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7 July 2009 : Column GC194

But this is what happens now when a man is allowed to register independently of a woman. Obviously his whereabouts will be known because they have got his address. If a registrar says to a woman-I do not know whether he gives her any guidance about how she should answer the question but he does not say, "Think carefully about this before you answer"-"Can you confirm that John Smith is the father of your child?", the woman would have to say, "Yes, but I do not know where he lives". The registrar could then say, "Well, we do, because he has just walked in. He is now down and he has now got parental responsibility". There is no safeguard in that situation. Our advisers say that that is an example of the state colluding with the loophole that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, acknowledges as existing in the Bill, whether we like it or not.

The Minister said that the department is not convinced by the cases it has seen; in other words, it does not believe that this is a serious problem. But, of course, this is new territory; it has not been tried yet and there may be real problems. We will be looking for more safeguards because, at the moment, the groups believe that vulnerable women will be put at considerable risk if this part of the Bill goes ahead unamended.

Obviously, I cannot do anything other than withdraw the amendment. It is a nice phrase when we are urged to withdraw our amendments, but if we said that we would not do so, what would happen? The answer to this problem is to see whether the groups can refer the Minister and the department to more cases-I would have thought that they would have more-that might persuade her that there is still a real problem here. We shall return to this matter on Report but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 178A withdrawn.

Amendments 178AA to 178BB not moved.

Amendment 178BC

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

178BC: Schedule 6, page 96, line 27, leave out ""12" and insert ""6"

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My penultimate group of amendments represents a straightforward probe. Schedule 6 makes certain amendments to the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 with regard to the time available to register a birth. The original Act specified that registration ought to be completed within three months of the birth. The Bill changes that to 12 months. That is rather a large increase in the amount of time. What is the basis for the change? Evidently, the department has become aware of a problem with the three-month period that has necessitated this extension. Will the Minister tell us what that problem is?

Baroness Crawley: I hope that I can explain clearly what the problem is. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for tabling these amendments, which may reflect a concern that the time limits for birth registration are

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being extended by the Government, replacing references to three months with references to 12 months, as the noble Lord has said, in some of the requirements for birth registration. I recognise those concerns, but I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord that the changes he has highlighted are in fact technical amendments that are consequential on the removal of a superintendent registrar's involvement in registrations made between three and 12 months after a birth. It is not the Government's intention to introduce provisions that might allow registration to be deliberately delayed by a parent who might wish to avoid the father being recorded on the birth register.

It remains a parent's duty to register a birth within 42 days, as set out in Sections 2 and 2A of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953. The penalties for a parent who fails to give information as required by the Act are included in Section 36. The requirement for a superintendent registrar-that is, a senior registrar-as well as a registrar to take part in registrations made between three months and 12 months after a birth has been removed by Schedule 6 to the Bill because it is a remnant of Victorian legislation. Other references to three months have been amended where appropriate as a consequence, and now reflect the 12-month time limit within which a registrar can act alone without further authority.

Legislation for the registration of births and deaths has not changed substantially since Victorian times. Conditions have changed since provisions were drafted requiring a superintendent registrar to take part in the registration of a child who had been born more than three months earlier to prevent fraud. In the 19th century, midwives did not notify registrars of the births that they attended and registrars received a fee for each birth that they registered, with an extra two shillings and sixpence for births registered after more than three months. It was important, therefore, for our predecessors to provide some safeguard against the temptation for a registrar to create a birth registration where there was no child or to delay registration to obtain the extra fee.

These days, of course, there is a statutory two-way flow of information about births between the health service and the registration service so that births registered are matched with a health notification, and registrars' salaries do not depend on the number of births they register. The requirement to involve a superintendent registrar is an inefficient use of resources at the register office and can cause delays and inconvenience for parents. The superintendent registrar's role is no longer needed as a protection against fraud, so we have taken the opportunity to remove it.

The role of the Registrar General in authorising any registrations made more than 12 months after a birth remains as a protection against a birth being registered in circumstances where it should not happen. The Registrar General is able to call for independent evidence of the facts surrounding a birth that took place some time ago, before authorising registration of the birth and the issuing of a birth certificate.

I hope that that has made this part of the Bill clearer, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the Minister for that response. I have been trying to follow what she has been saying about this now quite antique document, which is over 50 years old. Having heard at various stages about two and sixpence and a penalty of seven and sixpence, I would like to study what she has said and try to tie it up with what I am reading here. I understand the general principle of what she is saying, and she has responded to the detail of the probe, but it is quite complex to seek to match a piece of modern legislation to older legislation like this, and the match is not perfect. We will study what the Minister has said and we may return to this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 178BC withdrawn.

Amendments 178BD to 178D not moved.

Amendment 178E

Moved by Lord Skelmersdale

178E: Schedule 6, page 101, line 17, leave out "2B(4)" and insert "2B(1), (4)"

Lord Skelmersdale: Back to me, I am afraid. My noble friend and I tabled this amendment as a response to your Lordships' Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. New Section 2A of the 1953 Act, inserted by paragraph 4 of Schedule 6, requires the mother of a child who was not married to the child's father at the time of its birth to provide the registrar with information required by new Section 2B(1). That provision in turn confers power on the Registrar General to prescribe the relevant information in regulations, which may include information not included to be entered on the register.

