HL Deb 19 November 1996 vol 575 cc1223-34

4.53 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 15th October be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations pave the way for the full introduction of the new departures system. They follow regulations made earlier this year that enabled the provisions to be piloted in a small number of areas. Departures will allow for the maintenance assessment made under the child support formula to be varied in a small number of exceptional cases where that assessment is not seen to produce a fair result. This new system will benefit both absent parents and parents with care.

The central element of the 1991 Child Support Act was that child support would be assessed under a fixed formula. This would ensure that parents in similar circumstances would receive similar assessments, and avoid the problems of the old system, where awards were inconsistent, often of low amounts and where maintenance was all too frequently given a low priority.

The formula does, of course, contain a number of safeguards to ensure that absent parents are not required to pay unreasonably high levels of maintenance. The protected income provisions ensure that he will always retain more income after payment of maintenance than if he were in receipt of income support. A further provision, introduced in April 1995, ensures that maintenance is capped at 30 per cent. of net income.

But we recognise that in exceptional cases the inflexibility of these provisions can cause difficulties. The departures system will for the first time introduce an element of discretion. It will enable the formula assessment to be varied to allow greater recognition of expenses and commitments not covered by that formula.

Since we have only a short time to debate these regulations, I shall not discuss each one in detail. However, I hope it will be helpful if I outline the main provisions. There are three categories under which a parent can make an application for a departure. The first is for special expenses relating to: high travel-to-work costs; high travel costs in maintaining contact with the children of the assessment; costs arising from illness or disability; debts incurred while the family were still together; financial commitments entered into before April 1993; and the costs of supporting stepchildren, where responsibility was taken before April 1993.

The second category is where a property or capital settlement in lieu of child maintenance and made before April 1993 is not properly reflected in formula.

The third category is for additional cases including: assets capable of producing income; diversion of income; and lifestyle inconsistent with income declared for the child support assessment. This category is open to either parent but is likely to be particularly helpful to parents with care. One of the criticisms of the child support formula is that it has not been able to deal as flexibly as the courts with cases where absent parents seek to conceal or divert large parts of their income in order to reduce their child support liability.

The regulations we are debating today carry forward the provisions in the Departure Direction Anticipatory Application Regulations, introduced in April, and which enabled the departure provisions to be piloted. The pilot has been of enormous value to the Child Support Agency in the testing of procedures prior to the full introduction of the departures system. It highlighted a number of areas where improvements could be made. These include operational procedures; the computer system; and letters and forms sent to parents. Appropriate amendments have now been made and this will be of great help when the system is introduced fully, helping to ensure that the procedures work smoothly and efficiently and that parents receive a good standard of service.

During the pilot, some 2,000 cases were considered. Of these we believe that around 10 to 15 per cent. are likely to be successful. We have always been keen to ensure that the departure system is seen to benefit parents with care and not be just for absent parents looking to reduce their maintenance liability. It is therefore pleasing that there was an almost even split of applications between parents with care and absent parents. No evidence has emerged to suggest that the provisions in the pilot regulations do not deal appropriately with exceptional cases. These regulations, therefore, carry forward those provisions. But we will, as always, continue to keep both the overall child support scheme and the departures system under close review.

In addition to setting out the basis for departure applications, the regulations also contain a number of provisions relating to the handling of applications. These include provisions for cases with existing assessments and provisions for appeals.

One issue the regulations do not cover is the order in which the Child Support Agency will take on cases. Clearly it will be impractical for it to deal with all cases, both new and those with existing assessments, from day one. I can confirm that the agency will take on new cases—that is, where an assessment is made on or after 2nd December—as they arise. It will also take on first those cases which took part in the pilot exercise. So those who took part in the pilot exercise will have their cases considered immediately.

Other cases with an existing assessment will be taken on in phases. First will be those cases where the youngest child is aged 15 or over, since liability for maintenance may well cease soon. Then cases will be dealt with according to the age of the assessment, with the oldest cases being dealt with first.

All cases with an existing assessment will be sent a notification about the new system and invited to make an application if they wish. We will be aiming for this exercise to be completed by April 1997. However, if applications are high this may be extended to September 1997.

