HC Deb 18 January 1989 vol 145 cc351-90
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. In view of the late start of this debate, I appeal to spokesmen on both Front Benches, as well as to Back Benchers, for short contributions so that as many hon. Members as possible may be called.

4.30 pm
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

I beg to move, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to increase child benefit in line with other benefits.

The motion and debate honour the commitment that I gave at the Dispatch Box immediately before the recess that, at the earliest opportunity, the Opposition would give the House the chance to debate child benefit separately and to vote on its future. Our honouring that commitment contrasts with the position of the Government, who have twice frozen child benefit since the last election and never once asked for the opinion of the House or offered it a vote on whether the benefit should be frozen.

Our motion must be one of the shortest in the history of Supply debates. It concentrates with single-minded focus on uprating. We have spared the Government any political rhetoric; we have not included in the motion a breath of criticism of them. That rather contrasts with the Government amendment, in which they heap turgid approval on themselves and have the gall to invite the House to congratulate them on having reviewed the level of child benefit. They may have reviewed it, but that did not result in a single extra penny being added to it. We have resisted the strong temptation to criticise the Government in our motion. Nothing in it would cause offence to even the most delicate Conservative Back Bencher. There is nothing in it to prevent Conservative Members voting for it—provided that they agree with it. If they do not, they must vote it down.

The clear inference that we and the country will draw from Conservative Members' decision to vote down the motion is that they are against child benefit being uprated and are prepared to connive at the strategy of the Secretary of State, which is to freeze child benefit to death.

As briefly as possible, I want to show Conservative Back Benchers why they should not vote with the Secretary of State and why, instead, they should vote with us to defrost child benefit—

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I shall give way on this occasion, but I am conscious of the advice from the Chair, and I shall not give way subsequently as readily as I might otherwise have done.

Mr. Hanley

I seek clarification of an interpretation that we might place on the motion. No doubt the hon. Gentleman would not like to be seen to be giving tax-free benefits to the wealthiest people in society. Is he now also pledging that he will make sure that child benefit is taxed in future, should there be a Labour Government?

Mr. Cook

That would be a far-fetched interpretation of the stark words on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman has disappointed me. I had rather hoped when he began his intervention that he was about to invite me to offer an interpretation of the motion as follows: that we want child benefit uprated in line with the tax cuts that the Government have made. If he had proposed that, I would have been inclined to accept it.

Turning now to the four major reasons—

Mr. Hanley

Answer my question.

Mr. Cook

I have already done so. What the hon. Gentleman infers from the motion cannot conceivably be read into its 10 words—

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

No. I said that I would not be able to give way as often as I might have done because of the time factor—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I have answered it. I do not propose to tax child benefit. My party has never done so, and I do not expect to do so. I hope that that finally gets through to the hon. Members for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), who have not been listening to what I am saying—[Interruption.] appreciate that the hon. Member for Pembroke wants to carry on a dialogue by himself. If he does, I suggest that, for the convenience of the House, he removes himself to the Tea Room. Let us get on with the debate.

Of course we oppose the taxation of child benefit. There has never been any suggestion to the contrary. I should be inclined to examine the issue again when child benefit reflects the cost of looking after a child. At a time when it reflects one third of that cost it appears utterly ludicrous to suggest that we lower its value by another quarter. So I hope that in words of one syllable, carefully and slowly spelt out, I have finally got through to Conservative Members what we are trying to say. If the hon. Member for Pembroke intends to attend future debates, we can arrange for a blackboard for him.

I want to give four reasons why Conservative Members should vote to unfreeze child benefit before they tax it. The first is that child benefit provides the only recognition in our tax and benefit system of the extra costs of raising children. It is the only device for channelling resources from taxpayers without children to households with them. Almost every civilised nation recognises the extra costs of children and that those extra costs must be supported by taxation or benefits. Ironically, under a Government who claim to be the party of the family, Britain alone in Europe is limping towards 1992 refusing to accept that families with children are families with extra expenditure.

The second reason why child benefit should be kept and uprated is that it puts money in the hands of the mother, the parent who buys the food and chooses the children's clothes. It is an efficient way of ensuring help with the costs of children, and of ensuring that that help is spent mostly on the welfare of children. For many mothers, child benefit is the only stable, reliable and independent income on which they can count. The Secretary of State is much given to lecturing the nation on the evils of the dependency culture. Not uprating child benefit increases the dependence of mothers on men. If the House remotely represented the balance of the sexes in the electorate it would not dream of tolerating the freezing by the Government of the benefit that goes to mothers. The only reason why the Government imagine they can get away with such a strategy is the grossly inadequate representation of the mothers of Britain in the Chamber.

The third reason why the benefit should be kept and uprated is that it reaches nearly every mother. If the objective is to help mothers, child benefit is well targeted—almost perfectly so: it hits 98 per cent. of its targets. It gets through to them, because it is simple, easily claimed and does not have to be reclaimed every time circumstances change. No stigma is attached to having a child benefit book. On the contrary, it is a badge of citizenship, not a label of poverty—

Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I am sorry; I have made it clear that I wish to allow as much time as possible for hon. Members to participate—

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

The hon. Gentleman is frit.

Mr. Cook

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, the idea that I am afraid of him stretches credulity to snapping point.

The fourth reason why child benefit should be uprated and retained is that it provides a life-line to households seeking to clamber out of the poverty trap. It is the one benefit that does not penalise them if they manage to improve their income. It does not kick them back into poverty by clawing away from their benefits whatever they make in extra earnings.

For all these reasons, child beneft was universally welcomed when it was introduced. It was introduced by a Labour Government, but I refrain from claiming sole paternity rights to it. The objective of the debate is to seek cross-party support for child benefit. In 1975, it was warmly endorsed by the then Conservative Opposition—

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Cook

I am sorry, but I have a quotation of my own to share before the hon. Gentleman gives his. Conservative Members who were in opposition at the time claimed to have thought of child benefit themselves. The only problem was that they never got round to introducing it when they were in government. They were so keen on the idea of child benefit that as the official Opposition they pressed an amendment to oblige the Labour Government to uprate child benefit by law, not just once a year but twice a year. The Conservative spokesman at the time said: I cannot see how a reputable case can be raised against that proposal. If a case is raised against it, it runs the risk of saying that, when the child benefit scheme comes in … the benefit will be steadily eroded … It is not a situation which we can accept." —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24 June 1975; c. 150.] That spokesman was the gentleman with whom the Secretary of State has a job-share agreement at Richmond house—the Secretary of State for Health. These are changed days. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is busy seeking to dismantle the NHS. The Secretary of State for Social Security is allowing child benefit to be eroded and to fade away through lack of uprating.

Since taking office 18 months ago, the Secretary of State would have been obliged—under the amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe—to uprate child benefit three times. Instead, he has never once uprated child benefit. He makes no bones about it. His decision is based on ideological reasons. In fairness, to the Secretary of State, although I may not often agree with his policies, I give him full marks for honesty and candour. He is opposed to universal benefits and wants to replace them with means-tested benefits. That must be for ideological reasons because nothing else could explain why he remains so blind to the abundant evidence provided by the Government's giant experiment with social security last April, which showed that means-tested benefits alone do not remove people from poverty—they keep them in poverty.

Family credit is the means-tested parallel to child benefit. The take-up of family credit has been a first-class disaster. A year ago we were promised ambitious figures for the take-up of family credit. The Minister of State promised a take-up rate of 60 per cent., and on one occasion the Secretary of State—I think that he was carried away at the time—promised a 70 per cent. take-up rate. It has never come anywhere near those figures. At its best, family credit peaked at 35 per cent.—half the promised rate.

A year ago, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), in a debate on family credit, described the 50 per cent. take-up rate of family income supplement as "minuscule and feeble". It is a great shame that he has now departed from the Department of Social Security. Would he were with us for this debate. If a take-up rate of 50 per cent. earned such a lofty rebuke from the hon. Gentleman, in what terms of contempt would be describe a take-up rate of 35 per cent.? That is the rate which has now been achieved by the replacement benefit that he and his colleagues devised in place of family income supplement.

Even worse is that we now know that the numbers are not increasing. At the end of November the number in receipt of family credit was more than 260,000—I use the figures given during the last social security questions. In an answer given to me last Friday the figure at the end of December was 255,000. I notice that one newspaper has put it about that the numbers on family credit fell last month because of the Christmas effect. Apparently, poor families forget to renew their applications in the hectic rush to complete their Christmas shopping.

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Moore)

I always hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but I know that—unlike some of his hon. Friends—he is conscious of accuracy and I would not want him to make too much of the point. To be precisely accurate, during the Christmas period there was a slow down in applications and processing. The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that last week there were more than 17,000 applications—a record rate above the normal 10,000 to 13,000. The case load rate is running at at least, if not in excess of, 300,000—about the 40 per cent. level that we were discussing.

Mr. Cook

We have to be careful with the last phrase used by the Secretary of State. When he refers to case loads, he is referring not to those who receive family credit but to those receiving family credit plus those who have applied for it. The number of applications at the end of both November and December was 47,000. I am sorry to say that his figure of over 300,000 is entirely consistent with 260,000 or thereabouts receiving family credit. If the Secretary of State is arguing that one of the problems with family credit is that over Christmas there is a seasonal fluctuation when the numbers fall while the Department of Social Security is on holiday, I regard that as another solid argument against relying on the means-tested benefit and for depending on child benefit, which is not subject to such seasonal fluctuations.

I want to make it clear that, because we criticise the take-up rate, the Secretary of State should not suggest, as he has once or twice been inclined to do, that we are opposed to a high take-up rate. On the contrary, we are worried that the people who are missing out on family credit are the very people who were hit by cuts in benefit last April. They are the mothers who lost free school meals for their children and who now have to face an average weekly bill of £6 for two children, or £8 if they live in Bradford under a Conservative council. They are the families who lost housing benefit and who are now saddled with part of the mounting rent arrears that have hit every housing authority since last April.

Throughout 1986–87, we were told that we did not need to worry about the families that were facing cuts in their budget through loss of free school meals and changes in housing benefit, because they would be more than compensated, and would come out smiling as a result of family credit. We now know that family credit is not getting through to them. They are left with the cuts that they faced last April and without the benefits that were designed to protect them.

We have also heard that even those who have received family credit are not fully compensated for their losses. There will shortly be broadcast a television programme on child poverty. Its makers set out to try to find a family receiving family credit that was better off than it was before the changes in social security. So desperate did they become in their hunt that they placed an advert in a tabloid newspaper inviting any family that was better off as a result of the April changes and the introduction of family credit to contact them. The producers have been unable to unearth a single family that is better off as a result of the changes, even if it is getting family credit.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I am sorry that there has not been a response to the advertisement. However, two mothers came to my constituency surgery and told me that they were more than £20 a week better off. I should be happy to dig out the names and addresses and send them to the programme makers.

Mr. Cook

I should be delighted to look at those cases. However, my general experience, having gone through many cases, is that while there are people who are £20 a week better off in terms of receiving family credit, I have yet to see a case where they are better off by even £2 a week once one takes into account the loss of housing benefit and free school meals.

That brings us to the other problem with family credit, which is that it is savagely means tested. Those who manage to claim it find that they lose it at the rate of 70p for every extra £1 a week in income. In short, those at the bottom of the earnings league end up on a rate of marginal taxation almost double the top rate of taxation on the wealthiest. As the Select Committee on Social Services pointed out in its report last October, 500,000 households —nearly every one of which has children—face marginal rates of taxation of nearly 70 per cent.