The committee considered that that power was a substantive one rather than purely procedural, and that it was closer in character to those conferred by subsections (4) and (6) of new Section 2B, which is to be exercised by negative regulations, than to those conferred by subsections (2) and (3) to be made under the Bill by the Registrar General and subject to no parliamentary procedure. Accordingly, the committee made its recommendation that the Bill should be amended to include Section 2B(1) in new Section 39A(5) inserted by paragraph 17 of the Schedule, so that regulations under new Section 2B(1) are made by the Minister and are subject to the negative procedure. I will not revert to the argument about "Minister" and "Secretary of State" at this point, but doubtless we will come back to it in the near future.

I hope that should any members of the DPRC have read this amendment, they would consider it to be an adequate response to their recommendation. I recommend it to the Minister and the Grand Committee and I beg to move.

4.45 pm

Baroness Crawley: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his amendment, which seeks to provide that the prescribed information about the father, which

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a mother acting alone will be required to give under new Section 2B(1), is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. As the noble Lord has said, this amendment reflects one of the recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. On 25 June, we announced to this Committee that we would be accepting the recommendations made by the DPRRC. Following this announcement, a letter was sent to noble Lords detailing each of the recommendations made, and we will table these amendments on Report. I therefore hope that the noble Lord is content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: I think that that gives me half marks probably; that is, for tabling an amendment in the first place, but not for getting the wording right. It would be unfair-I have been unfair enough to the noble Baroness today-to ask her what is wrong with the way in which I have phrased this amendment, so I will not do it. Needless to say I am very pleased, as your Lordships' Delegated Powers Committee will be, that the noble Baroness has accepted this amendment in principle.

I note of course that the Government is wont to accept the committee's points even when, as I have pointed out twice now, in my view it is wrong. I refer to the statutory instrument abolishing income support and whether this is to be negative, as it is in the Bill, or affirmative, as the committee recommended. Quite clearly, from what we have heard on previous days, this is now to be affirmative. However, does this bode well for the report of your Lordships' Committee on the Constitution, so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, which we discussed on Thursday? We will have to await the government amendments on Report, or perhaps discussions over the summer, to find out. In the mean time, I am delighted by the noble Baroness's response and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 178E withdrawn.

Schedule 6 agreed.

Clauses 47 and 48 agreed.

Schedule 7 : Repeals and revocations

Amendments 179 to 187

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

179: Schedule 7, page 106, leave out lines 36 to 42

180: Schedule 7, page 108, line 36, column 2, leave out "and" and insert-

"(aa) in paragraph (af) of the definition of "the relevant enactments", the words ", sections 62 to 65","

181: Schedule 7, page 108, line 39, column 2, at end insert-

"(c) in paragraph (af) of the definition of "the relevant Northern Ireland enactments", the words "62 to 65,"."

182: Schedule 7, page 109, line 15, column 2, at end insert-

"In Schedule 3, paragraph 3(e)."

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183: Schedule 7, page 109, line 23, at end insert-

"Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 (c. 19)

Sections 62 to 66.

Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43)

In Schedule 7, paragraphs 205 to 207."

184: Schedule 7, page 109, line 32, column 2, at end insert-

"In section 8(2)(b), sub-paragraph (ii) and the word "or" before it.

Section 12(1)."

185: Schedule 7, page 109, line 37, at end insert-

"Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44

In Schedule 32, paragraphs 130 to 132."

186: Schedule 7, page 109, line 40, column 2, after "12(2)" insert ", 20"

187: Schedule 7, page 109, line 40, at end insert-

"Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (c. 4)

In Schedule 4, paragraphs 65 to 67."

Amendments 179 to 187 agreed.

Schedule 7 agreed.

Clauses 49 to 51 agreed.

Amendment 188

Moved by Lord Northbourne

188: After Clause 51, insert the following new Clause-

"Independent review of the implementation of this Act

(1) Within three years of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State shall establish an independent review of-

(a) the implementation of this Act,

(b) the findings of the pilot schemes established under this Act,

(c) any negative outcomes for families, children and other dependents resulting from the implementation of this Act.

(2) The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament setting out the findings of the independent review."

Lord Northbourne: I shall not keep the Committee for long. I think that all of the Committee is agreed on the basic principles of the Bill and would like to see them succeed. However, in Grand Committee, I think that the feeling has increasingly grown that the success or failure of the Bill ultimately will be in its delivery. It will be in matters such as whether there will be enough committed funding; whether there will be enough quality staff available; whether they will be well enough trained; whether they will have the interpersonal skills to manage the delicate balance between being the friend and advocate of the client at the same time as being the policeman; and whether the leadership will be good enough. Finally, will there be support from experts in disability and mental health, and for the needs of children, which we discussed under my earlier amendments? The noble Lord has written to me about this but I am afraid that I have not had time to look at his letter in detail.

