Beckenham MP Jacqui Lait introduced a Bill in the Commons yesterday. It seeks to "prevent the exploitation by parents of their children by means of seeking publicity, primarily for the purpose of financial gain, in respect of the actions of such children; and for connected purposes".
The Bill was presented by Mrs Lait, Charles Hendry, Mr. Nigel Waterson, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mrs. Maria Miller and Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister for Children). It will be read a second time on 26 June.
Mrs Lait said:
"It would be a rare adult who was not appalled to discover that a mother could plot with other members of her extended family to kidnap her daughter for financial gain, and I, for one, was relieved that the plot was discovered and the mother and her accomplice jailed. Not much later, the story broke of the alleged 13-year-old father, and we had to endure the spectacle of him, the baby, the mother and other claimants to fatherhood all over the world’s media.
I ought to declare an interest as my husband is leader of East Sussex county council, which was involved in that case. Senior officers in the council have done much devilling work for me and I am grateful to them for their help and advice, as I am to the Clerks and the Library of the House. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), among others, for sponsoring the Bill, and I hope they do not think I am treading on their toes. I regard this as potentially a nationwide issue.
I also alerted the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) to the fact that I was planning this Bill. I quite understand that, as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, he cannot be involved, but I hope he hears my argument and acts on it. I am also hugely grateful to the Centre for Social Justice for its analytical work, which has opened up the whole debate on the impact of family breakdown on society
Those two cases had in common the misguided desire of a self-interested adult member of a dysfunctional family to profit by exposing their child to a media storm. I shall not refer any more to the details of those cases as those involved have had the protection of the law to regain their anonymity. What alarmed me about them was the damage that would inevitably be caused to the youngsters who were exposed to the full glare of publicity.
Yesterday the House of Commons had Work and Pensions questions.
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans asked what can be done to make parents take responsibility for their children:
"Poverty for youngsters is often reinforced when a married couple separates by a missing parent who refuses to take their responsibility. The Child Support Agency is often deficient in chasing the missing parent. What action can the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the CSA takes to make sure that it tracks down missing parents, so that they pay for their own children?
James Purnell: In the past year, the CSA—now the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission—has collected an extra £156 million, but we agree that more needs to be done. That is why we are taking powers in the Welfare Reform Bill to be able to take away people’s passports or driving licences without a court process. That will make things much more speedy. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that, unlike the Conservative party in the Lords the last time that that was proposed. That is also why we are saying that, where there is a payment, parents should be able to keep all of it and that there should be a complete disregard for child maintenance payments and benefits. We think that that could lift an extra 100,000 children out of poverty."
The new Shadow Secretary of State, Theresa May, put pressure on the Secretary of State over child poverty:
"According to a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 15 indicators of poverty and social exclusion had worsened in the five years preceding the onset of the current economic downturn, more than double the number in the previous five years. That includes the number of people living in very low-income households. Perhaps it is little wonder that the number of children living in poverty has risen by 100,000 in the past two years. How does the Secretary of State explain the Government’s poor performance?
Mrs. May: Yet again, the Secretary of State is very complacent about his attitude to the issue. Another example of the Government’s complacency is their refusal to end the couple penalty in the tax credit system, which would lift 300,000 children out of poverty. Why will the Government not do that?
James Purnell: The right hon. Lady has no policy of that kind, because she has no way of funding it. The Conservatives used to say that they would fund it out of welfare reform, but now they are not prepared to do as much welfare reform as us. If the right hon. Lady wants to repeat that claim, she will have to find new resources. Hers is a policy without a budget, and I hope that she will not pretend to repeat it."
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