Child Maintenance Service — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:49 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:49 pm, 23rd July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. For the past four to five years, I have been the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on alternative dispute resolution. I am also an associate of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, with a professional interest in mediation. I pay special tribute to all those who carry out mediation in the difficult circumstances of a family break-up. It is far better for parents to come to their own arrangements than have a one-size-fits-all approach imposed on them. I have seen that in my professional and personal experience.

The Child Maintenance Service sets out a process for reaching an amicable agreement. It is not a naive, buddy-buddy approach for trying to get people to work together. It recognises that there are fundamental differences and difficulties that have arisen as a result of the break-up of a marriage. It encourages civility in the way people address each other and take forward their discussions, which leaves the CMS to deal with the really difficult cases—the ones in which there is a tremendous amount of acrimony. Indeed, I would suggest that most cases we face, and the cases that Martyn Day has described, fall into the category of difficult cases that do not lend themselves to amicable agreement.

Despite the times we live in, we recognise that it is usually the mother who has custody of the children, but that is not always the case. Fathers can face crisis because their circumstances have changed. However, each case is unique and takes time to work out. To go back to what I said earlier, they cannot face a one-size-fits-all approach. All such cases are emotionally charged—they have to be, given the circumstances in which they occur. When they are emotionally charged, there is enormous potential for complaints. I have come across many mistakes made by the CMS that have left people with very little disposable income.

Under the previous Secretary of State or the one before her, I put forward a complete list of things in the benefits system and CMS—not to complain about them, but to help her focus on how to improve them. It is a great shame that nothing has come of them. If I forward to the Minister the list of things that I had already forwarded to the Secretary of State, will he take them up to ensure that we can deal with these problems as we go along?