Draft Child Support Regulations 2000

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Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman knows that, where there are welfare systems and tapers, there are marginal rates. It is impossible, without spending a great amount of money, to eliminate the effect altogether. We keep such matters under review and will continue to do so. We are acutely aware of our policy on welfare to work and we want to encourage people to work. However, we also want to balance that with the principle that has been supported across the Floor of the House—that people with children have a duty to provide for them financially as best they can. It is a question of balancing those two principles. It would be self-defeating if the system caused major work disincentives.

The hon. Member for Northavon spoke about variation regulations and argued that insufficient variations were allowed. We had that debate time and time again during the passage of the Act. Labour Members believe that one of the major problems of the 1991 Act is its complexity. One hundred pieces of information have to be gathered and confirmed to make a child maintenance assessment. Once the assessment has been made, the circumstances often change again. Even with a good start, it was almost administratively impossible for the Child Support Agency to work effectively. The system then came into disrepute and the way forward for any non-resident parent who did not wish to pay was to add further complexities to the maintenance assessment procedure.

The entire aim of the 2000 Act is to simplify the system. There is no point in simplifying the formula if large numbers of variations are allowed to complicate the system. The hon. Member for Northavon wanted a wide rather than a narrow range of variations, which risks reimporting all the complexity by the back door. We may be fated simply to differ on that matter.

The variation regulations before us permit a narrower scheme. That will vouchsafe the fundamental principle that was supported by the vast majority of organisations that responded to consultation on the original Green Paper during the Government's first year in office—the need for a simpler system in which people can calculate their own maintenance liability. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the White Paper included a simple table, by which people could assess their liability in advance with reference to their net income. That offers massive advantages over the current system. We intend to maintain the new system by keeping variations to a narrow limit.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West asked about driving licence sanctions. We hope that those sanctions will persuade people that it is a good idea to meet their obligations to their own children. We shall tell such people that we have taken those powers. The history of the DSS in the 1980s and SERPS is not a stunning one, but I hope that we have closed those loopholes. We intend to ensure that the new scheme's basic shape and structure is made clear to those who are likely to be affected—certainly to those in our current case load.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: That is a delightful but totally evasive answer. If I were told that my driving licence was to be taken or had been taken, would I get a simple bit of paper with frequently asked questions and reasonably authoritative answers? I would hope that the answer to that question would be yes.

Angela Eagle: We have not planned every last leaflet. Is the hon. Gentleman asking what happens after someone has had his or her driving licence removed under this legislation, or what happens to anyone in the country who has his or her driving licence removed?

Mr. Bottomley: I am not suggesting that the information should go out with the annual leaflet requesting that one pay one's car tax. I suggest that those who have an order in prospect and those on whom an order is made should be given information that has been gathered together rather than having to search for it down various routes.

Angela Eagle: Page 8 of the miscellaneous amendments regulations contains the text of a letter that will inform people disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence that that is what has happened to them. We will want to ensure that the people whom we want to persuade to meet their obligations to their children are notified of that sanction. I will not promise the hon. Gentleman that, at this point, we will issue a set leaflet on all sorts of matters. I hope that he takes my assurance that we want people to have information and notifications about the implications of what may happen or has just happened to them and how they can respond and react. Will that satisfy him? Clearly not.

Mr. Bottomley: The Minister's answer shows some movement. However, the schedule to which she refers would not pass the plain English test because it is a court order—a form of order of disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence. It does not purport to be easily understandable. If it were sent to me, I might, despite receiving some advanced education, search for something that explains what a ``garnishee proceeding'' or ``a charging order'' was. I might go beyond the form of this order and start asking whom I should talk to about finding the money and paying off the debt so that I could get my driving licence back earlier. A whole range of issues might come to my mind, and I would probably want some answers.

I suggest that the Minister might answer my question by saying that she will consider whether that sort of information is needed; she will probably come to the conclusion that it is and decide that a leaflet should be drafted with answers to the frequently asked questions that have been anticipated. Some questions may not have been anticipated, but when they are asked, the answers can be collected. If that happens, people will benefit from the answers that have been given to other people and will not have to reinvent the wheel—even if they cannot drive it.

Angela Eagle: We sit here in front of one of the biggest wheels in the world, and I do not intend to reinvent it.

