Thursday, 2 July 2009.
Welfare Reform Bill
Committee (8th Day)
I remind the Committee that if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bell is heard and will resume 10 minutes thereafter.
Clause 26 : Attendance in connection with jobseeker’s allowance: sanctions
158: Clause 26, page 35, line 11, at end insert—
“but only after a clear warning letter and explanation of the initial instance of failure to comply has been issued to the claimant”
In moving the amendment, I am well aware that the Minister has said in terms that the first sanction for jobseeker’s allowance will be a warning letter. However, I have not withdrawn the amendment because it should be in the Bill.
In the chapter of his report entitled “The Role of Sanctions”, Professor Gregg recommended the introduction of a system of staged sanctions for claimants who had received a written warning for the first instance of non-compliance of attending a mandatory interview or appointment. This would spell out exactly why the claimant had been sanctioned and what the financial consequences would be for further non-compliance. Under the Bill, financial sanctions could be applied immediately, without a clear written warning, after the first non-compliance.
The amendment was suggested by Citizens Advice, which regularly sees clients whose benefits have been sanctioned but who do not understand why—which of course makes the sanction less effective in changing future behaviour. As I said earlier, the Minister said that a written warning is sent, presumably when an interview or other appointment is missed, and that this warning letter constitutes the first sanction. If this is the case, why is it not enshrined in legislation to protect the vulnerable from being financially penalised for the first offence, which they may not have correctly understood? I beg to move.
My view is and has always been that we are dealing with sanctions for violent conduct—in other words, punishment for behaviour that I expect all noble Lords would deplore and agree is deserving of sanctions. I hope we can get an assurance from the Minister that new Section 20C on page 28 of the Bill will offer protection from violence to all those involved in delivering the welfare system. That includes everyone from Jobcentre Plus office workers to employees of the organisations who have contracted to run the scheme and members of the subcontractor’s staff. The threat of violence against anyone who is helping to administer welfare schemes is entirely unacceptable. I trust that the Minister would agree with that.
I therefore believe that sanctions are necessary. However, they should not be—and must not be seen to be—arbitrary. A warning letter which set out details of why sanctions are being applied would be a useful way of explaining to a claimant why his own conduct is responsible for his predicament. Perhaps it will be a salutary warning.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that sanctions should not be imposed on claimants before they have had adequate warning that it is about to happen. Perhaps the best way is in the form of a letter. Other methods, such as telephone or e-mail, might also be helpful. Indeed, for people with a mental illness, we have already had the promise that sanctions will not be upheld without a face-to-face interview.
I had been planning, however, to read out an example of how not to do it in a letter—a letter from the DWP to the daughter of a deceased pensioner which was so threatening in its tone that it ended up in Parliament, in my hands. I was so horrified by it that I sent it to the Minister, who I believe forwarded it to the pension agency. Alas, I made the crucial error of sending the original to the Minister without keeping a copy for myself, so I am unable to discomfit your Lordships by reading it out. Suffice it to say that it did not arouse feelings of sympathy for the department, which was trying to reclaim the amount of state pension that had mistakenly been paid out after the pensioner’s death.
Incidentally, I have yet to hear a response to it, which surprises me as I sent it to the Minister well over a month ago. I hope that when I finally get a response from the pension agency I will be able to forward it to the Minister, because I am trying to get a response to the tone of the letter from him rather than the agency which sent the letter in the first place.
I, too, support the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, in her amendment. We must be not only fair but seen to be fair. Sometimes the message might not get home in a telephone conversation. People are not always able to visualise what might happen, but if they have something in writing at least they can take it to someone else to explain it. I endorse what the noble Baroness says.
I thank the noble Baroness for this amendment. It gives me the opportunity, I hope, to clarify the matter, because I think that she quoted me as saying that within the JSA regime, the starting point for sanction would be a letter. I shall deal with that point directly. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was reverting to the generality of the clause about the impact of these sanctions for violence. Yes, it is meant to apply not only to Jobcentre Plus staff but to contractors who work on our behalf. As for the letter that the noble Lord sent me, operational letters are automatically passed on to the agencies. However, I shall recover his letter and ensure that he gets a detailed response directly from me.
The clause introduces a new benefit sanction for those customers who fail to attend their mandatory appointments within the jobseeker’s allowance regime. Such appointments include, for example, the fortnightly job search review where customers demonstrate that they are available for and have been actively seeking work. This is applied only to those groups who are on JSA because they are deemed to be actively seeking and available for work.
The amendment proposes that JSA customers are given a warning letter and an explanation of the act of non-compliance prior to the issue of the sanction. I shall explain why this step is not appropriate for this client group. Mandatory appointments with Jobcentre Plus are a core element of the JSA regime. The appointments act as a gateway to the support on offer to help customers back to work, and they act as a crucial checkpoint in ensuring that customers are actively seeking and are available for work. The requirement to attend appointments and the consequences for failure to attend are clearly communicated to customers at the start of a claim and repeated at regular intervals throughout the course of the claim.
As customers are fully informed of this key commitment, if they still fail to attend, they could be trying to avoid their responsibility actively to seek work. There therefore needs to be a clear link between the customer’s responsibilities under the JSA regime and the consequences of failing to comply. We believe that sending customers a warning letter before a sanction would only weaken this link between the responsibility to attend appointments and the right to receive benefit.
A different approach to sanctions for other client groups, notably the progression-to-work group, will apply. That is the point focused on by the noble Baroness. These groups and the progression-to-work group will, for the purposes of the pathfinders, consist of lone parents with young children claiming employment and support allowance who are not required to be actively seeking and available for work. It would therefore not be appropriate to apply this sanctions regime to those claimants.
We plan to test the effectiveness of a more progressive regime based on the principles recommended by Professor Gregg in the pathfinders. He suggested that the sanctions regime needs to be clearly understood. The noble Baroness made that point as well. We will use different ways to encourage re-engagement and will always offer speedy and simple routes to customers to end any sanctions imposed. We plan to follow that approach. Our model for the pathfinders is not yet fixed as we wish to discuss our plans in more detail with the stakeholders. However, our current plans particularly focus on the small number of people who repeatedly fail to meet the requirements that apply to them. We do this by progressively increasing the impact the greater the number of consecutive failures there are. Therefore, if a person fails to meet a work-focused interview, work-related activity or work-focused health-related assessment requirement for the first time, we do not plan to apply a financial sanction, unlike now. In line with Professor Gregg’s recommendations, we will issue a formal and final written warning. This should significantly reduce the number of people who receive a financial sanction in the pathfinder areas. Obviously we will evaluate those pathfinders in due course and see whether a wider rollout of that approach would be appropriate.
I assure the Committee that the sanctioning regime in JSA incorporates safeguards. If customers show good cause—and we have debated that extensively—for failing to attend the appointment, a sanction will not be applied. Further, if customers are sanctioned, they will have the opportunity to claim a hardship payment, which we have talked about, if they or a partner is in a vulnerable group—for example if they have a medical condition or are responsible for a child. Customers will also be able to appeal the imposition of the sanction. I hope that that has clarified our position for the noble Baroness and that she feels able to withdraw the amendment.
The Minister pointed out that sanctions already exist in the field of actively seeking work under the Jobseekers Act 1995. One can readily understand that the regime will be slightly different when applied to the Clause 2 group, the progression-to-work group. It would be extremely helpful if I and perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, could see the pro forma letters which currently exist for the first group and what is likely to be available or used for the second group, so that we can make a judgment on this.
I am sure we can make available the type of notifications that exist under the current sanctions regime. So far as how we are going to deal with the pathfinders and a progressive, Gregg-type regime, we want to discuss this with stakeholders. I am very happy for noble Lords to be involved in that process. We have not concluded that yet and will need to do more work before we finalise our thoughts.
I am grateful for the support for the amendment around the Grand Committee. I am a bit confused, however. When Professor Gregg talked about the sanctions regime on page 74 of his report, under the heading “Dealing more effectively with repeat offenders”, he wrote:
“First offence: this would lead to a formal warning”.
Is he referring to ESA? I thought that he was talking about JSA as well, but I may have got it wrong.
There is a case for saying that the first sanction across all regimes should be a warning letter. That would be a good idea so that everyone knows exactly where they stand. There is obviously something going wrong at the moment because CABs are finding that people just do not understand what is going on. It is probably a relatively small group, but they are having their benefit docked and they do not really know why. I think the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was a good one. We would welcome an opportunity to see this letter so that we can decide whether we approve of the language used and can see exactly what it says. I think that Members of the Committee in general would be interested to see it. I am glad that the Minister has clarified the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 158 withdrawn.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28 : Persons under pensionable age to take part in work-focused interviews etc.
Amendments 159 to 161 not moved.
Clause 28 agreed.
161A: After Clause 28, insert the following new Clause—
In section 123(1)(e) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (c. 4) (income-related benefits), for “council tax benefit” substitute “council tax rebate”.”
I am indebted to the Royal British Legion for the text of this amendment and for the accompanying briefing. I am informed that the legion has been engaged in a campaign designed to alleviate pension poverty among older veterans. That followed research it commissioned, which showed that 38 per cent of older veterans, their spouses and widowers report an income level below that required for healthy living.
Despite these low income levels, it is estimated that only 55 to 61 per cent of all pensioners who qualify for council tax benefit actually make a claim. The Department for Work and Pensions has estimated that up to £1.5 billion of CTB is left unclaimed by pensioners each year. For this reason, the legion has embarked on a campaign to rename council tax benefit and to call it a rebate. It believes that this is a simple, cost-effective and practical way of helping pensioners, many of them in the ex-service community. It believes that this will increase take up considerably, thereby lifting tens of thousands of pensioners out of poverty.
The legion has done a fair amount of research to see whether it would have that effect. It conducted a poll through ComRes as recently as May 2009 and found that 75 per cent of members of the public agree that renaming council tax benefit as a rebate might help encourage more people to make a claim for it. These words were used by the DWP in its submission to the 2007 Communities and Local Government Select Committee, so it is good to know that there are people in all areas who are in agreement with the notion that changing the name to rebate would have the effect that the legion believes that it will. It has also got support from a number of organisations, including, as I said, the Select Committee. It also believes that it has support across the political spectrum. It says that it has support from the leaders of the Conservatives and of the Lib Dems, both of whom have written to the legion to say that they support the rebate.
In view of all this and the fact that there is a substantial amount of support right across the board for what is now proposed, I hope the Government will take heed of the results of the campaign and be prepared to accept the amendment—which would, I am sure, have the effect of ensuring that claims are made by a number of people who at the moment apparently are too proud to claim benefit. That is very true of many veterans, but of course it is true of many pensioners as well. They do not like to be “shamed”, as they see it, into claiming for benefits. That may strike some of us as rather odd, but it is how they feel about it. I think that we should respond to that. If we change the name to rebate, there will not be the feeling of shame in making an application and more people will apply for what is their entitlement. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and I support her in this endeavour—rare though that might seem to some of your Lordships. To be strictly accurate, my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition has done rather more than support this amendment; what he did was to write to the director-general of the British Legion with the explicit promise that should the current Government fail to implement this change, a future Government will.
The important facts here are that less than 60 per cent of those who are eligible for council tax benefit actually make a claim, as the noble Baroness said. One reason for that is the stigma associated with being in receipt of benefit. The Minister will remember that in a recent Bill that emanated from the DWP, we talked an awful lot about stigma, in that case relating to disabled people—in particular with cancer, but other elements as well. We can all agree that in certain parts of this country a stigma is associated with being in receipt of benefits. Although some may tut-tut that that is so, the Government know as well as anyone that it is a real consideration for people, not least because a report by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Select Committee in 2004 said that the stigma attached to council tax benefit being presented as a benefit rather than as, more accurately, a relief from tax contributed accounted for the dismal rate of take-up for council tax benefit. All the evidence is there. The aim behind the amendment is so strikingly simple that I cannot believe that even on an off-day the Minister could resist it—and I hope that today is not an off-day.
I offer very warm support from these Benches for this proposal, moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I can confirm that should there be a Liberal Democrat Government after the next election, we would also bring it in. My right honourable friend in another place, Nick Clegg, has also waxed lyrical about how we do not like the council tax at all. I am sure that noble Lords will understand that I must say this, having the opportunity. We think that it should be scrapped and replaced with a system based on people’s ability to pay, which would be of great benefit to many older veterans living on low incomes.
Council tax benefit has the lowest take-up of any of the means-tested benefits. Some 1.7 million pensioners, including many ex-servicemen and women, do not claim it, as we have heard, because they are simply not prepared to claim a benefit. Research has clearly shown that rebranding council tax benefit as a rebate would increase the rate of take-up, and it would be a very practical change to help to lift a large number of older people out of poverty. We warmly support the proposal from these Benches and hope that the Government will accept the amendment.
I, too, give the amendment my warm support. Most of these people will not be in the income tax bracket, but we have no hesitation about claiming income tax rebates. If it was an income tax benefit, we might think a bit differently. It is a tax and it should be called a rebate.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Turner on moving this amendment. She may have come close to unifying the Committee on an issue, which is perhaps a first during the course of our deliberations so far.
The aim of the amendment is to improve take-up of council tax benefit, particularly among pensioners, by changing its name. As my noble friend and others have done, I recognise the role that the Royal British Legion has played in highlighting this issue. My noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester has put his name to the amendment; he is unable to be here today, but he has a role as honorary parliamentary adviser to the legion and gives it his clear support. I am delighted that it has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and his leader in the other place; the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar.
It is very important that pensioners should claim the benefits to which they are entitled if we are to achieve our aim of reducing pensioner poverty. People should not be deterred from doing so by factors such as an off-putting name. Having said this, the Government are sympathetic to changing the name of council tax benefit to one that better describes its true nature. We recognise that it is something that has widespread support and has the potential to make a difference in helping people to claim it. The latest data that I have for council tax benefit take-up, for 2007-08, show take-up among pensioners of between 53 per cent and 60 per cent. The potential amount unclaimed is between £1.2 billion and £1.7 billion, so it is a lot of money that could make a real difference to the lives of many pensioners.
Sir Michael Lyons pointed out that council tax benefit effectively operates as a rebate and renaming it as such would do no more than reflect that fact. Even though council tax benefit already helps more than 5 million families, I should like to see the percentage of people who take up their entitlement rising and I am disappointed that it is not. We have made considerable effort, working with local authorities, to make the claims process easier. For example, a change was made last October to allow pensioners to claim council tax benefit and housing benefit in a single telephone call at the same time as pension credit. There are no forms to sign or return. We are waiting to see the results of that important initiative.
Even so, there are clearly problems with take-up of the benefit. The most recent figures for 2007-08 show that around 62 per cent to 68 per cent of all those whom we believe to be entitled to claim council tax benefit actually do so—the percentage for pensioners is smaller. Although one might draw some comfort from the fact that the percentages for take-up have been relatively stable for several years, the latest figures show a 1 per cent drop. This is extremely disappointing, even more so because we have done, and continue to do, a number of things to try to boost take-up.
