HC Deb 16 May 1990 vol 172 cc910-48

144A—(1) Notwithstanding any other provisions of the Taxes Acts the provision for an employee of care for a child or the financing of such provision by any means (including vouchers redeemable only for such care and reimbursement of the employee's expenses incurred in procuring such care) shall not be treated as an emolument chargeable to income tax under Schedule E if the conditions in subsection (1B) below are met.

(1B) The conditions are that—'.

No. 5, in page 11, line 10, at end insert— '( ) the employee is not a person to whom section 154(1) applies by virtue of his being employed as a director of a company or in employment with emoluments at the rate of £25,000 a year or more.'.

No. 6, in page 11, line 13, at end insert — '(aa) the care is provided primarily during the employee's working hours in the employment by reason of which it is provided.'.

No. 26, in page 11, line 14, leave out sub-paragraphs (b) and (c) and insert — '(b) the care is provided on premises which are not the normal place of residence of the child or employee.'.

No. 13, in page 11, leave out lines 14 and 15.

No. 7, in page 11, line 15, at end insert — '(bb) the care is provided under arrangements which are equally available to any other employee of the same employer whose child has an equal or greater need of such provision and for whose child it is practicable to make such provision.'.

No. 27, in page 11, line 21, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

No. 42, in page 11, line 21, at end insert — '(e) in the case of close companies (as defined in section 414 of the Taxes Act 1988), child care facilities of a broadly similar nature are made available by the employer to all employees (this condition will be satisfied even if not all employees make use of the facilities so provided.)'.

No. 43, in page 11, line 21, at end insert — '(f) at premises where child care facilities are provided, they must be of a broadly similar standard.'.

No. 8, in page 11, line 25, at end insert 'and'.

No. 9, in page 11, line 27, leave out from 'persons' to end of line 30.

No. 10, in page 11, line 28, after 'employer', insert 'or an associated company of the employer'.

No. 16, in page 11, line 29, leave out 'and managing the provision of the care.'.

No. 11, in page 12, line 25, at end insert '"associated company" has the meaning given in section 416 below;'.

No. 12, in page 12, line 29, after 'educational', insert 'or recreational'.

No. 17, in page 12, line 30, leave out 'eighteen' and insert 'sixteen'.

No. 14, in page 12, leave out lines 31 and 32.

No. 18, in page 12, line 37, at end insert — '(3) This section shall operate to relieve the taxable benefit from basic rate tax only. The benefit is still to be charged at the excess of higher rate over basic rate tax.'.

Mr. Boateng

I am obliged to the Chief Secretary for his kind words, but I do not intend to allow them to go to my newly exposed head. I fancy that he is unlikely to be so welcoming to these amendments.

The amendments, sadly, are necessary as a result of the defective and stunted clause 20, which the amendments seek to improve. It is defective and stunted because the Government have been the subject of two competing forces. The first is an impulse, for public relations purposes, to appear to be doing good, in this case to hard-pressed parents, and women in particular, who are at a tax disadvantage when they are in receipt of child care benefits from their employer. They are the recipients of what the Government would have us believe is their largesse.

The second competing force is a compulsion that characterised every aspect of the Budget— to do as little as possible at minimal cost. We therefore have this push-me-pull-me provision, which fails to address the central issue of removing obstacles to the provision of workplace nurseries and child care provision for working parents.

Given the past of the Chief Secretary, it is perhaps not surprising that clause 20, which he will seek to defend this afternoon, is stunted and defective, because at every turn he has opposed the reasonable suggestions made by Labour Members on every Finance Bill since 1985 to overcome the hurdle to the expansion of child care provision for working parents. He fought us tooth and nail, and the last time that he replied to a debate on this anomaly in the taxation rules he was scathing of the arguments ably and convincingly put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). He told—us-and he will remember the debate well: 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."—[Official Report, 11 July 1989; Vol. 156, c. 894.] On 11 July 1989, there was apparently no reason to believe that a barrier existed, yet today he accepts that there is a barrier, which the Government are belatedly seeking to remove. We look forward to learning what changed his mind.

We must not look a gift horse in the mouth; we are glad to see the Chief Secretary in his place at all. He was not present yesterday; he left it to his minions, pleasant and engaging though they are, to do the business. We are entitled to ask why the right hon. Gentleman has taken the time out this afternoon to address the Commitee on this issue. It may well be that he does not trust the Economic Secretary or the Financial Secretary to resist—

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)


Mr. Boateng

My hon. Friend is being slightly, and uncharacteristically, uncharitable. I am sure that the Chief Secretary trusts his colleagues' understanding. Indeed, he fears that their understanding is such that they may concede the reasonable points that he has already heard and that he knows will be forthcoming not only from the Opposition but from at least one Conservative Member. Not trusting them, the right hon. Gentleman has come here to ensure that there are no concessions.

5 pm

We should not be surprised that Conservative Members speak with a forked tongue about child care. I do not mean to be unkind—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, perhaps on reflection, I do mean to be unkind. We have become used to such behaviour by Conservative Members. Indeed, there is a game that can be played, "Spot the quote". One wins a prize—a day out in the Kingsway day nursery, surrounded by photogenic children and attentive staff—if one can say who said what.

Let us look at some of the comments that Conservative Members have made about child care. First, there is this advice on how working mothers might be helped: Can they in fact go out at all at that stage in their children's life? Should not several women get together and arrange that one looks after the children while the others work part time"? I wonder who said that. Any offers from Conservative Members? It was someone to whom they should pay attention—indeed, someone to whom they must pay attention day in, day out. The Chief Secretary suffered more in that respect than any other person. It was, of course, the Prime Minister, no doubt speaking from her vast experience while other women took care of her children as she practised part tune at the Bar and practised part time as a politician. [Laughter.] One may well laugh, because the right hon. Lady did not ever practise part time in that way, nor did she come to a cosy relationship with other part-time working mothers to look after her delightful twins.

Another well-known Conservative Member said: If they want or need help in this task they should make the appropriate arrangements and meet the costs."—[Official Report, 12 July 1988; Vol. 137, c. 150.] Who said that? Any offers from Conservative Members? It was not the same lady but none other than the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)—a figure from the past, but one who speaks with the authentic voice of many Conservative Members when talking about child care.

There is another example, and this is the choice quote. There is a double prize for any Conservative Member or, indeed, any Opposition Member—I shall extend the offer —who can guess who said this: I don't think the State should step in to help the working mother unless her life has collapsed. Who said that?

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

The chairman of the ministerial group on women's issues.

Mr. Boateng

Indeed, it was none other than the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), whose job is to chair the ministerial group on women's issues. That comment shows the attitude of Conservative Members to working mothers and to child care. If they come to the Dispatch Box expecting us to be thankful for clause 20, they have another think coming. We are here to bury these little Caesars, not to praise them, and they should be under no illusions about that.

We need to reflect on the response by those who have the responsibility for the day-to-day care of children and those who have the responsibility for the day-to-day management of these facilities. What is their response to the largesse in what the Government would have us believe is their generous little clause? The Busy Bees consultancy works with companies that are interested in subsidising child care in order to help them establish child care provision, and it is doing important and valuable work. The managing director states: This tax exemption will not in the end benefit anything like the numbers of employees we had originally hoped. Only employees of very large companies stand to benefit. Many firms have a need for 10 or 20 places, for which it is not economically viable to set up a nursery. With very little more imagination, a lot more could have been achieved. Why has that imagination not been applied to what the Chancellor described as this small supply-side measure? It may be a small supply-side measure, but it gets smaller by the hour. The orchestrated fanfare that greeted the Chancellor's comments on this measure would have led people to believe that we would be dealing with a growing number of workplace nurseries and other forms of child care provision based in the nursery. That has not happened. The 3,000 children who benefit from existing workplace nursery provision are unlikely to be joined by large numbers. We are not tackling the demographic time bomb in relation to women at work and not freeing parents to maximise their contributions to the economy.

This is not just a child care issue or educational issue, although it is both; it is also an economic issue. It is about maximising the pool of skills if our economy is to go forward, but the Government have failed in that respect.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng

I shall give way in due course because I know that the hon. Gentleman has a valuable contribution to make.

The scale of the problem shows that it is all that much more of a pity that the Government have missed this opportunity. A survey by the Department of Employment and the Training Agency found that only 198 of the 1.1 million persons surveyed had kids in employer-provided creches. That is the scale of the inadequacy of existing provision. Only 3 per cent. of the institutions or organisations surveyed provided workplace nurseries, with only 20 in the private sector and the rest in the public sector. Despite the trailing of this measure in the run-up to the Budget, only 5 per cent. of the companies surveyed even considered establishing a workplace nursery.

Hon. Members ask whether this measure effectively encourages employers—even the 5 per cent. who were considering it—to take the plunge. We must reach the sad conclusion that it will not, because it fails to have the flexibility necessary to bring about the expansion that we all seek. That flexibility would enable companies which wish to provide nursery places to buy them in existing community nurseries and to choose between what local authorities and the voluntary sector offer. Companies would be able to buy places and in so doing encourage the expansion of existing provision.

Companies are specifically excluded from doing that under clause 20 as it is presently drafted unless they can show that they are involved in the management and financing of centres. That is why we tabled amendment No. 9. I hope that the Minister will concede that our amendment would enable his provision to have the effect that it should have of expanding the present supply of workplace nurseries and places for the children of working parents in nurseries.

We look to the Minister to make an early response on this matter and to concede that our amendment will have the effect that I have outlined. If not, we shall have no option but to press amendment No. 9 to a Division. It is absolutely vital if we are to succeed in expanding child care provision.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general sentiments, but why is he willing to accept so many of the Government's own restrictions, such as the rule that nursery care cannot be provided on domestic premises? Will he bear in mind the fact that many well-organised playgroups start in domestic premises? If the hon. Gentleman accepts so many of the Government's restrictions, rather than supporting the type of amendments that I have tabled and the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) has tabled, he will leave the Bill restricted.

Mr. Boateng

We know that the Chief Secretary has set his mind against any expansion on that scale. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, our amendments are modest. We ask not for the world but merely that the Chief Secretary accept amendments which are within the spirit of the Chancellor's Budget statement.

At the end of the day and at the beginning, fiscal measures such as the Government propose are not the best and certainly not the only way of providing the level and standard of child care that we seek. There is no alternative to a comprehensive child care policy. There is no substitute for a policy that is designed to maximise choice and flexibility for working women while maintaining standards at all times. We are not prepared to tolerate a policy by which the Government simply seek to meet the economic needs of the time and to overcome the demographic time bomb. We are not prepared to sacrifice the life chances of young children. We do not believe that that is right.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)


Mr. Boateng

That is why we say that the Government should attend to the generation and release of resources to enable local authorities to play the co-ordinating role that we believe that it is right for them to play. Local authorities have the necessary expertise and know-how. They are ideally placed to exercise a strategic function in the provision of child care. We want to hear the Government's proposals on that matter.

