HL Deb 18 January 2005 vol 668 cc19-20WS
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

This Statement is being made on a joint basis, together with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Minister for Women and Equality.

I am pleased to report that Parental Separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities: Next Steps is today being presented to Parliament, and sets out the Government's response to the consultation on the proposals set out in Parental Separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities which was published on 21 July 2004.

Parental separation is potentially damaging for children involved, especially where the separation is acrimonious. Each separation occurs in different circumstances and parents are, of course, best placed to decide the arrangements that are most likely to meet the needs of their own children. The Government's role is to provide and improve the legislative framework and related services, also working with others to make available advice and support.

We received over 250 responses to the consultation and I am grateful for respondents' comments and suggestions. While opinions about individual proposals differed, the overwhelming majority of respondents welcomed the general thrust of the Green Paper. Each of the actions set out in the Next Steps response, informed by the consultation responses, will be taken forward in a timely way, with new legislation being pursued as soon as parliamentary time allows.

A topic that was frequently raised in the consultation responses was whether, and what kind, of legislative change was needed to reinforce the proposals. Some respondents called for a presumption of equal contact after separation to be introduced, while many others were supportive of the current legal position. The Government are not persuaded that any legislative change to introduce a presumption of equal contact would benefit children. New legislation will be introduced in the areas of facilitation of contact and enforcement of contact orders.

In addition to the launch of the response document, I am also pleased to announce that we are investing £3 million and £4.5 million in 2006-07 and 2007-08 respectively to develop services to support child contact, including those delivered through child contact centres. We will be working over the coming months to develop specific plans for the use of these new resources. In addition, we are today launching a revised version of the Parenting Plans, which will be subject to consultation.

I am confident that the implementation of the agenda for action set out in the Next Steps will secure improved outcomes for children who experience the separation of their parents.