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Standing Committee Debates
Child Support, Electionism and Referendumds Bill

Child Support, Electionism and Referendumds Bill

Standing Committee F

Thursday 3 February 2000


[Sir David Madel in the Chair]

Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill

10 am

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): On a point of order, Sir David. Will the Minister update us on the tabling of amendments on the rebate on stakeholder pension schemes?

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Mr. Jeff Rooker): I cannot do that now, but hope to provide some information this afternoon.

Amendments made: No. 41, in page 74, line 38, leave out

    'An application for a variation may be granted'

and insert

    'A variation may be agreed'.

No. 42, in page 75, line 9, leave out

    'an application for a variation may be granted'

and insert

    'a variation may be agreed'.

No. 43, in page 75, line 23, leave out

    'an application for a variation is granted'

and insert

    'a variation is agreed'.

--[Mr. Rooker.]

Mr. Rooker: I beg to move amendment No. 44, in page 75, line 39, at end insert--

    '6. The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the application, in connection with child support maintenance payable following a variation, of paragraph 7(2) to (7) of Schedule 1 (subject to any prescribed modifications).'.

Unlike many of the Government amendments, amendment No. 44 is not technical. It relates to applications for a variation from the normal rules by which child support maintenance will be calculated, and inserts a new paragraph into part II of schedule 4B of the Child Support Act 1991. The amendment forges an essential link between two key elements of the reformed scheme: variations and shared care.

Part I of schedule 1 of the 1991 Act, as substituted under clause 1, specifies the normal rules by which the weekly amount of child support maintenance will be calculated. Paragraph 7 of part I details the manner in which the liability may be adjusted when the care of the child is shared. New schedule 4A contains detailed provisions supplementing the rules governing applications for variations in new section 28A under clause 5. New schedule 4B specifies the cases and circumstances in which a variation may be allowed, and the regulatory controls governing the operation of the variations scheme.

As the Bill stands, the shared care rules may be applied only to cases in which the non-resident parent is liable to pay the basic reduced rate. They may not be applied when, as a result of a successful variation application, the non-resident parent is treated as having more--or less--income than would otherwise have been the case. The amendment corrects that omission by introducing a further regulation-making power in Schedule 4B which will allow the shared care rules to be applied, with prescribed modifications, to cases in which a variation of the normal rules by which the maintenance calculation is made has been agreed.

Without the amendment, two key elements of the new scheme would be prevented from working in tandem, as it would not be possible to apply the shared care provision to cases which are the subject of a variation. I am happy that I had notes to put that on the record clearly and openly.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): That is a sensible move. Not to take such action would be an injustice, so we have no objection to the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7

Variations: revision and supersession

Mr. Rooker: I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 8, line 40, after '(1)' insert--

    'An application for a variation may also be made when a maintenance calculation is in force.


The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 10 and 11.

Mr. Rooker: The purpose of this group of amendments is as follows. Unlike the departures scheme, applicants will be able to apply for a variation at any time before, as well as after, a final maintenance calculation has been made. In general the revised legislation introduced by clause 5 deals specifically with applications made in these circumstances. Amendment No. 9 makes it clear that variation applications may also be made after a final decision on the maintenance calculation has been made and renumbers the existing subsection (1) of 28G. Amendment No. 10 adjusts the text of the existing subsection to reflect the effect of amendment No. 9. The purpose of amendment No. 11 is to correct an anomaly in the Bill as drafted. I am quite happy to explain the anomaly, but without amendment No. 11 the Secretary of State would be able to resurrect only those variations that form part of the current maintenance calculation that he now seeks to change. That was not intended.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 10, in page 8, line 45, leave out from beginning to end of line 46 and insert 'such applications'.

No. 11, in page 9, line 5, leave out 'the decision superseded' and insert 'an earlier decision'.--[Mr. Rooker.]

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Revision of decisions

Mr. Rooker: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 9, line 21, after 'may' insert '(if appropriate)'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government Amendments Nos. 13 and 14.