Should we take it that the Government's only concern is a minimal extension of child care provision by the means that they have outlined, which would involve little effort or attention from the Government? Do they cling to the mistaken belief—the Chief Secretary expressed it on 11 July last year—that the market will mysteriously meet the needs of children and working parents? There is every reason to believe that it will not.

Mr. Tim Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng

Simply by mentioning the word "market", I have prompted an immediate response from the die-hard monetarists who still lurk on the Conservative Benches. I feel obliged to let the hon. Gentleman have his say.

Mr. Smith

It was the word "mysterious" that prompted me to intervene, not the word "market". There is nothing mysterious about the way in which the market will work. If employers want to employ more mothers and women, they will make the necessary arrangements. The market will accommodate them.

5.15 pm
Mr. Boateng

The hon. Gentleman may say that that will happen, but the Confederation of British Industry, which is certainly aware of the mysteries of the market, calls more and more frequently on the Government to intervene to moderate the operation of those mysteries, which seem to work so obviously against the interests of the British economy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies specifically warns against some of the measures promoted by the monetarists. I make no apology for mentioning the CBI or the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Why should a Treasury Opposition spokesman apologise for calling in aid of our case the CBI and the Institute for Fiscal Studies?

It is a sign of the extent to which Conservative Members have slipped from reality, with regard not only to child care but to the economy.

We are committed to a comprehensive child care policy.

Mr. Stern

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng

In due course.

Our amendments must be seen in that context. I hope that the Chief Secretary will address himself to amendment No. 41 specifically and assure us that it is acceptable. Surely this matter should not divide or stretch the consensus of the House. It seeks to recognise the position, which will not be uncommon, when provision is made by an employer for child care but the employer says to the employee, "We expect you to make a contribution." It seems right that in those circumstances the philosophy that underlies section 156(1) of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 on contributions that might be deducted from benefit should apply and the employee should not have to pay tax on the part of his or her emoluments that goes towards child care provided by the employer. That does not seem unreasonable. Certainly it does not make excessive demands on the Treasury. We look to the Chief Secretary to take that on board at an early stage in his reply.

All the experience of recent years is that unless measures are taken to encourage employers to make provision for child care and to facilitate take-up by employees, the hoped-for expansion in child care simply will not take place. We want that expansion to take place, for the benefit of the child and of the economy. It is in that spirit that we have tabled the amendments and look for a positive response from the Minister.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

It ill behoves the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) to berate the Conservative party on any change of mind because his party has changed its mind on so many policies in the past 10 years that it is hard to keep up with them. It has changed its mind on nationalisation and council house sales, and has practically ditched clause IV—the backbone of its philosophy. It is squirming around trying to find some new policies and has hit on the woman's vote as one opportunity to make hay while the sun shines in the lead-up to the next election.

Nevertheless, I find myself largely in sympathy with the amendment tabled by the hon. Gentleman, most of all because it is an almost straight crib from my recent ten-minute Bill. Labour Members knew from my discussions with them that my ten-minute Bill attracted enormous attention, not least from trade unions, which wrote to congratulate me on the forward-looking views of the Conservative party in making such a point to the House.

I received a number of letters from women who said that they had never before written to a Conservative Member of Parliament, but were absolutely 100 per cent. behind the Conservative party as the party moving such ideas into the public arena. Even the National Union of Teachers wrote to me congratulating me on my success in the House of Commons. It wrote to tell me that there was a major shortage of teachers in schools and 400,000 qualified teachers, inactive at home, looking after children. It said that it greatly welcomed the Conservative party's initiative in putting that fact in the public arena. It is the Conservative party that is at last putting that principle into legislation, with clause 20.

My only quarrel with clause 20 is that it limits the opportunity for employers to pay for workplace nurseries to the workplace itself. My amendments seek to expand that idea so that an employer may pay for child care provision other than at the workplace, but in a formally constituted nursery. That would mean that a mother would not have to take her children to her workplace, but could leave them near home in a nursery, knowing that they were properly cared for and having the peace of mind to go about her job for the rest of the day.

I am sure that, when the Treasury decided to make this concession, it did not realise that it was so limited in scope and that perhaps only about 3,000 women stood to benefit. I hope that today we can persuade my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary that it would be equitable to expand that provision so that a great many more women can have that opportunity.

At present, the proposal is also limited to large employers who can afford to pay for a workplace nursery. I wish to extend it so that a number of small firms can combine to use nursery places. That would stimulate the growth not only of new nurseries but of the labour force available to small businesses. It therefore falls in with the pattern of Conservative Administration ideas to stimulate the market economy.

I understand that the Treasury will be concerned about the likely cost of such a concession. I appreciate that the Treasury does not like opening up new tax allowances, but we give tax allowances for things of which we approve. The Conservative party is the party of home ownership and gives tax allowances on mortgage interest. We are the party that, recognising the importance of pensioners building up savings as they grow older, has given tax allowances on those savings so that they can be added to income and allow pensioners to be self-supporting. In the past, we have also agreed that it is a good idea to encourage people to have meals during their working day, so we give a tax allowance on meal vouchers. The principle of tax allowances in support of things in which we believe is thus a well established practice in Conservative philosophy.

I estimate that the concession to allow a nursery to be provided somewhere other than at the workplace would cost about £25 million—a small amount of money—for one year. What is more, that money will come back to the Treasury, partly through the increased economic activity of women going to work and partly from the taxes collected on the prosperous new nurseries stimulated by imaginative extension of the principle. The Treasury, which usually anticipates a 100 per cent. loss on any concession, could thus look forward to a gain in revenue if the idea were extended to a broader spectrum of women.

As the first woman to speak in this debate, I wish to consider the matter from a woman's point of view. There is nothing new about married women with children going out to work to supplement the family income. That has been done for generations. In poorer families, women often went out to do domestic work. In the cotton towns of the north they provided much of the labour in the factories.

The needs of modern society have widened the type of work available, and the changing status of women, for which we have all fought in the past 50 years, has meant that many of them choose to carry on some form of paid work outside the home. Every girl these days earns her own living between leaving school and getting married. Some undertake a long training and become so absorbed in the subject that they want to continue that work after marriage. For many of those girls, the sort of work involved in running a home is insufficient to use all their abilities and they feel that they are not working to their full capacity.

Some men I know are far too ready with the phrase, "a woman's place is in the home", forgetting that their own daughters will almost certainly earn their living outside the home, and that some of them will want to carry on their careers. While they condemn women in careers in round terms, they would be thrilled if their own daughters were to achieve those new career heights. The choice is up to the woman—if she has no particular interest and finds work in her home satisfying and absorbing, clearly she will develop her interests in that centre. If she has a pronounced interest in some other direction in which she has already achieved some measure of success, it is essential for her own satisfaction and the happiness of her family that she should use all her talents to the full.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

I am sure that the hon. Lady would not wish to suggest—if she does, it is incorrect—that women, whether married or not, do not have the right to economic independence in their own right. Their right to pursue their careers, whether or not they have children, should not be frustrated by the lack of child care facilities or some out-of-date idea that once women marry they should be satisfied to stay in the home and not have economic independence in their own right.

Mrs. Gorman

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that women and their families should be able to make provision for their own needs, and it should not be a matter for state intervention. However, there should be tax provision, as I am arguing.

People in general, apart from men with working wives, are often unsympathetic to working wives. It is a pity that so many women with young children have to be out of their careers for 10 years or more. After 10 years it is often hard to pick up again, especially if it is scientific work because things change and develop so rapidly. It would make a tremendous difference if part of the expenses of employing other people to run her home were allowed against tax. I must make a confession—those are not my words, but the words of a working woman in the 1950s. Clearly, she is a woman with hands-on experience of the problem and great sympathy for the woman's point of view—a woman's woman. The woman concerned was, of course, our great Prime Minister and I hope that as First Lord of the Treasury she will seek to influence the thinking of the Treasury in this respect. I am sure that Treasury Ministers will wish to broaden these measures to include a much wider spectrum of women, just as I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whose sentiments are clearly my own in these matters, would wish them to do so. All women who go to work will benefit from such an extension.

5.30 pm
Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Mid-Staffordshire)

I welcome the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the House. In so doing, I am mindful of and will respect the traditions and customs of the House. I should like to record my thanks to right hon. and hon. Members and to the staff of the House for their warm welcome, many offers of help, numerous pieces of advice and several offers of pairing.

I should have liked to enter the House under different circumstances, and I wish therefore to pay tribute to my predecessor, the late John Heddle. He was a Member of the House for a decade and he represented the Mid-Staffordshire constituency following its formation in 1983. I extend my sympathy to his widow and family. Although I did not have the privilege of meeting him, I know from comments made by my constituents that he was regarded as a man who worked hard and conscientiously to represent them. I am sure that he is missed by his former constituents, and not least his family.

I look forward with enthusiasm and confidence, however, to the challenges that the electors of Mid-Staffordshire have given me. My constituency was formed by the Boundary Commission in 1983. It is a long, narrow constituency stretching from the north to the west midlands and it is not based on a single community. It is predominantly rural, but it contains three main towns.

Lichfield is a pleasant cathedral town and the birthplace of the wit Samuel Johnson, who dubbed it a city of philosophers. In the middle of the constituency is Rugeley, a predominantly industrial town dominated by two power stations and a mine. Thirty miles to the north lies Stone, a canal-side market town which has attracted a wide variety of national and international companies.

During the time I have been associated with Mid-Staffordshire, I have learnt why the people there have a pride and affection for the area, which many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House visited during the election campaign. Indeed, the influx of so many politicians and representatives of the media gave a mini-boost to the local economy which was much appreciated.

Although peace and tranquility have returned, many of the problems in the area remain. The constituency is set in the heart of middle England and comprises industrial, commercial and rural concerns, with large housing estates, small picturesque hamlets and a work force of professional, managerial and skilled people, so it can rightly be seen as a microcosm of the United Kingdom. That is why the issues that concern my constituents affect the whole country. The continuing increase in the rate of inflation is bringing misery and a hard financial struggle to many home owners and making it impossible for others to get a foothold on the property ladder. Industry is looking for more stability to give it the confidence to plan ahead for the investment and growth that are essential for the prosperity of us all.

