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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I still do not understand what I regard as the back to front nature of the argument. A person is either actively seeking work or in a job. He fails to pay his maintenance. On the example given by the noble Lord, he knows that a driving licence is essential for his continued job. He will say to himself, "I am being asked to pay child maintenance. I do not want to pay child maintenance. If I do not pay child maintenance I may lose my licence and may lose my job." What is the response to that? "I had better pay my child maintenance."
Earl Russell: I was coming to that point which was raised most clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. Her argument is simply that this will increase compliance. Perhaps it will but, having lived in the United States, I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, makes. One cannot even write a cheque to pay for one's groceries without producing a driving licence in the United States. Therefore I do not think that the situations are comparable.
We have here people subjected to a penalty for not complying with a requirement on which they have never been allowed a hearing. That leaves two possibilities still open. One is the possibility that they cannot pay. I shall give way to the Minister in a moment, but I ask her to consider that she may be mistaken in asserting that there are no people who cannot pay what is assessed. She cannot know that without the individual hearing. Cases are infinitely various. She is beginning to sound very much like the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, saying, "It is not a question of can't pay but a question of won't pay". I do not think that the noble Baroness can know that without a hearing. I give way.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Earl seems to be suggesting that the CSA will take away the driving licence. It is the magistrates' courts which will do so if that is the sanction they propose. It will be they who will hear the case. So this notion that the individual will not be able to put his case to a magistrate and have those circumstances taken into account is simply not true.
Earl Russell: So I observe. That is precisely the cause of our problems. Let me assume a particular case in which the debt is due to Her Majesty's Government. For many centuries Her Majesty's Government have made a claim that debts due to them take priority over all other debts. You cannot have two first priorities. If the person owes, say, for a back assessment of income tax a sum which he cannot pay without failing to pay his child maintenance, what then is his legal duty? When the Minister can give me a convincing answer to that question I may be a little more prepared to listen.
That is my first possibility and I do not retreat from it. My second possibility is that although the assessment may be perfectly just, the person concerned may be unwilling to accept it because he has not been able to have a hearing and to argue his case. The link in most people's minds between having a hearing and consenting to what is imposed on them is very deep indeed. One of the reasons why the CSA has failed so comprehensively, which is not changed in the Bill, is that that point has not been taken on board.
I take the Minister's point about the ineffectiveness of penalties, but I am not asserting an inalienable right to drive. My favourite remedy for the problem would be improvement in public transport so that driving was not so necessary. The Minister knows that perfectly well. She is saying that because other penalties are ineffective something must be done. That is the most dangerous cry in politics.
Lord Higgins: I am grateful to the noble Earl. Once an argument is put forward that the real effective penalty is removing driving licences, it will not be restricted to issues of child maintenance. Every offence one can think of will involve the removal of the driving licence and that is the real thin end of the wedge.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The proposals were introduced in March 1997 by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on behalf of the noble Lord's government. Why is he now so bad mouthing proposals introduced in the dying weeks of his last government?
Lord Higgins: The noble Baroness knows perfectly well that I do not bear responsibility for the last government. But perhaps she will tell us what the result of the pilot schemes were and whether any licences were removed.
Earl Russell: As one who opposed those provisions when they were introduced, and still does, the ability to admit error is something which in politics I prize. I honour the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for doing it and I am perfectly ready to accept the points that he makes.
Lord Higgins: As the debate is becoming a little disorderly, perhaps I may intervene. The noble Baroness raised the issue of a pilot scheme, of which I was not previously aware. Having done so, I asked whether it was implemented and whether licences were removed and she said that she does not know. That seems a very odd way of proceeding.
Earl Russell: That was the next question I was going to ask. Would the Government consider deferring the introduction of the clause until the pilot schemes are completed and we can observe the results and debate them? That might save the Government a good deal of trouble.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The evaluation report of the pilot scheme, which, given that it was introduced by the previous government, the previous administration might have been interested in following through, was published at the beginning of March. The report shows that its use was not particularly high partly because one of the areas in which it was piloted was Norfolk. There, magistrates tended not to use it and went for fines.
The point I want to make is that they were opting for fines in cases in which the problem was not about failure to pay money and therefore people might have been willing to pay fines. Our problem as regards the CSA is that the obvious remedy, which is to fine someone for failing to do something, simply adds more debt to the outstanding debt.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord. This is a Home Office matter. I gave evidence that the previous administration was quite comfortable to use the removal of driving licences for offences that were not related to driving. That appeared to be news to the noble Lord.
Earl Russell: When I first introduced this amendment very nearly an hour ago, I said that it might take some time. I did not intend it to take quite as long as it has done. I believe that we have gone on long enough. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
("(6) In this section "the court" means--
(a) in England and Wales, a magistrates' court;
(b) in Scotland, the sheriff.").
Page 16, leave out lines 19 to 26.
Page 16, leave out lines 42 to 44.
Page 17, line 4, leave out ("40A(10)") and insert ("40A(8)").
Page 17, line 4, at end insert--
("( ) In section 164(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (power of constables to require production of driving licence etc.), after "Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988" there shall be inserted ", section 40B of the Child Support Act 1991".
( ) In section 27(3) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (offence of failing to produce a licence), for the word "then," there shall be substituted ", or if the holder of the licence does not produce it and its counterpart as required by section 40B of the Child Support Act 1991, then,".").