Child Support Agency

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 10th February 1994.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 5:39 pm, 10th February 1994

I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman; he is arguing by analogy. I have not considered that proposition. I have considered the difficulties that we face with the CSA and especially the breakdown of confidence in the system. I recognise that no one likes paying tax and that the Inland Revenue is unpopular when one gets a tax demand. Fortunately, I do not detect as yet the growing crisis of confidence that exists in the CSA system. That is why I want to speak briefly about the system in Australia and its relevance to this country.

As hon. Members may know, the Child Support Agency system was introduced in Australia in October 1989. It progressed until 1 July 1992 without the review officer system. It was then decided that a review officer system was an advantage. The Australians made the change because they were running into problems not dissimilar to, although not on the same scale as, the problems that we face now. They built on their experience and they moved into the review officer system because they felt that it would defuse the situation and would help people who had a perception of injustice. The system changed successfully to accommodate those aims.

I have inquired into the Australian system and I have been told that the review officer system is seen as speedy and effective. There is no legal representation, although the parties can meet the review officer and make their representations. The system is used sensibly and has not led to some of the practical difficulties that we have been invited to contemplate when such a system is suggested. I am not saying that we should adopt the Australian system with every dot and comma; it is not a lift and take argument. We may want to alter and argue the grounds, for example, on which a referral may be made to the review officer, and the test that he applies. It is important that we take this seriously.