The Children and Families Bill was debated again this week by the Grand Committee in the House of Lords; a startling number of amendments were proposed; you can read the Hansard transcribe of that debate here.
It is one amendment – and in particular one comment by the Earl of Listowel that I am picking up on. Amendment 242 would enable the introduction of a pilot scheme,
“to trial the registration of births within children’s centres”.
When he spoke about his proposed amendment, the Earl of Listowel said:” there is a danger of stigma in visiting a children’s centre; people may feel that they can go only if there is something wrong with them. This, however, is a universal service. Everyone would go there to register their child, so there would be no stigma attached to it. Practitioners talk about this as an important step forward in terms of involving fathers. Fathers will go along when the child is going to have the birth registered. I am not quite sure of the technical details as to why it is so important for fathers to be involved in the registration process—perhaps one of your Lordships can tell me in a minute—but there is a strong feeling that more fathers will be involved early in their child’s life this way.
If unmarried fathers are not present at the registration of the birth of their children, then they will not automatically acquire Parental Rights – acquisition of PR would then be dependant on either a PR agreement with the mother, or via a court order. Last year, 47.5% of children were born to unmarried parents; if the trend continues then by 2016 the majority of children will be born to unmarried parents.
It is imperative that fathers are not prevented or discouraged from being present at the birth registration – there are already far too many barriers for fathers in this country, and any new legislation should be inclusive of fathers, rather than attempting to further marginalise them. While the proposal of a trial of parents being able to register their child’s birth at a children’s centre and at the same time make parents aware of what services are available to them should they be required seems to hold some water, it would surely help a great deal if the Lord proposing this amendment understood the implications of why unmarried fathers need to be present at the registration. And no, he didn’t get a reply to his question to the other Lords as to why it is important for fathers to be present.