HC Deb 25 February 1997 vol 291 cc142-3
10. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received about the provision of information on the child benefit register to other Government Departments and local authorities; and if he will make a statement. [15747]

Mr. Heald

Although no representations have been received by my right hon. Friend, I know that a variety of uses have been suggested for the child benefit database, for example as part of efforts to combat truancy.

Mr. Thurnham

Following the tragic disappearance and death of young Tommy Oakes in Bolton, will the Minister consider allowing local authorities access to the child benefit register to try to trace a missing youngster, and does not Bolton's new pupil attendance register allow child benefit to be linked to school attendance?

Mr. Heald

I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a particular interest in the case of Tommy Oakes, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, has taken an interest in the Bolton scheme to set up a register of school attendance, but it is too early to evaluate that scheme fully. The French scheme, which the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) has also raised with me, has been rarely enforced. The Benefits Agency co-operates with social services in cases involving children who are at risk, but child benefit data are sensitive and data protection has to be considered.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my hon. Friend confirm that children between the ages of 16 and 18 would lose all chance of being on the child benefit register if benefit were taken away from them, as Labour proposes to do?

Mr. Heald

It is, I suppose, a particularly stupid idea to impose on parents of 16 to 18-year-olds a tax that means that they cannot support their children through the difficult years when their children are training. For Labour—which talks so often of training—to suggest that is particularly stupid. I know that my hon. Friend has made that point on a number of occasions.