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Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her response. I cannot agree with her that it is not appropriate to probe such an important subject at this stage. We have tabled this amendment to demonstrate the importance that we attach to the professionalism and the function which will have to be fulfilled by these inspectors. We are very glad that we have given the Minister an opportunity to respond and, therefore, reassure us that there will be proper training for what will amount to a function which will sometimes be
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I do not expect the Minister to have any difficulty in understanding the purpose of this amendment. Whether or not she will like it any better for that is quite another question.
The purpose of the amendment is to leave out of the Bill the clause which authorises a court, when people are reported to it for not paying child maintenance, to deprive them of their driving licence or deprive them of the right to apply for one. We believe that this is an inappropriate penalty. In terms of the Government's own objectives, it will prove to be counter-productive.
When this Government came into office--and I have heard this quite often from the Minister--one of their big objectives was to rearrange the social security system to remove barriers to employment. This measure creates a barrier to employment. It does so, notwithstanding subsection (3) of the clause, which asks the court to investigate whether the person concerned needs a driving licence to earn a living. The court can only investigate whether that is so at the moment of investigation. But the Minister knows as well as I do that in the flexible labour market which we now have people cannot count on remaining for a long period of time in the same job. When they lose a job and are required by the actively seeking work rules to look for another, in many parts of the country they simply cannot do so unless they are able to drive. Therefore, they will not be able to work or pay their maintenance.
The application of this clause will be an obstacle to the payment of maintenance. It will reduce the amount of maintenance paid because it cannot be paid without earnings. It will be a case of killing the gander that lays the golden eggs. This measure defeats, first, the principal object of the Government's own social security policy and, secondly, the principal object of this Bill. In terms of shooting oneself in the foot, I think that is a notable right and left.
It is not, of course, just a matter of work. For anyone living in a rural area, and for a good many people who now live in suburban areas or who need to make radial journeys across large towns, the lack of a car is a very ysignificant obstacle to a lot of the other daily necessities of living: for example, shopping, taking children to school--and, since this Bill involves provision for shared care, that may well involve those children whose maintenance we are discussing--visits to the dentist, or, if I may say so, attendance at Labour Party meetings, which, if I read today's Guardian correctly, is not as easy to bring about as it used to be.
There are also quite considerable problems about the notion of read across from one area of penalty to another. I am sure that the Minister will have the read the warnings about this problem on the subject of Sure Start in the latest report of the Social Security Advisory Committee. I do not have it with me but, as I have quoted from it previously, I do not think that the noble Baroness needs to be reminded of it. When we get into the area of read across, we must ask: why this read across and not any other? Why is this the only offence that will lead to the deprivation of a driving licence? Indeed, is it the only offence that will carry such a penalty, or will people be deprived of driving licences for any sort of behaviour of which the Minister--the Secretary of State for the time being--does not approve?
Why only driving licences? Would it not be just as logical to deprive people of, say, the right to play cricket? The problem of which read across is appropriate applies both ways. Why should it not apply to cycling or, indeed, to walking? It leaves me with the words of Belloc:
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Earl, but there is rather a nasty symmetry about what is now happening. First, we have a penalty affecting the Department of Social Security that has nothing to do with it; and, secondly, the deprivation of social security benefits is being considered in other areas that have nothing to do with the department.
I turn now to some of the Government's arguments. To begin with, they say, "All they need to do is to pay". If I were not a generous person, I would let them go ahead and say it--because every time they did, they would put extra votes into my lobby. But that is the argument of the Mafia godfather, "You'll comply if you know what is good for your health"--
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, ought to withdraw that remark. We are not talking about examining people's souls or about putting fires under their consciences in order to bring them to one form of faith rather than another; we are talking about ensuring that children in this country receive the maintenance to which they are entitled--a million of them do not. If fathers can but will not pay, we shall ensure that we have the penalties available to make sure that they do, without sending them to prison which, in turn, may damage the child.
Earl Russell: My Lords, in some cultures and religions that are represented in this country, the point I mentioned earlier about the comparative respect for elderly relatives and for children is a matter of faith. I did not intend to argue that the Minister was actually a persecutor. If I made any such innuendo, I withdraw it. However, in turn, the Minister should allow that there may be consciences involved: people may occasionally believe that they have reason for doing something other than what the Minister requires of them.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, can the noble Earl give me an example of any occasion where it would be in someone's conscience that he should not support his child? I can believe that people may feel that they should also support an elderly parent, but are we saying that someone's entire income would be taken up in supporting a child and an elderly parent? No. We are saying only that 15 per cent, 20 per cent or 25 per cent will go on the children, leaving ample to support an elderly parent and to meet any of the other moral obligations illustrated by the noble Earl.
Earl Russell: My Lords, until the Government take action on the report of the Royal Commission on long-term care, I believe that I can make those comments. The costs of keeping an elderly relative in a residential home may be considerable. Yes, I can imagine people saying that, in conscience, they cannot turn their
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, this is not really appropriate for a Report stage. None the less, the noble Earl is not describing either fairly or decently the present system for supporting people in residential care. If an elderly person has no resources, he or she will be supported through payments from the state and not necessarily from their relatives. The noble Earl may be concerned that the relatives may seek to hang on to the house and, therefore, prefer to pay the cost of residential care. In that case, they would be trading current revenue against future capital. That is their choice.
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