We accept that we must do more to remedy the situation and have been impressed with the case made by the Royal British Legion, as part of its Return to Rationing? campaign, that the name “council tax benefit” is an obstacle to claiming. In recent weeks, the department has liaised with the Royal British Legion over what can be done in the short term in partnership with local authorities to help them re-market council tax benefit as part of their work to promote benefit take-up.
I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that changing the name of a benefit is not necessarily straightforward and has wider ramifications for local authorities. For example, changes will need to be made to IT systems and forms. There are a number of resource issues to consider, and careful consideration will have to be given also to the wider implications for customers, as well as local authorities, government departments and other agencies all directly involved in some way in the delivery of this important benefit.
However, I can assure my noble friend that we are giving this matter urgent consideration. Accordingly, I ask her not to press her amendment. I hope that she is sufficiently reassured that we are seeking to take this matter forward.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for that response and noble Lords for contributing to the debate. As my noble friend rightly said, we have in a sense unified the Committee, because everybody agrees that what is proposed by the Royal British Legion ought at least to be tried in order to get as many people as possible claiming their entitlement.
My noble friend is unfortunately not prepared so far as I can see to accept the amendment at this point, but I shall certainly press it on Report if there is no movement in the direction of accepting it. I hope that he understands that, because there is widespread agreement with it. We really ought to try it, even though there may be some problems for local authorities to sort out.
Perhaps I may quickly intervene before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment. The Minister said that there would need to be consultation with local authorities, which one readily understands. Has this yet started, and if not, is there time for it between now and the next stage of the Bill, given that we have something like two-and-a-half or three months before then?
I cannot tell the noble Lord precisely what discussions have gone on thus far, but it is clear that there is time for some discussion between now and Report to try to identify the practical issues associated with the proposal. I re-emphasise that the Government are very sympathetic towards it. We want it to happen, but some practical and managerial issues clearly need to be addressed.
I thank my noble friend, as I do the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his intervention, which I welcome. So far as concerns the response of my noble friend, I shall certainly watch to see what happens on Report and will undoubtedly bring this issue back if there is nothing on the agenda on which we can vote at that stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment
Amendment 161A withdrawn.
Clauses 29 and 30 agreed.
Clause 31 : Relevant services
162: Clause 31, page 38, line 9, leave out subsections (5) and (6)
Before I speak to the amendment, I should inform the Committee that, due to weather conditions and my asthma, the usual channels have allowed my noble friend Lady Wilkins to assist me should I not quite get through all the amendments. She will be my voice. This is a pilot and we will see how it goes.
I begin by declaring two interests. First, I have the privilege of being the chair of the right to control working group, so all these amendments on the right to control are very close to my heart. I have been working very happily for 18 months with the Department for Work and Pensions on the design and the architecture of this new and very exciting principle. Much of it, I am delighted to say, has found itself being put into the Bill, although there are a few tweaks still to be made. I also declare that I am a long-term user of social care services and direct payments in the UK.
The purpose of the amendment is very simple. It is to remove the exclusion of community care services from Clause 31. Ministers have been very clear that the right-to-control trailblazers are intended to ensure that different funding streams can effectively be aligned and integrated. This is to ensure an end to fragmentation and the successful operation of individual budgets. At last, our lives are going to be won. Therefore, I am naturally disappointed that health and social care funding was actively excluded from the legal framework for a right to control in the Bill. None of the explanations or assurances that I have heard to date has served to allay my concerns, and thus I feel that I have no option but to raise this issue in Committee.
First, perhaps I may explain why it is vital that community care funding is included in the right to control framework, and transparently so. Noble Lords will know that today disabled people face a very fragmented system that demands that we negotiate as many as six different funding agencies, with their different criteria, to secure a basic support package to enable us just to get up in the morning and live our daily lives. That is a job in itself before you begin your life. The whole point of a right to control is to put us in charge of all the resources to which we are entitled. Therefore, the Bill rightly includes—this I am very happy about—a dazzling array of funding streams connected with further and higher education, training, securing and retaining employment, enabling independent living in the community and overcoming barriers to participation. We then exclude one of the most significant funding streams for those of us with what are referred to as high support needs—that is, people just like me.
For those of us who are entitled to social care support, it is vital that the right to control provides the means for us to access those resources seamlessly and incorporate them in our individual budgets; otherwise we will be at a huge disadvantage. This should not be left to chance, good will or a “we will all work together later on down the line” attitude. If the right to control is to be effective in freeing disabled people from dependency and bureaucracy, it must be clear from the start that this fundamental, important public support service is included.
I understand that Ministers have suggested that they want to avoid duplicating existing social care legislation and that somehow this right to control would override all the good work within the Department of Health. That is baffling. Not only do I know the Department of Health funding streams backwards, I know that there is no social care legislation that talks about the right to control which does not have this exciting architecture that we have been developing. Nor does the legislation require local authorities to ensure that social care funding is pooled in an individual budget. If Ministers and noble Lords consider that direct payments regulations suffice, then they really must think again. Direct payments regulations do not provide the legislative basis for self-directed support or individual budgets in the way that a right to control will do in future. Local authorities who have implemented something akin to the right to control in social care have been unable to use those regulations. Instead, they have had to rely on powers of well-being in other legislation, which I have found not fit for purpose.
Ministers have also suggested that there are powers in other legislation requiring local authorities to co-operate with the right to control system, but we have been given no details. What disabled people see when they look at this Bill is a gigantic hole at its heart, which makes nonsense of assurances of alignment and raises fears of continued fragmentation. To rebuild trust in politics, legislation must say what it means. Social care is either included in the right to control or it is not. The White Paper and Ministers say one thing and the Bill says another, which is not an acceptable state of affairs. After all, we are looking for better legislation and regulation.
It is not just me who is uppity about this. Along with RADAR and fellow members of the Disability Benefits Consortium, I have sought the view of one of our leading community care lawyers, Luke Clements. He advises that the exclusions are totally unnecessary and that there is good cause to seek to remove them. I have spoken to Department of Health lawyers who have said something else. Put 10 lawyers in the room and you will probably get 10 different answers.
David Stocks, a user of mental health services, was recently speaking alongside me at the launch of the current right to control consultation. It was a hot potato that was being discussed. He said:
“What disabled people want from this policy”—
the new legislation—
“is a one-stop shop for empowerment, seize this moment”.
For goodness’ sake, we should look at this together and seize this moment. I beg to move.
I am very glad to be able to support the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, in this amendment, and finally to reach a part of the Bill of which we thoroughly approve. However, that is not to say that everything in the garden is quite as rosy as it might be. Perhaps my first quotation should be from RADAR’s chief executive, Liz Sayce, during the first evidence-taking session in another place. Regarding the general principle of this part of the Bill, she said:
“I … think that the right to control is absolutely transformative, and disabled people around the country really welcome it.
However, she went on to say:
“The whole point of the right to control, as set out in the White Paper, was that it promised to give disabled people the power to take a range of funding streams, and people want to be able to access that range of funding streams and pool resources to achieve what they want in their lives. If the funding streams remain separate, there is a risk that part of the White Paper’s goal will not be achieved”.
Her concern was echoed by Paul Davies, service director of adult social care in Oldham, who said:
“Our experience in Oldham … is that division in funding streams is a sovereign recipe for ensuring that people who use services, or try to negotiate their way through them, do not manage to make any progress”.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, retaining the explicit exclusions of community care services is likely to cause confusion and is the exact opposite of joined-up government. We support the amendment to exclude the exclusions.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has written to me asking me to support these amendments, which I wholeheartedly do. The noble Lord will recall that at Question Time today we had a Question about the UN convention and ratifying it. The Equality and Human Rights Commission believes that this will be a very good move towards implementing that initiative. We would please the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, by accepting her amendment.
Speaking for myself, I strongly support this amendment. It removes the exclusion of community care services and funding from the ambit of right to control. It makes no sense for a scheme that is all about ending fragmentation and introducing a seamless approach to support planning to explicitly exclude such a key funding stream. The Minister will doubtless state that the intention is for social care funding to be included in individual budgets under the trailblazers. However, the Bill provides no mechanism to insist on adult social care co-operation.
Given the length of time that it is taking to roll out the personalisation and the relatively few adult social care authorities which have individualised budgets, I do not think that we can be confident that alignment, let along integration, will necessarily take place. Remember that we are talking about individualised budgets and new ways of working, not simply direct payment. I would urge the Minister to undertake to work with the Department of Health to reconsider the exclusion of community care from the Bill. The message that exclusion sends out is that we are not being joined-up. I do not believe that that is a very helpful message to send out at all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, started with what I can only describe as a devastating critique of joined-up government in the area of services for disabled people, and of course she is absolutely right. The Bill holds out absolutely no help to us at all. In England, there is to be excluded: community care services, Carers and Disabled Children Act services and services under the Children Act. In Scotland, there is to be excluded: community care services and services provided under Section 22(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act. That does not smack of what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said was better legislation. If anything, it is a step backwards, and that is not what one wants.
So I, too, add my support to the noble Baroness’s amendment, which leaves out the exclusion of community care services from the services that a disabled person will have the right to control; broadly speaking, the provision of carers, or accommodation, or support which is currently mainly provided by local authorities—or so we are told. But it ain’t so, is it? I have the figures with me, but I am sure that other Members of the Committee will know that even though personalised budgets have been available for several years in the social services field, the take-up has been deplorable. It has been miniscule—I believe less than 1 per cent. However, I shall not go on about that.
This exclusion of services provided by local authorities seems rather short-sighted. Social care will be one of the significant areas, important in enabling the disabled person to achieve almost any of those matters. The services that most disabled people will draw on to some extent at least will not be subject to direct control and, as a result, any claims by the Government that they are delivering a fully flexible and modern system sound distinctly hollow. It is a great shame, as the Government had looked—as has been pointed out—as though they might have been prepared to do something brave and far-reaching, which could not only transform the lives of those who would now be in control of directing their own care but engender a new way of looking at how welfare in the widest sense is dispersed.
Let us look at some of the history of these proposals. It looked as if the Government would be persuaded by the arguments put to them. The Green Paper, No one Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility, which contained proposals to reform the welfare system, was published for consultation in July 2008. It also proposed to explore rolling out individual budgets for disabled people, should earlier pilots prove successful. Chapter 5 of the Green Paper, “Delivering choice and control for disabled people”, posed the following question for consultation in respect of individual budgets, which included the statement:
“We are interested in exploring how disabled people might receive a reliable and equitable service when requesting choice and control of the funds used to meet their needs, and whether public authorities could be expected not to unreasonably refuse such a request”.
A selection of the responses to the consultation paper was set out in appendix A of the subsequent White Paper, Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future. It revealed that the majority of respondents, including the Scottish Government and many of the stakeholders and charities which have been briefing noble Lords, were supportive of giving disabled people greater choice and control over services. The responses were overwhelmingly in favour of direct control. However, I fear that having raised the expectations of disabled people, the Government are prepared to dash them with what I can only describe as the timidity of Clause 31.
I have in common with other noble Lords concerns over the scope of the right to control as it is envisaged by the Government and which funding streams will be included in that right. Amendment 162, which is equivalent to an amendment tabled in another place by my honourable friend Mark Harper, includes community care budgets and social care service payments within the scope of DWP direct payments. In his response to our amendment, I should be interested to hear from the Minister why certain funding streams have been excluded. As well as diluting control for disabled people, the continuance of separate funding streams creates unnecessary complication and bureaucracy for a system intended to be user-focused. By adopting our approach, we would combine funding streams that would enable people with a disability to purchase—that dreaded word—holistic services, and support, and ensure consistency of approach. In addition, I fear that the confusion caused by multiple funding streams will have a detrimental effect on take-up and may even impact on the quality of services. In persisting in keeping community care services separate, the Government appear to be more concerned with promoting departmental points of view, allowing different departments to hang on jealously to their pots of money instead of combining for a common purpose, rather than that of a disabled person. We should have one common framework for assessing all services—and, potentially, we should put together all the funding streams and resources so that they can be directed in a way that suits requirements.
I urge the Minister to bear in mind a point made in the other place—that we have the luxury of testing this with a pilot scheme before rolling the scheme out nationally. If he acceded to the amendment, he would be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of those pilots. I most strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell.
I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, for moving this amendment, her strong leadership on this issue and her engagement with government. It is truly valued even if, on occasions, we will not see eye to eye. In that vein, I shall start off with a note of disagreement. The proposition that having 10 lawyers in a room provides 10 different answers is outwith my experience; it is usually 20.
Accountants are much more objective.
In 2005, the Government made public their commitment to work towards equality for disabled people by 2025, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who was castigating the Government for not being joined up on issues, that over the past 12 years this Government have done a lot to support and enfranchise disabled people. I draw his attention to the independent living strategy published recently that looks at issues across government.
I note that the amendment has support across the Committee from the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Wilkins, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale.
Since 2005, we have come a long way, continuing to build on commitments to create a system that allows disabled people to have maximum choice and control over the support services that they receive. The noble Baroness’s amendment would bring community care services for disabled people within the scope of the right to control provisions in this Bill. Community care policy is already consistent with the aims of the Bill. Existing legislation already provides for direct payments in respect of community care services and the power to direct local authorities about the delivery of those services. There is also legislation in respect of certain services for children. The ministerial concordat, Putting People First, which I will cover shortly, binds together all the key players. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, directly, the exclusion of community care in the Bill is to ensure that we do not duplicate, or cause confusion with, existing powers.
The cross-sector concordat, Putting People First, establishes the collaboration between central and local government, the sector's professional leadership, providers and the regulator. It sets out the shared aims and values that will guide the transformation of adult social care, and recognises that the sector will work across agendas with users and carers to transform people’s experience of local support and services.
We have created the cross-government independent living strategy, which I referred to a moment ago. It is a five-year plan that aims to make sure that disabled people have the same choice, freedom, dignity and control over their lives as non-disabled people. We also piloted individual budgets in 13 local authorities between 2005 and 2007. Across government, the shared ambition is to put people first through a radical reform of public services, enabling people to live their own lives as they wish, confident that services are of high quality, safe and promote their individual needs for independence, well-being and dignity. The right to control is an important and welcome step forward in our journey towards increased choice and control, helping us to achieve full equality for disabled people by 2025.
We all recognise the importance to disabled people of giving them the choice and control they want over their lives. We need to make sure that this new right to control is implemented in a way that delivers real choice and control for disabled people. We are confident that we can achieve this by using relevant powers in community care legislation alongside the powers contained in this Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has said that the right to control will be transformative. Disabled people around the country really welcome it. It builds on the important work of the 2005 report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People and the 2008 independent living strategy. It also builds on the success of direct payments.
I welcome these views, which fully reflect our intentions. We want to build on best practice from direct payments, offering greater choice and control by extending direct payments and self-directed support to other services.
Creating a more joined-up system, which places fewer administrative burdens on disabled adults, is one of the areas we want to investigate as we trailblaze the right to control. I can confirm that we will be evaluating in the trailblazers how the services under the right to control fit with community care services in order to ensure a seamless service of self-directed support. I believe that we have a common cause on that issue.
