HC Deb 11 July 1989 vol 156 cc874-99

  1. '(1) Section 154 ICTA 1988 shall not apply to any benefits facilities or expenditure falling within subsection (2) below.
  2. (2) This subsection applies to the bona fide provision of workplace nurseries of other creche facilities which are made available generally to the children of employees at a location on a basis that such provision would not have the effect of conferring benefits wholly or mainly on directors of companies or on those employees who are in receipt of the higher or highest levels of remuneration.'.—[Mr. Chris Smith.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Chris Smith

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 11—

Tax Relief for nursery care

  1. '(1) For the purposes of the Tax Act 1988, section 154, there shall be excluded from a charge to income tax of a benefit in kind any benefit arising from an employee from the provision by the employer of nursery care facilities to any children under 5 of the employee, provided only that such nursery facilities are available to employees of the employer generally.
  2. (2) An employee making payments for nursery care in respect of any of their own children under 5 shall be entitled to claim, as a deduction qualifying for basic income tax relief only, any payment made in this regard up to a limit of £45 per week per child.
  3. (3) For the purposes of the above clause, an employee is defined as a person who works 25 hours a week or more, excluding meal breaks.'.

Mr. Smith

On 11 April, the Home Office issued a news release from the ministerial group on women's issues headed: Choice and high standards are the key to the provision of childcare". It emphasised how important the Government believed the provision of good quality childcare was. The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), said: Employers also have a significant part to play—using the tax reliefs available to them, to provide childcare facilities and to attract skilled mothers who have chosen to return to work in a time of demographic change. That point was emphasised later in the press release. One of the points in the five-point plan announced by the Government to assist women to enter the work force was: Further encouragement to employers to use the tax reliefs available to provide childcare facilities. To ram the point home even further, the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science said: These initiatives are a significant contribution in developing the provisions of childcare. That news release demonstrated clearly that the Government have hit on the extremely important principle of supporting the provision of good childcare facilities by employers at the workplace. But by their actions the Government are fundamentally undermining the principle they purport to uphold. For a start, there is very little incentive in the tax system—and very little take-up by employers—to provide workplace nurseries. The offsetting of workplace nursery provision against corporation tax liability involves, among other things, a long-term commitment which many employers are reluctant to make.

The crucial drawback to providing workplace nursery provision is the tax on the deemed benefit that a parent receives when placing a child in a subsidised workplace nursery. Since 1985, the Inland Revenue has regarded the taking up of a subsidised nursery place as a benefit in kind. The subsidy has to be added to the income for income tax computation, provided that the total of income plus deemed benefits is at least £8,500. The tax on workplace nursery take-up acts as a powerful disincentive to parents with young chidlren, especially mothers considering taking up employment when the changing demography of the work force means that we should be encouraging rather than discouraging women from taking up work.

There are about 100 workplace nurseries in the United Kingdom. The main providers tend to be local authorities and health authorities. It is estimated that as few as 20 companies in the private sector provide workplace nurseries. One honourable potential exception to that is Midland Bank plc which is proposing a large-scale development of between 200 and 300 workplace nurseries. If that goes ahead, the bank will deserve considerable credit, but the current figure of 100 workplace nurseries throughout the country is far too low. It demonstrates first the need to ensure that the provision of workplace nursery space is increased, and secondly that the income to the Exchequer from the tax which the Inland Revenue imposes on the deemed benefit is minimal.

On the need to increase provision, Britain is currently one of Europe's poorest providers of childcare facilities. We should be developing a pattern of provision in which employers certainly have a part to play alongside local authorities and voluntary organisations. Most of Europe and the United States have no tax on workplace nursery provision. The tax discourages employees from taking up workplace nursery places and employers from providing workplace nurseries. While the tax exists for the potential beneficiaries, employers will be much more reluctant to establish workplace nurseries. The tax acts as a discouragement to the provision of workplace nurseries, and removing the tax would assist.

As for the income to the Exchequer, every time I have asked the Financial Secretary by means of parliamentary questions for information about how much money accrues to the Exchequer as a result of the tax on the deemed benefit of workplace nursery provision, the answer is that the Government do not know. The figure is so small that the Government are unable to compute the benefit to the Exchequer. That makes nonsense of the argument that the Inland Revenue has occasionally deployed and, in particular, deployed in a letter of 4 May to the Workplace Nurseries Campaign, in which it set out what I presume is the Government's policy on the matter. It said: The Government recognise both the contribution to the economy of women with children and the importance of making the best use of their skills in the future. So far, so good. The Inland Revenue sensibly made an important point.

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However, the letter continues: But they believe that it is better to encourage those mothers who wish to work to do so by reducing tax rates and increasing personal allowances rather than by providing special exemptions which tend to narrow the tax base and drive tax rates up. We know that the income from the deemed tax on nursery workplace provision is minimal. How on earth can it be assumed to narrow the tax base and drive tax rates up? The Government and the Inland Revenue ignore the fact that it is possible both to follow the pattern that the Government themselves wish to set on tax rates and personal allowances, and to take the step for which we argue and remove the tax on workplace benefit. There is no fiscal or financial excuse for the Government to keep this tax in place.

When the Government initially brought in the measures to tax workplace nursery provision, they argued that it would be a tax only on the benefits of the high paid. They set a threshold of £8,300, about which one might have had queries even at the time. That figure is now equal to roughly the average working woman's wage. It is hardly a threshold which means that only the high paid end up having to face this tax. It is a particular irony that one can be liable for workplace nursery tax at the same time as receiving family credit because one's income is too low for the needs of the family.

One specific example has been drawn to my attention by the Workplace Nurseries Campaign. The single mother in question works in Leicester and uses the Leicester city council workplace nursery. She has monthly outgoings of £62 in nursery fees, £50 in nursery tax, £140 in mortgage and £23 in rates. Even with the addition of £32 a month family credit, she is left with less than £40 a week to feed and clothe herself and her four-year-old child. The fact that the Government can with one hand take away £50 in the workplace nursery tax and with the other hand give £32 a month in family credit makes a nonsense of the tax which the Government seek to continue by rejecting new clause 9.

The workplace nursery tax causes hardship in many cases. The Government argue that taking up workplace nursery provision is a perk or benefit, like a company car. But nursery provision is completely different from that. It is an essential, necessary and insurmountable provision, which not only enables a woman to take up work, but has to be available before she can even contemplate being able to do so. One cannot say the same about the great majority of people who benefit from a company car. If the Government want to use the argument about perks and benefits, why do they not extend the workplace nurseries principle to subsidised canteens, sports grounds or aspects of pension provision? All those are tax free and are not subject to the same provisions as workplace nurseries.

What about the security provisions of clauses 50, 51 and 52? It is right that those clauses should be included because they are sensible and justifiable measures. However, the same principle that applies to the essential provision of security measures should apply to the essential provision of workplace nursery space for women who need to avail themselves of that space to enable them to go to work.

