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Baroness Seear: My Lords, I follow the argument of the Minister that an element of child care is included in the original estimate. But child care costs vary considerably. For example, a child may have some disability, or may need very close attention because of some handicap from which he or she suffers. Those children cannot be given child care at the price included in the maintenance grant or in the amount that the Government allow towards child care costs for someone in employment.

The Minister stated that in the majority of circumstances the child care costs would be covered by the other elements to which he referred. However, in saying that he implies that there is a minority for whom it would not be the case. In such circumstances, surely it is not unreasonable for the absent parent to make the additional payment, and therefore justify the departure. It would enable the caring parent to take a job and to be satisfied that a child who may have some specific difficulty is in good care for which she or he has to pay more money. In those exceptional circumstances, would it not be possible to make a departure?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. She referred to disability. Departure is available if there are extra costs arising from disability. While I know that that response does not address all her concerns, for that specific group the departure system is available.

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Baroness Seear: My Lords, the Minister has not answered my point. There can be other exceptional circumstances. He said that disability is covered. The important issue is that the caring parent should feel free to take employment and should not be inhibited from doing so because of exceptional costs of child care.

However, from what the Minister said, and thin as the House now is, it would be absurd to press the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 26, line 40, at end insert:
("( ) costs incurred to support a young person in further or advanced education;").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is an amendment on which I asked for consultation between the Department of Social Security and what will now be the Department of Education and Employment. I bring it back chiefly in order to find out whether that consultation has taken place; and, if so, to what effect.

The amendment concerns the costs of the parental contribution to higher education interacting, as it must do, with child maintenance. Depending on who is paying the parental contribution, it may affect either the parent with care or the absent parent. If one of them is paying the parental contribution to university—it is quite heavy—some allowance must be made for that in terms of a departure direction for maintenance paid, or, as it might be, received, under the formula. If an allowance is not being made, then any child of a family which is subject to the Child Support Act will not be in a position to obtain higher education. To put it mildly, that would be a pity and capable of being regarded as unfair.

It is possible for consultation which might avoid the problem. I move the amendment again simply in order to ask whether it has taken place. I look forward to the reply and I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as the noble Earl explained, the amendment would provide for a further ground on which an application for a departure could be made; namely where special expenses are incurred in supporting a young person in further or advanced education. The provision would apply where, for example, a student is living with an absent parent who is therefore assessed for student grant purposes and he is also paying child support maintenance for younger dependent children who are not living with him. It could also apply where a parent with care of dependent children also has a child in further education living with her for whom she is assessed for a parental contribution to the grant.

We all acknowledge the importance of educating our young people. However, the amendment would have the effect of placing expenses incurred by a parent for that purpose above the responsibility to meet the basic needs of their dependent children. I cannot accept that that would be right. I shall not go into whether it would happen all that often because, as William in Just William said, it stands to reason that the children in the first family are likely to be older than the children in the second family. Although I freely accept that the noble

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Earl will be able to give me examples where such a case might arise, we must recognise that where a parent with care has young children for whom she receives child maintenance under the formula, as well as an older child in college, she would receive no additional maintenance in respect of the student. The maintenance she received for her dependent children would be added to her other income when her ability to make a parental contribution to the student grant was assessed.

If an absent parent is allowed to apply for a departure on the grounds that he is supporting a young person in further education, the corollary would seem to be that he should also support any other child of his who is in full-time education: in other words, he should pay maintenance for a student child who lives with his former partner. Nor does the grant system require an absent parent to make a parental contribution towards the grant for his child who is a student, if the young person lives with the person in care.

We have always made it clear that a parent's first duty is to provide for the basic needs of their own dependent children, whenever they are in a position to do so. It would be quite wrong to let the costs of higher education for an older child take precedence over the basic costs of supporting a younger child.

When this amendment was debated at Committee stage the noble Earl highlighted the interaction between child support maintenance assessments and the way parental contributions to student grants were assessed. He expressed a hope that the Department of Social Security and the Department for Education would consult with a view to ensuring that the two systems were not in conflict. I can assure him that consultation with officials from the Department for Education has taken place and that we are satisfied that there is no inconsistency in the way the two systems operate.

I should explain that, when a parent is assessed for a contribution to a student grant a standard allowance of £75 is made for any other child who is wholly or mainly dependent on that parent. It is irrelevant whether the dependent children actually live with the parent or not. The allowance applies, whether it relates to children in the parent's current family or children living apart from him but for whom he pays maintenance.

It is worth considering what the consequences would be if the amendment were to be accepted. Two-parent families who have a child in further education as well as responsibility for dependent children qualify for an allowance of £75 in respect of each of those dependent children. An absent parent would qualify for the £75 allowance for the children for whom he pays maintenance but on top of this he would also see a reduction in the maintenance amount he is liable to pay. So he would gain twice compared with parents who had stayed together to raise their children.

The result in the case of a parent with care who qualified for a departure on these grounds would be an increase in the maintenance due from the absent parent, in effect making him pay for a child who is no longer dependent under the terms of the Child Support Act.

The Government's proposals for the departure system are, as I have explained, the culmination of a thorough review of the system during which representations were

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received from all quarters. After careful consideration a list of special expenses was drawn up which reflect the areas of major concern raised during the review. I must stress that the departure system is designed to deal with the kind of expenses that have created the greatest difficulty since the Child Support Act came into operation. It is not our intention to allow a long list of expenses to be cited as grounds for a departure order.

As I said this afternoon in relation to another subject, in this case also the issue of costs associated with supporting young people in further education was not raised as a major area of concern in the context of child support.

I remain of the view that there is no strong case to include those costs in a scheme intended to relieve areas of greatest pressure. Indeed, it would have the effect of introducing an inequity, for the reasons I set out a moment ago. With that explanation and the assurance that we have talked to officials in the Department for Education, I hope that the noble Earl can withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kilbracken: My Lords, in view of what the Minister said about the ages of children, he might be interested to know that my youngest child is considerably younger than my four grandchildren.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I must declare an interest in the field. If the Minister believes that children at university are not dependent children, he is severely mistaken. They are certainly dependent children because they cannot pursue their chosen path without parental backing, save in the case of parents in quite considerable poverty.

I must also ask the Minister to check how many parents affected by the CSA are paying more than £75 a year per child. I would bet that many assessments are extremely low, unprofitably low, but he will find that many people pay a great deal more than that.

The matter of priorities which the Minister argues is in the end self-defeating. He will produce a situation where, if he gets everything the way he wants it, children are maintained until they get to the point of needing higher education. Then, just when they are about to be able to reach the kind of career for which they may be suited and which they may want, all support will cease. That will produce large numbers of people who do not go to university at the proper time, who wish to go later as mature students and defer regular earnings until they are well into their late twenties or occasionally even their early thirties. In Germany, Chancellor Kohl has found that the prolonging of higher education has done a great deal to undermine the funding of pensions. If the Minister produces that kind of situation, he will find it has much the same troublesome effect.

At the very least, we must consider uprating the £75. However, before deciding what to do with the amendment, I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me in what Act, regulations, guidance or other document the limit of £75 is to be found. If he can tell me that now, it would materially assist me.

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