We are working closely with colleagues in other government departments to ensure that our policy objectives are consistent, and to explore ways in which we can work collectively for the benefit of disabled people. The right to control, and the current changes to the delivery of adult social care, will together enable the implementation of the Government’s commitment to empower disabled people, and ensure that choice and control are recognised as a right.
To pick up on one point that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, raised about the legal structure around community care, I am sure that she is aware that the Law Commission is currently undertaking a project to review adult social care law in England and Wales with a view to producing a report in May 2011. The overall aim of the project is to provide a clearer and more cohesive legal framework for adult social care, which is consistent, transparent and in line with the modern understanding of disability.
It would not seem right to make further piecemeal reform of adult social care law until the Law Commission has completed its work. We will review its findings and determine whether it impacts on the right to control after the report has been produced. That does not stop us in the trailblazers making sure we use the powers that are there to be joined up, and to test and develop what the right to control would mean, including for community care services. There is no intent that these should somehow be outwith this approach. We are really talking about how the intent should be framed in legislation, and I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that.
I picked up three things from what the Minister said. First, he spoke of putting people first, and in this case disabled people. Nobody could take exception to that. Secondly, the Government want to avoid confusion by the duplication of existing powers. We are complaining that existing powers are not in one place or piece of legislation. It is not beyond the wit of the draftsman to import the powers already enacted in the various Acts that I read out earlier and to put them into the Bill. I cannot see that this would be in any way out of the scope of the Bill. I suppose that it is just possible that—I am stretching my imagination a thundering long way—the Law Commission will come up with that proposal.
The Minister said the Law Commission had started. Law Commission reviews, in my experience, take any length of time, starting with a minimum of five years. Can the Minister tell us how far through its operation the Law Commission is?
I do not have a work-in-progress report from the Law Commission. As I said, the work is underway and the intent is to produce a report in May 2011. I am not in a position to say how far it has reached in its deliberations, but that is the timescale.
As regards the noble Lord’s earlier points, we are trying to say that there is a system out there at the moment. We would cause confusion if we overrode that system and had another legislative approach included in the Bill while the Law Commission is looking at the framework of adult social care law. Therefore, what is the difficulty? We are saying that we need to work with the current system, which covers and enables a right to control in certain fields, through our trailblazers and to evaluate those various legislative streams but to achieve that common purpose. I do not see the noble Lord’s difficulty.
I thank all noble Lords who have supported the amendment: the noble Countess, Lady Mar, the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilkins and Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale—support from around the Room is what we like. While I was disappointed by the Minister’s response, I was not surprised, because I have been having this conversation with both the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions for some time. I suspect that the problem may not lie with the DWP but with another department, so there is work to be done in the summer.
To wait until 2011 for a right to control seems a long time. Luke Clements has told me that a right to control would benefit the Law Commission, including community and social care and healthcare services, as the commission reports and reviews, because it could then come under the same architecture. For that to come along later would simply be confusing. The Law Commission would benefit from aligned legislation under the right to control.
The intention to help bring the right to control up to the level of community care services intrigues me, because I do not see that the Government are well ahead of the game. When noble Lords hear my next amendment, they will understand why it is very important that we bring social care in line with this extremely new and exciting architecture. However, it will be neither new nor exciting if we do not align. I shall therefore probably come back to the amendment on Report, but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 162 withdrawn.
Clause 31 agreed.
Clause 32 agreed.
163: Clause 33, page 39, line 10, at end insert “including, in particular, making arrangements with voluntary organisations to provide disabled persons with assistance in connection with direct payments”
The amendment is modelled on a subsection of the Health Bill that permits direct payments for health services initially on a trial basis. Section 11 of that Bill enables the Secretary of State to make arrangements with third parties, including voluntary organisations, to give assistance to people in connection with direct payments. As a result of lobbying by my noble friend Lady Barker, the provision was strengthened by a government amendment to make it more explicit in the Bill that the NHS should make arrangements to ensure that patients or people receiving direct payments on somebody else’s behalf were able to access advice, information and other support.
It seems strange to many of us that the right to control in this Bill makes no such provision. It is widely accepted that many direct payment users rely on support services, whether for initial information, advice, guidance, and training on becoming an employer and managing payroll and insurance, or for ongoing support in managing their money and paying staff. It is hard to imagine people who hitherto have been denied choice and control and are anxious about what direct payments involve taking the huge step to managing their own budget without access to this kind of support.
The Government have acknowledged the vital role that user-led organisations providing direct payments support services play in increasing the take-up of direct payments and improving direct payments users’ experiences and outcomes, and they want every locality to benefit from one. In the 2005 Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People report from the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, a pledge was made that:
“By 2010, each locality (defined as that area covered by a Council with social services responsibilities) should have a user-led organisation modelled on existing CILs”—
centres for independent living.
While I am on that point, will the Minister take the opportunity to update the Grand Committee on progress towards that 2010 commitment, which would underpin the effective delivery of the right to control? The life chances report is effectively government policy but, despite an ongoing programme by the Department of Health involving development funding and capacity building, no one can say if or when this target might be achieved. Furthermore, which local authority areas have such provision and what proportion of direct payments users have access to them? Therefore, can the Minister assure us that anyone accessing direct payments under these provisions, whether as part of the pilots or subsequently, following national rollout, will have access to a support service at no extra cost? I ask simply because the Bill is silent on this matter.
We understand that various aspects of delivering the right to control are currently being consulted on, and it is likely that other forms of advice and support will be required. However, direct payments support services specifically seem to be a fundamental prerequisite of a successful trailblazer programme and of future rollout. Will the Minister say whether part of the £5 million allocated to the eight trailblazers will be invested in ensuring the availability of direct payments support services? Can he also tell us about the progress of the network of sustainable centres for independent living, be they standalone organisations or creative partnerships? Are the social care transformation grants for local authorities being deployed in capacity building of user-led organisations? If the right to control is rolled out nationally from 2013 following successful trailblazers, surely the infrastructure for support services should already be in place by that time.
When a similar amendment was debated in the other place, similar questions were asked but no clear response was given. The Minister said that the amendment was “too prescriptive” as people may prefer to draw on the support of family and friends, but this amendment is enabling; it prescribes nothing. Those who have family resources will doubtless draw on them, but what of those who have no such resources? There are many disabled people in that position and they need the assurance provided by this amendment. I beg to move.
I support the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, in this amendment. I absolutely agree with her that direct payments support services need to be in place to ensure the effective implementation of right to control. I declare an interest as vice-chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability, which provides such services. HAFAD’s experience is that support services take the mystery out of direct payments for disabled people. Imagine someone who has never enjoyed real choice and control in their lives—someone who has been tied up in knots and disempowered by the system. How is he to feel confident in taking on budget management and the role of employer without peer support and guidance?
We should not underestimate the damage to people’s confidence wreaked by the disabling systems we subject them to. Unless this is taken on board, we will unnecessarily restrict disabled people’s options to take control. Department of Health direct payments guidance states that the provision of a support service is key to the successful implementation of direct payments and that,
“support provided through voluntary/recipient-run organisations has been shown to be particularly effective and valued by recipients”.
Moreover, there is a clear correlation between direct payment support services controlled and run by disabled people and successful implementation of direct payments. Seven out of 10 of the top-performing local authorities on direct payments contract a user-led support service to ensure effective implementation of direct payments for healthcare. Specific provision for support services has been included in the Health Bill. Surely, it would be strange if Ministers were to resist calls for similar provision in Part 2.
I was not intending to intervene in this debate, but the noble Baroness talked about the complications of becoming an employer. I have just received the paperwork from the relevant authority about what I have to do in order to employ one person, and I am shattered by it. Somebody who has not had any kind of experience of paperwork cannot be expected to do it without help.
If the Committee will indulge me, I will repeat an incident that happened to me over Easter when I was with a friend, who is a patron of a wonderful charity in my city. It helps disabled children and disabled adults with learning difficulties. Since it was the holidays, children were going to the centre as well as the adults. They were trying to encourage the adults to come out with them in a bus to the local cinema. The problem was that they could not take the disabled adults with learning disabilities—some with complex health needs, but perfectly competent in all sorts of ways—because in the case of two of the group their carers came to put them to bed at such a time that it was not possible for them to go to a matinee at the cinema. This was the very group for whom many noble Lords, myself included, pressed in the 1990s, as well as after 1997, to ensure direct payments would happen.
I asked the manager of the very good charity what he was able to do about this. He said that he thought the charity should be providing all the care and then the people would be able to go to the cinema. I asked him, “Why row when you can steer? What about encouraging younger people and those who wish to, to go on to direct payments?” He said, “They won’t be able to manage it”. I said, “This is a city of financial services. There are a couple of thousand people employed in all the major financial companies, and there is a hunger to offer services for voluntary work. Why don’t you organise a help list of volunteers who have financial and management skills and want to do two or four hours a fortnight, put them in contact with some of your clients and see whether together they can run a direct payment service so that at the next half-term they can go to the cinema?” He said, “Oh well, I don’t know about that”.
This is part of a city that is not central London, not one of the big metropolises and, to some extent, at the end of the railway line, so it is trying to work within the confines of its own experience. It seemed such an obvious way to go. The centre, which is a very good voluntary organisation, could match volunteers and needs to expand choice and put the disabled person at the centre of the care service and not at the edges of it; in other words, as the organiser of it and not the recipient. That probably cannot happen, particularly for somebody with mild learning difficulties, without the support of voluntary organisations helping them to manage and employ.
We are not talking about expenditure. We are talking about simple, straightforward ways of encouraging the players in local authorities and the voluntary sector to see themselves as facilitators of bringing together people who are offering voluntary time to those who may be glad of that service so that they can take greater control of their own lives. If my noble friend can take this forward even more successfully than it has been taken so far—many of us have been fighting for this cause for many years—he will earn the gratitude of all of us.
I support everything that has just been said. Speaking from my own experience, a number of years ago I was a carer for my husband in the last three years of his life. At that time I approached our local authority for assistance and somebody duly came to see me. After looking at everything, she said, “Well, I know that we’re supposed to give you some assistance, but it is within available resources, you know. The resources in this area are really rather limited. Lady Turner, we would be grateful if you could do everything you can for yourself”. So I made some inquiries with neighbours and so on, and eventually found a nice woman in the next road who was willing to come in and help me. I paid her, of course, quite separately.
As far as the local authority was concerned, however, it was all about “within available resources”, and resources were very limited, so, “please do the best you can for yourself”. I hope that there will be an attempt under the Bill to ensure that local authorities have the available resources; otherwise a lot of this will not come off at all.
I am not going to hold the Committee up by supporting the amendment again at too great a length, but of course I absolutely support it. As a co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living—for 10 years that organisation has developed to assist support schemes to develop, grow and thrive—I can clearly tell Members of the Committee that, where there was a support scheme, there were disabled people emancipated, coming out of their back rooms, employing people, learning from others, getting lots of peer support, moving on, having families and getting jobs. Surely that is what this legislation is all about. When there is a support scheme, that will happen. There is nothing better than peer support to get people out of the back room and living when they have spent many decades dependent on the state. I absolutely support the amendment.
I second the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. Of course I agree that access to peer support and advice on managing direct payments plays a vital role in making a success of individual budgets. How could I not? How, indeed, could the Minister not? The question that he must answer is what other options are available for people to exercise greater control. That is the only way that he can defend what I suspect will be the Government’s position.
Having ready access to information, or contact with groups who know how the system works would, it goes without saying, be useful for boosting confidence among potential users to take up direct budgets. People who have never been offered any level of control before may be anxious about what a direct payment may involve—quite understandably, given that many of them are not in the best of health.
In passing, I remember shocking many noble Lords many years ago—before most noble Lords in this Room were in the House—by making a remark along the lines of, “Of course, you have to be fit to be successfully disabled”. That described what I thought, but did not quite come out as it was intended.
Thank you. They may well have concerns about employing their own staff, or not be aware of exactly what use they can put their resources to. The ability to access quality support services—using the good offices of a helpful voluntary group, if necessary, to broker services or manage payroll, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, spoke about—will in many cases make the difference between someone feeling able to take a direct payment and taking control of their own lives, or just feeling that it could all be too much hassle. Having built up these tremendous expectations, the Government must find a way of satisfying them.
I thank the noble Baroness for this amendment and all noble Lords who have spoken. We have had some interesting contributions and some real-life and challenging experiences. I note that the amendment has support right around the Committee, from the noble Lords, Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Wilkins, to my noble friends Lady Turner and Lady Hollis. I think that everyone who has spoken—nearly everyone who is here—has supported it.
This amendment would enable the Government to regulate for the provision of assistance with direct payments by voluntary organisations. I acknowledge the point—which is implicit in the amendment and has been spoken to powerfully by a number of noble Lords—that the availability of advice and brokerage services will be very important to the success of the trailblazers.
Before turning to the amendment text itself, I would like to acknowledge that the voluntary sector can and does play a key role in delivering personalisation and achieving independent living for disabled people. The 2005 report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People stressed the need to improve the availability of advice and advocacy services for disabled people. That report put a particular emphasis on the role of organisations that are led and controlled by disabled people. It set out a commitment that by 2010 there should be a user-led organisation—ULO—in every locality in England.
We have brought in several measures to help us work towards this target. The Department of Health has invested £1.65 million in a ULO development fund. The Office for Disability Issues has recently committed a further £700,000 to provide additional support to developing ULOs. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked me directly about progress towards our target on that. As well as the funding that I have just mentioned, we believe that for 2009-10, the current year, a key priority is to develop the capacity and capability of existing ULOs to support the development of ULOs where none currently exists. Deputy regional directors for social care and partnerships—DRDs—in the nine regions will be taking forward the lessons learnt from the action and learning sites and developing plans towards meeting recommendations in their own regions. We have commissioned further mapping to identify further progress and it will be used to inform the regional development work. We will work with the DRDs to measure the progress towards the objective of a ULO in every activity. In short, we are not there yet but there is progress.
Voluntary organisations are not the sole providers of support and the trailblazers will explore a range of options. For example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, acknowledged, the Department of Health-led individual budgets pilots found that many people chose to involve their family and friends in deciding how to spend their budget. The trailblazer design should preserve flexibility to explore other options that people put forward. Our commitment to a co-production approach has been broadly welcomed, and I intend to preserve the framework that will deliver on that commitment.
Therefore, while I support the spirit of this amendment, I cannot accept it. The amendment focuses specifically on the voluntary sector and on assistance in connection with direct payments. This captures only a small part of the types of assistance disabled people might require and the ways in which they might choose to receive assistance. Although the amendment is not prescriptive in the noble Baroness’s terms and would not prevent the Government making regulations relating to other types of assistance, it could suggest that other sources of support would not have the same emphasis.
