Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 15:

Before Clause 18, insert the following new clause:

("Removal of carer's allowance from maintenance requirement

.—(1) Schedule 1 to the 1991 Act shall be amended as follows.
(2) In sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the 1991 Act, for sub-paragraphs (a) (b) and (c) there shall be substituted—
"(a) with respect to each qualifying child, an amount equal to the amount specified in column (2) to the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 for a person of the same age (income support personal allowance for a child or young person); and
(b) an amount equal to the amount specified in paragraph 3 of that Schedule (income support family premium)."
(3) In sub-paragraph (2) of the said Schedule, for
"MR = AG—CB"
there shall be substituted
"MR = AG",
and the definition of CB shall be omitted."").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 15 concerns the carer's allowance. That is the element in the formula which is paid to the parent with care for the care of the child. The inequity arises where there is a second marriage and there is an allowance for care for the first wife but no such allowance for the second.

The Minister may say that caring for children costs money. Anyone who does it freely forfeits earning power. That is true enough, but if it is true in one marriage why is it not true in the other? I could see the sense if the formula allowed the carer's allowance for both the first marriage and the second. Or I could see the sense if it were allowed in neither. What I do not see is the ground for the discrimination which gives it to the first marriage but not to the second. Is this intended as a tax on second marriages? If so, will the Minister admit it? And what does he think the public will say about it? I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the spirit of the amendment but perhaps not with the consequences in quite the way the noble Earl, Lord Russell, intends. In this day and age it is not particularly sensible to assume that a payment must be made to a parent as a carer. I believe that the proposal would reduce the amount of acrimony that the noble

13 Jul 1995 : Column 1877

Earl rightly identified when the mother of the second family does not appear to be recognised in the same way as the mother of the first family.

Having said that, I believe that the right solution is that the entire package of maintenance should be re-apportioned so that there are higher child allowances rather than one allowance to the mother as carer and additional allowances for each of the children. I do not believe that there should be any reduction in maintenance flowing into a first family, but it should be treated as it ought to be, as child support rather than mother support. That would be a much better, fairer and more realistic definition of what the Child Support Agency seeks to do.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I recall that we had a thorough debate on this issue at Committee stage. The noble Earl explained that the amendment is intended primarily to remove the carer element from the calculation of the maintenance requirement—the amount which is calculated to meet the child's basic maintenance needs. He again argued that the carer element is a cause of inequity between parents with care and new partners of absent parents and that many second wives feel that they are paying maintenance to the first. The noble Baroness offered me an elegant way out of the dilemma, with the same amount of money going to the first family. I am intrigued by it. However, I think that probably the second wives and the absent parents would still consider that they were paying money to the first wife.

The maintenance requirement, of which the carer element is a part, is not the bill that is presented to the absent parent. It is an amount that we feel represents the basic maintenance needs of a child. It is not the sum paid to the parent with care, but an amount which both parents should contribute if they can afford to do so. Once the maintenance requirement has been established, then both parents are assessed to see how much they can afford to contribute towards those maintenance needs. Where a parent with care has assessable income of her own, then she is assessed as contributing towards the maintenance requirement, including the carer element. That has the effect of reducing the amount that the absent parent is required to pay.

That is a fundamental principle of the 1991 Act. Section 1(1) states:

    "Each parent of a qualifying child is responsible for maintaining him".

Therefore it is wrong to say that absent parents are paying spousal maintenance for the first wife. I realise that in the majority of cases the parents with care do not contribute to the maintenance requirement because they do not have sufficient income. I have gone over that issue many times. The noble Earl is quite wrong to argue that the formula favours first wives. If first wives can afford to contribute to the maintenance requirement, they do so. The fact that the majority cannot afford to do so is clear evidence, as I have said before, that in a large proportion of cases, even after paying maintenance, second families are still much better off than the parents with care.

13 Jul 1995 : Column 1878

The noble Earl argued that second wives are, in effect, supporting first wives. I do not agree with that. An absent parent's basic liability under the formula is based on his own income and outgoings. If he has a new partner and stepchildren, no regard is had to his new partner's income. However, if paying the assessed amount would cause hardship, then the protected income provisions, under which the income and outgoings of the whole family are taken into account, can reduce the amount that he has to pay. Here the new partner's income is relevant but only in determining by how much the proper liability can be reduced. In such cases, her income can never serve to increase his basic liability. In other words, this hardship provision allows an absent parent to meet the needs of his second wife where she does not have sufficient income to support herself.

In those circumstances, therefore, she and her children are given priority over the absent parent's duty to maintain the children of his first marriage. However, the amendment that the noble Earl would have the House accept would greatly reduce the amount of money going to the first wife and her children.

I come back to the principle that I have stated over and again. People cannot walk away from the consequences of their first marriage or, if not marriage, their first partnership. They cannot shrug it off on the taxpayer. They have to face up to their responsibilities just as the ordinary couple with a happy marriage have to face up to whether they can afford to have more children than, say, the two or three they have. They come to the conclusion that they cannot. They have to live within their means.

The absent parent has some responsibility to think in the same way as the man who is happily married, looks after his wife and family and pays his taxes. I believe that the responsibility as outlined at present, with the way in which the money is apportioned, is right, just and proper to the children of the first marriage. It ensures that those children receive some of the money that the absent parent is due to pay in facing up to his responsibilities to look after them. As I said when we debated the issue previously, that includes the person who has to look after them. The children cannot be on their own, by themselves. I think I said that unlike days of ancient Rome, or perhaps before, children could not go out and find a friendly she-wolf. They have a mother. She is the parent with care. I believe that her position as the carer has to be taken into account in building up the total maintenance.

I very much hope that the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment, because I am afraid, as previously, that I cannot accept it.

6 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I do not argue with the Minister when he states that people simply cannot walk away from their first families. What I should like to hear him say is that when their first marriages have, regrettably, broken down and they have in good faith undertaken second marriages, they cannot walk away from their second families either.

13 Jul 1995 : Column 1879

The question that I wished to hear him answer was this. Why is there no carer's allowance for the second wife? I may possibly have been distracted and, if so, I apologise to him. But I did not hear an answer to that question. I should very much like to hear an answer to it before I decide what to do with the amendment.

The children of the second wife cannot go out and find a she-wolf either. They have to be cared for. Every argument that the Minister put forward for a carer's allowance applies just as strongly to the second wife as to the first wife. I simply do not understand why one is allowed a carer's allowance and the other is not. Has the Minister any answer to give me on that?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think that there really is a huge gulf between the noble Earl and myself. Dare I say this to him? The two "walk aways" that he describes are not simultaneous. The first walk away takes place before the second. Such matters have to be taken into account. I believe that the responsibility is there and is clear.

Regarding the position of the second wife, as I have said on a number of occasions, all the evidence, including the way in which the formula works, shows that the second family is a great deal better off than the first family. What the noble Earl seeks to do would increase that disparity against the interests of the parent with care and the first family. That is why I believe that there is a major gulf between us.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page