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Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 9:


The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 10, 79, 81 to 83, 85, 87 to 91, 104, 106 to 108, 200 and 201. This group of amendments is a technical group necessary to improve the drafting of the Bill and to ensure that it achieves what is intended.

Amendments Nos. 87, 88 and 90 are minor amendments in connection with the new civil penalty of disqualification from holding a driving licence. Of course, we shall have a substantive debate on Amendment No. 84 regarding that matter. These amendments are necessary because of changes currently being made to the Powers of Criminal Courts Act. The effect is unchanged.

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When magistrates' courts have made a disqualification order, the non-resident parent will be required to produce his licence. These amendments concern the powers of the police to ask the non-resident parent to produce the licence if it was not given to the courts. Failure to produce the licence in these circumstances is a criminal offence punishable by a fine.

The new simple system will, for the first time, enable the CSA to devote greater resources to collection and enforcement. We believe that this and the new measures in respect of driving licences together with the ability to deduct maintenance from a wider range of benefits will ensure that regular maintenance payments are secured from the vast majority of non-resident parents.

The other amendments, including a number that relate to Clause 17 of the Bill about civil imprisonment in Scotland, make technical corrections or additions to parts of the Bill to ensure that it achieves what is intended without unnecessary duplication. As I say, these are technical drafting issues. Later we shall come to the substantive issues. With that explanation I hope that noble Lords will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Higgins: The Committee will be grateful for that explanation. If the Committee eventually takes a different view on some of the later matters, like disqualification and confiscation of driving licences, no doubt we shall see another set of amendments like these that will put the matter right. That being so, we are grateful to the Minister for explaining it. I do not want to oppose this further at this stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 10:


    Page 2, line 40, leave out ("in connection with any other assessment of maintenance").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Substituted Part I of Schedule 1 to the Child Support Act 1991]:

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 11:


    Page 89, line 7, at beginning insert--


("( ) Where the amount of child support maintenance calculated exceeds such sum as may be prescribed ("the maximum sum"), the maximum sum shall be payable by the non-resident parent.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 11, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 14 and 17. This is an important amendment that seeks to impose what in current jargon would be described as "an upper limit". There is widespread feeling--again I refer to and support the Family Law Bar Association--for the view that there should be a maximum season on liability and that the basis of saying that the contribution from the absent parent should be unlimited is one that gives us considerable cause for concern.

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In effect, it will give the parent with care and, through him or her--although that is not certain--it will give the child the right to share in the income of the non-resident parent without limit. That raises a number of important issues as to what extent it is appropriate to say in a Bill that is designed to protect the rights of the child and that states that the child should be supported, whether the child should have, over and above what may be a reasonable amount for that purpose, an entitlement to the income of the absent parent.

Earlier the noble Baroness sought to argue that, in sharing the responsibility for a child, the parent with care was, in effect, providing the home, and so on, and that it was up to the absent parent to provide the money. That is debatable, not least because, as we know--we shall come to this point later--the income and wealth of the parent with care may be substantially greater than that of the absent parent. At all events, even if the situation is one where the absent parent is rich, or well off compared with the parent with care, it is arguable that there should be some limit imposed on the amount that is transferred from the absent parent to the children of, let us say, a first marriage.

The matter becomes particularly complicated when someone has had several marriages or may have fathered a succession of children without having been married at all. That may be less likely in the case of someone who is extremely well off than otherwise. None the less, it would seem unreasonable that there should be no limit whatever to the amount that is transferred from the absent parent to the parent with care.

The amendments before us seek to deal with that particular problem in a variety of ways. Amendment No. 11, for example, suggests that there should be a maximum sum for which the non-resident parent is liable and that, following the calculation of the amount paid by a non-resident parent, the Secretary of State shall determine the net weekly income of the parent so that there is some degree of equity between the two.

I believe that the Select Committee sought to argue as follows:


    "In the final analysis, the child-support formula should be seen clearly to be related to the cost of bringing up children and not as a straightforward 'tax' levied on the non-resident parent. We recommend that the Government should re-examine the possibility of inserting in the legislation an upper limit on the automatic application"--

I stress the words "the automatic application"--


    "of the revised CSA formula".

The Select Committee reached that conclusion after taking evidence from a number of witnesses who argued along those lines.

Similarly, we also have in front of us Amendments Nos. 14 and 17 that suggest that the upper limit of child support maintenance may reasonably be of the order of £400 a week for each qualifying child. I do not believe that anyone would reasonably argue that that limit is too tight. Even in the most exotic circumstances, a limit of £400 a week for each

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qualifying child would seem relaxed. If there were three children, that would mean £1,200 a week from the absent parent to the parent with care. We put that down as a basis for debate.

Clearly, we are not concerned with the vast majority of cases in front of us. The number of people who can afford to pay £400 a week for their child, absent or not, is limited, but to have no limit at all would mean that, effectively, it would become a tax on the absent parent. We believe that in these circumstances there is a strong argument that at least some limit--we can debate the quantum--ought to be imposed. I hope that the Minister is sympathetic to that view. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: We, on these Benches, and my honourable friends have discussed at some length, and on a good many occasions, the principles involved in these amendments and in the next group of amendments. We can see a good deal of merit in the arguments on both sides. All of us were extremely reluctant to come to a conclusion until my honourable friend, Professor Webb, finally grasped the nettle and laid down a general principle. Perhaps I may save myself the labour of speaking on the next group of amendments by explaining that the general principle was that in general children ought to share in the increasing wealth of their parents. That means that we decided we would not support this group of amendments.

Suppose a child of Mr Donald Trump were subject to British law. The sum of £400 a week may seem to him or her to be rather mean considering his or her father's resources and could lead to a certain amount of resentment. On the other hand, we felt that some account should be taken, although not in quite the same way or to the same extent, of increasing wealth of the parent with care. Clearly, the Minister is correct that the care is a direct contribution to the welfare of the child and anything that did not take that into account would be entirely indefensible. On the other hand, a situation can exist in which the parent with care may be a great deal richer than the non-resident parent.

We have to try to reduce the resentment that arrangements for child support have created. I can see among those who feel resentment, even at the basic principle, that that is one that could easily be fastened on and could lead to a great deal of complaint. Although we shall not support this group of amendments, we shall support the next group, beginning with Amendment No. 12.

6 p.m.

Lord Higgins: I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. In the course of weighing the pros and cons of the arguments, did he consider, if he decides not to support these amendments, whether the principle should be extended to those whose marriage has not broken down and to those who were never married?

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Does he believe that the law should indicate that a very wealthy parent must give a certain percentage of his income to any given child?


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