§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. James Arbuthnot)
I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 16, line 22, leave out from 'made' to 'is', in line 24, and insert 'or a maintenance assessment'.
666 Clause 21 enables the Secretary of State to recover from alleged parents those fees for DNA tests which the Secretary of State previously paid in connection with a paternity dispute. The amendment fulfils a commitment that I gave to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) in Committee, and allows recovery to be made in cases where benefit is not an issue as well as in benefit cases.
In relation to paternity, Opposition Members suggested that we should introduce a presumption of parentage on marriage in disputed paternity cases in England and Wales, similar to that which applies in Scotland. They also moved an amendment so that a declaration of parentage by the courts would have effect for any other proceedings involving the qualifying child.
On the face of it, both those proposals have merit, but the implications are far reaching and could affect other areas of law, such as adoption and surrogacy, registration of births, parental responsibility, immigration and residence and contact issues. These matters will need to be fully considered by several Departments.
The Lord Chancellor has general policy responsibility for family law issues, and I am pleased to say that he has agreed to take forward a consultation exercise on both those matters. Such an exercise may involve public consultation, and could clearly not be concluded in time for any changes in the law to be introduced in the current Bill. However, it will establish the need for and the desirability of making the changes suggested by Opposition Members as and when the opportunity arises. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ Mr. Bradley
I am grateful to the Minister for his response to our amendments in Committee. They recognised that there may be a need for wider consultation not only within Departments but with the wider public. I appreciate the fact that the Minister has now got agreement through the Lord Chancellor for such a procedure to be undertaken. We shall give our views during that process, and we look forward to any subsequent amendments or changes in the legislation that may be appropriate as a result of the consultation. We welcome the Minister's statement.
§ Amendment agreed to.