For many years, the Labour party has argued that the workplace nursery tax should be removed. In moving new clause 9, we seek to achieve precisely that. The tax causes hardship, it discourages women from seeking work and it provides a disincentive for enlightened employers seeking to establish good workplace provision. The workplace nursery tax should have been scrapped years ago and we are offering the House a chance to do so, at long last, today. It brings in a minimal income to the Exchequer and acts as a powerful disincentive to women, with young children, who are thinking of going out to work. We should be encouraging them, not discouraging them with an extra burden in tax. The Government claim that a nursery place is a perk; it is not. It is an essential facility to enable women to play a full part in the economic life of our nation. There is no such tax in other European countries or in the United States and there should not be one in Britain.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I am rather puzzled by the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I will not support his point because it is far too timorous. We do not need workplace provision for children; we need nursery education for all. I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman speaking in a rather technocratic way, which suggests that the Labour party is losing its radical impetus and, perhaps, its broader vision.

I also have an ideological objection to what the hon. Gentleman said. It is not the function of employers to look after the dependants of employees. The answer to the problem he raised is much broader. We should have high-quality nursery provision for all. It is rather typical of the hon. Gentleman that at no point did he mention the function of that dreadful, anonymous word "provision". I am concerned not with child care, but with educating children and doing something productive for a child's development, rather than merely looking after a child in some "caring" mode.

Mr. Madden

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walden

No, because I am going to speak very briefly.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will my hon. Friend not give way even to me?

Mr. Walden

How can I refuse?

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the teeth of opposition from Lancashire county council we have opened a gorgeous nursery provision in our local Skerton county primary school? The county council which is, of course, Labour-controlled turned the scheme down two years ago. However, as a result of the pupils themselves putting the case forcefully and the parents' support we obtained the wonderful provision for which my hon. Friend is now speaking.

Mr. Walden

My heart is warmed, but not overflowing. I remember defending the Government record, which was creditable, when I was an Education Minister. Provision had risen from 17 per cent. to 42 per cent. over about 10 years and that sounded fine. Fortunately, no one ever asked two basic questions. The first was that if nursery provision was so good, why was it not available to everybody? People could have asked me why it depended on where a child lived. Secondly, there was the question of the quality of nursery provision. I would not spend a penny piece, to paraphrase an hon. Member, on low quality "caring" child care.

We should spend as much as we possibly can on high-quality, educative nursery provision for all. We have 42 per cent. nursery provision, and it is extremely patchy. Some of it is amateur and some of it consists of play care. Some of it is very good—I have seen some very good nursery schools run by local authorities—but the fact remains that in Britain we have only 42 per cent. provision. whereas in France the figure is 97 per cent. That may account in part for the generally higher quality of the behaviour of children in French schools and the generally higher quality of their educational attainment.

We frequently see in the newspapers touching photographs of Princess Diana taking her children to nursery school. She is setting a splendid example, but there are an awful lot of people in this country who will never have the money to buy private nursery education and there are an awful lot of places where nursery education is not provided by local authorities. Having briefly served in Government, I have the disadvantage of being a realist. I know that such provision costs a lot of money. Indirectly, the Government are already spending about £400 million on local provision. If we are to double nursery provision, therefore, we are talking about a figure of about £1 billion.

I do not expect the Government to give me the assurance that I should like to hear. Clearly we shall have to be extremely careful about public expenditure in the short term. Having said that, I do not understand the Government's argument—which, as a loyal supporter, I naturally had to advance—that nursery education is an excellent thing, but that it should not be available for everyone.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) has underlined the case supported by members of all parties for more widespread nursery education. We had hints of such support from the Prime Minister in her earlier guise as Secretary of State for Education, but since them nursery education has slipped further and further down the list of priorities.

The question of such provision is an important part of the background to the new clause. The first and main argument for providing nursery education is that it is in the interests of the children themselves. In many cases, their subsequent school career can be greatly enhanced by a year or more of nursery education.

The second compelling reason for such provision is to be found in current demographic trends in Britain. It is obvious that in many areas it will be impossible to recruit sufficient people of the necessary skill and ability into industry and the public service if more opportunities are not provided for women to take employment, and that cannot be done without nursery provision.

The third argument in favour of nursery provision concerns rights and opportunities for women. Quite apart from the labour shortages of the future, we should remember that many women feel prevented from developing their potential in employment and serving the community, whether in the public service or the private sector, because of lack of nursery provision.

I support the proposals in the new clause, but, as the hon. Member for Buckingham said, they are somewhat timid and lacking in radicalism, as they do not go beyond the concept of the workplace nursery, which at the moment accounts for a minuscule proportion of nursery provision. Workplace provision has actually shrunk. I can remember when there was at least one workplace nursery in my constituency, but it is no longer there.

Perhaps the new clause will lead to some enlargement of workplace nursery provision. That would be a good thing and would be of benefit, as people would then be able to take advantage of workplace provision without suffering a tax disadvantage. But the new clause is unlikely to answer the needs of large numbers of women who want to work, and it will make no difference to those on low incomes who have access to workplace nurseries at present.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said that the average woman's wage was £8,500 a year. That took me by surprise. The hon. Gentleman must have looked at the figures more recently than I have. If that is the average women's wage, I can tell him that not many women in my constituency are earning the average. A great many of the women who might use workplace nurseries do not fall into the category of people who would enjoy a tax benefit from the provisions of the new clause. That is not an argument against the new clause; it simply shows that much remains to be done if we are to make a significant advance in the provision of nursery facilities.

The new clause will do nothing for the numerous people who now have to buy nursery provision or child care because they do not have access to workplace nurseries. Many people are in that category and they will remain in that category because workplace nurseries would never answer all the needs, even if provision were miraculously extended to every large place of work. For many women, it is neither convenient nor appropriate to take a child away from the local environment where friends and family may be able to help at the end of the nursery school day. And such provision is clearly not appropriate in jobs where there is no single large workplace in which to provide such facilities.

My hon. Friends and I have argued for a wider provision, designed to afford some tax relief to those who are buying nursery education or child care and to enable them to remain in employment. The relief would, of course, be confined to those in employment.

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Before the Government rush to attack the idea of using the tax system to provide such a benefit or subsidy, they must remember that in this Finance Bill they are extending tax relief to private health care for pensioners on the basis that that is immensely socially desirable. The provision of some tax relief for those needing nursery care for their children if they are to work is not only socially desirable; it will become ever more urgent over the next few years as acute labour shortages arise in some major industries in the public sector.

The arguments extend beyond the proposals in the new clause that my hon. Friends and I have tabled, as the need for provision extends beyond the age of five. There are strong arguments for greater child care provision for those of school age—for example, in the school holidays and between 3 pm and 6 pm, when many women have to work if they are to remain in employment. In the years to come we must consider how we can make adequate provision for good child care that is beneficial and educative to the children concerned and enables women to take employment.

The new clause would relieve a tiny number of women of a tax burden. That is no bad thing, and I welcome it. It may enhance somewhat the attractiveness of workplace nurseries and I shall be pleased if it does that, too. Nevertheless, it represents a very small step in terms of providing nursery care for the children of women who want to work and providing child care for a larger number of children.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

I, too, shall be brief, because I realise that there is a lot of interest in this subject.