The truth is that child benefit has as its greatest strength exactly what the Government persist in seeing as its greatest weakness. It is that it does not go down as the income of the claimant goes up. Therefore, it boosts the escape of the claimant from poverty instead of drawing him back into the poverty trap. That is the importance of child benefit and that is why it should not be sacrificed.

As I understand it, the Secretary of State seeks to sacrifice child benefit on the sole ground that it is not the cheapest way to relieve poverty. The first response by the Opposition to the argument that child benefit should be phased out or should not be uprated because it is not an efficient way of relieving poverty is that those of us who have watched at close range the hardship, anxiety and despair inflicted by the cuts in child benefit last April will not be taken in by any pretence by the Government that they are motivated by an anxiety to do more for the poor.

To freeze child benefit is an odd way to go about helping the poor because that benefit goes to the poor. It goes to six times as many families in poverty or on the margins of poverty as does family credit. One in 12 claimants of child benefit earns less than £5,000 a year and one fifth of the income of such households comes from child benefit. One in three claimants of child benefit earns less than £10,000 a year and one seventh of the income of people in that group comes from child benefit.

It is curious that the Conservatives are rewriting the origins and history of child benefit. It was introduced in place of tax allowances precisely to target help to the poor, to provide a means of assisting the 1 million families with children that did not pay tax and therefore did not benefit from tax allowances. It was brought in to make sure that the benefit of a cash payment was of greater help to those who were poor than to those who were wealthy and who benefited most from tax allowances. The Labour Government were absolutely right to take the progressive step of converting tax allowances into cash benefits to help the poor.

The great mistake made by my colleagues in the last Labour Government was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) in his entertaining address to the annual general meeting of the Child Poverty Action Group. That mistake was not in converting tax allowances into child benefit, but in not keeping the old name of child tax allowance while continuing to pay the cash benefit. If they had done that, the history of child benefit over the past 10 years would have been quite different, because every time the present Government stumble on something that is labelled "tax allowance" their better instincts prevail and they uprate it. Every time they come to something with the danger warning "benefit", their reflex instincts take over and they cut it. How else can one explain the extraordinary contrast between a married man's tax allowance, which has gone up in real terms by 22 per cent. under this Government, and the fate of child benefit, which has been cut in real terms by 13 per cent.?

Since the uprating statement in October I have asked twice and now ask for the third time and demand an answer to the question of how the Government can manage to conclude that the cost of maintaining a wife has gone up by one fifth while the cost of supporting a child has gone down by one eighth. By what feat of mental gymnastics do they square those different treatments? The truth is that the Government have made no such calculation. They keep cutting taxes because that is the best way to help the rich. That is the other reason that prevents us from taking them seriously when they claim that they are freezing child benefit to help the poor. Their interest in helping the poor fades into invisibility when compared to their preoccupation with helping the rich.

A neat arithmetical measure of the Goverment's priorities is provided by what happened to the £200 million saved by the freeze in child benefit. The Secretary of State kept one third of it for means-tested benefits for the poor while the Chancellor of the Exchequer siphoned off the other two thirds to fund tax cuts for the better off. There we have it. Tax cuts take greater priority over the poor on a ratio of 2:1. The people who lose as a result are the children. They are the innocent victims of all the fashionable chatter about selectivity and targeting. A letter sent by a mother to the Child Poverty Action Group says: It is no use saying: 'the children shouldn't have been born in the first place'. The children are alive. They need feeding and clothing and treats. A happy secure funded childhood makes for a good adulthood". The freeze on child benefit makes it more difficult for that mother and all other such mothers to provide that happy, secure, funded childhood. The cut in the real value of child benefit logically implies a cut in their expenditure on their children. I invite all hon. Members who do not want to see that happen and who are not happy to see tax cuts funded at the expense of children to join us in the Lobby to save child benefit.

4.55 pm
The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Moore)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: notes with approval that the Government is providing over four and a half billion pounds for child benefit this year and that it has carried out its statutory obligation to review the level of benefit each year; and welcomes the additional resources to be provided from April for low income families with children". As always, we have heard an eloquent and in many ways amusing speech by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). I will take no lectures from any Opposition Member about the ways in which the Government, to the embarrassment of the last Labour Government, help families with children. Much of the hon. Gentleman's speech was buried under a great weight of collective amnesia. He seemed to have forgotten many of the antecedents of child benefit and many of the ways in which the Labour Government failed miserably, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, to help families with children. Much of his speech related more to child benefit than to the content of the Opposition motion, the indexation, or its absence this year, of child benefit.

It is important and germane first to try to remind the House of the record and background of child benefit because it is important to put the matter in perspective. The hon. Gentleman was right when he said that child benefit was introduced in 1975. The Opposition record on child benefit reminds me of earlier debates. It takes me back to the reality of Socialist economic failure at the time when the Labour Government lived in the unlovely embrace of trade union bosses. [Interruption.] Despite sedentary interruptions from Opposition Members, I shall remind them and the House of what happened in 1975. I agree with the hon. Member for Livingston that it is important for us to remember the basis for this benefit. [Interruption.] Opposition Members might be embarrassed by this. In May 1975 the then Mrs. Castle had to admit to the first problem connected with the introduction of child benefit. These are uncomfortable facts for hon. Members who might not have been present in the House at the time. She said that it was impossible to launch the scheme until 1977, and this has been a great disappointment to me personally. It was certainly our original intention that the benefit would start in April next." —[Official Report, 13 May 1975; vol 892, c. 336.] That is April 1976. The idea was that the whole scheme would have been launched in the spring of 1977.

Mr. James Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Moore

Perhaps I could be allowed to proceed because we are under the pressure of time.

There was a detailed statement in May 1976 by Mr. Ennals, the then Secretary of State for Social Services. That statement was not greeted with great happiness by many Opposition Members who at that time were on the Government Benches. He talked about not starting the process of replacing child tax allowances with the new child benefit and said: Introduction of the scheme in its original form would, however, have imposed an excessive strain on the pay policy which is vital to the Government's continuing success in overcoming inflation. Later he talked about the overriding need to contain public expenditure and the borrowing requirement as a further plank in the Government's economic strategy,".—[Official Report, 25 May 1976; Vol. 912, c. 284-85.] He made it quite clear that, although the Government had wanted to launch the scheme in the spring of 1976 and again in 1977, there would be another delay. I shall come back to that.

Mr. Sillars

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what was the Budget surplus then compared with today?

Mr. Moore

I shall come to that, and to a comparison of support for families, to illustrate why the records are so different.

The situation in autumn 1976 will be familiar to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). It is germane to today's debate, in which the Opposition suggest annual automatic indexation. In autumn of 1976, there ended what was called a three-month working party involving the Government and the TUC. Whether that was the product of "Solomon binding" or of Dr. Wittevene and the International Monetary Fund, there followed an announcement that the benefit would not be introduced in 1976 or in spring 1977.

However, the agreement was—and this cannot be a comfortable memory for Opposition Members—that the child benefit plans of spring 1976 would take three years —I repeat, three years—until spring 1979 to introduce. That is part of the history of the benefit under Labour, who now criticise the Government for not indexing it this year. In 61 out of 62 months of Labour Government, there was a lower rate of child benefit, or its equivalent, than during the whole of the subsequent Conservative Government's period in office. That is the first history lesson.

One should consider also the totality of the situation. I do not deny the importance of child benefit, but it is but one part of the total support structure through which the Government seek to help families with children. The Opposition have given me an opportunity, in preparing for this debate to examine detailed records and the facts as between Labour's appalling record and that of the Government in supporting families with children. I refer to published facts that are consistent with the current breakdown, and I remind the House of the true position, based on figures that have not previously been published. The comparison is appalling, and I do not know how the Opposition have the temerity to initiate this debate.

Between 1974–75 and 1978–78, support for families with children dropped in real terms from £7.4 billion to £6.8 billion—a reduction in real terms of 7.3 per cent. One may compare that with the period in which my Government have been in office—[HON. MEMBERS: "Your Government?"] While we have been in office, support has increased—(Interruption.] The Opposition do not like such comparisons being made. The figures show not a decrease, as under socialism, of 7.3 per cent., but an increase in real terms of 25 per cent.

Mr. Robin Cook

I assure the Secretary of State that we are delighted with his comparisons. He reminds the House that in three years the last Labour Government increased child benefit from nothing to £4 per week. As the right hon. Gentleman has seen the calculations, he will be aware that at today's values, that £4 produces a figure of £7.35 per week.

In three years, the Labour Government raised child benefit to £4 per week, but in 10 years the Conservatives have failed to increase that sum by a single penny in real terms. After being in charge of child benefit for 10 years, the Government are still lop behind the level at which we left it after three years.

Mr. Moore

That is utter and complete nonsense. In 61 out of 62 months, Labour's policies of help for families with children and their support structure for tax allowances, family allowances and child benefit produced less than that provided throughout every month of the Conservative Government's subsequent period in office. Labour's record shows not only economic failure but an inability to observe the right priorities in supporting families with children.

I complete my historical survey by reminding the House why child benefit is not automatically indexed, and why I took the decisions that I did this year, in the light of my statutory duty to review child benefit annually. I refer to the Child Benefit Bill's Second Reading debate on 13 May 1975 when Alec Jones, the then Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, said: The Social Security Act 1975 lays down formal provisions for annual review of benefits paid"— and that Act established the basis of the benefit that we are now debating, which I make clear for the benefit of those right hon. and hon. Members who are ignorant of that fact. I repeat—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it!"] I shall repeat it, because it is important: The Social Security Act 1975 lays down formal provisions for annual review of benefits paid under that Act and requires uprating of those benefits in line with earnings or prices as appropriate. We do not propose that there should be anything similar for child benefit because it is a totally different kind of benefit, fulfilling a different purpose. In the first place it is a new kind of benefit"—

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the start of the debate Mr. Speaker urged everyone, including the Government Front Bench, to be brief. Would it not be appropriate if the Minister at least moves on to the record of the present Government—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. If there were fewer interruptions, the Minister might make progress.

Mr. Moore

The Opposition do not like being reminded of the basis of the statutory duty under which I act. I repeat the words of Alec Jones: In the first place, it is a new kind of benefit—a hybrid which amalgamates a social security benefit with a tax allowance. In the second place, most of the people receiving it will be people at work, and the benefit will simply form a tax-free addition to their earned income …It will be raised from time to time in the light of inflation and other developments. But just as neither family allowances nor child tax allowances are subject to the rigid pattern of upratings that has been evolved for social security benefits nor will their successor benefit be." — [Official Report, 13 May 1975: Vol. 892, c. 400–401.] That is the basis on which I seek to carry out my statutory duty.

In the Bill's Second Reading debate on 7 July 1975, Mrs. Castle said: There is a difference between routine national insurance benefits and this new benefit. Indexation of the child benefit is inappropriate. National insurance benefits are major means of support when earning capacity is interrupted, but the child benefit is a tax-free supplement to families whose major source of income is earnings. Clearly maintenance benefits must be capable of moving automatically in line with changes in the cost of living. The child benefit is in a different category… A statutory duty is placed on the Secretary of State to examine the rate in the light of the overall social and economic policies." — [Official Report, 7 July 1975: Vol. 895, c. 238.] That is the statutory basis on which every subsequent Secretary of State has decided each year what he ought or ought not to do with child benefit. That basis has remained unchanged.

