Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 4th July 2007.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Wales, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 1:41 pm, 4th July 2007

I am not sure that I agree that that 65 per cent. is a representative figure, but we obviously need to get these things right. That is why we are bringing in an entirely new organisation to replace the CSA.

We must realise that unrealistic expectations about moving from one system to another have blighted previous attempts to reform child support. We must ensure that the new commission is not held back by the failings of the old system. Equally, we must ensure that maintenance payments that are already being made can continue uninterrupted for the benefit of the children.

Parents will have three options. By the end of 2008, parents claiming benefits will no longer be compelled to use the statutory system, and will therefore be able to make their own voluntary arrangements, if they so choose, supported by the new information and support service of the commission. Secondly, from 2010, parents with a maintenance arrangement already in place, and who both agree that they are happy with it, will be able to ask the commission simply to ensure that the money keeps flowing. This will enable them to avoid the disruption of a whole new assessment that could open up old wounds. Instead, their existing payments will stay at the same rate, and the commission will ensure that the money is efficiently transferred to the parent with care.

Thirdly, for those unable to come to a voluntary arrangement, or for those without an existing arrangement in place, the commission will support an application to the new statutory system. The commission will begin talking to its clients about the new options in 2008. The actual movement of clients to the new statutory system will start in 2010 and is expected to be finalised in 2013.

There is a fourth part to the Bill which provides new support for people suffering from the asbestos-related cancer known as mesothelioma. This is now the most common cause of work-related death in Britain. Nearly 2,000 people die every year from this cancer as a result of asbestos exposure, and the number is expected to increase to a peak of 2,500 during the period from 2011 to 2015. It is estimated that one in every 100 men born between 1940 and 1950 will die of the disease.

Of course, no amount of money can ever compensate individuals and families fully for the suffering and loss caused by this terrible illness, but those who are suffering rightly deserve to receive some form of monetary compensation, and to receive payment before it is too late. No one should have to wait years before they see a penny of compensation, especially when, as in many of these cases, people do not have years left to wait. In fact, people with mesothelioma die, on average, within eight to nine months of diagnosis. It is very quick.

Although we already make some lump sum payments to employees for mesothelioma under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979, many sufferers miss out. These include the self-employed, those who lived with asbestos workers and inhaled dust from their clothing, those who lived near asbestos factories, and those who do not know how they got the disease. The Bill means that, once diagnosed, sufferers should receive some compensation within six weeks of making a claim. We are doing that by correcting an anomaly in how we make recoveries of state funds from civil compensation. At present, lump sum payments for mesothelioma and other dust diseases are not subject to such recoveries, which leads to a windfall for insurers and other liability holders, as they can reduce their payouts by the amount of any lump sum paid by the state. That is wrong. The Bill will allow us to recover the lump sum payments from later civil compensation so that the negligent party meets its liability in full.

By making those recoveries, we aim to fund the new payments without increasing the cost to the public purse. We intend to set the lump sum payment levels so that the overall expenditure matches the expected recoveries. That means that they will initially be lower than the existing lump sum payments, but we will increase the level each year as recoveries increase until they match the levels of our existing 1979 Act scheme payment. We must now get the money to those who need it—people with mesothelioma must receive some compensation while they are still alive to benefit from it. The Bill will allow us to get some compensation to all sufferers as early as next year. The proposals have been broadly welcomed by our stakeholders and in all parts of the House.

All Members have constituents who depend on child maintenance payments, and all of us want a system that delivers better outcomes for the children and parents with care who depend on it and which further contributes to reducing child poverty—to which our Government are committed, and which we have delivered. After almost two decades of reform, it is high time we got this right. The Bill provides the foundation for a lasting reform and a new start for child maintenance that will deliver fresh opportunity for the children who are affected by their parents splitting up. We need a new system that learns the lessons of the past; promotes parental responsibility; works with parents, rather than against them, to deliver the best outcomes for children; provides the taxpayer with true value for money; and, most importantly, ensures that no children are ever again condemned to poverty simply because their parents are not together. I commend the Bill to the House.