The Health Service and education were also issues in the election campaign, but one issue came to dominate it and it would be remiss of me not to mention it. I refer to the poll tax—the harshest, most regressive and unfair tax to be imposed on the British people in more than 600 years. It is misleading to pretend that the rebate system offers any real protection because even the least well of will have to pay a minimum of 20 per cent. The many debates and Divisions in the House on the poll tax have resulted in a majority for the Government, but I find my views best summed up by Dr. Johnson, who said: Though we cannot out-vote them we will out-argue them. They shall not do wrong without it being shown to themselves and to the world. Today we have been debating workplace nurseries, which are meant to provide access to employment for parents. There is, however, another group of people for whom access to employment is difficult—people with disabilities. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys records the fact that about two thirds people with disabilities depend on state benefits. Because of the additional costs incurred from chronic illness and disability, this means that many face added problems in trying to live on an inadequate income, which further affects the quality of their lives.

The current benefit system is both chaotic and unjust. It should be replaced by a single system of assessment of disabled people and their careers. Benefit should be paid according to need, not according to how people became disabled or whether they were in employment at the time. Only 31 per cent. of all disabled adults of working age are employed, compared with 69 per cent. of the general population. That is certainly not due to any lack of motivation or ability—it is due to lack of opportunity. Many of us take the challenges and rewards of employment for granted. Those who have experienced a period of unemployment will know that it brings not just a loss of income but a loss of dignity, self-esteem and social contact.

Even if people with disabilities have the qualifications and expertise to do a job, they have to overcome discrimination on the grounds of their disability. Studies conducted by the Spastics Society in 1986 and 1989 provide scientific evidence to back up what disabled people know from their own experience—that they face discrimination often from the moment of initial inquiry about a job. The Spastics Society's research shows that two in every three valid applications from candidates with a disability will be treated in a discriminatory way.

The society attempted theoretically to place a secretary in appropriate vacancies advertised in newspapers. For each position, two applications were sent and similar characteristics were described in each letter, except that the applicant's disability was mentioned in only one of them. Nearly twice as many interviews were granted when the disability was not mentioned as when it was. Such results spell discrimination in capital letters.

Discrimination means seeing an applicant's disabilities rather than his abilities, and although many employers would like to behave in a more socially responsible way, they fail to recruit people with disabilities because of ignorance and fear that it will involve them in extra work, expense and special consideration. Yet often these are small considerations such as a handrail, a ramp, a flashing light on a phone, or a lower desk or work bench. For some, the requirement may not be a physical adaptation of the office or factory but a flexible working pattern—flexi-time or part-time working.

It is important to make a distinction between physically and mentally disabled people, because people recovering from mental illness often face even greater hurdles when trying to return to employment. The illness or breakdown may have been a long time ago and the person may be completely recovered, but although the person may have the best qualifications and the right experience for the job, a history of mental illness can lead to the second-best applicant getting the job.

It is not only the private sector which fails to employ disabled job-seekers. Government Departments and, with some notable exceptions, local authorities also fail to meet the quota set in the 1944 Act. In view of demographic changes, skill shortages and the challenge of 1992, the Government should be taking a lead in ensuring that there are no obstacles to encouraging people with disabilities to enter or return to the employment market with appropriate schemes of rehabilitation and training. However, that in itself is not sufficient. Having acquired skills and regained their confidence, the hopes of such people are dashed when the door of opportunity to employment remains closed. I am convinced that, if real progress is to be made in providing equality of opportunity for people with disabilities, a more active approach by employers is necessary and legislation to outlaw discrimination is an important step.

It has been a privilege to address the House and I thank hon. Members for the courtesy that they have extended to me. Following my success in the by-election, I was reminded of the words of Aneurin Bevan when he said: Election is only part of representation. It becomes full representation only if the elected person speaks with the authentic accents of those who elected him"— or, in this case, her. That does not mean he need be provincial and that he speaks in the vernacular. It does mean he should share their values, that is, being in touch with their realities. I believe that I share the values of the people of Mid-Staffordshire and I shall endeavour to represent them in the House to the best of my ability for a long time to come.

Mr. Stern

I am delighted to have this opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) in what the whole Committee will agree was a most distinguished maiden speech. We are grateful to her for her kind and perceptive comments about her predecessor, who was well liked by all hon. Members As the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) knows, because she is another veteran of attempts to define disability benefits when we sat for many hours in Committee on the 1985 and 1986 Social Security Bills, I am delighted to welcome an hon. Member who has such a clear and deep understanding of the issues that are involved.

My two words of warning are, first, that the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire should not assume that on subsequent occasions she will be surrounded by so many of her hon. Friends and, secondly, that any mention of pairing will inevitably give rise to about 150 letters arriving in her pigeon hole.

My speech is a breach of about four years' silence on Finance Bills, because it is the first occasion on which I have had the opportunity to speak on a Finance Bill since last year, when I ceased to be a PPS. I shall take the opportunity to support what the Government are trying to do by way of the clause and to oppose the thinking behind some of the amendments. As the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said, I share with Ministers something of a Damascene conversion on the clause, because for years I was opposed to the principle of workplace nurseries. However, I have come to support it because the form of tax relief proposed in the clause will achieve the limited objective that has been set out for it.

5.45 pm

The clause is not designed to provide general tax relief for child care. If it did, I and many hon. Members would be wholly opposed to it. It is designed to do what a new tax relief can at the right time and place and on occasions achieve. It will give a limited nudge to an existing market in order to help it expand without at the same time distorting that market. If we were to give the tax relief that is blithely set out in amendment No. 41 or, I regret to say, in the amendment spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), not only would we not achieve the objective of the clause, but we would set up a vast new distortion for about one third and what we hope will eventually be almost a half of the working population. No system of tax relief should be designed to do that and I should not support such a system.

The hon. Member for Brent, South made several blithe assumptions. He has fallen into a trap, as so many people do when looking at a particular tax relief. He looks at what the tax relief would cost and what it would achieve, assuming no change in circumstances. However, it is plain that if tax relief of the range and extent that he proposes in amendment No. 41 were to be given, it would affect not a few thousand people but a few million, and it would affect them to the extent of what is probably their greatest living expense.

My estimate—I invite the hon. Gentleman to challenge it—is that to give tax relief to all working mothers, or to working fathers when they have the responsibility, on what they have spent out of their income on child care would cost several billion pounds. So much for the value—

Mr. Boateng

The hon. Gentleman invites an immediate response. Will he give way?

Mr. Stern

I shall do so in due course. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall give way to him more quickly than he gave way to me.

Amendment No. 41 deals with an employee making a contribution, which will be determined by that employee, towards the cost of child care. The other conditions in the clause would then have to be satisfied. Apart from the provisions in the clause, there is no limit to the size of the contribution that the employee could choose to make. One assumes from the wording of the amendent that the employee could spend up to the limit of income. We read with some surprise the document that came from Walworth road yesterday because it says that there will be no uncosted pledges. However, any pledge of this nature is wholly uncosted because it is wholly uncostable. We read that all pledges about future public spending would have to be based on what the economy could afford. Within 24 hours of that document being issued, we have heard a pledge that I assume will cost the Exchequer several billion pounds. I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Brent, South.

Mr. Boateng

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow, but he pushes me and I am happy to answer him. He misunderstands the import of amendment No. 41, either unintentionally or mischievously, and seeks somehow to undermine the good sense of the provision. The amendment seeks to deal with a relatively rare but important occurrence when an employer provides a work-place nursery for his employees. He would provide such a place within the restrictions of the current clause and would then require the employee to make a contribution. Let us take a fairly typical example from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal)—the Busy Bee nursery. My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on her excellent maiden speech.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. I appreciate that the hon. Member was invited to intervene, but I hope that he will not make a second speech at this stage. He must remember that this is an intervention.

Mr. Boateng

That is why I was reluctant to intervene. I was brought to my feet by a Conservative Member. I shall deal with the example when I wind up the debate. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) is misdirected and his ideas are misconceived.

Mr. Stern

I look forward to the hon. Gentleman making his second speech.

The amendment says nothing about an employee being required to make a contribution. It refers merely to an employee making a contribution. As several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, the hon. Member for Brent, South has eschewed the invitation, as no doubt he will again when he winds up, to put a cost on the amendments. So we see, within 24 hours, yesterday's Walworth road document being discredited.

We are not talking about general provision of child care with tax relief, nor should I support such a move because the cost would be astronomic. We need to decide what we mean by child care to realise how astronomic the cost would be. People think, particularly when they read the briefings with which we have been showered, that when we talk about providing for child care we are talking about something that is done through a workplace nursery or through a registered child minder. However, we must take it into account that that is only a tiny proportion of child care as it is borne by most families and principally by most women.

For example, many local authorities have estimated over the years, although no reliable research is available because of the nature of the subject, that unregistered child minding vastly exceeds registered child minding.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

The hon. Gentleman fails to take into account the fact that, if one provides facilities and allows tax relief for those who put children into child care, one creates further taxpayers because people are able to go to work. Secondly, what is his authority for making such an outrageously incorrect statement about child minding?

Mr. Stern

The hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous. I challenge any Opposition Member to deny that when we are talking about unregistered child minding, we are talking about something which, by its very nature, cannot be measured. It can only be estimated by the local authority officers who have the job of providing care. Unregistered child minding has been known to exist for many years, and tax relief cannot deal with it. In many cases, it is accompanied by a failure to declare income on the part of the child minder and I am told by social security officers that they find, when they catch up with cases involving unregistered child minders, that it is accompanied by a failure to deregister for benefits. That is one aspect of the problem that we are nowhere near tackling.

Even that aspect is dwarfed by those who bear the greatest share of child care—not workplace nurseries or registered child minders, but relatives. In countless families in my constituency, the woman or, much less frequently, the man, is able to go to work because a grandparent or another relative is prepared to care for the child without tax relief or payment but as a matter of normal family duty. I should regard it as grossly unfair if we were to give a huge tax privilege—one far beyond the purpose of the clause—to those who choose to use commercial arrangements, while not providing an equivalent incentive to those who act as families have acted for thousands of years.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

In 1980 a survey on women in employment was carried out. I should have thought that the trend of more women going to work since then has reinforced the point of the survey. It found that not only did 34 per cent. of working women use the child's grandmother as the main support for child care while at work, but 44 per cent. of full-time working mothers used grandparents and a further 13 per cent. used their husbands.

