Draft Social Security (Electronic Communications) (Child Benefit) Order 2002

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Malcolm Wicks: Yes, of course we must ensure that. The purpose of the measure is not only to provide a modern service fit for purpose in the early 21st century, which suits the customer, in that it responds to how some of our citizens, as claimants, want to access benefits; part of the objective is to speed up the transaction. Once the application has been filled in electronically, as we saw in the demonstration, it will go in seconds to the child benefit centre, which will speed up the service. I assure the Committee that if the Secretary of State is not absolutely satisfied that the scheme is working in a satisfactory way, we will delay its introduction.

The hon. Member for Northavon raised some sensible questions about an aspect of child benefit that all of us probably feel to be important. Unless a couple makes a conscious decision that a child's father should draw their child benefit, it should be a benefit for mothers, which was always the intention of Eleanor Rathbone and other foremothers and forefathers of our welfare state. I shall look to see what evidence we have from those accessing existing forms to see whether there is a preponderance of one gender. I shall try to think through the implications of the hon. Gentleman's remarks because, on different occasions over too many years, he and I have battled to preserve child benefit as a benefit that predominantly goes to mothers, for obvious social reasons. I shall not pursue that matter, but if there is more information I shall come back to him with it.

We are concerned—again I shall look at this—that in future we will be able to signal to a claimant other benefits to which they may be entitled. We all understand the need to, in a famous phrase, join up information about different benefits, in which I include tax credit arrangements. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall look at that.

I am conscious that I have not replied in the detail that the Committee deserves. A flurry of information has been presented to me that I have not yet been able to process because I am a human being rather than a computer. I will, however, write to members of the Committee if it seems sensible to do so.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Social Security (Electronic Communications) (Child Benefit) Order 2002.

Committee rose at three minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

Column Number: 11

O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Blizzard, Mr.
Bryant, Mr.
Burnham, Andy
Clappison, Mr.
Cousins, Mr.
Cox, Tom
Lloyd, Mr.
Smith, Angela
Soley, Mr.
Spink, Bob
Webb, Steve
Wicks, Malcolm

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