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House of Lords Hansard

Social Security (Restrictions on Amounts for Children and Qualifying Young Persons) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

06 December 2017
Volume 787

    Motion to Regret

    Moved by

  • That this House regrets that Her Majesty’s Government has introduced the Social Security (Restrictions on Amounts for Children and Qualifying Young Persons) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 without proper consideration of the impact of the disclosure requirements in section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, and the effect this policy will have on women in Northern Ireland who are in a position to disclose personal information and third parties who may facilitate a disclosure; and notes, with concern, that the regulations have been introduced at a time when a serving Northern Ireland Executive has not been established (SR 2017/79). 1st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

  • My Lords, I am moving this Motion to express the loyal Opposition’s regret that the Government have pushed through an ill-thought-through and detrimental policy without proper consideration of the specific context of law in Northern Ireland or of the women and professionals who will be affected by this policy.

    The regulations provide for exemptions to be introduced in Northern Ireland to the Government’s two-child limit on the child element of universal credit—previously child tax credits. These exemptions match those introduced across the UK and include an exemption for “non-consensual conception”—that is, where a woman has conceived a third child as a result of rape. The Government’s policy provides for women who are entitled to access this exemption to make a disclosure to an appropriate third-party professional, including, for example, midwives, social workers and designated third sector professionals.

    The Labour Party has put on record its opposition to the two-child limit being introduced across the UK, expressing concern about its consequences. However, there are, as the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has reported, additional concerns regarding the legal situation in Northern Ireland. Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 provides a legal duty on an individual who knows or believes a serious crime has been committed to report it to the police. To withhold information regarding a serious crime is in itself an offence. In the case of a disclosure by a woman to an assessor regarding the exemption for rape, this duty under Section 5 will apply to both the victim, who is disclosing a crime, and the professional to whom the disclosure is made.

    The Government’s response to those who have raised this issue has so far, regretfully, been unclear and unsatisfactory. The Government have advised that a woman will not be expected to name the person who committed the offence and that professional assessors will not be expected to seek any further evidence following the disclosure. However, the form that must be completed to allow the exemption will explicitly include a warning regarding the Section 5 duty.

    In a letter to my honourable friend Owen Smith, the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Minister for Employment explained that details of the Section 5 duty are included on the form to ensure that,

    “both the claimant and the third party professional are clear on the legal position before a claimant choses to disclose”.

    Can the Minister explain this legal position to the House? Does a Section 5 duty apply to a disclosure made under the non-consensual conception exemption in this order? If a victim discloses a rape but not the name of the perpetrator, does that in legal terms have any impact on whether the duty applies?

    It is well known that the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Barra McGrory QC, has given a clear answer in respect of criminal law in Northern Ireland. In a letter in response to my honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr McGrory wrote that it is,

    “a potential offence to withhold information regarding an act of rape. The legislation does not distinguish between a victim and third parties to whom a disclosure is made; each is potentially liable for prosecution”.

    I am sure the Minister will refer to the fact, also referred to in the letter from Mr McGrory, that no prosecution has ever been brought against a victim of rape who has delayed making a report. This is an appropriate fact for the DPP to bring to our attention as background to this issue. It is not, however, a satisfactory defence for the Government to use for the situation they have created.

    The result of this policy operating in Northern Ireland is that victims risk being criminalised, and professionals are put in a position of choosing purposefully to ignore the law in order to carry out their duties. We have not had a situation before in which victims are required to disclose a rape in order to claim social security. Victims and professionals are being asked to make decisions based on faith that although they are liable to be prosecuted for committing an offence, it is unlikely to happen. This is not a sound legal position for the Government to adopt.

    The Director of Public Prosecutions has said explicitly that a guarantee cannot be given that prosecutions will not be brought because a criminal offence does exist. Serious concerns over the impact of this policy on victims and professionals in Northern Ireland have been raised by Women’s Aid, the Royal College of Midwives, the Northern Irish Association of Social Workers and many more organisations.

    We regret that the Government failed to include proper and detailed consideration of Northern Ireland and the specific context of Northern Ireland criminal law in their policy design and implementation. We ask that they now act to respond with legal clarity on this issue. If they intend to go ahead with this policy in Northern Ireland, the Government must provide a guarantee that victims and assessors will not be prosecuted.

    I must follow this with a further regret before I close. It was agreed in the fresh start agreement that the UK Government would legislate for key welfare reforms. It was also, however, part of the agreement that it was for the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward payments, as they felt appropriate, to mitigate the effects of welfare provisions on communities in Northern Ireland, as was done for the bedroom tax.