Mr. Stern

I endorse what my hon. Friend said, which underlines my point. We are talking about a limited tax relief. If we extend it to all those who lay out what one might call declarable money on child minding, we shall create a huge distortion in the market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay has tabled an amendment that has been backed by a number of, one assumes, disinterested organisations such as the Institute of Directors. Although my hon. Friend and I often find ourselves in a minority in defending libertarian principles and protesting when we feel that Governments are going too far, on this occasion I am wholly in disagreement with her because what she is suggesting is nothing more than a tax farm. It will enable wealthy individuals to print alternative money in the form of child care vouchers, which inevitably in many cases will not be spent on child care, but will form another black market. There will be no way to police the way in which the child care voucher is spent, or whether it is spent on child care. I remind her of Gresham's law, which says that bad money tends to drive out good. Her amendment would create a large sum of bad money.

I welcome the clause because it will give a limited push to what, for many people, is a welcome development. That is the involvement of the employer in making it easier for particular employees to take on particular jobs. If the new tax relief works, it will be self-limiting, because it will apply only to a limited number of people in a limited number of circumstances. To go beyond the purpose of the clause would be an expensive folly with unbounded social effects. For that reason, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will have no hesitation in resisting the amendment.

Mr. Beith

I am delighted to congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) on a most effective maiden speech, well prepared and well delivered. The hon. Lady's remarks showed a breadth of knowledge about the problems of the disabled which I hope that she will bring to the House on many occasions in the future. I am sure that it will not be long before she makes her second speech. My only piece of advice to her is that in some ways the second speech is more difficult than the maiden. The indulgence of the House, which is automatic when a Member makes his or her maiden speech, disappears thereafter.

I hope that what happened to me when I made my second speech late at night does not happen to the hon. Lady. When I rose, I was mistaken by Mr. Deputy Speaker for one of my colleagues, who was sitting in the Cafeteria at the time. When his name appeared on the annunciator screen, he was presented with the dilemma of whether to enter the Chamber and make a speech or whether to continue eating his meal. That is unlikely to happen to the hon. Lady, however, as she is easily recognisable and has made such a distinctive and valuable start to her career in this place.

Child care provisions urgently need to be extended. Child care is important because women who choose to work outside the home should have the freedom to do so. I emphasise "choose" because I do not think that we should be pushing women in either direction. They should not feel pressure to work outside the home, but neither should they feel that they ought not to do so. One of the effects of the poll tax, with its joint and several liability, will be to make many married women who do not have an income feel that they must have one because they have a liability but no income. The state should be neutral and married women should have a free choice. Barriers as preventive as the lack of adequate child care should not stand in the way of women who choose to work.

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There is a crying need in the economy for the skills of many women, and that need will become greater in the next few years. That is widely recognised, and the industry has pressed strongly for amendments of the kind that I and the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) have tabled. Perhaps the hon. Lady is more radical than members of the Labour party, but that comes as no surprise to me. Indeed, I have always known that to be the case. I must he careful, however, because she attacked me and others the other week for being Christians, so I know that I am in trouble with the hon. Lady already.

Mrs. Gorman

In the speech to which the hon. Gentleman refers I criticised theologians who have extreme views, not Christians.

Mr. Beith

I suggest that the hon. Lady reads the report of her speech to see how wide she appeared to range on that occasion.

A much wider child care policy needs to be established than that which can be achieved within the framework of the Bill. There must be greater support for local authority nursery provision and greater support and provision for the voluntary sector. Provision should be extended to out-of-school facilities for children. The provisions that we are discussing, which are limited, appear not to extend into that third area.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science took an initiative on out-of-school provision and wrote to 25,000 schools in England urging them to consider using their facilities for child care provision out of school hours. So far, the groups campaigning for this provision have found only about seven schools which have managed to make a response. That is hardly surprising, given the financial pressures that schools are facing. It will take more than a letter to 25,000 schools to deal with a problem which will remain for many women even if all the provisions that the Government have set out in the Bill are implemented, improved and tidied up.

Children of school age must be provided for and cared for when they finish school each day and during school holidays. The provisions set out in the Bill do not meet that need. In considering successive Finance Bills, we have campaigned for wider tax relief for child care, but the Government have not provided it. We are talking today about tax relief for workplace nurseries. In that respect, the Government have given the Labour party that for which it asked. It has been given precisely that for which it campaigned.

I vividly recall a debate which took place during consideration of the 1989 Finance Bill in Committee. I was telephoned by a representative of a campaign which had been mounted for workplace nurseries and told off in no uncertain terms because I intended to raise in Committee—as, indeed, I did—the wider question of tax relief for child care. I was told that the Labour party intended to raise the issue of workplace nurseries on Report and that those responsible for the campaign did not want the matter to go any wider than that.

I pursued my amendment and the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) dealt with the issue thus: Unfortunately, the Democrats"— his word, not mine— have mixed up the issue with the much broader issue of tax relief for child care expenses in general. He was referring to nursery provision. He than said that the new clause fails to take into account the principal mechanism whereby assistance can be given for child care, which is to ensure that good quality nursery provision by employers, local authorities and voluntary organisations is made available on a much wider scale than it is at present. Furthermore, child benefit should properly reflect the costs of bringing up a child. Shortly after that, he said: The new clause would use tax relief instead of dealing with those problems. Therefore, we cannot support it"—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 22 June 1989; c. 623–4.] The hon. Gentleman was addressing the argument that it is inappropriate to use tax relief to secure wider child care. Even the clause that we are seeking to amend uses tax relief to encourage employers to provide workplace nurseries. The crux of my argument is that the workplace nursery can never be more than an extremely limited solution to the problem of child care for working mothers. The Government's tax relief efforts must therefore be devoted to wider objectives. Even now, the official Opposition's amendments severely restrict the range of relief and, oddly, do not even relate it to the standard rate of tax, As the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said, the clause is almost unbelievably limited in its scope.

If, as I hope, the House of Commons introduces a workplace nursery for its staff—those employed by the House of Commons Commission—it is doubtful whether Members could send children to it, and it is certain that journalists, BBC staff and those who work for the Department of the Environment in this place would not be able to obtain tax relief for vouchers that their employers might provide to send children to the nursery. Even though all the employees to whom I have referred work within this building, they would not be able to send their children to the nursery because their employers would not be providing or managing it.

That is an extreme example of the degree of restriction implicit in the clause. On the face of it, a building or set of premises used by several organisations could not have a workplace nursery used by all the organisations unless they were all fully involved in its management. That would seem to be pretty difficult nursery to run. A nursery run by the House of Commons, all its Members, the BBC and most daily newspapers in the land would be pretty difficult to run. I should not like to work for such a wide range of employers.

I have provided an extreme example, but I will move on to a more common state of affairs. Let us suppose that there are several firms on a trading estate which have factories nearby. One quite large firm might say, "We think that we could manage to operate a workplace nursery. We could probably take up half the places for our employees and we shall offer the other places to some of the neighbouring firms so that we can bring the total number of places to a reasonable level. We shall then have their support and the vouchers that they give to their employees." Such a scheme would fall foul of the narrow provisions of the clause, yet it would be a natural arrangement for several employers with premises fairly close to one another. The Government's provisions fall down even in that example of workplace nursery provision.

Even the widening to which I have spoken would not meet the needs and position of many people. There are so many employers who cannot reasonably provide child care at the workplace. There are employers who have many sites with only a few employees at each one. That is certainly true in retailing, and the same can be said of manufacturing services industries. There are firms with many employees who work in scattered locations throughout the country or even around a city, and they will be unable to make workplace nursery provision.

Small businesses with relatively few employees could not reasonably make child care provision. It would not be economical to provide the facility because they would not have enough employees to take it up. Even quite large firms—firms employing perhaps 100 people—might be uncertain about the level of take-up in any one year. The obvious solution for many firms is to look to others to help them. In this way the Government are failing to observe their philosophy, ideas and principle.

The Government propose to set up an anti-private-enterprise scheme. Let us suppose that a Government Department with many sites throughout the country wants to make nursery provision. It might decide to invite an outside catering contractor to provide services at a site where it might not be economic to run its own catering services. If the Department has a location where there are relatively few employees but where another provider could make nursery provision available, it would be unable to privatise its nursery provision. Under the Bill, it would have to manage the nursery provision itself. Given the Government's philosophy, what is the sense in saying that in the public sector the Government have to manage everything?

Mr. Bermingham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another spin-off is the advantage to the large organisation at the expense of the small? I always thought that the provision was meant to encourage small organisations, but it fails to do that.

Mr. Beith

That is undoubtedly so. My earlier argument was that employers with a small number of staff cannot possibly undertake the sort of workplace nursery provision that would be sustainable for a period of time. Many of them could more usefully provide tax-free vouchers to the employee, provided that they were used for registered child care or nursery education and could be redeemed only by an organisation or individual registered for that purpose.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

What would be the equity of providing vouchers for those who go out to work while providing nothing for those who stay at home and look after their children?

Mr. Beith

The whole point of the argument that has run through the debate is that, in order to have the freedom to go out to work, many mothers have to provide for child care out of their taxed income. The Government are saying that they will make provision for those with child care facilities on the premises where they work without that being subject to tax. A great many other mothers will have to pay for child care out of their taxed income because the employer cannot assist them in any untaxed way. Those who choose to look after their children at home do not face that barrier.

The right hon. Gentleman may believe that the state should not become involved and that there should be no tax relief. If so, he should oppose the clause. However, once we enter that area—and there are many good social and employment arguments for so doing—we have to find a more sensible scheme. There appears to be greater equity between those who have access to workplace nurseries and those who do not than the right hon. Gentleman described.

The amendments attempt to go wider. They are all based on a voucher principle which allows child care to be provided in a wide range of locations, including domestic locations. I am worried that under Labour's proposals it would not be possible for a playgroup in an individual's home, properly registered and operating, to be the subject of vouchers provided by an employer. A skilled, trained and qualified nursery nurse looking after several young children would not qualify under the Opposition's proposal, still less under the Government's.

We must have a reasonably flexible approach because many women, especially those travelling a long way to work, will not want to take their children to some urban centre for child care. It would be more sensible and reassuring if their children were looked after in their local community by people whom they know and where there is access to neighbours and friends should anything go wrong. If a child is taken ill, a neighbour or friend could provide reassurance and take the child home for the rest of the day.

That is another example of how the workplace nursery is of limited help. It is obviously valued by those very few women, as a proportion of the total, who have access to workplace nurseries. Even where such nurseries exist, quite a few women still choose to make other child care arrangements. We must allow for them, and the amendments are designed for that purpose. If we do not provide for them, we shall have created expectations which will not he satisfied. When the Government made their announcement, there was widespread expectation that much would be done for working women, but the provisions in the Bill will help only a few.

A number of other amendments are designed to deal with specific problems. Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 are intended to prevent two-tier standards of nursery care in workplace nurseries, and to prevent the possibility of only the directors of a small company benefiting from the facilities. That is a deliberate anti-abuse provision that we have suggested to the Government.