No parents will lose out as a result of this phased take-on. The regulations ensure that those with an existing assessment who make their departure application by 1st December 1997 will have any departure award backdated to 2nd December 1996, provided the conditions for the departure were met at that date.

The final aspect of the regulations which I shall mention briefly is the provision for appeals. As with assessments made under the formula, there will be a right of appeal to an independent child support appeal tribunal against departure decisions. In addition, some cases may be referred by the Child Support Agency to a child support appeal tribunal for a decision. It is intended that these will be cases which raise novel or contentious issues, and will include cases where the application is made on the grounds of a lifestyle inconsistent with declared income or diversion of income.

One area where the appeal provisions for departures differ from other child support appeals is the provision for tribunal chairmen to sit alone to deal with certain appeals. This will be cases where the appeal is against a decision to reject an application at the preliminary sift stage; and cases involving property and capital transfers. However, it will still be open to chairmen to decide that the case should be dealt with by a full tribunal.

These regulations will allow for the full implementation of the departures system. This is an important reform of the child support provisions which builds on a range of other measures already brought in. The formula assessment remains the right and fair way of assessing maintenance in the majority of cases. But an element of discretion will now enable the small number of exceptional cases to be dealt with more appropriately. I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 15th October be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

5.2 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we on these Benches have always supported the principle that although a husband and a wife may divorce they cannot divorce their children. He—and it is usually "he"—must retain a continuing responsibility for maintenance. We also believe that the old court system which determined each case on its merits was not particularly meritorious. Barely a quarter of lone parents received maintenance, too few men contributed, their contributions were too low and there was little sustained effort to chase up defaulters.

However, replacing that with a formula established by regulation and operated by agency has, as we have seen, substituted one set of problems for the original set of problems. It has undoubtedly been unfair to many partners; it has been harsh to many absent parents. It has proved unreliable for many parents with care. It should never have been made retrospective, disturbing the settlements on which people had built their financial lives. It should have allowed parents with care to keep a modest element of the maintenance before it was clawed back by the Treasury. It is analogous to the decision which we discussed earlier today under the Bill relating to the Compensation Recovery Unit.

All those issues were identified during the passage of the Bill. They were all subject to amendments moved by the Opposition Benches. They were all rebuffed by the Government and in all cases the Government were wrong. In so far as they have not adopted them, they remain wrong. How much hardship and pain would have been avoided, how much administrative chaos would have been made unnecessary if the Government had only listened to us and taken the Bill forward in a non-provocative way. In all the subsequent amendments and changes to the regulations that have been brought by the Government since the CSA was first established, one amendment apart—the increased benefit penalty for refusing to divulge information—they were all pressed by this side and the Government originally resisted but they have now belatedly had to concede it.

Departures are very much a case in point. We argued in this House and the other place time and again that the assessment system must include, as the Minister said today, some element of discretion, some element of flexibility, if the formula is to be fair as well as universal. Time and again, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, refused. Usually, but not invariably, the words he uttered were: "floodgates, floodgates, floodgates". It was as though by repeating the word he somehow made it true.

Then, early last summer, we had the Child Support Bill, which embodied some of our concerns, and some of the affirmative regulations today flow from it. As the Minister said, it was based on a pilot scheme of 25,000 cases. It seems surprising that so few—only 6 per cent.—applied for formal review. I understand that the Australian experience is rather nearer 12 per cent. although it is possible that when the exercise is for real and real money may result from it the response rate may be higher. As in Australia, apparently the pilot scheme suggests that almost equal numbers of women and men apply for review. However again, unlike the Australian scheme, the pilot scheme has thrown up only a low proportion of success, from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. I do not know whether the Minister has any views as to why that should be so.

The Minister helpfully explained the direction of the departures. In the first cluster to which he referred, special expenses relating to travel to work, the cost of stepchildren and disability are obviously sensible. We also recognise and welcome the belated acceptance by the Government that property settlements were unfairly treated in the original CSA formula.

However, we have worries and it would be helpful if the Minister could say more about the Government's thinking on them. They concern the third set of regulations, numbers 23 to 29, which reflect the problem where there is an obvious disparity between the declared income of the absent parent and his actual lifestyle. There is the stereotypical case of the man in the pale grey Jaguar declaring that he is self-employed and unable to make anything other than the most modest contributions. We believe that he is shielding his income from fair maintenance payments.

