HC Deb 27 July 1976 vol 916 cc237-9
11. Mr. Kenneth Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has for a publicity campaign to explain and invite claims for the introduction of family allowances for the first child in April 1977.

Mr. Ennals

As the hon. Member will appreciate, family allowances will be abolished from next April and will be replaced by child benefit under the Child Benefit Act 1975. Only families who are not receiving family allowances now will have to claim child benefit for the first child. There will be an extensive publicity campaign, starting in the late summer, including national newspapers and magazine advertising, leaflets and posters.

Mr. Clarke

Surely the Minister will not be advertising his proposals under the name of child benefit when they are really only the old taxed family allowance arrangements. Will he say when the working party set up by the Government with the TUC and the Labour Party will report, so that Parliament may be let back in on the act of deciding how best to get out of the Government's disastrous attempts to abandon the Child benefit scheme? Will he confirm, before the working party has reported, that the Prime Minister's first angry statement that nothing could be contemplated before 1979 is now completely abandoned by the Government?

Mr. Ennals

The working party, which includes representatives of the Government, the TUC, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the national executive committee, has had a number of meetings. I hope that it will be possible to make known to the House its conclusions and any further conclusions that the Government may reach. The question of child benefit is due for consideration in the House on Friday, and I shall take the opportunity then of informing the House. On the first part of the question, of course the benefit that is being introduced next year for the first child is part of and flows from the Child Benefit Act. It is known that the Government are committed to the introduction in full of child benefit. This is the first step.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Since a mass advertising campaign is to take place later this year, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why that campaign could not have taken place earlier this year, because it would then have explained to the TUC and the unions generally the relationship between the transfer from pay packet to purse which we have heard so much about?

Mr. Ennals

The advertising later this year is designed to encourage families to apply for the benefit for the first child. It is not a political advertising campaign; it is a campaign designed to encourage all those who are entitled to child benefit to apply for it.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is it really the case that for this new family allowance scheme, the Government will use the same leaflet as would have been used for the real child benefit, putting in a correction slip to say that, after all, the tax allowances will not be withdrawn?

Mr. Ennals

If that is another demand for additional public expenditure, I am very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's approach. We produced a leaflet of which 13 million copies were printed. If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should produce another leaflet, rather than use the existing one and include an information slip, he must accept that that would be extremely costly. He is asking for more public expenditure. The information slip drawing attention to the changes will be issued with the leaflet.

Mrs. Castle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the keynote of the child benefit scheme is the transfer from pay packet to purse in the interests of the mother? Would it not be extraordinarily confusing if my right hon. Friend insisted on continuing to call the extension of family allowances the introduction of child benefit? If he continues with the approach will he not make it much more difficult for us to educate people on what is involved in the child benefit scheme?

Mr. Ennals

I am surprised that my right hon. Friend adopts that attitude, because both she and I are committed to the introduction in full of child benefits. She recognises that the first step is that which will be taken in April, that other steps will follow, and that this process should be seen by the public as progress towards full implementation of the Government's commitment to the child benefit scheme.