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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we are here seeking to streamline the tests for eligibility for child support in its various forms. Under the current systems of support, a family trying to claim support for a child has to satisfy different tests in each benefit or

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tax credit to prove to the relevant department that they are actually a valid resident of the United Kingdom or have been present in the UK long enough to qualify for support.

For child benefit the rules are based on the claimant and the child being required to be physically present in the country for a particular length of time. Obviously, that is when they are coming into the country. For income support and the jobseeker's allowance, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, will know, they need to be habitually resident. Under the working families' tax credit, the claimant needs to be present and ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom. It is a confusing array of tests and as a result we have found cases in which claimants have been entitled to certain types of support but not to others on the basis of the same facts. This is difficult to explain to a family who have newly arrived into the country, especially those who are, and have always seen themselves as, UK citizens.

If we are to streamline the systems of support for families with children, we need to ensure that the same test applies across those systems. In essence, this does not result in any real change for the vast majority of families who claim child benefit. But for those UK citizens who have recently come back into this country after a long period abroad, or those who are no longer subject to immigration control, having a single test should mean that what is required of them, and the effect of those requirements, should be much clearer and therefore more easily understood.

Clause 55 provides that continuity by allowing us to define in regulations what "in GB and Northern Ireland" means for child benefit purposes. This will enable us to follow the same test as that provided for new tax credits. So where a family with children satisfies a single test, they can become entitled to both systems of support.

Without such a test of presence, some people working in this country were remitting child benefit to children who were never present in this country but lived in, for example, India, Pakistan or South Africa. The measure is designed to ensure that child benefit is paid to those who currently have the care of children in this country.

The noble Lord asked about periods of absence. The existing child benefit has always contained specific provision to permit short periods of absence—an eight-week standard period when the child or adults are abroad for temporary reasons such as holidays and longer periods if the child is absent for education or health reasons. I believe that the House has previously discussed children who go back to the Asian subcontinent for long periods over the summer holidays. That does not in any sense disqualify their families from receiving child benefit.

9.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, is it not becoming a characteristic of the global economy that we are all remitting money to children in

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other countries? We are not merely taking in each others' washing; we are taking in each others' parents. We shall have to get used to thinking of that as normal.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, or rather before she stands up again, I should say that the first part of her reply had very little to do with the points I sought to raise which were essentially ones of temporary absence. The Bill is clear. The proposed new Section 146 states:

    "No child benefit shall be payable in respect of a child for a week unless he is in Great Britain in that week".

It does not say that that is all right if they are on a fortnight's holiday or a month's holiday or whatever.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, new Section 146 continues:

    "Circumstances may be prescribed in which a child or other person is to be treated for the purposes of this section as being, or as not being, in Great Britain".

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I understand that. That brings me to the point that I made earlier; namely, that one would have thought that those circumstances could be put on the face of the Bill. They are not something which needs to vary over time. We ought not to put in regulations something which is likely to be permanent rather than temporary. If a month's absence is to be permitted, there is a strong case for stating that on the face of the Bill.

The other issue which arises in the light of the noble Earl's intervention is whether these provisions are in conformity with European law. I do not know whether the noble Baroness has a view on that.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am assured that they are in conformity with European law. As regards whether the provisions the noble Lord mentioned should be on the face of the Bill, I do not believe that they should. Fairly recently we clarified what had been developed through custom and practice; namely, that although eight weeks might be a standard period of absence—that is more or less the summer holidays for children—that could be extended if, for example, children were being returned to India or Pakistan. I keep mentioning those countries but it is in relation to them that cases have arisen. I do not intend my remarks to be discriminatory. As I say, we have only recently clarified that that eight-week period may be extended in those particular circumstances. We can make such changes through regulations. One cannot do that when one has a rigid time period on the face of the Bill.

I can conceive a situation in which, instead of having one long school summer holiday, we have more terms and shorter holidays in between. One would therefore need a linking rule. I can imagine all kinds of

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complexities that may arise as a result of changes in the school year with regard to whether children are, or are not, regarded as being present in this country. It seems to me that regulations are exactly the measures that are required for that degree of description and prescription.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I hear what the Minister says, and I shall consider it. However, I am still not clear as to why one has to start from the basis that someone is not entitled to the benefit if he is absent for a week; indeed, that is a very specific provision. I shall bear in mind what the noble Baroness has said, and give it due consideration before Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 166 not moved.]

Clause 56 [Abolition of exclusion of tax exempt persons]:

[Amendment No. 167 not moved.]

Clause 58 [Use and disclosure of information]:

[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]

Schedule 5 [Use and disclosure of information]:

[Amendment No. 169 not moved.]

Schedule 6 [Repeals and revocations]:

[Amendment No. 170 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 171:

    Page 66, line 23, column 2, at beginning insert—

    "In Schedules 3, 4 and 5, the entries relating to Schedule 3 to the Tax Credits Act 1999."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment deals with minor, technical repeals to the Employment Bill, which is currently in its final parliamentary stages. I am sorry that it was not possible to bring such an amendment forward earlier. The changes to the Employment Bill, which made these repeals necessary, were made at such a late stage that this amendment could not be tabled in Grand Committee.

The amendment repeals references in the Employment Bill to Schedule 3 of the Tax Credits Act 1999 which will become redundant once the working families' tax credit and the disabled person's tax credit are abolished in April 2003. No equivalent references are needed to this Bill because Schedule 1 directly amends the Employment Rights Act 1996 to provide better protection to employees along the same lines as achieved by the provisions being repealed. In fact, as we discussed in Grand Committee, this Bill provides

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better protection for employees. I hope that noble Lords will accept these minor, consequential amendments.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for her explanation of this government amendment. This part of the Bill, together with the whole of Part 2, has not been considered in another place. However, I believe it could reasonably be said that we have given it a degree of scrutiny. No doubt we shall continue to do so at Third Reading.

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Even at this stage—and, indeed, ahead of the Third Reading stage—I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, as always, on her stamina and lucidity. It is always so much better when she spells it out in her own words rather than reading it. We all look forward to an interesting Third Reading.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 172 and 173 not moved.]

        House adjourned at seven minutes before ten o'clock.

13 Jun 2002 : Column CWH61

Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

Thursday, 13th June 2002.

The Committee met at four of the clock.

[The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) in the Chair.]

Clause 10 [Transfer of functions of justices of the peace]:

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