    The Government have chosen to implement this policy in Northern Ireland at a time when a sitting Northern Ireland Assembly and power-sharing Executive are not in place. The Minister will be aware that all of the political parties in Northern Ireland have explicitly expressed their opposition to the two-child limit—and the non-consensual conception exemption that is a result of it—and the impact it will have on their constituents. It is deeply regrettable that the Government would seek to implement a policy that is inappropriate for Northern Ireland, at a time when Northern Ireland is not able to scrutinise and mitigate its effects.

    Your Lordships’ House is aware that the Opposition believe there are a great many reasons why the Government should do the responsible thing and pause and fix the rollout of universal credit. Serious consideration should be given to pausing the rollout in Northern Ireland until there is basic clarity on the legal impact of these proposals and a functioning devolved Executive is in place to consider the impact of this policy for women and organisations in Northern Ireland.

    It is the Opposition’s view that the Government owe the people of Northern Ireland clarity. We still have not heard why this was not taken into account. If it is shoddy government, the responsibility lies with the Government and they should try to do something about it. I beg to move.

  • My Lords, it is a tragedy that the voice of the people of Northern Ireland is presently not being heard on this issue. While it is very good of the noble Lord to have raised this issue in this House—and I respect everything that he has said—because of the self-imposed suspension of the Assembly and thus the Executive, it has not been examined by the people who should be examining it. We can have cross-party agreement on that, I hope. The absence of an Assembly at the moment is a big risk for the people of Northern Ireland on everything from this order to Brexit and back. The better and quicker they come back to the Assembly the better.

    That said, I am a believer in the parity principle in the application of legislation in the United Kingdom, for Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Of course, the parity principle in considering this order is a good starting point. For example, Northern Irish voters pay the same rates of income tax and national insurance contributions as people across the rest of the United Kingdom. This parity principle was maintained by the November 2015 fresh start agreement that was agreed by all political parties.

    This instrument exactly mirrors the mainland regulations. The principles are the same. The issue that arises—the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, has pointed the attention of the House to this—is the interaction with Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. This is not one of the problems with having devolved legislation; this stuff is bound to happen when you have devolved legislation. Her Majesty’s Government really have no role at all in determining whether the 1967 Act should be used here or there, or is appropriate under this or that circumstance. That is for Northern Irish law as passed.

    While I appreciate the noble Lord’s genuine concern, it is important to remind your Lordships that there has been no use of the Section 5 powers for the whole half century since they were first enacted. They have laid dormant on the statute book. Under present circumstances, no official of Her Majesty’s Government could cross-question or have any link at all with any claimant, and nor indeed could any member of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. As a quick aside, I hope all of us can agree that we should be very grateful to the Northern Ireland Civil Service for doing what it can in a thoroughly bipartisan way to keep stuff rolling on under the present difficult circumstances.

    Having examined the issue in front of us, although I am not a lawyer, it seems that there is protection for claimants inherently under this provision, including for their confidential data, as the only role of third-party professionals involved is to attest by certification—as I have seen—that a claimant has made a proper declaration consistent with the criteria for claiming the non-consensual exception for their child—or children if a multiple birth has occurred, which is always possible. So I fully support the statement of the Government so far on this issue. I believe in the parity principle and I support the Minister.

  • My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for bringing this regret Motion before your Lordships’ House this evening, and I echo many of the points that he raised. On these Benches, we deeply regret that the Government brought forward these caps on child tax credits. We do, however, acknowledge the establishment of certain exemptions to the cap for those who do not have the same control as others in choosing the number of children in their family—for example, in the specific circumstances of multiple births, adoption and following rape.

    The Liberal Democrats would abolish the two-child limit because we believe that there is no way to enforce a two-child policy without something like a “rape clause”, which can be both degrading and humiliating for the women concerned, and because we believe that the policy can lead to an increase in child poverty, as families are punished for their decisions, which are often outside of their control. As the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, has already said, there are several very specific circumstances surrounding current legislation in Northern Ireland that make the situation there even more unacceptable, and at times personally tragic, for many women and families.

    The combination of the existing abortion laws in Northern Ireland, which mean that abortion is in effect illegal in the majority of cases, and Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, which requires a person who becomes aware of a crime to disclose it to the police, both have a direct impact on the women concerned as well as the healthcare professionals and legal professionals who try to assist them. This is particularly relevant to these regulations due to their provisions regarding rape. Not only is abortion outlawed in Northern Ireland, including in the case of rape, but impartial advice on the subject for the victim following a rape is significantly restricted.

