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3 Dec 2007 : Column 599

Mr. Weir: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I am not suggesting that the debt should be written off. However, there is a fundamental difference between debt involving the poll tax and that involving the CSA. The poll tax debt was known to be correct—people simply did not pay—and there is still a fair amount outstanding in many local authorities. I would like to know what is proposed to address the problem that there might be a lot of ancient debt that does not reflect the true liability.

Andrew Selous: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Bill, he will see that clauses 29 to 32 address debt management powers. There is universal agreement on both sides of the House that the figure of £3.5 billion is artificial. It was created along the way when some extra liabilities were imposed, almost to try to get the attention of non-resident parents. I am focusing on the £1.4 billion figure. If addressing that amount was one of CMEC’s objectives, I would be happy.

Mr. Weir: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification, which has put my mind at rest to some extent. However, his proposal does not say that; it refers only to the debt. There is a danger that if we are saying to parents with care, “We will pursue your debt,” we may well be thinking about different figures. They might be thinking that they are due a sum of £30,000 or £40,000, but the true figure might be less than that. I would not like to raise false expectations of the amount that they might get.

Mr. Plaskitt: I am grateful to the hon. Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and for Angus (Mr. Weir) for their contributions to the debate. Reference was made to the agency’s 2006-07 accounts, and I am happy to confirm that they have been laid today.

We believe that the existing objectives are right, and remain the best way to achieve the outcomes that we want for children. The amendments would give the commission two main objectives rather than a single overarching one. They would give the commission a second objective, of equal standing, requiring it to secure payment of arrears accumulated under the Child Support Act 1991. However, the objectives, as drafted, already set the collection of debt as a priority for the commission. The last part of the second subsidiary objective is to secure parental compliance under the Child Support Act. As I explained in Committee, that sets the commission a clear objective of securing compliance with all liabilities under the Act, including the collection of arrears, regardless of when they arose.

We believe that it is right that that is a subsidiary objective. The overriding priority of the commission must be to get effective maintenance arrangements in place for as many children as possible. By focusing on that, the commission will be helping to eradicate child poverty, and it is difficult to envisage a more important objective. However, I stress again that the arrangements do not allow the commission to ignore existing debt in any way. I hope that I have sufficiently emphasised the fact that the subsidiary objective prevents that. In addition, we expect the commission to have clear targets underpinning each of the objectives, including those on debt. The collection of arrears is vital to the
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successful delivery of the main objective. The system will not work unless the commission is seen as an effective collector of the money owed to parents with care.

We have concerns about the wording of the first main objective in new clause 3. First, we do not believe that it is feasible to require the commission to ensure that there is a maintenance arrangement in place for every child; indeed in some cases—for example, where the non-resident parent is violent—it may not even be appropriate. Requiring the commission to maximise the number of effective maintenance arrangements in place achieves the same clear goal, but without the difficulties. Secondly, although we wholeheartedly agree in principle with children sharing in the income and prosperity of both parents, we do not believe that the wording of the new clause is necessary; in fact, it may present problems.

The current objectives have broadly the same effect as those proposed in the new clause. The commission must maximise two types of arrangements: arrangements established through the statutory maintenance service, which are, of course, based on the income of the non-resident parent, and appropriate voluntary arrangements. “Appropriate” means arrangements that are suitable given the particular circumstances of the parents in question, and arrived at in full view of all the available information. That information includes the amount that would be received through the statutory maintenance service, and we expect most voluntary arrangements to be broadly in line with the formula. That will ensure that children share in the income of both parents.

However, the whole point of voluntary arrangements is that they are flexible and can be tailored to the specific needs of parents. We want the commission to support parents in reaching the arrangements that are best for them. We do not want the commission to interfere in an attempt to ensure that arrangements are closely linked to the non-resident parent’s income. The final part of the proposed first objective refers to

We deliberately want the focus to be on arrangements being “in place”, as the Bill says, rather than just being “established”, so as to emphasise the importance of arrangements being sustained, not just set up.

New clause 7 proposes that we legislate to require the commission to prepare, publish and lay before Parliament an operational plan detailing how it will meet its objectives. Let me see whether I can dissuade the hon. Member for Rochdale from pressing that new clause to a Division. It is clearly essential that the commission produce robust plans and shows how it will meet its objectives. However, we do not need to legislate for that, as Treasury guidelines already make such actions a requirement of the commission’s funding.

