HC Deb 26 April 2004 vol 420 cc634-6
16. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD)

How many fathers have been prosecuted for providing false information to the Child Support Agency in respect of their income in each of the past five years for which figures are available. [167692]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

These offences were introduced in 2001, and the first prosecutions were brought in 2002. Since then, 303 prosecutions have led to 301 convictions; 287 of these were for providing false information.

Bob Russell

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but does he not agree that that seems to be a relatively small number, bearing in mind the hundreds of thousands of cases that the Child Support Agency deals with? In cases in which the father—usually the father—is self-employed, his declaration of income frequently bears no resemblance to his standard of living. Does the Minister agree that there is a need for greater determination by the agency, working with the Inland Revenue, to bring to book those fathers who are cheating the system and cheating genuine law-abiding taxpayers?

Mr. Pond

May I add that those same non-resident parents are also cheating their children, which is why we must treat this matter very seriously? That is why new powers are now available for the CSA to operate in the same way as the Inland Revenue in investigating such circumstances as the hon. Gentleman describes. Although the number of prosecutions and convictions is relatively small, their main purpose is to ensure that the payments get to the parent with care and to their children. That is our main objective, and if the prosecutions act as an incentive for non-resident parents to pay that money, we will have achieved it.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend accept that that category of self-employed father really makes operation of the system quite chaotic? Those fathers seem to make a rude gesture to the CSA, the mother of their children, their children and the legal system. We must ensure that that is ended, because it is not acceptable.

Mr. Pond

I agree with my hon. Friend, and those non-resident parents who think that they are making a rude gesture to the agency, the parents with care and, indeed, their own children will soon find that, as those powers are increasingly used, there will be not a rude gesture coming in the other direction, but something much more effective.