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18 Dec 2007 : Column 577

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as I understand it, no research has made that connection. If I am wrong, I shall certainly put it in writing to the noble Earl.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that organophosphate poisoning can lead to liver disease? Will she contact St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, which has expertise on this subject? It knows about a cluster of people with liver disease who have been connected with organophosphates.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I should be very happy to contact St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, as the noble Baroness suggests.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, what has the Department of Health done as a result of the study by Dr Cherry published in the Lancet in 2002 which showed that some farm workers were genetically disposed to have a low resistance to the chemicals used in organophosphates?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as I understand it, that research has not yet been completed and we are still looking at it. However, the Government as a whole have done an enormous amount to ensure that people still using organophosphates in sheep dip are properly protected. We have introduced many measures. We have, for example—I beg your Lordships’ pardon; I cannot read my notes—ensured that pesticides are used in a diluted form and that people using them are properly registered and licensed and that they wear proper protective clothing. It is well recognised that the Government are doing everything they can to protect those who are currently using these organophosphates, though I recognise that the problems that people now suffer result from past use of the pesticides.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, to what degree are the Government consulting the Americans on this issue? In the case of the Gulf War sufferers, for instance, the Americans decided a long while ago that some of their claims were well based, while as far as I know the research continues on this side of the Atlantic as if it is still a question in doubt. To what degree do we work with the Americans?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, there is certainly a dialogue with our American colleagues; how great that dialogue is I do not know, but I will come back to the noble Baroness. We are also aware of the literature that abounds on these issues and take careful note of what is written in scientific journals.


11.26 am

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, we stand ready to assist all sides in reaching a consensual solution to the current worrying situation in Bolivia. While this is an internal political matter for Bolivia, we and our EU partners have offered assistance in helping to rebuild confidence between the parties. The EU, with UK support, has issued a statement calling for unity and consensus. In meetings with the President of Bolivia and other leaders from across the political spectrum, EU ambassadors have urged all actors to resolve their differences peacefully, through dialogue. We have also been talking with international institutions about possible ways forward to help resolve the crisis.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and particularly for the emphasis that he placed on the importance of dialogue. Is he aware that South American regional opinion is that it would be extremely bad for the region if there were any sort of Balkanisation or polarisation in Bolivia? He will be aware of efforts such as the east-west highway, which should bring much-needed development to the area and which has just been announced. What other steps can the UK take to underpin efforts towards democracy in the country and strengthen that dialogue?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I should at this stage acknowledge that I used to be an adviser to a former President of Bolivia.

The Constitutional Assembly was an important effort to try to get both sides to arrive at a comprehensive solution to the country's political problems, which are very real and which revolve, as the noble Baroness knows, around marginalised Indian populations who have felt excluded for a long time. However, including them in a country that had a strong pre-existing democracy but which also had strong vested economic interests has proved extremely difficult. There are legitimate questions on both sides, which can be resolved only through dialogue. EU ambassadors plan to meet this week the political actors on both sides to see if we can facilitate such a dialogue.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the difficult situation of Bolivia, the enlightened policy of the Government could be strengthened still further if there were emphasis on building a strong civil society with a commitment to human rights? Is it not essential to avoid at all costs the misguided type of manipulation and intervention that has been so characteristic of the painful history of Latin America?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is completely correct. Given that history, I am well aware of the sensitivities in Bolivia about outside interference, but it is also a country that has been racked by repeated violent protests and by the overthrow of several Presidents as a result of those protests. Building a mature civil society that respects human rights but which also respects democracy and

