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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006, 11:13 GMT
Child Support Agency
On Sunday 10 December, Andrew Marr interviewed John Hutton MP - Work and Pensions Secretary

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

John Hutton MP
John Hutton MP - Work and Pensions Secretary

ANDREW MARR: ... Welcome John Hutton. The CSA is going. We all know that.

What happens to all those people who rely on agreements that the CSA reached for them or possibly who are in dispute with the CSA?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Well the CSA will continue until parliament replaces it with a new organisation which I hope it will do soon. And in the mean time of course the CSA has got to get tougher with those non-resident parents who aren't paying. And continue to collect maintenance on behalf of those who are.

So it is a difficult sort of thing to get right this. I mean people know that we're moving to a new way of dealing with child support.

But I do not want those parents who are trying now to evade and avoid their financial responsibilities to their kids, to carry on getting away with it.

So I think we've got to get tougher in the mean time. We've got to come down like a ton of bricks on those parents who aren't meeting their responsibilities to their families.

And one of the things that we'll be outlining later this week is a range of new get tough enforcement powers that I want the CSA to be able to operate with as quickly as possible until the new agency comes in in the next couple of years.

ANDREW MARR: What do you mean about get tougher? Because up to now there have been a hardcore. And whatever the CSA has done or said they simply haven't paid. It's either can't pay, won't pay or simply won't pay. So what are you going to do to them?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Well I think there's a range of powers that we're going to outline in a white paper next week in parliament. And I think it's probably I do that.

But I think we've really got to look at a number of things. I'm very interested in for example just doing some of the basics and making it really uncomfortable for people who aren't paying. So look people should know who the dads are.

ANDREW MARR: We're talking about things like, like ..

JOHN HUTTON MP: Sometimes it's dads, sometimes it's the mothers who aren't paying for their kids.

ANDREW MARR: .. like taking away their passports, taking away their passports?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Yes I think so.

ANDREW MARR: Tagging?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Yes I think we should look at all of those things.

ANDREW MARR: Curfews?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Yes, I think those are perfectly appropriate measures. Because although relationships end responsibilities to your kids don't.

ANDREW MARR: And what about naming and shaming? Is that also acceptable?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Yes. I've said I think Andrew we should do that. Because we've got to make life uncomfortable for the non-resident parents who aren't paying for their kids. Because when they don't pay we have to pay. And that is not a proper thing to happen.

So we, we should get tougher, we should as I say come down like a ton of bricks on the, on those non-resident parents who aren't paying and make life as uncomfortable for them as we possibly can. Because I think it is a fundamentally important thing in our society that our laws and our policies and everything else support family life.

And the people who get sort of, who suffer the most when this fails are the kids. And that is simply not right. They are not to blame for this.

ANDREW MARR: Actually getting your hands on the money is very, very difficult. We now know this. Are there new things that you could do? Could you take money directly for instance from, from the salaries of people before they get their hands on it?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Yes we can do that. And that, that's something again that we want to talk about in the white paper next week. I think we've got to sort of make the system much more streamlined.

We've got to take the bureaucracy and the complications out of it. and when it comes for example to access, assessing of parents' liabilities we've got to make it simpler and avoid the endless merry go round that often takes place now with the can't pay, won't pay brigade playing the system.

So they don't end up paying. Constantly challenging, constantly reviewing. We've got to cut through all of that so that the, the agency who's charged with this responsibility can get right in there quickly, end the delays, get the money into the families who need it most and make a contribution to supporting family life and tackling child poverty.

ANDREW MARR: Almost everybody supported the CSA when it was set up. Both major parties and the other party said great, great idea. Fantastic. About time. Thirteen years on it's been a disaster. Reflecting on that why do you think it's been a disaster?

JOHN HUTTON MP: Well the, the policy has failed and I think we need to be clear with that. And I think it's failed because it was never properly aligned with the reality on the ground.

Remember we're dealing with some, some very chaotic families. But I think the, the principal mistake was to assume that the, the business of government was to police every single child maintenance agreement. And I don't think we can do that sensibly.

We've tried that and it's failed. So I think we've got to move to a system where we encourage parents, and yes incentivise them to make their own voluntary maintenance agreements and then as I say come down like a ton of bricks on those non-resident parents who aren't looking after their families properly.

And focus the, the work of the agency in future on that hardcore of people who aren't meeting their responsibilities. And look, I think we can trust parents to be perfectly honest. And most separating parents, most separating parents when it happens - I mean it's happened to me and it's happened to, to millions of people watching this programme - they don't stop loving their kids.

They want to look after their kids if they can. And we should look after those people and encourage them to do that. As I said use our resources in government on the hardcore non-resident parents who are simply holding two fingers up to the rest of us and not paying. That is simply unacceptable.

ANDREW MARR: So a whole new range of government coercion if you like on those people. But there's also an element of coercion coming from you on pensions next week as well.

JOHN HUTTON MP: Well the biggest problem we've got Andrew with our pension system at the moment is that probably about seven or eight million people out there working in the work place are not contributing either at all or enough to their retirement. And ...

ANDREW MARR: Are you going to make them, are you going to make them contribute?

JOHN HUTTON MP: No. We are going to put in place a system whereby they will be automatically enrolled into a new low cost occupational pension scheme. We will require the employers to contribute. There'll be a bit of tax relief in there as well.

And we, but people will have the right, and they should have the right to opt out of that saving scheme if they want to. But this is a major breakthrough in our pension system. If we can get this right I think it can help make sure that millions more people when they come to retirement can enjoy a standard of life that, that they aspire to and want to.

ANDREW MARR: Is this because when you sort of turn it round so that you have to actively get, get yourself out of the scheme, the natural laziness of many, many millions of us ..

JOHN HUTTON MP: Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: .. starts to work in favour of pensions rather than against them?

JOHN HUTTON MP: That's right. There's huge inertia in the system. And if you're working in a small business for example at the moment that maybe doesn't have an occupational pension scheme, you've got to go out there and find a personal pension and it's difficult, it's expensive and so on. Sometimes the returns aren't that brilliant either.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people are worried that it'll going to be private pension companies some of which are discredited in the public mind because of the previous miss-selling of pensions who are going to end up running this scheme on behalf of the government.

JOHN HUTTON MP: Well there'll, there'll have to be decisions made about who is going to be involved in running the scheme from the private sector cos it's not going to be run by the Department for Work and Pensions. That's not where we have expertise.

But there'll have to be proper regulation in place as well. But and governance arrangements so that people who are in this scheme have confidence in who's delivering it. But I'm sure we can get there. We can have a proper system in place where the private sector deliver on this package. And that's the, the detail I'll be setting out later this week in parliament.

ANDREW MARR: All right. You're not interested in being Deputy Prime Minister. Still interested in being Prime Minister one day?

JOHN HUTTON MP: I think that's very un ..

ANDREW MARR: Going for the top job?

JOHN HUTTON MP: .. that's very unlikely I think.

ANDREW MARR: Oh well we'll see. Anyway for now thank you very much. We'll be joining you again shortly.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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