I think that the Government have taken the right line. All sorts of complications will arise if we adopt the proposals of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) or the hon. Member for—[HON. MEMBERS: "Berwick-upon-Tweed."] Not only did I forget the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), but I have forgotten the name of his party. Both proposals would cause more anomalies than they would solve.

If we say that a workplace nursery is not a perk and therefore should not be taxed because it does not confer benefit, we shall immediately create an anomaly. There are those who, because of the nature of their work, do not and never will have access to workplace nurseries. Is it fair that one group of employees should get free child care, which is what it would amount to, while another group of employees who do not have access to workplace nurseries still have to pay for them? If we broaden the matter and say that the answer is tax reliefs on child care in general, whether it is provided in workplace nurseries or whether people make their own arrangements, we create another anomaly. Do we still extend tax relief on child care to mothers who are not working but who nevertheless employ help for their children and, if not, why not? Can child care be administered in two completely separate tiers? There are important practical difficulties in doing what the Opposition wish.

Additionally, the principle behind the Government's reasoning is right. There are many crucial matters in deciding whether a woman goes out to work, and child care is but one of them. It is not the only crucial, essential point that a woman will consider when deciding whether to work. There is the obvious cost of getting to work. I have never heard this disputed, but that should certainly be regarded as the employee's responsibility, whatever distance the person has to travel to get to work.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The hon. Lady must know that many large companies provide free buses as a matter of course to take their work force to work.

Miss Widdecombe

That is if the employer rather than the employee is remote. If the employee decides that it is worth incurring a large cost to commute over substantial distances to get to work, regardless of the incursion into his wage packet, that is very much his own concern. The same applies to company cars. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said that by no means could company cars be compared with child care. However, in some instances, company cars are essential for the work to be done.

Mr. Chris Smith

The hon. Lady must have misheard me. I said clearly and specifically that in a majority of cases company cars are a genuine perk. There are, of course, some forms of employment in which a company car is a necessity, and I would class those cases somewhat differently.

Miss Widdecombe

Nevertheless, even if a company car is essential, to a certain extent it is still regarded as a perk.

I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman has never had representations on that point. 1 have certainly received many representations from people who are being taxed on their company cars and who go into great detail explaining why and how their cars are not a benefit but a necessity. It is an absolute necessity for me, when employing office secretaries, to have a typewriter. If I choose to buy one rather than hire one, I still pay the tax on it because it is deemed to be a benefit. All sorts of essential items—child care may be one—are not entirely free of tax.

Where do we stop if we say that it is essential that a woman receives tax benefits on child care if she is to go out to work? If she is allowed to receive tax benefits on the care of her youngest child, why should she not be able to claim that if she has to go out to work for long hours—the normal work time, with only four weeks' holiday a year —she requires additional domestic help? Should that not be regarded as a perk? That question must be answered.

It seem very worthy to say that we want to encourage women to go back to work and that we should either remove the tax on workplace nurseries or, possibly, give tax reliefs if other arrangements are made, but it raises all the other essential points associated with a woman going back to work. In Committee there was a long discussion about advancing tax benefits up to a certain sum, but never was it taken into account that one would then benefit those who did not go out to work.

Also I am concerned—I am perhaps not very concerned at this stage, but I could become very concerned—that if we give tax reliefs or remove something that has been regarded as a perk we shall actually direct employers, and employees for that matter, towards a certain method of getting women hack to work. There are many ingredients involved in getting women into work. Child care is but one. Flexible working practices is another. I do not want to see child care tax benefit become available in such a way as to make flexible working practices or other possible alternatives second-rate choices so that false pressure develops for one particular form of benefit.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to another problem. He asked whether we were talking about the under-fives. Surely if we expect mothers to work, we are talking also about older children—certainly those up to secondary school age. If we are to have a proper system of child care, nannies must also be taken into account. Their position is different. It is not a matter of a mother taking a child to work with her and taking it home at night. It is a matter of the child being collected and put somewhere for two hours to be looked after and collected again. That is a different system. Will that attract tax advantages? What about that as a necessity, certainly for a mother with older children?

The Opposition are opening a pandora's box. They have not considered the detail of the problem. They are looking at one small aspect of getting women back to work without assessing the effects on other aspects or on non-working women who, nevertheless, have children. All those points must be taken into account. The Opposition have picked on a simple route and have not considered the complexities that will surely follow.

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Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene in the debate. Our proposal is simple and straightforward, but Conservative Members have not grasped what it is about. The clause would make the provision of child care at workplace nurseries tax neutral. It would not be a tax incentive. It would mean that women or parents will still pay for nursery places, but they will not pay tax on top of the cost that they already pay.

Opposition Members agree with much of what the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said, but we are talking mainly about children of ages that are unsuitable for nursery education. We are talking about children aged up to three and about extended day care for children between the ages of three and four. No hon. Member—least of all the hon. Gentleman—would say that we want those children to be in nursery education during all the hours that many workplace nurseries would care for children. Therefore, we are talking about a specific form of child care.

We recognise that that form of child care is, and only ever could be, a small part of the overall pattern of child care and nursery education for which we are looking. Indeed, Ministers have said that many women would not choose a workplace nursery because it would not be suitable for their needs, but I emphasise that it would be eminently suitable for other women and that they want the opportunity of choosing it.

However, the Government's measures are making that provision more and more difficult to achieve. Employers who are trying to establish workplace nurseries are finding that the obstacles are so great that many are giving up before they start. Even the organisation that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) mentioned, the Midland bank, is finding incredible difficulty in putting into practice the commitments that it made earlier this year.

The Government's policy on child care and nursery provision is an incredible mess. On one day I heard the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), say that when considering the Government's child care policy in his position as chairman of the ministerial group on women's issues, the main thought driving him was that the Government should not be seen to be pushing women back into the workplace. However, on the very next day I attended a conference that was addressed by the Secretary of State for Employment. He talked about women seeing the next decade as the window of opportunity upon which they must seize. Therefore, on the one hand the Government are saying to women, "We welcome and value your skills and training in the workplace," and on the other hand they are saying, "We are not going to assist you in any way in making proper provision for your children." It is no wonder that this country loses far more women from the workplace during their childbearing years than do any of our European competitors. When those women re-enter the work force, they do so with lower status and a lower pay level than they enjoyed when they left. Therefore, their skills, knowledge and experience are being wasted. Women who do not want to take that road and who, perhaps, want to work part-time or to work the flexible hours to which the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) referred have to decide—because there is such woefully inadequate childcare provision—that, because they have children, they have no option but to stay at home and look after them.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

The hon. Lady maintains that there are a number of restrictions facing women going back to work, but does she agree that we have one of the highest percentages of women in work of any European country?