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the rule of law is a critical bulwark against the perennial instability in that country.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, there is not much that we can do directly as regards the internal situation in Bolivia, which is now getting very tense and dangerous. But does the noble Lord agree that this is an area where there is a need for our country to increase—indeed, restore—our past influence in the interests of our own trade and prosperity? This is one of the potentially dynamic areas of the world; would it not therefore be a good idea if this Parliament and this Government sent a clear message to President Evo Morales that he should desist from measures that will plunge the whole country into anarchy, bloodshed and break-up, which many people are, unfortunately, currently predicting?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am extremely relieved at least to be able to say to the noble Lord that, fortunately, this is not a country that has been subjected to a closed embassy, so in that regard we are still represented in the country and well engaged there. We certainly need to send messages to both sides to desist from violence and to find a negotiated solution because I think the fault is on both sides; but there is no doubt that the President needs to pull back and find ways to talk to his opponents.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the noble Lord noted that in the Foreign Office statement the places where disorders have been fomented are Santa Cruz, Trinidad and Cochabamba, which are centres of opposition to the majority Government of Evo Morales, who were, after all, elected by a majority that was greater than any enjoyed by a Government in the United Kingdom since the war? Will the Government support the efforts by President Morales to bring equality to the indigenous people, which they have always lacked over the 500 years of their history?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord will have noted my insistence that there was fault on both sides and that violence was instigated from both sides. It is absolutely correct that the cities he mentions are, indeed, cities where the opposition are principally in control. That is why appeal has been made to both sides to find a negotiated solution to these problems, which will allow the country a healthier, more stable, more inclusive political future than that of the past 500 years.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, speaking as chairman of the All-Party Group on Bolivia, I welcome the report of the initiative by the EU ambassadors. Does my noble friend agree that the international investment community has no future in Bolivia if it gives any tacit encouragement to what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to as Balkanisation? To put it the other way round, the territorial integrity of Bolivia is very important. Does he agree that this Parliament keeps, and wishes to

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continue to keep, very closely in touch with all our parliamentary friends in Bolivia, with whom we have a friendship group?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. I do not think that any of the foreign investors in Bolivia, British or otherwise, need to be reminded of the danger of involving themselves in the politics of that country. Foreign investments, both in the mining sector and in the water privatisation area, have been critical factors in the recent political confrontations in that country. It is incumbent on all investors to stay out of politics at this time.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, in the light of the Foreign Office advice to visitors to Bolivia, can the Minister give us any information about advice given to British citizens resident in and living in Bolivia?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the ambassador has written to all registered British citizens, warning them of the changes to the travel advice, but reassuring them that at this stage there is no evidence of any immediate emergency, deterioration or immediate threat to their safety.


11.34 am

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, we shall have a Statement repeated later today on the climate change negotiations in Bali, which we shall take after completion of the Second Reading of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill. The Statement will be delivered, I hope, by my noble friend Lord Rooker, who is characteristically rushing back from a ministerial meeting to fulfil his commitment to this House. I hope that he gets back, particularly because I am not sure who will do it if he does not.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Darzi of Denham on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 5

Schedule 1Clauses 6 to 11Schedule 2Clauses 12 and 13Schedule 3Clause 14Schedule 4Clauses 15 to 28 Schedule 5Clauses 29 to 56 Schedule 6 Clauses 57 to 65

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Schedule 7 Clause 66 Schedule 8 Clauses 67 to 69.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill

11.35 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill implements important reforms to the way in which child maintenance is organised in this country. It breaks the link between child maintenance and the benefit system. It gives parents the power to manage child maintenance in the way that is best for them and their children. It ensures that those non-resident parents who try to avoid their responsibilities to their children can no longer do so. Above all, at the heart of this Bill lies a commitment to tackle child poverty.

The measures contained in this Bill, together with the increased disregard of £20 by the end of 2008 and £40 from April 2010, announced in another place in the Chancellor’s Pre-Budget Report, will lift 100,000 children out of poverty. And the Bill is concerned not only with children. Its “Other Payments” section makes provision for sufferers from mesothelioma, a virulent and almost invariably fatal disease caused by exposure to asbestos. Under the provisions in this Bill, anyone suffering from mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos in the UK, or their dependants, will be eligible for a lump sum payment from the state if they have not previously received compensation.

The system of child maintenance in this country has been a source of great anxiety to parents for many years. Around 2.5 million parents with care in this country could potentially receive child maintenance from a non-resident parent. However, only about 40 per cent of these parents are actually paying. This leaves a huge number of children without any maintenance, often suffering unnecessary poverty as a result.

The Child Support Agency has failed to provide an acceptable level of service to many families. This is certainly not the fault of its staff who have worked valiantly, often in very difficult circumstances, to help children. However, parents have often been left confused, frustrated and angry, while children have been disadvantaged.

