Draft Child Support Appeals (Jurisdiction of Courts) Order 2002 and Draft Child Support (Temporary Compensation Payment Scheme) (Modification and Amendment) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Boswell: I do not wish to niggle about the issue, but I am trying to get the Minister's statement clear in my mind. My understanding is that that is in relation to the scheme that will be implemented by the regulations, which will cost about £3 million. Can he give us some of the historic figures on compensation under the previous arrangements?

Malcolm Wicks: I shall check that carefully because I do not want to be misleading in the heat of a question and answer session, which it is easy to do.

On deferred debt in the year 2000-01, agreements made on debt totalled some £3.9 million and I hope that that gives some idea of the order of magnitude. The average amount of compensation paid to parents with care was some £279 million. Around 14,000 non-resident parents made a deferred debt agreement and kept to it during that year.

Mr. Webb: Just for the record, the Minister referred to £279 million.

Malcolm Wicks: It is central to our economic purpose to keep a tight rein on inflation and I should have said £279. One is used to giving numbers with many zeros, but there are none in this case.

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We estimate that around 35,000 cases may be eligible to enter into an agreement under the temporary compensation scheme, so the numbers are quite significant.

I was asked about cases processed between the end of the old scheme and the start of the new one. That is an important point. Our intention is that when the child support temporary compensation payment scheme has been revived, which is the purpose of the regulations, parents who qualify can be offered the scheme at that point. The relevant date is that on which the agreement is made, not the effective date of the maintenance assessment. I hope that that will enable us to fill the gap.

In response to the hon. Member for Spelthorne, we know that he is a fearless champion of gender equality and one of those men in the House who raises a feminist banner. He has made some important points about the use of the words ''he'' and ''she''. We shall take those on board. My judgment, which the evidence bears out, is that some 95 per cent. of non-resident or absent parents are men, but I agree that we must be careful about our description, not necessarily by being as politically correct as the hon. Gentleman in always saying ''he or she'' or ''she or he'' because that can make the English language tedious. However, when we give examples we should always acknowledge that the tragedies that affect families may affect men and women in different ways. The point is well taken.

There is some misunderstanding about moving from an old system of child support—we inherited it and it had major problems, not least debt—to a new, reformed system. In the new scheme we are aiming for a much simpler survey. The new maintenance calculation will involve a child maintenance payment of 15 per cent. of net income for one child, 20 per cent. for two children and 25 per cent. for three or more children. That should enable a woman or, more often, a man who is not the parent with care to calculate for themselves early on what their assessment is likely to be. We shall be able to put more emphasis on enforcement.

We inherited a scheme with considerable problems, which the House debated endlessly. We are anxious to have a new form of child support with a simpler formula that makes more sense to men, women and particularly the children of Britain who, whatever their family circumstances, need to be maintained financially and, hopefully, in other ways by both their fathers and mothers. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Child Support (Temporary Compensation Payment Scheme) (Modification and Amendment) Regulations 2002.

        Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Seven o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Blizzard, Mr.
Boswell, Mr.
Cairns, David
Hopkins, Mr.
Joyce, Mr.
Knight, Jim
Luke, Mr.

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McDonagh, Siobhain
Smith, Angela
Swire, Mr.
Tami, Mark
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Webb, Steve
Wicks, Malcolm
Wilshire, Mr.

 
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