Ms. Armstrong

I do not want to argue with the hon. Gentleman across the Chamber, but his assertion is not true for the critical period that I am talking about. The majority of those women now in the work force are working part-time and for the majority that is not through choice. I invite the hon. Gentleman to talk to the editor of the Sunday Mirror about the campaign that that newspaper has been running. Since it raised this issue in its columns, it has received thousands upon thousands of letters and petitions from women on this single issue about removing the workplace nursery tax. Women recognise the barriers that I am talking about as barriers.

I also invite the hon. Gentleman to read a recent report published by the Equal Opportunities Commission, which showed the number of women that we are losing from the workplace. We are losing their skills and training because they never re-enter the work force at a level at which they can use the skills and training that they had had as younger women. The EOC has said that the main reason for that is the poverty of our child care provision.

One of our problems in this country is that we still try to make women feel guilty if they want to work and to rear children. That is nonsense because in those countries that have a long-established tradition of strong family life, such as Italy and France, full-time child care is available for young children because it is recognised as a way of enhancing family life rather than detracting from it. It is time that we moved towards that sort of culture and those ideas.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

The arguments that my hon. Friend has outlined are one of the reasons why many women feel compelled to compete for jobs working in schools, such as on school meals. As that is the only thing that they can do, there is great competition for those jobs which meet and match school hours. I know that my wife faced that situation when our children were at school.

Ms. Armstrong

My hon. Friend apparently knows of the experience of interviewing women for a job at about £1.50 an hour for about 12 hours a week and receiving a huge number of applications for the job.

My hon. Friend also mentioned schools. Another aspect of Government policy has meant a great shortage of primary school teachers. Our recent research shows that a reason why we are losing primary school teachers and cannot keep them in the profession is that they are not eligible for priority places in nurseries, so they cannot work. The children of this country are beginning to suffer because of that.

It is important to offer a variety of opportunities to parents and children. Workplace nurseries are only a part of that, and it is extraordinary that the Government should see them as a perk. This morning I visited a private nursery which is determined not to sacrifice quality to make money. Because of that, it has to charge £109 a week to cover costs. The nursery is prepared to offer its services in the work place. If the company subsidises it at, say, £20 a week, parents would still have to find £89. Under the Government's policy they would have to pay tax on top of that.

It is difficult to speak on this issue only in the terms of the Finance Bill because the Government are enacting so many measures that affect child care. Under the Children Bill, it is intended to charge for the registration of day nurseries and child minders. So the Government are placing another charge on childcare and workplace nurseries.

The Government cannot be serious about quality, because these costs put quality out of the reach of the vast majority of working women. We are asking for a minimum contribution, but if the Government accepted the new clause they would show that they had begun to grasp what the problem is about. It is not a simple issue, to be solved by throwing a few pounds at it. It is complex and it affects the future opportunities of millions of children.

I ask the Government to rethink. On the evidence of this debate there is clearly much misunderstanding about this subject. We have never argued that workplace nurseries are the answer to everything, but they do contribute to offering some parents the chance to place their children in a workplace nursery if they believe that that is best for their families.

The Government have erected many obstacles. We ask them to remove one of the small ones, which would cost them very little but would mean symbolically that they were beginning to realise the enormity of the task of beginning to compete with our European neighbours. Accepting the new clause would mean that the Government had begun to consider the future opportunities of our children and women. That is not much to ask, and I urge the Government to accept the new clause.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

As an educationist, I strongly support the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) for nursery education for all children whose parents seek to avail themselves of it. However, we are in some danger in this debate of pressing for two-tier nursery provision. While I believe that, if nothing else is available, a workplace nursery would be of great value to a child, the fact is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) said, in some areas outstanding community provision is made for children aged from three to five years and from nought to three years. We could have the situation in which, on the one hand, children are in beautifully run, expensive community nurseries, surrounded by green fields, and, on the other, children are in workplace nurseries, perhaps in factories, begrimed, with vile surroundings—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) is shaking her head, but with me she visited an establishment in the United States where the children did not see daylight. I do not believe that it is fair, as a principle, to provide facilities for children in which there is such inequality. We should be saying that we want good provision for all children.

I have been listed as being in favour of workplace nurseries. If nothing else is available, there is a lot to be said for such provision, but it is second best. No inspections are made and no standards are laid down for the children—

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)


Mr. Greenway

I shall not give way. The hon. Lady will have her opportunity.

No standards are laid down for the staff working in workplace nurseries, or for the facilities for the children. That is where the workplace nursery movement falls down. It does not hold a satisfactory standard to which we can point. The best nurseries are excellent, but the worst are not and cannot be satisfactory.

I mentioned the visit of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West, who keeps interrupting from a sedentary position, and myself to the United States. We saw children in a nursery in Washington. which was very nicely appointed, but we were uncertain about the education being offered to those children. It was not of the kind that I would have sought. Children from two weeks upwards were in that institution, but the staff said that they ensured that all the children got out into green fields for at least three hours a day. That just could not happen in many workplace nurseries, which is one of my reservations about them. We must also face the fact that they are not inspected and that they have no agreed and established standards. People who advocate workplace nurseries do themselves and their cause no favours by ignoring that argument.

Ms. Armstrong

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Lady has made her speech; perhaps she will allow me to make mine.

What I am saying is not to condemn workplace nurseries or the important argument that has been put by hon. Members on both sides of the House for supporting working women, especially those with young children. We must remember that in the United States 62 per cent. of women with a child of one year old or younger go to work, while in this country it is only 27 per cent. The figures are rising in each country. When my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said that the nation's attention should be drawn to the need to provide children with something better than a workplace nursery, he was speaking sound good sense.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) did not advance a single educational argument in favour of workplace nurseries.

Ms. Armstrong


Mr. Greenway

I should also like to have heard some educational arguments from the hon. Lady, who persists in trying to intervene. She said nothing about what workplace nurseries are intended to do for children aged up to three and even between three and five.

The case for workplace nurseries can be made. In particular, the child must develop self-esteem above all things, but it will not do so if it is cast aside, uncared for, and not given proper nursery provision. So much flows from self-esteem. The whole philosophy of the headstart programme in the United States is based on giving children self-esteem, which is quite right. More needs to be made of the value of nursery education and of the precise roles that workplace nurseries have to play. Is it right to expand the provision of workplace nurseries, or would it be better to expand the provision of nurseries of a broader and more general nature?

9.15 pm
Ms. Abbott

As many of the arguments for workplace nurseries have already been made, I shall make only three brief points. Many of the proposals made in debate are impractical, and that is because so few right hon. and hon. Members bear the responsibility for having their children looked after while they go to work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said, how can the Government claim that they are responding to demographic changes by trying to get more women into the work force when they are unwilling to look favourably upon the ideas contained in new clause 9?

Conservative Members speak about workplace nurseries and tax relief as though they are simply cash benefits. Clearly no Conservative Member who has spoken has experience of getting children out of bed, getting their breakfast, taking them to a child minder, and then going to work. If they had, they would know that for many millions of women throughout the country workplace nurseries are, first and foremost, a practical provision. Without it, many women— Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Will the hon. Lady—

Ms. Abbott

No, I shall not give way.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Speaker


Ms. Abbott

Without a form of child care—be it a workplace nursery, child minder or nanny—many women are unable to work. We are keen to see new clause 9 implemented because it will enable women to do a day's work without worrying.

