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Lord Meston: My Lords, the Statement referred to dramatically less time being required to process applications. Can the noble Baroness say what time, effort and machinery will be devoted to assessing the true net income of the self-employed father, particularly those who are not inclined to overstate their income to the Inland Revenue, to the former wife or to anyone else? That is a problem that is not going to go away. It

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is easy to be deceived by the conveniently clear and round figures which always appear in the worked examples in Green Papers such as this.

Now that there is to be a simpler formula and the legal profession can throw away their expensive computer programs but still hang on to their calculators, perhaps it is time to say that the courts can once again be trusted to make orders or sanction agreements at least where they are incidental to matrimonial proceedings between husband and wife in which the finances will have been scrutinised in considerable detail. I do not say that that should be confined to the magistrates' court. Indeed, it is more likely that those cases are heard in the county court and the High Court.

I thought I heard the noble Baroness say that the matter would be considered by the Social Security Select Committee. Does that indicate that there will be full pre-legislative scrutiny of any legislation that comes before Parliament?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the answer is yes to the noble Lord's third point. My noble friend gave an assurance to Mr. Archy Kirkwood in another place that, should the Select Committee wish to take it up, there would be the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. It is so important to try to get the broadest possible consent and information concerning the proposals.

The second point that the noble Lord raised concerns the self-employed. He is right. Perhaps they are between 7 and 10 per cent. of the non-resident fathers. They are certainly between 20 and 30 per cent. of the problem. In the Green Paper we are proposing that the calculation of income for self-employed parents will be on exactly the same basis as the returns prepared for the Inland Revenue. That will be a start. The degree to which there will be any sharing of information with the Inland Revenue is a question that has yet to be discussed and resolved. There will be no excuses that we are trying to work on a system different from that being prepared for the self-employed person by his accountant.

As regards the court sanctioning orders, apart from the cost and its random nature and unpredictability, the court system is essentially adversarial. In the past it has sought to have "high noon" over the levels of maintenance for children's support. It is not an approach that we wish to see continued. It is certainly true that under the new divorce proceedings mediation will be much more to the fore, and we welcome that. Therefore, we are hoping that the information about expected child maintenance liability will be part of the information that goes into the mediation process and that it will allow it to be simpler and cleaner than in the past. We do not believe that the court should seek to determine what should be paid. It can do so only if it has full discretion. We are seeking to treat alike similar people in similar circumstances. That is the basis of the formula.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement. I apologise to the Minister for not being here at the start of it. I wish to ask a couple of questions. As regards a clean break, and if there is a change of circumstance for the caring parent who gets income

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support, is it the intention that automatically the CSA will come against the absent parent? Are we going to take account of one-off payments or the setting up of trust funds for children, remembering, as my noble friend Lord Higgins said, that in many cases absent parents do not mind at all paying for the upkeep of their children but what they cannot stand and do not want to do is to support the absent wife?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as regards the clean break, in the past it has been concerned with property between the two spouses and not maintenance for the children. The legal profession currently knows what is expected through the CSA. The legal profession knows what the CSA will be doing in future with the Green Paper proposals. The disposition of property between the spouses will be made in the light of those proposals. Essentially, the clean break applies to spousal property and not to child maintenance, and it never has. As regards trust funds and one-off payments, we shall be looking at that kind of thing in the consultation period. It is possible that this could be the kind of circumstance the tribunal could take into account.

Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill

5.28 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 3.

Lord Tebbit moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 3, leave out ("four") and insert ("five").

The noble Lord said: After that interlude on a highly complex subject, I assure the Committee that there is nothing particularly complex about this group of amendments. Amendment No. 8 is the effective amendment, while Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are merely consequential.

I believe that there is widespread concern, except in terrorist circles, that there has been persistent and consistent backsliding by both this Government and their predecessors on what was once called the surrender of arms and is now called decommissioning. Once--it now seems so long ago--there would be no talks with the mouthpieces of terrorism without the permanent renunciation of violence and indeed a surrender of arms. That was in a bygone age when Front Bench politicians made brave speeches about there being no concessions to violence and when paramilitaries, as they were to become, were known as common criminals or terrorists.

Now we recognise that those who kill for politics or out of prejudice are criminals of a special class who deserve specially soft treatment. This Bill is the last occasion on which we have any leverage at all before we make that concession to those who believe that violence is the appropriate political response to difficulties. The amendment would put some small obligation upon those special category political criminals.

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Perhaps I may take a moment or two to read to the Committee a Written Answer to a Question which I tabled on 21st May. I asked Her Majesty's Government,

    "their latest assessment of the likelihood of the surrender of terrorist arms in Northern Ireland".
I should have thought that there would be a pretty short reply to that but, as ever, when the short reply would be embarrassing, one gets quite a long reply--I have been a Minister myself! The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, replied:

    "All the parties supporting the agreement of 10 April are committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They have also confirmed their intention to work with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to achieve decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement of the agreement in referendums.

    The agreement--if endorsed at referendum--must be implemented in all its parts. In his speech in Belfast on 14 May, the Prime Minister clarified the factors that would be taken into account in judging whether the terms and spirit of the agreement were being met. These factors include, 'full co-operation with the Independent Commission on Decomissioning, to implement the provisions of the Agreement' and the Prime Minister undertook that this will be enshrined in forthcoming legislation".--[Official Report, 21/5/98; col. WA 199.]
I should have liked to enshrine those precise words in my amendment, but that was technically slightly more difficult than I could cope with, and the nearest that I could get are the words of Amendment No. 8, in which I laid down a fifth condition (above the four in the Bill) relating to the release of a prisoner. The fifth condition is that that person is,

    "co-operating fully with any Commission of the kind referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 in implementing the Decommissioning section of the agreement reached at multi-party talks on Northern Ireland set out in Command Paper 3883".
That is as close as I could get technically to the precise words of the Prime Minister, but it is certainly the spirit of his words.

I hope that Ministers and other noble Lords will agree that it is nothing less than common sense and justice that, before a prisoner is finally approved for release on licence, he should have done all that he could to secure the decommissioning of arms. A prisoner may know where arms are hidden. He may have access, through his continuing links with the IRA, the UVF or any other terrorist organisation, to information by which the security forces might have access to those arms. He may have friends who can help. It seems to me that before he is released he should do everything in his power to secure the decommissioning of arms. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am happy to add my support to these amendments because they are designed to assist the commission in supplying what I think could be called "greater clarification" of the position, mindset and status of a prisoner applying for release. Without the amendment, the conditions are so vague as to be almost useless to the commission. The second condition, is,

    "that the prisoner is not a supporter of a terrorist organisation".
But who decides that? Is there to be a mere verbal assurance from the prisoner? Will the commission ignore the verifiable fact that the prisoner, on his admission to prison, had insisted on being housed in the

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prison block under the control of a given terrorist organisation? I know that it may seem curious that a prisoner becoming a guest in the Maze Prison can dictate to the governor which block he wishes to be in so that not only can he chum up with his comrades, but, as was said earlier, he can receive instruction from the more experienced godfathers.

The third condition is that he would not be likely to become a supporter of a terrorist organisation or to become involved in or connected with terrorism. In the light of what I have just said about choice of residence in the Maze Prison, we must ask of what value are the words, "would not be likely". Surely the new, modest condition which has been proposed is essential if the whole release scheme is not to become the object of ridicule.

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