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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): My predecessor as Member for Bury, North was the Minister in the former regime who was responsible for implementing the CSA, so I have followed the issue carefully over the past three or four years. Under the new system, will my right hon. Friend be able to ensure that people who approach the CSA are given a named official who will progress their cases? We all know of the terrible bureaucracy that dogged the agency under the old regime, but one of the most frequent complaints from constituents is that they never know to whom they are talking. Can a named official be guaranteed under the new system? It is not a point that can be easily pursued through primary legislation, but I hope that he can ensure that the CSA will give the highest priority to projecting a human face to those who contact them. Many improvements have been made in the past two years, but there is still some way to go.

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend makes a good point and we wish to encourage such an approach now, as well as in the future. It is much better for everyone concerned if people can speak to someone who knows their case and they do not have to go over old ground time and again. When we have the new computer system, it will be much easier because staff will be able to call up on screen everything that they need to know about an individual. Anyone who has ever inspected bank or building society computer systems will know how a good system can work. Everything about a customer is on the screen and it is much easier to give advice. If a member of staff goes on holiday, his or her replacement knows to whom the caller spoke the previous week, and what the position is with the case. I do not want to be too optimistic about the time scale, but we are trying to start the process now, even within the constraints of the present system.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Will the Secretary of State give way?

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Mr. Darling: Yes, but then I must make some progress. I am conscious that Madam Speaker is frowning even now. This is the last intervention that I shall take for 15 minutes.

Mr. Boswell: I am very grateful, but my question follows on from the previous one. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the importance of ensuring that the same named official deals with both sides of a particular case? Many hon. Members will be familiar with instances when, although both parties live in the same constituency, the CSA appears not to have integrated its consideration of the circumstances of the case. The result is that two CSA officials do not talk to each other about the same information.

Mr. Darling: If it is possible to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests, I shall, and his proposal is certainly worth considering.

Before I leave the child support system, I reiterate the general point that I think that this is the last chance for the CSA. It is important that we get this matter right, and so the Government will listen to suggestions, in Committee and on Report, from hon. Members in all parties. I do not know the Conservative party's attitude to this part of the Bill, but no doubt I shall find out. However, if improvements can be made to the Bill or to procedures, we are open to considering them.

I turn now to community punishments, and to the state second pension. I shall deal first with community punishments, which are covered in part III.

The first, brief, point to be made is that there is no unconditional right to benefit. Rights are matched by responsibilities. At present, one in five offenders given community sentences is brought before the courts for failing to comply with the requirements of the sentence. We simply cannot allow that to continue, as those people break their side of the bargain but still claim benefits. I do not believe it right that a community punishment should be regarded as a one-way bet, in which people can do what they want while expecting everyone else to pay for their benefit.

We propose that benefit will be either withdrawn or reduced for offenders referred back to court by the probation service for breaching their community sentences. People will be told about what will happen, and will be able to remedy the difficulty immediately, simply by complying with the probation order. The remedy will lie in the hands of offenders: those who want their benefits restored will have to do no more than comply with the conditions imposed by the courts.

The Bill provides the means to implement such a system. We shall start by piloting it in a small number of areas, and we will evaluate the pilot schemes before coming to firm conclusions. However, I believe that the measure will send the clear message to offenders that benefits bring obligations that they must meet.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside): In those pilot exercises, will tests be applied to determine how the removal of benefits affects the poverty faced by the people involved? Also, should not there be ways to discover whether removing benefits encourages rehabilitation, or whether it leads to reoffending because people's circumstances have been made more difficult?

Mr. Darling: There are provisions for hardship, but the remedy in cases such as the hon. Gentleman described lies

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in the hands of the person who breaks a probation order. People are not required to live in poverty or to lose their benefit. They are required only to do what the court tells them to do. If they are not willing to do that, they can have no cause for complaint.

I turn now to what I regard as an extremely important part of the Bill, the second stage of the reform of pensions. Part II provides for the reform of SERPS and its replacement with the state second pension.

The reforms being put in place, together with those in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999, will put pensions on a sound, sustainable and affordable footing for the future. Our plans have been welcomed almost universally.

If we did nothing, by 2050, one person in three would risk depending on means-tested benefits in retirement. Under the pension system that we inherited, nearly a third of people working were headed for retirement on benefits. We believe that everyone who can save, should save. That is why we have legislated for stakeholder pensions, which will help the 5 million people unable to get an occupational scheme to get a funded pension. Stakeholder pensions are on track for delivery from April next year.

Today, we are going further. We are helping 4.5 million low-paid people, 6 million moderate earners, 2 million carers and 2 million disabled people with broken work records by reforming SERPS and making it better through the introduction of the state second pension. The current system--SERPS--was designed to supplement the basic state pension, but it does not do enough for the low paid, and it does nothing for many carers or disabled people with broken work records.

SERPS is earnings-related--so, by definition, if people do not earn very much, they do not contribute very much, and do not get very much back when they retire. We are determined to improve SERPS, and the state second pension will, in some cases, triple the amount of additional pension to which low earners will be entitled. For example, under SERPS, someone earning £6,000 a year--after a lifetime of employment--gets £14 a week on top of their basic state pension. Under the state second pension, that sum will rise to £54 a week. That is £40 extra for that low earner.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon) rose--

Mr. Darling: No one--not even the Liberals--can say that that is not a substantial improvement on the present situation.

Mr. Webb: Will the Secretary of State confirm that the statement he has just made will not be true before 2047?

Mr. Darling: No. Over the past few months, the hon. Gentleman has been complaining about the state second pension.

Mr. Bercow: Answer the question.

Mr. Darling: I was answering--I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman might be interested.

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The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) keeps saying that the state second pension will take a long time to mature, and he is right to the extent that pensions, by their very nature, take some years to build up. However, because of the way in which the state second pension is structured, people will begin to see improvements from very shortly after it is introduced--probably in 2002. Many people will see a substantial difference in the amount of pension they will receive as a result of the changes that we are making.

For example, a couple, one of whom is on low earnings, while the other spends half their time caring, will, as a result of our changes, get £30 more because of the operation of the state second pension. That is by 2025. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I make no apology for that. For heaven's sake--no wonder the Tories mis-sold pensions. What sort of pension can someone take out where they get a vast increase in money the day after they take it out?

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): The right hon. Gentleman said 2002.

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman, who spends a great deal of time grunting and snorting from the Opposition Front Bench, has misheard me. I said that the state second pension will start to be introduced from 2002. I went on to say that it will take time for people to see the full benefit of the state second pension. The point I was making to the hon. Member for Northavon was that even in 25 years' time--not long in pension planning terms--the couple I described will be £30 a week better off than they would otherwise have been if we did not reform SERPS.

I believe that the changes in the state second pension will greatly increase the amount of money going, for example, to someone on £6,000 a year, who will be £40 a week better off. However, even someone on £15,000 a year will be £17 a week better off, and it will take 14 years before their income falls to the level of the minimum income guarantee. Any fair-minded person looking at the system will see that the state second pension and the reforms that we are making to SERPS are infinitely better than the present system because they allow people on low earnings, carers and disabled people to build up substantial pensions. That would not otherwise be the case.

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