I do not think that the voluntary sector should carry the burden of being the sole support provider, and we should avoid suggesting that that is the case. Neither do I see the right to control as simply a system of direct payments; the Government want to see support being made widely available in the context of the right to control, not being confined to assistance with making direct payments. I have set out some of the existing arrangements for support, which we shall explore in the trailblazers, when we can look at other options. The Bill gives us sufficient power to return to this in regulations, if necessary, so we do not need it set in the Bill. However, at this time I do not want to signal any intention to constrain our valuable co-productive approach. Accordingly, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I thank all Members of the Grand Committee who have spoken and supported the amendment. Some very graphic phrases were used, such as when the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said that support services would take the mystery out of direct payments. That is a very good one, and very important. As for the experience of becoming an employer voice by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I have worried about that for a long time; anyone who has run any sort of payroll knows that it is terribly complicated. You do not want to make a mistake because you feel that you might get had up by HMRC for fraud or something awful.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, gave us a most graphic example. On this business of people who need assistance going to bed, their carers can sometimes turn up appallingly early. She gave a very good example of how a lot of people coming together in a city can help each other. It sounded very interesting. The experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, also had great resonance, as that is exactly what happens in a lot of cases.
The Minister fell back on our old friend flexibility, which is a double-edged sword. He talked about these measures possibly being contained in regulations, but might we see a draft of the regulations under this clause when they are produced? It would be extremely helpful if we could see a genuine draft and make comments on the regulations. I know that the Grand Committee was not persuaded by my idea of super-affirmatives, but I am still rather keen on them. They would be a very good way in which to use that sort of procedure, have a look at this matter informally and make suggestions.
We started a consultation process around the right to control a couple of weeks ago. Where we go with the nature of the trailblazers and the components of the issues around support will be very much guided by that consultation. However, as ever, I am happy that we share with the noble Baroness and other noble Lords our thinking as that develops, particularly around provision for support for people. I readily accept the tenor of the debate—that if that is not there then a nominal right to control direct payments is not going to mean very much.
Amendment 163 withdrawn.
164: Clause 33, page 39, line 11, leave out from “particular,” to end of line 22 and insert “impose duties on a relevant authority that is or may be obliged, or has decided, to provide a relevant service to, or to arrange the provision of a relevant service for, a disabled person (P) in prescribed circumstances to do the following—
(a) to support P to assess his own needs;(b) to assess the value of any relevant services to which P is entitled;(c) to notify P of the value of these services (his “individual budget”) and of his right to choose how his individual budget is managed;(d) to support P to draw up a plan (his “support plan”) setting out how he wishes his needs to be met, using his individual budget;(e) to support P to review and revise his support plan;(f) to notify P that he must decide whether he wishes to take his individual budget in the form of—(i) a payment to him (a direct payment);(ii) a payment to any prescribed person for that person to manage on his behalf and in accordance with his support plan;(iii) the provision of services by the relevant authorities which accord with his support plan; or(iv) any combination of sub-paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii);(g) to comply with a decision by P under paragraph (f).( ) The right of P to receive a direct payment under subsection (2) is subject to any conditions that may be imposed by virtue of regulations made under section 34.”
This is probably one of my favourite amendments. I have waxed lyrical on this subject for 18 months. In fact, instead of calling it the right to control, I am starting to call it the real right to control. By the time we get to Report, I shall probably have T-shirts for noble Lords with “The Real Right to Control” on them.
This amendment is about getting the principle absolutely right for this transformative initiative. If we want transformation, we can have it, but unfortunately we cannot have it with the way in which the Bill is currently written.
The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that Clauses 33 and 34 accurately reflect the policy intent of the right to control, as set out in the White Paper Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future. I have it here and I read it every night—I know those principles. The White Paper heralded a radical transformation of the welfare state. No longer would public authorities serve up a one-size-fits-all service; no longer would disabled people be cast in the role of passive recipients. Instead, disabled people would be empowered to take real control of the public service support to which they are entitled. This is after decades of being passive, so it is very important.
However, I am afraid that the transformative approach promised in the White Paper is being lost in translation. Clause 33 states that public authorities will carry out an assessment of the disabled person’s needs, but does not recognise, as the White Paper puts it, that disabled people are the experts in their own lives. It then states that the authorities will prepare, in consultation with the disabled person, a plan setting out the way in which the authority proposes to meet those needs. This merely replicates current professional and service-led relationships and does not reflect the White Paper’s intention that disabled people should be recognised as experts in how best to meet their needs and achieve agreed outcomes and that there should be a more equal partnership at work. Indeed, the White Paper gives an example of support planning that clearly puts the disabled person in the driving seat, working constructively with the public authority, yet the Bill does not deliver that vision accurately.
Further, Clauses 33 and 34 suggest that a disabled person will need to make a specific request to trigger notification of their resource allocation and another request for a direct payment. Placing the onus on disabled people to know that they have a right to request these things simply will not do. We know from experience of community care legislation that giving disabled people the right to request really works only for highly articulate, well informed and determined individuals—basically, bloody-minded people like me—who get the services. However, it simply does not deliver to the majority who desperately need and want them. Therefore, there must be a clear and specific duty on the authorities to inform people of their right to control; otherwise, authorities that are less robust than we would like them to be can all too easily avoid relinquishing power to disabled people. They simply forget to tell them about it. It is wrong to assume that if people do not ask for more choice and control, they do not want it. Moreover, we must not impose yet more red tape and burdens on disabled people to request this, that and the other. That would defeat the whole purpose of the policy.
The final problem with this part of the Bill is that it contains no mechanism to give a disabled person the right to control other than in the form of a direct payment. Many disabled people do not want cash to buy their support. Indeed, we have just had a conversation on how difficult that whole administration bit is—employing people and so on—but we want a service that reflects what we need to do in our lives. Why can services not get us up at eight for work and put us to bed at 11 when we drag home from the pub? Instead, disabled people want the public agency to arrange for services to meet their needs. That is not beyond the whit of services. In these circumstances, it must still be possible to have choice and control over how needs are met. It must be a fundamental principle of a real right to control that you are not required to take responsibility for managing the money to enjoy choice and control over the services you receive. Disabled people who opt for services must be assured that those services will be arranged and delivered in line with their wishes and aspirations, so that they can access work so that they can take control of their families again.
These amendments reinstate the key principles outlined in the White Paper and therefore fully reflect the Government’s intent. I see three major principles of intent in my amendments. First, they give disabled people the clear and automatic right to be told the level of resources they are entitled to: their budget; secondly, they give the right to be equal partners in the process of assessment and support planning; and, thirdly, they give the right to have real control over how resources are used, regardless of whether the disabled person opts for a direct payment, direct service or a mixture of both.
I understand that the Government have concerns over certain aspects of similar amendments debated in Committee in the other place. I have aimed to address these concerns in my amendments by, for example, ensuring that there remains scope for regulations to specify exceptional cases where a disabled person may not have an unfettered right to a direct payment. In addition, I have provided for future regulations to set out how a disabled person may appeal to an independent authority against a decision not to comply with his wish for a direct payment.
My amendments aim to deliver the clarity we need to make this policy a success and enable disabled people to be active citizens not, as services would have them now, burdens of the state or just a bit better. The Bill does not deliver this policy. I have spent a great of time working with DWP officials in an attempt to explain these changes, and I should like to thank them for their openness and willingness to find a way through. Today, I am hoping to receive a constructive and favourable response and that the Minister will undertake to bring back government amendments on Report. I believe that we are finding a way through this one, so I am eager to hear what he has to say. I beg to move.
It is very disappointing that the language of the Bill does not appear to reflect the policy intended in the White Paper. As the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, it certainly does not give the impression that the Government are now focusing on disabled people being in charge of their own futures. It still looks as though they are having decisions made for them, albeit after consultation. If anyone exemplifies someone who is in charge of her own life, it is the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I urge the Government to listen to what she says in this area as she is the expert.
Gone are the days when many disabled people were content to sit back and let other people run their lives. The changes proposed in the amendment are crucial to reflect the changed climate in which these provisions are being brought forward. We support the amendments most strongly.
I strongly support the amendments, which seek to ensure that the radical policy of a right to control, contained in the White Paper, finds more accurate expression in the Bill. I strongly agree with the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. Clauses 33 and 34 provide the basis on which the right to control would be implemented across Britain post the trailblazers. The White Paper states that,
“legislation will provide clarity for both public authorities and disabled people and”—
in the event of a wider rollout—
“would help ensure a universal and consistent application of the right to control principles”.
As currently drafted, the Bill does not achieve this aim. The terminology is rooted in the old ways of care planning and a culture in which professionals always know best, rather than heralding the shift in power from the state towards disabled people which this policy is supposed to be all about.
Under the current model of public service support, disabled people have to fight for everything they get and are subject to a vast amount of costly and stressful red tape. If you do not know your rights, public authorities are not quick to fill you in. Many have missed out on direct payments, disabled facilities grants and the like because the system favours the well-informed, the articulate and the belligerent.
We cannot repeat this pattern under a right to control. It must be different.
I know that much of the detail relating to implementation is being consulted on now, but I urge Ministers to review and revise Clauses 33 and 34 so that they provide a more solid basis for transforming public service support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, is considerably braver than I would dare to be when referring to her noble friend. The Minister will not be surprised to find these amendments, because he will have seen them debated before in an unmodified form in another place. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has very sensibly taken the Commons Minister’s responses to that debate and incorporated them in her amendment, which I am very pleased to support.
The drafting of Clauses 31 and 32 more closely resembles the right to request direct payments and does not provide for self-directed support. Clause 33(2)(a) states that the relevant authority will carry out an assessment of the disabled person’s need, which suggests that it will follow the old model, where professionals dictate to disabled people rather than the self-directed support model, which involves a supported self-assessment, empowering the disabled person to say what their own needs are. The White Paper said that the intention of the legal right to control is to reflect the fact that a disabled individual is the expert in his or her life. That simply must be the case.
The Government will have to make clear their intentions. It is not enough, and will certainly not fob off noble Lords in this Committee—still less those people outside who are waiting for government promises to be delivered—for the Government to continue spouting rhetoric about guaranteeing individual choice and trusting people to judge what is in their own best interests and act accordingly, and other fine intentions, while waiting, for example, for a Law Commission report, which may or may not turn up in 2011, and while pushing forward legislation that falls far short of those ideals in practice.
The amendment is barely a paper’s thickness from the stated positions on direct control of all parties. I hope that the Minister will look again at the provisions that we are debating and conclude that the Bill does not quite deliver what the Government suggested that it would. What we thought we would see following the White Paper, and what I and, I think, other noble Lords would like to see now that the reality of the Bill is presented to us, is for it to be quite clear that the disabled person is placed right in the centre of the arrangements affecting his or her life, and that the state will fall in with that rather than vice versa. I suppose that the amendment is asking for the Government to square a rather difficult circle. It is only the Government who can achieve that.
I thank the noble Baroness for the amendment. I am pleased that it is her favourite as it is the one on which I can respond most fully from the Government’s point of view in the way that she has anticipated. I know that there has been engagement on these issues not only with officials, but with the Secretary of State and the Minister for Disabled People, Jonathan Shaw.
Amendments 164 and 165 would substantially restructure the section in Clause 33 dealing with the core regulation-making powers. The amended version of the text sets out a more prescriptive structure to the right to control process, which more explicitly mirrors the self-directed support process, as identified by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. As well as making further consequential changes, Amendment 166 would provide the power to create the right to appeal to an independent authority in the event of a refusal to make a direct payment.
The Government have worked closely with disabled people in developing the proposals for the right to control. We want it to work and do not want to be caught in the trap, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said, of the professionals always knowing best and people missing out because they are not as thrusting or able to make their way through systems as others might do. I welcome the innovative approaches that we are developing to co-produce proposals. The amendment illustrates that bringing the voice of disabled people into the heart of government and co-producing policy in no way impacts on the important independence of the views of disabled people
The Government are fully committed to the right to control, as set out in the welfare reform White Paper. I accept that the powers in the Bill are broad, but that is to ensure delivery of our White Paper commitments and to encourage local-level innovation. It will enable us to draw on best practice experience from the right-to-control trailblazers in designing any strategy for wider rollout. As I said on the previous amendment, on Thursday 11 June the Government launched a national consultation on the right to control, which will help shape the regulations made under this section of the Bill and help to ensure that the trailblazers fully deliver on our commitments.
Starting with Amendment 166, I agree that there should be an effective way for an individual to challenge decisions taken by relevant authorities. We have always made it clear that the right to control places disabled people at the centre of the services they receive, and the ability to challenge decision-makers is one element of this process. That is why we have included Clause 33(3)(e). It enables the Secretary of State to require an authority to review any decision that it takes, not only in relation to direct payments, but more generally for the right to control. As noble Lords will be aware, any decision made by a public authority can also be subject to judicial review. That will include decisions made in relation to the right to control.
However, the creation of an independent authority as an appeal mechanism for the right to control would require significant public funding. For many relevant services that could be included in the right to control, there will already be review and appeal processes in place. There is no current evidence to suggest the need to replace these mechanisms with an independent appeals authority. At this stage, when decisions are still to be taken regarding the funding streams that will be included, it would not be appropriate to specify in the Bill an independent authority as the appeals route. Once our consultation is completed, a decision will be made regarding which services will be included in the trailblazers. We will then work with the relevant authorities to ensure that appropriate review mechanisms are in place in line with Clause 33(3)(e). We will evaluate the effectiveness of the arrangements made for reviewing right-to-control decisions in the trailblazers. I hope that these commitments in particular will reassure all noble Lords on this point.
Turning to Amendments 164 and 165, I appreciate the concerns expressed by noble Lords, and I agree that it is vital that disabled people should find the right to control easy to access and use. The Government fully expect authorities to be proactive in informing people about the right to control and what it means to them. We already have powers to ensure that this happens, both by issuing guidance and, if necessary, by imposing duties on authorities through regulations.
The Government also recognise the importance of ensuring that the disabled person will be at the centre of the right-to-control process. It is entirely right, as this amendment emphasises, that a disabled person should be able to tailor the support that they receive and have a range of options about how it is delivered. This has always been our aim and this is what we intend to deliver through regulations.
The right to control is not just about direct payments. The intention is for disabled people to have choice, and control, over the resources that the state makes available to meet agreed outcomes, whether these resources are taken in the form of a direct payment or in the form of services arranged by the public authority. Where a disabled person chooses to continue to receive services, the Government will expect authorities to respond flexibly to the individual’s needs and wishes where reasonable and practicable.
However, while I appreciate the principles behind this restructuring, I feel that it fails to capture some vital aspects of our White Paper commitments. For example, this amendment does not reflect our commitment that the outcomes to be achieved through an individual’s support plan must be agreed in partnership between the authority and the individual. This approach was clearly signalled in the White Paper and is central to the right to control. Although the individual will have choice and control over support, we need to recognise that the resources available have been voted for by Parliament for an agreed purpose. This approach ensures that the authority will remain ultimately responsible for the statutory outcome and will be able to provide some further assistance if needed. This does not, however, reduce the individual disabled person’s role in deciding the specific details of the support they want to receive.
It is also worth noting that any changes to the text of the Bill would need to meet our existing commitment to protecting public expenditure. That was referred to in more detail in another place. I am sure that noble Lords will accept that this is particularly important in the current economic climate.
