Committee (9th Day)
Good afternoon. We are now on the ninth Marshalled List of amendments to be moved in Grand Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill. Before calling the first amendment, I must remind Members that if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Schedule 6 : Registration of births
178ZC: Schedule 6, page 93, leave out lines 28 to 35 and insert—
“(6) The Minister may by regulations provide that, except in such cases as the regulations may prescribe, where the mother is required by subsection (1) to give information relating to the father—
(a) the mother’s duty under section 2A to sign the register is to have effect as a duty to sign a declaration in such form as may be so prescribed,(b) the registrar is not to register the birth of the child until such time as may be determined in accordance with the regulations, and(c) the entry in the register is to be taken for the purposes of this Act to have been signed by the person who signed the declaration.”
This amendment and those grouped with it are technical amendments necessary to effect new Sections 2B, 2C and 2D in the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953. These sections cover the processes to be followed in cases where unmarried parents are acting separately because they cannot or will not register jointly in the usual co-operative way.
The need for these amendments came to light as we worked through the detail of the process with the General Register Office and practising registrars. The amendments take us back to our original intention that the changes in the Bill to the registration process should not be onerous.
Under the joint birth registration provisions, most parents will register together, as they do now. However, in exceptional cases, parents may provide information separately because they cannot or will not register the birth together. In some of these cases, the mother will give the registrar her required information in advance of the father providing his details. At this time she will also give details of the father to the registrar so that the registrar can contact him and require him to co-operate with the registration process.
The amendments ensure that the mother will not be required to return to the register office to sign the register once the father has been contacted. Instead, she will discharge her duty to sign the register by signing a declaration when she first attends. Therefore, when the birth is registered, once the father’s information has been obtained the entry will be considered to have been signed by the mother.
It is important that no unnecessary steps are built into the joint birth registration provisions. That would undermine the policy intention of removing barriers to joint birth registration. We wish to ensure that we do not place any unnecessary burdens on either registrars or parents, and these amendments fulfil our intention to make the exceptional processes for joint registration as streamlined as possible. I beg to move.
It is with some regret that I have to issue a small warning to the Minister: if I do not like her responses to my questions on this block of government amendments, I reserve the right to say no when the Question is put. In that event, as I am sure she knows, the amendments will have to be carried forward—if the Government still want to move them—to the next stage of the Bill, because we have to reach general agreement in Grand Committee. That is why I have spent days and days withdrawing a whole series of amendments. I knew perfectly well that no agreement would be forthcoming.
Amendment 178ZC refers to the “Minister” making regulations. This I find confusing for two reasons. First, I would have expected the Secretary of State rather than the Minister to lay regulations, as that is what happens in all other parts of this Bill on welfare reform. I note that subsection (6) of proposed new Section 2B, which is to be replaced by Amendment 178ZC, also refers to the Minister. This government amendment has prompted me to look again at Schedule 6 to ensure that it is at least consistent, but that does not answer my question. Why is the word “Minister”, who is given the power in the regulations, littered throughout Schedule 6 rather than the “Secretary of State”? Either I or my noble friend should have put down an amendment to leave out “Minister” wherever it occurs and insert “Secretary of State”. I regret that I did not do so.
The second reason I am confused is that, so far as I can see, Section 39 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, which gives order-making powers to the Registrar-General, remains on the statute book. I learnt only this morning that, among other things, the Registrar-General has previously provided for the situation where a birth occurs on a hovercraft, which rather surprised me. Surely Section 39 should be excised either in Schedule 6 or Schedule 7, which covers repeals and revocations of the 1953 Act.
I also find Amendment 178ZE rather curious. The Minister’s regulations are to cover inter alia the position where the alleged father is not required to sign the register and it is to be taken as if he had. I did not hear an explanation from the noble Baroness about this, but it would be helpful if she could expand on the matter. The same applies to Amendment 178BB, which appears to be a repetition of the same proposal, although for the different purpose of covering the confirmation of parentage information given by the mother. Ideally, as the noble Baroness said, this information will be confirmed by the father, but the whole point of great chunks of this schedule is to provide for where this is impossible under new Sections 2A and 2B.
I should like to follow the noble Lord in asking for more detail on Amendment 178ZE, because it is difficult to understand. I want also to point out the lack of read-through from Part 3 to Part 4. One of the things this legislation is about is increasing the uptake of child maintenance, but another is increasing the number of births registered by both parents. When the father is called upon to give his details and to accept registration, is he told that whether he does so or not in no way alters his liability to pay child maintenance? I suspect that many fathers think that they can get off paying child maintenance by not establishing their paternity through signing the register and that they might not sign it for that reason.
Briefly, Part 4, Clause 46 and Schedule 6 are different. They have absolutely nothing to do with welfare reform, social security law or anything else, and are tagged on for the convenience of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and nothing else, so far as I can see. As well as answering important and detailed questions, will the Minister recap the justification for having the clause and the schedule at all? I guess they mean that the child maintenance commissioner will much more efficiently track down people and realise payments for children who deserve them. In so far as that works, that is welcome, but what is the impact assessment of all this? What is the calculation of the extra maintenance that will flow from making these new arrangements? What is the business case? How many extra parents over the period will expect to be brought into the child maintenance system in future?
It is important that the Government make a case for having this clause and this schedule at all. They must have had some directions and guidance from the child maintenance commissioner. So that the context for the questions asked by other noble Lords who have spoken in this important little debate are properly understood, it would help certainly me if no one else to get a feel for what Clause 46 and Schedule 6 actually bring to the important question of generating more maintenance in the future. If it is a big number, the inconvenience of the clause may well be worth having. If it is not, it will not.
I thank noble Lords for their questions. A number of noble Lords raised a number of issues. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked about the Minister making regulations and about the reference to “Minister” throughout the amendment. We are simply following the standard wording of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 by using the term “Minister”. The rest of the Bill amends later social security legislation, which refers to the Secretary of State, so the amendment follows the wording of the 1953 Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, also asked about the amendment being different for fathers than for mothers. Unlike an unmarried mother, an unmarried father is not required to sign the register under the 1953 Act. Therefore, an equivalent amendment is not necessary for unmarried fathers. Instead, this amendment ensures that it will be possible for an unmarried father to be considered to have signed the register if he signs a prescribed declaration. We will consider the circumstances in which this may be helpful as we develop details of the regulations.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked a question about child maintenance. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, also referred to this. Child maintenance liability is completely unrelated to birth registration. Not being on the register does not absolve a father from child maintenance liability.
