§ 2. Mr. Simon Coombs
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he expects to respond to the Social Security Select Committee's fifth report of Session 1993–94 on the operation of the Child Support Act 1991.
§ 5. Mr. Mullin
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has for further reform of the Child Support Agency; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Burt)
The Government have kept the operation of the Child Support Act 1991 under review for some considerable time. We have considered very carefully the recent report of the Social Security Select Committee and representations from many sources. I am sure that the House will be delighted to hear that the Government have now decided what changes are necessary, on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a statement to the House within the hour.
§ Mr. Coombs
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. I appreciate his difficulties in providing me with the information that I should like before our right hon. Friend's statement at 3.30 pm, but will he assure me that the Government have taken due notice of the fact that, too often under the present system, neither the parent with care nor the absent parent is satisfied? In particular, will he reassure me that the Government have carefully considered the need to reflect the importance of clean-break settlements and travel-to-work costs in any decision that the House may take?
§ Mr. Burt
It is not possible, for reasons that, I suspect, my hon. Friend knows well, to go as far as he would like. I imagine, however, that quite a lot of my right hon. Friend's statement will meet his concerns.
The House should be under no illusion: the Child Support Act 1991 and the agency operate in a very difficult area between former partners and their children. It was never possible for the courts to satisfy all parties. We must all doubt whether it would be possible for any legislation to do that because of the circumstances involved. The Government and the House should seek to achieve a fair and balanced settlement of maintenance between the parties and a fair settlement for the taxpayer. I sincerely believe that my right hon. Friend's statement will reassure the House on those matters.