Conservative Members complain and vilify mothers of single parent families who claim benefit. I know thousands of such women in Hackney who want to go out to work and not be dependent upon either state benefits or an errant male. If proper child care facilities, such as workplace nurseries, are provided, those women could be self-reliant—as they wish to be. We seek to encourage that spirit of self-reliance in new clause 9. Every week I meet constituents who are stopped from working because they have no access to child care facilities, so work place nurseries have a role to play.

Conservative Members also remarked that Britain has the highest, or one of the highest, proportions of women in the work force in Europe. They do not realise the kind of child care that some women have to put up with.

I was brought up in a community where many women had to work, not because they wanted to do so, not for entertainment or for a diversion, but because they had to pay the rent. Many had to abandon their children to child minders against their better judgment. If Conservative Members had seen, as I did while growing up, the child care that some women were forced to use because of their economic circumstances, they would not be blocking a sensible provision that will provide high-quality workplace nurseries. For some women, the alternative is not to stay at home. Sadly, with heaviness of heart and great misgivings, they entrust their children to child minders who do not have the necessary training or facilities. If Conservative Members had more idea of what life was like for working women, they would not argue against the new clause.

For three reasons—the importance of encouraging women to go into the workplace, the importance of generating high-quality workplace nurseries and the fact that this is much more than a cash benefit—I ask Conservative Members to support the new clause. It is about the practicalities for working women. No Labour Member thinks that workplace nurseries are the only solution, but it is wrong for Conservative Members who do not have our experiences of helping and supporting ordinary working women, struggling with the problems of bringing up children and giving their children decent care while they go out to work—

Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Abbott

I wish to finish my speech.

For Conservative Members with no experience of the problems of working class women, who are trying to give their children decent care and go out to work, to block a measure that is at least part of the answer suggests great ignorance, callousness and lack of thought about demographic trends. I urge hon. Members to think about the struggles of working women, many of them single women who wish to be independent and who despair at the options offered to them, and to support the new clause.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Some of the contributions to the debate would have been better made in an education debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) that our objective should be good quality nursery education available to all parents who want it for their children, but this debate on the Finance Bill is not the time when that should be developed.

The new clause is important in terms of the way in which local authorities provide nursery education. The sad fact is that the hon. Member for Buckingham would be better off tramping around the Tory shires and preaching this message to them. The worst providers of nursery education are Conservative-controlled authorities. Money provided by the Government in rate support grant for nursery needs is not even spent by those authorities. Some of them do not provide one state-funded place in a nursery school. The nursery place is a second best provision for those who cannot go to nursery schools, but if workplace nurseries spread there is no reason why there cannot be state regulation—however much Conservative Members may not like those words—to ensure that the quality and environment of workplace nurseries are good.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) kept referring to high-quality provision at the workplace. The trouble is that there is no machinery to ensure that there is other than what she referred to as child-minding. The hon. Gentleman's point is good—the workplace nurseries must be of high quality—but how does one ensure that there is uniformity throughout the land?

Mr. Griffiths

A debate on the Finance Bill is not the time to discuss ways to regulate workplace nurseries. We must ensure that they are of a high quality, and there are plenty of ways to achieve that. What amounts to a tax on working mothers who happen to have a child in a workplace nursery is a disincentive for companies to spread and develop nursery provision.

The scale of the problem can best be shown by comparing Britain's provisions with those of Denmark. In Britain, only about 8 per cent. of women with families are in full-time employment, yet we provide only 1 per cent. to 2 per cent. of nursery places for children under the age of one. In Denmark, 40 per cent. of women with families are in full-time employment and it provides more than 40 per cent. of nursery places for the youngest children.

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) suggested that such a provision would introduce an anomaly into the tax system. Many such anomalies already exist. In general, the 20 best providers of nursery education are Labour-controlled authorities which, in many cases, spend even more than the Government allow to ensure good nursery education. Let us take the example of a working mother who sends her four-year-old to a state-funded nursery. There is no tax impediment and the child receives a full-time education. Let us now take the example of a similar woman in a Conservative-controlled authority which provides no nursery places. If the child is placed in a workplace nursery—if there happens to be a place available—the woman is taxed on the estimated financial benefit of that nursery place. I hope, incidentally, that my remarks will not encourage the Minister to tax the assumed value of state-funded nursery education. The new clause would remove that anomaly.

Miss Widdecombe

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as it is not the first time. What would be the position of the working mother in a Labour-controlled authority who cannot put her child into full-time nursery education because the child is under the age of two and does not have the benefit of a subsidised workplace nursery, who thus has to pay for child care?

Mr. Griffiths

The whole point of the new clause is to ensure that that mother could send her child to a subsidised workplace nursery.

Miss Widdecombe

But what if it does not exist?

Mr. Griffiths

If the new clause were passed, more companies would be prepared to provide workplace nurseries and more mothers would be happy to put their children in them.

The new clause would help a relatively small group of women to return to work, in the knowledge that their children were being well cared for because the nurseries would be well regulated and educational. For only a negligible sum of money, the Government are being mean and parsimonious towards working mothers. They are not helping them to return to work.

Mrs. Fyfe

We all knew that the Government would not accept the new clause, but I was curious to discover their reasons for not doing so. We have heard a great deal about educational standards—Conservative Members appear to have forgotten that we are debating a tax Bill, not a children's Bill. If it were appropriate tonight, we would be more than glad to discuss educational standards. The Labour party put forward proposals in its recently published policy review document—I should be glad to lend it to Conservative Members—for a variety of childcare schemes designed to meet the needs of both children and their parents. Workplace nurseries are only one aspect of the variety of child care that we would wish to offer.

The objection on educational grounds comes from a Government who have presided over the worst level of nursery provision in all the EEC countries, and from a Government whose Prime Minister recently told a women's magazine that mothers with childcare difficulties should get together to cobble up some informal arrangement among themselves. She was apparently unaware that in doing so she was advising them to break the law. In addition, this is a Government who refuse to make care of under-fives a statutory responsibility for local authorities. The result is that the best provisions for the under-fives happen to be in Labour-controlled local authorities, and they are doing that with great difficulty on their constrained budget. Because they do not have a statutory responsibility to educate the under-fives, they are doing so under enormous difficulties.

9.30 pm

If the Government took on board all the points that we have been making, we would be delighted to have their support. But we all know perfectly well that if we were proposing all that tonight, they would vote against it in the Lobby, so let us not have such hypocrisy on the subject.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) referred to maintenance of quality. We want high-quality provision in all sectors of care for the under-fives. But would the hon. Gentleman say that if he could not have dinner at the Ritz he would not dine at all? Of course he would not. Working women might want a convenient nursery in their locality. Mothers would not want to take their children through the wind, rain and snow to a workplace nursery and back again if a more convenient local nursery provided high-quality care. When such provision is denied to them and they know that it will continue to be denied to them as long as the Government are in office, they are interested in workplace nurseries. Provided that they are properly run, there is nothing wrong in that.

