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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response to the amendments and to our concerns with regard to what we saw as only a minority of cases that would wish to go to court where a good chance of appeal existed. We are sorry that the Minister suggested that the courts would fail. If that was so, we would not have tabled the amendments. We cannot agree that the courts have failed to the extent she suggested; quite the contrary. However, we must agree to disagree on that point.

With regard to Amendment No. 53, I thank the Minister for her explanation in relation to devolved powers to Scotland. That was extremely helpful. I am sure that those who have been in touch with us on that matter will be pleased to see that confirmed in Hansard.

Finally, I hear what the noble Baroness says in relation to Amendments Nos. 54 and 55. It may be that in some ways this Bill is not the proper place to address those issues. But the points we raised tonight were of

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such importance that we felt it necessary to table the amendments and I thank her for her response. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 49 to 55 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Clause 13 [Information--offences]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 56:

    Page 12, line 5, at end insert--

("(4A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (3) that he has reasonably refused a scientific test to prove that the alleged parent is a parent of the child.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 56 is a probing amendment which we tabled fully to understand the implications of Clause 13. The effects of that clause may be quite far reaching in that the burden of proof upon the person charged with an offence under subsection (3)--that he has reasonably refused a scientific test--is onerous. Amendment No. 56 offers a lower burden of what is reasonable.

Clause 13 will clearly make it tough for those not wishing to have a DNA test to prove that they have a reasonable excuse. That may be a good thing in principle. However, it raises a number of important questions which we hope that the Minister will be able to answer tonight. Will DNA testing, in practice, become routine? Do the Government intend or envisage that becoming the case? Who will pay for the test? We are concerned to ensure that a responsible approach attaches to the use of DNA testing; that DNA tests will be used properly by the Child Support Agency; and that the cost, when it is material to the outcome of a case, will be met by the CSA. We believe that, whatever their circumstances, it should not be assumed that fathers should meet the cost. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 56 and 58 relate to the determination of paternity by means of scientific testing. Our reforms are intended to streamline the process of determining whether or not an alleged non-resident parent is in fact the parent of the child. The noble Baroness talks of routine testing. It may be worth pointing out that around 2,000 people go all the way to the courts to dispute parentage and in all but 100 cases they are found to be the parent of the child. I doubt therefore that the test will be routine.

We seek to ensure that maintenance can be sorted out quickly and effectively. Clause 13 makes it an offence to fail to provide information or to give false information to the CSA. There is a fine of up to £1,000 on conviction. Amendment No. 56 seeks to provide that the criminal offence of failing to supply information in Clause 13 will not apply to an alleged parent who has reasonably refused to take a DNA test intended to establish parentage.

Non-resident parents must meet their obligations to their children. These new criminal sanctions will ensure that children receive the financial support due

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to them and make sure that money flows. We intend, through Clause 15, to allow the CSA to presume that a man is the father of a child where he has refused to take a scientific test aimed at establishing parentage. That means that a refusal to take such a test will not normally stop the child support process. This will bring to an end a way of delaying the payment of child support that is prevalent in the current scheme.

However, any man who is presumed to be the father of a child can apply to the courts for the presumption to be rebutted. That presumption will be applied only on a case-by-case basis and will not be automatic. In other words, if the Secretary of State feels that there is a reasonable reason, such as religious grounds, for an alleged parent to refuse to take a DNA test, he will not assume that the alleged parent is the child's father; instead, an application will be made to the courts for a declaration of parentage. In those circumstances the Secretary of State will not pursue information until such time as the courts have established parentage. Action under Clause 13 would not therefore be appropriate.

Clause 13 was not intended to settle parentage disputes; that is for Clause 15. Clause 13 was designed to make it a criminal offence to fail to provide information or to give the CSA misleading information required to calculate or collect child support. If a non-resident parent refuses to take a DNA test, without good reason, he will be presumed to be the parent. In that respect, no further information will be required and there will be no prospect of prosecution. The Secretary of State will, however, then take action to ensure that the information needed to complete the maintenance calculation is provided. If it is not, criminal action may be taken. It is not right that parents are able to thwart the assessment of maintenance by failing to provide information. We believe that Clause 13 provides the correct approach.

