They thought, didn't they, that you were going after the feckless poor - the ones those ministers kept telling us about, who go around impregnating women and then disappear, leaving their erstwhile partners to jump the housing queue. The Government somehow gave the impression, though a lot of people said otherwise, that such people were the bulk of the 75 per cent of single mothers who get no help.

You, of course, were always fairly upfront about the fact that your agency would be going after all absent fathers. But perhaps it was something Peter Lilley said that gave the wrong impression about who was going to be the target. I wonder if those speeches he loves to make at the Tory party conferences are entirely wise. I'm sure you remember his 'little list', the one he rehearsed for weeks before the conference last year. It went down well, didn't it, but it didn't mention men like the ones who are complaining now.

So when all those middle-class chaps who were already paying up got hit for double or triple their usual bill, or those who had gone for 'clean break' settlements and handed over the house were suddenly asked for maintenance, they felt a bit sore. Serves them right, you may say, but making men furious with their ex-wives and children is not a recipe for happy families, is it? More a case of the sins of the father being visited on the children.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm all for men supporting their offspring. But I'm not clear any more what the Child Support Agency is meant to be doing. Is it supposed to be taking the money out of the divorce argument by settling the financial arrangements in an objective way? Because if that's the idea, it's going badly wrong. Or is it there to save the Government money, come what may? Forgive me if I have the wrong impression, but squeezing the chaps who pay already because they are easy to get at smacks of opportunism rather than social justice. Particularly when it's connected to meeting the agency's targets.

And frankly, though I have the greatest respect for you, I don't think it's ever going to look good to have your salary linked to the amount the agency rakes in for the Treasury.

Now, what are we going to do about the Child Support Agency? Well, if we are going to stick with the idea - and it's not a bad one in principle - I think you should give second families a fighting chance of survival, even if it does mean the Government spending a bit to help to support first families. After all, the welfare of the next generation is everyone's concern, isn't it?

It might also be wise, in image terms, to try to wring a bit of change out of the men who are not paying at all. It probably won't make financial sense, but we needn't tell anyone that and it would be good PR. I'm sure you agree that you could use some of that right now.

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