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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I do not wish to show any discourtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who I have always found to be extraordinarily courteous, helpful and informed on all social security debates that we have engaged in over many years. However, I do not think that this is the right time to go into a general debate about the performance of the Child Support Agency or the current figures. I entirely accept and deeply regret the problems posed by the inadequacy of the computer system, which is not sufficiently robust, in ministerial eyes, to allow us to bring the existing cases, as opposed to new cases, on to the system. We do not disagree about this. As soon as we can, we will do so. However, I do not think that today is an appropriate time to raise this; maybe an Unstarred Question at some time might be appropriate.
My difficulty is engaging with the noble Lord's amendment because it excludes from child support liability same-sex couples in the way that opposite-sex couples would now be liable. The problem is that what counts as a couple for this purpose has been torpedoed by the debate earlier today. We now no longer have a
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working concept of couple. I must say that I would oppose the amendment anyway, for obvious reasons involving the Child Support Agency. However, I cannot engage in a debate on any aspect of social security that has at its core the concept of a couple because I do not now know whether a couple is, as I understood it, people living together as husband and wife, so to speak, in conventional social security legislation or whether it could be a civil partnership of two brothers or a brother and sister. Given that, I am stuck.
I absolute do not intend any discourtesy to the noble Lord. I could go into a general discussion on the Child Support Agency but I shall not do so at this late hour. I am happy to do so on some other occasion. We will oppose the amendment. There is no point in taking it further, given that the concept of a couple has now been blown out of the water by the debate earlier today.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I do not understand the point that she is making. As far as the original Bill was concerned, quite clearly the amendment was appropriate. Even if it remains in its amended form, it will still be the caseperhaps even more strongly the casethat the Child Support Agency should not be required to take on the additional burden. If the amendments go through as agreed by your Lordships' House that is even more true. It should not be required to take this on until it has sorted out the other problems. Those who have suffered such long delays feel that they will suffer even longer delays because of the strain put on the CSA. That is not satisfactory. So I do not understand why the noble Baroness was proposing to reject the amendment anyway. Perhaps she can enlighten us in that respect.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I do not understand why that is so. The noble Baroness could perfectly well say that in any case the Government are not prepared to accept the amendment. But I have heard no reason why that is so.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, this is Report stage and so I do not want to continue this debate. I made it clear that the Government would have been unhappy to accept the amendment even as the Bill stood. Given the complexity of what we now understand by a couple, and therefore responsibility, within social security law, the Government will oppose the amendment if the noble Lord seeks to push it to a Division. But I do not want to continue to elaborate on the points about the concept of a couple and so on, which is at the core of my dilemma in all social security legislation and in all the amendments that we now face.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, we are, as the noble Baroness says, on Report. I will be out of order if I go
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on jumping up and down any more. I may need to return to this at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is covered by subsequent amendments on the Marshalled List which have overtaken it. I think that the amendments that replace it are on the supplementary list. So we will come to those in due course.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the four amendments in this group are the ones to which I referred a moment ago. They cover a series of changes in pension arrangements. It seemed helpful to divide them up rather than to take them en bloc, which would have been the effect of Amendment No. 108 that I did not move.
I am considering very carefully, in the light of the various statements made by the Government, whether it would be fruitful to raise the matter at this stage. I suspect that we will merely get the same stonewalling answer. The noble Baroness has indicated that that is so. So it seems pointless, I regret to say, to go on with this rather strange procedurewhich I cannot recall in my entire parliamentary life of some 40 years of experience.
No doubt it will be appropriate to reconsider these points, to see to what extent it is valid for the Government to say they cannot reply. In some of the cases in which they have said that previously, I suspect that it is not the case. So I may well wish to return to the amendments on Third Reading.
The noble Duke said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Amendment No. 171 I should like to speak also to my other amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 173, 175 and 178, although we have in some ways gone past that group.
Once again I must express great disappointment that the Government do not feel able to move their amendments. I would like to appreciate the effort that the Government and the Civil Service in Scotland have obviously put in to produce full and totally adequate amendments to this part of the Bill. However, I shall speak to my amendments.
Amendment No. 171 inserts a reference to a new Section 41A(1)(b) into Section 16(4) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. The reason for this is that Paragraph 32 of Schedule 27 to the Bill inserts a new Section 41A into the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. As a result, Section 16(4) of the 1985 Act requires to be amended to refer to the new Section 41A(1)(b).
Amendment No. 173 inserts into Section 34(7) of the 1985 Act a reference to the provisions of Clause 127 of the Bill. The reason why this is required is that Section 34(7) of the 1985 Act states that that section operates,
"without prejudice to the operation of section 2 of the Married Women's Policies of Assurance Act (Scotland) 1880 (policy of assurance may be effected in trust for spouse, future spouse and children)".
Amendment No. 176 inserts a reference to civil partners in Section 51(3) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. Section 51(3)(b) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 makes, inter alia, a loan by a debtor's spouse a postponed debt in terms of that Act. This amendment aims to widen that provision to cover also civil partners.
Amendment No. 178 would insert a reference to former civil partners into Schedule 1, paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. Paragraph 2(1)(a) of Schedule 1 to the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 sets out rules in relation to claims for aliment and periodical allowance on divorce. This amendment would extend these provisions to cover former civil partners following dissolution of that partnership. I beg to move.
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