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Baroness Gale: The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said that this was a simple amendment taking the incomes of both parents into account. But we would argue that the parent with the care of the child gives much more in kind and will make a greater contribution to the rearing of the child. That contribution cannot be calculated on a balance sheet. The amendment seems to argue that it is the incomes of the parents that are important, rather than the needs of the child. But the needs and rights of the child must be paramount and that is what we should be considering.
The Government's clear policy is to lift children out of poverty. So how can anyone seriously propose that if in some instances--a small percentage--the parent taking responsibility of the day-to-day care happens to have a higher income than the non-resident parent, the child should be penalised. The non-resident parent should continue to make a financial contribution to the agreed amount, which is 15 per cent in terms of the first child, irrespective of what the resident parent's income is. In that way, the child will share in the wealth of both parents, as the child would if the parents had stayed together.
The key issue here is children's rights. The children should be allowed to share in the wealth of both parents and not have their income diminished because the resident parent's income increases. Amendment No. 12 will allow the non-resident parent to pay less
Baroness Byford: I rise to make a short intervention on this amendment. I am somewhat concerned that, if we are not careful, we may be looking at the past when, in this day and age, we should be looking to the future. Many women are managing to hold good jobs--I accept not all and it is the same for men; people's incomes vary enormously. I support my noble friend's suggestion that both incomes should be taken into consideration. I cannot see why the Government feel that they should not.
I listened with care to what the Minister said about the mother--the resident carer is predominantly the mother--giving time and I accept that it is difficult to evaluate time, whether it is a man or a woman. However, that mother may be earning £40,000. Some women are now earning a lot more than that. If the father of that child earns much less money and goes on to re-marry, it would be unfair not to take the earnings of the caring wife into consideration. I should therefore like to press the Minister further on that point.
In many ways, I think the Bill has grown from past experience, when some women were not working. However, in this day and age there are great opportunities for women to earn, and many are taking up that challenge, and that point has a bearing on the amendments.
We all agree that emotional development is the most important matter. Research has repeatedly shown that absent parents who contribute, whether they are mothers or fathers, are much more likely to keep in touch. The money is almost a symbol of commitment to the child and of their willingness to take, and continue to take, responsibility as a parent, whether or not they are living with the other partner.
The fact that the parent with care is well off does not absolve the other parent of this responsibility. Moreover, it will certainly contribute towards maintaining emotional support, which is very important for the psychological wellbeing of the child.
The Family Law Bar Association thought that the lack of a cap was crude social engineering. I think this is an inadvertent giving-in to feminism, thinking that it will be the woman who will perhaps be better off. It may not necessarily be the case, but it is likely to be. One must be sure that the emotional support of the child comes from both sides. That support will be lost if this is maintained.
Baroness Crawley: I should like to reiterate some of the points made by the Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. The contribution of both parents is taken into account in the Bill. None of us is saying that the parent with care--and it is nearly always her--does not make a financial contribution as well as a contribution in kind. The Bill is fair: the contribution of the absent parent is the maintenance contribution. The parent with care makes a contribution in kind by giving time and presence, and by fulfilling organisational responsibilities. They may also make a financial contribution. We are talking about a fairness of approach.
However, I challenge the optimism of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I deal daily with figures on women's and men's income, and, although I would like to think that in the future the situation will greatly improve, most of the women about whom we are talking, who are the parents with care, will on average be 20 per cent poorer than the parent who does not have the care. Therefore, even though in the future we hope that men and women's pay will become much more equal, we are talking about a lot of poorer women today whose incomes, in their lifetimes, will never go into double figures.
Earl Russell: The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, is clearly right about the present balance of income. However, in this and the last group of amendments we appear to be following the principle of Parkinson's law on the bicycle shed: spending an hour and a half debating the bicycle shed and 10 minutes on the nuclear reactor. Both amendments deal with a small number of people. Nevertheless, for the sake of public acceptance, we might as well try and get it right. Legislation since 1991 has conspicuously lacked public acceptance.
