HC Deb 15 April 1991 vol 189 cc9-10
9. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what progress he has made in setting up the Child Support Agency.

Mr. Jack

I am glad to report to the House that the key objectives of site selection for the agency's centres are developing well. The appropriate information technology systems are being evaluated and job design for them is also progressing well. We are confident that the agency will be able to meet its operational requirements by early 1993, as set out in the White Paper "Children Come First".

Mr. Butler

Will my hon. Friend outline some of the local employment created as a result of this welcome measure? Will any local employment be created in Warrington?

Mr. Jack

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the assiduousness and persuasiveness with which he wrote on behalf of his constituents to those given the responsibility for site selection. We hope to establish up to six regional centres for the Child Support Agency. I assure my hon. Friend that, although at this stage I cannot reveal precisely the locations of the centres, we have taken carefully into account the facts that he put before the House.

Each of the regional centres will employ up to 500 people. In total, about 5,000 people will be employed by the Child Support Agency—an increase of some 3,500 overall in the number presently involved in liable relative work in the Department.

Mr. Meacher

Now that a vote in another place means that the Secretary of State will not be given the proposed punitive power to remove the right to income support from a lone parent who declines, often for good reason, to name the father, will the Minister give a commitment that the Government will use the carrot and not the stick? Will they encourage lone parents to name the father by allowing them to keep a proportion of the maintenance thus obtained? Will the Minister at least give a commitment that he will not reintroduce any punitive measure that forces unemployed fathers below the level of subsistence?

Mr. Jack

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has asked me that particular question. I draw to his attention the fact that clause 5 of the Child Support Bill remains in place as a result of the discussions in another place. As he will know, that clause contains a requirement that the information be made available to child support offices during their inquiries relating to seeking maintenance. We listened carefully to the arguments on clause 22, which deals with this matter. That consideration continues. Until that operation is concluded, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer to his question.