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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, indeed; I stand corrected. I may come to the question of whether people should be provided with these costs slightly later in my argument. Yes, the costs should be allowed for in the calculation of maintenance.
The Committee is aware that the Government intend to bring forward regulations for each of the grounds for departure listed under the category of special expenses. The detailed criteria for the granting of departure directions for each of the grounds are being considered, including the possibility of making some allowance for the costs of car ownership, at least in limited circumstances.
The Bill deliberately does not go into detail on the criteria for qualifying for a departure direction under any of the grounds, partly because extensive detail is inappropriate in primary legislation but, more importantly, to provide the maximum possible flexibility to adjust the system in the light of experience. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee explicitly approves that approach in its report when it says:
To expand upon the specific issue of whether some account should be taken of the costs of car ownership where use of a car is essential for the purpose of travelling to work, I should say that that raises some difficult issues that need careful consideration.
The majority of peoplewe are still very much an urban-based societyhave the option of using public transport to go to work. However, there may well be some instances where individuals have no option other than to travel to work by car; for example, where there is no public transport available or where a disability makes use of public transport impracticable. But it is extremely unlikely that someone in that position would run their car for the sole purpose of travelling to work and not use it for
Baroness Seear: The Minister must realise that in parts of the country there is no public transport. For instance, in parts of Cornwall one cannot hold down a job unless one has a car. There is not the transport.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Of course I understand the point that there may not be much public transport. The noble Earl rightly pointed out that it would be prohibitively expensive to arrange public transport in every corner of the Kingdom where someone might fall into this category. Therefore, I fully appreciate the importance of car ownership.
However, car ownership goes a little wider than the absent parent. It goes to the next-door neighbour, whose position I raised previously. He may be happily married and living with his children and, equally, he may need to use his car to go to work. He too will have car costs which he must balance against his obligations to look after his wife and children. He is unable to claim those costs either through the income tax system or through family credit if his wages are sufficiently low.
In this regard, we must try to bear in mind the wider public. I agree that there are difficult issues and I have indicated that we are looking at how to deal with the costs of travelling to work if the person concerned must go by car. I have pointed out a number of issues. I am not sure whether the noble Earl accepts them, but I believe that they are clear and concise. First, they refer to all the population who could be in the same position as regards travel-to-work costs and who do not receive help with those costs. Secondly, they are how to define car costs as opposed to petrol costs when it comes to how much use the person makes of the car for one purpose against another.
This is a difficult issue. I hope that I have indicated to the noble Earl that we are looking carefully at how we can make some allowances for those costs. However, I should not like to pretend for one moment that it would be easy to do so or that they could be given at the rate I suspect he wishes, which is probably very generous, to the absent parent, unlike the poor neighbour who has no such help.
Baroness Faithfull: The Minister said that this is a difficult issue. Does he agree that in some cases it is more expensive to travel by train, especially as fares are rising, than it is to travel by car? Should we not bear that in mind?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend and I might have a discussion about that matter. It might depend, for example, on whether one has parking charges when one gets to work. I suspect that while some train
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: This may be a convenient moment to review the departures as against the various headings in sub-paragraph (3). As regards the departures, all are the kind of issues which the magistrates' courts took into account before 1991 and that the family court will take into account when it is established. Secondly, every single one was urged by way of amendment to the 1991 Bill. Thirdly, every single one was resisted. Fourthly, we were unable to carry them in a Division because the Chamber was habitually as empty as it is now late at night, and we knew that the Chief Whip had his little possé outside, including the payroll vote.
It is depressing that by bringing forward these departure headings the Government now recognise that in 1991 they were wrong and your Lordships were right. What is even more depressing is that the Minister, however ableand perhaps it is worse that it has been done so ablyhas set his face, as it was set in 1991, against every single amendment which has been put forward.
At any rate, it would have been disarming if he had said, "Yes, we were wrong then and, in view of that, we are considering what is now urged with an open mind". We might have accepted that. But what is unacceptable is the same bland assurance that we had in 1991 that everything in the Bill is absolutely tickety-boo. So much for the departures.