Our worry is that the regulations as phrased require the parent with care to prove that the absent father is capable of making higher maintenance payments. As the citizens advice bureaux have said, it is a difficult burden to place on the parent with care. Are the Government satisfied that it is an acceptable way forward? What is the parent with care supposed to do? Produce a private detective?

That leads me to ask to what degree the Government are willing to countenance the Child Support Agency interfacing and liaising with other benefit agencies in regard to records. In particular, given that the fraud Bill is currently going through the other place, are the Government considering—and I do not say whether or not we support it—that there should be any interface with Inland Revenue records, which might be one of the ways of tracking down the real income of fathers or absent parents who fail to disclose it to the CSA? What do the Government have in mind on the issue as they start the fraud Bill in another place?

What worries me throughout is that the Child Support Agency does not take the responsibility that it should for ensuring that maintenance is paid. While the Government are harsh on women who fail to divulge the required information by ratcheting up the benefit penalties they now employ, it seems that yet again, men who evade full disclosure of information may get away with it.

While we welcome the Government's belated recognition that discretion, flexibility, departures and appeals must be embedded in the system, and while we believe that most departures listed are to be welcomed, we have a real fear as to the satisfactory nature of the methods that may be employed in order to persuade the absent parent to give full disclosure of the income on which fair and reliable maintenance may be based. That alone may float the parent with care and her children off poverty.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I must congratulate the Minister on having been here long enough to have acquired an element of discretion. But the element of discretion is, I feel, still rather a small one. This morning I received advice on the regulations from the Law Society. It says that there is no real discretion as was in the past exercised by the court having regard to the circumstances of individuals. I could not have put it better myself. That sums up the heart of my objections.

I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, had to say about the courts. I recommend to her a work that I know she knows and respects as I do; namely, the 20-country study by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw and others. The study pointed out that in all the countries dealt with, the amount that single parents were getting from maintenance was rather small, simply because in many cases the money was not there to be had. So there is a possibility that the trouble we have run into with the Act is that the expectations of the DSS as to how much it could get in the first place were a little unrealistic.

The noble Baroness also raised the interesting question of why the take-up is so much higher for a pilot scheme in Australia than it is here. There is a perfectly rational reason for that. It is because the Australian scheme is arranged on fundamentally different principles. The point of the Australian scheme is to encourage the parties concerned to agree between themselves on a private settlement. They know the circumstances in a way that the DSS and the CSA never will. The fact that that system might work rather better than the one we have only goes to show that very often people are the best judges of their own joint interests, even in the highly charged circumstances of a broken marriage.

The 6 per cent. take-up is disappointing. In the course of correspondence I have tried to encourage people to take part in pilot schemes. Of the 6 per cent., 90 per cent. were for inconsistent lifestyle and 90 per cent. of those were unsuccessful.

I feel that we all still have a problem on inconsistent lifestyle. Obviously, it is something which happens. There is a case in my papers of someone who, before the Act, was paying £340 a month maintenance and is now self-employed, says he has no income, and is paying nothing. I cannot believe that that is right. On the other hand, it is equally true that inconsistent lifestyle in the supercharged atmosphere of a broken marriage is sometimes alleged when it is not true. We must do better at trying to prove the facts. I believe that we are all united in wishing to do so and that all of us are united in seeing very real, practical difficulties that we have not yet overcome. I once wrote to an irate correspondent who was alleging inconsistent lifestyle, "Don't shoot Mr. Lilley; he's doing his best". The Minister knows that I do not say that very often. So if, by consultation, we can find better ways of proceeding—I am interested in the noble Baroness's suggestion about the Inland Revenue—I should like to see what we can do.

I am reminded of an observation that Miss Chant made, in reply to the ombudsman, to the effect that much of the CSA's problem is that it encounters people at a stage of their lives when they are in an adversarial situation and when an administrative procedure is not the right way to tackle their problems.