Although I would not be able to support Amendments 164 and 165 in their current form for the reasons I have stated, I recognise the importance of ensuring that the legislation clearly reflects our policy commitments and am sure that we will have made progress in this respect when we return to the matter at a later stage. So, with the assurance that we will return to this matter again after discussion, certainly with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I am not sure whether the Minister was choosing his words particularly carefully when he said, “I am sure we will return”. Does that mean led by him, or does it mean led by Members of the Committee, who by that stage will of course be Members of the House?
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Wilkins, and the noble Lords, Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Northbourne, for their support for the amendment. It is very important that we get this one right, because, for me, it is the definition of what we are about to do here. I am very pleased to hear the Minister say that it is something that he and the department will wish to look at quite deeply over the coming months before we come back, because I will come back to this one, because I feel so strongly that the overarching principles which will dictate how we take this policy forward are very important. I understand that an independent mechanism for appeal may have cost implications. However, I would like to be really reassured that there will be a clear and accessible way to appeal decisions that are made unfavourably when the disabled person wishes to take up a direct payment or have more control but does not find that they are getting it. We will need to look at those procedures again to ensure that they are clear.
On Amendments 164 and 165, again, we cannot simply rely on regulations and duties to take forward this principle of the right to control. We know that local authorities can be quite lazy when it comes to their duty to implement regulations, duties and laws, and I want to ensure that in this Bill we have a clear indication of what a right to control is. Quite frankly, it will be difficult for some local authorities to get their heads around this because they have spent the past 100 years helping, doing good and caring for disabled people, and it is not easy to make that transformative step in their heads.
I think that the wording has to change. I am easy about what words we use as long as they lead to the same place. I look forward to coming back to this issue on Report and to seeing what we come up with in the mean time. I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 164 withdrawn.
Amendment 165 not moved.
Clause 33 agreed.
Clause 34 : Provision that may be made about direct payments
Amendment 166 not moved.
167: Clause 34, page 40, line 34, leave out subsection (3)
Having had several interesting and instructive debates about the merits of direct control, the benefits that will accrue to the individuals affected and the extent to which funding streams should be included, Amendments 167 and 169 deal with the implementation of right to control schemes.
In a previous debate, we watched the Minister explain—perhaps “tussle with” would be a better phrase—the justification for excluding types of funding on the grounds that different moneys come from different departments. Regardless of where the money comes from, however, one thing is true: we are not dealing with new money. We have been debating who spends the money that is already swirling around government funds, and how. There is no suggestion that direct-control payments would increase costs to the relevant departments. That is not what noble Lords have been calling for. Indeed, it is not something that we could realistically expect to call for, as the Minister has just pointed out.
Therefore, when I read Clause 34(3), I thought of a question. Subsection (3) allows a local authority to refuse a request for direct payments if it would create an unreasonable burden on finances. I accept that there may be circumstances to warrant this, such as a request to finance a service that would never reasonably be provided by that particular authority. However, what is there in this provision to prevent a local authority refusing a reasonable request on the ground that it cannot be afforded, a point made just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner? I worry about a postcode lottery and that some local authorities, perhaps one that has mismanaged its finances, may use direct control as a fig leaf to cover its own failings by refusing reasonable requests on the inaccurate grounds that they cost too much.
Amendment 169, which changes the word “subsection” to “section”, does not do much by itself. I merely wanted to bring into our debates the pilot schemes for direct control. I do not wish to add much to the point that I made in the debate on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, which is that the Government have the luxury of the pilot scheme to road test ideas. I urge the Minister to be bold, to uphold the raised expectations that the White Paper aroused, and to give real teeth to direct-control payments. I suggest that, were he to do so, he would be pleasantly surprised with the results, an outcome that would please almost everyone. For the Government, there is, in the words of President Roosevelt,
“nothing to fear but fear itself”.
I beg to move.
I support the amendment in one respect. I said in a debate on a previous amendment, referring to my own experience, that when I had sought assistance my local authority had informed me that the whole thing was “within available resources” and that it did not have available resources. It looks to me as though the last line of this clause says the same thing in a different way, talking about whether it would,
“impose an unreasonable financial burden on the providing authority”.
Can the Minister explain whether this is the same as “within available resources” or, if not, precisely what it does mean?
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for giving me the opportunity to explain why the Bill is drafted as it is on this issue. I will first respond to Amendment 169, which addresses the piloting powers contained in Clause 36. The amendment seeks to extend the 36-month time limit in subsection (1) to the whole clause. I reassure noble Lords that the 36-month time limit already applies to the whole of Clause 36.
I welcome the chance to discuss the piloting. We prefer to describe it as “trailblazing”, as we think this is an accurate description of what we are proposing. The right to control marks a significant innovation in the choice and control that disabled adults have over their support and services. For this reason, it is right to test it in a number of trailblazing public authorities to inform the decision about wider rollout. The trailblazer design will encourage disabled people, their organisations, and the agencies and authorities involved, to work together to develop innovative solutions to new challenges. This will give us the opportunity to explore how the right to control will work on the ground.
This clause gives flexibility over who is included in the pilot and what timescales are involved. The trailblazers will commence during 2010 and it is our intention that the results from their operation should be available during 2012-13, but we have powers to run them for up to 36 months. We may also want to run subsequent pilots along the same or similar lines. Such flexibility will make a real difference, as it will help us to collect the robust evidence needed to inform a decision on national rollout.
We are committed to consulting on how the trailblazers will operate. Consultation on the right to control was launched, as I said previously, on 11 June this year and will run until the end of September. It will explore questions such as what we need to do to ensure that disabled people and their organisations can play a full part in our trailblazers, what the implications are for services providers and how they can be assisted to play their part in promoting choice and control in the right to control trailblazers. Answering these questions will be an important test of how the right works in practice.
Amendment 167 would remove the obligation on the Secretary of State to make regulations which provide that an authority does not have to give a direct payment if that payment would prove an unreasonable financial burden. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, yes, it would have to be prescribed in regulations. It is our intention to introduce the right to control to ensure that disabled people have more choice and control over the services that they receive from the state. This legislation will enable us to meet that commitment.
However, there is a balance to be struck. We must ensure that the introduction of the right to control does not disadvantage those who are content with the services they receive and do not wish to change them. The right to control is currently untested. If, for example, large numbers of requests for direct payments threatened existing services provided by the local authority, it would be essential that those who chose to continue to use the service were not disadvantaged—I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that that is the thrust of the point that we seek to cover here—and that pressures on public authorities did not become unsustainable.
This clause therefore provides a safeguard for services and public finances. I reassure noble Lords that the clause is not to be used as a way of preventing disabled people exercising their right to control. Clause 34(3) has been deliberately drafted to ensure that we can clarify in secondary legislation and guidance when this provision can be used. We do not want to be prescriptive in primary legislation because we want to develop clear guidelines in collaboration with disabled people and public authorities.
The circumstances in which this clause would be used will be carefully considered during consultation. We would expect any public authorities to provide compelling reasons for refusing a direct payment on these grounds and we will issue guidance to make that clear. As I mentioned earlier, we are conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the trailblazers. This will include monitoring the use of this clause to ensure that it has the effect of guarding against unaffordable pressures while allowing effective delivery of services. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured by the explanation of why that provision is in the Bill.
The longer these debates go on, the more confused I am becoming. Clause 31(5) specifically excludes community care services as defined by the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. So, by definition, we are talking about different services. However, the Minister keeps referring to local authority services. Can he please explain which services are covered by this Bill and which are not?
The structure of the Bill sets out the types of services and funding streams that would be envisaged in the trailblazers. We have debated why community care services are excluded. It is not that they should be excluded from being involved in the right to control arrangements; it is simply that the legislation is dealt with elsewhere. There has been a debate about whether that is the appropriate formulation that we should accept, but I do not think that anybody is saying that community care services are excluded from this new and innovative approach of giving the disabled the right to control the services that are available to them. The precise funding streams for the services that will be included will have to be developed in relation to, and under, the trailblazers to test how they work and what can be made to work. That would clearly include local authority services.
I am happy to be pinned down on this—or I think I am. The Government have committed to include in trailblazers disability employment services and independent living funds. We are also exploring including housing support for disabled people and the disabled facilities grants arrangements. Those are some of the services that could be included.
At last it is becoming clearer in, as I said earlier, my somewhat confused mind. I am extremely grateful to the Minister.
I suspect that Amendment 169 depends on the draftsman. I know many draftsmen who would have used the word “section” at the beginning and drafted the rest of the clause slightly differently. Looking carefully at the clause, I see that it all refers to subsection (1), so in another draftsman’s mind, the word “subsection” would be perfectly appropriate.
On Amendment 167, I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I shall have to study carefully what he has said, including the additional information on which I pinned him down, and I will consider that before we reach the next stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 167 withdrawn.
Amendment 168 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 34 agreed.
Clause 35 agreed.
Clause 36 : Pilot schemes
Amendment 169 not moved.
Clause 36 agreed.
Clause 37 : The appropriate authority by which regulations under section 33 are made
170: Clause 37, page 42, line 21, leave out “and”
I shall also speak to the other government amendments in the group. Since introducing the Bill my ministerial colleagues and officials have continued to work with the devolved Administrations.
Amendments 170 to 174 will ensure that Welsh Ministers will have the power to make secondary legislation to bring devolved funding streams and services within the scope of the right to control. The right to control could impact on a number of devolved areas given the breadth of the definition of “relevant service” in Clause 31. These could include further education, higher education, training and skills programmes, housing in relation to living independently and services that enable disabled people to overcome barriers to participation in society. It has always been our intention that the provisions in the Bill reflect the devolution settlement. These amendments are therefore technical to ensure that this intention is accurately reflected in the Bill.
At present, the drafting of Clause 37 would mean that Welsh Ministers will have power to make regulations under Clause 33 only if the National Assembly for Wales has legislative competence in that policy area. The provision is inconsistent with the current devolution settlement in Wales. The National Assembly’s legislative competence is being increased incrementally and it currently does not have competence to legislate in a number of areas where Welsh Ministers have executive competence. When both Ministers of the Crown and Welsh Ministers have functions in relation to a particular service, both will be in a position to make right-to-control regulations.
The amendments are therefore necessary to ensure that regulation-making powers are afforded to Welsh Ministers that relate to their executive competence and therefore reflect the devolution settlement. I beg to move.
All social security law applies across the whole of the United Kingdom, even though individual bits of legislation might be slightly different in the various parts thereof. I can only assume that an eagle-eyed official spotted that the Bill would be pretty ineffective in Wales if the changes were not made, so the noble Lords who want to see the reforms work in the Principality—I firmly include myself in that number—owe a vote of thanks. Can we be satisfied that Scotland is fully covered?
Yes. The amendment reflects the difference in the state of devolution between Scotland and Wales. Legislative competence is not complete in respect of the Assembly, but Welsh Ministers have executive competence. That has been picked up in the Amendments. The same situation does not pertain in Scotland.
Amendment 170 agreed.
Amendments 171 to 174
171: Clause 37, page 42, line 26, at end insert—
“(c) in relation to provision that does not fall within paragraph (b) and relates to relevant services in Wales with respect to which functions are exercisable— (i) by a Minister of the Crown, and(ii) by the Welsh Ministers, the First Minister or the Counsel General,the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers are the appropriate authority, and(d) in relation to provision that does not fall within paragraph (b) or (c) and relates to relevant services in Wales with respect to which functions are exercisable by the Welsh Ministers, the First Minister or the Counsel General, the Welsh Ministers are the appropriate authority.”
172: Clause 37, page 42, line 27, after “33” insert—
173: Clause 37, page 42, line 28, at end insert “and
(b) does not include power to make provision—(i) removing or modifying any function of the Welsh Ministers, the First Minister or the Counsel General, or(ii) conferring or imposing any function on the Welsh Ministers, the First Minister or the Counsel General.( ) Any power of the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under section 33 by virtue of subsection (2)(c) or (d) does not include power to make provision—
(a) removing or modifying any function of a Minister of the Crown, or(b) conferring or imposing any function on a Minister of the Crown.”
174: Clause 37, page 42, line 30, at end insert—
““the Counsel General” means the Counsel General to the Welsh Assembly Government;
“the First Minister” means the First Minister for Wales;
“Minister of the Crown” includes the Treasury.”
Amendments 171 to 174 agreed.
Clause 37, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 38 to 41 agreed.
174ZA: Before Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Child Support Act 1991 (c. 48) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 1(1) for “is responsible for maintaining him” substitute “has joint and several responsibility for his maintenance and joint responsibility for his wellbeing”.”
We now turn to the aspects of the Bill that relate to child maintenance. Part 3 is about improving the success rate in collecting child maintenance. This probing amendment is about success in collecting child maintenance in the context of the responsibilities of fathers. The Child Support Act 1991 is still seen by many men as profoundly unfair. Many men still believe that fathering a child is a macho achievement, a scalp, a notch on the belt that does not carry with it any obligation towards the child. Other fathers complain that the mother misled them about contraception. Some have other excuses that, to them, make the collection of child maintenance seem unfair. There is a real need, in practical terms, in order to facilitate the collection of child maintenance, to try to change that mindset.
There is an urgent need to persuade all men that they share equally with the potential mother the responsibility for the outcomes of unprotected sex. They need to understand clearly that if the woman has a child, they will also be responsible for the financial maintenance of that child until it reaches the age of 16, and they need to understand why.
If one wants to change a mindset, it is now widely accepted that two things have to be done. First, one must convince the majority of the public that there are good reasons for the change and, secondly, one must follow up with a degree of legal enforcement. In the case of secondary smoking, this Government did a wonderful job using both these levers successfully to achieve their objective. However, the case of child maintenance is not quite the same. Not enough effort has been put into building public consensus about the responsibilities of the father. The first step in doing this must be to define as clearly as possible the responsibilities of the father and of the father and the mother if they bring a child into the world. The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 lays on the commission set up by that Act a duty to take steps to raise awareness among parents of the importance of taking responsibility for the maintenance of their children. I know it is an unfair question to ask the Minister, so perhaps he could write to me about what has been done about that obligation.
My amendment, by implication, asks two questions: first, what does the current law say about the responsibilities of a man towards any child he fathers and how are those responsibilities shared with the mother? Secondly, and more specifically, if a father pays his maintenance regularly, what residual obligations, if any, does he have towards the child and what obligations in relation to the child remain with the mother? For example, who is responsible for the emotional, social and moral guidance of the child? Are these obligations set out clearly anywhere so that mothers and fathers can understand them? I think that question needs a good deal of research to answer, and I shall be happy if the Minister wants to write to me about it. However, it is important to have clear answers to these questions and agreed policies so that they can be taught in schools. They can be taught to young people in the family and in a variety of settings so that the responsibilities of men and boys in fathering children are more clearly understood and they no longer assume that it is the responsibility of the girl alone to ensure that she does not get pregnant. In a civilised society with the availability of effective contraception for all who want it, is there any reason why there should be unwanted children? I beg to move.