Mr. Rooker: These amendments are purely for clarification. Clause 8 inserts new provisions in section 16 of the 1991 Act enabling a decision to be put in place about a default rate of maintenance liability that can be revised later if the relevant information becomes available so that a full maintenance calculation can be made. Amendment No. 12 makes a minor change to the new subsection. It just makes it clear that when the Secretary of State revises a default maintenance decision, it may be replaced by either a full maintenance or a default maintenance decision. Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 just put it beyond doubt that when the Secretary of State revises those calculations, the decision is taken under section 11 and the rights of appeal will apply.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 13, in page 9, line 23, after 'decision' insert 'as revised'.

No. 14, in page 9, line 24, after '11' insert 'instead of section 12(1)'.--[[Mr. Rooker.]

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Decisions superseding earlier decisions

Mr. Rooker: I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 9, line 31, leave out 'or an appeal against a reduced benefit decision'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government Amendment No. 16.

Mr. Rooker: Amendment No. 15 removes a superfluous reference in subsection (1)(d) as it is to be substituted and amendment No. 16 removes from the new subsection an erroneous reference to subsection (1)(c).

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 16, in page 9, line 33, leave out ', (c)'.--[Mr. Rooker.]

Mr. Rooker: I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 9, line 45, after 'question' insert

    'and each subsequent one beginning on the day after the last day of the previous one'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss Government amendments Nos. 19, 24, 31, 34, 45, 47, 49, 50, 52, 36.

Mr. Rooker: The amendments are necessary purely to improve the Bill's drafting. As I explained at our first sitting, our original intention was to arrange for Second Reading to take place before Christmas, which meant an extremely tight timetable for drafting the Bill. That early introduction meant that we have had to table a number of amendments.

None of this group of amendments changes the substance of the Bill in any way; they merely improve its drafting. It would not be a fruitful use of the Committee's time to go into detail but, as ever, I am happy to explain any of the amendments to hon. Members if necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Appeals to appeal tribunals

Mr. Rooker: I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 10, line 10, leave out

    ', not to revise a decision under section 16,'.

I shall do my best to keep up with the pace. The amendment simply removes from clause 10 a superfluous reference to an appeal right that already exists in child support regulations. For the record, I refer to regulation 31(2) of the Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 1999.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I beg to move amendment No. 76, in page 10, line 43, at end insert

    ', save that the appeal tribunal shall consist of three members one of which must be a legally qualified member and the tribunal shall, if practicable, include at least one member who is of the same sex as the appellant.'.

I should like briefly to outline the purpose of the amendment. It would add to the end of clause 10(4)(b) a provision whereby, if practicable and possible, child support tribunals would include someone of the same sex as the appellant.

Until June 1999, child support tribunals consisted of three members, of whom at least one had to be the same sex as the appellant, if that was practicable--we have retained that caveat because we believe that it is still necessary. However, the Social Security Act 1998 changed the situation. The only stipulation relating to tribunals now is that they must include one legally qualified member. The amendment would provide that a child support appeal tribunal must consist of three members, one of whom must be legally qualified--as now--and at least one must, if practicable, be of the same sex as the appellant. The reason for this goes back to some of our previous debates, particularly in respect of the very sensitive issues with which the appeal tribunals will be dealing, not least that of good cause for not co-operating with the agency, which was discussed in Committee on Tuesday.

We understand that the Government are currently carrying out extensive research and evaluation into the perceptions of customers of the Child Support Agency. We want to know whether that includes their experiences of the appeal process, particularly how appellants felt if the tribunal did not include a person of the same sex. It would be useful to have objective evidence on that. Even if the Government are unwilling to accept the amendment, we hope that they will be willing to include within their evaluation process a means by which such evidence could be gathered, so that a rational and sensible assessment can be made of whether the change could be made in the future.

We appreciate that the words in the amendment may not exactly give effect to what we are seeking, but the principle is a sound and important one and would ensure that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done.

10.15 am


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