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Column 32child. It must be remembered that it is always an emotional matter when the law intrudes in matters involving children, family breakdown and money. None the less, a decision must be taken about where responsibility lies. The House has decided that it should be taken through the Act and the agency, and the staff do try to fulfil their duties as sensitively as possible.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): I am pleased to hear that this discredited system is to be improved, but why has the Secretary of State refused to accept the legitimate argument that the employers of recalcitrant absentee parents should be compelled to co- operate with the agency, and why has he failed to tackle the companies--not all of them small--that pay the moneys arrested from wages to the agency so slowly? That is causing a great deal of distress to mothers in my constituency.
Mr. Lilley: It is easy for hon. Members to speak about discredited agencies. But when they did not vote against the agency in the first place and their parties wholeheartedly supported it, they share the overall responsibility for Parliament and our overall responsibility for responding sensitively, which we are now doing through the report of the Select Committee and today's statement.
Of course, employers have an obligation to help when the agency requires them to deduct from earnings at source. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that a large number of deduction from earnings orders have been made--4,000 in November alone, compared with 2,600 in the whole of last year--and they are proving a successful way of enforcing and ensuring payment.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): I spent Friday night with a group of my constituents, all of whom pay maintenance and all of whose lives have been turned upside down by the agency. They will be as pleased as I am to hear of the improvements and changes that my right hon. Friend announced to the House today, especially with reference to housing costs, travel-to-work costs and the element of discretion to be granted to the new appeals tribunal.
I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend told me a little more about the housing costs. Does he mean that the agency will now recognise mortgages other than repayment mortgages--the ones that perhaps depend on endowment policies, personal equity plans and other methods of repaying capital?
On administration, we recognise that it will take some time for the discretion to be allowed to the appeal tribunal. In the meantime, my constituents continue to be told that, even when they are dissatisfied with the initial assessment, it might take as much as a year for it to be reviewed; that is unacceptable.
I think that the agency does take into account more than the simple basic mortgage costs, and I should be happy to confirm details of specific types of mortgages about which my hon. Friend may have worries. The agency is devoting more resources to undertaking reviews and
Column 33completing them more speedily, so I hope that the length of time quoted to my hon. Friend will not apply to his constituents in future.
Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South): The Secretary of State's statement follows two critical reports from the Select Committee and an even more critical report from the parliamentary ombudsman, but he nevertheless insists in the House that the principle that absent parents must pay and the principle--which he has not mentioned much this afternoon- -that more money should be directed to maintenance of children, are the aims of his announcement. His refusal to budge on the disregard on income support demonstrates that he is led more by the Treasury than he is by putting more money into looking after children. Why will he not reconsider that point?
Mr. Lilley: For the very simple reason that I spelled out to the hon. Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and for Rochdale (Ms Lynne)--that it would be a system that discouraged people, a system that made it more difficult for people to return to work and improve their standard of living, and a system that would be hugely costly to the taxpayer. We do not hand out public money like confetti without thinking where it will come from.
Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden): Does my right hon. Friend recall the anguish expressed by a number of my constituents, especially one from Chelmsley Wood, whom he kindly met? Does he accept that the measures will help greatly? Will he, however, clarify how discretion would work for such a person who was seriously affected and who was well over the 70 per cent. level? Would CSA officials make judgments? Would my right hon. Friend make judgments? Who makes judgments?
Mr. Lilley: I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for not remembering the precise details of his constituent; I have seen a number of constituents during the relevant period. If, as he says, people are being assessed to pay more than 30 per cent. of their net income, they will benefit immediately from the cap on assessments when it comes into force in April. If, in addition, people have particular, exceptional expenses that are not taken account of in the formula and, because they are not taken account of, mean that they would suffer hardship, they will be able to apply to the agency once discretion is operational--once the Bill has received Royal Assent and the new procedures are in force. They will be able to apply to the agency and ask for such expenses to be taken into account. If the agency refuses or responds insufficiently, people will be able to appeal to the appeals tribunal and ask for the assessment to be reconsidered. In that way, proper consideration will be given to those with genuinely difficult circumstances.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North): Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be a great deal of dismay and anger at his statement that none of the changes announced today will apply to those whose settlements have already been concluded with the CSA, or at least not until two years-- [Interruption.] That is what it says in the White Paper, as hon. Members will see if they care to read it. Is the Secretary of State aware-- [Interruption.] Oh yes. It says at paragraph 5 on page 9:
"None of these changes will apply retrospectively."
