HC Deb 03 April 1979 vol 965 cc1151-3
8. Mr. Ashton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the child benefit allowance or equivalent for a family with three children on 1 April 1974; and what is its equivalent today.

Mr. Ennals

In the 1974–75 tax year, child support for a working family was provided through family allowances and child tax allowances. The cash value of support to a basic rate tax paying family with three children under 11 was then £5.18. The equivalent value at February 1979 prices—the latest month for which the general index of retail prices is available—is £10.20. In cash payments three-child families now receive £12.00 a week tax-free child benefit.

This represents a great improvement in family support—not only for the mother who receives the child benefit but for the whole family income.

Mr. Ashton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the election will be fought and won on the women's vote and that £4 per child to be paid out every Tuesday is not a gimmick but a solid achievement which women appreciate and are grateful to the Government for providing?

Mr. Ennals

That is one of the greatest achievements of this Labour Government. There is no doubt that £12 per week for a woman with three children will have an enormous effect on the way in which she can look after her children and contribute to the family income.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Before the Secretary of State becomes involved in his general election campaign—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is in it."] Will he confirm that in the last general election all the major parties were committed to the introduction of child benefit or equivalent for the first child? If the Labour Party has to become political about the increase in child benefit it does not have much left in its cupboard.

Mr. Ennals

At the time of the last election all parties were committed to the introduction of child benefit—we happen to be the party that has done it.

Mrs. Castle

While congratulating the Government on an increase in child benefit well above the levels ever asked for by the Conservative Party, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend when the Government intend—on their return to office—to bring the level of child benefit up to that of the dependants' allowance for the unemployed and those on short-term benefit? Will that be introduced in November?

Mr. Ennals

My right hon. Friend knows that the Child Benefit Act 1975 provides that the rates should be reviewed annually, having regard to the national economic situation, the standard of living and other relevant items. No announcement has been made about an increase in November. However, it is a matter which may be touched upon by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that he really takes the biscuit for effrontery? Does he not recollect that fateful day in May 1976 when he stood at the Dispatch Box and announced to the House the abandonment of the Government's commitment to child benefit? Does he not recognise that it was because of pressure from the Opposition that proper child benefit was restored? How the right hon. Gentleman has the effrontery to boast about the Government's achievements passes my imagination.

Mr. Ennals

The right hon. Gentleman refers to "taking the biscuit". Indeed, I have never heard so much nonsense in my life. In spite of the economic difficulties that the country has faced, the Government have phased in child benefit fully. That was our pledge. I give a great deal of credit to the working party which was established between the TUC and the Labour Party for helping to bring that about. I can understand the jealousy of the right hon. Gentleman that his party did not introduce it, but he cannot take away from the Labour Party the fact that it was our achievement.