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Earl Russell: I know that it is late at night, but I do not think that I can let that response pass without comment. If the Minister is telling the Committee that people find the courts more intimidating than the CSA, that is something that I would find difficult to believe, even if it came from Rory Bremner.
As for the enforcement powers of the courts, the Minister knows perfectly well that it is the contention of the courts that they did not get help from other agencies, including the police and the DSS, which they might legitimately have expected. They did not receive adequate staffing for enforcement and they did not get sufficient funding or powers.
Furthermore, all the information on which the Minister relies dates from a period before the Children Act which put right some of these matters. I shall not spend time on that, but if the Minister does not wish to prolong our proceedings, I hope that she will not repeat too many statements with which she knows I will stand up and argue.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: On the contrary, I believe those statements to be right: that the courts were a form of lottery; they failed to deliver money to children; they were adversarial and inequitable. On the
If the noble Earl widens the debate into deeper issues concerning the effectiveness and appropriateness of the court procedure, then I shall wish to challenge him all the way. The courts failed children and we shall not go back to that system again, either to make basic maintenance assessments or as a form of appeal.
Earl Russell: I did not introduce this. The Minister has introduced two different decisions. She has not told me the circumstances of those decisions and so I can have no opinion without knowing those circumstances.
As regards the point about the courts being adversarial, does she seriously maintain that that remained the case after the passage of the Children Act? I do not think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, would agree with that.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If the noble Earl asks me which system I believe to be in the best interests of a child where a father wishes to reduce his maintenance payments, under the noble Earl's theory he can either go to court and slog it out in an adversarial setting saying, "This is how little I value my child; I want to pay less maintenance"--because that is the nature of an adversarial court setting; alternatively, a tribunal can sit which is informal, chaired by a person with legal experience but in which that adversarial climate does not dominate. I know which system I believe to be in the best interests of the child.
However, my argument does not rest only on the adversarial nature of the courts. The outcome of a court hearing depends on which lawyers are employed and which court hears the case. That means that people in similar circumstances could be treated in very dissimilar ways, usually to the disadvantage of the child and the parent with care. Usually they are the ones unable to afford the most hard-hitting lawyers.
I must tell the noble Earl that I have read and re-read the research which persuaded the previous administration to depart from the court system and move to an agency system. I believe that it was entirely right then and that we are entirely right now. It is obvious that subsequently the system became too complicated, but I refute any suggestion that it would be fairer for children if we returned to the courts. That would be good only for those non-resident parents who are still deeply angry. However, we are not seeking to produce a system that caters to the anger management of non-resident parents. We wish to produce a system that addresses the well-being of children. I am completely persuaded that the courts are not the right vehicle to do that, either at the assessment level or at the appeal level.
This clause introduces the deprivation of driving licences as a penalty, which we believe is entirely inappropriate and out of place. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, on having pipped me to the post by putting his name to an amendment to delete the clause before I could do so--but I shall be with him when the time comes.
I am well aware that there is exemption for persons who need a driving licence to earn their living, but in our flexible labour market people who have a job now may not have it in six weeks or six months. If the Minister recalls our debates on housing benefit change of circumstances, she will be as aware of that point as I can possibly make her.
It is already clear that people who do not have a driving licence are disadvantaged in the search for employment, often severely. Amendment No. 86 provides that persons subject to that penalty shall be exempt from the actively seeking work rules for the period for which they have no driving licence.
Amendment No. 84 deals with other reasons for needing a car. I specified those who need a car to provide food; to take the children to school which, in the case of shared care or in the case of children of a second marriage, may be a real need; or to attend medical treatment. I did not put in to attend the bank or the post office, but in the light of some of the remarks on earlier amendments I may well do so before we return to this on Report.
The provision in this clause is another blow to rural England. There are a great many areas in England where one simply cannot travel about unless one has a car. If one should work in those areas, one is unemployable until one retrieves the driving licence. So the Government here are proposing to shoot themselves in the foot. In general, they want more people to be employed. But they are here introducing a provision which means that fewer people will be employed.
I observe that the Minister shakes her head. We have been known to disagree before and will be known to disagree again; and this seems to be one of those cases. I said that this is a blow to rural England; but it is not only rural England. If one is looking for a job in London, if travel to work is radial, across London rather than in and out of the centre, one may well find that one cannot do it without a car. My son, looking for vacation employment when he was a student, was offered a job doing night work in a warehouse, five miles away across London. There was absolutely no way he could do that job unless he had a car to travel to and fro. There was no bus service, even in the day time, and it was an area in which I would not advise anyone to work, and the job centre would not advise anyone to work either, if it meant walking afterwards.
There are plenty of other urban areas in the same situation. So we are introducing here a severe restriction on people's freedom of action; on their chance to be employed. Does the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, wish to intervene?
Earl Russell: The whole basis of the disagreement between me and the Government is that I believe that there are a number of cases under the formula where people cannot pay what is required of them. We had the same argument over the poll tax. The government always said exactly that in defending the poll tax; that people only have to pay up. There were a good many who could not. I can recall struggling to make Ministers admit that. I never succeeded. I do not seem
Anyway, even if the person is totally in the wrong--let us assume that for the purpose of argument--does it do any good either to the children, the Government or to the economy of the country to render them unemployable? I should have thought there was a strong argument for saying no to that question. It is on that basis that I tabled these amendments. I beg to move.
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