The Bill makes reforms which will ensure that many more children benefit from maintenance. It will support parents to make maintenance arrangements that are right for them personally, while bearing down on those who do not comply with their responsibilities. Child maintenance can make a substantial contribution to combating child poverty; by supporting parental choice while offering the security of an improved statutory service, we can ensure that many more children receive the money

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that is due to them. As my honourable friends in another place have emphasised, a relationship may end, but responsibility to one’s children does not. It is not right that a child lives in poverty because a parent fails to provide adequate support.

Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill establish a new non-departmental public body, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, to take responsibility for the entire child maintenance system. As a non-departmental public body, at arm’s length from government, the commission will have greater autonomy to implement the measures in this Bill and to develop detailed policy. It will be able to define a strategy for delivery through partners and contractors, allowing it to harness the very best of private, public and voluntary-sector expertise to deliver the very best services to parents and children. The chair designate, Janet Pareskeva, is already shaping the new organisation, and we expect to announce a commissioner designate in the new year.

The commission will be fully accountable to Parliament and will be bound by its statutory objectives, as set out in Clause 2. The overarching objective for the commission is to maximise the number of effective maintenance arrangements that are in place, whether voluntary or statutory. This is supported by two subsidiary objectives. The first requires the commission to encourage and support voluntary arrangements when these are “appropriate” for the parents in question. Where they are not appropriate, the second objective requires the commission to support applications to the statutory maintenance service, thus avoiding the risk of anyone slipping through the net.

With the encouragement of voluntary arrangements, the commission is given responsibility for a long-term change in parental behaviour, tackling the root causes of child poverty while strengthening parental responsibility. This is of course backed up by the requirement to support both voluntary and statutory arrangements, whichever is the most effective and appropriate for the parents concerned. The requirement is for the arrangement to be effective.

The creation of a new commission will mark a clean break with the past. The Child Support Agency has been dogged by serious problems since its inception. As I have said, these are not due to the agency’s staff. They have not had the right tools for the job, have faced over-complex policy and processes, and have often done a very good job in very difficult circumstances. However, all noble Lords will be aware that the agency has never worked as effectively as had been intended, and it will always suffer from the legacy of the past. In these circumstances, a fresh start under a new administrative organisation is the only viable option.

As my honourable friend James Plaskitt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, announced at Third Reading in another place, we intend to bring forward amendments to give this body Crown status. This will allow the Child Support Agency’s staff to remain civil servants when they transfer to the commission. The staff are essential to the success of the reforms that we are making. As their status as civil servants is something which matters deeply to many

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of them, these amendments will ensure that they can look forward to, rather than worry about, the launch of the commission. After a three-year period, we will review the position.

We know that some parents feel frustrated by the fact that they are forced to use the Child Support Agency if the parent with care claims benefits. The Bill breaks the link between the benefit system and child maintenance, equalising choice between those on and off benefit and allowing all parents to make the best decisions about the maintenance arrangements for their children. However, the opportunities that can arise from the removal of compulsion will be realised in practice only if we also ensure that low-income families who separate get help to navigate the system. Such help also needs to be available in a manner that makes it accessible to all who need it.

The Bill establishes a new Information and Support Service, which is expected to be available through three main channels. A large-scale national contact centre will be backed up by a face-to-face service and web-based support. The service will identify and draw in low-income families, give them impartial information about the options that they have to secure maintenance, help them to act on their decisions and provide general information on wider separation issues. Therefore, the Bill moves us on from a system of compulsion and no choice to one which will ensure that parents are offered the help to make real choices. To be clear, this system will be all about securing maintenance for children, but of course we need to keep our broader aspirations in focus.

Separation is a difficult time, and we must plan for a joined-up approach across government, which includes but goes beyond the financial consequences and arrangements. For example, last week’s Children’s Plan made clear the DCSF’s intention to launch work on how better to support parents and their children during and after family breakdown. We are already working closely with the DCSF and will be fully engaged in this specific endeavour.

Those parents who choose to, or need to, make a statutory arrangement want to deal with a simple but effective system for assessing, collecting and, if necessary enforcing child maintenance. Part 3 of the Bill, therefore, makes significant reforms to the statutory service itself. It simplifies the assessment process, and provides new, stronger collection and enforcement powers. That will make the system easier for the many fully compliant non-resident parents, who recognise their responsibilities to their children, while allowing the commission to deal effectively with those who refuse to pay.

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