It will not be easy for decision-makers to be tough enough with the skivers while being sufficiently understanding towards those with real problems. That will be especially true if the Government set jobcentres

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targets for the number of people whom they can get back into work. A great deal will also depend on the regulations that the Secretary of State makes, of which we have not so far seen one single example.

I understand that the Bill is about a project that is still developing, and I can quite see that the Government want to keep as much freedom of manoeuvre as possible for it, but that does not alter the fact that we as parliamentarians are being asked to authorise the Government to make major changes in the law which will crucially affect the lives of many citizens, and we are being asked to do so without any clear idea of what regulations the Secretary of State will make. I suggest that it is no more than natural justice and reasonable that Parliament should be kept honestly and fully informed about the way in which the project is developing and given a genuine assessment of its successes and failures.

Since I set down the amendment, I have noticed that Section 9 of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 requires the commission to report to the Secretary of State annually. In the case of this Bill, the Secretary of State should also report to Parliament. Perhaps an annual report might be a better solution than the single report in year 3 that I have suggested in my amendment-I would be perfectly happy with either. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on his amendment. He has put his finger on many of the trouble spots in the Bill. Much of the Bill is about pilots, most of the detail of which is in regulations that are yet to be published. Yet more detail will be in guidance to Jobcentre Plus advisers and decision-makers along with the contracted-out bodies. It is a fragile superstructure, to say the least. Anxiety is already felt that we are not getting enough evidence-based policy-making from the department, with quite a few recent DWP regulations not even having a financial impact assessment.

As the noble Lord said, the Bill is about how the state deals with people at the most basic level, with much of its client base being the more vulnerable members of society such as lone mothers and those with quite severe medical conditions. We should make sure in three years' time that lessons have been learnt from the pilots-and from other parts of the Bill that have not been piloted. In the document, Post-legislative Scrutiny-The Government's Approach, there seem to be many versions of how departments can do that. We need to know what approach the Government are going to adopt.

As this is the last of my amendments in Grand Committee, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for their careful consideration of all amendments and particularly the Bill team behind them, which has been so helpful. I look forward to the next stage of the Bill and to further concessions from the Government to meet our points. In the mean time, I support the spirit of the amendment.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: This is an important amendment and I support it. The Bill is about the long term. The importance of this policy cannot be exaggerated

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easily. We have to make sure that it works over a 20-year timescale. The next three years will be very turbulent, particularly in relation to unemployment levels and as the economy trades itself out of the credit crunch. My first point is by way of qualification. A three-year period might give flawed results because of the difficulties we are experiencing in the short term, but having said that, I would like the ministerial team to think about how Members of the Committee can be given some reassurance about certain outstanding elements that have already been mentioned during the remaining stages.

I have a couple of extra worries, the first of which is sanctions and the way in which the new provisions in this Bill will change the disposition, impact and incidence of sanctions. This will be crucial over the next three to five years because if we get it badly wrong, a lot of people will be hurt. We are absolutely entitled to seek reassurance that this will be kept under continuous review, or if not that, an independent review after a three or five-year period. I am more encouraged by how the department is responding to the Flexible New Deal contracts and how we are beginning to build up a level of expertise in the department that was previously absent. These large-scale contracts are going to be so important to delivering this vital public policy area. However, a review over three or five years of how the department is able efficiently and sensibly to oversee these massive contracts is something that this Committee and indeed Parliament have a vested interest in. These areas must be carefully evaluated, monitored and reported.

Finally, Clause 7 still irks me. The abolition of income support is part of a much wider and different argument altogether. It cannot begin until we have an idea of what the Government are going to do with their policy on providing carers with financial support over the longer term. I look forward to the Green Paper we are due to get later in the summer. At that stage, it may be possible to look, over a three or five-year period, at what will happen after the abolition of income support. As it stands, Clause 7 sticks out like a sore thumb as something that just should not be in the Bill. The way in which particular provision rolls out over the next three to five years is important.

The driving force behind the amendment is very important. Post-legislative scrutiny is essential to make sure that the Bill works properly. Although I could quibble with some of the detail of what is in it and what is not for the reasons I have explained, I am pleased to support the amendment. I hope that the Government team will give it serious consideration.

Baroness Meacher: I want to speak briefly in support of the amendment. As the Minister and others are aware, I am very worried about the potential impact of the Bill on the most vulnerable, particularly those with cognitive and mental health problems. In fact, so concerned am I that I still hope very much that we can make more progress during the next stage of the Bill, because if we do not, I will be concerned about a review being established in three years' time to report after that. One has to think about the potential detriment of these sanctions to very vulnerable people over that

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period. It is deeply worrying. However, to include a review in the Bill would be reassuring.

Before I sit down, I should like to thank the Minister, the noble Baroness and the Bill team for their very constructive responses to all our debates. I applaud the amendment and I should like to support it.

5 pm

Lord Skelmersdale: The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has delivered a trenchant argument to support his amendment, which would create an automatic review of the Bill once it had passed and become an Act of Parliament.

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