The framework document that must exist between the sponsor Department and an arm’s length body requires that a number of financial and management documents be in place. They include a corporate plan looking three years ahead, which the body must submit annually to its sponsor Department. Treasury guidance sets out the key matters that should be included in the plan. Those matters include: the key objectives and performance targets for the future years, and the
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strategy for achieving those objectives; alternative scenarios and an assessment of the risk factors that could affect the plan but which cannot be accurately forecast; and other matters that can be agreed between the Department and the body.

The first year of the commission’s corporate plan will form the commission’s business plan and must include key targets and milestones for the year immediately ahead. It must also include budgeting information to enable the Department to identify the resources that will be allocated for specific objectives. Of course, we expect that to cover staffing levels—an issue that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Treasury guidance also requires the corporate and business plans of all non-departmental public bodies to be published on their websites, and to be made available to staff separately.

We believe that that is sufficient to allow scrutiny of the proposals, and that it would be inappropriate for arm’s length bodies’ business plans to be subject to approval by Parliament. It is worth noting that the commission is already accountable to Parliament through its annual report and accounts, which must be laid before Parliament. The Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for the commission’s overall performance.

5.15 pm

Paul Rowen: Does the Minister not accept that there is a fundamental difference? Treasury guidance advises that business plans be put on the website. The Bill is a skeleton measure, and we want to make sure that working arrangements are subject to scrutiny by Parliament, which is a fundamental difference.

Mr. Plaskitt: With respect, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has made the case for making the detailed operational plans of a non-departmental public body subject to approval by the House of Commons. There is no precedent or argument for doing so. I entirely accept his desire to subject the commission’s activity to adequate parliamentary scrutiny—of course, that is right—but as I tried to explain, the commission is obliged to publish its accounts and annual report, and it remains answerable to Parliament via the Secretary of State, who must appear before the House. I believe that those provisions are adequate, and it is not appropriate to go further and try to micro-manage the department’s operational plan on the Floor of the House. I hope that, with those reassurances, the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire will agree to withdraw the new clause.

Andrew Selous: I listened carefully, as always, to the Minister. I welcome the fact that the CSA’s accounts have been laid before Parliament, but if they had come out on Friday we would have had a little more time to look through them.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said about new clause 3. May I reiterate what I said to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) and others? I have no problem at all with authorities using the powers in the Bill, with the permission of the parents with care, to write off debt that is uncollectable and should probably never have been accumulated in the first place. That is common ground, but I remind the Minister that we have a long history of getting this wrong, and the failure to collect debt has undermined the CSA’s work
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in the past, and will undermine CMEC’s work in future. It will not help that fundamental change of culture that we want—the willingness to pay child support—which will be a key component of CMEC’s success.

Turning to new clause 7, the CSA had a troubled history, and this is Parliament’s third attempt to get that incredibly important area of law right. Hon. Members play an important role, and they should be forced to take an interest in what CMEC does. Many of us were not entirely happy with the decision to set up CMEC as a non-departmental body, and we failed to see why it should not become an executive agency of the Department for Work and Pensions. It is even more important, given that it is to become a non-departmental body, that Parliament should have the role of scrutinising its plans in future. Should the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) wish to press new clause 7 to a vote at the appropriate time we would support him, and I shall now press new clause 3 to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 184, Noes 262.
Division No. 15]
[5.19 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Barker, Gregory
Barrett, John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Clark, Greg
Clegg, Mr. Nick
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gidley, Sandra
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Horam, Mr. John
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David

Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kramer, Susan
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Main, Anne
Maples, Mr. John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rennie, Willie
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Nick Hurd and
Mr. John Baron

Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Durkan, Mark
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Goodman, Helen
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hillier, Meg
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lammy, Mr. David
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonnell, John
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Osborne, Sandra
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Wills, Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Sadiq Khan and
Siobhain McDonagh
Question accordingly negatived.
3 Dec 2007 : Column 603

3 Dec 2007 : Column 604

3 Dec 2007 : Column 605

New Clause 4

Pleural plaques

‘A claim for a payment under Part 4 may be made by—

(a) a person with asbestos-induced pleural plaques, or

(b) a dependent of a person who immediately before death was aware that they had asbestos-induced pleural plaques.’.— [Mr. Clapham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 4 relates to part 4 and seeks to import into it payments for pleural plaques. On 17 October, a decision was made in the House of Lords that pleural plaques should no longer attract compensation. The judgment suggested that pleural plaques were symptomless — [ Interruption. ]

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