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Lord Waddington: My Lords, the Minister is not quite right on that point. There could be de-proscription without an application by the party alleged to be a terrorist organisation—that is specifically provided for in the Act.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, proscription took place under my right honourable friend Jack Straw's tenancy of the Home Office and has continued under subsequent Home Office Secretaries of State. If the organisation has new evidence about having turned its back on violence, it is its obligation to place that evidence in competent hands where it can be assessed properly. That must be the right way forward.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, is my noble friend ruling out the possibility of discussing the matter with someone else?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I repeat that if noble Lords have new information, as they have indicated they have, I am willing to hear it and discuss it. It has been a measured debate. We face a complex dilemma. Some will ask what we are going to do, others ask for an assurance that we will not do anything. The United Kingdom's position, made plain by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, is that we are trying to pursue peaceful and diplomatic means. We do not use the word "never" about other options, but speculation about sanctions or military action is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said at the beginning, unlikely to bolster the diplomatic effort. I think that that is right.

At this time we are trying to make sure that we are obtaining the right responses. This is not a proposition that understates the importance of nuclear proliferation and its dangers or of Iranian support for terrorism. Iran should not believe that we have no appetite; that we are, as it has put it recently, fake superpowers or, as the president put it, mangy old lions. No one should believe that proceeding carefully shows a lack of resolve. It is careful resolve, which is what is required. The bottom line is straightforward. The international community cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons capability. It cannot have the means to wipe another state off the map. It cannot export terrorism; it cannot defy the Security Council, which must ensure compliance with the Iranian international obligations. We try to make progress step by step and preferably with as little rhetoric as we can achieve.
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2.33 pm

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, it remains for me to thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his measured reply and my noble friend for injecting from the Front Bench some individual ideas that carried the argument a great deal further forward. I hope that the Minister will remember what I said at the beginning about keeping us plainly informed. We need a continuous flow of information of the quality that he has given us and he will forgive us if we press him quite hard from time to time on those points. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Child Support

2.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend in another place.

"Mr Speaker, the previous Administration established the Child Support Agency because the system of collecting maintenance through the courts had lost the confidence of parents. It was the right decision. Different courts applied different criteria, resulting in widely differing settlements for families in similar situations. Too often cases took months to come to court. Enforcement was difficult and costly.

"The Child Support Agency was designed to provide better support to children and families by making sure parental responsibilities were properly enforced. These were the right foundations upon which to build the new agency. It is why the Child Support Act 1991 enjoyed widespread support. But as we now know, over the years these good intentions have not been translated into good performance. When we came to office the agency cost more to run than it collected in maintenance and it was taking longer to process claims than the courts.

"The 2000 Act made important changes. Maintenance calculations were simplified. For the first time, parents on benefits could keep up to £10 of the maintenance they received. Tougher enforcement measures were introduced. The performance of the agency has improved. It has nearly doubled the number of children receiving maintenance payments. Around £600 million of maintenance will be collected this year, twice the level of 1997. This improved performance is a credit to the hard work of the agency staff, who are doing a good job in very difficult circumstances. They have had to cope with a great deal of criticism—much of it unfair—and I want to place firmly on record my appreciation for their commitment and dedication.

"However, notwithstanding the efforts of its staff, the performance of the agency remains unacceptable. It currently manages 1.5 million
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cases. Of the 670,000 cases assessed as having a positive maintenance liability, just over 400,000 parents with care are actually receiving any payment via the collection service, or have a maintenance direct arrangement in place. There is a backlog of over 300,000 cases. Despite having collected £4.5 billion, more than £3 billion of debt has built up. It has already cost the taxpayer well over £3 billion to administer.

"Only 30 per cent of lone parents receive maintenance. Fewer than 15 per cent of lone parents on benefit receive any maintenance through the CSA. There is little evidence to suggest that outcomes are any better than under the courts system it replaced. That is why last April my right honourable friend, the Member for Hull West and Hessle, asked the new chief executive of the CSA to undertake a review of the agency's operations. I am publishing his recommendations today on my department's website.

"The review recommended a restructuring of the agency's operation to increase productivity and performance. It proposed a plan that included migration and conversion, new legislative powers to write off debt and close cases, and the greater use of outsourcing to support the removal of backlogs and collect debt. The plan required an additional £300 million of new public money over the next three years, over and above the agency's £400 million a year budget.

