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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 15, line 17, leave out ("person") and insert ("parent").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment resolves a minor technical inconsistency in the wording of Clause 19 which occurred when an amendment was made to the clause in another place. Clause 19 currently

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refers to the person with care (page 15, line 17) but later refers to the same individual as the parent with care (page 15, line 28). The amendment corrects this minor inconsistency by using the phrase "parent with care" in both instances and I commend this minor amendment to your Lordships. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 20 [Disputed parentage]:

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 16, line 5, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 and insert ("any other proceedings concerning the qualifying child with respect to whom the declaration of parentage was made."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 41 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 42. The two amendments deal with a rather complicated point which in each case was debated in Committee in another place and the Minister in each case said he would consider them further and respond, but I do not think he has done so. This will give the Government an opportunity to do that. I quote from Standing Committee E:

    "The new subsection 27(3) to the Child Support Act 1991 inserted by the clause provides that a declaration of parentage made under the Act shall have effect in relation to proceedings under the Act and other proceedings for related court-based applications for maintenance for children. The purpose of the amendment is to extend the effect of that provision so that a declaration of parentage made under the 1991 Act has effect whenever a question about the child's paternity arises in other proceedings, saving those with care from having to make more than one application for a declaration of parentage in relation to the same child.

    The Government may oppose the amendment on the basis that it would allow women on benefit to apply at the state's expense for a declaration of paternity that they could then use for other proceedings, but that argument is flawed for three reasons. First, other declarations in family proceedings are generally binding—for example, sections 56 and 58 of the Family Law Act 1986, dealing with declarations of legitimacy and legitimation. Secondly, if the declaration is not binding in all other proceedings relating to the child and a second declaration has to be sought, the cost to the state will be increased, since individuals in that category are likely to be eligible for legal aid. If individuals in that category are not on benefit, the agency will not undertake work to obtain a declaration for them. Thirdly, that argument ignores the state's interest in obtaining the declaration. The agency applies for declarations in benefit cases only when it is thought that some financial benefit will accrue to the Government through benefit savings due to higher maintenance payments".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 25/4/95; col. 185.]

As I said, when this was debated in the other place in Committee the Minister, Mr Arbuthnot, said,

    "In view of the wide range of situations that could be affected by the amendment, I shall consult my colleagues in other Government Departments about the best way to proceed and I shall return to the House on Report to advise honourable Members of the results".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 25/4/95; col. 186.]

I do not believe that the matter was discussed on Report in the other place.

Amendment No. 42 is also rather complicated. Section 26 of the Child Support Act 1991 currently provides that an alleged absent parent is deemed to be an absent parent where, for example, the child is adopted. The fact that that section does not currently incorporate the current common-law presumption of legitimacy and the statutory provisions concerning legitimation means that formerly married absent parents

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are able to manipulate the agency by denying paternity. The purpose of the amendment is therefore to ensure that the common-law presumption of legitimacy and the statutory provisions concerning legitimation are incorporated in the Child Support Act 1991.

Again, this issue was debated in Committee in another place, and, again, the Minister promised to consider the matter further; but there has been no response, so far as I am aware.

It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate the Government's position on the amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, the amendments have already been discussed in another place.

Amendment No. 41 would allow for a declaration of parentage under Section 27 to be relied on in any future proceedings involving the qualifying child. While it would not necessarily be disadvantageous for all those involved to use the paternity declaration made under the Child Support Act, we would need to ensure that there were adequate safeguards if the declaration were to be valid in determining wide-ranging issues relating to a child's upbringing, and this cannot be done without full and proper consultation. Similarly, we would need to consider whether a declaration of paternity obtained for non-child support purposes, other than those currently set out in the Child Support Act, should be binding for child support maintenance assessments.

Amendment No. 42 is concerned with presumptions of paternity. There is already a presumption in Scottish statute law that a child of a marriage is deemed to be the child of both parties to that marriage. The 1991 Act recognises this presumption so that, in Scotland, a child support officer can make an assessment for maintenance if the alleged parent was married to the child's mother at any time between the child's conception and birth. Amendment No. 42 would extend the presumption of paternity to England and Wales. Such a presumption already exists in common law in England and Wales and it may be desirable to establish it in statute law. However, again we need to consider possible implications for other areas of law such as property and inheritance, registration of births, parental responsibility, immigration, residence and contact issues. Responsibility for those issues ranges across a number of different government departments, and the implications need to be fully considered and discussed.

The Lord Chancellor has general policy responsibility for family law issues, and he has agreed to co-ordinate a consultation exercise on both of these matters. I understand that the exercise will commence shortly. However, such an exercise could not be concluded in time for any changes in the law to be introduced in this Bill.

I appreciate that that may come as something of a disappointment to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, but I hope that he will understand that, while I very much take the points made in his amendments, there are other wider issues which my noble and learned friend the

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Lord Chancellor will have to consider and that we shall have to consult on these matters before we can come to any conclusion.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. That is what the Minister said in the other place on 25th April. I thought that by now the consultation might have taken place. It would be helpful if we could be given some idea of when the Lord Chancellor's work will be completed.

I am pleased to know that, as is often the case, Scottish law deals with a problem that is not dealt with in English law. However, I am surprised that the Minister referred to parents who were married between conception and birth; surely it should be before conception and birth.

However, I understand what the Minister said. At least the Government recognise the problems. I hope that when the Lord Chancellor's group completes its work they will be able to deal with this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 43:

After Clause 23, insert the following new clause:

Limits on reduced benefit direction

(".—(1) Section 46 of the 1991 Act shall be amended as follows—
(2) After subsection (5) insert—
"(5A) Subsection (5) shall not apply in cases where—
(a) the person with care or any child that would be affected by a reduced benefit direction is disabled, or
(b) the benefit entitlement of the parent with care has already been reduced by reason of a deduction to pay any outstanding debt."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 48 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I believe that that amendment is a good example of what one can do if one's intention is to improve the Bill and not to wreck it. Amendment No. 43 was tabled before I knew the exact timetable in which the Minister intended to put down his amendment. I am fairly clear that Amendment No. 48 deals with the point that I raised in Committee. The Minister kindly agreed to come back with his own amendment to deal with the matter through regulations. I refer to the exemption from benefit reduction of parents who are disabled or who have a disabled child, and those who are already repaying a loan from their benefit.

I shall formally move the amendment. If the Minister will speak to his amendment, Amendment No. 48, to explain how the provision overtakes mine, I shall beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 43. He can then move Amendment No. 48 on the Marshalled List. I beg to move.

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