Granted that so many of the appeals concerned inconsistent lifestyle, there were not very many under the other grounds. Of them all, in Mr. Mitchell's figures, 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. were successful. That is in line with what the Minister said when he introduced the Act in 1995; namely, that the system had been designed so that it was expected that very few departures would be awarded. Precisely. That is our objection. The Minister said that the regulations dealt appropriately with the situation. They have dealt with it in the way the Minister believes to be appropriate, not in the way we on these Benches believe to be appropriate.

I believe that the departures given are in many cases not large enough. According to the pilot evaluation, the average departure is £25, which means that the average benefit to an absent parent—there is no figure given for the parent with care in the evaluation, though I wish there were—is £10. With the case, on which I have dwelt in the past, of somebody trying to afford a season ticket from Newbury or Eastleigh in order to remain in work, £10 will not take him very far along that journey. If this is to be an effective system, it will have to recognise rather larger departures.

The rules for capital transfer also suffer from the fact that they require people to have records showing the proportion of a transfer coming under different headings which were not required when the transfer was made. Therefore the records are unlikely to have been made. The department will perhaps be prepared to look at that matter under its monitoring process.

There is a problem with contact. We do not know how much contact will be allowed—if the Minister has anything to say on the subject, I shall be interested to hear it—and we do not know how contact will be monitored. The point has been made and, in relation to boarding schools in particular it is clearly true, that a contact is not always known to the parent with care. I do not think that we should go too deeply into the question of whether that should or should not be so. It is not a problem into which we should stick our noses.

The Minister knows my views on cars. I regret that he did not choose to apply the Inland Revenue rules for car use, which allow for a percentage of repairs, road fund licence and insurance. Those are perfectly workable rules. If, regrettably, people need to go to work by car and if they are to continue to work, they ought to be able to have such rules. Of course, if they cannot continue to work, they will not be paying maintenance, so the object of the exercise will be defeated.

In Regulation 15(1) disability costs are listed. I should like to know—this is a technical question to which I hope it is possible to give an answer—whether those costs are a total enumeration of the disability costs allowed or whether they are covered (I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, will forgive my Latin) under the eiusdem generis rule. For example, for someone whose speech is very severely impaired, would or would not the use of an interpreter be an allowable cost under that regulation? I am sure there are many more such examples which might be eiusdem generis, and I hope that they might be allowed.

In Regulation 9 it is a matter of very great regret to me that no departures are allowed in favour of anybody who is on income support. The Minister knows my views about levying maintenance from people on income support. But it should be an object of policy to encourage people on income support to take work, even if that work is only part time and even if only for a very few hours. By not allowing the expenses arising from any such work, the regulation creates another poverty trap. We have too many already, and creating another is a move in the wrong direction.

I am also rather distressed by Regulation 18(2) which states that no allowance shall be made for the costs of stepchildren if those stepchildren were acquired after 5th April 1993. I could predict in my sleep the Minister's reply: the costs of the stepchildren should fall on their natural parents. But by now the Minister ought equally to be able to predict in his sleep what my reply to that will be. What is to happen if the natural parent of the stepchildren is dead, is out of the country, has gone away and got lost or is physically or mentally incapable of earning money? How then are those children to be maintained? That seems to me a real injustice. I cannot understand how the Minister can justify it. I hope to hear an answer.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I may try to answer the various points made by the noble Baroness and the noble Earl in our short debate on these regulations. In relation to the pilot scheme, it is true that the number of applications returned was 8.5 per cent. That was pretty evenly divided: in fact 53 per cent. of the total in favour of the parent with care and 47 per cent. in favour of the absent parent. That is a pretty even division on those numbers.

Our projection of about 10 to 15 per cent. of departure awards being successful is based, as the noble Baroness suggested it might be, on the fact that when the system is running for real and there is real money at stake more people may apply. Even those who do apply may apply more seriously when they think that there is real money involved. That is why we made the estimate we did. We believe that there will probably be a slightly higher take-up than there appeared to be in the pilot.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, does the Minister think that there are any other reasons for the low take-up? In other words, did the pilot suggest that there is an opacity in the system or a complexity of forms which deters, debars or gives rise to fears about confidential information? What did the Minister learn from the pilot which could ensure that when it is more widespread it will encourage people who have a justified reason for believing that they have an inappropriate settlement on which to appeal or to seek a departure from?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we looked carefully at the cases returned and how they responded. As I said in my opening remarks, we have made certain changes to try to make the process as simple as possible.

