Part of Orders of the Day — Child Support Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 22nd May 1995.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 5:30 pm, 22nd May 1995

I am tempted to say that that sounds like a good argument for a disregard, but that would relate to the previous amendment and I must not stray into that.

I assume that there must be a number of absent parents in work. Presumably, they appear in the "benefit status not known" column, which seems a little odd as the figure is so high.

The mysteries can be pursued at another level and on another basis. I remain unconvinced by the Minister's arguments. I recognise, however, that quangos are not popular and that Governments introduce quangos, advisory bodies, non-departmental public bodies and so on only when there is a clear case and a clear need for them. I began by saying that I thought that it was a special case and the somewhat arcane discussion about parliamentary answers was an attempt to establish that. It could probably be more effectively established by the cries of pain from the many people who feel ill-used by the system. Some of them may have a special point of view, but there is no doubt that there is still a perception of injustice about, and that alone would have merited at least consideration of the committee proposed in the new clause.

The Minister, however, possibly because he wishes to be at one with his senior colleague, has hardened his heart. I was touched by his assurance that he supported everything that the Secretary of State did. I believe that politicians ought to have two personae. Inevitably, one has to support loyalties and collective decisions, but one should not commit oneself heart and soul laminated to one's senior colleague, however admirable one may consider him to be. I shall not inquire into quite how admirable the Minister thinks the Secretary of State is, but it seemed that a moral absolute was being proclaimed that will do the Minister's reputation no good.

The Under-Secretary of State has always been seen as a little wet and well intentioned. Although it may be an embarrassment within the Department, it stands him in good stead, at least with public opinion, and he should not sacrifice it too easily.

In any event, I have listened to the arguments and I do not wish to divide the House. We can return to the matter on another occasion, and no doubt we shall do so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) said, I do not believe for a moment that this is the last time that we shall debate the Child Support Act. I am certain that we shall return to it many more times and I look forward to that pleasure. No doubt the Minister, having noted we are not taking the matter to a vote will note that amendment No. 20 on the Secretary of State's list had better be deleted.