The registrar would not mention or deal with child maintenance issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, also asked about the child maintenance regime. The child maintenance commissioner can use the birth register as a source, but that is not the primary aim of the legislation. As the noble Lord is well aware, the legislation is about encouraging parental responsibility beyond the purely fiscal element. I hope that I have covered noble Lords’ inquiries.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I recognise that, as she said almost in her opening sentence, we are talking about fairly technical regulations. My major grouse is on the subject of “Minister” and “Secretary of State”, which I explained to the noble Baroness when I first responded to the amendments. The only reference to “Minister” in the Births and Deaths Registration Act that I can find is in Section 39, which states:
“The Registrar General may, with the approval of the Minister, by statutory instrument make regulations”,
for two purposes—it does not matter what the purposes are. For the noble Baroness to say that the schedule has been drafted to be in conformity with the 1953 Act is difficult to accept. Will she therefore have another go at answering my question?
With the greatest respect, that is not correct. The “Minister” is defined in Section 41 as the Minister of Health, which is no longer applicable. In any case, in this day and age the “Secretary of State” covers any Secretary of State, including the Secretary of State for Health.
Amendment 178ZC withdrawn.
Amendments 178ZCA to 178ZE not moved.
178A: Schedule 6, page 94, line 34, at beginning insert “Save where subsection (1A) applies,”
I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group but, before doing so, I thank the Minister for listening to our earlier concerns and for agreeing to bring forward an amendment at the next stage exempting victims of domestic violence from the requirement to look for work for three months. It is extremely welcome to have that spelt out in the Bill. While I am on my feet, I also thank him for the other concessions set out in the letter that he gave us and in the speech that he made last Thursday. They almost took us by surprise but are most welcome, and I thank him very much for listening to our concerns. However, I do not think that that means that we will not have a lively Report stage.
We reached the clauses concerning joint birth registrations late last Thursday, when the problem of domestic violence was raised but only very briefly during the short debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. As the Minister’s amendments in the previous group were technical, it may help if I recap what my amendment refers to in this part of the Bill.
At present, 84 per cent of all births outside marriage are jointly registered. As we heard last Thursday, just 7 per cent of all births—around 45,000 cases—are solely registered, and this proportion is on a downward trend. The DWP’s own research suggests that in around half of cases where a child’s birth is solely registered—about 23,000 cases—the mother is not in any relationship with the father at the time of the birth. Around 40 per cent are aged 20 or under, with the research indicating that they face high levels of disadvantage.
This part of the Bill introduces compulsory joint birth registration for all unmarried parents. We on these Benches endorse the principle of joint birth registration and wish fathers to take as active a role as mothers in bringing up their children where this is possible and safe. Any child has a right to know the identity of his or her father, and that is why we believe that joint birth registration should be positively encouraged where it is safe to do so. Those who have briefed us on this part of the Bill are also keen to make it clear that they are not opposed to the principle of joint birth registration and emphatically do not want to weaken these clauses. These organisations are primarily Gingerbread, which speaks for one-parent families, the NSPCC, Family Action, Women’s Aid, Refuge, the National Family and Parenting Institute and the Fawcett Society.
So what is the problem and why do we need this amendment? In, I stress, a small minority of cases, we believe that without adequate safeguards vulnerable women and children could be put at risk because of a loophole in the Bill. Under Schedule 6, the mother does not have to provide crucial information enabling the father to be contacted by the registrar if she has reason to fear for her safety or that of the child if steps are taken to contact the father requiring him to register. As we know from last Thursday’s debate, if a mother registers the birth alone and does not know the whereabouts of the father so that he cannot be contacted, the father cannot be registered, even if the mother knows his name, because no data can be considered which cannot be verified. The Minister made that very clear. However, what happens if a father himself approaches the registrar either before or after the birth asking to be on the birth certificate? If the mother confirms his paternity, the father then acquires parental responsibility for the child in all circumstances.
The first group of amendments covers the situation where the father approaches the registrar before the birth, while the second group deals with a situation where the father comes forward after sole registration has taken place seeking a re-registration of the birth to record him as the father. The amendments seek to ensure that, in these circumstances, if the mother declares to the registrar that the father poses a danger to herself and her child, then the father’s name is not recorded on the birth registration. It might be possible for it to be recorded elsewhere by the registrar, but we know that the Government are not keen on that. It would, however, be open to the father to apply to the family court under Section 4 of the Children Act for an order allowing him to have parental responsibility. If the court so ordered, the registrar could then enter the father’s name on the register as the father of the child. Even if the court did not order that he should have parental responsibility, it could still record that he was the father of the child. I gather that this happens now.
Parental responsibility gives the parent the right to have a say in the major decisions in the child’s life, including on their name, religion, education and medical treatment and on where the child lives. It also enables a parent to apply for a passport for the child. Parental responsibility gives fathers a right to approach agencies, such as schools and hospitals, for information about the child. NSPCC practitioners have encountered cases where schools have allowed dangerous parents to collect children from school because the parent has parental responsibility, so this is not only a theoretical problem.
When the White Paper on joint birth registration was published last year, the Government accepted that there were certain circumstances, such as where a man had been convicted of rape or violence against the mother or was on the sex offenders register, where it would be unsuitable for a father’s name to go on the birth certification. Paragraph 29 states:
“we will develop legislation to allow the father to declare his paternity and have his name recorded in the birth register where this might be against the wishes of the mother. This will be on the condition that the mother acknowledges that he is the father and that there is no significant evidence against his registering (for instance, he has been convicted of rape or violence against the mother or is on the sex offenders register)”.
Why is this condition omitted from the Bill?
Studies show that 30 per cent of domestic violence starts during pregnancy and that the period immediately after the birth can be a time of particular tension. The Bill gives no protection to a mother from a violent and abusive man who wishes to gain access to the woman or child through the misuse of the parental responsibility that he has acquired in relation to the new baby in a situation where she might be trying to get away and escape that control. Research evidence shows that violence and victimisation of women and children can continue, and even escalate, after the relationship has ended and the parents are separated. There is another very worrying statistic: it is estimated that between 30 and 60 per cent of children whose mothers are subjected to domestic violence are also being abused.
To sum up, the amendments simply seek to prevent a small minority of dangerous men gaining automatic parental responsibility in relation to a child as a result of their names having to go on the birth register without the proper scrutiny of a family court. If the family court orders that the father should have parental responsibility, the birth of the child can be re-registered including the father’s name. If the Bill acknowledges, as it does, that the safety of a mother and her child is a potential issue when compulsory joint registration of births is implemented by the registrar, why does it offer protection only when the mother approaches the registrar and not when the father separately approaches the registrar? In the former situation protection is given; in the latter situation it is not.
