendment clarifies an earlier amendment introduced during the Bill's passage in another place. The Bill, as it was originally introduced, made provision for regulations made under paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 4B to be subject to affirmative procedures. However, prompted by an Opposition amendment to reconsider the schedule, we judged that it would be right for all regulations made under it to be approved by both Houses before coming into effect.

But it is possible that the current wording of the Bill could be interpreted to mean that affirmative procedures apply only to those regulations made under Part 1 of Schedule 4B, which was neither the Opposition's

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intention nor ours. The proposed amendment will put the matter beyond doubt. I therefore ask the Committee to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: I am extremely grateful to the Minister. This point was raised by my colleagues in the other place. It was a sensible one. The Minister has now put the matter right.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 113:


Page 30, line 23, at end insert:
(" .—(1) In paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 5 (amendment of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975), after "Part I" insert "of Schedule 1".
(2) In paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 5, after "Part III" insert "of Schedule 1".
(3) In paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 5 (amendment of the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975), after "Part I of" insert "Schedule 1 to".").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 114:


Page 30, line 23, at end insert:

("Social Security Administration Act 1992 (c. 5)

. In section 170(5) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (the Social Security Advisory Committee)—
(a) in the definition of "the relevant enactments", after paragraph (aa) insert—
"(ab) section 10 of the Child Support Act 1995;"; and
(b) in the definition of "the relevant Northern Ireland enactments", after paragraph (aa) insert—
"(ab) any enactment corresponding to section 10 of the Child Support Act 1995 having effect with respect to Northern Ireland;".").

The noble Lord said: As the Child Support Bill currently stands, issues arising from a payment of the child maintenance bonus could not be considered by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It was never our intention to exclude payments of the child maintenance bonus from the scrutiny of the committee. This amendment makes sure that issues arising from a child maintenance bonus payment made under Section 10 of the Child Support Act 1995 can be dealt with by the Social Security Advisory Committee. That is achieved by amending the definition of enactments given in Section 170(5) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, in relation to which the Social Security Advisory Committee can give advice and assistance, to include Section 10 of the Child Support Act 1995.

A similar change is made to the definition of the Northern Ireland enactments which are relevant to the Social Security Advisory Committee to add any Northern Ireland enactment corresponding to Section 10 of the Child Support Act 1995. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.


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