It is in that context that the review took place. I shall explain to the House why I exercised my statutory duty in the way that I did. First, I sought to exercise it in the context of the present Government's economic success. That success has provided for greater priority than that given by previous Labour Governments to expenditure on social security. We now spend a larger percentage of our nation's gross national product on social security.

As I have illustrated with detailed figures, we have given a higher priority to expenditure on families with children: we have raised it by 25 per cent., in contrast to a Socialist reduction of 7.3 per cent. We need to understand—I know that Opposition Members do not understand it, but I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends do—that that success comes from prudent economic policies. This relates to the point raised earlier by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars).

We must be cautious with growing budgets. Let me remind the House of the context in which our debate takes place. In 1989–90, the Government propose to spend £51.1 billion on my budgetary responsibilities-an increase of £3.5 billion, well in excess of the £2 billion in the uprating. The amount would, of course, have been considerably more had it not been for a happy reduction in unemployment. I will not put such economic success in jeopardy.

We must also look at the new structure of benefits that has been in place since the spring of 1988. Both family credit and the income support arrangements create a new structure of family premiums. That does two things. First, it gives any Minister in my position an opportunity to try to target additional resources more effectively—as we were able to do in the spring of last year with the extra £200 million for both income support and family credit, as well as another £70 million next April. We are thus able to reach the 1.6 million families, and the 3 million children, who would not benefit from the simple uprating of child benefit because of the way in which their benefit is offset.

Moreover—this is in no way to deny many of the obvious advantages of child benefit—the new arrangements highlight some of the dilemmas surrounding child benefit's poor targeting. Conservative Members have pointed out many times in the past that 70 per cent. of the families who stand to gain from child benefit have incomes above average earnings. Of the £4.5 billion that we spend on child benefit, £1 billion goes to the 1.25 million families who are earning over £20,000.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Is the Secretary of State seriously suggesting that lack of sufficient tageting—as he sees it—through the mechanisms of child benefit is causing more child poverty than lack of effective take-up in the family credit system that he has introduced?

Mr. Moore

I know that the hon. Gentleman is serious about this. But I am trying to illustrate the factors behind any Secretary of State's statutory judgment in relation to the combined package that we are now able to target, without ignoring the large sums that we are still rightly putting into child benefit.

I cannot ignore my statutory duty; indeed, as the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) rightly said in an earlier debate, I must not ignore it. I must be aware of what is happening in the rest of the economy—what is happening to earning and taxes. I must recognise that 80 per cent. of those in receipt of child benefit are taxpayers, and that the real take-home pay of a married man on average earnings with two children has risen by 29 per cent. under the present Government. I shall not contrast that with the 1 per cent. rise in real terms under the Labour Government.

Let me illustrate the impact of my decisions in the past year, when I took my earlier decision—as opposed to the decisions in the uprating statement. Average gross male earnings to April 1988—and we should remember that over 70 per cent. of potential recipients of child benefit earn more than the average—rose by 9.7 per cent. If the tax changes made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor are taken into account, the figure becomes 11.6 per cent. That means another £18.86 a week net in wage packets, rather than people not receiving 30p a week extra on child benefit. We are still talking about half the overall spending on families with children.

I have covered the previous year; what about the earnings for the year that we are in now? I cannot anticipate the judgments that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make in his 1989 Budget, but if we use the published assumptions on earnings based on those in the Government Actuary's Department it seems that the increase in average gross male earnings will again be more than £18 a week. Given that, are the Opposition seriously arguing that the living standards of families with above average earnings will be threatened if child benefit is riot increased by 45p? I remind the House that child benefit has never been intended to cover the whole cost of bringing up a family. There are strong arguments, with which I agree, for preventing basic income maintenance benefits from losing their value against prices: people are genuinely dependent on them to meet their basic needs. But Governments of both complexions—I stress the word Governments—have accepted that different considerations apply to child benefit. It is a supplement to the major source of income —for most people, earnings from work—and each decision about its level must take account not only of changes in the cost of living but of the massive increase in prosperity for families generally in recent years.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

The one issue that my right hon. Friend does not seem to be addressing —perhaps he intends to address it later—is the fact that child benefit goes to the mother. That, surely, is an important consideration.

Mr. Moore

I entirely agree. That is why I have tried to stress that we are talking not about the abolition of child benefit, but about its non-indexation this year. We are talking about the expenditure of £4.5 billion. I also remind my hon. Friend, who I know is very interested in these matters, that family credit also statutorily goes to the mother.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

My right hon. Friend has stressed the importance of looking at current circumstances when making a decision. Does he accept that it is a current circumstance that the number of people who pay income tax is much too large and that the tax threshold is much too low? That in itself is surely a compelling reason for raising child benefit.

Mr. Moore

My right hon. Friend draws attention to points with which I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be concerned, and I in turn shall draw them to his attention when he comes to make his Budget judgment.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)


Mr. Moore

No, I really must proceed.

These, then, are the reasons for my decision on the level of child benefit for this year: first, our commitment to spend taxpayers' money in ways that can be fully justified; secondly, our creation in the new income-related benefits of a better mechanism than ever before for directing additional resources to those who really need them, and, thirdly, our recognition that working families generally are benefiting enormously from the increased prosperity brought about by the Government's prudent management of the economy.

I have a statutory commitment to conduct a careful review of the level of child benefit each year. I have not shirked that responsibility, nor will I shirk it. However, we also have a binding electoral commitment to ensure that child benefit will continue in its present form. That manifesto pledge has been and will be honoured to the full. What do the Opposition offer in return? They talk about child benefit being uprated automatically, but in office they insisted that that could not be justified. They talk about increasing resources for child support, but in office they crippled the economy and were forced to cut support for families with children. Worst of all, they talk about helping those in need, but they want us to increase child benefit, which would do nothing for the neediest and would give most help to the better-off.

It would be charitable to describe the Opposition's thinking as hopelessly muddled, but if such persistent wrong-headedness is Socialism, it is a Socialism that carries irresponsibility to the point of immorality. The present Government are succeeding where the Opposition failed in promoting an economy that is delivering a higher level of child support than when we came to office, and in directing those resources to the families who need them most. The Opposition have the effrontery to carp at that. I invite the House to join me in welcoming it.

5.19 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I want to draw a lesson from what my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said, to make an observation on what the Secretary of State has just said and to end with a challenge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston drew attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) at the Child Poverty Action Group's annual general meeting and to the lesson that the right hon. Gentleman drew from the Labour Government's stewardship when child benefit was introduced. He said that the Labour Government made an error when they called the benefit child benefit instead of calling it a tax allowance. That was a good debating point to make here, and no doubt it was a good debating point to make at the Child Poverty Action Group's annual general meeting. However, that is not the real lesson that has to be drawn from the Labour Government's stewardship.

Labour Back Benchers, together with Conservative Members, tabled amendments to have child benefit indexed. Labour Members were assured by their Whips and by Government Ministers that there was no need to press the amendments. Now we see the folly of accepting that advice. I make that point not because I wish any hon. Member to appear in sackcloth and ashes during today's debate—I am too cynical to expect that—but because I wish to lay down a challenge to Conservative Members.

Most of us will not achieve office. Most of us will exert our influence as Back Benchers. Influence can be exerted now and again. It cannot be exerted constantly. Influence can be exerted tonight in the Division Lobby. Influence can also be exerted by means of amendments that are to be moved in Committee during consideration of the Social Security Bill. I ask Conservative Members not to go down the road that Labour Members went when child benefit was introduced and accept the gentle assurances of Government Ministers and the Whips'. I am sure that the intention is noble, but its delivery is feeble.

We have some power tonight, and we shall have some power later this Session. I hope that Conservative Members will exercise their influence as Back Benchers. I hope that they will accept that it is an illusion to think that most of us will achieve office, let alone high office. We are sent here to represent our constituents as Back Benchers and to vote accordingly. That is the lesson that I have drawn from the introduction of the child benefit scheme.

I was lost, as I expect other hon. Members were lost, when the Secretary of State read out reams of figures. I am sure that he meant us to be lost. The figures sounded very good, and I do not doubt for a moment that they were correct, but what was missing was a comparison between families with children and taxpayers without children.

Although it may be difficult for Opposition Members to accept, there has been a substantial increase in living standards, not since 1979—in their first two years of office, the Government achieved the extraordinary distinction of reducing national income—but since 1981. Therefore, it is not hard for Ministers to give figures showing how the living standards of families with children have increased, but the crucial point is how their increase in living standards compares with that of other groups. Despite all the Secretary of State's figures, that comparison did not feature in his speech, for one simple reason: that a comparison of families with children and other taxpayers shows that the rise in living standards of those who are responsible for the next generation has been much lower than that of taxpayers without children or of taxpayers who are single.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

My hon. Friend says that the majority of people now enjoy a better standard of living. Is it not true, however, that those who depend on child benefit now have a worse standard of living than they had in 1979?

Mr. Field

My point is that many of those who depend on child benefit have not done as well as other people. One reason why the Conservative party wins elections and the Labour party does not is that, although many of our constituents have had a rough deal, the majority of the population have not. That is the starting point for many of our debates. Until we take that point on board, we cannot make the point that the relative standards of living of families with children—whether they be rich or poor—have declined, compared with those of the childless or single. Our charge against the Government is that, almost by accident, they are creating a tax and social security system that discriminates against those who are responsible for bringing up the next generation.

Before the last election, the Prime Minister gave an interview to, I think, "Woman's Own", in which she said that she did not accept that there was anything called "the community". I ask Conservative Members to consider where this Governement's policy is leading the Tory party. Without recognising it, the Government are failing to distinguish between taxpayers with children and taxpayers without children, with the result that there is no distinction between the state, at the very top, and ordinary individuals at the bottom.

We have got rid of voluntary organisations—of a network of countervailing forces. Although the Government are strong in rhetoric about the family, they are weak on delivery, and the tax and benefits system is now beginning to work against those with children. There is nothing between the top, which is the state, and the bottom—autonomous individuals. The Government have not consciously pursued that policy, but that will be its result. That is another reason why Conservative Members should be cautious before they rally too quickly to the flag and support the Government's amendment.

I end with a challenge. The Opposition are running a high-risk strategy, and I support it 100 per cent. The strategy involves holding this debate and supporting amendments that are to he moved in Committee during consideration of the Social Security Bill, asking Parliament to approve a regular uprating of child benefit. Let us suppose that, on this occasion, Conservative Members do not rally to the flag and that later in the Session there is a miserable response from Conservative Members on this issue. That message will be read clearly by those who sit on the Treasury Bench.

If our strategy fails—it is not, perhaps, so important tonight; it will be much more important when the amendments that are made in Committee to the Social Security Bill are debated here on Report—and we see that a large number of Conservative Members are not willing to vote for child benefit against the advice of their Whips, both we on this side of the House, supporters of child benefit on that side of the House and groups outside the House will have to consider what we must do if we are to defend and promote the interests of families with children. Shall we continue to be voted down in debates such as this and when amendments to every Social Security Bill are tabled, or shall we take the debate into enemy territory? That is not a point that I wish to pursue tonight, but that is the inevitable outcome of a high-risk strategy—one which I support, but one which I believe none of us should duck if it misfires.

5.28 pm
Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) pressed Conservative Members to vote with him this evening. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) gave us some deeply felt advice on the same matter. I shall respond later to those invitations. First, however, I shall deal briefly with the merits of the case.