    Women in Northern Ireland who have been raped will have access to neither abortion advice nor services. If they have a child as a result of rape, they will then have to face reliving their experience in order to access benefits for the child. Furthermore, it is still to be seen whether healthcare professionals will receive the necessary training or support when assessing victims of rape for universal credit. My colleagues in the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland have spoken to the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Nursing, the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Midwives. None of those organisations has reported receiving training or support. Does the Minister agree that this is a situation which needs to be urgently rectified?

    One of the most significant failings in these regulations, as the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, has already said, is the lack of thought given by the Government to the impact of how the separate Northern Ireland legislation under Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 would impact on victims of rape. As a result of this legislation, both the rape victim disclosing information to gain universal credit for their child, and the person they are disclosing this information to, could be open to prosecution for not reporting the crime to the police. Surely that is a totally unacceptable situation in the 21st century. The Liberal Democrats voted against the two-child limit which has caused the need for this degrading process for the victims of rape, and we continue to believe strongly that this policy should be reversed.

  • My Lords, in a recent blog to mark the 50th anniversary of the Social Policy Association—I declare an interest as its honorary president—the internationally respected Professor Emeritus of Social Policy, Jonathan Bradshaw, asked:

    “What is the worst social security policy ever?”.

    The answer was the two-child policy. He described it as discriminatory and morally odious and noted that the exceptions would be “unpleasant to operate”. It is these exceptions that the regulations enact, but they cannot be understood or debated separately from the policy they mitigate, as the noble Baroness has explained, because they do so at potentially considerable human cost, particularly in Northern Ireland.

    Analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group—again, I declare an interest as honorary president—and the Institute for Public Policy Research indicates that once universal credit is fully rolled out, the policy will result in an additional 200,000 children and 100,000 adults in poverty. It will also mean many larger families who are already in poverty—and remember that larger families are already at greater risk of poverty—will be pushed further below the poverty line, leading to greater hardship and deprivation.

    Like the benefit cap, the two-child limit breaks the link between children’s needs and the support that Parliament has deemed necessary to meet those needs. Third and subsequent children are deemed less worthy of that support on totally spurious grounds. A number of organisations have argued that the policy and hence regulations contravene our international human rights obligations by in effect restricting women’s reproductive rights and discriminating against those with a faith-based objection to contraception or abortion, which is especially likely in Northern Ireland.

    Will the Minister explain how the policy gives primary consideration to the best interests of those children with the misfortune of being born after two siblings? The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has already expressed concern and I am pleased to say that the CPAG has been given leave to seek a judicial review of the limit on human rights grounds.

    As human rights arguments do not appear to concern the Government, perhaps the likely unintended consequences will do so—that it could lead to families splitting up or lone parents being reluctant to repartner with someone who already has a child.

    We are still awaiting a proper family impact statement of the policy. Earlier this year the Prime Minister answered a question on what has come to be known as the “rape clause” by invoking the “principle of fairness”, which she asserted underpinned the two-child limit because,

    “people who are on benefits should have to decide whether they can afford more children, just as people in work have to make such a decision”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/17; col. 1107.]

    Leaving aside the erroneous assumption that these are two distinct groups and the fact that the majority of those affected will be parents in paid work because of the interaction with the benefit cap, where is the fairness in a policy that penalises families retrospectively for a decision to have another child which may have been made in more propitious economic circumstances? At least the full impact of its retrospective application will not be felt until after January 2019, when new claims from larger families will no longer be routed back to tax credits.

    Where is the fairness in regulations which say that adoptive parents or kinship carers are exempt if they adopt or take on a third or subsequent child but are not exempt if they want to have a child of their own and this takes them over the limit because of the presence of an adopted or looked-after child? This was one of the issues raised by the Secondary Legislation Committee. Where is the fairness in a policy that faces a woman who is, say, pregnant because of contraception failure, with the choice between deeper poverty and an abortion; or which condemns her to greater poverty because she was unable to get an abortion due to the lack of specialist doctors—a problem highlighted recently by the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists? While the extension to Northern Irish women of the right to an NHS-funded abortion in England is welcome, exercising that right will not necessarily be easy, especially for women with limited resources or who want to keep their abortion secret for whatever reason, and we should remember that many live in small and/or rural communities. That is one reason why this policy and these regulations are particularly unfair and pernicious in a Northern Irish context.

