Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister provided with an answer to the points made by the Magistrates' Association about the costs the courts were able to devote to enforcement? Have the Government given any thought to what could have been done if that power had been strengthened?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government always gives consideration to the views of the Magistrates' Association. It is always true that, if unlimited resources were available, we could improve the record of enforcement. That does not mean that we could deal with the four-fold increase in the number of cases which have to be covered by the present Child Support Agency.

By this Bill we are creating a more easily understood system. The current system is extremely difficult for both parents and Child Support Agency staff to understand. It results in the CSA spending 90 per cent of its time chasing information and only 10 per cent of its time chasing payments. We will simplify the system by applying a new, simple formula based on the

23 Nov 1999 : Column 440

percentage of net income: 15, 20 or 25 per cent according to whether there are one, two or three children.

More importantly, because of the £10 disregard, there will be an incentive for the absent parent to co-operate because he knows that the child will benefit. The present parent--perhaps that is not the correct term--

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Parent with care.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There will be an incentive for the parent with care to seek the support of the Child Support Agency because the child will benefit. That is a huge change which my noble friend Lady Hollis has achieved and it will transform the work of the Child Support Agency. At the present time 30 per cent of parents using the CSA pay nothing whatever towards the upkeep of their children. We cannot allow that to continue.

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, who was the only noble Lord to refer to pensions, will forgive me if I pass over that in view of the time.

On the issue of community punishments, to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred, it is a fact that one in five of the 125,000 offenders given community sentences each year are subject to breach action. Those convicted of a criminal offence cannot expect to receive public money when they fail to meet their obligations to society. We are piloting benefit sanctions for offenders who do not comply with their sentence. I fail to see how we can have any research without the kind of pilot projects we are discussing.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Could those pilots include provision for finding out what happens to those who are disentitled? That would be a legitimate way of meeting my point.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I cannot conceive how anybody could carry out a pilot without doing exactly that.

I want to respond now to my noble friend Lord Longford who asked, in genuine puzzlement, what the difference was between the Labour and Conservative Parties with regard to fairness and enterprise. The straightforward answer is that in a large way we are putting money in the pockets of the poor. Seven million families will benefit from the increase in child benefit; 2 million individuals will benefit from the minimum wage; all pensioners in need will benefit from the minimum income guarantee; 1.5 million will benefit from the working families' tax credit. By that simple criterion of putting money in the pockets of the poor, we are certainly doing something very different.

My noble friend seems to feel that we have to do that by increasing tax. But despite what my noble friend Lord Healey said many years ago about making the pips squeak, we see increasing taxes on the rich as tackling the symptom rather than the cause; nor do we see the kind of benefits seen by the noble Lord, Lord

23 Nov 1999 : Column 441

Kingsland. Surely the right approach is to deal with the unemployment trap and the poverty trap. At the heart of this is creating a society in which no group or individual is trapped in poverty or socially excluded. We recognise that while those who work have a responsibility to do so; those who cannot work have a right to security and support. Work, where it is an option, provides the best route out of poverty and social exclusion and this Government, through reforms of tax and benefit, are making work pay. This is the first Chancellor for many years who has dared to speak of full employment--and I assure the House that he means it.

The legislative programme for the coming Session will further reform the welfare state, giving a better deal to families and pensioners; ensure a better deal for consumers; reform the management of public finances, and help to create the right atmosphere in which

23 Nov 1999 : Column 442

innovative investment can flourish. In looking up "Conservatism" in his thesaurus, the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, described it as digging in his toes and digging in his heels. If he does those two at the same time, he will never move.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on a brilliant speech, but is he aware that he has not begun to answer my question?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton, I beg to move that the debate be now again adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.--(Lord Bach.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.

        House adjourned at twenty-one minutes before eleven o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page