The Government's decision not to uprate child benefit is shameful. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a very good case, in party political terms—the best that could possibly be made. However, his case must be pretty bad if he has to rely on Lady Castle for support —particularly as, if I am right, he opposed Lady Castle at the time, which makes her even less of a prop for his argument. To have failed to uprate child benefit two years running is to give oneself, to say the least, a most unenviable record.

It is shameful not to have uprated child benefit in a year when tax benefit was showered on the rich. I also believe that it undoubtedly fiddles an election pledge. It has hit some of the least well-off people and it appears to have been done—my right hon. Friend will obviously not agree with this—not on the merits of the case but in pursuit of some obsessive dogma of curbing so-called public expenditure.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about what was being done to target more money to the least well-off. I would describe it as fairly good news that a third of the money that is illegitimately being saved on child benefit will be channelled to means-tested benefits, but as the Secretary of State knows—and as the Minister for Social Security in a previous debate implied—means-tested benefits are not in any way a substitute for child benefit. We need both universal and means-tested benefits—what has been described as "a judicious mixture."

Means-tested benefits can never be a substitute because, while the figures that my right hon. Friend gave were reasonably encouraging, family credit will not reach a great many people; the forms that they must fill in are too complicated, people will not understand them and what is proposed cannot be achieved. So means-tested benefit cannot be a substitute for the great universality of child benefit, which is its most important advantage.

I used the phrase "so-called" public expenditure. Figures that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave me last year showed that 70 per cent. of the £4.7 billion expended on child benefit went to people who paid more in income tax than they received in child benefit. In other words, for those people, child benefit was a tax allowance. That is why it should be called a child allowance or child credit, and it should not come out of my right hon. Friend's social security budget.

In connection with the 70 per cent. of people who pay more income tax than they gain in child benefit, I should comment on the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who wanted to be here but who has unfortunately been called away.

It is extraordinary that some of my hon. Friends should worry about child benefit going to the rich when they do not worry about greater tax cuts going to the rich. 'They do not worry, either, about mortgage tax allowances—far more of which go to the rich—or about superannuation tax going to that section of the community. They do not worry about far greater sums going to the rich, yet they get het up about £7.35 going to each child of the Duchess of Westminster. That is illogical and inexcusable, and such arguments will not wash.

What about the 30 per cent. of the people who get more in child benefit than they pay in income tax? For them it is a genuine cash benefit of an old-fashioned kind and is valuable to them. Would my right hon. Friend say which he is more proud of doing—cutting tax allowances for the 70 per cent. or cutting the cash benefit for the 30 per cent.? Neither seems to be a battle honour which anyone would wish to seek.

I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend's speech and I was pleased with what he said about the Government's record. But his comments did not answer the hon. Member for Birkenhead, who said that the Government were discriminating against families with children. There is no argument why other tax allowances should go up while this one goes down.

My answer to the invitation from the hon. Member for Livingston to vote with him is that the Opposition motion could not have made it easier for hon. Members on these Benches who favour child benefit. It is well worded and in a perfect world I have no doubt that droves of Conservative Members would vote for it— [Interruption.] —although some of the more reactionary of them probably would not. In that perfect world we would vote purely on the words of the motion, which would create a nightmare for the Whips and probably make them redundant. Indeed, such a course might have even more important disadvantages.

But we do not live in a perfect world. We have party affiliations and so on, and they sometimes put constraints on us in the Division Lobby. I am far from thinking that one should be slavish in obeying the Whips and behaving like a party automaton, even on Labour Supply Days, which are more matters of demonstration than decision-making occasions.

I imagine that, if some new issue cropped up—this has probably happened to me in the past up—I might vote with the Opposition on a Labour Supply Day. But this, alas, is not a new issue because this is not the Government's first offence. They are now hardened offenders in these matters. This has become a long-running saga. This is not an issue on which we need to demonstrate, because people know where we stand. When the Bill returns on Report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and I and other of my hon. Friends will, I hope, table an amendment which will be in order, and on that occasion I shall vote for that amendment.

Clearly, one could not possibly vote against the Opposition motion, because it is totally unexceptionable. Equally, it would be extraordinarily difficult to vote for the Government amendment, which seems to be a threadbare piece of pathetic prevarication. I certainly could not vote for it.

The Government's action is deeply regrettable. In taking it, they have lost the high ethical ground of politics. They have forfeited any claim to be the party of the family up—surely an expensive price to pay for a rather trivial piece of dogma.

5.36 pm
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I am sure I speak for all Opposition Members and, I hope, for at least several Conservative Members when I say that it was a great pleasure to listen to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour). Moving from the higher ethical considerations to which he referred to the lower form of practical survival which tends to dominate considerations in my party, I shall have no difficulty in voting for the Labour motion at the conclusion of the debate.

I share the reaction of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham to the speech of the Secretary of State. Although Hansard may prove me wrong, by my count the right hon. Gentleman referred on no fewer than double-figure occasions to the way in which statutory obligations had obliged him to behave in the way he has on this occasion towards child benefit.

The Secretary of State pointed out at the Tory party conference last autumn that his was still the biggest spending Department of the Government. For such a Minister, commanding that degree of resource and decision-making effect, to refer half-heartedly, if not shamefacedly, to the way in which statutory obligations had boxed him into making a decision in this case, it must be evidence that he recognises that the strength of argument, moral and political, is not with him.

When giving figures, the Secretary of State went back sufficiently far in history to refer to dates when my mother was receiving child benefit for me. He erected legislative complexity to cover his ministerial complicity in this matter.

It is worth rehearsing the principles under which the scheme was supposed to operate. Child benefit was based on equity, in terms of being a tax allowance. Some Right-wing thinkers in Britain today refer to families having children as another example of consumer choice. As the hon. Member for Birkenhead explained, there is more to it than that. Children are an investment for the future for any nation and there must be a recognition by the nation that the burden of income must reflect the burden of social responsibility. In the longer term, the burden of social responsibility must be adjudged as resting emphatically with those who bring up the next generation. It is not enough to view the arguments about child benefit and the economic status which should be attached to children in terms of the distribution of wealth to families as falling somewhere between the decision to buy a Porsche or a compact disc player. To use the tone of the concluding remarks of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, decisions about child benefit are more ethical than that.

Much of the complex financial argument which the Secretary of State used ignores the founding principle that the purpose of child benefit was not necessarily in the first instance to target resources on the poor. He is hitting at a target which was never erected as the practical symbol of the benefit. The purpose of the benefit was to target resources on families with dependent children. Therefore, much of the Aunt Sally which the Secretary of State erects simply to knock down to justify his position is not the Aunt Sally that was erected in the first place by hon. Members of all political persuasions who supported the benefit in principle when it was first introduced.

Child benefit is, comparatively speaking in the social security system, cheap to administer, and it has a very high take-up rate. According to the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the 60 per cent. or more of people who, for whatever reasons, are not taking up family credit to which they are entitled rely particularly on the automatic nature of child benefit support. Child benefit lifts low-income families out of means-tested benefits. The Government are supposedly committed to the family and to lifting people out of this dreadful, diseased and debilitating dependency culture against which we hear so much Right-wing rhetoric. Yet the freezing of child benefit for consecutive years runs counter to the principles on which it was founded and the principles on which the Government's policy is supposed to be founded and promulgated.

We also hear much about other aspects of social provision in this country up—for example, health, education, social security and social services. We are told that we should look increasingly to the United States of America to see what the great enterprise culture is doing and, to some extent, apply any lessons which can be learned by adapting them to the British context.

America relies heavily on a means-tested benefit called aid to families with dependent children which is intended to help poor families. Studies have shown that, between 1973 and 1984, the income of families with children declined in real terms, particularly for low-income families, but also across the entire income range. In 1985 a report from the Congressional Budget Office stated that households with children account for more than two thirds of all poor people in the United States, even though the proportion of children in the population had declined over the past 20 years. As the American experience is so often alluded to and attempts are made to incorporate that experience into the Government's processes, it is interesting to note that many American politicians are now arguing that they should introduce the equivalent of child benefit, which they refer to as family allowance.

Senator Moynihan has said that, among the major democracies, America is the only country without a child benefit. He said that some people might call aid to families with dependent children a family allowance, but it was typically paid to broken families. He said: Why not a family allowance to support the traditional family and help hold it together? That is the kind of sentiment that hopefully we would associate with all political parties and a sentiment which the Conservative party more than most would hitherto have sought to make its own. The fact that it can now be cited against the Government from the other side of the Atlantic is further evidence of the distance that the Government have placed between the rhetoric of what they claim to be upholding in terms of social values and the reality of the effect that their policies are having on social cohesion and the family unit.

I support the motion so ably proposed by the hon. Member for Livingston. By freezing child benefit, the Government will reduce the value of the band of tax-free income given by child benefit and therefore increase taxation on all families with children. Freezing child benefit will increasingly each year limit help given to families on modest incomes to whom the benefit is particularly important. The freezing will have a particularly severe effect on large families and it will offer less and less help to those experiencing family, domestic or economic crises. It will force more families into dependence on means-tested benefits and it will increasingly weaken the springboard from which the unemployed can move into independence. In short, it will intensify the poverty trap. For two years, successive Secretaries of State told us that those effects were the entire purpose of the social security reviews and the purpose of changing the social security system.

In the Green Paper "Reform of Social Security" published in June 1985 before the hearings, the consultation and the reforming legislation, the Government stated: The Government accept the case for continuing the system of child benefit. It is right that families with children at all income levels should receive some recognition for the additional costs of bringing up children and that the tax benefit system should allow for some general redistribution of resources from those without children to those who have responsibility for caring for them. That principle and pledge has been thrown to the wind. The Conservative party—the party of the family—is now rightly viewed, whatever the result of the Division tonight, by the people of this country as the party that has manifestly and miserably failed the family.

5.47 pm
Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)

Contrary to the suggestions of the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), the Conservative party and the Government have always been wholeheartedly committed to the family. We believe that the family is the basic unit of society and the key to social cohesiveness and happiness.

The policy on which the Labour party fought and lost the last election was indicative of its attitude towards the family and to economic policy in general. At that time. the Labour party argued for across-the-board increases in child benefit which would have cost nearly £3.5 billion. Instead of directing resources to families that really needed help, the Labour party wanted to tax everyone to subsidise every parent, whatever their level of income.

The Labour party's extravagant plans, had they been funded from increases in taxation, would have added 2.5p to the basic rate of income tax. That would have added £5 to the weekly tax bill of the average manual worker, robbing millions of ordinary working families of what was rightfully theirs, eroding incentives to work and stifling enterprise.

In pursuit of higher levels of child benefit, the Labour party seems to be oblivious to the violence that its proposals might do to other parts of the economy. The Labour party has learned precious little from its election trouncing. Its so-called review document "Social justice and economic efficiency" reaffirms Labour's commitment to increasing resources for child benefit whatever the indiscriminate effects and the costs to the taxpayer. It is instructive to note that under the Labour party's proposals for boosting child benefit, 40 per cent. of the beneficiaries, or 2.5 million families, would have gross incomes of more than £15,000 a year. Extraordinarily, 20 per cent. of families benefiting from increases in child benefit would have a gross income of more than £20,000 a year. Perhaps I should remind the Opposition that their deputy leader, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), described such individuals as the "bloody rich". He said that in Tribune on 10 May 1985.

