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Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill

Volume 830: debated on Friday 16 June 2023

Third Reading

My Lords, before we commence proceedings on the Bill, I am obliged to make a statement on legislative consent in relation to it. The Bill was amended in the other place to make provision across the United Kingdom. As noble Lords will know, child maintenance policy is transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the usual process would be for it to provide a legislative consent Motion for any provision relating to a transferred area. However, due to the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, a legislative consent Motion cannot be secured.

Historically, the Northern Ireland legislation in this area has mirrored that in Great Britain. Following engagement with the Northern Ireland Department for Communities, the Government’s position is that it is important that this legislation proceeds to apply in Northern Ireland in the absence of a legislative consent Motion. This will ensure that the people of Northern Ireland can benefit from the provisions in the Bill.


Moved by

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister and his officials for their support, all noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading, and my honourable friend Sally-Ann Hart for introducing the Bill in the other place and guiding it through all its stages.

Given my long-standing interest in separated families and the Child Maintenance Service, I am aware that key details of its operation are covered in primary legislation. The Bill amends primary legislation to make the collect and pay service available to victims of domestic abuse regardless of payment history, so that they can decide what is best for their personal circumstances. Evidence of domestic abuse against either parent or children by the other parent involved in the case will be required. Such evidence requirements are expected to be complex, so they will be set out in secondary legislation. My noble friend the Minister will confirm that they will be subject to more detailed policy development, including engagement with stakeholder groups and other government departments to ensure that parents are support appropriately and measures are proportionate for both parents.

It has been a privilege to bring the Bill through its final stages. I hope that it can now receive Royal Assent and be implemented as swiftly as possible. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and congratulate him on having brought the Bill to fruition in this House. I add my thanks to the Minister and his team for having supported it, to the honourable Lady, Sally-Ann Hart, who piloted it through the other place, and to the charities, such as Gingerbread, which put so much work into supporting parents in this area.

Although this is a brief and focused Bill, it achieves one incredibly important task: it enables parents who have experienced domestic abuse to use the Child Maintenance Service without having to communicate directly with the abusive parent. It is a good example of how a Private Member’s Bill can do something quite specific but incredibly important to those affected by it.

We might have considered tabling some amendments to it, to explore some of the issues, but we want to make sure that the Bill reaches the statute book in this Session. I am very conscious that it is six years since Emma Day was murdered by her ex-partner. He threatened her life if she chased him for child support, and when she pursued a claim for child support, he stabbed her to death. I hope that those who still mourn Emma to this day will see the Bill, and the work of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and others, as a small step forward in protecting those who face domestic abuse in our time.

The absence of a Committee stage prevented me from following up on one specific question I asked at Second Reading, which the Minister missed the opportunity to answer. In Committee in the Commons, the Minister, Mims Davies, said:

“Full consideration is being given to exempting victims of domestic abuse from collection charges”.—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 14/12/22; col. 9.]

Can the Minister, either now or in writing, tell the House where that consideration has got to?

For today, we are pleased to offer our support for the Bill, and we wish it fair speed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for her support for my noble friend’s Bill. I will most certainly write a letter to her, over and above the letters I have already written to her, which I hope she has received.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Farmer for presenting his Bill to the House, and to my honourable friend Sally-Ann Hart for introducing the Bill and guiding it through its stages in the other place. I am also very grateful to the Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression for her support.

I remain very grateful to Dr Samantha Callan for conducting the independent review of the ways in which the CMS supports victims of domestic abuse, and for her excellent report. As your Lordships are aware, Dr Callan’s report includes a recommendation to enable cases to be moved to collect and pay where there is evidence of domestic abuse—precisely what this Bill aims to do.

To ensure that the Bill targets parents appropriately, the types of domestic abuse evidence that will be required will be set out in secondary legislation. This will reassure not only the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, but my noble friend Lord Farmer in particular. We will engage with stakeholder groups, other government departments and the devolved Administrations, where appropriate, to ensure that appropriate processes are established for verifying evidence of domestic abuse.

I hope that the whole House will join me in supporting my noble friend’s Bill and agree to the final stages of its passage.

Bill passed.