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Lord Carter: I shall try to bring my mind back to what we were talking about; namely, Amendments Nos. 7, 9 and 10. I am grateful to the Minister for pointing out not

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that the drafting was wrong but the way in which the amendment would work in the unlikely event that the Government accepted it. I believe that I accept his explanation but obviously I want to study it in Hansard and take advice. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi): I have to inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 8 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 9.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Imposition of a regular payments condition]:

Baroness Hollis moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 3, line 20, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: I shall be extremely brief. The amendment provides for a regular payments condition in all cases—hence, we are seeking to change "may" to "shall". We believe that that would be reasonable because, under subsection (6), there is discretion to allow this application to continue, even if the condition is broken. We presume that the regular payment could be as low as the minimum payment of £2.35 a week.

The amendment was won in the other place. There the Government argued that a regular payment would usually be required from those who wanted to use the departure system, but a condition would not always be necessary as some parents would already be making payment. However, it seems to us that if an absent parent is already making payments, the level of those payments could itself be the regular payments condition.

We believe that this protection is important for the parent with care. It treats both parents similarly in the context of departures. I have pleasure in moving it.

Earl Russell: I am not particularly happy with this amendment. On the last amendment, when the Minister referred to "our friends on the other side of the House", I wondered for a moment whether he and the noble Baroness were committing "Butskellism". I was mistaken. It seems that the noble Baroness has now moved to the right of the Government. She is demanding an even more restrictive interpretation of the formula than the Government themselves.

I am sure that the Minister is about to point out that the Government have already said, in their memorandum to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, that they intend the gateway to the departure system to be very narrow. It sounds more than ever like British Rail.

I believe that the Government are mistaken in that; but as they are doing it, the noble Baroness's amendment is, in the first place, unnecessary. It is also unjustified.

The noble Baroness argued that it was perfectly all right because there was a discretion to allow the application to continue even if people were not making payments. But many of the people who are subject to this Bill are naturally law abiding people. It is all very well saying that they can break the law. Many of them do not like to be forced to think like that or to behave like that. They are ashamed when they are pushed into that position.

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Nor is there any point in having a departure direction unless it is possible for it to result in a zero assessment: for example, where there are very high travel-to-work costs; cases where, for example, it is essential for the person to own a car or he cannot go to work. I shall return to that point in a moment. There, the insistence on a regular payments condition may, in the end, mean that the person will have to give up work. Then all payments will necessarily cease; the taxpayer loses, the Government lose and the children lose.

There are a great many other situations where this amendment may do a great deal of harm: for example, where an 18 year-old is receiving a parental contribution to go to university. Without a departure direction, that payment cannot continue. So, if there is not a discretion to vary the regular payments condition—I have tabled an amendment to which I speak now allowing for an appeal where the regular payments direction is too high—there will be all kinds of harmful effects, just like those that result from the 1991 Act. The damage will be done before a departure direction is ever arrived at and the whole departure system will become nugatory.

Those who put down this amendment simply do not know what is going on out there. They have no idea of the kind of hardship that is being proposed. This is a stupid amendment. I hope that the Minister will reject it. If it goes to a Division, I and my noble friends will vote against it.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There is some temptation to see this matter through in order to see what kind of company I get. But I shall resist that temptation.

As the noble Baroness explained, the amendment is intended to ensure that, in order to qualify for a departure direction, an absent parent must be keeping up with his current maintenance payments or at least paying such reduced rate as agreed by the Secretary of State. By that, I mean that the absent parent should be paying either his current maintenance liability or—this may help to explain the matter to the noble Earl—a reduced rate enabling a safe rate (if I may so call it) to be set, which is the amount that the absent parent would be liable to pay if his departure application were to be successful. It seems to me that that is a perfectly fair way to go about the matter and—dare I say it?—does not merit the attack made by the noble Earl on this particular part of the system.

I accept the intention behind the amendment. It is important that an absent parent should show some commitment to meeting his maintenance liability in order to qualify for a departure direction. However, I hope that I can persuade the noble Baroness that the amendment is not in fact needed. Where the absent parent is already paying his current maintenance, there is no need for the Secretary of State to require him formally to do so. If this amendment were accepted, it would involve the agency in a great deal of unnecessary work, imposing regular payments conditions where the absent parent was already meeting his liability. The power in the Bill was made permissive so that such conditions need be imposed only where compliance is a problem.

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With that assurance of the way in which we envisage the system working, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I thank the Minister for his thoughtful and well considered reply. As he said, I consider much of the noble Earl's comment was beside the point of the amendment. As I understand it, the amendment would—as indeed the noble Earl said—emphasise the continuity of payment. The figure that the absent father might pay would not necessarily be higher than he would have paid under the departure. So much, indeed the bulk, of the noble Earl's criticism was simply beside the point. He has misunderstood the amendment.

My second point is also in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He assumes that all the hardship falls on the absent parent. I agree that that can happen and that there can be situations of real hardship. But perhaps I may remind him—I am sure he is aware—that in no case under this Bill would the absent parent ever be worse off than the parent with care and that in no circumstances under the Bill will the absent parent ever retain less than 70 per cent. of his income. Would that the parent with care were as fortunate. The amendment sought to ensure that the parent with care, who will often be in a situation of fluctuating maintenance when we come to issues of family credit and so forth, would be protected with continuity of contribution while the appeal procedure is progressing. However, in the light of the Minister's comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Earl Russell: No.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Earl Russell: No.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: In that case I shall put the Question. The Question is that Amendment No. 11 be agreed to. As many are of that opinion will say Content.

Noble Lords: Content.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: To the contrary, Not Content. I think the Not Contents have it. The Not Contents have it.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Determination of applications]:

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 4, line 15, at beginning insert ("in exceptional circumstances,").

The noble Baroness said: This is a brief amendment which would add the words "in exceptional circumstances". The usual route for deciding a departure application is an initial decision by the Secretary of State. Referring decisions direct to a tribunal does not give the

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parties a right of appeal on the facts if they are dissatisfied with the initial departure decision. We believe it is especially important, as we discussed in a previous amendment, that some of the refusals may be heard by a single person sitting as a tribunal.

The Government may well argue that the great majority of decisions should be taken by the CSA. In that case, we see no reason why they should not appear on the face of the Bill. Such an amendment would ensure greater consistency throughout the country. In other words, the amendment gives effect on the face of the Bill to the Government's intentions. I beg to move.

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