The thought of the Labour party putting an extra 2.5p on the basic rate of income tax paid by working families throughout the country to raise the level of child benefit, 20 per cent. of which apparently goes to the "bloody rich", is rich in irony. The Labour party considers itself to be firmly opposed to taxing everyone to subsidise the rich. If only its policies matched its principles. Nor do I support the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour).

There is a more fundamental issue at stake. The Labour party continues to subscribe to the collectivist nostrum that the only way to raise the living standards of families on lower incomes is to give them more Government handouts. I believe that the best way to help those in need is to create conditions in which the economy can thrive, thereby ensuring that living standards and public services improve.

The last Labour Government pushed the standard rate of income tax up to 35p in the pound and the top rate to 83p in the pound, all in the name of what Opposition Members like to call social justice. The results were absolutely disastrous. A couple with two children living on just half average earnings saw their real take-home pay rise by just over 4 per cent. in the five years to 1978–79. The take-home pay of families on average earnings or above hardly rose in real terms, and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, in many cases it actually fell. High taxes wrecked the performance of the economy and failed miserably to deliver a massive increase in benefit levels as would have befitted Labour's supposedly egalitarian strategy. Despite the fact that the basic rate of income tax was one third higher under the last Labour Government, for almost the whole time Labour was in office, the real value of child benefit to families on average earnings was far below what it has been under this Government.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

I was interested to hear what the hon. Lady said about the Labour party's view that handouts to the poor are the only solution. Does she not consider that the Chancellor's most recent Budget, which consisted largely of a major redistribution of wealth and major handouts to a minority of very rich people in society, was a similar exercise in the opposite direction by the Conservative Government?

Mrs. Roe

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as a result of the tax cuts, the revenue from taxation has enabled the Government to target more money to those in need.

Mr. Frank Field

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Roe

No. I should like to continue and to enable more hon. Members to participate in the debate.

The plain truth is that the last Labour Government's much-vaunted "caring" strategy failed on both counts. It failed to deliver economic success, leaving living standards stagnant or falling for millions of families, and it failed to deliver the big increases in benefit levels that Labour has always claimed are necessary. That was Labour's "family" policy.

On the basis of what we know about its current policies, today's Labour party is just as keen to repeat in the 1990s its failures of the past decade. By contrast, the Government's policies have gone to the very heart of the problems that Labour failed to tackle in the 1970s. Today we are enjoying our eighth year of steady economic growth, the longest period of sustained growth since the war.

Growth on that scale has lifted living standards and benefits to the needy to record levels. Since 1979, a married couple on half average earnings and with two children have seen their take-home pay increase by 23 per cent. in real terms. Families on all levels of the earnings scale have seen big increases in their living standards under the Conservative Government. It is no wonder that more families than ever own their homes, can buy shares and are taking foreign holidays. The plain truth is that the best family policy is one which creates a prosperous, dynamic economy in which living standards are rising rapidly. Thanks to the buoyancy of tax revenues, the Government have been able to target more help than ever to the families who need it most.

Anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that a large proportion of any increase in child benefit goes to the families that have benefited most from our policies of cutting income tax rates and raising personal allowances. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has mentioned, the poorest families on income support would gain nothing at all from an increase in child benefit, and neither would those claiming family credit. Using increases in child benefit to raise the standard of living in the most needy families is about as cost-effective as using a cruise missile to dislodge a coconut in a shy.

The Government have shown their commitment to helping poorer families through the generous funding of family credit. Family credit is particularly valuable because it offers families with children a helping hand out of dependency and into the world of work. It is also an effective way of tackling the poverty and unemployment traps because it extends a relatively long way up the income scales. A person earning £9,300 a year with two children aged 12 and 14 will still be eligible for family credit next year. I understand that at the end of last year the Department of Social Security had received almost 500,000 claims for family credit and had made some 300,000 awards. That is a promising start, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will assure the House that no effort will be spared in bringing the scheme to the attention of more families. Family credit is an excellent way of helping needy families; it deserves the widest possible publicity.

The 1970s proved decisively that Socialist policies of intervention, planning and redistribution are utterly incapable of delivering the improved public services and rising living standards on which the quality of life in ordinary families so crucially depends. By contrast, the 1980s has been a decade of increasing prosperity and choice for families on all levels of the earnings scale.

5.58 pm
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Child benefit is currently £7.25 per week. To maintain its present value, it should be £7.70 and to make good the April 1988 freeze it should be £8. Taking into account compensation for the lack of a real rise in November 1985 it should be £8.35; that is more than £1 a week more than it is now. The undeniable consequence of this situation is that it will increase the poverty trap and tilt the balance away from the carer.

The question in our minds tonight is why do the Government retain child benefit? Is it simply because they do not have the moral courage to admit that they are abandoning it? But to be charitable, we will investigate some of the areas in which the Government might have a good case. Let us consider economic, social, political and ideological factors. The economic factors have been well rehearsed by the Government and by the Opposition.

There is a £5 billion Budget surplus. The Government's public expenditure target has been achieved—so much so that they are now paying back part of the national debt. From the Government's point of view there is a sound economy, yet they are not increasing child benefit, and that has dire consequences for families.

The Government like to remind us that they are a tax-cutting Government. That is perverse. Since 1978, the tax burden of the average person has increased. The latest figures given by the Government in the past few weeks show that the tax burden for a married man with two children, on average earnings of £254 a week, has gone up from 35.1 per cent. to 37.3 per cent. The message to be gained is that the poverty that we see today is tax-induced, and the Government have taken no notice of that.

We are now dealing with the consequences of the Social Security Act 1986, the most fundamental reappraisal, we were told, since Beveridge and one that will keep us on course for the next 40 years as Beveridge had done for the past 40 years. Sad to say, the Social Security Act is a disaster for family policy. Only last year, by an amendment to the Act, the Government denied 220,000 —almost a quarter of a million—mothers and children entitlement to welfare food and free milk. The consequences of that are to be seen in my constituency. A few weeks ago, I wrote to the director of education. He informed me that from August to December this year there had been a reduction in the number of children taking free meals. The figure was 8,600 a year ago, and it is now about 6,000. That is a reduction of about 25 to 30 per cent.

Does that match what we see day in and day out in our constituencies and our surgeries? Since April, we have dealt with the unremitting consequences of the 1986 Act. Week by week we have witnessed the qualitative degeneration of life. Tensions, crises of conscience, and heartaches have been caused by a lack of economic freedom. That is what mothers tell us in our surgeries week in and week out.

Appeals have been made to Tory Back Benchers. Surely they must be hearing about the same problems. They owe a duty to their consciences and to their constituents to refer such problems to the Government Front Bench. I shall be charitable—at least some of them must know what is going on in the real world, even though they do not live in it. These things are happening every week. Each time child benefit is frozen, more families go into family credit. That has political consequences.

The Government tell us that the Social Security Act 1986 is a targeting measure. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) mentioned the word "targeting" with pride. What does targeting mean? It is a nice description that gives the impression that benefits go to the right people. That is not the case. Targeting increases means-tested benefits. It does not hit the target. It destroys self-reliance and self-esteem and, more important politically, it increases dependency.

Let us leave the social, ethical and moral aspects aside and consider the reality. Forty years ago, a couple with two children paid no net income tax unless the father earned the equivalent in 1988 prices of £250 a week. Today, an individual pays more in tax than he receives in child benefit when his earnings reach £137 a week. To underline the dependency argument, I refer hon. Members to the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) on 28 July 1988. The Minister said: After the addition of benefits, the net income of a hypothetical married couple with four dependent children…paying average rent and local authority rates, would be £123.25 at gross weekly earnings of £75…Prior to the reform of social security net income at £75 gross earnings would have been about £127.—[Official Report, 28 July 1988; Vol. 1459, c. 509.] If that individual's wage is more than doubled from £75 a week to £165, he will receive only £17 a week more. That says everything about the Government's Social Security Act 1986 and about targeting. There is no conclusion other than that targeting increases means testing.

The latest figures for 1985 show that 4 million people and families are living on the poverty line. That is double the 1979 figure. Also, 2.25 million children are in poverty. That is nearly double the 1979 figure. We get that information from the low-income statistics that the Government are wilfully stopping from now on, because they do not want people to know the real situation.

Therefore, one examines an aspect of the Government's ideology and says, "If they are freezing child benefit and putting more on means test as a consequence, why do the Government go ahead with it? Did the Government know what they were doing?" When the Secretary of State explained it to the Prime Minister and the other members of the Cabinet, was there unanimous support? Was a majority in support? Was it done in the knowledge that the consequences were an increase in means-tested benefits, because it goes against the rhetoric? Or was it done in ignorance? If it was done with full knowledge, the Government are guilty of nothing less than political mendacity. If it was done in ignorance, they should take the opportunity to look again at what they did. Was the Cabinet decision unanimous? Was it taken at full Cabinet level or by a sub-committee of the Cabinet?

By not increasing child benefit the Prime Minister has demonstrated that she is interested only in a small constituency—the top 1 per cent. Individuals such as Sir Ralph Halpern will gain £4,800 a week as a result of the Government's tax cuts£enough to keep 60 families of four individuals on income support. The Prime Minister has gone to Scotland to state her ideology over the past year. She has used the platform of the Church of Scotland to put her case and to tell us to stop moaning and to get on with it. I shall quote selectively from the New Testament, in just the same way as the Prime Minister does. I refer to St. Mark, chapter 10, verses 13 and 14. The disciples were dismayed by the people who brought children to Jesus. He rebuked them and welcomed the young ones, saying Suffer the little children to come unto me". That quotation is appropriate. To put that remark in a contemporary context, the Government are echoing the words of the New Testament, but in a perverse manner, by telling young children and their parents to suffer, but to suffer in silence, because the Government are not putting up child benefit. The Government want them to suffer away from the public gaze, because they are too preoccupied with their own narrow constituency. That is the gospel of St. Margaret for the Sir Ralphs of this world. That is the Government's message. By their deeds you shall know them. The Government have made that crystal clear by their de facto abolition of child benefit.

6.7 pm

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I have been surprised by Opposition Members' speeches. They have ignored the basic conundrum of our social security system —that, at a time of record spending on social security, some of our fellow citizens live in shameful squalor. The reason for that deplorable state of affairs is simple: the vast bulk of our social security expenditure is non-selective. Surely it is wrong that, for every pound spent on family credit which goes to those in need, £11 should be spent on child benefit which is non-selective. Surely it is a strange state of affairs that £406 million is spent on family credit, but £350 million is spent on child benefit going to taxpayers paying more than the standard rate of income tax.

Last year, Opposition Members wrongly criticised the community charge, saying that it would bear equally on the dustman and the duke. However, tonight they are asking that the dustman and the duke get the same increase in child benefit. They said last year that the Budget tax concessions were unnecessary, but 80 per cent. of those who would benefit from an increase in child benefit are taxpayers. Of those, 500,000 pay tax at the higher rate.

This debate is not about the relief of poverty. Anyone who is concerned about that should merely ask one question: is it better to spend a given sum on family credit, which goes only to the needy, or should that money be spent in uprating child benefit, which goes equally to the scholar at Eton and to the child in a single-parent family? As the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, is it right that, at a time when a large majority of people enjoy far greater prosperity, everyone should be given higher child benefit? Is it right that, for every £1 spent on family credit, £11 is spent on child benefit?