The Opposition argue for high standards in nurseries whether they are in the workplace or elsewhere. We would not dream of advocating that a workplace nursery was a place where children were dumped during a working day and that no standards were maintained within it. A Conservative Member asked from a sedentary position how such standards would be maintained. The answer is simple—by an inspectorate, just as schools and factories are inspected. That would be the obvious way.

While the Government are attempting to make the excellent the enemy of the good, offering absurd arguments, they are forgetting one good argument. Our proposal would benefit mainly women, but it would not benefit only women. When I was a Glasgow district councillor, we wanted to set up a workplace nursery for the entire work force, but we were frustrated in doing so because the tax put the cost beyond the pocket of many council employees. However, I recall a male worker in the building department who had five children, two of them under school age, whose wife had left him, who was delighted with the proposal and would have used the nursery. In case Conservative Members fear that backwoodsmen and women in their constituencies would consider this to be some kind of feminist point which they would deplore, let them remember that men, too, could benefit from this. That might make Conservative Members view it more favourably.

I find it hard to understand those who are prepared to dream up every possible argument in favour of the preservation of the life of a child before birth but who do not care tuppence what happens once a child is born. I hope that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) does not think that that is a brutal argument, but I must make that point. Mothers who do not get a workplace nursery place or a local education authority place are often forced to accept an unsatisfactory arrangement, having their children looked after by someone who is untrained and unregistered, who may not do a good job in caring for their children. If people genuinely care about the needs of children they should support the new clause.

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Lady said that some of us who care for children before birth do not care tuppence about them once they are born. That is categorically untrue. I have taken part in many debates in which I specifically talked about the rights of born children. The hon. Lady does not make a fair point. There are many ways of caring for children. I have not made any speech tonight against child care or nursery provision. I have talked about the anomalies created by various childcare arrangements. Childcare can also be a mother looking after her child at home and I have never done or said anything that militates against that. Will the hon. Lady withdraw that personal insult?

Mrs. Fyfe

I am sorry, but I have not heard anything to make me withdraw those remarks. If the hon. Member for Maidstone is sincere about caring for all children after birth, she would not only support the new clause but make a point of supporting our proposals to make nursery education and playgroup provision the statutory responsibility of local authorities. She would ensure that the Government provided funds to make that possible. If she fails to do that, she will not put her stated objectives into practice.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) spoke from experience about standards in the United States where children at nurseries get out into the fresh air. That was an extraordinary remark. No hon. Member has argued against children getting fresh air. When we talk about standards we are not thinking of cooping up children in fume-infested factories. We are thinking of sensible provision which includes fresh air and an inspectorate to maintain high standards.

We do not wish to make workplace nurseries compulsory. Our point is that if the tax were lifted, parents and their employers could judge whether a workplace nursery could be provided and what standards could be offered. They could find a nearby site if it was not convenient to have a nursery at the workplace.

Another specious argument was about the equality of provision. It was asked what would happen if the local authority provided a better standard than the workplace nursery. If people want to compete to provide the best standards, no Labour Member will argue against that. We want the best possible provision. I am sure that the different sectors could learn good practices from each other and the best way to provide for our children.

As has been said, a large part of education is encouraging self-confidence and self-esteem in children and making them aware of their worth as human beings. When the education system achieves that objective we shall never again have a Tory Government because people will have learnt to value themselves more highly and they will drop their deferential attitude which sustains that bunch in Government.

Mr. Pike

I shall be very brief, as the reasons why the new clause should be passed have already been capably put by my hon. Friends.

I find it deeply regrettable that we should debate the matter yet again this year, and that this year not one Conservative Member has spoken in support of the move that we are debating. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) tried to lead us along many false trails and brought many red herrings into the picture, but we are actually discussing a very simple proposal. I was, however, even more concerned by the implication of the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that Opposition Members were arguing for second best, and should be arguing for nursery education. Both hon. Members know that this is a debate on the Finance Bill, not an education debate. They also know that the Labour party wants a considerable improvement in the provision of nursery education. We shall make that very clear in an appropriate debate. We were not party to the points of view expressed by the hon. Member for Buckingham when he was a Minister at the Department of Education and Science, but I hope that he advocated what he has been advocating today.

Opposition Members have pointed out that most of the best nursery provision is found in Labour authorities. I must add that I do not know of one—including Lancashire, my own county council—which is satisfied with the service that it is able to provide. They would all like to do much more if the finance were available.

The new clause might not achieve what we would consider the best possible provision for children—and for parents who wish to work—but it would help by removing tax from workplace nurseries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has pointed out, the amount of money that the tax yields to the Government is in any case so small as not to be worth bothering about.

As well as enabling parents to pursue a career and to provide income for the family, the new clause would benefit the industries and commercial institutions which provide nursery facilities. They do not do so only for the benefit of their employees; it is to their advantage if those employees return to work. Only 100 or so workplaces provide such facilities at present because many are deterred by the fact that tax will be payable. Employers must consider what package of conditions to offer employees as an incentive and, they hope, to benefit themselves as well. The provision of workplace nurseries will benefit the parent, the family and the institution involved.

If the new clause is carried, I am certain that there will be an increase in the provision of workplace nurseries. Although we realise that the Government's days may well be numbered, we want to help people to go back to work. There will be a growing need for parents of both sexes to do so. I hope that we shall approve the new clause, stop penalising parents and enable more employers to make such facilities available. That will be of advantage to all parties concerned, and to the nation.

Mr. Norman Lamont

There have been a number of strong and notable speeches. The Government appreciate the importance of workplace nurseries and of encouraging married women to return to work. My hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and for Wyre (Mr. Mans) pointed out that this country has been conspicuously successful in encouraging married women to return to work.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Why on earth should we encourage married women to return to work? That is pure Socialism. Why should we not encourage them to stay at home and look after their children? We have great problems with hooligans and vandalism because of ill-disciplined children. Why should we not give a financial incentive to mothers to stay at home and look after their children rather than encouraging the Socialist bunkum and junk put forward by the other side?

9.45 pm
Mr. Lamont

My hon. Friend is being a little hasty if he thinks that I am about to accept the new clause. In fact, I am about to reject it. I was not suggesting that there should be a financial incentive. The burden of my argument will be that if married women want to work and if employers want to employ them, the market will work and employers will pay the necessary wage to encourage married women to return to work.

The new clauses epitomise one of the dilemmas. A narrower and more focused new clause was moved by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). His new clause would confine tax relief to workplace nurseries. The new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) provides for tax relief not just for workplace nurseries but for those who seek to make their own provision for the care of their children at home. I have to reject his new clause on the grounds of cost and of its very large deadweight element.

The effect of the new clause would be to give a large tax subsidy to people who already employ nannies, thereby making provision for the care of their children at home. However, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has a point. If tax relief is confined narrowly to workplace nurseries, it would result in many inequalities which would not be fair. It would lead to unfairness as between one taxpayer and another.

