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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, and given that he has spilled over into some of the other issues caught up by the regulations as opposed to the benefit deduction, may I ask him whether he will be kind enough to answer two points which, because I was confused about the procedure, I failed to make in my remarks. As I understand it, under the regulations on the proposed changes, the Government intend to give parents who are not on benefit in court orders dating back to 1993 the right to apply to the CSA for collection, but this was deferred while the CSA caught up with the backlog. When might we expect them to be brought within the remit of the CSA?
The second question is this. Given that we continue to have unacceptably poor levels of accuracy from the CSA--and I do not think even the Minister will doubt that; it has been regularly drawn to our attention by the National Audit Office--will he confirm that nonetheless the CSA expects to face a cut in its budget for running costs of about a quarter in the year 1998-99? How will that improve the efficiency of the CSA?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will appreciate that I am not able immediately to give her a detailed response. Of course we accept that the CSA has had, and indeed continues to have, accuracy problems, although they are
Earl Russell: My Lords, before I disappoint the Minister, I must make my apologies to the noble Baroness about the timetable. I understand that was inconvenient, and I regret it. The reason is that I had a severe cold over the weekend and my business has been put rather behindhand. I shall try not to cause that sort of inconvenience again, but we all do it to one another sometimes.
I was a little surprised by what the noble Baroness said about the CSA having never erred in a case involving domestic violence. I remember well one that came to me from Todmorden CAB where the woman who had been alleging domestic violence was told--I paraphrase from memory--to run away and stop making a fuss. I have had at least a dozen other such cases through my hands, most of which came to rest in the files of the Minister's honourable friend, Mr. Burt, who dealt with them expeditiously and effectively. If he checks his files, he will find that that is not true.
It is an unwise way of dealing with intimidation to assume that it does not matter because it has not actually been carried out. It is like the famous case of the asylum seeker from Bosnia who was told that the death threats against him must not have been genuine since they had not been carried out. It is an unwise way of dealing with it.
The Minister says that no one suffers a benefit penalty unless they refuse to collaborate for no good reason. How on earth can the Minister know that? He can know that he has not discovered a good reason. He can know that he has not been persuaded by the reason that has been alleged. But how can the Minister know in all the private history of a dead marriage that none of the reasons is good? People do also--this has survival value--act upon impressions.
I recall evidence given once by a woman who said, "It is difficult to describe. He had a strange and odd effect on me. It was the way he looked at me". I am sure that the Minister would not accept that as good cause. The man of whom the woman was speaking was Thomas Hamilton. We are unwise to ignore that sort of impression.
The Minister says that it would be discriminatory to relax rules in favour of people with a particular load of debt. The Minister would not do very well in banking. That is bad banking practice. He says that there is a pattern of behaviour involving non-co-operation. He would do well to study the various reports on the subject by Professor Gary Craig of the Children's Society. He has found a great many reasons for non-co-operation with the CSA, some of
We have been at these arguments a long time. We shall be at them a long time longer. The Minister has not got an inch nearer persuading me that he is right and that the CSA will last, but we will not settle that tonight. So I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations provide for the introduction of child maintenance bonus, provision for which was contained in the Child Support Act 1995. I do not intend to go over the detail of all the regulations, so perhaps I can give a brief outline of the main points of the scheme.
Basic entitlement to a child maintenance bonus rests on the claimant satisfying three main conditions. First, the parent with care or her partner must be entitled to either income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance; secondly, child maintenance must be in payment, whether it be paid direct to the parent with care or collected by the Secretary of State on her behalf; and, thirdly, the parent with care or her partner must start work, or increase their hours if they already work part time, so that they stop claiming the qualifying benefit.
This scheme has been designed with two important goals in mind. The first relates to getting people back to work, the second to encouraging co-operation with the Child Support Agency. We do not require parents with care to seek work if they have no wish to do so. However, we do wish to give every encouragement to those parents with care who do wish to improve their family's standard of living by returning to work. The tax-free cash lump sum which this scheme will provide for parents with care when they return to work will go a long way towards both encouraging them to look for work, and helping them make the transition from benefit to work as successfully as possible.
The second goal of the scheme is to encourage co-operation with the Child Support Agency. I repeat that it is a widely accepted principle that parents should maintain their children wherever they have the means to do so, and not pass financial responsibility for their children on to the taxpayer. And that means co-operating with the Child Support Agency in the assessment and collection of maintenance.
By linking the amount of bonus which a parent with care can receive to child maintenance in payment, we have ensured that the scheme will act as an incentive for all parents to co-operate with the agency--parents with care will receive a direct cash benefit from maintenance paid for their child, and absent parents will see their child benefiting from the maintenance they pay.
We discussed the child maintenance bonus at some length in Committee. There was general agreement, although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, would like to go further with disregards, and I am sure that she may return to that, but I believe that the child maintenance bonus represents a major step forward in trying to help those parents with care who want to go into work. So far as concerns the collection of pre-April 1993 cases, we have no plans at this stage to bring on those cases, so that may help the noble Baroness. I have perhaps been on my feet long enough, and I beg to move.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we obviously welcome the bonus which the Minister has explained means that from April 1997 there is effectively a £5 a week disregard for up to four years which is then paid to lone parents entering work. May I press the Minister? When he says that the bonus will be paid to lone parents who no longer qualify for benefit, is he saying that lone parents who are on family credit would not be eligible for the work bonus, because that would suggest a problem with issues such as childcare disregard? The Minister talked about benefit; he did not confine himself to income support. Perhaps
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