During the past four weeks, and indeed at Second Reading, I felt the need to speak several times about rights and responsibilities. It is hardly surprising, then, that I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his endeavour to make it crystal clear that it is the responsibility—the duty, if you like—of both parents to look after the needs of any children that they bear, whether in or out of wedlock. Indeed, as the noble Lord said, this is the whole philosophy behind the Child Support Act, which, although altered several times by this Government, was introduced and enacted by my party in 1991. Although that Act is 99 per cent directed at the financial security of the child, it covers situations where the non-resident parent has a child living with him from time to time.
The Salvation Army recently published a report entitled The Seeds of Exclusion. As yet, I have read only the executive summary. It has a couple of paragraphs headed “Childhood experiences”, which point out that negative experiences in childhood have a significant bearing on experiences in adulthood. I accept that it is possible that single parents will have an ameliorating effect on that, but how much better would it be if both parents were involved, even if one of them were on a part-time basis. However, the best advice that I have ever heard given to young people was by the late Reverend Lord Soper. At the end of an “any questions” session in a school, the members of the panel were asked what advice they would give the audience. He replied, “Remember who your parents are”, by which he meant, “Your parents’ standards should be your own”. Perhaps he meant that but I could, of course, read it rather more cynically as, “Do you really want to grow up like them?”. The Bill is trying to change the standards of those affected by it in various respects. Having both parents to look at and, it is hoped, to look up to is a worthy ambition and so I am right behind the amendment.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for this amendment. With the leave of the Committee, perhaps I may briefly return to some matters that we debated earlier, one of which is certainly relevant to the amendment before us.
During our debates over the past few weeks, several issues have been raised, with resonance with discussions in another place, around the conditionality requirements for parents and the safeguards that we are providing for this group and for those with health conditions or disabilities. There have been some lengthy and important debates, with valuable contributions made by noble Lords from all sides. We have been listening to and carefully considering those contributions.
We are conscious that, to be successful, our policies need to be perceived by lone parents as positive and supportive. As noble Lords have eloquently made clear in previous sessions, this is not always the case and there remains fear about our policies and about how people may be treated in reality. The Secretary of State and I have been struck by the powerful arguments put forward by noble Lords and stakeholder groups that more reassurance needs to be given in the Bill. As such, I am pleased to inform the Committee that we intend to introduce a number of government amendments on Report.
We have had an extremely important debate about the need for advisers to take into account the well-being of the child when they discuss return-to-work activity with parents. In particular, I pay tribute to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, here. We are fully persuaded of the importance of this approach and therefore intend to make express provision in the Bill that the well-being of the child or children must be taken into account when a jobseeker’s agreement or action plan is drawn up with a parent.
We have also had considerable debate on the factors that decision-makers should consider when determining whether there is good cause for failing to undertake mandatory activity. Noble Lords are aware that these factors are set out in regulations. We now intend to amend the Bill to enshrine in primary legislation that decision-makers must consider the availability of childcare, when the claimant is a parent, and the claimant has a health condition or disability. This is our current policy and practice, but it will now be set out in primary legislation.
We had a very useful debate on victims of domestic violence, when the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Kennedy, made powerful contributions. The Secretary of State and I are very sympathetic to these arguments, and wish to include in the Bill that parents who are in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance and are victims, or in fear, of domestic violence should be entitled to continue to receive jobseeker’s allowance without the job-seeking conditionality for a period of three months. In short, they can have a three-month exemption from conditionality.
There has been some confusion about our plans for lone parents with a youngest child aged seven and above. Last November we changed regulations so that this group would no longer be entitled to income support. Instead they will have to claim either jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance, depending on their circumstances. The Bill makes no change to this position but it seems that there may be some concern that we plan to extend jobseeker’s allowance conditionality to lone parents with younger children. I give noble Lords a categorical assurance that this is not our intention. We will therefore amend the Bill to make it clear in primary legislation that lone parents and partners with a youngest child aged below seven will not be required to seek or take work. This is our commitment, and the Bill will now make it clear.
As we have discussed, we plan to introduce the progression-to-work pathfinders for those lone parents with a youngest child aged three to six. Concerns have been expressed that, in the future, this policy may be extended and lone parents of very young children could be required to undertake work-related activity and may be sanctioned for failure to comply. We will therefore put in the Bill that no lone parent with a child aged below three will be subject to mandatory work-related activity. They will still be able to volunteer for such activity, though, and receive appropriate support.
These amendments confirm existing government policy by putting it into primary legislation. We have always made it clear that the measures will be implemented in a way that supports families and children. These safeguards give parents reassurance that Governments will not be able to make changes to this landmark Bill without going back to Parliament.
I hope that noble Lords will welcome this statement and the proposed amendments, which we will table in advance of Report. I hope to be able to meet noble Lords in advance of Report to discuss them in more detail. I will also write to all noble Lords who have spoken on the Bill, giving them the text of this statement, which I believe is available here today. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for straying a little wider than the amendment, but I thought it a useful opportunity to put on the record some things that we have been thinking about in recent days. I thank noble Lords for all their contributions, which have been helpful.
I am sure that the Minister is about to turn to this particular amendment, but every Member of the Committee, whether in this Room or not, will appreciate that the Minister has made a most important statement, showing that the Government have indeed listened and, I hope, learnt from the discussions that we had, not least on Clause 2. It will repay very careful study, which we will all give it—or I certainly will. On the face of it, what the Minister now proposes is much closer than what my party originally proposed, from which ideas on much of the formulation of the Bill arose. So I am very grateful for what he has just said.
I am grateful for the noble Lord’s support for the statement. I shall perhaps leave aside the extent to which it picks up the policy that the noble Lord’s party has proposed. I do not think that it is the occasion to do that. If we have an agreement on the direction, that is a good outcome.
I turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which seeks to modify the duty of parents to maintain their child, as defined in Section 1 of the Child Support Act 1991, so that parents of a qualifying child should make provision for the well-being of their children, alongside the need to provide financial support.
Some noble Lords present today will recall that the issue of parental responsibility was discussed at length during the passage of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. We debated a number of amendments, which would have required the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to promote the full responsibilities of parenthood, including matters relating to health development and welfare.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was instrumental in ensuring that these important issues were debated, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment before us today, I am sure he will not be surprised to hear that the Government have not changed their mind on that and therefore I am unable to accept the amendment. Before I set out why, for the benefit of the Committee I should like to restate the role of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and the statutory objectives by which it operates. The noble Lord referred to these.
Section 2 of the 2008 Act makes it clear that the commission must maximise the number of effective maintenance arrangements in place between separated parents. Furthermore, as set out in Sections 4 and 5, the commission must take whatever steps it deems appropriate to promote financial responsibility for children among parents, and to provide them with information and guidance about how maintenance arrangements can be established. This is the function of the commission’s Child Maintenance Options service.
In summary, the commission’s functions are clearly and deliberately built around the need to secure payments of child maintenance. Of course, I recognise and fully support the fundamental premise that parental responsibility does not stop with financial commitments alone. However, I do not believe that the Child Support Act is the right legislation to contain a broader statement on parental responsibility or that the commission would be the right body to pursue this broader agenda. While I recognise that the amendment being proposed would not necessarily require the commission to enforce this wider duty, the fact that it would be contained within the Child Support Act may suggest that this is the case.
While the proper place for such legislation would be the Children Act 1989, which already contains a definition of parental responsibility—I know the noble Lord is aware of this from the debates we had both in relation to the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill and the Children and Young Person’s Act 2008—the Government does not favour the legislative approach in any event. However, that does not mean that the link between child maintenance payments and other aspects of parental responsibility is ignored. Part of the role of the Child Maintenance Options service is to guide parents towards specialist organisations that can help with other aspects of parental responsibility. Furthermore, Section 7 of the 2008 Act gives the commission power to enter into arrangements with other agencies that may have similar issues.
In addition, the commission is currently conducting research with parents to establish what factors encourage appropriate parental behaviour. The findings will be used to deliver marketing and communication campaigns that promote parents’ awareness of the importance of taking responsibility for maintaining their children. This approach is detailed in the commission’s corporate plan, which is due to run until the end of the 2011-2012 financial year, a copy of which I will make available to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord asked about Section 4 of the 2008 Act and how the commission is promoting parental responsibility. In addition to the planned research and resultant marketing and communications campaigns, which I have already mentioned, the commission will work alongside other government departments, agencies, trusted intermediary and specialist advisory organisations that interact with families, children and separated parents. This will be done with the aim of promoting the benefits of maintenance arrangements and to build awareness and demand for the help available through the Child Maintenance Options service. Perhaps I may say that that service was introduced when we removed compulsion to use the state maintenance service on parents with care who claimed benefits. In a sense, it is early days yet, but I am more than happy to write to noble Lords to give them an update on how that is progressing. I had some data when we were debating regulations last night, but they are in another file. I hope that with those reassurances the noble Lord will accept that the amendment is not in the right place here, but I am sure that we will have another go at the matter.
After such a deluge of good news, I would have given anything to the noble Lord. I fully accept the Government’s position that it is only the financial aspects of parental responsibility that they are prepared to address at the moment. In that context, will the noble Lord consider the idea, which is only a suggestion, that the commission should be encouraged to contribute to the discussions that are now going on about the PSHE curriculum? The social element of the PSHE curriculum could be a relevant place in which to draw the attention of young people to the responsibilities of fathers.
Amendment 174ZA withdrawn.
Clause 42 : Disqualification for holding etc. driving licence or travel authorisation
174A: Clause 42, page 44, line 6, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) in subsection (1), after “section” insert “(referred to in this section and sections 39C to 39F as a “disqualification order”)”,”
The amendments are tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and were unanimously agreed by Members of the Constitution Committee, so are therefore Select Committee amendments.
Amendments 174A, 174C and 174D relate to the recommendation in paragraph 10 of the report on the Bill, published on 23 April, that the commission should have to apply to the court for an order to disqualify a person from holding or obtaining a driving licence, travel authorisation, or both, rather than the commission being able to make the order. The amendments to the 1991 Act stipulate that the order-making powers are with the court, and accordingly, Section 39(1) of the 1991 Act would need little, if any amendment.
The committee expressed concern that an unintended change to the constitution could occur whereby the Executive would acquire powers to impose sanctions and punishments on people in a way that is more properly exercised by the courts rather than civil servants. It is the view of the Select Committee that suspending a person’s right to hold a passport should be the responsibility of judges, not civil servants. Under the Bill’s provisions, a person disqualified by the commission from holding a passport would have a right to appeal to the court and, if such a right of appeal is exercised, the disqualification would be suspended while the appeal is determined.
The clause begs two questions: first, whether the sanction power is one that the Executive rather than the court should exercise, and secondly, whether it is really a practical and cost-effective way in which to proceed. Your Lordships’ Select Committee, including those of us who have spent decades dealing with constituency cases concerning child maintenance—the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has dealt with them in the courts—yields to nobody in its concern for those affected, and will require a convincing reply to questions about whether the provisions will improve or diminish the rights of those who are potentially affected.
Amendment 174E reflects the committee’s further recommendations. The Bill gives the court the power to hear an appeal against the commission’s decision. If the amendments were accepted, the Bill would empower the courts to make both the original decision and hear any subsequent appeal. Amendment 174E addresses the committee’s other recommendations in paragraph 10 of the report. Section 111 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 already provides for appeals to the High Court that could be used in the context of the circumstances covered by the Bill. Amendment 174B addresses the recommendation in paragraph 11 of your Lordships’ committee’s report that if, contrary to the committee’s view, the commission is to be given administrative powers to remove people’s passports, that power should be exercised only by officials of appropriate seniority.
Schedule 5 contains consequential amendments to Clause 42. Your Lordships’ Select Committee will propose amendments to Schedule 5 if and when it is appropriate during the further proceedings on the Bill. Amendment 174G is pursuant to your Lordships’ committee’s recommendation that if, contrary to our recommendations, the commission were to be given administrative powers to remove passports, the powers to make disqualification orders cannot be contracted out to private body or other people. If contrary to your Lordships’ committee’s recommendations and, I venture to think, that of your Lordships' House, administrative power is created for the commission to remove passports, it should be accompanied by an amendment to Section 8(1) of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 to exclude the imposition of sanction powers from those functions of the commission that may be contracted out.
In the view of your Lordships’ Select Committee, it would not be constitutionally appropriate for a third party or private body to have decision-making power over who may not leave the United Kingdom. That is a matter for the courts. I beg to move.
I strongly support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. I apologise to him and to noble Lords for not being here at the commencement of his speech. These amendments raise an issue of profound constitutional importance. As the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, has pointed out, the Executive is acquiring ever more frequently powers to impose sanctions on citizens and punish them without having to take matters before the court. I take the view that it is no answer to the taking of those powers that a right of appeal to a court against the imposition of the sanction is given, not least because some people who are the subject of these powers, whose passports are taken away from them, may be deterred from appealing to the court by the exercise of the administrative sanction. They may be deterred by the cost, the inconvenience and, perhaps most importantly, by the formality of the exercise of an administrative sanction against them.
Why is this power needed at all? Is it simply a matter of administrative convenience, as I suspect? If there is some more deep-rooted issue behind it, what is it? Why is it not, as in times gone by, enough that the state has a power to go to a court or a tribunal to seek the sanction against the individual? That would not be expensive, difficult or time-consuming, or involve any deterrent to the state with all the resources it has available to it. This is a matter of profound constitutional importance. I ask the Government to think again about it.
I have very little to add to what the noble Lords, Lord Goodlad and Lord Pannick, have said, except to support the amendments most strongly. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood, who much regrets that he cannot be here this afternoon, likened the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, to a cavalry charging over a hill into the government ranks. His Constitution Committee has produced an admirably succinct and unequivocal report, which poses the central question to this part of the Bill—whether the power of sanctions is one that the Executive rather than a court should be allowed to exercise. We agree strongly with the Constitution Committee’s answer to that.
Perhaps I might quote the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, from last year, when the Minister changed his mind and agreed with the Constitution Committee. He said, and his words were prophetic:
“I note that he reserves the right to come back with future legislation and, of course, no Parliament can bind its successors. We will scrutinise any proposals that come forward pursuant to that intention with the same rigour”.—[Official Report, 13/5/08; col. 964.]
He then supported the amendment, which of course changed the position. Now that it has come back, I expect that the Minister will say that it is because of the number of payments that are still not coming forward. However, that does not make it right, and we strongly support the amendments coming from the Constitution Committee.
Many Members of this Committee will remember the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill of 2007 very well indeed—including my noble friend Lord Goodlad, who moved a similar set of amendments in discussions on that Bill. Clause 25 of that Bill changed the long-standing arrangement whereby the CSA had to apply to the courts for the ultimate sanction of the removal of driving licences, identity cards and passports from absent parents who refuse to pay their dues in respect of their child or children to the parent with care. The clause allowed the CSA to remove those pieces of travel authorisation administratively without any reference to the courts. It was also to be possible for that to be contracted out under Clause 8.
Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee produced a report that reminded the House that the right to leave and return to one’s country is recognised as a fundamental right in international law. It therefore followed that a civil servant or private sector employee should not be given the power to remove a person’s travel documents without reference to a court of law. To cut my story short, the Government did a volte face and moved an amendment on the second day of Report to return to the status quo ante—in other words, the sanction of a removal of travel authorisations by the courts. To my surprise, that was a totally voluntary act on behalf of the Government; no Division was required. But this Government will not take this House’s clear wish for an answer for very long. The constant pressure for 42 days’ detention without trial for suspects of terrorism is a case in point. I have lost count of the number of times they have tried to put that into law. Is it four, five, six or seven? I do not know.
But I digress. The Bill does something rather different from the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, now an Act, in respect of travel authorisation. It returns the Government’s wish for CMEC to have the power to remove driving licences or travel authorisation, or both, administratively, in part for a trial period. If the trial is unsuccessful in persuading the absent parent to pay up, there is a sunset provision, returning to the position of doing this through the courts. If, however, the trial—or pilot, I should call it—is successful, an order must be made to continue it.
I said at Second Reading that my party was prepared to give these pilots for driving licences a go to see whether they had the desired effect of money being given up for the upbringing of the child. I do not resile from that statement. However, I note that your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, does not resile from its position either—namely, that the Executive should not be allowed such power of sanction. I am tempted to agree with the committee, but there are two ways in which to deal with this problem. Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee has chosen one way, which is to return more or less to the status quo ante. In the next section of the amendments, I shall produce another way in which to deal with this, which with a bit of luck will be slightly more acceptable to the Government.
I return to the amendments of my noble friend Lord Goodlad. My noble friend wants a decision to withdraw these authorisations to be made at a senior level within CMEC—namely, by a senior director. I like this idea and could easily incorporate it into my own formulation in my next group of amendments. It seems that his say-so would set the withdrawal proceedings in motion in the courts by virtue of, as I understand it, Amendments 174C and 174D. If the courts are dealing with the matter, my noble friend sees no need for an appeals mechanism once the court order has been made, as presumably the normal appeals system through higher and higher courts would operate. This appeals mechanism is therefore disapplied by Amendment 174E. My noble friend also dislikes an award of costs being made when a court proceeding occurs. That must be the purpose of Amendment 174F. His new clause is consequential.
I congratulate my noble friend on his very comprehensive series of amendments, which, taken together, return us, as I said, to the status quo ante. I, however, have a rather different proposal, which will come up in the next series of amendments and which I expect the Government to find more acceptable—if, that is, they find any changes acceptable.
I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for this amendment. I think that the debate we are going to have is likely to be pretty much a re-run of the debate that we had last year. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has travelled that fine line by staying with his Front Bench in the other place, which, I believe, has changed its position on this as well.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that the Government did not change their mind on the previous occasion; the reality was that it was an issue that we conceded in wrapping up one or two other outstanding issues in relation to the Bill. That happens sometimes with legislation. We believe that the administrative arrangements are right now and we believe that they were right then, but it was not a matter that we pressed or an issue that we were prepared to let go last time in the context of other things that needed to be settled.
I am sure that that is right. Amendments 174A and 174C to 174F remove from the commission the power to make an order disqualifying a liable person from holding or obtaining a travel authorisation—usually a passport—or a driving licence. Instead, those powers would be held by the courts.
I am aware—it has already been cited—that on 23 April this year the Select Committee on the Constitution published a report expressing the opinion that it is “constitutionally unsatisfactory” for the commission to have that power. I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that I think that that is a lesser charge than “profoundly constitutionally significant”, which was the noble Lord’s phrase.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, is, of course, the chairman of the Constitution Committee and, if I may say so, an extremely distinguished one at that. However, on this occasion, I find that I cannot agree with his position or that of the committee that he so expertly chairs. I draw that conclusion for a number of reasons, starting with two very important points relating to these powers as they stand in the Bill.
First, the provisions are drawn such that the commission may make a disqualification order only if it can be shown that the non-resident parent has either wilfully refused or culpably neglected to pay the child maintenance for which he or she is liable. I shall refer to that as the “wilful and culpable test”. The second point is that these powers are not intended to act as a punishment for non-payment. Along with other powers already available to the commission, a disqualification order has only one purpose: to encourage the liable person to pay the outstanding child maintenance debt that he or she owes.
So it may be argued, as the Constitution Committee did, that,
“to impose sanctions and punish people”,
should fall within the remit of the courts and not the executive. However, it does not follow that a decision to make a disqualification order such as we are debating today should not be made by the executive body whose very purpose is to ensure that parents who live apart from their children continue to make a fair contribution to their upbringing.
The wilful and culpable test means that the commission cannot make a disqualification order on a whim. It means that before such an order can be made there must be proper consideration of the circumstances of the case, the non-resident parent must have accrued a child maintenance debt over a period of time, and the commission must first have attempted to use its other collection and enforcement powers to no avail, some of which I am bound to say operate by administrative procedures as we were debating last night. Those powers are extensive and include, for example, the ability to deduct money direct from earnings or from a bank account.
Therefore, a decision to make a disqualification order may be made only after the commission has made every effort to ensure that child maintenance is paid and when, despite all its efforts, the non-resident parent has actively avoided his or her responsibilities and the children and parent with care are left wanting.
I have said that a disqualification order is not a punishment measure. To support that further, the Bill ensures that a non-resident parent facing the imposition of such an order has a straightforward means to avoid it by paying the child maintenance debt owed or agreeing and sticking to a satisfactory payment arrangement with the commission. By the same means, a non-resident parent against whom an order is made can equally ensure that it is rapidly lifted.
I am also convinced that when a court decides to impose a sanction, such as a disqualification order, it does so in the light of its prior dealings with the liable person—in other words, following conviction for an offence. In the case of a non-resident parent who owes child maintenance debt, the commission is best placed to make those decisions. Its experience of prior dealings with the non-resident parent means that it is best qualified to decide whether the non-resident parent’s actions meet the wilful and culpable test.
When the commission makes such decisions, there are further safeguards. The commission is required to consider the impact on any children affected by a decision to make a disqualification order, and it must also consider the impact of a disqualification order on the non-resident parent’s ability to earn a living. There is one final safeguard. Clause 42 makes provision to ensure that there is a robust and proper right of appeal against a decision by the commission to make a disqualification order. If an appeal is lodged, the order cannot come into effect until it has been dealt with by a magistrate or a sheriff.
Currently, the commission has the power to make an application to the court for commitment to prison or disqualification from driving, as the court considers appropriate. Although data are limited, there is evidence that a significant proportion of non-resident parents in these cases do not bother to attend the court hearing. Under the provisions we are debating today, the onus will fall on the non-resident parents to decide whether they want their day in court, which they will get by appealing the order. That system will mean that the court’s time is used more efficiently than it is currently, and therefore it will better enable the commission to focus its efforts to get more money to children.
Amendment 174B would require an executive director of the commission—if it were to proceed—to approve the making of any disqualification order in relation to holding or obtaining a travel authorisation or a driving licence.
I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, to ensure that a decision to make a disqualification order should not be taken lightly. I agree with him that in order to ensure that is so the decision-maker should be a person with the appropriate level of seniority. That must be right. However, with respect to the amendment, I do not consider that it is either necessary or appropriate for the decision-maker’s seniority to be specified in the Bill.
Parliament has decided that the executive body responsible for operating the statutory maintenance scheme in Great Britain should be a non-departmental public body. While there was much debate over the detail of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, there was broad support for that particular element of the reforms. The principle of this amendment is fundamentally contrary to that approach. It would unreasonably constrain the commission’s ability to organise its work and its decision-making processes as it considers appropriate.
Of course, the commission does not have an entirely free hand in that respect. It is obliged to ensure that all of its administrative functions are operated fairly and consistently and in accordance with human rights legislation. That, of course, includes the powers to make disqualification orders. In that respect, the commission will be held to account by the Government and the courts in respect of the way it operates these and other powers.
Furthermore, a number of safeguards are already provided by the legislation. The commission must consider the impact of the decision on the non-resident parent’s ability to earn a living. It must assess whether the non-resident parent has met the wilful and culpable test, and it must consider, as I said a moment ago, the welfare of any child affected by the decision. Finally, there is a full and extensive right of appeal to a court against a disqualification order.
Therefore, I believe that the existing framework is sufficient to ensure that the decision-maker is of the appropriate seniority in every case, and I believe that, combined with the additional safeguards that we have provided, that will ensure the appropriate level of protection for the liable person.
Amendment 174G inserts a new clause that would amend the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 so as to ensure that the power to make a disqualification order could not be exercised by another person on the commission’s behalf. By “disqualification order”, I mean, of course, an order preventing the liable person holding or obtaining a travel authorisation or driving licence.
Section 8 of the 2008 Act enables the commission to authorise any person to exercise any of its functions in whole or in part. Such authorisation may be subject to conditions, perhaps for a limited time, and may be revoked by the commission at any time. Anything done, or omitted to be done, under such an authorisation is treated as if the function had been exercised by the commission. Therefore, in effect, Section 8, as has been identified, allows the commission to contract out any of its functions to a third party.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, is absolutely right that a decision to make a disqualification order is serious and should not be taken lightly. Indeed, the Bill and other relevant legislation provide that the commission cannot do so without ensuring that certain conditions are met and that particular questions are considered. I can assure all noble Lords that a decision to make a disqualification order will be taken only by the commission and will not be contracted out under the provisions of Section 8.
I therefore urge the noble Lords not to press their amendments. I am conscious that what I have just said is probably exactly the debate that we had a year ago, but it is the Government’s position, which I believe to be right. At the end of the day, the Bill is about effective mechanisms for getting payments to children, particularly in cases where people who have the resources to make them simply refuse to do so.
I am grateful to the Minister for his full reply. He told us that it is not a matter of punishment, but of encouraging the relevant parent to pay up. Taking away people’s right to travel abroad and to drive will inevitably be seen by them and the community at large as very much a punishment for their conduct. The difficulty with arguing that such measures are appropriate so long as there are sufficient safeguards—in the sense that decisions are taken by officials of an appropriately senior level, are taken only by reference to appropriate criteria, such as wilful misconduct, and only when they think it appropriate—is that exactly the same argument could be applied to any other sanction or order that Ministers think it appropriate to confer on an administrative body: for example, a curfew order or something of the sort. Why not allow administrative bodies to impose those orders? This Government are taking us down a very slippery slope in arguing that, for reasons essentially of convenience, it should be appropriate to confer on an administrative body the right to impose what will be regarded by citizens as very painful sanctions. I have heard nothing today—
If the noble Lord will permit me, the key issue here, whatever description we put on it—he said that people would see this as a punishment—is that we are dealing with situations where people are known to have the resources and have had plenty of opportunities to fulfil their commitments but wilfully refuse to do so. It is entirely within their hands to deal with that and relieve themselves of the consequence of an order. To describe that as “punishment” seems, with respect, to be a little bizarre. It is entirely within the individual’s own control to relieve him or herself of this disqualification.
This happens at the end of quite a long process when all the other mechanisms to collect money have been tried. A number of powers are embedded; there are deduction from earnings orders, deductions from bank accounts, which we discussed last night, and lots of other opportunities. The sad fact, though, is that there are individuals out there who will go to the most extraordinary lengths to prevent payment of sums due from them to their children. It may seem awful to you and me and, in a sense, inconceivable, but it happens. This is not the first or second port of call; it happens only after those processes have been gone through and there is a wilful refusal to pay.
The point of my intervention is that this does not seem to be at all different from money that I owe to a shop or to the bank; it is simply a debt that that person owes, and it should be dealt with within the existing law that relates to indebtedness, where eventually you end up in prison.
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I am not disputing that the relevant people have brought it upon themselves or that in many of these cases, perhaps most, it is entirely justified that the sanction order should be imposed upon them. The simple point is that it should be a court that decides that it is appropriate to impose that order upon them, and it should be for the commission simply to take out an application in the magistrates’ court to say, “This is the history. This is what has happened. It is now appropriate to take away this man’s or woman’s driving licence or passport”. That is the constitutional point. It is inappropriate for the commission, however justified it may be on the merits, however experienced it may be and however careful it is, to do more. It is not appropriate for an administrative body to have these powers. I respectfully ask the Government to think again about this before Report.
To follow what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, I am grateful to the Minister for his customary courtesy and thoroughness in going through these issues, but, as he pointed out, we are addressing issues that were already rehearsed and determined last year in the present Parliament, and it is bizarre that we are revisiting them now. The Select Committee will examine with great care what the Minister and my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale have said to see whether it is consistent with what has been said before and with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Before the noble Lord finally withdraws the amendment, I want to ensure that I have clearly on the record the issue of why the administrative system is more effective and appropriate in these circumstances. Where the court deals with travel restrictions, it does so in the light of its prior dealings with an individual who has been convicted of an offence. In the case of defaulting non-resident parents, I suggest that the commission is arguably better placed to decide whether a person has wilfully failed to pay maintenance and, therefore, what enforcement measure is most appropriate because of its prior dealings in that case. It knows the history and the anguish of trying to ensure that payment is made.
I suggest that an administrative system allows the threat of imminent action and that it may be more effective than the threat of application to a court, given that the international evidence shows the administrative process to be faster and less resource-intensive. The creation of an effective deterrent, thereby influencing the behaviour of non-resident parents who otherwise might fail to support their children financially, is of particular significance. This change could also lead to a reduction of cases coming before the courts, as I said earlier, enabling them and the commission to concentrate—
I hope that I may be forgiven for intervening but I am very impressed by the arguments that have been put forward. The Minister mentioned that the administrative decision would be quicker and less resource-intensive, but I am sitting here thinking that that is the problem. The reason that a court should be involved in these major matters is precisely that a court would look at all sides of the issue and, I imagine, take evidence from both sides, including from the father who is going to all these lengths to avoid paying for the child’s upkeep. That is why a court would be the right place to make these decisions. It is unusual and, one might say, apparently bizarre for a father to refuse to support his child. There may well be major issues lying behind his determination but those issues should at least be heard. I believe that they would be heard in a court but I will be corrected if I am wrong about that.
I believe the noble Baroness to be absolutely correct. I have not developed the point because it would take quite a long time, but those of us who have dealt with these situations in constituencies over the years will know that it is much more resource-intensive to go down the route proposed by the Government than that proposed in our amendments, where the court would decide rather than having a great determination by the commission and then an appeal. The whole thing would take months and cost an absolute fortune. So it is beyond question that our proposal is less resource-intensive and much more sensible.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord again. To pick up on one point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the issue can come before the court. The individual can appeal to the magistrates’ court or the sheriff court, and that appeal will itself put a stop on the administrative action. There is nothing to stop an individual, if they feel that they are being unfairly treated, having their day in court.
The Minister echoes what I have just said: the Bill proposes an administrative procedure costing a vast amount of money, followed by a right of appeal. It would be much quicker and cheaper for the court to have a look at the thing first, rather than having two or maybe three procedures. The idea of that being resource-intensive is beyond question.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply, which we shall of course scrutinise in detail, along with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. We will return to the matter on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 174A withdrawn.
Amendments 174B to 174F not moved.
Clause 42 agreed.
Amendment 174G not moved.
Schedule 5 agreed.