    The noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to the parity principle, but surely parity does not mean that local circumstances cannot be taken into account. In its report on the earlier regulations, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee warned:

    “The practicalities of applying these requirements in Northern Ireland will need to be fully thought through before the equivalent regulations are brought forward”.

    That is some hope. Instead, as the committee notes in its latest report, they,

    “exactly mirror the mainland Regulations, with the exception of the start date”.

    The committee concedes that the Explanatory Memorandum “nods to the concerns” it had expressed, but observes that it is not “entirely clear”. What is clear is that the further clarification provided by the Government has not allayed concerns.

    Those concerns have been clearly articulated by the Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland; I am grateful to Louise Kennedy for her briefing. They relate to the notorious “rape clause” exemption that we have already heard about, which now also includes a conception in the context of a controlling or coercive relationship—a rare and welcome example of the Government taking the overwhelmingly critical responses to the consultation exercise on board. However, I am advised that there is no coercive control law in Northern Ireland, nor sufficient public or professional understanding of the concept for it to provide an effective exemption there.

    As the regret Motion states, and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee drew attention to, there is deep concern in Northern Ireland, as we have heard, about the interaction between the legislation and the criminal law, which could lead to the criminalisation of a woman who has been raped, or a third party assessor where the rape is not reported to the police. Many women do not want to engage with the criminal justice system and should not be put in the position of having to make such an invidious choice. Likewise, it raises serious ethical questions for social workers and voluntary organisations accredited as third party assessors. I believe that some are refusing to carry out such assessments, or at the very least are supporting any individual member who refuses to do so on ethical grounds.

    I am aware that the Government have given assurances that no one has ever been prosecuted for not reporting a rape, and that the rape clause assessment is effectively a tick-box exercise that does not require probative questioning. Yet, as my noble friend said, Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions has confirmed that both victims and third parties are potentially liable to prosecution. If it is just a tick-box exercise, why can the woman not simply tick the box herself without being interviewed by a third party assessor?

    The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee warns that the potential threat of police involvement,

    “must make it likely that some women will not claim the benefit”,

    to avoid that risk. It states:

    “As a result they will lose the additional funds to which they would otherwise be entitled and the policy will therefore not operate as intended”.

    Other concerns raised by Northern Ireland Women’s Aid apply more widely. It argues that forcing rape victims to disclose their ordeal before they are ready can retraumatise them and exacerbate mental health issues arising from sexual assault. They state that it is,

    “contrary to all good practice relating to victims of sexual abuse and is clinically unsafe”.

    The BMA has condemned the policy as “fundamentally damaging to women”.

    Women’s Aid also questions the requirement that the woman is no longer living with her rapist. They point out that much sexual violence and rape occurs within the context of domestic violence and is more difficult to disclose, and that leaving such a relationship is a time of particular danger. A similar concern was raised in submissions to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which underlined that it shared this concern. The Explanatory Memorandum acknowledges that,

    “not all victims will feel able to leave the perpetrator”,

    but justifies the policy on the grounds that otherwise, the alleged perpetrator could benefit financially from the abuse because of joint payment of universal credit. Surely a split payment could be made to avoid this? It seems a flimsy argument, especially given the growing difficulty that women have in accessing refuges, which is likely to be exacerbated if the threatened change to the funding regime goes ahead.

    In conclusion, needless to say, I strongly support my noble friend’s regret Motion, but I regret even more the unfair and, to quote Professor Bradshaw once more, “morally odious” policy from which these regulations derive. The sooner this policy is ended, the better.

  • My Lords, I start by apologising to the House and to the noble Lord for my late arrival.

    The noble Lord, Lord Patten, is correct that Northern Ireland has followed a policy of parity for decades. That ceased a couple of years ago, when spare room subsidy legislation came in—colloquially known as the “bedroom tax”. Many of us in Northern Ireland were opposed to that because, for instance, by ensuring that landlords received money rather than money going to the individual, those individuals were less likely to be exploited by gangsters and money lenders and all sorts of people who would pounce on them as soon as the money came in. Moreover, because of the structure of the population, that would cause huge disruption.

    Breaking the parity principle is a serious matter because of the sums of money involved. Social security has been a devolved matter in Northern Ireland all along; it was devolved there even though it was not devolved in Scotland or the other regions. Over the decades, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said, we followed slavishly whatever regulations were delivered here, because the sums of money involved were so enormous that it was not feasible to do anything else. However, when these measures came out, the Assembly and the Executive decided that they would make things different, but they accepted the Treasury rules—that they would effectively have to take that money out of the block grant. Therefore, they decided to use money for social security, which had always been devolved, instead of implementing the national policy that was introduced here; they recognised that they would have to pay that out of the block grant. That was the proposal on the spare room subsidy and other related matters.