I repeat that there are no exemptions in the Bill to protect mothers or children from a father who has previous convictions and a history of violence, or even rape, against the mother and/or other children if that father independently contacts the registrar. I urge the Minister to consider these amendments. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments 178C and 178D, which seek, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, to rule out the entry of the father on the child’s birth certificate if the mother makes a declaration stating that she has reason to fear for her safety or that of the child if the father acquires parental responsibility. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment because it provides an opportunity to debate the importance of engaged fatherhood to the well-being of children in almost all cases and the need to avoid risk to a child, while at the same time ensuring whenever possible—I repeat, whenever possible—that a father is engaged with a child from birth.
Of course I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has said, but I shall try to put a different point of view which I think is an important perspective. We need to consider the considerable social consequences of the loss of engaged fatherhood for the child and the importance of the registration process in ensuring the involvement of services where that is necessary to deal with problems where possible, or to go through the courts if absolutely necessary in order to deal with a father who has irreparable problems or problems that cannot be resolved through the involvement of services.
Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that each child has the right as far as possible to know his or her parents. The best way to ensure compliance with Article 7 is to ensure that the child has a record of who his or her parents are on the birth certificate. I suggest that only in the most extreme circumstances should this article be breached. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, is looking extremely worried. However, I think that it is important to be conscious of the fact that there are different perspectives on the role of fathers.
On the financial side, inclusion of the father on the birth certificate will encourage him to pay child maintenance if that becomes appropriate. As I am sure we are all well aware, it is difficult to persuade a father who has been excluded since the child’s birth from any recognition of his role as father to contribute financially to that child’s upbringing, particularly if he feels, perhaps correctly, that this has been extremely unjust. He may be deeply hurt and feel that his life has been ruined. Up and down the country, many fathers have that view.
Even more important, US research into child development and the role of the father shows that the child of an involved father is likely to have a better educational outcome, a higher IQ, better peer relationships, fewer behavioural problems, lower criminality and substance abuse, more capacity for empathy, more satisfying adult sexual partnerships, and a higher self-esteem and life satisfaction. These results are supported by a whole string of studies in Britain and Germany. Not surprisingly, if a father’s paternity is established and recognised, the father is much more likely to be involved with the child and will reap all the benefits of that involvement.
Let us consider the greatest social problems that we face today in this country. They are, precisely: poor educational performance, particularly for boys; youth crime; behavioural problems in schools; and substance misuse. All these social problems will be ameliorated if we begin to value fathers and encourage fathers’ involvement in parenting. My perception is that it has been politically correct to focus on the rights and interests of mothers sometimes to the exclusion of fathers. I feel that I am doing something very politically incorrect in standing up and saying what I am saying today; yet I feel that it needs to be said.
In my view, we are all paying a heavy price for 20 years or more of a drip-drip erosion of respect for the role of the father in the family. Again, I applaud Part 4 of the Bill and hope that it will be an important step on the journey back to a better balance in recognising the central importance of both the mother and the father in a child’s well-being. Having brought up four children and having nine grandchildren, I respect the value of the mother in a child’s life but I also respect the value of the father.
If more unmarried fathers sign birth certificates and therefore obtain parental responsibility, a few more fathers will need their exercise of parental responsibility to be restricted by the family court through the existing procedures. I recognise that there will be a need for that but, rather than being a problem, this can have a positive effect in that more unmarried fathers who are considered a risk to the mother or child will be pulled into the family court and all the evidence will be looked at in totality. Evidence of any abuse will then be examined. In some cases, it will be found that the mother’s allegations against the father are absolutely unfounded. Indeed, I understand that some solicitors encourage mothers to make allegations in order unfairly to preclude a father from involvement with a child. In some cases, the mother may be the real problem but in others a father will have significant problems and contact will need to be restricted. I am only trying to say that we need to be absolutely fair and to look at all the evidence.
I turn to the specifics of the amendment. It proposes that the registrar will not enter the father’s name on the birth certificate on the basis of a declaration by the mother that she will have reason to fear for her safety or that of the child if the father acquires parental responsibility. Such a major decision, which in most cases is likely to cause profound detriment to the well-being of the child, should be evidence-based. The NSPCC rightly considers that there needs to be some protection for the children of mothers who make such a declaration to a registrar. The NSPCC proposes that if a mother makes a legal declaration to the registrar, it must be supported by an approved professional, who should be included on a list of duly approved professionals on whom registrars can call to support such a statement. I am inclined to suggest that two separate opinions should be necessary before a father can be excluded from a birth certificate. The gravity of this decision should, in my view, be properly understood and respected.
I support the general principle of the amendment—that in a very small number of cases the inclusion of the father’s name on the birth certificate may indeed be inappropriate. My point here is that strong safeguards are necessary to ensure that such a provision is not abused by a small number of dysfunctional mothers to the considerable detriment of the child.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness what evidence she has of fathers seeking to be on birth certificates but being blocked by mothers. I do not doubt that there is occasionally such a case but in my experience most single mothers are desperate to involve the father because they put the child’s well-being first. I am not referring to divorced fathers here, because they are locked in and are very highly committed to their children’s well-being, but it is the young, more casual father whom the mother might well seek to involve in the life of the child but who does not want to know. He feels that he has been trapped, and it is only if his own mother comes into play and tries to inculcate some sense of paternal responsibility that there is any chance of the child having a father in his life. I do not disagree at all with the noble Baroness’s general propositions; I simply wonder to what extent they are evidence-based and what evidence she has not only that mothers, on the basis of ill-founded allegations, exclude fathers but that fathers seek to be included but are blocked by the mothers. If I could think of five such examples over 10 years, I would be amazed, but I can think of 500 times that number of women who are desperate to involve the father in the life of the child but cannot encourage him to take part.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has to admit that some mothers are embittered by having been abandoned by the father and are prepared to do anything to make life hell for him. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was extraordinarily brave to make that politically incorrect statement. It is the sort of thing that I might have wanted to say myself but did not dare to because my situation is a little different.
Is it right that this crucial decision should be made irrevocably on day one? I do not understand, and I shall look at the situation again before the next stage of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will be able to help me. There ought to be the opportunity at any stage in the child’s life for the father to come forward and say, “I really am the dad of this child and I want to take responsibility”, and for the courts to say, “This is a good guy now. He may have been hell when he was 18, but now he is a good honest fellow and he certainly should be accepted as the father”. Is it true that this decision is irrevocable?
This has been a very interesting debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has taken the argument on a stage further, which has been very useful. She has opened up the debate considerably. It is a complex issue, and it shows how people’s motives in human relationships are complex and that it is very difficult to provide a legislative framework that is also just and truthful about what is actually happening.
Last Thursday, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale spoke to the first tranche of amendments to Schedule 6, which are tabled in our names. He touched on domestic violence, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has now returned. Those amendments, as my noble friends made clear at the time, sought to probe the list of exemptions to the duty to supply information so that both parents of a child can be registered as such.