Clause 43 : Report on operation of driving licences amendments
175: Clause 43, page 48, line 15, at end insert “or a travel authorisation”
This is quite a big group of amendments, including Amendments 175, 175A, 176, 177, 178, 178ZA, 178ZB. I said two things in relation to the last group of amendments, in the names of my noble friend Lord Goodlad and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. The first was that I was perfectly prepared to accept the Bill's proposition that there should be a pilot, with a sunset clause, to examine the efficacy of the administrative removal of driving licences, with the ability to appeal to the courts if the decision is contra to the applicant’s wishes. I merely extemporised in saying that on what I said at Second Reading. I also said that my proposals differed somewhat from those of my noble friend; they had the merit of being simpler and potentially more acceptable to the Government. I did not intervene in the cross-chat at the end of my noble friend’s group of amendments, but it occurred to me that whether you used the courts or not, CMEC would have had to do the work already, so that the duplication that he was talking about almost certainly would not exist. It would have to prepare a case for itself, which I suspect would not differ one iota from the case that it would have to prepare for the courts.
What I suggest in these amendments is that the Government are allowed to test the administrative withdrawal of all travel authorisations, including passports and identity cards, for the two years they are proposing for driving licences alone. I do not believe that I have yet had an answer to the question I asked on Second Reading; namely, by what logic the Government are demanding to have a sunset clause only for driving licences and not for all travel authorisations. That position is as illogical as it would be for me to accept the Bill’s proposals for driving licences, including the sunset clause, but not for passports.
My series of amendments, therefore, with the addition of my noble friend’s Amendment 175A, for which I am grateful, would mean that all travel authorisations would be treated equally in all respects. This is, I hope, achieved by amending Clause 43 by adding the words “travel authorisation” to the words “driving licence”, which already appear in the Bill. Unfortunately, I did not have the consequential amendments as complete as I should have done, so I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Goodlad for Amendments 178ZA and 178ZB. I suspect that I should have amended Schedule 5 as well, which I shall look at more closely if I decide to pursue this matter on Report.
I support the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. The Select Committee, in paragraph 13 of our report, welcomed the provision in Clause 43 for a sunset clause requiring a review after two years of the transfer of driving licence sanctions powers, if Parliament so ruled, from the court to the commission. Given the concerns that we rehearsed, if Parliament confers powers over passports to the commission, it, too, should be included in the sunset clause and that would be revisited.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for the amendments, whose effect would be to make the disqualification of liable persons from holding or obtaining a travel authorisation, as set out in Clause 42, subject to a two-year pilot. Clause 43 currently makes provision for a two-year pilot only in respect of disqualification from driving, as the noble Lord outlined. I shall explain why it is unnecessary to pilot disqualification from holding travel authorisation.
Clause 43 is intended to enable the DWP, the commission, the Department for Transport and the police to gauge whether there is any greater risk associated with an administrative as opposed to court-based power to disqualify a person from driving, as well as evaluating its effectiveness in gaining compliance with child-maintenance responsibilities.
Requiring a two-year pilot and the publication of a report into its effects, as well as further debates in both Houses of Parliament should we decide to proceed after the pilot, will ensure that the driving-licence power will become permanent only if it is shown to be effective. The provisions will also enable us, if necessary, to identify and address any issues evidenced by the pilot.
Unlike with passports, we did not attempt to introduce administrative driving-licence powers in the 2008 Act due to quite legitimate concerns about the potential consequences for third parties. A person who drives while disqualified not only commits a serious motoring offence but also invalidates his or her insurance. By contrast, we do not believe that it is necessary to have a piloting power with regard to passports. While the withdrawal of a person’s passport or ID card suitable for travel is a severe measure, it does not carry any risk of harm to innocent third parties.
While I understand the concerns raised by the Select Committee on the Constitution, I do not see a compelling case to justify piloting the travel authorisation power. That is because the concerns raised by the committee, primarily about the constitutional appropriateness of the measure, could not be addressed simply by a pilot in any event. I hope that that has given the noble Lord the assurance that he was seeking.
No, I am afraid not. I am reminded of a line from “Oklahoma”, sung by the rather flighty girlfriend of the cowboy, which goes, “For me, it’s all or nothing”. I am afraid that, even after what the Minister said, it remains “for me, it’s all or nothing” on this issue.
The real reason for piloting these powers is to make sure that they work. If they do not, I hope that we can get rid of them—that applies equally to driving licences and passports. I cannot press the amendment at this stage, but unless the Minister can come up with some rather better arguments, I assuredly shall at the next. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 175 withdrawn.
Amendments 175A to 178ZB not moved.
Clause 43 agreed.
Clauses 44 to 46 agreed.
Schedule 6 : Registration of births
178ZBA: Schedule 6, page 93, leave out line 10
Schedule 6, introduced by Clause 46, proposes compulsory joint birth registration for unmarried parents. At present, the vast majority of all births outside marriage—I understand, approximately 84 per cent—are already jointly registered. Just 7 per cent of all births, which works out at around 45,000, are solely registered, and this proportion has been on a downward trend. For unmarried fathers, birth registration has two significant consequences: it gives the father parental responsibility in relation to the child; it also serves as a record, so the child knows the identity of the father. In the vast majority of cases, these are positive outcomes, and we support the proposals. However, there are details in the schedule which I wish at this stage to probe.
First, there are certain circumstances where the mother will not have to give information about the father, which are spelled out in the new Section 2B(4) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, inserted by Schedule 6. My first amendment, Amendment 178ZBA, would leave out new paragraph (d), which states that the mother need not give information if she does not know the father's whereabouts. I find that curious. I can understand that if the mother does not know who the father is, that presents an insurmountable, if regrettable, barrier to her providing the relevant information, but simply not knowing where he is should not prevent her giving information about who he is. Let us remember that if the objection that not knowing where the father is means he cannot be contacted to verify his paternity, then new subsection (7), to which I will come shortly, provides that no information has to be entered on the register simply because the mother has supplied it. However, unless she gives a name, at the very least, there is absolutely no chance of ever tracking him down. I therefore find the exemption in paragraph (d) puzzling and unnecessary. It simply provides a get-out clause to mothers reluctant to name the father for no good reason, and I do not think that that is in the child's best interests.
It is on that note that Amendment 178ZCA, which leaves out subsection (7), comes into play. If no information has to be entered on the register simply because the mother has provided it, what will be needed to verify the information and therefore qualify it for entry? Presumably the father will need to verify it, and if the registrar cannot find the father, then what? Does the registrar exercise his discretion and enter the information if the mother seems believable or does he need to conduct his own investigations? How much work will he have to do under subsection (7)? Rather a lot, I imagine, if he does not even have the father's name to go on.
The fifth amendment in this group, if noble Lords will forgive me for jumping about a little, is designed to provoke debate on what should happen if the reverse situation were to occur, by which I mean if the mother disappears without a trace before her baby is registered and therefore cannot give her confirmation. I realise that we are beginning to get into unlikely, but by no means impossible, scenarios, but I would like to hear an assurance from the Minister that all contingencies have been considered.
The second amendment in the group, Amendment 178ZBB, removes paragraph (f) from the list of exemptions. This is where a mother need not provide information on the father if she fears for her or her child's safety. I re-emphasise that this is a probing amendment at this stage, as I merely want to unravel the Government's thinking. I spy a group of amendments on the horizon in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, which will encourage a debate on domestic violence per se, so I will restrict my observations at this stage to suggesting that merely knowing there is a parental relationship will not, of itself, lead to violence against the mother or child. While it goes without saying that I abhor and condemn violence, given the importance that I think all noble Lords agree there is for children to know who their parents are, is this—the birth registration—the correct place to combat domestic violence?
Amendment 178ZBC leaves out paragraph (g) from the list of exemptions. That paragraph simply gives carte blanche to the Minister to dream up any other exemptions that she sees fit. I cannot imagine that she thought that I would allow that one to slip away unnoticed. Is this an exhaustive list of exemptions or not? If it is not, why not? What other exemption does the noble Baroness sniff in the wind, perhaps with or without the advice of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie? I would prefer to debate other possible exemptions to the duty here, rather than have them squirreled away in regulations at a later date. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for putting forward his amendments. I understand their probing nature. They seek to restrict the range of circumstances in which a sole registration would be permitted under the new system.
There are a number of circumstances where the mother will be exempt from the requirement to provide information relating to the father; for example, if she has reason to fear for her safety or the safety of the child. The first three amendments would remove some of these exemption conditions, including this example.
The amendments would also remove the power to prescribe further exemptions. The final two amendments would have the effect that a man’s details could be included in the register even though both parents had not acknowledged that he was the father. The main aim of all these amendments seems to be to further increase the number of births that are jointly registered. I fully sympathise with the aim of the noble Lord. Indeed, we also want to ensure that more children have both parents named on their birth certificates. We believe that it is important that as many children as possible know the identity of both their parents and that both parents acknowledge them and take responsibility for them. That is the point of this part of the Bill. That is why we have drafted provisions which require joint registration in all cases where this is possible and appropriate. The new system will certainly not be a voluntary one.
I shall now explain why, in the situations with which these amendments are concerned, joint registration would be simply either impossible or inappropriate. Amendments 178ZBA, 178ZBB and 178ZBC would remove some of the conditions which exempt the mother from providing information about the father. The exemption conditions in the Bill are few and purposeful. They are all necessary because they relate to situations in which joint registration is just not possible or appropriate. Amendment 178ZBC would remove the power for the Minister to prescribe further exemption conditions in regulations. I hope that I will be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that this power will be used only if new circumstances emerge which would make sole registration necessary. We are not aware of any at present but we recognise that some may come to light as a result of consultation or when the provisions are implemented. This power merely ensures that the legislation is sufficiently flexible to deal with such circumstances swiftly and effectively.
Amendment 178ZBB would remove the exemption for a mother who would fear for her safety or that of her child if the father were contacted in relation to the registration. In this legislation we have tried to strike a balance between a child’s right to know their father’s identity and the protection of vulnerable women and children. This is a difficult balance to strike and I know that a number of noble Lords have concerns. As we will have the opportunity to debate these issues further in relation to a later group of amendments, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, I shall keep my comments brief.
As I have said, it is a difficult balance, but I believe that our provisions strike the right balance. As was explained in another place, the critical point is the role of the state. We cannot permit a situation where the state knowingly acts in a way which puts the safety of a mother or her child at risk. It would be wholly inappropriate to require a registrar to contact a man if the mother had stated that she had reason to fear for her or her child’s safety. In such cases, the birth does not have to remain sole-registered for ever. The father can still come forward independently and request that his details are included in the register, subject to the mother’s acknowledgement that he is the father.
Amendment 178ZBA would require the mother to provide information about the father in cases where she did not know his whereabouts. This, too, was debated at length in another place. I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that this exemption will not be an easy get-out, as the noble Lord said, for mothers who wish to sole-register. A mother will be able to claim this exemption only if she cannot provide useful information about the father’s whereabouts. Indeed, the information that a mother will be required to provide under proposed new Section 2B(1) will cover a range of details about the father. The precise details, on which the noble Lord pressed me, will be decided in consultation with the General Register Office, practising registrars and other stakeholders. However, we do not anticipate that a mother will be able to claim an exemption because, for example, she cannot provide the father’s full current address. If the mother does not know the father’s whereabouts and so cannot provide information that enables him to be contacted, joint registration is impossible. The alleged father cannot be contacted and asked to acknowledge paternity. Therefore, requiring the mother to provide the limited information that she does know would serve no purpose.
I turn to Amendments 178ZCA and 178AA. These amendments would make it possible for the father’s details to be included in the register in cases where only one parent had alleged that he was the father. I appreciate the noble Lords’ intention behind these amendments, which I understand is to make sure that as many children as possible know their father’s identity. However, I should like to explain why the amendments would not achieve that.
For information about the father to be included in the register, it is crucial that both parents acknowledge that the man is the father of the child; otherwise, information that is unverified and so not meaningful will be included in the register. The birth register is a public, legal record and the information included on it needs to be accurate. These amendments would lead to situations that were at best misleading and at worst very damaging to those involved. It is not helpful for a child to have a man named as their father on their birth certificate if this information cannot be confirmed by that person. We need to ensure that both parents acknowledge paternity before a man’s details are included in the register. Because of this, the exemptions relating to the father’s whereabouts and the mother’s fear for her or her child’s safety remain necessary.
I was asked a number of questions by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. He talked about the possibility of these exemptions providing an easy get-out for mothers who want to sole-register. The exemption conditions are few, as I said, and purposeful. They all cover situations in which joint registration would be impossible or inappropriate. If a mother’s circumstances meet one of the exemption conditions, she will be required to make a declaration to that effect. That declaration is subject to the Perjury Act and the mother is under a duty to be truthful. Under that Act, it is an offence to give deliberately false or misleading information to a registrar. As we implement our provisions, we will reinforce the current message of the registration service to ensure that both mothers and fathers are aware that doing so would be a criminal offence.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, also asked whether the list of exemptions was exhaustive. At this stage, we consider that the list is exhaustive but we want to keep flexibility in case further situations emerge, especially during consultation or implementation.
The noble Lord asked what happens if the mother disappears or is ill. In such cases, another qualified informant may give details to allow registration to take place. Other qualified informants might include the midwife who delivered the child or anyone present at the birth or resident in the house where the child was born. He asked what the registrar would do if the father did not respond. In that situation, registrars will register the birth without the father’s details. It would not be appropriate for the registrar to take substantial further steps to contact the father, and he or she cannot enter unverified information on the register. Therefore, we do not see the role of the registrar changing in that we would not want to expand the registrar’s role to a seek-and-find job as well as ensuring that registration was legal. We will look at what additional steps it may be appropriate for the registrar to take through training and guidance.
I hope that I have covered the points that the noble Lord raised.
I suppose that in the spirit of the past eight days that was a conflated response to a conflated set of amendments, and I suspect that neither the Minister nor I should apologise for that. As usual, I shall study carefully what she said. However, if the mother of the child goes to the registrar within the year that is now permitted and says, “I don’t know where he is living now, but he was living at 23 Acacia Avenue”, is there any good reason why the registrar should not note that fact and try 23 Acacia Avenue when the mother wants nothing more to do with the father? Or is that not a realistic scenario? The Minister does not need to answer now but it would be useful if she did at some stage.
I understand that; I am not worried about that. I am worried about a situation where the name of the father is known and admitted by the mother doing the registration, but she does not know where he is currently living, only his last address. Even though she is trying to register both herself and the father in a joint registration, she may be trying to set up a sort of insurance policy for her child. There may be a strong CMEC aspect to her behaviour, which from her point of view would be perfectly rational. That is why I asked the question. The Minister has a missive in her hand. I do not know whether she wants to use it or whether we can talk quietly later.
I should be delighted to talk quietly later and, if the noble Lord would wish it, to write to him. The missive in my hand tells me that the lady whom we are talking about would be able to claim an exemption only if she could not provide enough information to enable the registrar to contact the man, because, in that case, she would not know his whereabouts. But we can talk more about this.
Amendment 178ZBA withdrawn.
Amendments 178ZBB and 178ZBC not moved.
Committee adjourned at 5.59 pm.