Column 34That means, for people whose settlements have already been resolved. In addition, the right hon. Gentleman's failure to deal with income support disregards means that the CSA is best known, justly, as the "Chancellor's Support Agency".
Mr. Lilley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me another opportunity to clarify the point that I made in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). Although the changes will not apply retrospectively, they will apply to all cases, whether or not they have received an assessment, from the moment that they become legally applicable. A change in the formula from April this year will apply to people who have already had a maintenance assessment in terms of their future maintenance liability. Any changes will not, of course, alter the amounts that they were required to pay last year or the year before. That would be retrospection, which is something that the House has always turned its face against.
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central): Although I warmly welcome the changes that my right hon. Friend has announced today, I remind him that many of us thought that the principal reason for setting up the CSA was to chase fathers who contributed nothing to their children. May I remind him that many of us still believe that that should be our top priority? Will my right hon. Friend continue to carry out that task with renewed vigour?
Mr. Lilley: The agency's intention was always to chase those who were paying nothing and to ensure that everyone paid a reasonable amount. Some 77 per cent. of those taken on this year have paid not a penny of regular maintenance. As I said, we have been more successful than expected in tracking down those who had not merely paid nothing, but who had disappeared without trace. Even if there was some payment, in 96 per cent. of all cases taken on so far, the mother and children were dependent on benefit. It is only reasonable that the taxpayer should require parents to contribute first, according to their means, before the taxpayer has to contribute towards the maintenance of other people's children.
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Like other hon. Members, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State has not taken the opportunity presented by today's statement to help families on benefit who are worse off as a result of the operations of the Child Support Agency. For example, a pair of children's shoes can cost about £20 or £30 and were often purchased by the absent parent who is no longer able to make such a purchase. I do not advocate a return to ad hoc measures, but they should be reflected in some kind of disregard for the parent with care.
I also take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). Can the Secretary of State tell the House how he intends to ensure that the measures that he has announced today will not plunge the Child Support Agency into further administrative chaos? For example, does he intend to ensure that extra staff are taken on? Surely experience has
Column 35taught him that his penny-pinching attitude in the short term has resulted in a loss of money from the public purse in the long term.
Mr. Lilley: On the disregard, I have made the position abundantly clear as to cost and disincentive effects. With regard to the administrative burden that the changes may impose on the agency, as I said in my statement and elaborated on at greater length in the White Paper, I am introducing a number of regulatory changes that will enable administrative simplification and greatly ease the working of the agency to the benefit of those to whom it endeavours to provide a service. I think that the hon. Lady should welcome those changes.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): Madam Speaker, I am grateful for your indulgence and that of the House in this matter. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, "the case of Private Clegg."
The case has been much reported in the newspapers and in the electronic media. As it does not involve my constituency, I have spoken to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who is in his place, and he has made it clear that he wishes to be associated with many of my remarks.
In urging you to grant such a debate, Madam Speaker, I think that we need to consider three main factors. The first concerns Private Clegg himself, who has now been incarcerated for three and a half years awaiting the outcome of judicial manoeuvres. I am reminded by reading the Law Lords' summary judgment on the case that even they think that Private Clegg is in a somewhat different category from other murderers. They said:
"There is one obvious and striking difference between Private Clegg and other persons found guilty of murder. The great majority of persons found guilty of murder, whether they are terrorists or domestic murderers, kill from a wicked and evil motive. But when Private Clegg set out on patrol on the night of 30 September 1990 he did so to assist in the maintenance of law and order and we have no doubt that as he commenced the patrol he had no intention of unlawfully killing or wounding anyone".
The Law Lords make it clear that the case is different, but Private Clegg has been sentenced to life imprisonment, although he acted in good faith. The Law Lords also raised the matter of the yellow card. When Private Clegg set out, the yellow card instructions included the words:
"You may only open fire against a person . . . deliberately driving a vehicle at a person and there is no other way of stopping him".
That point was made clear in the judgment. Private Clegg had to take one other factor into consideration: a member of his own regiment had been knocked down and killed by a speeding car at a previous checkpoint.