In that sitting, my noble friend suggested that the exemption in the case of a mother who fears for her safety or that of her child should the father be contacted, while a highly commendable aim may be the wrong way to go about it. His point was that domestic violence ought to be combated using law enforcement and the social services, rather than hampering a child’s right to know the identity of both parents. The Minister responded that it would not be right for the state knowingly to put a mother and child into a situation in which they were at risk. Of course that is correct, but she went on to make the exact point that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, are addressing. The Minister said:
“the birth does not have to remain sole-registered for ever. The father can still come forward independently and request that his details are included in the register, subject to the mother’s acknowledgement that he is the father”.—[Official Report, 2/7/09; col. GC 152.]
This is the scenario that is worrying the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. She has expressed the concern that where the father approaches the registrar to be registered as the father rather than being approached for confirmation, there is no protection for the mother should she feel that there is a risk to her or her child. She will simply be able to confirm or deny that he is the father. I agree that there is a loophole in the Bill; if the whole process is on the mother’s initiative, as it is under the Bill, she has the right not to give information, citing fear of violence as her reason. That will be enough to keep the father out of the process. However, the same is not true if the process is on the father’s initiative. There is a case for evening up the two approaches so that the outcome is the same.
I hope that this debate has provided ideas about how we might improve this part of the Bill.
My inclination is to support these two amendments, although I was very interested in the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about the rights of the father. As I understand it, the amendments are intended to protect the safety of the woman and the child. Unfortunately, we live in a period in which there has been quite a lot of domestic violence and a lot of concern about what happens to children and women in those circumstances. Under the amendments, the provisions would apply only in quite extreme cases in which it was established that there was a real danger to the woman and the child. We need to have something in the Bill that gives protection in those circumstances, and I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say in that connection.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who moved the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and my noble friends Lady Hollis and Lady Turner. We have heard a strongly argued debate that reflects passionately held views, and I preface my remarks by underlining the point that this Government do not and never have wished to place vulnerable women and children in harm’s way. Anyone looking at the record of our genuine attempts to bear down hard on the perpetrators of violence will recognise that.
I thank the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments. However, their effect would be that in cases where a father came forward to register but the mother had made a declaration stating that she feared for her or her child’s safety as the result of the father acquiring parental responsibility, he could not be named on the register. The only exception would be where a court had already awarded him parental responsibility for the child. Amendments 178A and 178B are related to the initial registration, while Amendments 178C and 178D refer to re-registration. These amendments seek to prevent an unmarried father being named on his child’s birth certificate and therefore from acquiring parental responsibility if the child’s mother fears risk of harm to her or her child as a result.
I recognise that this is an issue of real concern to many noble Lords, but I can give the assurance that the safety of both mother and child are of the utmost concern to this Government, and I hope that I can explain very clearly why I believe that the provisions in the Bill should not be amended in this way. The Bill as drafted is intended to ensure that a mother is not put at risk of harm by state intervention. Our provisions allow a mother to claim an exemption if she fears for her safety or that of her child if the father is contacted in relation to the registration. Some men might regard that contact from the registrar as a provocative act which could rebound with negative consequences for the mother and the child. We cannot permit a situation where the state knowingly acts in a way that actually creates a risk of harm for the mother or her child. However, we are deliberately not preventing fathers coming forward to register of their own free will because we do not believe that allowing them to do so is a process that in itself puts the mother and the child at risk.
Turning to the amendment, we have not been presented with any convincing evidence that registering a birth and acquiring parental responsibility makes a man violent or exacerbates existing violent behaviour. The link between the two has not, we believe, been shown and the examples that we have been given do not stand up to close analysis. If a man represents a danger to a mother and child, it is a very serious matter whether or not he is married to the mother or has parental responsibility for the child. Whatever the marital or parental status of the man, it is a situation that needs to be dealt with quickly and effectively quite independently of the birth registration system.
There are existing methods, such as restraining orders and ultimately custodial sentences, to deal with the menace that this minority of men presents. Chief Constable Brian Moore, on behalf of the Government, is looking at ways to increase police and court powers to intervene in domestic violence cases, particularly when it comes to violent perpetrators who are serial offenders and who move from partner to partner. Noble Lords may be interested to know that his review will report in the autumn. However, we need to be clear that parental responsibility does not give men rights to harass mothers or their children; it does not give them rights of residence; and it does not give them automatic rights to contact the child or to remove the child. Joint birth registration is primarily about children’s rights.
For too long there have been significant inequalities in the birth registration system between the rights of children of married parents and the rights of children of unmarried parents. The children of married parents have both parents’ names on their birth certificate and both their parents have parental responsibility for them. Children of unmarried parents do not have these rights; their fathers do not have parental responsibility for them unless their mother agrees or their father is granted it by the court.
We now have a situation, as noble Lords have mentioned—I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who gave the figures—in which 45,000 children in each successive year do not have their father’s name on their birth certificate. That is a very sad situation. The current birth registration system places obstacles in the way of an unmarried father who wants to take responsibility for his children. The mother can, quite without reason, prevent him signing the birth register or acquiring parental responsibility.
Registrars do not ask married mothers whether they prefer not to have the father’s name on a birth certificate or whether they would prefer to limit the father’s parental responsibility; that is a decision for a court to make. Registrars do not want to take on a quasi-judicial role of deciding who is and who is not fit to exercise parental responsibility. Let us not demonise all unmarried fathers—I know that noble Lords have not done that. If we want more responsible fathers, we have to give them the chance to take on parental responsibility and acknowledge their children from the outset. In most cases, this benefits children and parents. As with married fathers, courts may act to restrict their parental responsibility.
The Government believe that the birth registration system is not the appropriate place to deny any parent fundamental legal recognition. Instead, we should focus on properly investing in measures to support couples who are separated or separating, seek to prevent domestic violence and support victims where violence and abuse occurs. The Government are already doing much to support couple relationships and stable, positive family relationships, and strategic grants are being given to help to build capacity and infrastructure in a range of voluntary organisations. For instance, over the next two years we are providing more than £7 million in funding to a number of third-sector organisations, such as Relate, working directly with families experiencing relationship conflict.
Moreover, the removal of parental responsibility is so significant, as noble Lords have said, that it is absolutely right that the decision should be taken by a court. This is clearly an emotive issue; it is not straightforward, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has said. Although I understand the motivation behind the amendments, the Government do not believe that they will achieve their desired effect. If it genuinely is the case that parental responsibility puts children and vulnerable parents at risk in some way, then it is crucial that we take a proper look at the evidence for this so that we can consider how best to address any problems in a coherent way. If there is evidence out there that can be brought forward, we will be happy to look at it between now and the next stage. However, we do not believe that the evidence that we have looked at is robust enough.