Amendment No. 17 has been tabled because we are puzzled about the age definition of a child. The Government say that it is 18. Do the Government envisage workplace nursery relief being extended to 15 and 16-year-olds? That is not what we understood from their previous statements. We want the Government to address the problem of out-of-school child care after 4 o'clock—after 3 o'clock at primary school level—and during school holidays.

Amendment No. 18 restricts tax relief to the basic rate, which seems to be a much more sensible use of the money. If the Government want to help those in the ordinary tax bracket, they should not subsidise nursery provision at the higher rate of tax, any more than they should subsidise mortgage relief at the higher rate of tax.

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As part of a wider child care policy, our object is to encourage employers to give a flexible form of assistance to their employees through child care. They should take account of the different needs and requirements of their staff and do whatever is possible and appropriate for them. For many small businesses, a workplace nursery is inconceivable. For many large businesses, providing child care through another organisation would be more logical than trying to develop an in-house facility. In the public sector, it is ludicrous to assume that all nursery provision must be managed by the public sector employer. The provisions are too narrow—that is why we have tabled our amendments.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

I, too, join the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) in congratulating the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) on her excellent speech. It proves that there was no need for the image-makers of Walworth road to gag her as they did during the by-election.

I have come hot foot from the tennis courts, having represented this House at tennis. I am pleased to say that the Lords and Commons tennis team beat Westminster school 7–2.

I am not unsympathetic to the broadening of workplace nursery provision as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). The issue is something of a dilemma because there is a strong argument for not encouraging mothers to go out to work. There are those who argue that, while a mother has young children, her place is at home. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) agrees with that. On the other hand, there is clearly a tightening of the labour market, and the economic well-being of Britain means that we need to encourage more women to return to the job market—certainly after their children have gone to school, but even while they are still fairly young. The answer to the dilemma is to leave the decision to each and every woman—

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

What about the husbands?

Mr. Riddick

Yes, the decision is also one for the fathers. They must have a genuine choice. The argument of many of my hon. Friends is that the free market should cater for the increased demand for more women to return to work. I have no doubt that, if we left that to the free market, there would be a much greater provision of workplace nurseries—but in time. I do not argue against the use of tax relief to encourage desirable or important objectives. We have used tax relief to encourage home ownership, occupational pensions and so on. Therefore, why should not it be used to encourage women to return to work if they so wish?

I welcome the tax relief announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech, but if we are to introduce tax relief for workplace nursery provision, we should do it properly. The provision in the Bill is very restrictive.

A firm in my constituency, Shaws Pallets, which is based in Slaithwaite, a village in Colne valley, has drawn my attention to a problem. The company has set up a workplace nursery to cater for the children of its employees. It wishes to offer places to employees of other companies in the village. However, the tax relief to be made available through the Bill will not extend to employees of other firms. There is a case for such an extension. The Treasury is discriminating against people whose firms cannot afford to set up a workplace nursery.

I have had a letter from the Retail Consortium; no doubt other hon. Members also received a copy. Many retailers need to encourage more women to go back to work. The Retail Consortium makes the point that the Government are discriminating against small stores that cannot provide the facilities which are required, and that there is very little flexibility in the provision for tax relief.

We should not be too niggardly. There is a sound argument that there is no need for the Government to introduce the provision at all and that we should leave it to the free market. If we are to introduce tax relief, the Government should make it meaningful and ensure that the proposal works. That is why I support my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary will consider the matter again and take up the proposal in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bermingham

A short time ago the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), who is not in his place, gave way to me; I asked him a simple question when he accused the Labour party of producing a proposal that would cost much money. He spoke in his usual accountancy terms. I never trust accountants because they can make figures tell anything they want. The hon. Gentleman forgot to say that the minute someone is allowed to exercise the economic right to go back to work, because the amount involved in child minding can be deducted as a tax expense, two more taxpayers and two more jobs have been created. The person going back to work will pay tax and the person who is being employed to mind the child will also pay tax. That figure has to be offset against tax relief.

Some years ago I read that, unless more people went to work, the gross national product would not grow. If there is a demographic profile, as there is in this country, of a reducing number of young persons entering the labour market and an increasing number of people leaving it through retirement, there will be fewer persons in the labour market. If we want to keep up the number in the labour market, thus enabling us to pay for the pensions and other benefits that we all want, we have to encourage people to go back to work. We have a massive waste of skills because married women who want to go back to work cannot afford to do so. It is no good a woman earning £50 in a part-time, shared job if it is going to cost her £40 or £60 to have her children looked after. That is lunacy.

Apart from the fact, so I understand, that women's need to go back to work is increasing, and people want to do it, they do not want to be stuck at home seven days a week with the children. My brother-in-law, who is a doctor, tells me that much of the stress and trouble within families is caused because the mother is housebound and cannot get out to work. She feels frustrated because she has so much to offer society but is denied the opportunity to do so.

The Government once again demonstrate their tunnel vision. I shall be glad when the channel tunnel is finished; we could put all the Treasury Ministers in it to show them what a real tunnel is like. They could go through it, blinkered as ever. Treasury Ministers are blinkered in their proposals in clause 20. Under the clause the employees of a big company that can provide a workplace nursery will get tax relief, but if a little company, a profession or a shop is not big enough to have its own workplace nursery, the employees will not get any tax relief. That is lunacy.

What are we doing? Once again we are saying to small businesses, "Yah-boo, tough, the Treasury does not understand your problems; you cannot compete with the big boys." We want the little businesses to prosper, but that is not the view of the Treasury. Treasury Ministers cannot see further than the end of their noses. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has given a classic example. The position is the same in St. Helens. The big companies such as Pilkington's will be able to provide workplace nurseries, but the little factories, particularly in the clothing trade, which desperately want machinists, cannot afford them. It takes many years to teach machinists their skills. The factories want them back, but they cannot encourage them because they cannot compete with the big boys in the provision of workplace nurseries.

If the Minister—I am sorry, I mean the Chief Secretary; I have demoted him again, but that is one of my bad habits —thought of the interests of the economy generally, he would broaden the provision to enable women to go back to work. If women could employ people to act as child minders, or if they could put their children in workplace nurseries or in nurseries provided by local authorities, the labour market would increase enormously. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) told us about a local authority laying on a wonderful child minding scheme.

If the provision was widened, it would pay for itself in due course. There would be another spin-off benefit. As soon as tax relief is claimed, the Inland Revenue knows to whom the money has been paid. What an easy way to get rid of unauthorised child minders. The Inland Revenue would tell the local authority immediately if a person was not registered. The Inland Revenue is like that; it will snitch on anybody at any time. The Chief Secretary would do a wonderful job by getting rid of unauthorised child minders. They would pop out of the woodwork all over the place. The Chief Secretary would improve the standard of child care.

The Government have an opportunity to do something, but they will not take it. They never do. It will be the same with capital gains tax later this evening. Once again the Government cannot see beyond their tunnel vision. What a pity. They could do so much good if they listened to the voices of all hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I hope that the House will forgive me having been absent during part of the debate. I am totally opposed to the amendments and I believe that the Government's attitude towards the problem of working mothers is wrong. When my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) proposed her ten-minute Bill recently to assist mothers of young children to go out to work, I was appalled at her apparent repudiation of traditional Conservative values with regard to the family. Therefore, I opposed her Bill. She was successful, and all I got for my pains was personal abuse from her, gratuitous insults from another lady Member of Parliament, and vitriolic attacks in the press. I also received many letters. I was, however, convinced of the support for my views by the many letters of support I received and by the guilt implicit in many of the letters which criticised me.

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Fortunately, I have obtained greater wisdom from that experience because it revealed to me the true nature of the evil which lies at the root of our industrial and social policies. It also helps to explain why we British have been so unsuccessful in running our economy since the war and why we, unlike our continental competitors, have weathered the 1987 economic storm so badly. It is due to the attitude that I speak of which is inherent in my hon. Friend's amendments.

Over the past 30 years or more, under Governments of both major parties, we have become addicted to the notion that happiness lies in "doing your own thing". Never mind obligations to others, to the children we have brought into the world, to the person to whom we made our marriage vows or to elderly parents; all that matters is self-fulfilment, and the yardstick of success is material reward.

The addiction affects the whole of society, all classes of people and both sexes. Feminists in particular think of the family unit and child rearing as oppressive. Getting women into the labour force is the weapon which gains the independence they desire for their sex. They have succeeded to an extent that no one thought possible 30 years ago. We now have a continuously expanding labour force in Britain, and the expansion is provided mostly by married women. We positively encourage married women, including mothers of very young children, to go out to work. The Government have joined in the rush and the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay are designed to help it along.

There are now twice as many mothers in the labour force, proportionately, in this country than there are in any of our continental competitors. Does that improve our productivity? Of course not. As we have a larger labour force, we think that we can tolerate the inefficiency and overmanning of our industries. In Europe they know better They have far fewer married women in employment. They positively encourage the mothers of young children to stay at home with them. The average male worker in Europe is paid more and produces more than his British counterpart because their economies are based on increasing productivity and are not dissipated on a growing labour force.

For many people we have made it necessary for there to be two or more incomes coming into the household. We have disastrously tipped the fiscal balance against the traditional family. Most working mothers are forced to go out to work out of economic necessity. It is not their fault. Their husbands are not earning enough to provide for all the needs of the family. In fiscal terms we have put enormous obstacles in the way of a family which seeks to give its children the security and love derived from the presence of the mother.

We are still committing that error in the clause we are debating. Instead of the old rule which made the breadwinner responsible for the household rates, we have substituted a system which requires the mother to pay a contribution towards local public service charges even if she is not in paid employment and has no resources of her own to pay the community charge. The community charge. if it is not modified, is likely to break up more families.

There have been 30 years of progressive fiscal neglect of the family. My original objection to the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay was expressed in inadequate terms because it was based on only half of the truth. Never mind the social consequences of a generation brought up without love or a sense of obligation to others; never mind the unhappiness caused to children by our policies. Think only of the damage that we are doing to the economy by solving our labour problems in such a way.

One of my correspondents, Mrs. Annemieke Lines, told me: Redressing the fiscal balance in favour of those bearing the responsibility of bringing up the next generation will do far more to persuade young mothers to look after their children than outright condemnation for not doing so". I accept that.

The Government have completely the wrong approach to this problem. My hon. Friend is completely off-beam in her amendments, and I hope that they will be rejected. I implore the Government to delve more deeply into the economic and social consequences of what they are doing and to cease to be pulled along by the wretched engine of feminism.

