The ‘Children and Families Bill’ was debated in the House of Commons on 25 February 2013. A transcript of this Parliamentary debate can be found here:
Tim Loughton spoke passionately and with much insight about the very real problems many non-resident parents (usually fathers) face in trying to maintain meaningful contact with their children. He was particularly scathing of resident parents who use the ‘system’ to exclude non-resident parents, and of the ‘system’ itself which fails to deter or prevent such abhorrent behaviour.
In contrast, Alan Beith MP appeared completely ignorant of these realities. He maintained that no shared parenting amendment was necessary.
Beith suggested that the Paramountcy Principle would be undermined by the proposed shared parenting amendment.
Loughton made it very clear to Beith that the proposed amendment plainly specifies that the paramountcy principle remains ‘paramount’ and that contact would not be ordered by the court if there was a verifiable risk of harm to the child. This plain explanation did not seem to satisfy Beith.
Loughton recounted the fact that, of 3 million family breakdowns in one particular year, 1 million fathers lost all contact with their children. Plainly, this cannot be good for the welfare of those hapless children.
Loughton explained that the shared parenting amendment was designed to serve the Right of a child to be parented by both its parents.
In contract, Beith intimated that the amendment served the Rights of Parents rather than those of their children.
Beith suggested that the amendment would cause non-resident parents to expect 50% parenting time with their children.
Loughton made clear that the amendment was qualitative rather than quantitative in its design, and that it was plainly non-prescriptive regarding parenting time.
Beith stated that the popular press was touting the idea of 50/50 time, and that non-resident parents would therefore arrive at the same understanding.
Loughton stated that the misrepresentation of the amendment by the popular press would not prevent the Government from going ahead in the interests of child welfare.
As the new legislation is enacted, the press and the general public will need to be educated as to exactly what it entails and what parenting arrangements can be expected by separating parents.
Overall, I’d say Loughton won the argument.
Beith’s position remains very closely wedded to that of the Law Society.
It is not too difficult to speculate as to why the Law Society favours the current status quo and why it is against shared parenting legislation. Plainly, there are considerable vested financial interests in the continuation of non-resident parents going to court to re-establish or enforce contact with their children.
Precisely why Sir Alan Beith follows the Law Society’s stance so closely requires a little more fanciful speculation, perhaps concerning the methodology and efficacy of lobbying by special interest groups!