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15 Sep 2008 : Column 137WS

Innovation, Universities and Skills

Learning and Skills Council

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): I would like to inform the House that section 2 of the Further Education and Training Act 2007, which inserts section 18A of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, placing a duty on the council to establish regional councils, has been enacted. The Learning and Skills Council has been successful in appointing members to each of its nine regional councils. The regional councils became operational on 10 September 2008. The chairs of the regional councils are:

The Government have announced plans for replacing the LSC with a new structure for 16 to 19 and post-19 funding. Those plans would require parliamentary approval of new legislation. These appointments are being made pending the introduction of that legislation. Full details of all regional council members can be found on the LSC website at:


Front Office Services (Civil Courts)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): On 15 September 2008 the board of Her Majesty’s Courts Service, with my approval, has published a new framework for the provision of front office services in civil courts.

The new framework consists of national minimum standards for front office service provision and operational guidance to local court managers. The framework does not affect court hearings or the future of particular court buildings.

The minimum standards ensure a coherent but flexible system for providing front office services across the county court network. They guarantee appropriate access to the full range of services currently only delivered through the medium of a full-time public court counter. It will allow local HMCS managers some flexibility, working with the judiciary, to provide services through other and more innovative channels that are tailored to the needs and expectations of the local community, as well as improving overall efficiency and service standards.

The national minimum standards set a level below which the provision of front office services must not fall and introduce safeguards to ensure that any alteration to current arrangements do not deny access to services
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nor create an additional burden for the public. An appropriate level of local consultation, including Members of Parliament, will be required for all significant alterations.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The framework document is also available on the Ministry of Justice website at:

Work and Pensions

Child Maintenance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): As hon. Members are aware, the provisions of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 will enable the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to introduce a range of new collection and enforcement tools in order to improve compliance.

These new powers include the ability to use a deduction from earnings order (DEO) as a basic method of collecting child maintenance. Up to now the Child Support Agency has used a DEO in circumstances where other suitable payment arrangements cannot be agreed or have broken down.

Compliance rates for DEOs are second only to those for direct debits and, as we made clear during the passage of the new legislation, the intention is for the Commission to pilot the use of DEOs as the primary method of collection for employed non-resident parents.

The design and timing of the pilot will need to be carefully planned so it cannot begin immediately. But the Commission is determined to improve compliance as soon as possible in order to get more money flowing to children. It is therefore intending to make use of the new power through regulations which will enable the Commission to implement an interim approach to the collection of child maintenance in order to increase compliance.

This will mean that non-resident parents who have not already agreed a method of paying their child maintenance will be offered the choice of either a direct debit or a deduction from earnings order—the payment methods with the best compliance rates. An alternative method of payment will only be used where the non-resident parent can not pay by direct debit and there is good reason for a deduction from earnings order not to be used. There will be a right of appeal to a Magistrates Court (or sheriff in Scotland) against a decision by the Commission that there is no good reason for a DEO not to be used.

The change, which the Commission plans to introduce by the end of this year, will not affect those non-resident parents who pay their maintenance direct to the parent with care or who have their child maintenance payments deducted from their benefit. And non-resident parents who have already agreed a payment method with the Commission before the change is introduced will be able to continue to pay by their chosen method.

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