The Opposition's strategy is not to cure poverty in the family, but rather to hanker after a non-selective benefit. At the last general election, the Conservative party made a promise that child benefit would be paid, as now, to the mother. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will come forward at the next election with a different promise—of a root-and-branch reform of child support. The present system is inadequate because it often leads to money being given to parents who do not need it, whereas those in real need and poverty are given an inadequate amount.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I hope that, in talking about root-and-branch reform, my hon. Friend is not suggesting that child benefit should be taken away from the mother.

Mr. Marshall

I love my wife too much to suggest that ladies should have that money taken away from them. I am suggesting that the money should go to those in greatest need rather than to everyone, as it does under the present system. That does not deal with the problem of family poverty, which is an insult to a civilised society. By hankering after a universal solution and giving the same to everyone, the Opposition would guarantee the continuation of poverty. It is only my right hon. Friend's policies that give those in greatest need any hope of escaping from the present trap.

6.13 pm
Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

The Secretary of State is taking us down memory lane. Obviously, he does not live in the real world. Child benefit, which is paid to every mother, is a lifeline for my constituents. I only wish that some Conservative Members would realise what the Tory Cabinet is planning. It intends to take away child benefit, and it is dishonest of the Secretary of State to say otherwise. We know that £203 million has been saved in the past year by freezing child benefit. Where did £133 million go? In improvements in the other means-tested benefits, the Government paid out only about £70 million. The freeze is not intended to help the poor or poor children, but to help the Conservative party. It has helped to fill up the vaults and safes where the Government have put the money they have saved by making cuts over the past 10 years.

The Opposition are especially disgusted and dismayed by the begging-bowl society that is being created. We do not want means-tested benefits, and that is why we favour child benefit. No labels or stigma are attached to child benefit. The benefit is claimed once and then paid until the child becomes an adult. Labour Members know what poverty is like. We live with it every day, and when we look around us we see children and youngsters who receive no benefit under the system that the Government have introduced.

Denmark has had a change of heart. In July 1987, the Danes opted for a child benefit system because they felt that it was much fairer. They reckon that I million children in some of the poorest families may lose because of a low take-up of family credit. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has made it clear that, in talking about targeting and ill-targeted benefits, the Secretary of State does not favour child benefit. When the Secretary of State made his statement in October 1987, he mentioned that child benefit was ill-targeted, so he believed that it needed to be reviewed and changed.

The Secretary of State also made a statement about family credit, of which he said that there would be a 70 per cent. take-up. He was wrong: there is still only a 54 per cent. take-up for family credit. People on family credit are subjected to snoopers. These snoopers receive memos from the Department of Social Security which clearly state that, when defaulters are taken to court, the snoopers should ensure that the judge reads their diaries and notes, because the people with whom they are dealing are wholly ignorant and inarticulate. If the snoopers need other assistance or resources, they can go to the depot and collect their spying glasses, wellington boots and cameras. That is the society that the Government ask us to accept and those are the memos that are given to snoopers. That shows how much the Government care about the poor. They must change their attitude on child benefit and lift the freeze. They should pay £8.25 a week to bring child benefit up to its proper level.

6.17 pm
Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

The Government amendment to the Opposition motion is more an addendum. I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the additional resources to be provided from April for low-income families with children, although the goal of higher take-up of the new family credit remains a challenge. I am sure that other organisations can help and encourage people to claim family credit, and I am sure that the claim forms could be simplified in due course. It is not easy to obtain benefit nowadays, because benefit offices are vigorously thorough in processing claims and one must not run away with the idea that new or existing benefits are easily claimed.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said about child benefit. I welcome the fact that the Government will keep child benefit and that my right hon. Friend will review it every year, as is his statutory duty. Helping families has always been a major item in the social programme of Conservative Governments. When the Conservative party has been in opposition, helping the family has always been a major plank of its policy at elections. Child benefit is a popular benefit, with virtually 100 per cent. take-up. It plays an important part in strengthening family stabiliy and it is a great reassurance to mothers if family circumstances change abruptly for the worse—as they often do, alas—to know that child benefit is coming through.

A more serious point is that there is widespread evidence of the extent to which the divorce and separation rate has increased. It is increasing in all parts of the country, regardless of whether unemployment is increasing or decreasing. It is a great reassurance to mothers in personal difficulties, which are unsettling, to know that one easily claimable child benefit will continue to be paid to them without any bureaucratic hassle. Within this general background of increasing family break-ups and tensions, it is surely not in the national interest that child benefit should fade away because of inflation.

Much has been said and written about targeting, and one should say right at the outset that, if the target of child benefit is to help mothers and their families, that target has been reached effectively. We must accept that it is not possible to have absolute precision in all benefits and, although one entirely accepts that some social security benefits must be means-tested, there is a danger in taking the theoretical argument too far. My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security who, alas, is not in his place will recall the late Iain Macleod's advice to the Conservative party: when getting on a train to the land of political theory, it is important to get off before it hits the buffers.

I should like to give two examples of universal benefits that are claimed almost 100 per cent., although there could be a theoretical argument for having some selectivity for them. The personal tax allowance and the married man's tax allowance are claimed almost 100 per cent., although one could argue that, because of today's high earnings, there should be some selectivity. Subsidised school meals are claimed in many areas of the country; that is, where local education authorities provide them. However, it could be argued that children from better-off families should not enjoy the advantage of subsidised school meals. Any attempt to change the universality of those two provisions—subsidised school meals in particular—would cause uproar and would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

From the practical point of view, trying to tie a graduated system of child benefit to the mother's earnings would be another tax and bureaucratic nightmare. Apart from anything else, it would completely contradict the Government's policy, which has been successful and welcome, of creating a sharp growth in the number of self-employed women for whom earnings fluctuate sharply from year to year. Changing to some form of graduated system would run clean contrary to the Government's general economic policy of encouraging more women into part-time work, which is vital to sustain economic growth. As we have fewer and fewer school leavers and as we get nearer to 1992, the part-time work of women will be vital for us in meeting the challenge of 1992 and the economic benefits that that will create.

The economic benefits of having more women in part-time work could easily pay for the cost of unfreezing child benefit. My examples show that, although targeting child benefit is theoretically interesting, practically speaking, it is hopeless.

In 48 hours, Mr. Bush will be inaugurated as the 41st president of the United States of America, having been swept to power partly for saying that he wanted to create a gentler and kinder America. By building on the social security changes of the 1970–74 Conservative Government and by extending and developing those changes, the Government have done much to create a gentler and kinder Britain, but we would make faster progress in that direction if child benefit were unfrozen.

6.22 pm
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to speak in favour of increasing child benefit in line with other benefits. I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) and hope that many Conservative Members will have the courage of their convictions and vote for the motion and against the amendment.

It is an indisputable fact that child benefit is being constantly eroded by inflation and that £7.25 does not go very far as an income supplement. In many areas more than half of that £7.25 would be needed just to pay for school meals.

I well remember when I was bringing up only one child the nightmare of paying just for footwear. I was a part-time teacher and my husband was a printer so we had quite a good income, but so that my son could take full advantage of his school curriculum, he needed a pair of ordinary shoes, a pair of plimsolls, wellington boots, football boots, tennis shoes, and climbing shoes and he grew out of all of them every few months and they had to be replaced.

The other day the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security recommended that pensioners buy second-hand clothes at jumble sales. I hope that no one will advocate buying second-hand shoes for children. Unfortunately, parents often have to do so and, as a result, their children's feet are ruined. Even if they have reasonable earnings parents need a much bigger supplement to their income—much more than £7.25 per week per child.

Women note that, although the Government are so grudging about child benefit, they always seem to find the money for military spending, for example, £1 billion for modernising tanks. If one asked most of the women in this country, they would say that they wanted more money for life, not for death.

As has already been said, child poverty is rising. The Child Poverty Action Group has shown that more than one in five children are in families living below the poverty line.

The universality of child benefit is important. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) said that the benefit should be selective and referred to dustmen and dukes. I remind him that we are talking about women, not about dustmen and dukes, as a few lines from a letter referred to in an article in The Independent makes clear. It states: As a woman with two children who had a husband earning £250 per week who provided us with nothing, the only way we survived was with our child benefit, and that was only because he couldn't get his hands on it. So much for selective benefit. It is universal benefits that help women and we are talking about women who are trying to take care of their children.

Child benefit is also important as a form of recognition for women. Another woman wrote to The Guardian: I am a single parent with three young children and. I am dependent on Income Support. As such, I do not benefit financially from Child Benefit because † it is deducted at source from the Income Support I am entitled to. However, I feel at least that the child benefit is my money, that it is my right to receive it, that I would get it regardless of my financial situation, and it makes me feel less dependent on state means-tested benefit. Perhaps I am foolish but psychologically it is useful. When my youngest child is at full-time nursery or school, I will do my utmost to return to work although it may have to be part-time employment. Knowing that I will have my Child Benefit to boost my income will be an incentive to return to work."

The woman goes on to say that in the future her taxes will contribute to many kinds of tax relief, including, for example, mortgage interest relief, in which she is not interested. She therefore feels that people without children should in principle have to contribute towards the welfare of people with children because it is the children who are the future of this country.

Child benefit is also an insurance for mothers. Often men walk out and leave their families penniless, but the mother knows that she has the benefit book and that she can therefore at least provide food for her children until she can get more help. As has already been said, the take-up rate of child benefit is good whereas targeted benefits do not always reach their target. Less than half the poor families in this country get all the benefit to which they are entitled either through ignorance, pride, or bureaucratic stumbling blocks. The fact is that targeted benefits do not work as well as universal benefits.

I often talk about harmonisation in Europe and I should like to quote the comparable figures. In Great Britain a mother of three receives approximately £87 a month in child benefit, which is very little recognition for her role as a carer. In West Germany, the benefit is £125; in Luxembourg it is £198, which is more than double what mothers in Great Britain receive; and in France the figure is £257.

I ardently support the motion. Child benefit should be increased in line with other benefits as a start to recognising the value of women's work in bringing up children.

6.29 pm
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

Time allows me to make only two or three brief points. We switched to child benefit many years ago, partly because the old child tax allowance could not benefit the poorest.

The poorest are now, by and large, protected, but two specific categories are losing out. The first is the majority of those eligible for family credit, because, as we have heard from the figures given today, only a minority of those are claiming. The second is those paying income tax at the standard rate and earning just about the level of family credit, who received no increase, but many of whom in fairly limited circumstances are looking after children.

I welcome, as I am sure do all hon. Members, the fact that there is a major campaign under way to increase take-up of family credit. However, until the take-up is at least twice the present level it is surely not credible to base our support for families on that system. That simply does not add up. I again urge the Government to reconsider their policy in that respect.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) rightly mentioned that we have a selective amnesia about child benefit as against reductions in taxation. Of course, he is right. However, it goes a little further, because, as he rightly said, we look for a mixture of means-tested and universal benefits. When my right hon. Friend said that, several hon. Members nodded. I nodded and so, too, did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If every time we have a universal benefit we tear it apart by saying that sometimes it will go to people who earn a little more than others and, therefore, that invalidates it, we will end up with a system that has no universal benefits. It will have only selective benefits, and the poverty and employment traps will be horrendous to behold.

6.31 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

This has been an interesting debate, and in some respects a strange one. I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said. During the 1983–87 Parliament I became inured to the idea that in the Conservative Government, of which I had previously not had experience, Ministers talk much more of previous Governments' records than their own. However, it is said that hope springs eternal, so I nurtured the illusion that in the Parliament of 1987 and beyond perhaps that phenomenon would cease. Clearly, that was a mistake.

