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24 Jul 2000 : Column 790

Points of Order

5 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you had any approaches from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? I understand that the Ministry's regional offices, including the one in my constituency, are closed this afternoon in order that staff can be told of considerable job cuts. Such a major announcement should have been made in the House, because it has significant implications, not just for the civil servants concerned, but for the quality of the Ministry's work and its response to the agricultural sector. Has the Minister asked to make such a statement?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): I must tell the hon. Lady that I have had no such information. It really is not a matter for the Chair, but the hon. Lady's words and concerns will have been heard by those on the Front Bench.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that we have just had a statement on defence, but it was not appropriate to raise this matter in a statement on spending.

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recently stated that the action in Kosovo was almost certainly illegal under international law. A senior ex-Defence Minister has now stated:


and he said that NATO was almost certainly spoiling for a fight. More than 250,000 ethnic minorities have been expelled from Kosovo and, in the past 14 months, more than 1,000 people have been killed or kidnapped under the very nose of KFOR, yet we have had no statement on the situation in Kosovo for more than 14 months. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that during the bombing we had a statement almost every week. Is there any way in which we can get a Defence Minister to the House before the recess to tell us about the situation in Kosovo and to give us an honest appraisal of how long our forces will be there?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady has made her point. It is not a matter for the Chair. She knows her way around the House and how to ask for a Minister to make a statement, and I have no doubt that those on the Front Bench will have heard her concerns.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I gave notice of this matter to the Speaker's Office.

I refer to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) on 20 July about how a Speaker is selected or elected. The Deputy Speaker in the Chair said:


What is meant by "in good time"? Bluntly, if it is after Wednesday, it is not in good time; that is insufficient time. Given the entirely novel circumstances, we should have the opportunity at least to discuss the procedures for the selection of a Speaker.

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I go back a long way to the election of Mr. Speaker King following the death of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, and the election of all subsequent Speakers--Selwyn Lloyd, George Thomas and Jack Weatherill. The present circumstances are entirely different and it really is not satisfactory that we should return on 23 October having been told in the recess what the procedure is to be, or perhaps presented with a fait accompli. There are various rumours going around about how it will happen, some of which are, frankly, appalling. We should have the letter before Wednesday.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having raised this matter and I am sure that his concerns have been heard, but all I can say is that my colleague made a statement on behalf of Madam Speaker and it would not be proper for me to elaborate on it.

BILL PRESENTED

Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, supported by Dr. Norman A. Godman, presented a Bill to provide for the implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court respecting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 28 July, and to be printed [Bill 166].

DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Patents


Consumer Protection


Constitutional Law


Question agreed to.

Broadcasting

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation) and Order [7 July],


Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill

Lords Amendments considered.

Clause 1

Maintenance calculations and terminology


Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 34, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 39

5.5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 14, 64 to 66, 68 to 72, 78, 79 and 84.

I remind the House that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 17, 18, 26 and 39. If the House agrees to any of those, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Angela Eagle: This is a large group of minor amendments and I do not intend to speak to each one in turn, although if hon. Members have specific points on the detail, I shall be happy to try to deal with them. The amendments are technical and are necessary to ensure that the Bill, as drafted, achieves what is intended. They make a number of minor improvements or clarifications to the text or remove unnecessary duplication.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 avoid duplication by removing unnecessary definitions. Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 11, relating to the new civil penalty of disqualification from holding a driving licence, are necessary because of changes currently being made to the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973.

The group of amendments relating to clauses 16 and 17 contains technical changes to remove duplication in the Bill as currently drafted. Amendment No. 69 is a technical amendment intended to put the intention of the Bill beyond doubt in relation to the means by which a non-resident parent must meet his child support liability.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 14 agreed to.

Clause 25

Regulations


Lords amendment: No. 15, in page 23, line 40, leave out ("10") and insert ("10(1)")

Angela Eagle: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 62, 63, 67 and 77.

Angela Eagle: This group of amendments sets a maximum level of income to be used in the child support

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maintenance calculation. The effect is to cap child support liability at a high level, which will vary with the number of children for whom a non-resident parent is responsible.

Amendment No. 62 sets the maximum net income for child support purposes at £2,000 per week, which represents a gross income of around £170,000 per annum. The normal child support rates and the adjustment for children living with the non-resident parent will apply to that maximum to produce a cap on liability for one child of £300 per week. The maximum liability for two children will be £400 and, for three or more, £500. Those figures will be reduced proportionately if there are children in the non-resident parent's second family and adjusted to reflect shared care.

Amendment No. 63 provides that the maximum level of income for that purpose can be changed by affirmative regulations should that prove necessary. Amendments Nos. 67 and 77 provide for the courts to award top-up child maintenance should child support liability be capped.

As I made clear during the debate on the issue in Committee, we believe that children should come first, whatever the non-resident parent's income. Children should be able to benefit from a non-resident parent's wealth in the same way as they should if they lived with the parent.

The argument advanced by Opposition Members that maintenance should in some way be related to the subsistence needs of the child only--the need to be clothed, fed and housed--is not only impracticable, but wrong. However, as my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Hollis said in another place, we accept that the arguments on a maximum level of liability are finely balanced. There is a respectable case to be made in favour of a cap on maintenance, based in particular on the argument that, because the financial affairs of the very wealthy are often much more complicated than those of the average earner, a simple formula-based approach to setting child support liability may not always produce a just outcome.

We remain convinced that court-based agreements should, in the main, be settled in line with Child Support Agency rates. That will avoid fluctuations in the level of maintenance where the parent with care moves on or off benefit. That is why, under the reformed child support scheme, we propose to open access to the CSA for "private" non-benefit cases where parents are unhappy and the new court order has been in place for at least a year.


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