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Lord Strabolgi asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth) is publishing tomorrow the conclusions of the Ministerial Group on alcopops. A copy of the group's statement will be placed in the Library tomorrow at 10.30 am.

Child Support Agency

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): Absent parents should pay the maintenance they owe, and we will ensure that the Child Support Agency takes appropriate action to ensure that they do. We do keep in touch with developments with other countries and to make comparisons where appropriate. However, direct comparisons with other countries can be difficult since no two systems are the same and the respective debts may be calculated differently. In the United States of America, for example, there are broad Federal guidelines for child support within which states are free to develop their own systems, which may include a large amount of discretion over the child support levied. In Australia, only that portion of the debt (excluding charges and penalties broadly equivalent to Interim Maintenance Assessments) estimated to be collectible is reported.

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Child Support Scheme

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will entertain the possibility that some absent parents assessed for maintenance under the Child Support Act may be unable rather than unwilling to pay the sums assessed on them.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The Government believe that children are entitled to the support of both parents and the Child Support scheme is designed to provide levels of maintenance which absent parents can realistically afford. The protected income provisions ensure that absent parents and their current families are at least £30 a week better off after payment of maintenance than they would be if receiving income support, and there are additional provisions to restrict the maximum amount of current maintenance to 30 per cent. of the absent parent's net income. The Departures system introduced in December 1996 also enables the formula assessment to be varied in prescribed circumstances.

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