I begin by mentioning something that the Secretary of State said about the Government's record and a point about which he became quite emotional. I believe that he thumped the Dispatch Box, or came as near to doing it as any Secretary of State ever does. He said that he was not prepared to put the economic success of the Government in jeopardy. The clear implication of his remarks was that to increase child benefit at all would mean putting that economic success in jeopardy.

I found that an extraordinary remark for many reasons, but I want specifically to mention two. In the Budget before last, I listened to the Chancellor—it was not long after the decision to freeze child benefit had been announced—telling us in his playful way how he liked to entertain himself in each Budget by abolishing some little obscure tax of which no one had ever heard. He felt that it was a perk that went with the job. He listed two or three minor and capital taxation changes and one or two others, and indicated that the lost revenue to the Treasury from those changes would be between £100 million and £120 million. That was the very sum that he had not been able to spare that year to increase child benefit. Of course, in last year's Budget, as a result of changes to inheritance tax and inheritance tax relief, precisely 2,000 wealthy people benefited instead of 12 million children because those changes cost the same amount that would have been needed to increase child benefit in line with inflation. We can dispense, therefore, with the emotion of the Secretary of State when he tells us that he is not prepared to jeopardise the economic success of the country. If it can be jeopardised for 2,000 already wealthy people, it will not do much harm to give more to 12 million children.

The Government's argument about child benefit now, as opposed to comments made in the past by senior members of the Government, appears to be based on three assumptions. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) laid the first one very ably before us. It appears that the Government, and perhaps some of their Back Benchers, may no longer be committed to financial support specifically for families with children. The Government claim to recognise, nevertheless, the difficulties that withdrawing that support might cause to families on especially low incomes. They further claim that they are dealing effectively with those difficulties and are putting special emphasis on families in low-paid work.

Secondly, the Government appear to have decided to give effect to their apparent decision that child support should go only to the poorest by switching funds from universal child support through child benefit to pay for the improvements, of which they boast, in help for the poorest families with children.

Thirdly, the Government appear to have decided—this is an important point, which has been mentioned by hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel)—to ignore the evidence, which they and their predecessors have found compelling for at least 10 years, that the overall income being received by a family unit is not necessarily a clear, simple and direct guide to the distribution of that income within that family. I say that the Government have decided to ignore that because I know of no study—the Government have not cited one—that suggests that this is no longer a problem. Indeed, anecdotal evidence continues to roll in, especially from women, suggesting that there is still a problem over the distribution of income within a family. It does not occur only when there is family breakdown; it occurs on a more day-to-day basis. It is crucial that a regular income of a known size should go into the mother's pocket.

The Government's overall approach is not only flawed in theory, but is more than a little dishonest in its execution. We believe that it is strange that this is the only Government in Europe, if not in the developed world, who appear wilfully to give no recognition to the contribution made to society and to the future of all citizens by those who are able to and choose to have children. To abandon the idea of general child support would be an extraordinary and far-reaching decision, but it appears to be one that the Government are considering.

The Government, having apparently decided to renege on the principle of universal support for families with children, are boasting of the extra support that they are giving to such families. A number of Conservative Members who spoke in support of child benefit have, nevertheless, not only welcomed the support that the Government claim to be giving to poorer families, but felt that the Government's case in that respect was to some extent justified. Of course, the Government have used that argument to justify the freezing of child benefit in cash terms—in other words, cutting it in real terms. They say that some of the money—one third on the last occasion—has gone to children in the poorer families, and the Government emphasise that it goes especially to families in low-paid work.

In view of the odd questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was asked earlier, I should make it clear that the Opposition believe that families with low incomes and in low-paid work should receive extra support, but we do not believe that that should be at the expense of other families with children, many of whom may be only slightly better off.

Does the Government's claim that they are giving extra resources to the poorest families stand up to close examination? On more than one occasion we have drawn the House's attention to the fact that the poorest families on income support are worse off than they were in April 1988 because of the net effect of all the Government's changes. They remain worse off in net terms even after the extra money that was released by the freezing of child benefit; at least that money did not go to the Treasury.

In these debates the Government usually concentrate not on the money going to those on income support but on the money that goes to those entitled to family credit. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston and a number of other hon. Members have dealt with how that principle is cast into doubt by the low take-up of family credit and the fact that that means that many who are losing from the child benefit freeze are not gaining from family credit.

But even families who claim family credit are in many cases not, as the Government seek to imply, better off than they were before the April 1988 changes or before child benefit was frozen. Figures recently released to me in reply to a parliamentary question show that families in the lowest paid work—those who stand to lose on the swings of housing benefit cuts what they gain on the roundabout of family credit—are still, after all the Secretary of State's boasts of increased money, worse off in cash terms, never mind in real terms, than they were before the social security changes in April last year.

The answer to which I refer shows that a family, with two children aged four and six, paying average housing costs is worse off in cash terms at earnings up to £100 a week than it was before April 1988. So, too, is a family with three children, and a single-parent family whether that parent is in full-time or part-time work.

The Minister for Social Security and, in particular, the Secretary of State have said on many occasions how much they dislike people being trapped into dependency. It has been pointed out to him by more than one hon. Member today that freezing child benefit draws thousands more families into dependency on means-tested benefit. The scale of that dependency is shown by the figures that I have just given and by the way that benefit is withdrawn from such families as their income rises.

In the lower category of the cases I have quoted—those whose earnings are between £60 and £100 a week—the net increase in their income will be less than 50p and in some cases as low as 25p a week from a gross increase of £10. Were anybody to be successful—no doubt they would have to change their job—in obtaining the full increase of £40 a week, the net benefit at the end would be the princely sum of £1.37. I shall repeat that for hon. Members who cannot believe their ears. They will be £1.37 better off net as a result of a £40 increase in gross earnings. That is what a tight withdrawal of means-tested benefit means when the Government claim that they want to help only the people in the greatest need.

I repeat that families on incomes of up to £100 a week are worse off in cash terms than they were in April 1988, and that is without taking into account the losses that have resulted from, for example, the withdrawal of free school meals which will make them £5 to £6 a week worse off.

There is one other aspect of those figures to which I want to draw the attention of the House. A number of hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Government—I accept that there have not been many, even, I hasten to add, on the Conservative Benches—have said that they think that the direction of Government policy is right. I am fairly confident that many of those hon. Members do not appreciate how tightly their Government are drawing the net of means-testing.

Let me give one example. Many hon. Members will recall the many occasions on which Ministers at the Dispatch Box have spoken of housing benefit going too far up the income scale. The same figures to which I am referring show that a two-child family in low-paid work loses all entitlement to help with rent or rates when its gross income reaches £90 a week. A family with £90 a week is considered by the Government, in how their income scales work, to be sufficiently well off to need no support with housing costs. I caution hon. Members who think that it is all right to make theoretical speeches about how there is no harm in concentrating help on those in greatest need to take a much more careful look at precisely what their Government mean by those terms.

I shall save the Minister time and trouble by accepting that the figures that I have given are not necessarily representative because there are variations in housing costs, and so on. But I mention in passing that they at least reflect the position of families who are paying average levels of rent and rates which is more than can be said of the leaflet "Better off in work" published by the Government which uses below average levels of rent and rates, no doubt because they make the figures look rather better. At least the Government figures that I am quoting have the merit of reflecting the position in average circumstances. Again, the figure for average rates is the one that the Government use in setting levels of income support, so presumably they do not consider it inadequate for those purposes.

All in all, there is little doubt that a careful look at the figure shows that, whatever the Government claim, families in the lowest-paid work are not better off because the Government have frozen child benefit. The net effect of the Government's policy means that they are still substantially worse off.

The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) said that by freezing child benefit for the second year running the Government have forfeited their claim to be the party of the family, and I agree wholeheartedly. But I have no doubt that the Government will argue that they have merely rewritten the terms of that claim. I hope that I have been able to show that even in the terms of that rewritten claim the Government still cannot claim to be the party of the family, unless one takes the view of the former Under-Secretary, now the Chief Secretary, who said during the last but one debate on this subject that it did not matter that the Government were not increasing child benefit because they gave the family,moral support. He was not able to quantify that sum on a weekly basis.

If child benefit is frozen to release money for tax cuts, as many hon. Members have said, it is the better-off, not the worse-off, who will get the best of the bargain. Everything in the Government's record suggests that that may be the Government's idea. Many families in low-paid work pay no tax. Many more pay far less in tax than they receive in child benefit. So the balance of advantage so far, in that respect at least, is still with them. That is where the Government claim they want it to remain.

If child benefit were abolished and the money was given to fund a cut in the rate of income tax, every two-child family with an income below £28,000 a year—that leaves out of account any allowance that it may have to offset against a mortgage—would be worse off. I remind Conservative Members that that would include Members of Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston challenged the Secretary of State to justify increasing the universal tax allowance paid to married men by 22 per cent. and cutting child benefit in the same period by 13 per cent. The Secretary of State was so engrossed in his history lesson that he overlooked the reply that I am sure he had to hand.

We now challenge the Minister for Social Security to justify the difference between the treatment of the universal married man's allowance and the universal child benefit.

I was sorry to hear the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham say that he and some of his hon. Friends might not vote with us, but I was pleased to hear that they might do so on another occasion. Nevertheless, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, not only to consider carefully whether that is the right decision, but to take the argument into the enemy camp—if I may so describe his Government—and to seek between now and the next debate on these matters to win over more of their hon. Friends to our side and to their side of the argument. After all, 12 million children are waiting on their answer.

6.48 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

At the beginning of his speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State examined with some care the Labour party's record on child support. It appeared to be an experience not greatly enjoyed by Opposition Members. I can understand their embarrassment, which seems to be reflected in the attendance at this debate on an Opposition day. The bulk of the Labour party seems to have little stomach for an exchange of views and records on this subject.

In a sense, I agree with the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) that this has been a strange debate, not just because of the attendance, but because there seems to have been an emphasis in the discussions across the Floor of the House and between Conservative Members that we are being asked to decide whether to index or to destroy child benefit. I utterly refute the idea that that is the question we are considering.

I want first to deal with a number of points raised in the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) overstated his case. I hope that on reflection he will decide that some of the words he used—although in the gentlest of tones—to describe the Government's policy in this area were inappropriate. It is not true that, by not uprating child benefit, we shall hit the least well-off. As my right hon. Friend knows, if we uprated it, other benefits would be adjusted accordingly, so no benefit would flow to the least well-off families. I expect exaggeration from Opposition Members, but at least within our own party we should define the Government's policy accurately. So I hope that my right hon. Friend and others who may be inclined to support him will examine the overall record of the Government over the past few years in respect of low-income families.

Government expenditure on family income supplement, family credit, supplementary benefit and income support and housing benefit for lone parents shows their commitment to supporting such people. At 1988–89 prices, that expenditure in 1986–87 was £2.69 billion; it was £2.917 billion in the following year and £3.159 billion the year after that—increases of 8.4 per cent. and 8.3 per cent. year by year in real terms, and a real increase of 17 per cent. between 1986–87 and 1988–89. Those are large increases, ahead of the rate of inflation, and they show our commitment to supporting low-income families.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham raised two other points. He said that the forms that we were using were long and complicated. I acknowledge some truth in that; we are looking at them carefully to determine whether they can be shortened and simplified. Against this criticism, it must be said that 500,000 claim forms have been completed and sent in for family credit, of which 70 per cent. have been successful. Nevertheless, we shall see whether the forms represent a disincentive to claiming.

