§ 18. Mr. Freud
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further representations he has received on the questions asked of claimants for supplementary benefit who are single parents concerning their personal and private circumstances by visiting officers of his Department; and what changes he intends to make in the procedure in the light of those representations.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs Lynda Chalker)
In all, my right hon. Friend has received 25 letters, including 18 from hon. Members. There have also been 26 questions in the House from nine hon. Members. The hon. Member will be aware that I have arranged for these procedures to be examined. I hope to make an announcement shortly on the outcome of that examination.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I accept that there was grave concern. I must, however, draw attention to the fact that these questions are asked only in cases where the mother wishes the Department to take legal action for the financial support of the child by its alleged father. In such legal proceedings, the Department would be erring in its duty if it did not present the case fully. I can, perhaps, reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that in the 90,000 cases where supplementary benefit is paid, involving illegitimate children, only 714 cases were taken under section 19 procedures of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976.
§ Mr. Buchan
Is the hon. Lady aware that the first part of her answer pleased hon. Members? We were, however, rather disappointed with the second part. These questions are surely quite monstrous. If the legal profession desires to pursue these prurient matters, it should not be encouraged by the Department of Health and Social Security. I wish the hon. Lady every success in getting these questions changed or withdrawn.
§ Mrs. Chalker
We were reviewing procedures long before The Sunday Times article appeared. The same questions have been asked, in one form or another, over the last two decades. It is right that where there is a father he shall remain, as the Act says, responsible for the maintenance of the child.