The hon. Gentleman has not met all the problems that his new clause would create. It would lead to tax relief being given to families where both parents go out to work and pay someone else to look after their children. No tax relief, however, would be given to families where one or other of the parents chooses not to go out to work but to stay at home and look after the children. If the husband goes out to work, however, the wife may prefer not to spend her time looking after the children. She may prefer to play golf and to employ somebody else to look after the children. Under new clause II, that family could receive a child care allowance. Is that what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed really has in mind? It might be possible for the taxpayer to pay a relative—perhaps a grandparent—to look after the children and to claim tax relief. What about neighbours looking after each other's children, paying each other for doing so and getting tax relief at the same time?

The new clause is at least to be commended for attempting to face the basic issue of equity as between one taxpayer and another, but the more one looks at the new clause the more one realises that it would lead to further difficulties and problems. Its deadweight cost would amount to about £100 million, before one began to consider whether it would have any effect on behaviour, or whether it would encourage people to return to work or make provision for their children in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Hawkins

Is there not a fundamental drawback to workplace nurseries? I find it odd that the Labour party is supporting the idea so strongly because when the mother changes her job the child has to leave the nursery. Surely we should encourage nursery provision regardless of people's jobs or workplace.

Mr. Lamont

That may well be so.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury referred to the tax relief in the tax system. It is important to realise that the tax system, in certain ways which correspond to the basic tax rules, allows employers certain deductions for the provision of workplace nurseries. Employers can set against profits for corporation tax purposes a wide range of expenditure on their day-to-day running costs, because those costs are regarded as normal business costs for providing facilities and suitable working conditions for employees. They can also get tax allowances for capital expenditure on equipping a workplace nursery. Some employers, such as those in the industrial sector, may also get capital allowances for expenditure on constructing or acquiring a building for a workplace nursery.

Employers can thus claim a number of reliefs in making workplace nurseries available.

Because the benefits in kind regulations apply only above an £8,500 threshold, many married women earning less than £8,500 per year are not taxed on the benefit of the workplace nursery. The specific regulations correspond with general reliefs in the tax system and are compatible with our existing system, but they give some encouragement to workplace nurseries. However, our tax system does not—and did not even under a Labour Government —give tax relief to enable people to carry out a particular job. There is no such thing as tax relief to enable someone to do a job. Expenses in the performance of a job may be tax deductible, but expenses to put someone in a position to carry out a job are not tax deductible. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that over the years there has been enormous pressure to make travel-to-work expenses tax deductible. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) gave that away when he talked about people going to work in buses provided by employers. That is taxable, and so it should be because it is a very considerable benefit in kind. Governments of both parties have always taken the view that we should not provide tax relief for expenses that enable people to carry out their jobs.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury is under a number of misapprehensions. First, there is no special "nursery tax". The benefit of an employer-subsidised nursery place is subject to income tax in exactly the same way as other benefits in kind provided by an employer. Secondly, it is not a new tax. Such benefits have been within the charging rules since they were first introduced by the Labour party more than 40 years ago. Thirdly, the charge is not in any sense disproportionate because a place at a subsidised workplace nursery can be a very considerable benefit. It can certainly run into hundreds of pounds, and over a year it may be worth more that £1.000 to an employee.

In principle, an employee's tax bill should not be based on the extent to which he is paid in cash or in kind. All employees should be taxed on the same basis. If an employee pays tax on the benefit of child care provided by an employer, that treatment is entirely consistent and fair to the vast majority of employees who have to pay for child care out of taxed income. I do not believe that new clause 9 would be universally welcomed. It would not be welcomed by the many working parents who arrange their own child care and pay for it out of taxed income.

Secondly, the new clause provides only for employees. There would be nothing for the self-employed. There is nothing for employees whose employers provide other forms of assistance with child care, such as making contributions to places in community nurseries or for child-minding. It would provide nothing for families who prefer to leave their children with a relative or child-minder and nothing for families who arrange their affairs so that children can be cared for at home.

The inequities in the Labour party's approach are self-evident. Labour Members are also arguing that we should give tax relief to enable people to be in a position to carry out their job. The tax system has never done that before. We have not done that with expenses for travel to work in the past. There is no reason to believe that the present tax treatment of child care expenses is a barrier to the employment of women with children.

There has been a large increase in the number of women who work and the evidence is that the number of workplace nurseries is growing all the time. Employers are providing such nurseries because they want to recruit labour. We hear about the demographic changes. If employers want to employ married women, they will pay the rate the market demands and ensure that married women are in a position to return to work and are provided with the facilities to enable them to do so. New clause 9 is riddled with anomalies and would be a major inconsistency in the tax system.

Mr. Chris Smith

Our debate on the important new clause has been marked by strong speeches from many of my hon. Friends. It has also been marked by two quite remarkable contributions from the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Both of them argued for universal nursery education and said that we should propose good nursery education provision for all children. Of course the Labour party agrees with that. We have been arguing that for many a long year and—

Mr. Walden

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

No, because time is short.

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Smith

Conservative Members support a Government who have done everything in their power to make it difficult for local authorities to provide good nursery education and nursery provision for the under-fives. I am pleased and proud to say that all the 24 top local authorities in terms of the provision of nursery education are Labour controlled. They are the authorities which provide good quality nursery education.

We should be looking, of course, for universal provision. It would be a range of provision provided by local authorities, voluntary agencies and employers as well. Simply to say that Labour is interested only in workplace nurseries provided by employers is wholly to misinterpret and misunderstand what we are arguing. We are arguing clearly for the removal of the tax on workplace nurseries as part of the overall solution to the problem of inadequate childcare. It is not the whole answer, but it is part of the answer and it would be a step along the road to improvement.

The Financial Secretary put two arguments. First, he said that there was no such thing as a relief for expenses to put oneself into a position to do a job. If that is so, I must ask him why on earth clauses 50, 51 and 52 are included in the Bill. They provide precisely such a relief for expenses to put oneself into a position to do a job. We are asking only for the same treatment for mothers who have to take up a workplace nursery place to enable them to do a job.

Secondly, the Financial Secretary said that workplace nursery provision was treated in exactly the same way as other benefits. When it is treated in the same way as subsidised canteens, sports grounds and business lunches, we shall agree with him, but such benefits are not subject to the tax to which workplace nursery provision is subject.

We are arguing for the simple removal of a tax which acts as a disincentive to women playing their full part in our economy. Not only does it discourage women from playing a part by going to work; it deprives children by preventing them from gaining the full experience from which they might otherwise benefit.

The real face of the Conservative party was revealed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who said that there should be a financial incentive for mothers to stay at home. We strongly disagree. We want to ensure that more women can join the work force and play a full part in our national life if they want to, and the new clause represents a small step towards achieving that goal.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 200, Noes 273.

