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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
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 absencean 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.
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:
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 absencethat is more or less the summer holidays for childrenthat 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
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.
"In Schedules 3, 4 and 5, the entries relating to Schedule 3 to the Tax Credits Act 1999."
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
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.