Ms. Armstrong

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, not least because I speak shortly after my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal), who made a measured but powerful speech. I hope that some hon. Members who criticised her as a candidate will take note of the content of her speech and her performance, and will recognise that we all say things in by-elections and at election time that we regret later. I hope that some hon. Members regret some of the things that they said during the Mid-Staffordshire by-election.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has just spoken and I follow him with a sense of great sadness. He seems to have no understanding of the power of relationships in which people who both work are capable of loving their children. To listen to him one would think that it was impossible for fathers to take any part in their children's upbringing, care and nourishment because they go out to work.

Both my parents worked and contributed to society, but they brought me up never to put myself first and always to think of my responsibilities in the public domain. They did that while they worked, and I know that I am not alone in the House or in the country in having benefited from parents who were able to give to other people and therefore had more to give to the family. I am sad that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the contribution that working parents are able to make to the family.

The dilemma expressed by the hon. Member for Orpington has also hit the Government because in so many of their words and actions over the past year they have demonstrated that they cannot come to terms with the fact that work and the family go together. The Government need to sort out their policies to support that ideal rather than causing contradictory problems. It is significant that this is the only Government-inspired debate in which we have the opportunity to talk about child care. That demonstrates the narrowness and the poverty of the Government's understanding of issues which face us today.

If the Government had a coherent strategy on child care, or accepted the need for one, the abolition of the workplace nursery tax would be but a marginal part of their policy. I do not know where the hon. Member for Orpington got his figures on the number of married women in Europe who go out to work. They certainly do not match up with any figures for European Community countries. The EC report on child care shows that we lag behind in our provisions for children and for parents who wish to work.

Mr. Stanbrook

Can the hon. Lady deny that fewer married women go out to work in Europe than in Britain? The Government make play of the fact that our labour force is increasing all the time, all because of the increased employment of married women.

Ms. Armstrong

In France, Germany, Italy and Spain that is not the case, but the hon. Gentleman may have figures which confound those from the EC. Britain comes near the bottom of the league when it comes to mothers with young children who are able to work. We have more women out of the work force for longer than most of our European competitors, and when they do return they do so at a lower level both in terms of status and pay. The main reason that is given for that is lack of adequate child care. During that time we are wasting the money that we have invested in their training, their experience and the commitment that they wish to make. It is for those reasons, if for no other, that we need more adequate child care facilities.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Armstrong

No. The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber and we have been debating the matter for the past three hours.

The Government are prepared to tackle child care only with this minimal measure and, while that continues to be the case, we shall not be able to give our children the sort of start that they need. I hope that the hon. Member for Orpington will recognise that throughout the continent children have better opportunities than they have here. I was in Barcelona last weekend at the European child care network conference and few there were struggling in the way that the British delegation was with inadequate, patchy, mixed and poorly regulated provisions.

Mr. Malins

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Armstrong


It is clear that other members of the Government have had different views of the tax. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), speaking on the imposition of the workplace nursery tax after his resignation, said: It is an eccentric policy and indeed up to April 1984 it was not policy at all. For almost 40 years the positon had been that no one had paid tax on the benefit from a workplace nursery. The policy was then changed on the view that tax had always been payable but had simply not been collected. We are now left in the extraordinary position that a motorist who has free parking at his place of work in central London does not pay tax on this undoubted benefit, while a mother who makes use of a workplace nursery does. It is time that this curious policy was taken away and put out of its misery. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but he did not make his views known when he was a member of the Cabinet.

The Government's proposal is narrow. It is a small gesture which is an inadequate response to our needs or demands. However, I counsel and caution those who argue that tax relief should be the main way in which we extend our child care provisions. The experience of most countries is that that means has dismally failed. It has not served as a lever to increase the numberof places nor to maintain quality.

The Opposition are determined to increase opportunities for child care but we shall ensure that they are of the highest quality. There is no point in opening up the provision of child care of a dubious quality only to have to deal with the problems that that creates later. We have to make sure that it is of the highest quality, and that is why the Opposition have argued for a partnership among the public, voluntary and private sectors.

6.45 pm

Employers have a responsibility to contribute to child care provision, but it is the responsibility of all society to ensure that it is of the highest quality. I commend to the House those local authorities who, despite the Government, have been trying hard to ensure that they can develop such partnerships. I shall be attending the launch of such a partnership in north Tyneside on Monday. There the local authority, despite being capped by the Government, is trying its hardest to meet the needs of the economy and of children.

If the Government are serious about the changes in the Bill, I urge them to look much further. Some of the Opposition's amendments give a lead in terms of fiscal policy, but none of my hon. Friends would pretend that fiscal policy can sort out the problems. We now have the opportunity to create a completely new relationship between work and the family in which women have the right to work, to train and to gain experience.

If we develop a proper work and family policy, we shall develop opportunities for fathers to be much more crucially involved in child care and to play their part in it. That is what people are looking for. It is a popular policy wherever I go. I urge the Minister to talk to his colleagues in the Cabinet and to ensure that we have a comprehensive child care policy which will address the needs of children and of men and women who happen to be parents.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell

I shall not detain the House for more than five minutes because many of the points that I wanted to make have already been made. But it would be remiss of me not to start by congratulating the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) on her maiden speech. I too had the pleasure, along with many of my colleagues, of visiting her constituency recently. Her eloquent and elegant comments, particularly about the role and the position of the disabled in society, were well made and I hope that we shall hear more from her on that subject in future.

When one strips away the political hoo-hah, there is a wide measure of agreement on the Back Benches on both sides of the House about the direction in which the Government should move in future. It is a pity that the Government have not been given more credit for introducing tax relief for workplace nurseries. It is a major step forward, which I welcome. It is right to make it clear at the start that the Government deserve credit for that.

I declare what must at least be described as a tangential interest as the husband of a highly qualified member of the medical profession. That experience leads me to believe that while I agree with much of what has been said by almost every hon. Member who has spoken, I find little to agree with in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).

I, along with most of my hon. Friends, incline to the view that we should have what has come to be known since the early 1980s as a level playing field with regard to the spending of taxpayers' money and should try to strip out as many tax reliefs as possible. But let us be frank. We recognise that in some cases such as mortgage tax relief there is a political imperative and in others, such as with pensions, there is an economic and political imperative, which encourage us to produce such a tax distortion. That is the argument that the Treasury accepted when it introduced tax relief for workplace nurseries. I welcome that, but we should accept that whether or not it is a good thing to have such tax reliefs is a pass which has now been sold. The Treasury—and I agree—has expressed the view and put it into legislation that we should have them. There are personal, economic and political gains to be had from that.

There is the possibility of a tremendous economic gain. In the part of the country that I represent, we are facing a 40 per cent. reduction in the number of school leavers. We desperately need to encourage women back into the workplace. Frequently, people come to my surgeries and tell me how much they pay for child care, and what they earn from a part-time or even a full-time job; often the difference is very narrow. This is an important measure, and I hope that the Treasury keeps its effect under review in the light of what will happen this year.

The knitwear industry, which is a major industry in the part of the world that I represent, will benefit significantly from the Bill. There is also the question of personal gain. Conservatives believe in extending choice and opportunity, and the Bill will do that. Many women do not want to go out to work, but prefer to stay at home and look after the children; others are better mothers because they go out to work. There are no black-and-white rules.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mitchell

No; my time is very limited.

Having made those points of principle, I shall now deal briefly with some specific points. I hope that Treasury Ministers will consider whether the Bill may prove too restrictive. There is some discrimination—as my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) pointed out—against small businesses and smaller employers, who will not have the time or the wherewithal to support the necessary operations that are enshrined in the Bill. It is important for us to keep under review whether its reach is sufficient.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to premises being made available by employers, and a number of amendments address that point. A firm's staff may be spread around a city, and it is impractical to expect staff to bring their children to a central workplace nursery: they will not do it. I agree with the suggestion that employers should be allowed to buy space in creches or nurseries established by third parties, and I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay said about a voucher system. We should consider the possibility of employers paying a third party direct. Creche facilities and child minding services are often provided in accommodation that may have been converted or adapted, but is still primarily occupied for domestic use. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary will bear it in mind that the need for specialist creche or nursery facilities as opposed to domestic accommodation is not an easy case to pursue.

In the Bill, care is defined to exclude supervised activity provided primarily for education purposes". While I do not advocate a system that allows private education to be provided in the guise of child care, surely we should not prohibit the provision of pre-school education as part of those child care facilities. The line between supervised activity —as defined in the Bill—and education is difficult to draw in practice. Children may be taught to read and write at nursery; will that be disqualified by the Bill? I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that point—if not today, perhaps in the future.

The clause is a major step forward. It is a pity that Opposition Front Benchers did not give the Government more credit for listening to what many hon. Members have said. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep the operation of the clause under review, and consider whether next year we need to go further.

Mr. Norman Lamont

This has been a lively debate. It could hardly have been otherwise, with contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and from the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). We all understand why the hon. Member for Brent, South has had to leave the Chamber repeatedly during this debate; we regret that, and sympathise with him and with his constituents.

Let me join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal). Everyone who heard her maiden speech will agree that it was outstanding. It was not only confident, eloquent and authoritative but extremely knowledgable, and it demonstrated that the disabled and mentally ill have recruited a powerful ally. All Conservative Members also appreciated her generous tribute to John Heddle.

The hon. Member for Brent, South made a robust attack on the Government. Although it was an attack, he was right to identify many conflicting considerations and genuine dilemmas. I shall explain the Government's philosophy and approach, which—as the hon. Gentleman rightly said—is different from the approach that we adopted in last year's Finance Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) was right to say that we must bear in mind not only the Bill's social consequences but the consequences of our taxation policy. It is the Government's philosophy—and their repeated intention—to broaden the tax base, and whenever possible to limit the use of special reliefs. It is true that we have made special exemptions where we considered that appropriate. However, on the whole the cost of those reliefs has been modest. In general, our aim has been greater neutrality and a broader tax base, with lower rates and limited reliefs. Some of the proposals made in the debate would involve large amounts of money—perhaps not as an immediate consequence of the amendments, but they would be likely to move the boundaries of relief further away.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) accurately summed up the purpose of the Budget changes. The hon. Member for Brent, South frequently used the word "largesse". I am not sure that Conservative Members have used it in relation to the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West rightly stressed that the clause was not intended as a step towards a general child care allowance. We have never claimed that. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) repeated his request for a general child allowance, extending to child care in the home, but I do not agree with that in principle, and it would also be extremely expensive. It was never our intention, and it is not what the changes were designed to achieve.

