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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The Minister has given a long and clear explanation of the Government's thinking on this matter. The noble Baroness has said that the long-term objective is that gradually what the courts do approximates to what the CSA is doing. My noble friend was concerned about the load on the CSA in the shorter term. Have the Government any estimate of the number of cases that might come to the CSA to overturn arrangements made in the courts in the first few years? On a practical basis, can the Minister give any figure?
In 1998 the courts made around 8,000 court orders in respect of children. The CSA handled around 350,000 new maintenance applications. The caseload builds up. Of that 8,000 I would expect only a tiny fraction to wish to come to the CSA except--and only except--in those cases where the parent with care has subsequently gone on to benefit in which case they must do so. The CSA handled 350,000 cases compared with 8,000 handled by the courts. The noble Baroness's guess is as good as mine. Perhaps a few hundred, perhaps 10 per cent, of those may have to come back to the CSA because the parent with care will go on to benefit. Of the remainder, the noble Baroness's guess is as good as mine on the default rate coming back to the CSA.
Because of the way the system will be set up, I hope that we have overcome the problem. Lawyers would know that they cannot depart from the CSA rate without the full and informed consent of both parties and would build into their arrangements at the court the CSA rate. If we are successful, then very few cases should come before us.
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for the full and clear explanation of Clause 2. We shall consider it fully and carefully between now and Report stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Russell: Perhaps I may ask two precise and short questions. First, could child benefit be a prescribed benefit under this clause? Secondly, could the old age pension be a prescribed benefit under this clause?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Amendment No. 40 amends Clause 3 of the Bill so that only people claiming income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance can be treated as having applied for child support.
At present, Clause 3 provides that people in receipt of income support and income-based jobseeker's allowance, or any prescribed benefit, will be treated as applying for child support. The amendment removes the regulation-making power and would mean that should the need arise it would be more difficult to add other benefits in the future.
Under the current scheme, a parent with care who claims income support or income-based JSA can be required to authorise the Secretary of State to take action to recover child maintenance. She is not required to do so if there are reasonable grounds to believe that there will be a risk of her, or any child living with her, suffering harm or undue distress. This is known as "good cause". However, child support arrangements can be made only after a formal application for maintenance has been received and no parent with care can be made to apply. Even if good cause is not accepted, the parent with care can choose simply not to respond.
Under the new scheme, parents with care who make a claim for IS or income-based JSA will be treated as having applied for child support unless they specifically request that child support should not be pursued.
The noble Earl asked whether the fact that someone was receiving benefit could amount to a sufficient definition. No, because someone could have child benefit and be a private case and therefore not fall within the framework of the Bill. As regards someone in receipt of a retirement pension, I suppose one could conceive of a pensioner having children of the
As with the current scheme, there is a power to prescribe benefits other than income support and income-based jobseeker's allowance. In the past, DWA was prescribed, but as it has now been replaced by the disabled person's tax credit it no longer applies.
This amendment would mean that we would no longer have the power to prescribe benefits other than income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance. As explained in the memorandum on delegated powers, while we do not intend at the current time to include other benefits, it is desirable that we retain the power to be able to add others, as is currently the case, or, given changes that could be envisaged, to alter existing benefit proposals.
That would give us the flexibility to replace or add to the benefits set out on the face of the Bill should a new benefit be introduced to which parents with care may be eligible in future. It is only right that if these circumstances arise, all parents with care should be treated in the same way. It will also enable other existing benefits to be added should it be necessary.
Delegated powers are a feature of social security legislation. For example, Section 70 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 provides for entitlement to ICA to be linked to care of a person receiving attendance allowance, DLA or such other payment out of public funds as may be prescribed.
It is normal for any new benefits to be introduced by primary legislation. That would mean that if we wanted to add new benefits to Clause 3 we could do so by this route at the same time. In theory, child benefit could be prescribed but we have no plans to do so. Old age pension is not regarded as a benefit and could not come within the framework of the Bill even if by changes in fertility treatment and the like someone is a pensioner and also the parent of a dependent child.
Delegated powers serve a number of functions. We set these out to the committee which scrutinises these matters and it accepted the need for such powers. The delegated powers in Clause 3 will allow the child support scheme to be adapted to address the benefits system as it evolves to reflect the lives of parents and children. I am happy to assure the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that it would be an affirmative resolution. I hope that in the light of that explanation he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. She was perhaps a little dismissive of the implication of the old age pension. Perhaps I may remind her that, first, a man can be a parent with care and, secondly, that my father was 65 when I was born.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I may reflect on that. The reason that I hesitated about means testing is because of payments such as WFTC; that is, payments that were benefits when they were family credit and are still income-related but not part of the benefit system as we envisage it--in other words, private cases. That is why I should like to reflect on what the noble Earl said.
With regard to the point about pensions: yes, mea culpa. Of course I should have realised that, unlike women, men's fertility may continue for very much longer and, indeed, men may continue to be parents with care. Therefore, I stand corrected on that point. The noble Earl is absolutely right. One wishes that his father had had even more children after the age of 65 to add to the inherited talent and meritocracy of this country.
The description which I believe the noble Baroness was seeking in relation to the probability of this event was, "it did not happen very frequently". I believe that that is what she should have said. However, I shall leave that on one side. I suspect that it is also rather late to have an overall discussion on the question of delegated legislation. However, the figure that she quoted earlier with regard to the number of statutory instruments, and so on, which are now coming forward is pretty frightening.
It has always seemed to me--it is a personal view--that if such a power is taken it is advisable that as much as possible should be put on the face of the Bill, even though subsequently it can be amended by order. The real problem with regard to delegated legislation is that it is not subsequently amendable. It is there on a take it or leave it basis. Therefore, if a particular item is to be considered in that context, I believe that it is always advisable that it should be on the face of the Bill, that we should have an initial crack at it and, in some cases, it should also be adjusted in a way which is open to amendment.
The noble Baroness has been very clear on that particular point. Subject only to denying the words that she put into my mouth about half-an-hour ago in relation to taxation and social security contributions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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