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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. That is sufficient.
Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his candour and honesty. He worked very hard to make the CSA work, but he experienced exactly the same problems that we have experienced. I therefore welcome his comments. I am sure that he will have something to contribute to the work of Sir David Henshaw's team.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I, too, strongly welcome my right hon. Friend's honesty with the House, as it shows that we are determined to achieve proper solutions. There are two groups of people. One group is trapped under the old system, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) referred, and the other group is simply receiving nothing at all. For some of our constituents, there is no justice at the moment so, in the short term, would it be possible to provide rough justice to achieve solutions that are not necessarily elegant or perfectly bureaucratic solutions but which will simply make sure that money goes to the families who deserve it?
Mr. Hutton: I agree. My hon. Friend will have a chance to look at the detailed plan published by the chief executive of the CSA today. In crude but simple terms, over the next two or three years, the CSA will focus on doing exactly what my hon. Friend said. Its priority should be to make sure that more parents receive more maintenance from absent parents more regularly, and the plans that Stephen Geraghty has set out will help it to do so.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP):
The one big disappointment for many people in the statement is the lack of action on migration, which causes people more heartache than anything else in the system. The Minister said that £90 million will be made available over three years for the stabilisation scheme. Does he think that it will be another three years before the Henshaw review is put into effect, so that it will be six years before the new system is introduced? People will still be on different systems which, as I said, causes much anguish. If the new system is to receive public backing, it must be a fair one that treats everyone the same. On debt recovery, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to use private debt collectors, can he assure us that there will be strict monitoring of their effectiveness and, importantly,
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the methods that they use to recover payment, as the industry has more than its fair share of shady characters?
Mr. Hutton: Of course there is migration from the old scheme to the new one. Conversion is a different issue. The chief executive has looked at it in depth and made his recommendations to Government, but the cost of making conversion a practical reality will run into hundreds of millions of pounds. We must therefore make the position clear, as it is an important issue for Sir David Henshaw's team to consider so that, as I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), it can return quickly with suggestions for more sensible arrangements. As for bailiffs, we must work properly, fairly and reasonably, and I am sure that the CSA will. I have no qualms whatsoever about allowing non-compliant absent parents who do not pay up to hear the knock on the door from the bailiffs saying it is time to pay up. I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports that.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): It is important to acknowledge the professionalism of the CSA staff who, for years, have tried to make the system work, particularly when the IT repeatedly failed. They must have dealt with crowds of anguished and angry parents on the telephone. Their morale is low now and it may not have been elevated by my right hon. Friend's announcement. What reassurance can he give CSA workers about their jobs and what can he do in the relatively short term to try to improve their low morale?
Mr. Hutton: I agree that that should be one of our top priorities. I can only repeat what I have found when I have visited CSA offices. The staff want the system to work and the single biggest reason why morale is low is that it is simply not doing so. They want to find a way to change that. In the short term, the stabilisation plan published by the chief executive, which I support, will result in significant additional investment in the CSA, including additional staff. However, it will be a difficult job to manage, which is why I intend to give my full support to the chief executive for his work to make sure that the CSA delivers the job that Parliament has asked it to do. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will lend him their support too.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Secretary of State rightly focused on the backlog of unheard cases and those of non-compliant absent parents. Will he give serious consideration to the way in which we could help another groupcompliant absent parents, who often pay so much that they do not have money to keep a roof over their own heads? Sometimes, they are paying money to a former partner who is now in favourable financial circumstances and withholding access to the children.
It is always possible for someone in those circumstances to seek a reassessment under existing legislation. I have not announced any changes to that today. The hon. Lady may have dealt with specific cases in her constituency, and she is welcome to bring them to
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our attention, but our focus and priority must be the children. We must find a sensible way of doing what she, I am sure, wants and what I want. We must balance those responsibilities to make sure that children are not the losers because I am afraid that, far too often, they are.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I thank the Minister both for his statement and for the frankness that he displayed. When the redesign of the agency is carried out, will models used in other European countries be taken into account?
Mr. Hutton: Yes, I think that Sir David should be free to consider all the available options that could contribute to the design of a more cost-effective and cost-efficient system.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I agree that, given the myriad problems with tax credits, the solution is not to pass the buck to HMRC. I do not think that that would work. Like many hon. Members, I have seen single mothers in tears in my surgery because they are frustrated with the weaknesses of the system. We must do better. My personal view is that the agency is irretrievably broken but, given that the Department has already had months, if not longer, to review the problem and that the Secretary of State's answer is essentially that there will be yet another review, is there anything more positive that he can offer parents who are suffering under the broken system?
Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman will need time to study the detail of the plan that was published today, as it contains a series of measures that will make a significant difference to the performance of the CSA, including for his own constituents. May I make it clear that we have not announced another review today? We have announced a redesign of the current system. We are not reviewing the Child Support Agency. I agree that we need to move on, so we have announced that, in the next four to five months, Sir David Henshaw will redesign the essential parts of the child support system. I hope that we can then take the next steps and make sure that we can legislate to create that new system.
Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the extra capacity to deliver improved performance in the next few years is available, and is he confident that it can be drafted in speedily so that all our constituents can experience improvements in the interim before the redesign takes place?
Mr. Hutton: I have every confidence that the new chief executive of the CSA and his management team will deliver the stabilisation and improvement plan that I have announced. Clearly, however, it is something in which my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and I will take a close interest.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con):
Will the Minister reply to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) asked about CAFCASS? May I point out, too, a mistake that the Minister may have made in the statement? He said that relationships, as we all know,
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come to an end. That may be a future Labour policy, but in my experience, more relationships endure than end, so could he correct that statement?
Mr. Hutton: Of course I do not want relationships to come to an end, but they do. The job of the Child Support Agency, often in very difficult circumstances, is to try and sort out the mess. It is our job collectively in the House, and specifically mine as Secretary of State, to make sure that we have in place a proper cost-effective and efficient system for dealing with hard cases. My whole argument today is that we do not have that system in place, after many years of effort. All of us must get on, do the work and put a better system in place.
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