My right hon. Friend appeared to accept the point I had made in earlier debates—that it is not a matter of all or nothing in terms of income-related or universal benefits. I have used the phrase "judicious mixture", and my right hon. Friend seemed to accept that as a sensible target. Hon. Members who accept it as such should examine overall levels of child support for 1988–89, which show that we shall spend rather more than £8.5 billion across the board. of which rather more than £4.6 billion will be spent on child benefit. That seems a fair reflection of a judicious balance between the use of income-related and universal benefits.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) suggested that I sum up the debate in gentle terms. He cooed like a dove towards some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I was glad to hear that they intend to resist the temptation to join him in the Lobby. He mentioned comparative rises, questioning, rather than asserting, information about the living standards of families with and without children. He should compare such information with the reduction in real standards of living under the last Labour Government, and listen to this information about the Government's record.

From 1979 to 1985, average living standards of couples with children improved by 8.6 per cent. Living standards of couples without children rose by 5.9 per cent., and those of single people without children by 5.5 per cent. So living standards of families with children undoubtedly rose faster than those of families without them, and faster than those of single people. I hope the hon. Member for Birkenhead will take that information away and, wearing his other hat, find supporting evidence for these figures, by which I am content to stand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) spoke a great deal about the—as she called it—indiscriminate nature of child benefit and about how it is important to look at social policy in the round, in the context of economic policies. It is correct that we have provided a massive increase in overall social security provision, which has been possible only because of the economic success that we have managed to achieve.

I come now to the remarks of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). The first, mentioned by others in the debate, must be rebutted immediately. It is that our provision for and recognition of the costs of bringing up children do not compare favourably with those of other countries. The record within the European Community shows that, for two-parent families with one child under the age of two, the United Kingdom ranks second only to the Republic of Ireland in its child benefits payments. For two-child families, both children being under the age of six, we rank fifth in the EEC, behind Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy. But it is worth reminding ourselves, in the context of child benefit payments, that Germany, Greece and Italy all means-test for child benefit, and Italy and Portugal link eligibility for this benefit to insurance status. We have no need to be ashamed of our record of recognising the extra costs of providing for children.

Next, the hon. Member for Livingston mentioned the impact of the poverty trap under our present system of social security benefits. Of course, I understand that there continues to be an element of this trap in the system. There always will be, with a mixture of universal and income-related benefits. Only if we converted to a wholly universal system would the problems of the trap be removed. But under the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported, people whose gross incomes rose received only a small percentage of that increase, and could lose more than 100 per cent. of it and people could double their gross income with no resultant net increase in income.

Family credit is designed to be generous to working families with children on the lowest incomes. Child benefit could not possibly be the sole provision in this area unless it were fixed at a level of such generosity that the taxpayer could not bear the cost.

I acknowledge the advantages of child benefit. It is., and will continue this year to he, an important part of the recognition of the extra costs of bringing up children. As has been said, it goes to between 98 per cent. and 100 per cent. of those entitled to it. It goes to the mother, and I acknowledge the importance of the mother having that extra resource. It is also important, therefore, that Opposition Members encourage the maximum take-up of family credit, which also goes to the mother.

But child benefit, important though it is, also goes to a considerable number of people who do not need the help. It is right to deal with that problem and to decide, when determining our system of support and what extra resources will be devoted to child support, what percentage of them will go to a universal benefit and what percentage will be targeted on those who need help most. As the Government have not uprated child benefit in the past two years, we have sought to ensure that we devote extra resources to helping families with the lowest incomes, with the results that I have already outlined. We have no reason to be ashamed of our record. The failure of Labour Members to support their Front Bench is a mark of their realisation of how weak their party's arguments are.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 231, Noes 297.

Division No. 38] [7.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Boateng, Paul
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Boyes, Roland
Allen, Graham Bradley, Keith
Alton, David Bray, Dr Jeremy
Anderson, Donald Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Armstrong, Hilary Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashton, Joe Buchan, Norman
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Buckley, George J.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Caborn, Richard
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Callaghan, Jim
Barron, Kevin Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Battle, John Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Beckett, Margaret Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Beith, A. J. Canavan, Dennis
Bell, Stuart Cartwright, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bermingham, Gerald Clay, Bob
Bidwell, Sydney Clelland, David
Blair, Tony Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Blunkett, David Cohen, Harrv
Coleman, Donald Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Kirkwood, Archy
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Lambie, David
Corbett, Robin Lamond, James
Corbyn, Jeremy Leadbirter, Ted
Cousins, Jim Leighton, Ron
Crowther, Stan Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Cryer, Bob Lewis, Terry
Cummings, John Litherland, Robert
Cunliffe, Lawrence Livingstone, Ken
Cunningham, Dr John Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dalyell, Tarn Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Darling, Alistair Loyden, Eddie
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McAllion, John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McAvoy, Thomas
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McCartney, Ian
Dewar, Donald McCrea, Rev William
Dixon, Don Macdonald, Calum A.
Dobson, Frank McFall, John
Doran, Frank McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Douglas, Dick McKelvey, William
Dunnachie, Jimmy McLeish, Henry
Dun woody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Maclennan, Robert
Eadie, Alexander McTaggart, Bob
Eastham, Ken McWilliam, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) Madden, Max
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Fatchett, Derek Mallon, Seamus
Fearn, Ronald Marek, Dr John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Fisher, Mark Martlew, Eric
Flannery, Martin Maxton, John
Flynn, Paul Meacher, Michael
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Meale, Alan
Foster, Derek Michael, Alun
Foulkes, George Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fraser, John Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Fyfe, Maria Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Galbraith, Sam Mconie, Dr Lewis
Galloway, George Morgan, Rhodri
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Morley, Elliott
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wshawe)
George, Bruce Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Mowlam, Marjorie
Gordon, Mildred Mullin, Chris
Gould, Bryan Nellist, Dave
Graham, Thomas Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) O'Brien, William
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) O'Neill, Martin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grocott, Bruce Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hardy, Peter Patchett, Terry
Harman, Ms Harriet Pendry, Tom
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Pike, Peter L.
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Heffer, Eric S. Prescott, John
Henderson, Doug Primarolo, Dawn
Hinchliffe, David Quin, Ms Joyce
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Radice, Giles
Holland, Stuart Randall, Stuart
Home Robertson, John Richardson, Jo
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Robertson, George
Howells, Geraint Robinson, Geoffrey
Hoyle, Doug Rogers, Allan
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Ruddock, Joan
Illsley, Eric Salmond, Alex
Ingram, Adam Sedgemore, Brian
Janner, Greville Sheerman, Barry
Johnston, Sir Russell Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Short, Clare
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Sillars, Jim
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Skinner, Dennis
Kennedy, Charles Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Kilfedder, James Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Spearing, Nigel Wareing, Robert N.
Steel, Rt Hon David Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Steinberg, Gerry Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Stott, Roger Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Strang, Gavin Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Straw, Jack Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Winnick, David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Worthington, Tony
Turner, Dennis Wray, Jimmy
Vaz, Keith
Wall, Pat Tellers for the Ayes:
Wallace, James Mrs. Llin Golding and
Walley, Joan Mr. Frank Haynes.
Adley, Robert Currie, Mrs Edwina
Aitken, Jonathan Curry, David
Alexander, Richard Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Allason, Rupert Davis, David (Boothferry)
Amess, David Devlin, Tim
Amos, Alan Dickens, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, James Dicks, Terry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dorrell, Stephen
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Ashby, David Dover, Den
Aspinwall, Jack Durant, Tony
Atkinson, David Eggar, Tim
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Emery, Sir Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Evennett, David
Batiste, Spencer Favell, Tony
Bendall, Vivian Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bevan, David Gilroy Fishburn, John Dudley
Blackburn, Dr John G. Forman, Nigel
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Body, Sir Richard Forth, Eric
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Boscawen, Hon Robert Franks, Cecil
Boswell, Tim Freeman, Roger
Bottomley, Peter French, Douglas
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fry, Peter
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Gale, Roger
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gardiner, George
Bowis, John Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Gill, Christopher
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Glyn, Dr Alan
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Goodhart, Sir Philip
Brazier, Julian Good lad, Alastair
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Browne, John (Winchester) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Gorst, John
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Gow, Ian
Burns, Simon Gower, Sir Raymond
Burt, Alistair Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butler, Chris Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Butterfill, John Gregory, Conal
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Grist, Ian
Carrington, Matthew Ground, Patrick
Carttiss, Michael Grylls, Michael
Cash, William Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Chapman, Sydney Hampson, Dr Keith
Chope, Christopher Hanley, Jeremy
Churchill, Mr Hannam, John
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Harris, David
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Haselhurst, Alan
Colvin, Michael Hayes, Jerry
Conway, Derek Hayward, Robert
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Heddle, John
Cope, Rt Hon John Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Couchman, James Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cran, James Hill, James
Hind, Kenneth Maples, John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Marland, Paul
Holt, Richard Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Hordern, Sir Peter Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Howard, Michael Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Mates, Michael
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Mellor, David
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Mills, Iain
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Miscampbell, Norman
Hunter, Andrew Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Mitchell, Sir David
Irvine, Michael Moate, Roger
Irving, Charles Monro, Sir Hector
Jack, Michael Moore, Rt Hon John
Jackson, Robert Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Jessel, Toby Moss, Malcolm
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Mudd, David
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Neale, Gerrard
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Nelson, Anthony
Key, Robert Neubert, Michael
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Nicholls, Patrick
Kirkhope, Timothy Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Norris, Steve
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Lang, Ian Oppenheim, Phillip
Latham, Michael Page, Richard
Lawrence, Ivan Paice, James
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Lee, John (Pendle) Patnick, Irvine
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Patten, Chris (Bath)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Patten, John (Oxford W)
Lilley, Peter Pawsey, James
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Porter, David (Waveney)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Portillo, Michael
Lord, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Price, Sir David
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Rattan, Keith
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Redwood, John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Renton, Tim
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Rhodes James, Robert
Maclean, David Riddick, Graham
McLoughlin, Patrick Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Major, Rt Hon John Roe, Mrs Marion
Malins, Humfrey Rossi, Sir Hugh
Mans, Keith Rost, Peter
Rowe, Andrew Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Ryder, Richard Thome, Neil
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Thornton, Malcolm
Sayeed, Jonathan Thurnham, Peter
Scott, Nicholas Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shaw, David (Dover) Tracey, Richard
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Tredinnick, David
Shelton, Sir William Trippier, David
(Streatham) Trotter, Neville
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Viggers, Peter
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shersby, Michael Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Sims, Roger Waldegrave, Hon William
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Soames, Hon Nicholas Ward, John
Speller, Tony Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Warren, Kenneth
Stanbrook, Ivor Watts, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wells, Bowen
Steen, Anthony Whitney, Ray
Stern, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Stevens, Lewis Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wilkinson, John
Stokes, Sir John Wilshire, David
Sumberg, David Winterton, Mrs Ann
Summerson, Hugo Wolfson, Mark
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Younger, Rt Hon George
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Tellers for the Noes:
Temple-Morris, Peter Mr. David Lightbown arid
Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret Mr. Michael Fallon.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added[, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House notes with approval that the Government is providing over four and it half billion pounds for child benefit this year and that it has carried out its statutory obligation to review the level of benefit each year; and welcomes the additional resources to be provided from April for low income families with children.