CHILD MAINTENANCE DISREGARD (No. 2)

Part of Orders of the Day — Child Support Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 22nd May 1995.

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Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Social Security) 5:30 pm, 22nd May 1995

I am grateful for the Secretary of State's opening remarks, but his speech went downhill from that point. We have always tried to be constructive, to try to get equity into the system. The changes that have been made most recently in regulations and in the Bill have basically favoured the so-called absent parent. I do not argue with that, but the new clause attempts to bring in a disregard to try to get fairness and equity in the changes, and to give more support to parents with care.

I am grateful for the contributions of my hon. Friends, which, as always through the passage of the Bill, have been extremely thoughtful and positive, particularly on the matter of a disregard.

I am also grateful for the support of the Liberal Democrats for this proposal, but we have heard again tonight that their basic position is to scrap the Bill and replace it with family courts. I am pleased that, during the debate on new clause 4, which proposes an advisory committee and relates to family courts, their spokesperson will have the opportunity to give details about how family courts would work. They promised during the passage of the Bill that they would give us that detail. However, I will not stray into that now.

It must be stressed again that, under the current arrangements parents with care on income support lose, pound for pound, for any maintenance paid. The sole intention of the new clause is to try to give more money to the poorest parents to help their children. It is not a case of the Labour party having no clothes. We are trying to ensure through the new clause that the parents with care can afford the clothes their children deserve. That is why we are trying to improve the financial situation of parents with care who have to rely on benefit.

In his summing up, the Secretary of State said that there was a clear disincentive against going back to work, but he also, I think, said that many parents with care wanted to go back to work. I asked him about evidence of that disincentive. He did not provide any, but I hope that he will do so after the debate.

The Secretary of State also repeated the arguments made in Committee and on Second Reading, that the way to alleviate poverty for lone parents is to enable them to return to work. I would not argue with that as a long-term aspiration, but lone parents, especially those with young children, should have the choice of bringing up their children themselves and remaining at home on a decent level of income. They may be on benefit, so the need for a disregard is paramount, to ensure that we raise marginally the level of income of those parents caring for children at home.

6 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) said that he remembers the Tories advocating a family policy to enable mums to remain at home to look after their children. The headlines were reinforced by Tory propaganda about latchkey children. The Bill attempts to return to the situation in which lone parents are forced to return to work when they do not have adequate child care provision. The sole purpose of the new clause is to introduce a disregard, and bring those vital extra pennies into the family to support children.

We strongly believe that a disregard would be an incentive to co-operate with the agency and pay what is required. It would mean that the public had confidence that the Child Support Agency was making money available to support children. The new clause puts children first and would give more money to the poorest families to enable them to support their children. I urge the House to support us in our attempt to protect and support children, by supporting the new clause.