We believe that the departure will be used only in a minority of cases. In the great majority of cases the formula with the protections in it will work perfectly well. I should have thought therefore that 10 to 15 per cent. is not a significantly small number when it comes to looking at the number of successful applicants for the departures. Of course, we have kept our eye carefully on the way in which people have responded and have tried to ensure that, if there are problems in the way the system has been devised, we can iron them out before we go to live running.

I hope that is helpful. We will continue to watch the situation. If we receive any feedback to suggest that the forms are too complicated or whatever, we shall do our best to make them as simple as we can. That is not always the easiest task in the Department of Social Security. Given the complexity of issues and the vast range of human conditions, forms are not always the best way to try to encapsulate the condition. But it is the best system we have.

The noble Baroness and the noble Earl raised a point in relation to inconsistent lifestyle. All the documents—the written and verbal statements—from the applicant (the parent with care in this case) will constitute evidence for the purpose of the departures. The agency accepts that it is unlikely that the applicants will be able to provide conclusive documentary and written evidence to prove their case. Provided the applicant presents a prima facie case that a departure direction may be appropriate, the application will be referred to the independent tribunal service for determination. The legally qualified chairman of the tribunal will be able to question the parties and may direct any party to produce further particulars or documents. The absent parent may be directed to produce documents in order to establish what the real position is. That will enable the chairman of the tribunal to penetrate the outward appearances in order to establish the true realities of the parties' circumstances.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. When he says that the chairman of the tribunal may require the absent parent to produce documents, what sort of documents will they include? To put it another way, what documents will the tribunal chairman not be able to require to be produced; for example, tax returns?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am not sure about tax returns to the Inland Revenue. I shall come to the Inland Revenue point in a moment. I do not want to fetter the independent tribunal chairman in what he should ask for; otherwise your Lordships may say that he was no longer independent. Perhaps I may look into the specific point about income tax returns in a moment.

The tribunal will weigh the evidence and reach a balanced judgment. The Child Support Agency will be able, via the Secretary of State, to draw on information which is in the possession of the department elsewhere in the system; for example, from benefit applications. It can do that under the existing powers in the Child Support Act.

We have no plans at this stage to interface directly with the Inland Revenue. It is a little different from the absent parent actually producing his tax returns, but we have no plans to allow the Child Support Agency to gain access to Inland Revenue information. When we discussed this matter during the passage of the Child Support Bill, it was agreed that the information which an absent parent or anyone else provides to the Inland Revenue should remain confidential. We would be moving a long way away from the normal procedures of the Inland Revenue if we were to go down that road, though I fully understand that it would perhaps provide information which the tribunal chairman may find useful.

The noble Earl returned to a number of points I have heard him make before; for example, on the travel-to-work costs and whether or not the applicant should be able to offset all the costs of his motor car against his maintenance—hire purchase, MOT and garage bills—whereas only the fuel costs will be considered. That is indeed the position. There will be no allowance for those other costs—tax disc, MOT, certificate of insurance and so forth. We do not accept that somebody uses a car solely for working purposes and therefore that all the running costs should be laid against the support of the child.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I believe he has misunderstood the Inland Revenue rules. The Inland Revenue rules do not say that all the costs of the car should be attributed to work. A mileage percentage has to be justified to the Inland Revenue and anything paid is in proportion to that mileage percentage. I do not see what is wrong with that procedure.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I know that the noble Earl and I will not agree on this issue. We believe that when it comes to the costs of travel to work which are to be set against maintenance, the fuel-cost-only way is the fair way.

I was about to say that the still-married couple looking after their own children are not able to offset the costs of going to work. The taxpayer does not pick up the tab for their car costs, and we must take account of those who are not divorced and are not absent parents or a parent with care. They have to deal with many of those problems within their income and look after their children within their income.

I believe that we have gone a long way in allowing travel-to-work costs based on fuel only. The still-married couple will not receive such preferential treatment against the taxpayer or anybody else when it comes to the costs that they have to carry in getting the husband or wife to and from their place of work. We must be fair to everybody in the country and not look at absent parents in isolation as people who ought to be treated in a special way and to an extent be relieved of the obligation of looking at their income in the round when it comes to looking after the interests of their children, absent or present. That is the point I should like to make about the travel-to-work issue.