A number of noble Lords raised questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, spoke about the problems of disclosure of personal information if the father has parental responsibility. Having parental responsibility does not allow a person access to sensitive information; for example, the mother’s home address. In cases where a mother is at risk of violence, mechanisms already exist for preventing the disclosure of sensitive information and for ensuring that it is not recorded in the first place. The Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act operate so that information about the mother, such as her address, is not disclosed inappropriately.
The noble Baroness said that the Bill gave no protection to mothers who are victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed swiftly and independently of the birth registration system. We have not yet been presented with evidence that parental responsibility creates a risk of harm for mother or child. We therefore need to look in the round at what we can do to protect all women from domestic violence, as the Home Office consultation on violence against women and girls is doing.
The noble Baroness said that achieving parental responsibility might encourage domestic violence. According to the British Crime Survey of 2007-08, women who are divorced or separated are at greater risk of domestic abuse than women who are unmarried. “Separated” refers to women who are still married but who have separated from their husbands. Therefore, in the case of both separated and divorced women, the father would have parental responsibility. Of women who have experienced domestic abuse, 18 per cent are separated, 11 per cent are divorced, 9.7 per cent are single, 4.6 per cent are cohabiting and 3.1 per cent are married.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, also referred to the information that someone with parental responsibility might obtain from their child’s school, which is very important in the area of protecting children. Focusing on parental responsibility is a bit of a red herring in this respect. All natural parents, whether or not they have parental responsibility, have the same rights in relation to their child’s school. For example, all natural parents receive information from the school such as copies of pupil reports, arrangements for discussions with teachers and attendance records; and they receive information about participation in activities such as voting in elections for school governors and so on. So being named on the birth certificate does not open up that right which already exists for all natural parents. By enabling unmarried fathers to acquire parental responsibility, we are not changing the information that they are already entitled to receive from their children’s school.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked about the issues for registrars when it comes to protecting women and children at risk of harm. Registrars, like other officials who come into contact with the public, can have a role in helping to identify and support those at risk by, for example, sign-posting them to services that can help. Registrars already have some experience in this, as they are trained to identify and assist those who may be victims of a forced marriage. I did not realise that before being briefed. This includes training to spot signs of a possible forced marriage and ensuring that women are made aware of relevant support services. Registrars are alive to the fact that they may be called on to look closely at some of the people who come in front of them.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked whether the decision not to register a father is irrevocable; the answer is no. Re-registration of a birth registered only by the mother is possible at any time. So it is possible to add the father’s details. There is a little more bureaucracy after 12 months, but it is possible. With that, I hope that noble Lords will be a little more reassured and withdraw their amendments.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who put a different perspective on it. It is important to see this problem from all points of view. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, in all circumstances we have to consider the whole situation in the round. We cannot say that in all cases the father is bad and the mother is good; that the mother always tells the truth and the father has to be disbelieved. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that all situations are different.
However, I also strongly support the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who said that in most cases there is a great deal of hidden domestic violence and that women probably do not own up to as much of it as goes on.
Does the noble Baroness also agree that if the evidence is based on judges’ comments, which almost invariably come from cases dealing with divorce, then that is not what we are talking about? We are talking about unmarried partners and that is a very different situation. As I say, I have very little evidence that unmarried partners are being denied access in the way that they would want. Divorce cases, which are where the judges’ evidence comes from, are very different; they are all about the division of assets—who keeps the property, who has access to the kids and so on—and are completely different from the situation with unmarried partners. In their cases, you are very seldom dealing with assets; for the most part, you are dealing with very young men, who usually walk away from their responsibilities, unfortunately.
There is one matter that concerns both me and Gingerbread. The noble Baroness said on Thursday, and has repeated today, that:
“We cannot permit a situation where the state knowingly acts in a way which puts the safety of a mother or her child at risk”.—[Official Report, 2/7/09; col. GC 152.]
But this is what happens now when a man is allowed to register independently of a woman. Obviously his whereabouts will be known because they have got his address. If a registrar says to a woman—I do not know whether he gives her any guidance about how she should answer the question but he does not say, “Think carefully about this before you answer”—“Can you confirm that John Smith is the father of your child?”, the woman would have to say, “Yes, but I do not know where he lives”. The registrar could then say, “Well, we do, because he has just walked in. He is now down and he has now got parental responsibility”. There is no safeguard in that situation. Our advisers say that that is an example of the state colluding with the loophole that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, acknowledges as existing in the Bill, whether we like it or not.
The Minister said that the department is not convinced by the cases it has seen; in other words, it does not believe that this is a serious problem. But, of course, this is new territory; it has not been tried yet and there may be real problems. We will be looking for more safeguards because, at the moment, the groups believe that vulnerable women will be put at considerable risk if this part of the Bill goes ahead unamended.
Obviously, I cannot do anything other than withdraw the amendment. It is a nice phrase when we are urged to withdraw our amendments, but if we said that we would not do so, what would happen? The answer to this problem is to see whether the groups can refer the Minister and the department to more cases—I would have thought that they would have more—that might persuade her that there is still a real problem here. We shall return to this matter on Report but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 178A withdrawn.
Amendments 178AA to 178BB not moved.
178BC: Schedule 6, page 96, line 27, leave out ““12” and insert ““6”
My penultimate group of amendments represents a straightforward probe. Schedule 6 makes certain amendments to the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 with regard to the time available to register a birth. The original Act specified that registration ought to be completed within three months of the birth. The Bill changes that to 12 months. That is rather a large increase in the amount of time. What is the basis for the change? Evidently, the department has become aware of a problem with the three-month period that has necessitated this extension. Will the Minister tell us what that problem is?
I hope that I can explain clearly what the problem is. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for tabling these amendments, which may reflect a concern that the time limits for birth registration are being extended by the Government, replacing references to three months with references to 12 months, as the noble Lord has said, in some of the requirements for birth registration. I recognise those concerns, but I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord that the changes he has highlighted are in fact technical amendments that are consequential on the removal of a superintendent registrar’s involvement in registrations made between three and 12 months after a birth. It is not the Government’s intention to introduce provisions that might allow registration to be deliberately delayed by a parent who might wish to avoid the father being recorded on the birth register.
It remains a parent’s duty to register a birth within 42 days, as set out in Sections 2 and 2A of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953. The penalties for a parent who fails to give information as required by the Act are included in Section 36. The requirement for a superintendent registrar—that is, a senior registrar—as well as a registrar to take part in registrations made between three months and 12 months after a birth has been removed by Schedule 6 to the Bill because it is a remnant of Victorian legislation. Other references to three months have been amended where appropriate as a consequence, and now reflect the 12-month time limit within which a registrar can act alone without further authority.