Division No. 293] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Caborn, Richard
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Callaghan, Jim
Alton, David Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Anderson, Donald Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Armstrong, Hilary Canavan, Dennis
Ashton, Joe Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Clay, Bob
Barron, Kevin Clelland, David
Battle, John Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beckett, Margaret Cohen, Harry
Beith, A. J. Coleman, Donald
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cousins, Jim
Bermingham, Gerald Cox, Tom
Bidwell, Sydney Cryer, Bob
Blair, Tony Cummings, John
Blunkett, David Cunliffe, Lawrence
Boateng, Paul Cunningham, Dr John
Boyes, Roland Dalyell, Tam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Darling, Alistair
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Buckley, George J. Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Dewar, Donald Martlew, Eric
Dixon, Don Maxton, John
Dobson, Frank Meacher, Michael
Doran, Frank Meale, Alan
Dunnachie, Jimmy Michael, Alun
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Eadie, Alexander Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Eastham, Ken Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Morgan, Rhodri
Fatchett, Derek Morley, Elliott
Fearn, Ronald Morris, Rt Hon A. (W''shawe)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Flannery, Martin Mowlam, Marjorie
Flynn, Paul Mullin, Chris
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Murphy, Paul
Foster, Derek Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Foulkes, George O'Brien, William
Fraser, John O'Neill, Martin
Fyfe, Maria Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Galbraith, Sam Parry, Robert
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Patchett, Terry
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Pendry, Tom
Godman, Dr Norman A. Pike, Peter L.
Golding, Mrs Llin Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Gould, Bryan Prescott, John
Graham, Thomas Primarolo, Dawn
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Quin, Ms Joyce
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Radice, Giles
Grocott, Bruce Randall, Stuart
Hardy, Peter Redmond, Martin
Haynes, Frank Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Henderson, Doug Reid, Dr John
Hinchliffe, David Richardson, Jo
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Home Robertson, John Robertson, George
Hood, Jimmy Robinson, Geoffrey
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Rogers, Allan
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Rooker, Jeff
Howells, Geraint Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hoyle, Doug Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Ruddock, Joan
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Illsley, Eric Short, Clare
Ingram, Adam Skinner, Dennis
Janner, Greville Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Spearing, Nigel
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Steinberg, Gerry
Kennedy, Charles Stott, Roger
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Strang, Gavin
Kirkwood, Archy Straw, Jack
Lambie, David Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lamond, James Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Leadbitter, Ted Turner, Dennis
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Vaz, Keith
Lewis, Terry Wall, Pat
Litherland, Robert Walley, Joan
Livsey, Richard Wareing, Robert N.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McAllion, John Wig ley, Dafydd
McAvoy, Thomas Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
McCartney, Ian Wilson, Brian
Macdonald, Calum A. Winnick, David
McFall, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
McKelvey, William Worthington, Tony
McLeish, Henry Wray, Jimmy
McNamara, Kevin Young, David (Bolton SE)
Madden, Max
Mahon, Mrs Alice Tellers for the Ayes:
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Mr. Frank Cook and
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Mr. Allen McKay.
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Adley, Robert Alexander, Richard
Aitken, Jonathan Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Allason, Rupert Forth, Eric
Amess, David Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Amos, Alan Fox, Sir Marcus
Arbuthnot, James Franks, Cecil
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Freeman, Roger
Ashby, David French, Douglas
Atkins, Robert Fry, Peter
Atkinson, David Gale, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gardiner, George
Baldry, Tony Garel-Jones, Tristan
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gill, Christopher
Batiste, Spencer Glyn, Dr Alan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bellingham, Henry Goodlad, Alastair
Bevan, David Gilroy Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gow, Ian
Body, Sir Richard Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boswell, Tim Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bottom ley, Peter Gregory, Conal
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Ground, Patrick
Bowis, John Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hague, William
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hampson, Dr Keith
Brazier, Julian Hannam, John
Bright, Graham Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Browne, John (Winchester) Harris, David
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Haselhurst, Alan
Buck, Sir Antony Hawkins, Christopher
Budgen, Nicholas Hayes, Jerry
Burns, Simon Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Burt, Alistair Hayward, Robert
Butcher, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Butler, Chris Heddle, John
Butterfill, John Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hill, James
Carrington, Matthew Hind, Kenneth
Carttiss, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cash, William Hordern, Sir Peter
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Chapman, Sydney Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Chope, Christopher Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Churchill, Mr Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Irvine, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Irving, Charles
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Jack, Michael
Conway, Derek Jackson, Robert
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Janman, Tim
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jessel, Toby
Cope, Rt Hon John Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Couchman, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cran, James Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, David Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Key, Robert
Davis, David (Boothferry) Kilfedder, James
Day, Stephen King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Devlin, Tim Knapman, Roger
Dicks, Terry Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knowles, Michael
Dover, Den Knox, David
Dunn, Bob Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Durant, Tony Lang, Ian
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Evennett, David Lawrence, Ivan
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fallon, Michael Lee, John (Pendle)
Favell, Tony Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fishburn, John Dudley Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fookes, Dame Janet Lightbown, David
Forman, Nigel Lilley, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Lord, Michael Redwood, John
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Renton, Tim
McCrindle, Robert Riddick, Graham
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Sackville, Hon Tom
Maclean, David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
McLoughlin, Patrick Shelton, Sir William
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Major, Rt Hon John Shersby, Michael
Malins, Humfrey Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Mans, Keith Speller, Tony
Maples, John Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marek, Dr John Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Stevens, Lewis
Marlow, Tony Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sumberg, David
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mates, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Maude, Hon Francis Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Miller, Sir Hal Thorne, Neil
Mills, Iain Thornton, Malcolm
Miscampbell, Norman Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tracey, Richard
Mitchell, Sir David Tredinnick, David
Monro, Sir Hector Trippier, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trotter, Neville
Moore, Rt Hon John Twinn, Dr Ian
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Morrison, Sir Charles Walden, George
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Moss, Malcolm Waller, Gary
Moynihan, Hon Colin Ward, John
Mudd, David Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Neale, Gerrard Warren, Kenneth
Neubert, Michael Watts, John
Nicholls, Patrick Wells, Bowen
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Whitney, Ray
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Widdecombe, Ann
Norris, Steve Wiggin, Jerry
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Wilshire, David
Oppenheim, Phillip . Winterton, Mrs Ann
Page, Richard Winterton, Nicholas
Paice, James Wolfson, Mark
Patnick, Irvine Wood, Timothy
Patten, John (Oxford W) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Yeo, Tim
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Young, Sir George (Acton)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Porter, David (Waveney) Tellers for the Noes:
Powell, William (Corby) Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and
Price, Sir David Mr. Alan Howarth.
Raffan, Keith

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the debate that has just finished, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) made an unwarranted attack on me without giving me notice that he intended to do so. His attack was wholly unjustified. The archaic views that he attributed to me have never been mine and have never been expressed by me. Perhaps he will come to the Dispatch Box and apologise.

Mr. Chris Smith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. I mistook him for the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), although how I could have done so I fail to understand. My mistake reflected badly on the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). As you know, Mr. Speaker, I have already apologised to you and sent a note to Hansard to ensure that the record of my intentions is correct.

Mr. Speaker

On that happy note, we should move on.

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