HC Deb 12 November 1974 vol 881 cc223-5
7. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps she is taking to implement the recommendations of the Finer Committee's report in relation to women who are not receiving alimony awarded by court order.

8. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement on implementation of the recommendations in the Finer Report.

Mrs. Castle

The report contains over 200 recommendations involving many Departments and covering the whole span of problems affecting one-parent families. I gave a general indication of the Government's approach in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) on 2nd July.—[Vol. 876, c. 91–3.] On the main recommendation which falls within my responsibility—that there should be a special social security benefit for one-parent families to act as a guarantee of maintenance—I have at present nothing to add to the statement I made then.

Mr. Dalyell

Precisely because there are 200 recommendations, is there not a case for expediting the solution of the particular problem of the woman who has been awarded alimony by court order and has not received it?

Mrs. Castle

I am not sure what it is that my hon. Friend is asking for. Women on supplementary benefit are already enabled to obtain their full benefit each week, whether any maintenance awarded to them is paid or not. That is part of the present arrangements for supplementary benefit.

With regard to the wider question, the committee considered and rejected the idea that the State should underwrite private maintenance obligations other than obligations affecting those on supplementary benefit.

Mr. Renton

The Secretary of State, in reply to Question No 6, referred to her obligations to fulfil the Labour Party's manifesto. What is she doing to implement the recommendations of the Finer Committee, bearing in mind Labour's manifesto commitment to implement the reforms suggested by that committee?

Mrs. Castle

No, our election manifesto commits us to a child allowance scheme which would cover also the first child and would be of particular benefit to low-paid and one-parent families. That is still our policy, and I shall be announcing our intentions on it in due course. There are other recommendations of value to one-parent families, and some of the smaller ones have already been acted upon by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Others are under continuing examination by me and by my colleagues, and announcements will be made on them from time to time.

Mr. Tomlinson

I acknowledge the work that my right hon. Friend is doing in this area, but is she not aware that the Finer Report has created such a range of expectations among my constituents and many others that it has now become a matter of urgency that those expectations should not be allowed to remain unfulfilled?

Mrs. Castle

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am well aware of the activities of the Gingerbread Group and others. We all met them during the election campaign. The recommendations are not being allowed to collect dust on the shelves. On the contrary, action on several of them which do not affect my Department is already being considered. I repeat that our central form of financial help to these families will be the child allowance scheme.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The right hon. Lady unfortunately missed the whole point of the question when she referred to supplementary benefit, because the point is that if a woman receives—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not lecture time. It is Question Time.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the Secretary of State accept that if a woman receives alimony under a court order, that is not reduced when she has earnings, whereas if she has to get it by supplementary benefit her earnings are taken into account and, therefore, it cannot improve her family's standard in the same way as an alimony payment can?

Mrs. Castle

The hon. Lady is right. If the person concerned has earnings, she will not be on supplementary benefit. I am referring only to the fact that, where a woman on supplementary benefit is entitled to maintenance, she does not have to pursue her husband herself. She is paid the benefit, and the collecting is done by the Supplementary Benefits Commission.