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 Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale 4:35 pm, 22nd May 1995

I shall not speak on all the groups of amendments, not out of any particular consideration to right hon. and hon. Members—even though, of course, I have that consideration—or out of any satisfaction with the Bill, which is a poor measure and falls far short of what we would wish to be enacted, but because I do not believe that the Government will move on any of the amendments. It is a waste of time for all of us to sit here and try to make the Government see some sense. I should like the wholesale scrapping of the Child Support Act 1991, but, unfortunately, we are not debating that today.

Parents with care will have their benefit clawed back by the Government, pound for pound. That hardly seems fair or just. The case has been well aired and well argued both on Second Reading and in Committee, so I shall not detain the House for long. I should like to point out, however, that some inconsistency exists between what the Minister has been saying and his position. I heard him say that he deplored children of lone parents living in poverty. The new clause would help to get those children out of that poverty, and they form the bulk of the people we dealt with in the Child Support Act.

The new clause would not do a great deal—that would depend on how we set the maintenance disregard—but it would help. To a certain extent, lone parents and their children would be helped out of poverty

Over and again, the Minister says that he wants to get those parents back to work, which seems to be his argument against granting a maintenance disregard. We shall find out whether that is the case when we debate child care costs later this evening. If he accepts the proposal, perhaps I will believe him, but I doubt that he will. He certainly did not accept it in Committee.

We must realise that some lone parents cannot find work. The Minister knows that other ways exist of getting people out of poverty apart from making them go back into work. A maintenance disregard is one of those ways. If a lone parent wants work and finds it, that is great. No one is against that; everyone would support it. In a way, the maintenance bonus will help them to achieve that, but it does not go far enough.

We must ensure that lone parents and their children are not suffering too much. Therefore, we also need the maintenance disregard. If parents without care felt that their children were benefiting, that would encourage them to co-operate with the Child Support Agency law. I am totally opposed to the Act, but I know that the Government will not move on it, so we must find some way of making it just a little better.

I have not heard the Minister or anyone else advance any convincing arguments against a maintenance disregard. I do not know whether he will suddenly come up with some convincing arguments today, but I doubt it. The proposal would also encourage parents with care to co-operate as they would feel that their children were going to benefit and they know that when income support goes, passported benefit and free school meals go. The maintenance disregard would help to offset that clawback of money.

Voluntary organisations and the Law Society want the new clause to go through. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister will accept it. They must ask themselves why all these people want the maintenance disregard, and why everyone recognises the reasons for it except the Government Front-Bench team. The Child Poverty Action Group, for instance, points out that the maintenance bonus is one of the few things proposed to help lone parents with children.

Even though the White Paper says that children come first—and we have said that over and again in Committee—they do not come first in the Bill or the Child Support Act. The Treasury comes first. The Government do not really want to put children first. If they did, they would accept the new clause. The Minister and the Secretary of State can prove that they want children to come first merely by accepting the new clause now.