Familiar points about tax policy were implicit in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling. We do not want employers to be able to formulate tax-efficient remuneration packages; by and large, we want people to be remunerated in cash. We want fewer benefits in kind. That has been the idea behind many of our changes—for instance, the taxation of company cars.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) made his views clear, as he has done before. The Government's view is that the tax system should be neutral: it should be left to individuals to decide whether they wish to work or to stay at home with their children. I do not think that that neutrality is substantially compromised by this limited change. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West emphasised that the change is limited.

The hon. Member for Brent, South asked why we were making the change. There are several reasons. First, it was put to us repeatedly that employers found it troublesome to continue assessing and reporting to the Inland Revenue the value of day nurseries. Secondly, it was argued that the burden on industry was an effective deterrent to the development of workplace nurseries. It was also argued repeatedly in the House that there was some resentment about the tax treatment of workplace nurseries. We have made a limited change, putting the tax treatment of workplace nurseries very much in line with that of other benefits in kind. For example, there is a tax exemption for workplace canteens that are provided on the premises. The treatment of workplace nurseries is broadly analogous to those limited concessions.

7 pm

In the Budget and in the Bill we have done exactly what the Labour party asked us to do when we debated the Finance Bill last year. Benefits in kind are extremely complicated and it is difficult to draw boundaries. There are only two ways of achieving a policy that does not create anomalies. One is to have no relief whatsoever, and the other is to go to the extreme proposed by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and have relief for all the costs of child care, including child care at home. That would be enormously expensive and would carry a heavy dead weight cost.

Mr. Beith

I should like to get the definition right. I referred not to all the costs but to the costs incurred in all kinds of child care.

Mr. Lamont

I accept the correction, but the costs would still be huge, and would carry a large element of dead weight.

The hon. Member for Brent, South pointed out the irony that last year I resisted precisely what we have done in this year's Budget. I have had it quoted back to me that I said that if we moved a small way we would create a great deal of pressure for much more relief. Looking at the 20 amendments that have been tabled, I realise that all the arguents I used last year were not exactly lacking in force. None the less, it is right that we are making a small, limited change and it is equally right that it should be ring-fenced.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to amendment No. 41, which proposes that any contribution by an employee to the cost of a nursery place provided for by an employer shall be deductible for tax purposes. It would be difficult to concede that principle in addition to the concession that we have already made that it would not be assessable to tax as a benefit. It would create a clear unfairness against those who were paying their own child care costs and did not have the benefit of a workplace nursery. To do that on top of the concession we have already made would exacerbate that unfairness.

Mr. Raison

My right hon. Friend has been making an extremely good speech directed against his own proposals. He has argued the case against tax relief on benefits in kind; he has argued that as a matter of general policy we should not be looking for more tax relief, especially when they give particular benefit to those who are better off. He also said that he sought equal treatment. How can one possibly say that there is equal treatment if one provides tax relief to those who are earning money yet provides nothing for those families in which the mother stays at home to look after her children? It appears to me to be a fundamentally unequal proposition.

Mr. Lamont

As I have tried to explain, we have made an extremely limited concession at a cost of some £10 million. It is precisely analogous to the way in which we treat certain other benefits in kind and communal facilities such as sports facilities and canteens which are provided on the employer's premises. Only in those circumstances are they exempt from tax. That is already built in to our policy on the taxation of benefits in kind. I do not think that what we have done is markedly out of line with the treatment of other benefits. That is why we can make a limited move in that direction.

The hon. Member for Brent, South also talked about amendments Nos. 8 and 9. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) were concerned about small companies. Under the Bill it is possible for people to share in the provision of nurseries. They have to share in the financing and the management of them. We shall see whether we can clarify that in some document, but it is not intended that the management responsibility should be onerous. It would be quite sufficient for the company to monitor the performance of the nursery and to be represented on the management committee; it does not mean it would have to be involved in its day-to-day management, nor does finance have to be provided in equal proportions between the partners. It will be possible for firms to collaborate.

In the interests of saving time, perhaps I could write to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I can assure him that the anxieties he expressed about companies getting together and about the BBC participating in a facility in this building are not well grounded, but I shall write to him and explain why. I shall also write to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley. It will be possible for companies to operate as a group and for small companies to participate in such schemes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay spoke to amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 with her customary verve and exuberance, and we all very much enjoyed listening to her. Amendment No. 25 seeks to insert a new provision into the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 so that child care provided for an employee, including vouchers, cash allowances and reimbursement of expenses, would be exempt from taxation as a benefit in kind. I was rebuked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), but that really would drive a coach and horses through the tax system. We do not give people relief for vouchers except to a de minimis amount for meals or for travel. There is no limit to the number of things for which people might claim the reimbursement of expenses or a voucher for the purchase of a benefit. They might claim that any important purchase should be exempt from tax. Apart from the objection made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West, that would be difficult to police.

My hon. Friend's amendment shifts the relief much more in the direction of a general child care allowance. It would be much more difficult to defend the new boundary line if employers were allowed to remunerate bought in nursery care and it would be easy to ask why employers should not fund child minders. It would be extremely difficult to draw that distinction.

I am well aware that my hon. Friend wants there to be a general child care allowance, so perhaps she will forgive me if I am a little suspicious of why she proposes pushing the boundary only so far, leaving me a little anxious that it will be difficult to resist her next campaign. That applies equally to amendment No. 27.

In amendment No. 26, my hon. Friend comes a little way towards meeting us because she proposes the conditions that child care should not be provided at the residence of the child. But in doing that she is in slight danger of creating another anomaly, because employer funding of a nanny at a person's home would be excluded, but if a child was left at a child minder's home elsewhere that would be covered. That would be a very difficult boundary to defend. The cost of what my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have been proposing might be relatively small in the first few years, but it would gradually build up and, if it became more like a child care allowance, it would involve a significant sum of money. A general child care allowance would certainly cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

The amendments underline the fact that there is no logical stopping point in the debate; it is extremely difficult to draw the line. We have made a modest, limited amendment. I have tried to explain the reasons for making it, and I believe that it will make life a little easier for some employers. There is little tax revenue at stake. The amendment that we have made accords with the general policy on the taxation of benefits in kind. It is a limited change, and it will do a modest amount of good. In that spirit, I commend the clause to the House and urge it to reject the amendments.

Mr. Boateng

I thank the Chief Secretary and hon. Members for their forbearance when I had to leave the Chamber. There has been a deplorable, murderous attack on a soft target in Wembley surrounded by civilians' homes and people going about their ordinary business. That attack was futile and mindless, and those who perpetrate such attacks will not succeed in their objectives. On behalf not only of my constituents but of the whole House, I thank the police and ambulance services for their sterling work in dealing with the deceased and injured.

The debate has demonstrated the almost schizophrenic nature of the Conservative party on this issue. We heard from that tendency within the Conservative party which is geared to the philosophy of kinder, küche, kirche. They are concerned that women should remain with their children by the hearth and in the church. They see no role for them in the wider world. That philosophy is epitomised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), and it is alive, well and flourishing in the Conservative party.

There is the hard-line tendency, ably demonstrated by the Chief Secretary, who was almost dragged to the Dispatch Box to make the concession announced by the Chancellor, presumably against the Chief Secretary's best advice, in the Budget. That is why the Chancellor talked of a small measure and said: We have always made it clear that it is not for the Government to encourage or discourage women with children to go out to work. That is rightly a decision for them to take, and one in which the Government would be wise not to interfere."—[Official Report, 20 March 1990; Vol. 169, c.1020.]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Peter Lilley)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Boateng

I hear the Financial Secretary say, "Hear hear." The erstwhile Secretary of State for Employment, before he returned to the bosom of his family, declared the 1990s to be the decade of the working woman.

Conservative Members must decide which of those tendencies they will adhere to—the recidivist, atavistic tendency of the hon. Member for Orpington, the monetarist tendency, which is in its last gasps, of the Chief Secretary or the more benign tendency of the former Employment Secretary, whose banner was well taken up by the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), and who deserves a word of praise. He erred—the Chief Secretary will know this—in expecting Labour Members to say "thank you" for this measure, because in 1984, where this aberration has its origins, the Conservative party agreed that it was better to put those who seek to obtain a company car in a preferential position compared with those who seek to obtain and use a workplace nursery. Conservative Members—and the Chief Secretary encouraged them—were responsible for elevating a Porsche above Petula and Patrick. That is the reality—the Porsche comes first, and let Petula and Patrick's parents take care of them.

The Government have changed a bit, but they have not changed enough. That is why we intend to press amendment No. 9, which deals with our most modest request—that employees, particularly those employed by small companies, have the option to attend community nurseries, voluntary nurseries or local authority nurseries if that is what they decide. That is in accordance with the reality of the demand and the spirit of the Bill.

Mr. Riddick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

7.15 pm
Mr. Boateng

No, I am afraid that time is too short.

I must take to task the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), who suggested that amendment No. 41 is profligate. "How much would it cost?" came the cry, as though we were about to take billions from the Treasury. If the hon. Gentleman looks in a little more detail at amendment No. 41—I know that he will give it his attention, if not now, in due course—he will find that it is strictly limited to workplace nurseries, bearing in mind the strictures of the Chief Secretary. Any contribution made by the employee will become taxable in the employer's hands. The employer may pay tax at 35 per cent. while the employee pays tax at 25 per cent. in these circumstances, there is a net gain to the Treasury. What could be more prudent, more moderate or more in tune with the correct degree of fiscal rectitude than that? It is indeed a modest amendment.

If there were any justice or any truth in Conservative Members' approach to these matters, they would accept amendment No. 41. If they cannot do so, we say that they should accept amendment No. 9. Let them do something for the kids, something for employers who are seeking to expand the pool of skilled labour on which they might usefully draw, and something for the working women and parents of this country, because—let us make no bones about it—the Government may do nothing now but we shall do something soon and we shall do a great deal.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)

Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman will seek to divide the House on amendment No. 9 and that he will therefore seek to withdraw amendment No. 41?

Mr. Boateng

Yes. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 9, in page 11, line 27, leave out from 'persons' to end of line 30.—[Mr. Boateng.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes, 176, Noes 259.