Legislation for the registration of births and deaths has not changed substantially since Victorian times. Conditions have changed since provisions were drafted requiring a superintendent registrar to take part in the registration of a child who had been born more than three months earlier to prevent fraud. In the 19th century, midwives did not notify registrars of the births that they attended and registrars received a fee for each birth that they registered, with an extra two shillings and sixpence for births registered after more than three months. It was important, therefore, for our predecessors to provide some safeguard against the temptation for a registrar to create a birth registration where there was no child or to delay registration to obtain the extra fee.
These days, of course, there is a statutory two-way flow of information about births between the health service and the registration service so that births registered are matched with a health notification, and registrars’ salaries do not depend on the number of births they register. The requirement to involve a superintendent registrar is an inefficient use of resources at the register office and can cause delays and inconvenience for parents. The superintendent registrar’s role is no longer needed as a protection against fraud, so we have taken the opportunity to remove it.
The role of the Registrar General in authorising any registrations made more than 12 months after a birth remains as a protection against a birth being registered in circumstances where it should not happen. The Registrar General is able to call for independent evidence of the facts surrounding a birth that took place some time ago, before authorising registration of the birth and the issuing of a birth certificate.
I hope that that has made this part of the Bill clearer, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response. I have been trying to follow what she has been saying about this now quite antique document, which is over 50 years old. Having heard at various stages about two and sixpence and a penalty of seven and sixpence, I would like to study what she has said and try to tie it up with what I am reading here. I understand the general principle of what she is saying, and she has responded to the detail of the probe, but it is quite complex to seek to match a piece of modern legislation to older legislation like this, and the match is not perfect. We will study what the Minister has said and we may return to this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 178BC withdrawn.
Amendments 178BD to 178D not moved.
178E: Schedule 6, page 101, line 17, leave out “2B(4)” and insert “2B(1), (4)”
Back to me, I am afraid. My noble friend and I tabled this amendment as a response to your Lordships’ Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. New Section 2A of the 1953 Act, inserted by paragraph 4 of Schedule 6, requires the mother of a child who was not married to the child’s father at the time of its birth to provide the registrar with information required by new Section 2B(1). That provision in turn confers power on the Registrar General to prescribe the relevant information in regulations, which may include information not included to be entered on the register.
The committee considered that that power was a substantive one rather than purely procedural, and that it was closer in character to those conferred by subsections (4) and (6) of new Section 2B, which is to be exercised by negative regulations, than to those conferred by subsections (2) and (3) to be made under the Bill by the Registrar General and subject to no parliamentary procedure. Accordingly, the committee made its recommendation that the Bill should be amended to include Section 2B(1) in new Section 39A(5) inserted by paragraph 17 of the Schedule, so that regulations under new Section 2B(1) are made by the Minister and are subject to the negative procedure. I will not revert to the argument about “Minister” and “Secretary of State” at this point, but doubtless we will come back to it in the near future.
I hope that should any members of the DPRC have read this amendment, they would consider it to be an adequate response to their recommendation. I recommend it to the Minister and the Grand Committee and I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his amendment, which seeks to provide that the prescribed information about the father, which a mother acting alone will be required to give under new Section 2B(1), is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. As the noble Lord has said, this amendment reflects one of the recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. On 25 June, we announced to this Committee that we would be accepting the recommendations made by the DPRRC. Following this announcement, a letter was sent to noble Lords detailing each of the recommendations made, and we will table these amendments on Report. I therefore hope that the noble Lord is content to withdraw his amendment.
I think that that gives me half marks probably; that is, for tabling an amendment in the first place, but not for getting the wording right. It would be unfair—I have been unfair enough to the noble Baroness today—to ask her what is wrong with the way in which I have phrased this amendment, so I will not do it. Needless to say I am very pleased, as your Lordships’ Delegated Powers Committee will be, that the noble Baroness has accepted this amendment in principle.
I note of course that the Government is wont to accept the committee’s points even when, as I have pointed out twice now, in my view it is wrong. I refer to the statutory instrument abolishing income support and whether this is to be negative, as it is in the Bill, or affirmative, as the committee recommended. Quite clearly, from what we have heard on previous days, this is now to be affirmative. However, does this bode well for the report of your Lordships’ Committee on the Constitution, so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, which we discussed on Thursday? We will have to await the government amendments on Report, or perhaps discussions over the summer, to find out. In the mean time, I am delighted by the noble Baroness’s response and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 178E withdrawn.
Schedule 6 agreed.
Clauses 47 and 48 agreed.
Schedule 7 : Repeals and revocations
Amendments 179 to 187
179: Schedule 7, page 106, leave out lines 36 to 42
180: Schedule 7, page 108, line 36, column 2, leave out “and” and insert—
“(aa) in paragraph (af) of the definition of “the relevant enactments”, the words “, sections 62 to 65”,”
“(aa) in paragraph (af) of the definition of “the relevant enactments”, the words “, sections 62 to 65”,”
181: Schedule 7, page 108, line 39, column 2, at end insert—
“(c) in paragraph (af) of the definition of “the relevant Northern Ireland enactments”, the words “62 to 65,”.”
“(c) in paragraph (af) of the definition of “the relevant Northern Ireland enactments”, the words “62 to 65,”.”
182: Schedule 7, page 109, line 15, column 2, at end insert—
“In Schedule 3, paragraph 3(e).”
“In Schedule 3, paragraph 3(e).”
183: Schedule 7, page 109, line 23, at end insert—
“Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 (c. 19) Sections 62 to 66. Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43) In Schedule 7, paragraphs 205 to 207.”
“Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 (c. 19)
Sections 62 to 66.
Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43)
In Schedule 7, paragraphs 205 to 207.”
184: Schedule 7, page 109, line 32, column 2, at end insert—
“In section 8(2)(b), sub-paragraph (ii) and the word “or” before it. Section 12(1).”
“In section 8(2)(b), sub-paragraph (ii) and the word “or” before it.
185: Schedule 7, page 109, line 37, at end insert—
“Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44 In Schedule 32, paragraphs 130 to 132.”
“Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44
In Schedule 32, paragraphs 130 to 132.”
186: Schedule 7, page 109, line 40, column 2, after “12(2)” insert “, 20”
187: Schedule 7, page 109, line 40, at end insert—
“Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (c. 4) In Schedule 4, paragraphs 65 to 67.”
“Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (c. 4)
In Schedule 4, paragraphs 65 to 67.”
Amendments 179 to 187 agreed.
Schedule 7 agreed.
Clauses 49 to 51 agreed.
188: After Clause 51, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent review of the implementation of this Act
(1) Within three years of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State shall establish an independent review of—
(a) the implementation of this Act,(b) the findings of the pilot schemes established under this Act,(c) any negative outcomes for families, children and other dependents resulting from the implementation of this Act.(2) The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament setting out the findings of the independent review.”
