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Baroness Byford: I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. As she said, it is not a question of people carrying an order book. That is where I come back to my amendment. How will the postmaster know that I am Mrs Jones and not Mrs Smith if I do not have a book? What identification will I show? Will I have an identity card? That is why I tabled the amendment: to enable the Minister to say in what way people will be able to identify that they are Mrs Jones and not Mrs Snooks. If they do not have a book and do not have a smart card, which has been ruled out, how will the postmaster--he may not be the local one, who may be away on holiday--know which person is which? I happily give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The process of identification is something which must be discussed and explored. But the problem is no different in principle than the one the banks face now.

Baroness Byford: But when one opens a bank account one completes around four pages of forms; it

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takes for ever and a day. Surely the noble Baroness is not suggesting that benefit recipients will have to go through the process of opening a bank account.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: This measure will come into effect in 2003. The noble Baroness is pressing me, if I may say so, about extreme levels of detail; for example, the documentation that someone will need to produce in order to set up a Post Office account from which they can draw their money, which is portable between X and Y. That is precisely why we need a two to three year lead time of discussion to see what is acceptable, workable, inexpensive and fraud-proof.

I do not wish to be discourteous to the noble Baroness, but she is asking us to speed forward to 2003 and describe what we will have in place, whereas over the next few years, once we have the PIU report, we will be negotiating with POCL as to what is appropriate and acceptable.

Baroness Byford: I, equally, do not wish to be discourteous; it is the last thing that I would wish to be.

The PIU report was asked for in October 1999; six months have gone by and we are no further down the road. I accept that it will not come into being until 2003, and therefore the Minister feels that I am pressing for too much too soon. However, I hope she understands why people need this information. My worry is that the Bill will pass through the House and we will still be no further.

At this late hour, I do not wish to offend. I do not think the Minister has given an answer, but she feels she cannot answer the question as it is. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No.42.

    Page 4, line 21, at end insert--

("( ) Where the parent has complied with obligations imposed by this section, the Secretary of State shall be legally responsible for the confidentiality of information relating to her."").

The noble Lord said: I should also like to speak to Amendment No.100, which deals with the same point.

The amendments impose a duty of confidentiality on the Secretary of State where the parent concerned has complied with all the requirements of the Act. It makes the Secretary of State legally liable for any breach of confidentiality.

These amendments are principally, but by no means solely, concerned with the situation of women who fear violence from violent ex-partners, of whom there are a good many who come the way of the agency.

The amendment was moved by my right honourable friend Mr George, in the other place. The Minister gave him the most full-hearted assurances.

I am certain that those assurances were given in good faith, but I have received those assurances from every Minister who has dealt with this Act, right back to my noble kinsman Lord Henley in 1991. I am certain that all those assurances were given in good faith. Every Minister who has dealt with this matter

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has been determined to preserve confidentiality and the safety of women who are at risk of domestic violence. However, in spite of the evident goodwill of ministers of all kinds, the flow of cases of women whose ex-partners have discovered where they were through the CSA machinery and have come in pursuit of them, often with quite serious and dangerous results, still continues.

I do not think there is any problem whatever with Government goodwill. The problem is that we need a change of culture about awareness of the danger of domestic violence lower down the scale and through the whole of the administrative machinery.

The Government are in agreement with that and have done their level best to help bring about a change of culture. However, it has not yet succeeded, not for want of trying, but because the task is a very big one. I do not think most people realise quite how much determination a violent ex-partner can put into the job of pursuit; quite how much cunning he can put into the job of finding the necessary information, and quite how much the man of property is still alive and well.

Since that is the case, we hope that a duty of confidentiality will serve to concentrate the mind wonderfully. It is something that a middle-rank official, as he thinks quite harmlessly, chatting about something that is not particularly explosive, may call to mind. When my wife was dealing with the local women's refuge she came across a case in which information leading to a violent pursuit had got out even through the police, who in general are more aware of the need for confidentiality in this area than almost anyone else. If such an error can happen in those circumstances, it can happen anywhere. Therefore, we need something more than assurances in this respect.

Perhaps I may quote just one case. I shall not trawl back over the flow of cases that I have brought to the attention of previous Ministers and which, I am afraid, have a certain sameness about them. This one comes from the Crossroads women's centre. The woman concerned was on benefit. She said:

    "I thought I couldn't live on less money than I had, so I gave them his details and I explained that he would become violent as a result. They just said 'He won't know where you are'. I explained that I'd already moved twice and he had found out where I was. The day the CSA got in touch with him he came round to where I was living with the CSA letter. I refused to answer the door, and he was throwing stones at the window and talking through the intercom at my flat. I wouldn't let him in because I was too scared to. He said, 'Bring the baby to the window so I can just see her'. As I went to the window, he kicked a brick wall down and threw a brick through the window. Luckily it missed me and the baby".

I am sure that the Minister joins me in being sick and tired of listening to such stories. We need something fairly urgent to instil into all CSA staff the need to take seriously this requirement of confidentiality. I hope that this amendment is what is needed. If it is not, I trust that the Minister, whose ingenuity and goodwill are considerable, may be able to suggest what is needed. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I listened with great care to the piece that the noble Earl read from Crossroads.

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However, I did not understand the situation. Did the father know where the woman was living? Was it the fact that he was expected to pay maintenance that triggered the violence? If the father of the child did not know where the woman was living, I do not see how he could have found out simply by virtue of CSA forms. I do not know whether the noble Earl can help me here. Clearly, the woman was not in a refuge or in some place of anonymity if the father could track her down. I may have misunderstood or misheard what the noble Earl said, but this suggests to me that he knew where she was and that the search for maintenance or, indeed, any contact was such as to trigger this extremely violent man into further acts of violence.

Perhaps the noble Earl can help me in this respect because the amendment does not deal with the sort of situation where such a man would be able to track down the woman. As far as I can tell, he did not do so because of any action by the CSA.

Earl Russell: I am handicapped by the fact that I have only a single source; namely, the woman's own account. Her description is that the man came round carrying the CSA letter, which, presumably, told him that he was being assessed for the purposes of maintenance. I can only suppose that something in that letter, or attached to it, must have revealed the woman's address. If the Minister wishes to see my source of information, she is perfectly welcome to do so. I can only quote what is in it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In that case, the CSA could only have known that he was the father if the mother had given the agency his name and address, together with information about his workplace, and had not asked to be assessed on grounds of having good cause--in other words, not to name him. Therefore, because the woman had co-operated by naming him and giving all that information, presumably the CSA proceeded in the usual way. Either the woman failed to make clear that she had good cause or, alternatively, he already knew where she lived. It seems to me that one or the other ought to follow.

I accept the noble Earl's point that there is only the one source of evidence and that, obviously, there are some gaps in the story that neither of us can fill in. If the noble Earl wishes to comment further on the matter, I am happy for him to do so.

10.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: My source made clear that she feared domestic violence and that she already had an injunction out against the man concerned. However, the CSA apparently threatened to cut her benefit if she did not give details. That is not the first time that has happened; I have put previous cases before the Minister. There are some people involved in the service who do not understand quite how important the good cause provisions are. The person I am discussing gave her name and authorisation but asked for her address to be kept secret, but it was not. That is her specific

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complaint. I do not know whether that helps the Minister sufficiently but I think that is all I can add on this case.

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