    We are having this debate tonight because of the impasse, because there is no Assembly in place to deal with the issue. All of these matters—abortion and so on—are exceptionally personal matters. I know that the process surrounding abortion was significantly reviewed about five years ago, and a lot of work went into that. Guidelines that were initially issued to professionals were withdrawn and had to be redone. Nevertheless, a lot of professionals still feel that the law is unclear and that they are vulnerable, as professionals. One understands that social security is not open-ended, with an infinite amount of money. I also know that we have seen Daily Mail examples of a relatively small number of individuals who have grossly abused the system. We must accept that.

    However, there are a number of issues that I want to raise. It has not been mentioned that, as far as I am aware, neither the Northern Ireland Office nor the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland—responsible for the Social Security Agency—has conducted a Section 75 equality screening process. All legislation in Northern Ireland must be screened and measured against its Section 75 obligations; that process has not occurred. Although I accept that and would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say, concerning Paragraph 7(20) of the Explanatory Memorandum, the Department for Communities nevertheless states that,

    “if the third party knows or believes that a relevant offence (such as rape) has been committed, the third party will normally have a duty to inform the police of any information that is likely to secure, or to be of material assistance in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of someone for that offence”.

    As it stands, the law clearly places the burden on assessors to report rape disclosures to the police, with or without the consent of the applicant. If anybody thinks that if they report a rape, it will be a totally private and confidential matter, that will not be the position because a number of professionals will feel that they are under an obligation. I accept that, so far, there is no case law and we have no examples, but we are looking at the potential, and that is significant.

    I suggest to the Minister that, sadly, we are in this position because of the impasse at Stormont and that these responsibilities should be taken by local representatives in Belfast. It is a shame and a disgrace that they are not there to do this job. Noble Lords may have seen the figures that were released last week on health. I think the noble Lord, Lord Patten, was responsible for a number of Northern Ireland issues over the years. There are 272,000 people on waiting lists and 78,000 of them have been waiting for more than a year to see a consultant. That figure has risen from 64,000 last year, and anybody who knows anything about health knows that if you are in that position, it is a life-threatening situation, yet the whole political apparatus is paralysed and is not paying any attention to these matters.

    The question that arises here is on abortion. The law allows abortion in limited cases, but the professionals do not consider the guidance they have to be adequate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, they have had no current training because there is nobody there to initiate it. They feel that the current law is unclear about where the lines are to be drawn. We can have an argument about the two-child cap, and I accept that it is a perfectly valid argument, but we are into the nitty-gritty of very specific cases here. Northern Ireland is a small place and I do not believe for one minute that women will have confidentiality guaranteed. I do not believe it, first, because of the relatively close-knit nature of the community and, secondly, because there is an unknown hanging over them: whether somebody somewhere will feel obliged to operate the law as they see it. In those circumstances, it would opening a Pandora’s box.

    These are decisions that should be taken in Stormont by the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. That is what they are there for, and that is what they are paid to do. I accept that the Minister is in a difficult position because he is obliged to govern, but since this proposal has come forward I have looked into it more closely and, although I am no expert in these matters, I have become progressively concerned. A revitalised Stormont could revise any of these matters because they are devolved, so far as I know, but there is very great concern. It spans all the parties, and they accept that if they do not like some of these social security measures, they are going to have to pay for them, but that is a choice to be made by the local community after consultation with local bodies and organisations, both professional and from the third sector. I hope the time arrives when they will be in a position to do their duty.

  • My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions this evening, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for bringing this Motion before the House. I will attempt to address each of the points that have been raised as best I can, but I will make a few general points to begin.

    As part of the fresh start agreement, the two main parties in Northern Ireland agreed that the UK Government would legislate for a number of welfare reforms. As my noble friend Lord Patten reminded us, the ambition was to restore parity with the rest of the United Kingdom. That was agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, and that is why we are here today. Social security is a devolved matter, so the implementation of universal credit is being led by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. It is important to stress that, as my noble friend Lord Patten said, the Northern Ireland Civil Service has had a great deal of challenge placed on its shoulders in the past few months. It is important to recognise the work it is doing in the absence of an Executive.