I shall not keep the Committee for long. I think that all of the Committee is agreed on the basic principles of the Bill and would like to see them succeed. However, in Grand Committee, I think that the feeling has increasingly grown that the success or failure of the Bill ultimately will be in its delivery. It will be in matters such as whether there will be enough committed funding; whether there will be enough quality staff available; whether they will be well enough trained; whether they will have the interpersonal skills to manage the delicate balance between being the friend and advocate of the client at the same time as being the policeman; and whether the leadership will be good enough. Finally, will there be support from experts in disability and mental health, and for the needs of children, which we discussed under my earlier amendments? The noble Lord has written to me about this but I am afraid that I have not had time to look at his letter in detail.
It will not be easy for decision-makers to be tough enough with the skivers while being sufficiently understanding towards those with real problems. That will be especially true if the Government set jobcentres targets for the number of people whom they can get back into work. A great deal will also depend on the regulations that the Secretary of State makes, of which we have not so far seen one single example.
I understand that the Bill is about a project that is still developing, and I can quite see that the Government want to keep as much freedom of manoeuvre as possible for it, but that does not alter the fact that we as parliamentarians are being asked to authorise the Government to make major changes in the law which will crucially affect the lives of many citizens, and we are being asked to do so without any clear idea of what regulations the Secretary of State will make. I suggest that it is no more than natural justice and reasonable that Parliament should be kept honestly and fully informed about the way in which the project is developing and given a genuine assessment of its successes and failures.
Since I set down the amendment, I have noticed that Section 9 of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 requires the commission to report to the Secretary of State annually. In the case of this Bill, the Secretary of State should also report to Parliament. Perhaps an annual report might be a better solution than the single report in year 3 that I have suggested in my amendment—I would be perfectly happy with either. I beg to move.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on his amendment. He has put his finger on many of the trouble spots in the Bill. Much of the Bill is about pilots, most of the detail of which is in regulations that are yet to be published. Yet more detail will be in guidance to Jobcentre Plus advisers and decision-makers along with the contracted-out bodies. It is a fragile superstructure, to say the least. Anxiety is already felt that we are not getting enough evidence-based policy-making from the department, with quite a few recent DWP regulations not even having a financial impact assessment.
As the noble Lord said, the Bill is about how the state deals with people at the most basic level, with much of its client base being the more vulnerable members of society such as lone mothers and those with quite severe medical conditions. We should make sure in three years’ time that lessons have been learnt from the pilots—and from other parts of the Bill that have not been piloted. In the document, Post-legislative Scrutiny—The Government’s Approach, there seem to be many versions of how departments can do that. We need to know what approach the Government are going to adopt.
As this is the last of my amendments in Grand Committee, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for their careful consideration of all amendments and particularly the Bill team behind them, which has been so helpful. I look forward to the next stage of the Bill and to further concessions from the Government to meet our points. In the mean time, I support the spirit of the amendment.
This is an important amendment and I support it. The Bill is about the long term. The importance of this policy cannot be exaggerated easily. We have to make sure that it works over a 20-year timescale. The next three years will be very turbulent, particularly in relation to unemployment levels and as the economy trades itself out of the credit crunch. My first point is by way of qualification. A three-year period might give flawed results because of the difficulties we are experiencing in the short term, but having said that, I would like the ministerial team to think about how Members of the Committee can be given some reassurance about certain outstanding elements that have already been mentioned during the remaining stages.
I have a couple of extra worries, the first of which is sanctions and the way in which the new provisions in this Bill will change the disposition, impact and incidence of sanctions. This will be crucial over the next three to five years because if we get it badly wrong, a lot of people will be hurt. We are absolutely entitled to seek reassurance that this will be kept under continuous review, or if not that, an independent review after a three or five-year period. I am more encouraged by how the department is responding to the Flexible New Deal contracts and how we are beginning to build up a level of expertise in the department that was previously absent. These large-scale contracts are going to be so important to delivering this vital public policy area. However, a review over three or five years of how the department is able efficiently and sensibly to oversee these massive contracts is something that this Committee and indeed Parliament have a vested interest in. These areas must be carefully evaluated, monitored and reported.
Finally, Clause 7 still irks me. The abolition of income support is part of a much wider and different argument altogether. It cannot begin until we have an idea of what the Government are going to do with their policy on providing carers with financial support over the longer term. I look forward to the Green Paper we are due to get later in the summer. At that stage, it may be possible to look, over a three or five-year period, at what will happen after the abolition of income support. As it stands, Clause 7 sticks out like a sore thumb as something that just should not be in the Bill. The way in which particular provision rolls out over the next three to five years is important.
The driving force behind the amendment is very important. Post-legislative scrutiny is essential to make sure that the Bill works properly. Although I could quibble with some of the detail of what is in it and what is not for the reasons I have explained, I am pleased to support the amendment. I hope that the Government team will give it serious consideration.
I want to speak briefly in support of the amendment. As the Minister and others are aware, I am very worried about the potential impact of the Bill on the most vulnerable, particularly those with cognitive and mental health problems. In fact, so concerned am I that I still hope very much that we can make more progress during the next stage of the Bill, because if we do not, I will be concerned about a review being established in three years’ time to report after that. One has to think about the potential detriment of these sanctions to very vulnerable people over that period. It is deeply worrying. However, to include a review in the Bill would be reassuring.
Before I sit down, I should like to thank the Minister, the noble Baroness and the Bill team for their very constructive responses to all our debates. I applaud the amendment and I should like to support it.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has delivered a trenchant argument to support his amendment, which would create an automatic review of the Bill once it had passed and become an Act of Parliament.
A few moments ago, in response to something that the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said, I imported half-marks upon myself. I am afraid that I am going to have to do the same to the noble Lord; I can support him only partly. I certainly have no problem with laying the report before Parliament, but I take issue with the noble Lord’s proposed timing. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, talked about the long-term nature of the Bill. Three years after passing is too soon for many of the provisions; it is quite possible that many of them will not have been implemented, while others will have been implemented too recently for much to be discerned.
I suspect, too, that the noble Lord’s problem revolves principally around Part 1 of the Bill. Indeed, the speeches from other noble Lords suggest that they follow that suspicion. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, mentioned pilots. It is my view that at this stage the pilot schemes themselves will be acting as a form of review because they will entail a process of continuing evaluation. For a translation of the Latin “Pelion on Ossa”, you might read “pilot on pilot”—which is what we are likely to see.
I am not sure what good would come of duplicating that evaluation to the point where we had what would in effect be a review of the review. Rather, the noble Lord, whose intentions are entirely sound, would do better to focus his scrutiny on the outcomes of the pilots. When they are brought to a close—after two years, if the Minister is sensible and takes my advice—much of what the noble Lord is looking for will in fact have been accumulated and will need to be carefully considered. It is at that point, after the pilots have been completed, that the type of review proposed in the amendment would come into play. If I may be so bold as to suggest a reworking of it so that there was a review three years after the pilot schemes came to a close, I would have no difficulty with his idea at all.
