Committee stage
Wednesday 1st March 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023 View all Child Support (Enforcement) Act 2023 Debates Read Hansard Text
Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
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I sincerely thank the hon. Member for Stroud for bringing forward the Bill. As she has explained, the territorial extent and application applies to England, Wales and Scotland, as it is a reserved issue.

I would like to briefly express my wholehearted support for the Bill. Most of us will have seen, through our casework, just how frustrating CMS cases can be, particularly when the paying parent does not uphold their financial responsibilities. I am dealing with a number of such cases at the moment.

I put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross for setting up the child maintenance services all-party parliamentary group, of which I am a Member. We will continue to have meetings of that APPG, and hopefully push our casework forwards.

The changes that this Bill will make to enable the CMS to take stronger action in serious cases are very necessary. Many parents, survivors of domestic or economic abuse, have been telling us for far too long that the system is weaponised by their ex-partners to continue to perpetrate abuse. It is not acceptable that it is so easy for abusers to deliberately delay or frustrate payments.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that any changes benefit the children at the heart of what can often be very difficult and emotionally charged situations. I put on record again that I believe that this Bill has the potential to do that, so I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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That was very swift; I thank the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I thank hon. Members for joining us this morning, and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who has made a brilliant contribution and covered the importance of this Bill in great detail.

As highlighted by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, the Bill is vital for securing money for children more quickly from those parents who fail or simply refuse to give support to their own youngsters. Child maintenance payments, as we have heard, can play an effective role in helping to lift children out of poverty, and can help to enhance the life outcomes of children in separated families.

I take this opportunity to say a few words about what the CMS is doing more widely to improve its service—as we have heard from the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn—and ensure that it is supporting our youngsters and protecting the most vulnerable citizens. I would like to reiterate the work that we are doing, and hopefully give some comfort in that regard, because I know and understand that this is a matter of concern for many of us who, as constituency MPs, receive complaints and concerns from constituents who perhaps feel that they have not received the level of support or service they believe they should from the CMS.

As Members will know, until recently the day-to-day policy of the Child Maintenance Service sat with my noble Friend in the other place, Baroness Stedman-Scott. The Baroness was truly strident in her desire for the CMS to be at its best and worked to that end, and I know that that view is shared greatly by my noble Friend Viscount Younger of Leckie, who has taken over overall ministerial responsibility for policy on CMS, and I am working strongly with him.

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud on bringing this important Bill before us. I think the Minister will know that, since the agency was set up 11 years ago, almost £500 million has not been paid. That is 80% of the total accruals in deficit, in effect. Will she bring forward in due course facts, statistics and information to show how this Bill may be reducing that figure as time goes by? It is important that we monitor that this Bill, brought by the hon. Lady, is giving us information and showing that action has been taken and that young children, and mainly women, will benefit from it.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that challenge and for making that important point. I was about to say that I am working strongly on the policy and its focus on supporting lone parents. I am happy to write to Members and share what we believe the outcomes will be. We will be looking strongly at this. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that other Bills are in progress, and we are certainly seeking to increase and strengthen the impact of the CMS. We know how much it lifts youngsters out of poverty and, as we have heard this morning, it matters greatly to families. That is an important challenge, which I am happy to take up.