Teenage fathers will have to pay

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TEENAGE FATHERS are to have their wages or state benefits docked as soon as they have an income, to force them to contribute to the upbringing of their child.

The crackdown was announced by Downing Street yesterday as Tony Blair stuck firmly to his guns despite criticism for his call for a "moral crusade" for Britain's younger generation. He spoke out at the weekend after two 12-year-old girls in South Yorkshire had become pregnant - one of them by a 14-year-old.

Last night a man was being questioned by police after being arrested by police in connection with the pregnancy of the other girl, who had a baby boy in the bathroom of her home in Rotherham last month. The girl, who wants to keep her baby, left hospital yesterday with relatives.

The Child Support Agency (CSA) has powers to force young fathers to pay maintenance when they have a job or receive social security, but the sanction is rarely used. But new legislation to be announced in the Queen's Speech in November will streamline the process to make it easier for young fathers to be pursued.

Downing Street said the Government was duty bound to tackle the problem of Britain having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe. "The CSA does have a role," said Mr Blair's official spokesman. "It's about sending out a signal to people that if they are going to have sex and get a girl pregnant then they need not think that is the end of it as far as they are concerned." Number 10 insisted Mr Blair made no apologies for starting a debate on morality, though it produced comparisons with John Major's ill-fated "back to basics" initiative. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said Labour would avoid such preaching "like the plague".

David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, will drive home Mr Blair's message on Thursday by changing the national curriculum so schools give more priority to the institution of marriage and family values. "We need to take action," he said.

Last night William Hague cast aside the Tories' decision to steer clear of the morality debate because of their embarrassment that "back to basics" was wrecked by revelations about the private lives of Tory ministers.

He said Mr Blair's policies were neither "moral" nor a "crusade". He said they were making life harder for married couples by abolishing the married couple's tax allowance and allowing local authorities to discriminate against them allocating council houses.

The Tory leader said the Working Families Tax Credit, to be launched today, would "make people better off looking after other people's kids than their own".

He added: " I don't think that fits in with the moral crusade the Prime Minister has announced. It works against a married couple, one of whom wishes to stay at home to look after their children."