The second and possibly the most important factor is the Law Lords' statement about the yellow card. They said:
"It is not suggested that the Yellow Card has any legal force". We now have a situation in Northern Ireland where members of the armed forces go on patrol in some doubt as to their position and about how they will operate. This is a matter of great urgency, which must be dealt with because they may make decisions that will affect their lives and those of other people.
Thirdly, some people may say, "So what? This is one man, but big events are taking place and we must not upset one or other members of the community". Surely the House exists for one purpose, if for no other--to ensure that the rights of the individual will never be drowned by the greater issues that may be at stake.
Madam Speaker: I listened most carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I must give my decision without stating any reasons. I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20, so I cannot submit the hon. Gentleman's application to the House.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have the Government asked for time to make a statement on Welsh national heritage? The Secretary of State for Wales is discussing with the Countryside Council for Wales proposals to privatise more than 50 nature reserves and savagely to cut wildlife protection. Those crackpot proposals are bitterly resented in Wales. Surely the Secretary of State should come before the House, to consult right hon. and hon. Members before he proceeds.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. As far as one can tell from the documents, the proposals will also breach Britain's international obligations under the biodiversity convention signed by the Prime Minister as part of the Rio treaty just after the previous general election and, worse, under the European Union's habitats and species directive, which passed through the House just before it rose for the summer recess last July. The document of which we have had sight appears to have passed through the Countryside Commission for Wales on the instructions of the Secretary of State, so it would seem appropriate for him to make a statement on how Britain is to meet its international obligations.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I should be most grateful if you could assist me with a matter on which the Clerks have been extremely helpful, but an element of doubt remains. A number of hon. Members would like to raise the issue mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) on the Adjournment of the House, so that we may press the Government for a statement. The problem is that although debate on the individual case would be in order, we are advised that the legal position that creates doubt for the 19,000 soldiers still serving in Ulster could go beyond the rules of order, because hon. Members are not supposed to press for legal changes in an Adjournment debate. If an hon. Member were to raise in an Adjournment debate the specific, narrow issue of Private Clegg--which would be in order--would it be in order also to point out in general terms the gaps in the law that led to Private Clegg's problem and how they might be put right?
Considered in Committee .
in the Chair ]
That the order in which proceedings in Committee of the whole House of the Finance Bill are to be taken shall be New Clauses 1 and 2. Clause 2, Schedule 1, Clause 5, New Clause 3, Clause 8, New Clause 4, Clause 64, Schedule 14, Clause 91, Clause 15, Schedule 4, Clause 52 and Schedule 11.-- [ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory. ]
`.--(1) The Value Added Tax Act 1994 shall be amended as follows. (2) In section 2 (rate of VAT) in subsection (1) the words "and paragraph 7 of Schedule 13" shall be omitted, and the following subsections shall be inserted after that subsection--
"(1A) VAT charged on--
(a) any supply for the time being falling within paragraph 1 of Schedule A1; or
(b) any equivalent acquisition or importation,
shall be charged at the rate of 8 per cent.
(1B) The reference in subsection (1A) above to an equivalent acquisition or importation, in relation to any supply for the time being falling within paragraph 1 of Schedule A1, is a reference (as the case may be) to--
(a) any acquisition from another member State of goods the supply of which would be such a supply; or
(b) any importation from a place outside the member States of any such goods.
(1C) The Treasury may by order vary Schedule A1 by adding to or deleting from it any description of supply for the time being specified in it or by varying any other provision for the time being contained in it."
(3) The following Schedule shall be inserted immediately before Schedule 1- -
Charge at Reduced Rate--
1.--(1) The supplies falling within this paragraph are supplies for qualifying use of--
(a) coal, coke or other solid substances held out for sale solely as fuel;
(b) coal gas, water gas, producer gases or similar gases; (c) petroleum gases, or other gaseous hydrocarbons, whether in a gaseous or liquid state;
(d) fuel oil, gas oil or kerosene; or
(e) electricity, heat or air-conditioning.
(2) In this paragraph "qualifying use" means--
(a) domestic use; or
(b) use by a charity otherwise than in the course or furtherance of a business.
