CHILD MAINTENANCE DISREGARD (No. 2)

Part of Orders of the Day — Child Support Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 22nd May 1995.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms , Newham North East 4:35 pm, 22nd May 1995

All of us are aware of the enormous problems caused by child support legislation, and many believe that the changes that we are now considering offer the last chance to get the system right and in a form that will be defensible, widely supported and able to function properly. I had hoped and expected that there would be serious scrutiny of the proposals in Committee and an attempt to reach an all-party consensus, so that all hon. Members could have confidence in a supportable way forward.

I am a relatively new Member of the House, so perhaps I was hoping for more than was possible, but no such all-party consensus emerged. Not one speech in Committee was made by a Conservative Back Bencher. Conservative Members made four brief interventions, but that was the sum total of their contribution. I note that those hon. Members are not present in the Chamber.

I am extremely puzzled that so little interest was shown by Conservative Members, that they remain unconcerned about getting the changes right, and that they have failed to display a give-and-take approach that might have led to changes in which we could all have confidence. Not one substantive Opposition amendment has been accepted by the Government. We have before us only the changes that the Government first thought of, which were whipped through the Committee without the serious scrutiny that I had anticipated.

One major reason for the anger surrounding the legislation is that, in many cases, not a penny of the maintenance paid goes to the children who are intended to be the beneficiaries of the child support regime. As 80 per cent. of the agency's caseload is parents with care who are on income support, they account for a high proportion of the total.

The child maintenance bonus offers some prospect of eventually benefiting the children involved, but that payment will not be made immediately. The bonus will anyway be capped and have a fixed maximum value, and many parents with care will never be in a position to receive it.

Despite the changes made by the Bill, we will end up with a child support regime that remains unsupportable and that will continue to provoke immense fury among the people affected by it. The fact that none of the payments will benefit most of the children involved is a major part of the regime's unacceptability. I hope that the Government will accept the new clause, which would be a big step towards creating a defensible system, which all of us want to achieve.