I hope that this is the last time, on this ninth day of Committee, that I shall be uttering. I therefore repeat and confirm what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said about the ministerial team. Over the many years that I have stood opposite the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I have been struck by his very good humour, no matter what provocation I have thrown at him. That has certainly been exhibited over the past nine years in Grand Committee.
I also add my congratulations to his multitude of advisers in this essentially five-part Bill, who have—except on one occasion today—stood him in exceptionally good stead. I do not want to say any more except to half-congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his amendment, which I hope I will be able to convince him is unnecessary. He is right; the tenor of our debates and discussion over nine sittings has been focused very much on delivery. I think we recognise that this is a framework Bill, and that this is the way of social security and welfare reform Bills these days and has been so for some while. We have debated training, skills, specialist support, leadership and resourcing, and at the end of the day these will be the key issues that will decide whether what we want to come from this legislation will be realised in practice.
The amendment would set out in the Bill a requirement to undertake an independent review of the implementation of the Bill, the findings of pilot schemes established under it and any negative outcomes for families, children and other dependants within three years of Royal Assent. I note that this has the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, but I am more in tune with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and his half-marks, if I may say so.
On the implementation of the Act, I am sure noble Lords will be aware that in March last year, my right honourable friend, the Leader of the House of Commons, published a command paper that set out our response to the Law Commission’s report on post-legislative scrutiny. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, referred to this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. It also set out a systematic approach for the post-legislative scrutiny of Bills that achieved Royal Assent from 2005 onwards. This has, for the first time, put into place a system that will ensure that post-legislative scrutiny is the norm.
Departments will have to publish a memorandum, submitted in the first instance to the relevant committee in the other place but available to Parliament as a whole, on the provisions of an Act within three to five years of Royal Assent. This memorandum will allow Parliament to make an informed decision on whether full scrutiny is necessary. We will, at an appropriate time, undertake discussions with the Clerk of the Work and Pensions Select Committee about the submission of memoranda for this Bill.
Any pilot schemes set up under the provisions of the Bill will be evaluated. Indeed, there would be no point in them if we did not assess how they were working. I therefore assure the noble Lord that it is the department’s policy to publish the results of the evaluation of pilot schemes as a matter of course. Those that come from this Bill will be no exception. The evaluation is in the main carried out by external contractors and is therefore independent of the department. All evaluation is published on the department’s website.
The amendment would require the independent review to assess any negative outcomes for families, children and other dependants who might be affected by the provisions in the Bill. The DWP is a major commissioner of external social science research as well as in-house research. All the research that is carried out flows directly from the policy agenda. Social science research is a key element, along with other analytical activities, of the evidence base that is needed to inform departmental strategy, policy-making and delivery.
My department’s work, welfare and equality strategy programme of research covers unemployed people, deprived areas and worklessness, disadvantaged groups, skills, lone parents, families and childcare, partners of benefit claimants and couple-households, health and disability, disability rights, child poverty and financial support, minority ethnic groups, labour market issues and Jobcentre Plus, all of which are relevant to the measures in the Bill and have been touched on in some way or another in the past nine sittings of the Committee. This information is published on our website.
I hope the noble Lord is reassured that through these means the measures in the Bill will receive appropriate scrutiny after the Bill is passed. That scrutiny and evaluation will of course reflect all the outcomes of these measures, both positive and negative. I am confident that the former will exceed the latter, although I note along the way the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has expressed about where the Bill might take us. I therefore do not think that it is necessary for the Bill to require an independent review.
On a final note, I remind noble Lords that not all the provisions in the Bill will come into force once it is passed—the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, made this point—and that not all the pilot schemes that we plan will start immediately. We debated the length of our pilots in a former amendment. A review and report undertaken three years after Royal Assent might not produce any useful information, but one at the five-year stage might be more productive. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made an interesting point about whether an evaluation in the fairly extraordinary times in which we find ourselves economically might not reflect what happens in the longer term. In the light of that, I hope the noble Lord will not press his amendment.
In conclusion, I take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who have participated in this quite extensive Committee process. It has been exhaustive and exhausting, but I thank all noble Lords who have addressed the issues in a forthright but constructive way. I also thank the Bill team for the work that it has done so far, and my noble friend Lady Crawley for her invaluable support on the Front Bench.
I hope that we have reassured the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, on the issues that have concerned her and other noble Lords. We still have quite a lot of work to do between now and Report, and I look forward to our meetings and the follow-up.
In conclusion, I thank the Cross-Benchers who have participated to an extraordinarily full extent on this Bill and, as always, the Front Benches. It has been outwith my experience to date and we have been helped by their expertise. I look forward to working with noble Lords in the next stages of the Bill.
Before the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, responds, I admit to a failure both by me and the Minister. I remember very well the satirists Flanders and Swann and their sketch about Wimbledon in which there was the line:
“But here sits a figure one always forgets. The Umpire ... upon whom ... the sun ... never sets!”.
The Minister and I omitted to thank the various Deputy Chairmen who have steered our proceedings so well.
I think that I got about three and a half out of five. I accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about the timing of any report, which is very much for discussion. Turning to the Minister, I would never criticise this Government for not producing enough paper. I am talking about not a whole lot of bumf and stuff on the internet, which the public can read if they only knew it was there. I am suggesting a report to Parliament. Parliament has given the Executive this power and the Executive should have to report to Parliament. They should take the stick if it is not working well and they should gain the credit if it is going well. I leave this thought on the table because I shall withdraw the amendment, although I probably will bring it back in some form on those grounds. But I have yet to read what the noble Lord has said, which was extremely complex, and I shall therefore not try to talk about—
Perhaps I may emphasise that a key part of the post-legislative scrutiny approach will be for a report to the DWP Select Committee in the House of Commons. There will be an initial memorandum, which the Select Committee will review to determine the extent of the wider scrutiny that it wishes to apply to the results of the Bill. This is a key part of the process that has been developed under the post-legislative scrutiny arrangements.
That just makes it one step more complicated, does it not? And it will all be leaked to the press before it goes to the Select Committee. There might even be another Government at that time. It is all very complicated. Whoever is in that seat in X years’ time has to come back and say, “Look, we made a frightful mess of this” or “What we did was really terrific”.
I do not want to waste the Committee’s time. I want to add my very great thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, the team, the Chairman and the leaders of the three parties for what has been a very useful and constructive Grand Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 188 withdrawn.
Clause 52 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
Committee adjourned at 5.15 pm.