§ 6. Mr. Caborn
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he next expects to meet representatives of the Equal Opportunities Commission to discuss child benefit.
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
My right hon. Friend has no plans to meet representatives of the Equal Opportunities Commission in the near future.
§ Mr. Caborn
The Conservative party declares that it is the party of the family. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer discuss child benefit with the Equal Opportunities Commission? Child benefit is one of the best fiscal ways to help families. Will the Government also discuss restoring the level of child benefit, in April 1991, to the operational level of April 1987? Will the Minister repudiate the Policy Studies Institute argument that child benefit should be removed from children over the age of five? May we have a Government commitment that the suggestion will not be considered by the Treasury?
§ Mrs. Shephard
The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to make any comment that might predict the content of the Budget. However, the Government have a two-pronged approach to help families with children through the social security system. There is child benefit, which will be costing £5 billion a year with effect from April with the extra £1 for the eldest child in each family, and special help targeted on poorer families which, at the moment, is £400 million a year extra in real terms and has been so since 1988. The real help for families with children has come from the strong growth in earnings that those families have seen under this Government.
§ Sir Robert McCrindle
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer is said to be under some pressure to restore child tax allowance, presumably in lieu of child benefit, will my hon. Friend remind him that we had the abolition of child tax allowance and transfer to child benefit some years ago because child benefit was thought to be the most effective way of bringing assistance to the maximum number of parents? Will she remind my right hon. Friend, if he is tempted to restore child tax allowance, that although it would no doubt benefit taxpayers, only the maintenance of child benefit and—one hopes—its restoration to its true level will continue to affect all families and all children within them?
§ Mrs. Shephard
Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), my hon. Friend is dangerously close to trying to get me to make some sort of Budget predictions. Perhaps I should remind my hon. Friend of the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security when he said to the House that child benefit is and will remain an important element in the Government's support for the family.
§ Mr. William Ross
Will the Government give careful consideration to the very real difficulties and problems created for families with young people beyond the age of 19 who are in full-time education? Will the Government reconsider the possibility of restoring child benefit to the end of the academic year in which the child reaches the age of 19 so that the hardship might be relieved?
§ Mrs. Shephard
That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.