§ 3. Mr. Gunnell
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what measures he has taken in respect of those absent parents who as well as contributing to the upkeep of their absent children have negative equity in the housing they occupy. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Burt)
The vast majority of absent parents have their housing costs taken fully into account under existing child support rules. The problem of negative equity may affect parents other than those who have separated but we have no evidence of its being a significant problem in relation to child support.
§ Mr. Gunnell
Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that financial tensions often give rise to marital tensions? Would he have a different answer if he were considering the specific case of a person whose negative equity was in the original family home and who, when that home was sold, crystallised that equity as a debt and is now paying that debt on behalf of himself and his former partner? Would that payment be taken into account in assessing his contribution to a CSA payment?
§ Mr. Burt
The hon. Gentleman has written to me about those circumstances; a reply is being signed and will be waiting for him after Question Time. The circumstances that he describes are slightly unusual because, in most cases where there is negative equity, the property would not be sold and one party would remain in it. In that case, there would be extensive protection. In the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes, the debt would not be a housing cost as such. It could, however, be construed as a debt of the relationship. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Child Support Bill that is currently going through Parliament will provide the opportunity to consider such debts as a departure from the maintenance formula.
§ Dr. Spink
Will my hon. Friend stay true to the principle that parents are financially responsible for their children and that that responsibility comes before almost every other responsibility unless the parents do not have the financial wherewithal, in which case the state should step in? Will my hon. Friend take all possible steps to ensure that the parent with care and control of the child receives a reasonable sum from the absent parent, who is often using every possible means to avoid paying for the child that he has left behind?
§ Mr. Burt
Yes. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. He is right to say that the principle that parents should maintain their children rather than leave it to the taxpayer to do so is at the heart of the Child Support Agency. It is not often realised that more than 70 per cent. of absent parents who have been asked to pay by the agency this year were not previously paying any regular maintenance. Given that 95 per cent. of parents with care exist on benefits, it is time that people appreciated that there is another side to the child support story. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting it so clearly.