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Mr. Coaker: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willetts: No, because I want to conclude, and I said that I would not speak for as long as the Secretary of State.

Finally, we need a little more information about the national insurance contributions on benefits in kind. They are a new stealth tax, raising no less than £225 million. One of the benefits in kind under attack in the Bill--how ironic, in a week when the national health service is once more in crisis--is private health insurance. People take a burden off the health service by using private health

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cover, but that will be hit by national insurance contributions for the first time. I suppose we should be relieved that we are told that at least stress counselling will not, as a benefit, be subject to national insurance contributions, so there are small mercies.

Virtually all benefits in kind will be subject to national insurance contributions, which will put a significant extra burden on employers and be a significant extra cost for employees. Those P111D forms will become even more complicated to fill in. The Government's approach is quite simple: if it is taxable it is NICable, and they are nicking another £225 million through that provision.

The right hon. Gentleman said, "I don't want to be remembered as another Secretary of State who tinkered with the system." The fact is that the Bill does just tinker with the system; it is not serious welfare reform. Most of that tinkering is unnecessary and many of the proposals, particularly on pensions, are actively damaging. That is why we invite the House to vote for our reasoned amendment.

5.6 pm

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North): I am a veteran, or perhaps a casualty, of--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haslehurst): Order. I should perhaps remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that there is a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

Mr. Rooney: I am a veteran, or perhaps a casualty, of previous Child Support Agency legislation, having served on each of the Committees considering child support Bills, and I was reminded of Alice in Wonderland when the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), was speaking. He has obviously learned nothing from the operation of that legislation over the past six or seven years. I am grateful that amendments have been tabled by the Opposition and the Liberal party because I would have been worried and suspicious if there had been as much agreement on the Bill as there was on the Child Support Act 1991. That legislation was widely welcomed in principle but, sadly, the detail was very much neglected. We can learn a lesson from that: when complex algebraic formulas are included in a Bill, and extensive and detailed regulations are promised, it is helpful if hon. Members see what those formulas really mean during their consideration of that Bill.

This may be rare from a Labour Member, but I should like to praise the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) because, when the Jobseekers Act 1995 was in Committee--she was the Minister responsible for it--she tabled draft regulations and provided specimen forms that were to be used to implement it. Perhaps my right hon. Friends might consider that: where the Bill promises regulations, draft regulations should be put before the Committee so that it understands exactly what is being implemented. Nevertheless, the Government should be congratulated on the widespread and genuine consultation that took place via the Green Paper and the White Paper, and also because comments made in that consultation have been reflected in the Bill. I am also grateful that the views of Members of Parliament have been taken into account in arriving at the legislation, including some opinions--unbelievably--that were expressed from those on the Opposition Benches.

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In taking the legislation forward, we need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap that was generated by a significant media campaign about the victims being the absent parents. For too long, publicity in both the House and the media focused on the problems experienced by absent parents in meeting their responsibilities. Little was said in support of the real victims--children who were receiving no maintenance. The paralysing effects of the chaos and inertia that featured in the early years of the CSA built a platform for the media campaign; moreover, the changes made in 1993 and 1995 were made entirely for the benefit of absent parents. Not one legislative change was made with the children in mind.

Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for Havant, the advantage that this Bill has over earlier legislation lies in its transparency, and in the simplicity of the formula that it proposes. In future, no one will have an excuse for claiming that they did not understand what was required of them, or the amount that they had to pay. Under the current system, 70 per cent. of children receive no maintenance at all, and there are millions of pounds of uncollected and probably uncollectable arrears--money that should be supporting children, usually the poorest.

Owing to the inadequacy of the computers, no one can say with certainty at any given time what the position is in any given case. Those who contact the CSA's regional offices usually find that they are speaking to someone whose brain is befuddled, who is probably living in the dark ages, knowing nothing of what goes on in the real world, and who can answer no Member of Parliament or member of the public with conviction.

The present system generates mountains of paper. The agency may issue as many as seven communications on the same day, running to six or seven pages, each telling a different story and featuring incredible calculations that bear no relation to people's circumstances. The simplicity of the proposed 15, 20, or 25 per cent. formula will restore the agency's credibility, which is the first thing that is needed if parents are to have a genuine desire to co-operate with it. It is no wonder that so few wish to do so now: they rightly feel that the agency lies on the road to ruin and destruction, and that there is nothing in it for them.