Amendment No. 58 would change the provisions of Section 20 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969, as amended by Clause 83, so as to make the Secretary of State for Social Security responsible for accrediting laboratories to carry out court-ordered tests to determine parentage, rather than the Lord Chancellor who is currently responsible for that area. The Government do not believe that that change would be appropriate. I do not know whether the noble Baroness would like me to go into why we should not change who is responsible for regulating laboratories. I shall duck that. If it is necessary, I shall write to the noble Baroness. I hope that, as a result of my explanation, that she will not move the amendment relating to the Lord Chancellor, because he has overall responsibility for the court system. In view of that, and the limits which exist to the Secretary of State's interests in the area, the Government believe that it would be appropriate for responsibility for the accreditation of laboratories under the new system to remain with the

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Lord Chancellor. In the circumstances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. As I said, this is a probing amendment. It is an important point and we were right to probe those questions. I take her point. We would appreciate her writing to us in more detail. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 [Inspectors]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 57:

    Page 12, line 16, after ("inspector") insert ("shall receive full training and").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 57, which is again a probing amendment. It responds in a practical and, we feel, helpful way to what is already set out in the Explanatory Notes regarding the necessary expertise or qualifications required by an inspector properly to fulfil his or her function in what can often be difficult and delicate circumstances.

Paragraph 152 of the Explanatory Notes states, inter alia:

    "Given the substantial training, which is required to make an inspector fully effective ...".

We are asking for a reassurance that the necessary training of inspectors will be compulsory, given the nature of the task that they will have to undertake. Inspectors will regularly find themselves coping with the assessment of complex accounts, explaining their presence at a non-resident parent's place of work, a presence which often will only reluctantly be acceded to, and reassuring all concerned of the privacy of all the circumstances surrounding that particular case and the financial affairs which are examined in relation to it.

In the circumstances, we do not understand why the Government have not placed on the face of the Bill a stipulation for compulsory training to demonstrate their intention to ensure that all the workings of the CSA are approached in a professional and objective manner. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham : My Lords, I am slightly puzzled. I realise that we were under pressure at Committee stage. However, if amendments are said to be probing amendments, it would perhaps be preferable if they were dealt with at Committee stage rather than at Report stage. Secondly, although I stand to be corrected, I do not recall any Bill--

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, if I may interrupt the Minister, the only reason for raising it at Report stage is because time was not with us at Committee stage, and we therefore felt that we should not move it at that stage.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I understood that that was the purpose of Committee

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stage. However, we can possibly take up this argument through the usual channels. It was the choice of the Members opposite.

On the more substantive point, I am not aware that Bills usually specify the level of training for the staff employed by the Government. I can give assurances. I can give descriptions. But one does not put on the face of the Bill the fact that every CSA inspector will receive this amount of training, as the noble Baroness suggests. What would happen if one wanted to increase it, reduce it or change it? It is quite inappropriate for this kind of measure to be dealt with as an amendment on the face of the Bill.

We know that it takes about six months for CSA staff to be fully trained and become properly effective. In addition, specialist roles, such as child support inspectors, require extra training focused on specific skills and knowledge. The officers are of at least executive officer grade. They have a wealth of interviewing experience behind them. Before they undertake their duties as inspectors of the CSA, they must attend appropriate courses, including a course on conducting interviews under caution and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This course also deals with what is considered to be "obstruction" of inspectors in the course of their duties. They will also have had experience of dealing with potentially aggressive situations and a knowledge of interviewing and negotiating skills.

We consider that the current training programme is sufficient for part-time inspectors. However, we are developing a full training needs analysis, which will be carried out as part of the preparation for and development of the new scheme. This analysis will take account of revised job design and more effective use of child support inspectors' powers and will ensure that an appropriate level of training is delivered in all cases. We are seeking to work in partnership with other departments, such as the Inland Revenue, in order to benefit from their experience and knowledge. We shall carry out training and we shall conduct a training needs analysis to ensure that our inspectors receive complete and appropriate training, because we obviously want the scheme to succeed.

As a result, I hope that the noble Baroness will recognise that this amendment is not an appropriate matter for the face of the Bill. It is appropriate to the internal organisation and training patterns of an agency in terms of its operational deployment of staff. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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