On the question the noble Earl raised in relation to the average reduction for absent parents, which is around £10, he said that there are no figures for the parent with care. Indeed, there is no figure for the parent with care because the majority of those cases which arise from lifestyle-inconsistent cases will be decided by the independent tribunal service. It was very difficult for us to run a pilot on that side of the equation, whereas we could run the pilot on the other side over which we have control.

The noble Earl asked about contact costs and he has done so before. The contact costs will be calculated on the actual costs incurred by the absent parent. The frequency of contact is not a matter for the Child Support Agency; it is for a combination of the parents themselves or indeed of the courts if the parents cannot agree. The noble Earl also asked about stepchildren and why the provisions apply to pre-1993 families only. Where financial responsibility for supporting stepchildren was taken on before the agency existed, it is reasonable to make allowances for the costs involved. Anyone taking on a step-family after 1992 did so in the full knowledge that the child support scheme would make no concessions for the additional costs. The departure system does nothing to alter that position. As your Lordships have heard me say before, the first responsibility is to one's own children, even where stepchildren have no one to provide for them. Where paying the standard formula assessment causes difficulty, the protected income calculation will ensure sufficient disposable income left after paying child support to meet the needs of all the members of the household and has always done so.

The noble Earl also asked about the poverty trap created by not allowing income support clients to apply for departures. I am not sure whether I understood that because, once the parent moves into work, he can immediately apply for a departure if he has the appropriate expenses. I cannot see how someone on income support, and therefore, I assume, not working, can have travel-to-work costs and so on.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I was referring to people doing part-time jobs for a short number of hours, which I think is better than doing no work at all.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I agree that it is better than doing no work at all. However, I do not see where a poverty trap comes in there. If they are doing a few hours' work, they are allowed to do so within the rules of income support. If they do more than that, they start having their income support reduced.

The point remains—it is a point on which the noble Earl and I disagree—that a person on income support who is happily married and is looking after his own children has to face up to all these problems and costs. I do not think we can say that, because someone is divorced, the acting parent can somehow have all the other factors taken into consideration when it comes to trying to reduce the financial obligations he has to his child or children. I know that the Liberal Democrat Party takes an entirely different view of this. It is opposed to the child support system and would like to go back to the old system. The interesting point is that the old system run by the courts was not nearly as successful as the rose-coloured spectacles of some people make out. I am not surprised that the Law Society prefers a court-based system. Of course it would say that, wouldn't it? It would always say that it preferred a court-based system. But while the liable relative scheme was very successful in identifying absent parents, only 20 per cent. of those absent parents made an arrangement to pay maintenance. The payments themselves were on average 50 per cent. lower than under the Child Support Agency.

One of the biggest difficulties of the agency is that many people out there do not want to fulfil their obligations to their children. One understands that. But I—and, I know, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis—do not approve of that. We believe that those men—it is largely men—ought to be made to face up to their responsibilities. They had a small part to play in the creation of those children. The responsibility does not end when they walk away from the marriage, no matter how clean the break may have been.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I beg the Minister's pardon, but last time he accused our Benches of saying that men could walk away from their responsibilities, he ended up offering an apology. I should be very grateful if he would do it again.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I read a document put out by a group of fathers who run fairly virulent campaigns against the Child Support Agency and I read some material from the Liberal Democrat Party. Perhaps I misread it, but the Liberal Democrats do not seem to be even vaguely in favour of a Child Support Agency which will ensure that absent parents pay a fair contribution towards their children and do not depend on other taxpayers, many of whom are busy in their marriages looking after their own children and do not have money to spare to help to look after their neighbours when their neighbours ought to be looking after their own. I am perfectly clear on that. I am glad to hear that the noble Earl agrees with me. The next time I read the newsletter, I look forward to seeing some more moderate remarks from the Liberal Democrat Party about the system we have devised to try to ensure that the absent parent pays the parent with care and does not leave her and her child or children entirely at the mercy of the state and other taxpayers.

I hope I have answered the points made by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.