HC Deb 23 February 1998 vol 307 cc5-6
5. Mr. Olner

If she will make a statement on the Government's approach to reforming the Child Support Agency. [29078]

Mr. Field

The Government hope to bring forward proposals for reforming the Child Support Agency before the summer is out.

Mr. Olner

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. For many in this place, reform will not come soon enough. The previous Government introduced the agency, and it has never worked. It has done nothing for children—in other words, it has done nothing to improve their livelihoods. The sooner that reform takes place, the better.

How widely has my right hon. Friend consulted on reforms? Once consultation has taken place, we must ensure that the appropriate legislation is put on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

Mr. Field

My hon. Friend will be aware that Baroness Hollis, the Under-Secretary of State, is spearheading the review. She has met many people already, as I have done. I am grateful for the critical faculties that Members bring to the outline proposals, which we debated the other day. I make a plea to Members on both sides of the House: when the proposals are published, let us have the most detailed and critical discussion. Last time round, we sleepwalked many of our constituents into a nightmare. [HON. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] We must not do that again.

Miss Kirkbride

In the light of the Minister's earlier answer, will he confirm that in his proposals to reform the CSA, absent parents will still be expected to make a significant contribution to their children's upkeep, and that the obligation will not fall on to the taxpayer, as before?

Mr. Field

The answer to that question is a resounding yes. I heard one of my hon. Friends saying a moment ago that I should apologise for the CSA. I, as a politician, apologise for being a Member of this place who put the CSA on to the statute book. Responsibility for the CSA rests with the House. I do not approve of the behaviour of those who, like Pontius Pilate, endlessly wash their hands and blame the agency's staff when responsibility for the operation of the agency is political. The House established the CSA and the House will need to reform it.