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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I am grateful particularly for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and the noble Earl. But I am also grateful to the noble Lord for his very full explanation. As for discretionary decisions, Section 2 at the moment prevails. That merely says that "regard" shall be had to the welfare of the child. That is virtually useless. It merely means that lip service, or eye service, may be paid to the welfare of the child and the decision maker then passes on.

This amendment at any rate gives a little more in "primary" regard—the first consideration. But in the end, the Minister comes back to the formula. In my submission, even if the formula were successful and proved its success, it is an utterly unsuitable way to deal with the welfare of children. It is much too rigid and quite impracticable.

Going through various press cuttings at the weekend, I came across a most informative article with the headline:


It has not worked out properly and that is only one respect in which the formula has shown its absurdity. The most absurd was the notorious application of the formula which left an absent father with only one penny a week. But it is simply unsuitable to apply a formula to measure the welfare of a child. As that article whose headline I just cited shows, it has not worked out beneficially for children.

Your Lordships may remember that there was a pair of opening batsmen for one county who sought to put off the fielders by calling "No" when they meant "Yes" and "Yes" when they meant "No". Of course they ran each other out very quickly. The Minister is in no danger of confusion. I think that every one of his notes on amendments has ended with "Reject". He has said firmly "No" meaning "No", and meaning "I shall get my supporters whipped into the Lobby against the amendment". Nevertheless, this is such an important matter that the view of the House ought to be taken on it.

6.36 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 17) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 32; Not-Contents, 84.

Division No. 2

CONTENTS

Airedale, L.
Berkeley, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Clinton-Davis, L.
Craigavon, V.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Erroll, E.
Falkland, V.
Fitt, L.
Geraint, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Halsbury, E.
Hamwee, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Kilbracken, L.
McNair, L.
Mayhew, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Redesdale, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.]
Seear, B.
Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Tope, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
White, B.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

NOT-CONTENTS

Addison, V.
Ailsa, M.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Ampthill, L.
Annaly, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Bethell, L.
Birdwood, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L.
Brookeborough, V.
Burnham, L.
Cadman, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Clark of Kempston, L.
Courtown, E.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Denham, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Flather, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Gisborough, L.
Goschen, V.
Gray of Contin, L.
Hacking, L.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L.
Hogg, B.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Inglewood, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kinnoull, E.
Leigh, L.
Lindsay, E.
Long, V.
Lucas, L.
Lyell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Macleod of Borve, B.
Malmesbury, E.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Mountevans, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Munster, E.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Newall, L.
Norrie, L.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Orkney, E.
Oxfuird, V.
Pender, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Rankeillour, L.
Rawlings, B.
Rennell, L.
Renton, L.
Romney, E.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Selborne, E.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strange, B.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Sudeley, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Vivian, L.
Wise, L.
Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

13 Jul 1995 : Column 1887

6.43 p.m.

Clause 18 [Deferral of right to apply for maintenance assessment]:

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 18:


Page 13, line 36, at beginning insert (""Subject to subsection (10A),").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 18, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 21. Amendment No. 18 is a paving amendment for the main amendment, Amendment No. 21.

Amendment No. 21 seeks to allow second families and absent parents who are also parents with care, who have had pre-April 1993 agreements overturned and as a result are paying increased child maintenance, to apply to the CSA for increased maintenance for the children living with them. When this matter was debated at Committee stage in the other place, the response of the Government was that the deferral was needed for administrative reasons; that it would be unfair to allow

13 Jul 1995 : Column 1888

some of the pre-April 1993 settlements into the CSA and not others, and anyway those families could go back to the court for an increase in the maintenance order.

The argument about it being unfair to allow some people into the system and not others is flawed when one realises that the majority of those with pre-April 1993 orders or agreements are already in the CSA system because the parent with care is in receipt of benefit. We would go on to argue that it is unreasonable and unfair to have brought some old cases into the scheme irrespective of whether the parent with care wished to have the original agreement overturned, but to bar those parents with care who want the original agreement to be replaced by a CSA assessment. It is also not reasonable to argue that second families can go back to the courts. It is precisely because of the problems with the court system that the CSA was introduced—the Minister has said that many times—and in any case many second families cannot afford the court costs, especially as they are now paying out under a CSA maintenance assessment.

When the Minister replies, perhaps he can give us some idea of the numbers of cases involved. The category we are describing must be far smaller than the approximately 300,000 pre-April 1993 cases which are still waiting to be taken on by the CSA. We would like to ask why the later compulsory cases are not deferred instead, especially when we accept that benefit claimants who want maintenance can apply of their own volition. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, we on these Benches support this amendment, if not all of the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in moving it. The Government have got themselves into a mess with what is known as a pig-in-the-middle situation where there is a second family; the father is paying out maintenance to his children by his first wife, but no maintenance is coming into the household for the second wife's children by her previous husband. That causes a good deal of confusion, mess and hardship. It is the sort of thing that happens if one follows formulas blindly without seeing where they lead. I hope that something will be done about it.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I have previously explained during consideration of this Bill, the Government's original plan was that all cases would come into the agency's jurisdiction within four years. That will not prove possible because of the problems faced by the agency and the need to introduce new procedures, particularly the departures scheme. We would not want to jeopardise the smooth introduction of other provisions by taking on these cases immediately.

I understand the difficulties that face a parent with care who receives only a small amount of maintenance through a court order, while her current partner pays out a larger amount of maintenance in child support. If the CSA were to accept an application from a parent with care whose current partner pays child support maintenance there would of course be no guarantee that the agency's assessment would be significantly more than the court order.

13 Jul 1995 : Column 1889

The mere fact that the family finances have been affected by a child support assessment is a change of circumstances which could be put to the court in support of an application to vary the court maintenance order. Although there is no obligation on the courts to have regard to the levels of child support obtained under the formula assessment, the courts are aware of the principles and effect of the child support formula and the levels of maintenance it produces.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked how many cases we thought might fall into that category. Our best estimate is around 5,000, though that can be no more than an estimate. However, I am advised that the intended effect of this amendment can be achieved by introducing regulations under the power in Clause 18(7), so no further amendment to the Bill would be needed. Having said that, I do not want to mislead the House in regard to our intentions. Our priority must be to secure improvements in the level of service presently offered by the agency to ensure the smooth introduction of the departures system and to provide maintenance for those who have no access to the courts.

There would be nothing to prevent a decision to put people in this category at the head of the queue when the time is right for the take-on of those deferred cases in the future. It is too soon to say when that take-on will begin because we shall have to make a judgment in the light of the situation at the time. I should not like anybody to think that I am making anything in the way of a promise. Undoubtedly that could be done if one wished to do it in the future by using the regulation-making power under Clause 18(7).

I know how suspicious some noble Lords are in relation to regulation-making powers. But dare I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that his confidence in the outcome of the next election will be judged by how closely he tests me in this regard because the regulation-making power will be there, if he is highly confident, to make the changes he wishes. If his confidence is a little less than he likes us to believe it is, then perhaps he will try to press me on that. However, I can assure him that the regulations are there. I am not giving a commitment, but I am explaining that if one wanted to do it in the future when the position of the agency was better than it is today the power is certainly there to do it.


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