I normally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and on this occasion I agree with her about the importance of the implied emotional commitment in the principle of financial support; but she was attacking what the amendment does not say. The amendment does not say that in these cases the non-resident parent shall give no support; it says that that support shall be reduced in such manner as may be prescribed. It does not state that the principle of
Nobody, as far as I can hear, in any quarter of the Chamber, is disputing the principle that care, with its financial, emotional and work implications, must be taken into account. However, as I understand it, the amendment concedes this principle already and it is not an issue. The extent to which it should be taken into account and in what way is a difficult question. I understand very well why the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has chosen to leave that matter to regulation.
Let us imagine two cases that are by no means unimaginable. One is of a highly successful woman barrister, a parent with care, who has kept the children. The husband is unemployed or temporarily employed in a series of part-time jobs, with very little money indeed; and she is earning £200,000 a year, as successful barristers occasionally do. In this situation there will be a certain amount of public feeling. Imagine the heiress of a millionaire who has had an impromptu affair with a bricklayer--such things have happened and will continue to happen. She keeps the child and then the CSA duns the bricklayer for 15 per cent of his income.
That is only one case, but stop and think for a moment about what the Sun will be capable of doing with that case. The Minister knows that I am perfectly capable of snapping my fingers at the Sun--I do it daily. However, I do not think it is particularly wise to make the Sun or the Mail, or their ilk, a gratuitous present of a free issue on which they can go to town as much as they like.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I add my voice to that appeal. I do so because, together with the noble Earl and other noble Lords, including the late Lord Houghton, we spent day after day, night after night, into the early hours of the morning, trying to convince the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that the Child Support Act, of which he was the prime mover, would cause enormous difficulties and would alienate people not only from the Act but from the Government. I described it as "another poll tax bit of legislation", and so it has proved. It has not been accepted by either men or women. It has hurt both. Indeed, it has provided little good for both. It was supposed to help women, but it has not helped them at all: it has helped the Treasury. In fact, it has not helped the Treasury because its expenses were at least six-times as much as estimated during the course of the Bill.
We have been through all this before. I do not want my noble friend to do what was done previously and not listen to the words of wisdom that are coming from the Front Benches and, indeed, from some on the Back Benches. I generally support the Bill. It will make a good deal of improvement on what we had previously.
There are many parts of the Bill about which we should be worried. For example, we all accept that those who have care of children--mainly women--have a most important job to do and one that is worth a lot of money. But as has already been pointed out, if at the same time the woman is able not only to employ people to carry out those duties but also has a lot of money, surely she should contribute monetarily towards the upkeep of the child, as in the case with wives who go out to work.
We are talking about the rights of children. Of course children have the right to maintenance, to a good life and to a good standard of living. But that is where the rights stop. I hope that we are not presuming to tell people who remain in a marriage or in a partnership relationship that they should be contributing a given percentage of their money to their children. That is something that I would not accept. Up to the age of about 60, I happen to believe that I am far better at looking after the money that they will inherit than they are.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I had not expected my noble friend to finish his contribution by talking about inheritance. However, these amendments seek to change the way that maintenance liability of a non-resident parent is calculated to take account of the income of the parent with care in certain prescribed circumstances.
Amendment No. 12 provides for a reduction in the amount of maintenance payable where the parent with care's net income exceeds that of the non-resident parent. The manner of the reduction is not prescribed but is to be provided in regulations. It is not entirely clear whether the reduction is a pound-for-pound calculation or whether the maintenance would be reduced by a lesser amount. However, Amendment No. 26 leads me to think that the latter may be the case.
Amendment No. 26 provides for the net weekly income of the non-resident parent (upon which child support liability is based) to be reduced by a penny for each pound by which the gross annual income from all sources of a parent with care exceeds £25,000, subject to there being a limit that would prevent the non-resident parent's net income being reduced by more than 50 per cent. This would lead to a consequential reduction in the amount of maintenance payable in affected cases. Additionally, this amendment also provides for the calculation of a non-resident parent's net income to include income from both earned and unearned sources.
Perhaps I may leave that last point aside for a moment and return to first principles. I find myself unable to understand why the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, cannot, apparently, understand the Government's position. At the end of the day, the essential issue is not whether the man or the women