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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wonder why the noble Earl thinks that because we are continuing the status quo on child support we are somehow excluding for the first time children who would otherwise receive

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maintenance under his proposed amendment from access to higher education? I could take his point if we were changing the situation as regards the age of the child, but that is the existing situation and we are not changing it. As the current Government are seeking to extend access to higher and further education to nearly 50 per cent of the population, I do not understand or take his point.

Earl Russell: I did not say, "for the first time". If the Minister refers to the proceedings on the 1995 Bill, she will see that I raised an identical point. It is not the first time, and I would not dream of pretending that I am raising it for the first time. Furthermore, I suspect that it will not be the last. However, for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 3:


    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

THE GENERAL DUTY

(" . For section 1(1) of the Child Support Act 1991 there shall be substituted--
"(1) For the purposes of this Act any person who is the mother or the father of a qualifying child is responsible insofar as they are able--
(a) to ensure that that child has the material support which it needs; and
(b) to provide or procure for that child the nurture, love, care, guidance and education which it needs.
(1A) In making provision for the nurture, love, care, guidance and education of the child both parents shall have regard to the principle that the best interests of the child are paramount.
(1B) The responsibilities of parents under subsection (1) have effect from the day the child is born till the day on which it attains the age of 18 years.
(1C) Except as otherwise provided by agreement in writing or by an enactment, parental responsibilities under subsection (1) are joint and several as between the father and the mother.
(1D) In fulfilling their responsibilities under subsection (1) parents shall be entitled to make use of such services and facilities as are provided by the state."").

The noble Lord said: This amendment would replace Section 1(1) of the Child Support Act 1991 which states:


    "For the purposes of this Act each parent of a qualifying child is responsible for maintaining him".

My amendment does not alter the main thrust of Section 1(1), but it expands upon it. In particular, it makes it clear that a non-resident father, or indeed a non-resident mother, is responsible not only for the financial maintenance of the child, but also for the other elements that are so important in the nurturing of a child. As far as possible the parent should ensure that the child receives the love, care, guidance and education that it needs. The Government have indicated that that objective is in line with their

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intentions. The 1988 Green Paper, Children First: a new approach to child support, made a number of references to that important issue. In the foreword, the Prime Minister stated:


    "The well-being of the growing number of children whose parents have separated depends on them receiving the financial and emotional support of both parents wherever they live".

The summary of chapter 3, at page 2, states:


    "The Government wants parents to fulfil their responsibilities to their children. The Government wishes to develop an active family policy which links children's rights and parents' responsibilities. Modern families are evolving. But fathers are vital to their children's well- being: children do best when they have two positive and committed parents. The child support scheme should give clear messages about the rights and responsibilities of parenthood".

Chapter 2 states that,


    "all children have a right to emotional and financial support from both their parents, wherever they live ... 40 per cent of fathers lose all contact with their children within two years of separating. In many people's eyes, the current scheme treats money as the only thing that matters. It gives the message that a non-resident parent's obligations begin and end with a cheque in the post".

So far, so good--in respect of the Green Paper. The White Paper is a good deal more coy on the subject of non-financial obligations. To be fair, chapter 7 is devoted to the subject. It states:


    "Paying maintenance is an important part of non-resident parents' continuing responsibilities to their children--but there is more to being a good parent than this. One of the central questions for separated parents and their children is maintaining continuing contact with non-resident parents ... As explained in the Green Paper, we are convinced that one of the reasons for the failure of the existing child support arrangements is that they do not work properly with other family responsibilities. The Government is committed to an interactive family policy which integrates all activities that affect the family, including maintenance and contact".

Surprise, surprise--the Bill makes no reference whatever to anything other than financial matters, which is why I felt it appropriate to explore the Government's thinking by introducing the amendment.

The 1991 legislation was not 100 per cent popular or 100 per cent successful. It was unpopular because it was perceived to be unfair. The Bill does little to make it seem more fair to the absent parent. Admittedly, the Bill simplifies the calculation but it still makes the assumption that financial responsibility is the only thing that really matters. It implies that the absent parent's only responsibility is to pay. It does not refer in any way to the rights or responsibilities that the Government have said absent parents should exercise towards their children--or to the need for the resident parent to make it possible for the absent parent to do that.

The Bill also implies extremely low expectations of the absent parent. People tend to live up to the expectations made of them. Where there are low expectations of children at school, they tend not to do well. Children who are subject to higher expectations do better. I am convinced that the same applies to non-resident parents.

My amendment declares that mothers and fathers are jointly and severally responsible for their child--not only in respect of its material needs but its

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emotional, social, educational and support needs. The amendment lays down that the child's non-material needs should be subject always to the best interests of the child. It does not alter the responsibility for maintenance imposed by the Section 1(1) of the 1991 Act but clarifies and expands it.

My amendment also extends the age of responsibility to 18. I confess that I was flying a kite but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told me from the Dispatch Box six months ago that he was seriously considering whether the responsibility of families for their children should be extended to age 18. I wonder how that is going.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord has more intimate conversations with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor than I do.

Lord Northbourne: I thought that we had a joined-up government. I have more confidence in joined-up government than the noble Baroness.

3.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made the remarks in answer to a Starred Question. I remember the occasion well.

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful to the noble Earl. I set down that Question. Unless some thought is given to the issues that I have raised, there is a serious danger that this legislation will be just as unpopular at the 1991 Act. I do not think that it is a good idea to put unpopular legislation on the statute book. We all remember the poll tax.

Amendment No. 4 is a probing amendment about the definition of a qualifying child. It seems strange that if an absent father, who is liable to pay maintenance under the Bill and the previous legislation, moves back in with the mother of the child, the child is no longer deemed to be a qualifying child--so the father does not have to pay. I may have misinterpreted the Bill but that is how it reads to me.

I hope that the noble Baroness has not been briefed to tear Amendment No. 3 to pieces on the ground that its drafting is defective. I confess that the drafting is probably inadequate but I wanted to raise the principle. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The noble Lord has said a number of extremely important things and the Minister will probably have to give a complicated reply. The Committee must appreciate that above all children must benefit from what comes out of the Bill. The Minister may tell us that because of the Bill's interaction with the Children Act 1989 and other legislation, provision is already made for most of the matters of concern to the noble Lord. Certainly, the principle that the child's interests are paramount is in the 1989 Act.

The Bill is difficult to understand because, yet again, we are presented with legislation that is drafted to a large extent in terms of amendments to previous Acts,

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which one does not have to hand. So a parent will find the new legislation difficult to understand. An overarching clause at the beginning of the Bill to remind parents of their responsibilities would be no bad thing.

Having been involved in legislation about family mediation in Scotland, I know that when separating parents are making arrangements for their children, often it all comes down to a lot of anger with one another over money. It resolves itself into discussions in relation to money and the other important aspects of the position in which their child will be when they separate are forgotten. If this clause is included in the Bill, it will remind parents when they separate, and their legal advisers if they have them, what parenthood is all about.

An overarching clause at the beginning of the Bill, therefore, has much to commend it and I hope that the Government will not resist that suggestion. I can see that the Minister may have to pick up on some of the details of this specific amendment; but if she does not accept it, she may consider introducing something of this kind at a later stage. It would be a human thing to do, and would help parents to meet their obligations under the complicated legislation with which they will be confronted.


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