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Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 140:


Page 64, line 2, leave out from ("State)") to end of line 5 and insert--
("(a) subsections (2) and (2A) shall cease to have effect; and
(b) in subsection (3), the words "or by child support officers" shall cease to have effect and for the word "them" there shall be substituted the word "him".").

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 141:


Page 64, line 7, at end insert--
(". In subsection (4)(a) of section 22 of that Act (Child Support Commissioners), for the words "section 21(3)" there shall be substituted the words "Schedule 5 to the Social Security Act 1998".").

6 Apr 1998 : Column 568

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment has already been debated. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 141A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 142:


Page 65, line 47, leave out second ("section") and insert ("sections--
"Finality of decisions.
46A.--(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, any decision of the Secretary of State or an appeal tribunal made in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this Act shall be final.
(2) If and to the extent that regulations so provide, any finding of fact or other determination embodied in or necessary to a decision, or on which a decision is based, shall be conclusive for the purposes of any further decision.").

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak to Amendment No. 145A. These amendments both refer to the finality of child support decisions. Amendment No. 142 amends the Child Support Act 1991 to ensure that, subject to provisions for revision, supersession and appeal, any child support decision taken by the Secretary of State or an appeal tribunal shall be considered final. Such provision has already been made in this respect for commissioners' decisions in the Child Support Act 1991.

Amendments Nos. 142 and 145A allow for regulations to provide that determinations which are part of a decision may be considered conclusive and can be used in other decisions. This means that, for example, questions of fact will only need to be decided once. These amendments cover decisions made by the Secretary of State, appeal tribunals and commissioners.

These amendments enable the Child Support Agency to use its resources in the most efficient manner. Matters which have been investigated in detail will not need to be considered again when they are found to be relevant to another decision. This is also in the interests of the claimant. Decisions can be made quickly, and without the claimant needing to resubmit evidence that he or she provided previously.

These amendments are a step towards our vision for an active, modern social security system, where decisions taken for one benefit can be applied across the whole system to ensure an efficient and consistent service. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 142A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 143 to 145 not moved.]

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 145A:


Page 67, line 13, at end insert--
("(2) For paragraph 6(2) of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following sub-paragraph--
"(2) If and to the extent that regulations so provide, any finding of fact or other determination which is embodied in or necessary to a decision, or on which a decision is based, shall be conclusive for the purposes of any further decision." ").

6 Apr 1998 : Column 569

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: Here we are dealing with people's rights and the desire to help those suffering from misfortune. It is rather sad that the law governing the consideration of these matters should be so very complex. In this amendment we find that a decision, once made,


    "shall be conclusive for the purposes of any further decision".
That could give rise to a problem because in further consideration of the matter relating to the same child or other person it might be discovered that the original decision was faulty. Yet under this amendment it shall be conclusive even though it was faulty. I know that the law gets into these situations. One of the reasons why people at large are sometimes puzzled by the way that government and parliament do things is that in what should be simple matters affecting the lives of simple people, we manage to have such terrible technicality which does not always make sense.

Earl Russell: It takes a little time to sort these things out. I imagine that the crucial point that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has raised is the meaning of the word "decision". Presumably what was intended was a narrow and limited meaning of that word and in particular a meaning not ruling out any further decision on appeal. I hope that this is something on which the Minister may be able to enlighten us.

Lord Higgins: This amendment appears to be oddly worded. I am not clear in what way regulations may provide a finding of fact.

Lord Hardie: I can understand the concern of noble Lords about the way the amendment is worded. Perhaps I might explain the meaning behind it and also look at ways of improving the wording at a later stage. I deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. The intention is that regulations will specify the extent to which any finding in fact or determination is conclusive for the purposes of any other decision in respect of other benefits. When I first spoke I said that the intention was to streamline the system so that once one had a finding of fact which affected a particular claimant, that finding would be conclusive for any other benefit that that claimant would be entitled to.

Lord Higgins: So why do regulations have to provide it?

Lord Hardie: The regulations have to provide the extent to which it would apply and to which benefits. I anticipate that is what is intended. Perhaps I may deal with the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton. If there is an error, it will not be entrenched. If the claimant is dissatisfied with the finding of fact he or she may seek a review of that finding or appeal it. But if the claimant is satisfied about the

6 Apr 1998 : Column 570

finding, then rather than go through the same process of establishing the same fact for a related benefit, he or she would simply have the benefit of this provision.

Lord Renton: The noble and learned Lord said that there could be a review. But we know that as regards three sets of circumstances mentioned in Amendment No. 139 and two others reviews have been replaced by appeals to the tribunal. So there we have to stick to the prospect of an appeal to the tribunal being conclusive of the matter.

Lord Hardie: I believe that the noble Lord is referring to two different sets of circumstances. As we discussed on the first day of Committee, as regards some benefit claims there is provision for a review. The claimant may ask for a review of the decision within a month. Thereafter there will be a further month in which the claimant can appeal. That is one situation. The concept in the Local Government Finance Act 1988 and the earlier Scottish provision is a different one. If the Committee would prefer a fuller explanation of how this provision will be used, I shall be pleased to write to all noble Lords and also put a copy of the letter in the Library. That may be of assistance.

Lord Goodhart: This provision seems acceptable. I think it is simply the application into this Bill of a principle well known in the law technically as "issue estoppel", which is the principle that if something in litigation between parties is decided as a question of fact, the same issue cannot be relitigated. As far as I can see, this is not a matter to cause problems.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7 p.m.

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 146:


Page 67, line 17, at beginning insert ("in sub-paragraph (b),").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 146A and 146B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 147:


Page 68, line 6, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("sub-paragraph").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 147A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 147B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 147C not moved.]

[Amendment No. 147D had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Hardie moved Amendments Nos. 147E to 147H:


Page 69, line 14, at beginning insert ("Subject to sub-paragraph (1A) below,").
Page 69, line 21, at end insert ("by the Secretary of State").
Page 69, line 22, leave out from beginning to ("in") in line 23.
Page 69, line 25, leave out ("by the Secretary of State").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

6 Apr 1998 : Column 571

[Amendment No. 147J had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]


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