§ Amendment made: No. 20, in page 18, line 30 at end insert—
§ 'Childen entitled to non-contributory invalidity pension
§ 4A. Except where regulations otherwise provide, no person shall be entitled to child benefit in respect of a child for any week in which the child is entitled to a non-contributory invalidity pension under the Social Security Act 1975'.—[Mr. O'Malley.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 3.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The Government seem to be reduced to silence at this late hour, a problem entirely of their own creation. But at this late hour there is no point in regretting it further, as I trust that they have some regrets about it themselves. If they do not wish to comment on Third Reading, I shall do so briefly.
At the end of the discussion of the Bill by this House we welcome the Secretary of State's adoption of part of the Conservative Party's tax credit scheme, which is essentially what the Bill is. It is a sensible reform of the structure of family provision and one of which we 270 look forward to making use ourselves when we are returned to power and are able to do so.
It is a structure Bill only, as has been said many times on both sides throughout these discussions. We have the future of family provision mapped out in form but not in substance and major questions remain to be answered when we know what financial commitment the Government will have and when we can work out the public expenditure problems that will be thrown up when the Government begin to operate the Bill in 1977.
There will then be debates on the level of benefit and therefore on the position of the standard rate income tax payer and the ordinary wage earner with a family. Those debates will decide whether the Bill can conceivably represent an improvement in family provision. All we can say now is that the omens of the Government's good intentions are not particularly favourable.
The Bill is defective in that it has no starting date of any kind, and the Government have specifically rejected the date of April 1976, for which all had been led to hope. There is no provision for the new benefit to be reviewed annually or at all. Whatever level of benefit is introduced there is the risk of its being steadily eroded by inflation.
The Government have introduced into the Bill as it stands no commitment, except in vague principle, to the idea of bringing in age-related benefits. A child benefit scheme with no age-related benefits represents a great injustice to those who have older children. There is no comparison between the cost of providing for a baby and the cost of providing for a 15-year old. A structure Bill which does not have age-related benefits is defective, and it is a situation which should be remedied as soon as possible.
The Government's political will—that is a phrase that has been used before on this subject—is open to considerable doubt. That doubt is underlined by the cynical handling of the Bill in Committee as regards the manning of the Committee and by the time of night at which our deliberations on Report have been allowed to take place. The Government have relegated this subject to a second-rate unimportant Bill in the way in which it has been handled. It seems that they 271 expected to get a few cheap plaudits but not serious discussion.
We think that the Bill as it stands will be of some good purpose at some time. Unfortunately it is a good idea that has got into bad hands. This is one of our proposals that has been taken over by the Government. We confirm that we care about family poverty even if the Government at times rather conceal the fact. We intend to continue making the running. One weapon is given to us by the Bill in the form in which it is now to leave the House.
§ 3.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
I wish to make passing reference to the new clause that I and my colleagues tabled but which was not called—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. On Third Reading the hon. Member may refer only to what is in the Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
Say that it is a good Bill and sit down.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
It is what I wish were in the Bill to which I wish to refer. Given the opportunity, I would table an amendment to make the benefit taxable for a specific sum. Such an amendment would direct most help towards the lowest paid.
§ 3.8 a.m.
§ Mrs. Castle
The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clark) is entitled in his desperation, I suppose, to clutch what comfort he can to his own breast. The fact is that the Bill ends an era of Tory neglect of family support.
Of course this is a structure Bill. All major changes in social security provisions are embodied in structure Bills. As we all know, structure Bills are powerful weapons in the hands of Parliament. Such Bills set the framework of policy to which Ministers are called upon to conform by Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman to the end has kept up his petty and pathetic attempts to hide the inadequacy of his own Government's previous policies. The hon. Gentleman says that there is no starting date. He knows that the provision in the Bill is exactly the same as in all social 272 security Bills, including those of his own Government. The provision of starting dates comes under commencing orders.
The hon. Gentleman complains that there is no uprating provision when the provision in the Bill is far superior to that in the family allowances legislation which it replaces. However, we shall allow him what comfort he can gain from the fact that in bringing the Bill before the House, and carrying it through as we shall this morning, the Government have shown a political will which our predecessors have not demonstrated.
§ 3.10 a.m.
§ Sir B. Rhys Williams
It is 35 years since Lord Keynes suggested in an article, afterwards reprinted as a pamphlet under the title "How to Pay for the War", that family allowances and child tax allowances should be amalgamated. Many speeches have been made, many reports written and many representations made to official bodies and commissions of inquiry on this subject—and finally we have come to this Bill.
I wish to welcome the Bill, even though I have been critical of the Secretary of State for Social Services in her approach to the matter and her handling of details, which have been defective in many respects. The idea is triumphantly right. Perhaps we may hope that in due time, in other hands, the Bill will prove, too, to be of tremendous benefit to families.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.