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Page 56, line 34, at end insert--

("Reduction in accordance with reduced benefit direction

. A decision to reduce the amount of a person's benefit in accordance with a reduced benefit direction (within the meaning of section 46 of the Child Support Act).").

The noble and learned Lord said: This group of amendments comprises Amendments Nos. 53A, 141A, 142A, 146A, 146B, 147B, 147D, 147F, 147H, 147L and 156A. This group commences with Amendment No. 53A which is a late amendment. In view of representations made to me by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about this late amendment and concerns that he has about it, it would not be appropriate for me to move it or this group at this stage. Having said that, it is my intention to address the issues raised by these

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amendments at Report stage after further discussion with noble Lords opposite. Therefore I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 53A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Decisions against which an appeal lies]:

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 55:

Page 58, line 31, at end insert--
("Liability of directors etc. for company's contributions
. Subject to the provisions of section 121D of the Administration Act, a decision as to the issue and content of a notice under section 121C(2) of that Act.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment on Monday. I beg to move.

Lord Higgins: I intervene at this point with some trepidation because I realise the matter has already been debated, although the situation remains somewhat confused after the response which we have had to a number of points which were raised. I intervene because I am anxious that the Bill should be improved. The objectives which the Government set out at an earlier stage are ones which we entirely support. However, we have grave doubts about the method of doing it.

There is a problem because we have already passed what one might call a paving amendment. If we also accept this amendment it may still be possible, in the light of the substance of the issue, to improve the matter by amendment at later stages. However, Amendment No. 100 runs to some three pages and embodies a method of dealing with this problem which seems to me to have wide repercussions, for example, for the Department of Trade and Industry. I fear that if we accept that amendment it would be difficult to claw back the situation. Indeed we may have to rely on another place to do that.

I think we can probably get away with accepting this amendment--if I may use that expression--but between now and reaching Amendment No. 100 we need to consider whether we want to include the other amendment in the Bill or whether it would be more appropriate to return to it at Report and not accept that amendment at this Committee stage. That still rather leaves the earlier one hanging in the air, but not wholly because to some extent it deals with the main substance of the Bill rather than the issue we are discussing.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: With the best will in the world, I do not see how we can meet the noble Lord's request. When my noble friend moved Amendment No. 11--I believe that was the number of the amendment--he made it clear that that amendment, together with Amendment No. 55, was, so to speak, a semi-paving amendment on the substantive amendment, which is Amendment No. 100. In other words, they were consequentially linked, not just grouped together. If the noble Lord intended to air those concerns, he ought to have aired them when we discussed Amendment No. 11. At that point it was clear that we were discussing the

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substantive issue. We were led to believe that the Official Opposition understood, accepted and went with--if I may put it that way--the substantive amendment. We would now experience some difficulty, therefore, in following the path suggested by the noble Lord, which is to retain the paving amendments but not to accept the substantive amendment.

I am willing to discuss this matter outside the Chamber, but my advice to the noble Lord--unless any other way forward is proposed--is that he should accept this amendment and also Amendment No. 100 but return to the matter on Report. There is also Third Reading. There are two further stages at which we can return to this matter. If the noble Lord then feels there is a preferable way forward, which commands the assent of the Chamber at Report stage, it would still be open to us to strike out Amendment No. 100 at Third Reading. That may be the better way of doing it. I do not think we can leave paving amendments floating without the substantive amendment, given that we have already debated the substantive issue.

Lord Goodhart: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I wish to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has said. We are not asking for this provision to be dropped. We are merely asking for it not to be moved at this stage so that it can be brought back at Report. There are serious problems here. Amendment No. 100 causes grave problems as regards the procedure which is proposed for what we agree is a perfectly legitimate aim. Amendment No. 100 can be dealt with by means of an amendment to that amendment. However, there are great difficulties as regards the amendment we are discussing; in fact there are rather more serious problems with this amendment. If Amendment No. 100 is to be put into proper shape, I believe it is essential to place the system of appeals altogether outside the system of social security appeals, which is what Schedule 3 is concerned with. That would mean that Amendment No. 55 would simply not be amendable because it would have to disappear. There would be no other way of dealing with it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I believe the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is making this matter unnecessarily complicated. Amendment No. 100 has already been debated as part of the debate on Amendment No. 11. That was the Committee's choice and that was what we did. Therefore I do not believe that we can defer the other two amendments to some later stage, keeping the paving amendments floating in the Bill; that is, make a break between the two stages. The right way to deal with this is to accept the judgment of the Committee on Amendment No. 11 and the subsequent amendments and, if the Chamber so desires, return to the matter at Report stage. That is the appropriate way of proceeding. As I said, we still have Third Reading if we need to do any subsequent tidying up, should the Chamber change the substantive amendment.

As regards the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, mentioned, we shall be happy to discuss this with him outside the Chamber, as we shall do with

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the national insurance issues. My understanding is that the DTI was consulted on the matter and raised no objections to it. The policy reasons for the noble Lord wishing to defer this matter may be groundless. That would be good news if it were the case. I suggest that the Committee accepts that this matter has already been debated. In that sense it has already been accepted and will be included in the Bill. However, if the Chamber is unhappy about that, noble Lords can return to the matter on Report and table an amendment to what will then be the revised Bill.

Lord Higgins: I certainly accept that the matter has been debated. It will be quite clear from that debate that neither this side of the Chamber nor those on the Liberal Benches were happy about it. I intervened at this stage because it seems to me that when we reach Amendment No. 100 we shall run into problems. However, given what the noble Baroness has said, let that be the case. We shall have to try to sort out the mess later.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 [Child support: appeals to appeal tribunals]:

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 27, line 5, at end insert ("against the refusal").

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 57 to 61 and Amendment No. 141.

Amendments Nos. 56 to 58 tighten the drafting of Clause 42 and clarify which child support decisions are appealable.

As presently drafted, Clause 42 gives the circumstances under which a right of appeal relating to child support exists. However, the clause does not state explicitly which decisions can be appealed. These amendments address this issue.

The decisions which can be appealed under the amended clause will be the same as at present; namely, a refusal to make a maintenance assessment; the amount and effective date of a maintenance assessment; the cancellation of a maintenance assessment; and the refusal to cancel a maintenance assessment. This amendment does not remove any appeal rights currently held by child support clients. It merely clarifies which decisions can be appealed against.

Amendment No. 59A removes a restriction on what a tribunal can do when it allows an appeal. In contrast to existing child support appeal rules, we want tribunals to be able to determine the outcome of an appeal--where appropriate--when they allow an appeal. This amendment achieves this by removing a limitation in the Bill as drafted.

Amendments Nos. 59, 60, 61 and 141 make minor drafting changes in respect of child support appeals. If Members of the Committee wish clarification of the amendments, I can explain them in more detail. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

2 Apr 1998 : Column 434

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