Division No. 211] [7.16 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Flannery, Martin
Allen, Graham Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Alton, David Foster, Derek
Anderson, Donald Foulkes, George
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fraser, John
Armstrong, Hilary Fyfe, Maria
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Galloway, George
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Barron, Kevin Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Battle, John Gould, Bryan
Beckett, Margaret Graham, Thomas
Beith, A. J. Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bermingham, Gerald Grocott, Bruce
Bidwell, Sydney Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Blunkett, David Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Boateng, Paul Hinchliffe, David
Boyes, Roland Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Bradley, Keith Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Home Robertson, John
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hood, Jimmy
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Buckley, George J. Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Caborn, Richard Johnston, Sir Russell
Callaghan, Jim Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Kennedy, Charles
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cartwright, John Kirkwood, Archy
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Leighton, Ron
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Clay, Bob Lewis, Terry
Clelland, David Litherland, Robert
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Livingstone, Ken
Cohen, Harry Livsey, Richard
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Loyden, Eddie
Corbett, Robin McAllion, John
Corbyn, Jeremy McAvoy, Thomas
Cryer, Bob McFall, John
Cummings, John McKelvey, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence McLeish, Henry
Cunningham, Dr John Maclennan, Robert
Dalyell, Tam McWilliam, John
Darling, Alistair Madden, Max
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dewar, Donald Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dixon, Don Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dobson, Frank Martlew, Eric
Doran, Frank Meacher, Michael
Dunnachie, Jimmy Meale, Alan
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Eadie, Alexander Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Eastham, Ken Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Evans, John (St Helens N) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Morley, Elliot
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fearn, Ronald Mowlam, Marjorie
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Paul Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
O'Brien, William Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
O'Neill, Martin Soley, Clive
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Spearing, Nigel
Parry, Robert Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Patchett, Terry Steinberg, Gerry
Pendry, Tom Strang, Gavin
Pike, Peter L. Straw, Jack
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Primarolo, Dawn Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Quin, Ms Joyce Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Radice, Giles Turner, Dennis
Redmond, Martin Wallace, James
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Reid, Dr John Wareing, Robert N.
Richardson, Jo Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Robinson, Geoffrey Wigley, Dafydd
Rogers, Allan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Rooker, Jeff Wilson, Brian
Ruddock, Joan Winnick, David
Sedgemore, Brian Wray, Jimmy
Sheerman, Barry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Short, Clare Tellers for the Ayes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Frank Haynes and
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Mrs. Llin Golding.
Adley, Robert Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Aitken, Jonathan Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Colvin, Michael
Amess, David Conway, Derek
Amos, Alan Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Arbuthnot, James Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Couchman, James
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Atkins, Robert Davis, David (Boothferry)
Atkinson, David Day, Stephen
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Dickens, Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Dicks, Terry
Baldry, Tony Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Batiste, Spencer Dover, Den
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dunn, Bob
Bellingham, Henry Durant, Tony
Bendall, Vivian Dykes, Hugh
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Benyon, W. Evennett, David
Bevan, David Gilroy Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Biffen, Rt Hon John Favell, Tony
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Fishburn, John Dudley
Body, Sir Richard Forman, Nigel
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Boswell, Tim Fox, Sir Marcus
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Franks, Cecil
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Freeman, Roger
Bowis, John French, Douglas
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Fry, Peter
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Gardiner, George
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brazier, Julian Gill, Christopher
Bright, Graham Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Goodhart, Sir Philip
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Goodlad, Alastair
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Burns, Simon Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Burt, Alistair Gow, Ian
Butcher, John Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Butler, Chris Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Carrington, Matthew Grylls, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Hague, William
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hanley, Jeremy
Chapman, Sydney Hannam, John
Chope, Christopher Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Churchill, Mr Harris, David
Haselhurst, Alan Neubert, Michael
Hawkins, Christopher Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Nicholls, Patrick
Heathcoat-Amory, David Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Norris, Steve
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hill, James Oppenheim, Phillip
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Page, Richard
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Paice, James
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patnick, Irvine
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hunter, Andrew Pawsey, James
Irvine, Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Irving, Sir Charles Porter, David (Waveney)
Jack, Michael Raffan, Keith
Jackson, Robert Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Janman, Tim Redwood, John
Jessel, Toby Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rhodes James, Robert
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Riddick, Graham
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Key, Robert Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Kilfedder, James Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Kirkhope, Timothy Rost, Peter
Knapman, Roger Rowe, Andrew
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Ryder, Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Knowles, Michael Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knox, David Shaw, David (Dover)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lang, Ian Shelton, Sir William
Latham, Michael Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lee, John (Pendle) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Speller, Tony
Lightbown, David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lilley, Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lord, Michael Steen, Anthony
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Stern, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stevens, Lewis
McCrindle, Robert Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maclean, David Sumberg, David
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Madel, David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Major, Rt Hon John Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Malins, Humfrey Temple-Morris, Peter
Mans, Keith Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Maples, John Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Thorne, Neil
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thornton, Malcolm
Mates, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Maude, Hon Francis Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Twinn, Dr Ian
Mellor, David Waddington, Rt Hon David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Miller, Sir Hal Walden, George
Mills, Iain Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Miscampbell, Norman Waller, Gary
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Moate, Roger Watts, John
Monro, Sir Hector Whitney, Ray
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Widdecombe, Ann
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Wiggin, Jerry
Morrison, Sir Charles Wilshire, David
Moss, Malcolm Winterton, Mrs Ann
Moynihan, Hon Colin Wolfson, Mark
Mudd, David Wood, Timothy
Woodcock, Dr. Mike Tellers for the Noes:
Yeo, Tim Mr. Tom Sackville and
Younger, Rt Hon George Mr. Michael Fallon.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 18, in page 12, line 37, at end insert— '(3) This section shall operate to relieve the taxable benefit from basic rate tax only. The benefit is still to be charged at the excess of higher rate over basic rate tax.'.—[Mr. Beith.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 89, Noes 236.

Division No. 212] [7.31 pm
Allen, Graham Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Alton, David Kennedy, Charles
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Kirkwood, Archy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Leighton, Ron
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Lewis, Terry
Battle, John Livsey, Richard
Beckett, Margaret Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Beith, A. J. Loyden, Eddie
Bermingham, Gerald McFall, John
Boateng, Paul Maclennan, Robert
Boyes, Roland Madden, Max
Bradley, Keith Martlew, Eric
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Maxton, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Meale, Alan
Callaghan, Jim Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Mullin, Chris
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Murphy, Paul
Cartwright, John Parry, Robert
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Patchett, Terry
Clay, Bob Pike, Peter L.
Clelland, David Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Radice, Giles
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Robertson, George
Cryer, Bob Ruddock, Joan
Cunliffe, Lawrence Skinner, Dennis
Dalyell, Tam Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Dixon, Don Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Eadie, Alexander Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Eastham, Ken Spearing, Nigel
Evans, John (St Helens N) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Strang, Gavin
Fearn, Ronald Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Fisher, Mark Turner, Dennis
Foster, Derek Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Foulkes, George Wareing, Robert N.
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Golding, Mrs Llin Wigley, Dafydd
Grocott, Bruce Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Haynes, Frank Winnick, David
Home Robertson, John Young, David (Bolton SE)
Hood, Jimmy
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Mr. James Wallace and
Johnston, Sir Russell Mr. Matthew Taylor.
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Adley, Robert Batiste, Spencer
Aitken, Jonathan Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bellingham, Henry
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bendall, Vivian
Amess, David Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Amos, Alan Benyon, W.
Arbuthnot, James Bevan, David Gilroy
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Biffen, Rt Hon John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Atkins, Robert Body, Sir Richard
Atkinson, David Boscawen, Hon Robert
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Boswell, Tim
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bottomley, Peter
Baldry, Tony Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowis, John Hunter, Andrew
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Irvine, Michael
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Irving, Sir Charles
Brazier, Julian Jack, Michael
Bright, Graham Jackson, Robert
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Janman, Tim
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Jessel, Toby
Burns, Simon Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Burt, Alistair Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Butcher, John Kilfedder, James
Butler, Chris King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Kirkhope, Timothy
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Knapman, Roger
Carrington, Matthew Knowles, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Knox, David
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Lee, John (Pendle)
Chope, Christopher Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Churchill, Mr Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Lilley, Peter
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Lord, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Conway, Derek Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) McCrindle, Robert
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Couchman, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Maclean, David
Day, Stephen McLoughlin, Patrick
Dicks, Terry Madel, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Major, Rt Hon John
Dover, Den Mans, Keith
Dunn, Bob Maples, John
Durant, Tony Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Dykes, Hugh Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Mates, Michael
Evennett, David Maude, Hon Francis
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Fallon, Michael Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Favell, Tony Mellor, David
Fishburn, John Dudley Meyer, Sir Anthony
Forman, Nigel Miller, Sir Hal
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Mills, Iain
Fox, Sir Marcus Miscampbell, Norman
Franks, Cecil Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Freeman, Roger Moate, Roger
French, Douglas Monro, Sir Hector
Fry, Peter Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Gardiner, George Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Morrison, Sir Charles
Gill, Christopher Moss, Malcolm
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Moynihan, Hon Colin
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mudd, David
Goodlad, Alastair Neubert, Michael
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Gow, Ian Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Norris, Steve
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Oppenheim, Phillip
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Page, Richard
Grylls, Michael Paice, James
Hague, William Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Patnick, Irvine
Hanley, Jeremy Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hannam, John Patten, Rt Hon John
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Pawsey, James
Harris, David Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Haselhurst, Alan Porter, David (Waveney)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Raffan, Keith
Heathcoat-Amory, David Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Redwood, John
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Rhodes James, Robert
Hill, James Riddick, Graham
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Rost, Peter
Rowe, Andrew Thornton, Malcolm
Ryder, Richard Thurnham, Peter
Sackville, Hon Tom Townend, John (Bridlington)
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Twinn, Dr Ian
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shaw, David (Dover) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Walden, George
Shelton, Sir William Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waller, Gary
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Speller, Tony Watts, John
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wells, Bowen
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Whitney, Ray
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Widdecombe, Ann
Steen, Anthony Wilkinson, John
Stern, Michael Wilshire, David
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wolfson, Mark
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N) Wood, Timothy
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Younger, Rt Hon George
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Thorne, Neil

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Boateng

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. Hon. Members will be aware that late this afternoon there occurred in Wembley, in my constituency, a cowardly and murderous attack on an army installation in a quiet suburban street. One person was killed and at least eight were seriously injured. Wembley town centre was shaken by the blast.

As this is the second such attack in London in a very short period, there would clearly seem to be a pattern to these events and it appears to be the start of a major terrorist campaign. In view of that, would it not be in order for a member of Her Majesty's Government to come to the House and make a statement about the steps that are to be taken to counter that campaign?

Clearly, difficulties are always involved in such incidents. Those responsible for these murderous attacks are likely to strike at random. They have no care for the civilian population and do not mind the hardship, suffering and agony that they cause to communities. They are beneath contempt. But some action has to be taken to alert the civilian population and such installations to the danger that exists. We must step up our vigilance and our support for the police and emergency services, which must have the resources at their disposal to deal with this menace, and have them now. I hope that a Minister will come to the Despatch Box and make just such a statement because one is urgently needed.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. I express my appreciation of the exceedingly wise and temperate manner in which the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) made his points. As for a statement by one of my hon. Friends or myself, that matter is under urgent and immediate consideration.

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