Column 39(3) Where there is a supply of goods partly for qualifying use and partly not--
(a) if at least 60 per cent. of the goods are supplied for qualifying use, the whole supply shall be treated as a supply for qualifying use; and
(b) in any other case, an apportionment shall be made to determine the extent to which the supply is a supply for qualifying use. Interpretation
2. For the purposes of this Schedule the following supplies are always for domestic use--
(a) a supply of not more than one tonne of coal or coke held out for sale as domestic fuel;
(b) a supply of wood, peat or charcoal not intended for sale by the recipient;
(c) a supply to a person at any premises of piped gas (that is, gas within paragraph 1(1)(b) above, or petroleum gas in a gaseous state, provided through pipes) where the gas (together with any other piped gas provided to him at the premises by the same supplier) was not provided at a rate exceeding 150 therms a month or, if the supplier charges for the gas by reference to the number of kilowatt hours supplied, 4397 kilowatt hours a month;
(d) a supply of petroleum gas in a liquid state where the gas is supplied in cylinders the net weight of each of which is less than 50 kilogrammes and either the number of cylinders supplied is 20 or fewer or the gas is not intended for sale by the recipient; (e) a supply of petroleum gas in a liquid state, otherwise than in cylinders, to a person at any premises at which he is not able to store more than two tonnes of such gas;
(f) a supply of not more than 2,300 litres of fuel oil, gas oil or kerosene;
(g) a supply of electricity to a person at any premises where the electricity (together with any other electricity provided to him at the premises by the same supplier) was not provided at a rate exceeding 1000 kilowatt hours a month.
3.--(1) For the purposes of this Schedule supplies not within paragraph 2 above are for domestic use if and only if the goods supplied are for use in --
(a) a building, or part of a building, which consists of a dwelling or number of dwellings;
(b) a building, or part of a building, used for a relevant residential purpose;
(c) self-catering holiday accommodation;
(d) a caravan; or
(e) a houseboat.
(2) For the purposes of this Schedule use for a relevant residential purpose means use as--
(a) a home or other institution providing residential accommodation for children;
(b) a home or other institution providing residential accommodation with personal care for persons in need of personal care by reason of old age, disablement, past or present dependence on alcohol or drugs or past or present mental disorder;
(c) a hospice;
(d) residential accommodation for students or school pupils; (e) residential accommodation for members of any of the armed forces;
(f) a monastery, nunnery or similar establishment; or
(g) an institution which is the sole or main residence of at least 90 per cent. of its residents,
except use as a hospital, a prison or similar institution or an hotel or inn or similar establishment.
(3) For the purposes of this Schedule self-catering holiday accommodation includes any accommodation advertised or held out as such.
Column 40(4) In this Schedule "houseboat" means a boat or other floating decked structure designed or adapted for use solely as a place of permanent habitation and not having means of, or capable of being readily adapted for, self-propulsion.
4.--(1) Paragraph 1(1)(a) above shall be deemed to include combustible materials put up for sale for kindling fires but shall not include matches.
(2) Paragraph 1(1)(b) and (c) above shall not include any road fuel gas (within the meaning of the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979) on which a duty of excise has been charged or is chargeable. (3) Paragraph 1(1)(d) above shall not include hydrocarbon oil on which a duty of excise has been or is to be charged without relief from, or rebate of, such duty by virtue of the provisions of the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979.
(4) In this Schedule "fuel oil" means heavy oil which contains in solution an amount of asphaltenes of not less than 0.5 per cent. or which contains less than 0.5 per cent. but not less than 0.1 per cent. of asphaltenes and has a closed flash point not exceeding 150 C.
(5) In this Schedule "gas oil" means heavy oil of which not more than 50 per cent. by volume distils at a temperature not exceeding 240 C and of which more than 50 per cent. by volume distils at a temperature not exceeding 340 C.
(6) In this Schedule "kerosene" means heavy oil of which more than 50 per cent. by volume distils at a temperature not exceeding 240 C.
(7) In this Schedule "heavy oil" shall have the same meaning as in the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979."
(4) In section 97 (orders etc.) in subsection (4) (orders requiring approval) the following paragraph shall be inserted immediately before paragraph (a)--
"(aa) an order under section 2(1C);".
(5) In Schedule 13 (transitional provisions and savings) paragraph 7 (fuel and power) shall be omitted.
(6) This section shall apply in relation to any supply made on or after 1st April 1995 and any acquisition or importation taking place on or after that date.'.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]
Brought up, and read the First time.