    I shall say a little bit about universal credit. I know it has been much discussed in this House and in the other place. At heart, it is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, would have invoked, an attempt to restore a sense of fairness between claimants and those who support themselves solely through work. It is recognised that there are consequences which must be taken into account as families are grown, and that applies to both groups. The other underlying principle is that all those who are entitled to support are able to secure it. It is important to stress that.

    The key issue that has come up today differentiates the discussion in Northern Ireland from the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, put his finger on it at the beginning of this debate. It concerns Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 and the requirement it imposes upon individuals in Northern Ireland to disclose information about any offences which they know or believe have been committed unless they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so. I want to say a few things that I hope noble Lords will understand. There has been much talk about the fact that over the past 50 years there have been no prosecutions of victims of rape. We cannot deal with this by precedent in Northern Ireland’s criminal law. I shall go further than that: I assure noble Lords that I will bring the remarks made in this debate to the attention of the Northern Ireland Civil Service in order that it may reflect upon the concerns raised. Given the prominence of this debate in recent months, I assure the House that I will bring these remarks to the attention of a restored Northern Ireland Executive, which I hope is not too far from returning.

    I think all noble Lords will agree that these are matters which are best addressed by the Northern Ireland Executive, and we are doing all we can to facilitate its restoration. There are a number of issues which are best addressed by those who are most affected by them. We will do all we can to bring that about. We are also preparing for every eventuality should that not be the case. I stress that just as I hope to draw these remarks to the attention of a restored Executive, should that Executive not be restored, I will be very cognisant of the remarks that were made this evening.

    I shall address some of the other points that have been raised as best I can. The two-child approach tries to ensure that those who are entitled to benefits are able to secure them. That is why we have not relied solely on the criminal justice system as a means of securing any sense of progress on any of these matters. That is why a means was sought to secure a method whereby those who have been the victims of particular crimes and have suffered as a consequence are able to find third parties to take that matter forward.

  • The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, referred to training, which is of course an aspect of this. I do not believe this can ever be described as a tick-box exercise, but at the same time the action should be simple and clear, and should involve no challenges whatever. That is why, again, I stress that the important thing here is that those third parties are not just able to provide the necessary involvement in so far as this must progress, but are by their nature qualified to offer that additional support. We can be under no illusion. Anyone moving forward and seeking this as an outcome must receive all possible support, and third-party professionals are the best qualified, by their nature, to offer that support.

    I am aware of the remarks of the Director of Public Prosecutions; in legal terms it is right to say that there can be no 100% guarantee. I made my earlier remarks because this needs to be considered as we move forward. I am aware that we will need to look at this again in the future, but I hope that that will not be here but instead in the restored Assembly, which is the right place for it. My noble friend Lord Patten is right that a number of the powers within the 1967 Act are dormant, and dormancy is a challenge, because this is something Stormont can of course awaken. That is why I refer to my earlier remarks.

    The issue of fairness must affect us all, which is why the most important thing we can do is to raise people out of poverty in every possible way. That has been this Government’s ambition, and one of the reasons why we have sought to look at the living wage, as well as at tax credits and tax breaks. On each occasion we have sought to achieve that. Whether we have succeeded will be a matter for a debate, but I believe we have enough of an ambition to continue on that journey, because we are not yet finished.

    I note also the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Empey. He knows the Province well and will understand better than me some of the challenges of how these issues are understood in what are no doubt close-knit communities. I can offer little comment on that except to say that all the powers we can use to ensure confidentiality will be involved and we will do all we can to ensure that that is the case.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is right to note that Northern Ireland is, in many ways, a delightfully different part of the United Kingdom and has its particular challenges. I am assured that this area has been considered as the policy has moved forward in order to try to recognise those differences. I am of course aware that when we look at the details of the policy, we need to recognise that the purpose behind it is to ensure that all those who are entitled to support are able to secure it.

    I will make one final point, which I hope will secure some support. I am clear there is more work to be done in restoring the Executive. This policy will go forward, and the Northern Ireland Civil Service will do all it can to implement it as best it can. But they are civil servants, and we need an Executive to address the policy as it arrives in Belfast, who will be able to scrutinise the policy as it moves forward. Each of these elements depends on the restoration of that Executive. If that does not happen, then we have a greater problem, of which this will be but one chapter. I make that point very clearly now. I am aware there are other issues which I have perhaps not been able to do justice to tonight, but I hope your Lordships will understand the key point of what I have said and recognise the spirit in which it was made.

  • My Lords, I thank the Minister for the many positive strands in his response and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

  • Motion withdrawn.