The advantages of the Bill are the simplicity and transparency of the proposed formula, the speed of assessment and the introduction for the first time of the maintenance disregard for those on income support. At last we shall have a child support Act, rather than a Treasury support Act. I welcome the disregard of maintenance in the calculation of working families tax credit, which will make a huge contribution to welfare to work. I am told by my local Employment Service office that single parents are much more willing to take work, especially part-time work, now that they know that they will keep all the maintenance paid to them.

The Bill provides people with incentives to co-operate. It delivers a clear message to absent parents that they must get off the gravy train, because the easy ride is over. All the escape routes have been closed--it will no longer be possible to engage in little ruses in order to delay payment for three, four or five years--and, at last, attention will rightly be focused on the child rather than the absent parent.

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The hidden benefit will, I hope, be the abolition of the independent case examiner. Let us hope that there is no need for that person to continue in that role within six months or a year of the new system coming into effect. [Interruption.] I see the professor, the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), is doubtful, but, there again, we are used to that.

I have tabled parliamentary questions many times to find out how much money has been paid through the special payments unit to people who have been abused by the agency, but, for some reason, I can never get an accurate figure. However, tens of millions of pounds of compensation must have been paid for maladministration and abuse by the agency. Again, it will be a bonus when such payments go.

Every week, I and my office spend many hours--I am sure that other hon. Members do the same thing--speaking with the parliamentary business unit of the CSA, at Belfast. The people there are helpful, useful and sympathetic. They do not often come up with answers, but they are always sympathetic. That dedicated unit is there to assist and to serve purely Members of Parliament. The public do not get that service. Again, it is an incredible resource that, in one sense, is a waste: it is there only because of previous chaos. I hope that the new system will mean that we do not need that special privilege and facility any more, and that such work will disappear.

Most important, it is crystal clear, from the Green and White Papers and from the Bill, that children will now benefit from the CSA's actions. That cannot be said to have been the case in the past. Far too many parents with care and children have been let down by inadequate legislation, inadequate administrative systems and inadequate ways of dealing with the business.

I did not intend to, but I should like to speak on the second pension issue because of the points that were raised by the hon. Member for Havant. It is a fact that, post-1988, roughly 6 million people opted out of occupational pension schemes into personal pensions, enticed by a life assurance industry which, he is trying to tell us, will help those on low earnings to take out an appropriate product. That is dreamland stuff.

Responsible sectors of the life assurance industry say that no one on less than £9,000 a year should be in a personal pension scheme, full stop. There is no argument about that. There is an argument as to whether those on between £9,000 and £12,000 should be, but, undeniably, those on less than £9,000 should not.

Other sectors of the industry think that anyone earning £1 a week or more should be in a personal pension. The same sector is writing to people to tell them that their endowment-linked mortgage is not high enough and that they need to put more money in it. It is levying 50 per cent. charges on the extra money that people are having to put in because the company got it wrong in the first place. We need to recognise that those sectors have a vested interest in knocking anything that, in effect, takes them out of the equation, but no one should be in any doubt that the state second pension is the best thing going for anyone on £9,000 or less.

Like many other Members, I have a significant number of extremely poor pensioners in my constituency. Most of them are women, who are poor in retirement because of broken work records and because they were persuaded to

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stick with paying the married women's stamp, which was the biggest con trick of all time. That denied them the basic retirement pension. Generally speaking, they were on low earnings, so their second pension entitlement is very small.

My late mother worked for 30 years, as well as spending 16 years raising children full time. At 60, her pension entitlement was nil, and her second pension entitlement was nil. That is the world that the hon. Member for Havant seems to want to return to.

The hon. Gentleman seems to think that, when my mother was working, on low wages, she should have toddled down to the local life assurance office and bought a personal pension--although, for the first two years, 50 per cent. of premiums would have disappeared in charges. It is dreamland stuff.

In comparison, my father, who worked for 50 years, has an income above the retirement pension of a mere £24 a week. He receives that amount because, until the 1960s, there was no provision for a second pension.

We then had the other scam--no one seems to mention it nowadays--of the graduating pension, for which one had to live for 14 years beyond retirement age simply to make back what one had paid into it, before receiving any benefit from it.

The state earnings-related pension scheme was introduced in 1978. It seemed like a good scheme at the time, but--notwithstanding the changes made to it in the 1980s--it has not turned out to be as good as we thought that it would be.

The fact is that the state second pension is a guarantee to people that they will be rewarded in retirement, as they have never been before. It has also, for the first time, embraced the issue of carers, people with disabilities, people on low earnings and people with broken work records. In time, we shall see the destruction of the poverty in old age that is a blight on our society.

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