HL Deb 22 July 1991 vol 531 cc537-8

73 After Clause 33, insert the following new clause:

Enforcement in the county courts

'.—(1) Where a liability order has been made against a person, the amount in respect of which the order was made, to the extent that it remains unpaid, shall, if a county court so orders, be recoverable by means of garnishee proceedings or a charging order, as if it were payable under a county court order.

(2) In subsection (1) "charging order" has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Charging Orders Act 1979.'.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 73. In moving this amendment, should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 77 to 79.

I am pleased to bring forward this new clause for your Lordships' approval. It fulfils a commitment that I gave in this House on Report and on Third Reading. Your Lordships will recall that there was much discussion of the enforcement measures that would be available to the agency. Concern was expressed from all sides of the House on the effectiveness of those enforcement powers in obtaining maintenance payments and minimising the numbers of maintenance debtors who came before the courts for committal proceedings.

The enforcement powers of garnishee and charging orders can be used by maintenance creditors at the moment where the maintenance order is registered in the county or High Court. Although they are rarely used now, and likely to be used only in the minority of the cases by the agency, we believe that they will provide an effective and useful addition to the agency's enforcement powers. Comparable methods in Scotland are already provided for in Clause 35. They are tried and tested measures in matters of maintenance recovery. A garnishee order once obtained from the court can be used to recover a debt from funds held in the debtor's bank account. A charging order may be used to place a charge on the debtor's property in order to recover a debt.

There is a consequential amendment to the imprisonment clause which makes it clear on the face of the Bill that, before considering making an application to the courts for committal proceedings, the agency will have to have attempted either garnishee or charging order action, or distraint.

Amendment No. 78 alters the minimum age of imprisonment to 18. That is to ensure that the Bill is compatible with the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill which raises the minimum age for such detention from 17 to 18.

Amendment No. 79 is to make clear that, in Scotland, the Secretary of State may apply for a warrant for the civil imprisonment of a liability order defaulter. Without this amendment, there could be some doubt as to whether it would be for the creditor—that is, the parent with care—or for the Secretary of State to apply to the court for the warrant. Given the arrangements for England and Wales, that would be undesirable.

I commend the new clause and the amendments to the House.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 73. (The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.