I turn now to the sub-headings under this paragraph. Again, they deal with the sort of matters which magistrates' courts considered. In relation to travel costs, the Minister said that it is difficult to provide otherwise than by regulation for particular cases where travel costs may be exceptional; for example, where there may be rural bus difficulties, train difficulties and so on. Of course, he is right. But those are essentially the sort of matters which a local magistrates' court knows all about and would allow for.
The same applies to the other headings. Therefore, perhaps I may say with real respect to the Minister that it is not good enough for him to utter the same bland phrases which we heard before and to dismiss every single amendment that is put forward. The matters have been argued cogently and the noble Earl has been particularly impressive with his great knowledge of constitutional history and law. It has got him nowhere. Not a single argument has been conceded. All have been brushed aside. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that some little flexibility and humility will be shown when further amendments are proposed.
Lord Carter: The only correction which I would make is in relation to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said when he referred to the fact that, during the passage of the 1991 Act, the Chief Whip had his "little possé" outside. As I remember it, it was a very big possé.
Those of us who were involved with the 1991 Act make our remarks under the general heading "I told you so". The Minister will become fairly bored with that as we proceed through the Bill but we shall keep reminding the Government of it.
I understood much of what the Minister said. He said that it would be difficult to determine costs in relation to car ownership. The drafting is not perfect because it is the running of the car that is important rather than the ownership. I have been involved in management accounting for 40 years and I can tell the Minister that it is quite possible, bearing in mind all the other difficulties of the formulae, to calculate the proportion of the running costs of the car involved in travel to work. Other than that, I understood many of the arguments which the Minister put forward.
Earl Russell: I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for giving vent to the impatience which we all feel at the continual resistance to any attempt to be genuinely helpful. It is the glory of this Chamber that those remarks came from the Cross-Benchers and we on the Front Bench of the opposition parties have bitten our tongues. I am glad that it is that way round. It is right that it should be so.
I turn now to the Minister's remarks. In an amendment dealing with car ownership, I might be misunderstood if I said that I did not know whether it was a light at the end of the tunnel or an approaching train. However, the Minister gave a very faint ground for hope. I grant that there are difficulties, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that they are no greater, in fact they are possibly considerably smaller, than other things which we have included in the formula. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff of Chieveley, put it in the case of Woolwich Building Society, to which I recently referred,
The Minister put forward two arguments which need different sorts of answer. The first is the case of the poor, next-door neighbour. I do not believe that the Minister rightly understood that situation. If the poor next-door neighbour were to attempt to sell the car which takes him to work in order to give more maintenance to his children, I do not believe that his wife or his children would be particularly appreciative. In fact, I think that they would tell him in words of one syllableor even lessthat he should give up any idea of doing any such thing.
It is not, in fact, the case that people living in ordinary happy or moderately happy marriages maintain their children at the expense of going to work. If they should ever attempt to do so, they would of course fail. So the Minister has invoked a comparison which should in principle have been fair; but he has entirely misinterpreted the way that it actually works. In effect, it works against his argument and not for it.
The second point relates to caution, otherwise known as the Treasury. It is the one about the sole purpose of car ownership. It is, of course, possible that people will use cars for other purposes. I am not arguing that they should
The word "ownership" was chosen for the amendment in order to cover the road fund licence, insurance and the MOT; in other words, those things which simply must be done otherwise you cannot run a car. If people are going to be stopped doing that then working is impossible. Therefore, I argue that the full cost of those expenses should be allowed but that the mileage for private use should not. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to intervene. I give way.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I am now somewhat confused. Under the heading "Special Expenses" in new Schedule 4B, paragraph 2(3) (a), reference is made to,
as a grounds for departure. Is the Minister saying that where those costs are incurred when the only means of travelling to work is by car they may not be counted? I must say that we had assumed that the noble Earl's amendment referred to the difference between the costs of travelling to work by car and full ownership. In that respect, we sympathise with the Minister's comment about the analogy with the next-door neighbour.
It would assist us if the Minister could make it clear whether the Government accept that costs detailed in the new Schedule 4B include the cost of running a car in so far as mileage is associated with going to work and that he is merely excluding the additional costs of the car beyond that point.
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