The hon. Gentleman asks whether we want to make the provisions a secret that no one can predict in advance or get out of once they have been caught by them. The answer is no. If the driving licence sanction is to be effective, people need to know that they may be subject to it. If they fall foul of it, they need to know what to do to get their driving licence back. I assure him that those points will be made clear.

The hon. Gentleman may want me to give him assurances about how the leaflet will be drafted, how large it will be and how many photographs it will contain, but he will not get that out of me today. However, I suspect that we agree that the information should be available in a useable form for those who may fall within the system or who have come into contact with the way in which the system will work.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of students in advanced education. It is not my understanding that we intend to make exceptions to the rules—

Mr. Bottomley: That is what I suspected.

Angela Eagle: I have had no indications otherwise from my officials. The age at which a child becomes an adult, and at which a child ceases to become dependent for reasons of benefit, has always been 19, in relation to child benefit and other areas. Breaching those simple rules in particular circumstances would create huge complications. My understanding is that there will be no change in those strict definitions, which will offer no comfort to the hon. Gentleman's two constituents.

Mr. Bottomley: The Minister has probably given the factual answer. May I suggest that, if the Department for Education and Employment is beginning to wake up to the fact that many more young people from much more disadvantaged backgrounds are taking advantage of higher education—and that there may have been an interruption in their movement towards A-levels or their equivalents in other parts of the country—the Department of Social Security should say to the DFEE, ``We have an interest in this category, not just in relation to these regulations but generally.'' Families on very low income, in which there is a lone caring parent, find it difficult to support a child aged 19 doing A-levels. People are covered by access course provisions if they live away from home, but if they live at home they have a problem.

The Minister cannot go further than she has today, but perhaps her officials could make contact with other Departments, and, under joined-up government, consider whether there are significant numbers involved and whether there might be a limited way of making sure that help is available from either a non-resident parent or the state.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Believe it or not, we are in contact with the DFEE on a regular basis with respect to many such issues. The educational maintenance allowance is an example of movement having taken place, although I admit that it caters for the under-18s and does not deal with the precise issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. Loopholes and gaps arise, whatever one might call them—

Mr. Bottomley: Anomalies.

Angela Eagle: Anomalies. As a Government, we try to include people who, in the past, have not generally had opportunities to be included, for example, in higher and further education. Such people often have reasons for doing A-levels when they are older. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are passed on to my colleagues in the DFEE.

Mr. Bottomley: The Minister may want to make a passing reference to the policeman who does not have the order.

Angela Eagle: I hope that the policeman will have the order. There is only a certain amount of detail that one can discuss, even with regard to regulations. I hope that, if orders need to be served, people will ensure that they are served in a reasonable manner. The hon. Gentleman knows that, within the meanings of those words, it is necessary to be sensible. Going any further in regulations gets everybody into a pickle.

I hope that I have addressed most of the relevant issues, and that the Committee will be happy to approve the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Maintenance Calculations and Special Cases) Regulations 2000.

Draft Child Support (Maintenance Calculation Procedure) Regulations 2000

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Maintenance Calculation Procedure) Regulations 2000.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

Draft Child Support (Collection and Enforcement and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2000

Motion made, and Question put:-

    That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Collection and Enforcement and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2000.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 2.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Coffey, Ann
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Mr. Clive
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Marsden, Mr. Paul
Perham, Ms Linda
Robertson, Mr. John

NOES
George, Mr. Andrew
Webb, Steve

Question accordingly agreed to.

Draft Child Support (Information, Evidence and Disclosure and Maintenance Arrangements and Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Regulations 2000

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Information, Evidence and Disclosure and Maintenance Arrangements and Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Regulations 2000.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

Draft Child Support (Variations) Regulations 2000

Motion made, and Question put:-

    That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Variations) Regulations 2000.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 2.

Division No. 2]

AYES
Coffey, Ann
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Mr. Clive
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Marsden, Mr. Paul
Perham, Ms Linda
Robertson, Mr. John

NOES
George, Mr. Andrew
Webb, Steve

Question accordingly agreed to.

Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bottomley, Mr. Peter
Coffey, Ms
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Mr.
George, Mr. Andrew
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Humble, Mrs.
Khabra, Mr.
Lait, Mrs.
Marsden, Mr. Paul
Moffatt, Laura
Perham, Ms
Robertson, Mr. John
Webb, Mr.

 
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Prepared 18 December 2000