"However, even if the plan were fully implemented, at the end of the three-year period only half of lone parents would receive maintenance. Only one third of lone parents on benefit would be receiving any money. And while more parents would receive maintenance, around half of those assessed would be eligible to receive only £5 or less per week. In those circumstances I do not believe it would be right to commit £300 million of additional public expenditure in this way.

"The CSA deals with many of the most difficult cases. In one in five cases the parents have never lived together. Five per cent question paternity. Half of absent parents have no contact at all with their children. Some 15 per cent have links to other cases—often more than one. Seventy per cent of new applications are on benefit and so have no choice but to use the CSA. Given this complexity, we should be suspicious of simple solutions. There are none. Walking away is not the answer. Neither is simply handing over the work of the CSA in its existing structure to another government department. Over 500,000 children are currently benefiting from maintenance payments collected through the CSA. We must ensure this continues.

"However, it is time for fundamental change. Having had an opportunity to consider this over the past three months, I have concluded that neither the agency nor the policy is fit for purpose. Therefore, I have asked Sir David Henshaw—a distinguished public servant—to completely redesign our system of child support. The primary objective must be to
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ensure the welfare of children. Sir David will set out both the policy and operational structure needed to achieve this. He will need to consider how best to ensure parents meet their responsibilities to their children, while minimising the cost to the taxpayer.

"In undertaking his task, Sir David will need to address several difficult choices and questions. What support and advice can be given to help parents reach a fair solution as to how best to support their children in the event of their relationship breaking down? Can we find a more cost-effective way of ensuring children get maintenance payments? What is the right balance between enforcing responsibilities, getting more money to children and value for the taxpayer? Should benefit claimants be forced to use the agency even if they have informal arrangements in place? Should the Government continue to chase cases where the parents have decided to get back together again and restart their relationship? In some instances, the agency is chasing cases where the end result will be recycling money in the same household, with no benefit to the child.

"There will be an opportunity for all those in this House and beyond to make their views known to Sir David and his team. He will be seeking the widest possible involvement in his work. Just as the original proposals commanded widespread cross-party endorsement, my ambition is to make sure that this new framework enjoys a similar level of support. I have asked Sir David to deliver his findings to me before the Summer Recess and today I have placed in the Library copies of the terms of reference for his work. These have been drawn as widely as possible to allow all of the options for reform to be fully considered.

"The Government have a clear responsibility to those already using the agency to ensure that it delivers for children and parents. Therefore I am publishing today proposals which will help to stabilise and improve the performance of the agency in the short term. The plan will make more effective use of current enforcement powers, improve the productivity and effectiveness of the new IT system and increase debt recovery.

"I am making available up to £90 million of investment over the next three years, from the department's existing resources, to support this short-term recovery. This investment will of course be subject to review in the light of Sir David's work and achievement of agreed milestones. In addition, I am making a further £30 million available to contract out some of the agency's debt recovery. I expect this to result in a substantially increased recovery of the current debt owed to parents with care.

"The CSA will take quicker and firmer action on those who default on payment. Supported by changes to the secondary legislation, we will increase the use and effectiveness of deduction from earning orders. The CSA will also be able to make more progress in clearing up the growing backlog of
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cases. And we will draw on data held by credit reference agencies to help speed up enforcement. I will consider tougher enforcement measures that require primary legislation. However, these will need to be addressed as part of the redesigned child support system.

"The extra investment will mean that by 2008 we will improve compliance rates, ensure that 200,000 more children benefit from maintenance payments, be on track to help lift an additional 40,000 children out of poverty, and see a significant increase in the number of parents receiving child maintenance premium.

"Given the considerable cost and risks involved, the stabilisation and improvement plan will stop short of converting all of the old scheme cases into the new scheme. I know that conversion is a matter of concern to many members of the House—rightly so. I have asked Sir David to consider this as part of the redesign of child support. We must come to a decision on the right way forward as soon as possible.

"I believe that Members on all sides continue to support the original objectives of the Child Support Agency. The measures that I am announcing today are an important step towards improving the current arrangements and critically putting in place the foundations for a system of child support that will have a better chance of meeting those objectives. Relationships, as we all know, come to an end. Responsibilities do not. I know every Member of this House will want to make sure that this fundamental truth must underpin any new arrangements.

"I commend this Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

2.44 pm

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