HC Deb 13 March 1991 vol 187 cc1004-44 7.25 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House notes the increasing financial pressure families are facing due to the Government-created recession; further notes that low-income families are now hit hardest of all by record house repossessions, fast rising unemployment, service cutbacks caused by the poll tax, and widespread benefit deductions; and calls on the Government to adopt a Budget strategy that will tackle poverty rather than penalise it and in particular to increase child benefit to £9.55 per week per child and pensions by an extra £5 per week for a single pensioner and £8 per week for a married couple, to cut interest rates, and to abolish the poll tax. Although almost every family has been hit hard by higher interest rates, higher mortgages and higher inflation in this Government-created recession, low-income families have been hit hardest of all by record home repossessions, fast-rising unemployment, service cuts caused by the poll tax, and widespread compulsory reductions of benefit.

The Government's role in a recession should be to protect people from its worst ravages and to overcome it. In fact, the Government have done the reverse. They laid the foundations for the recession, aggravated people's experience of it, and are now blocking their escape.

Recently, home repossessions have been running at the unprecedented rate of nearly 45,000 a year, and the figure will climb even higher this year. The Government pressured people, through hefty discounts and right-tobuy schemes, into home ownership—which families on low incomes can ill afford—and then pulled the rug on them with their own policies.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer insisted on using interest rates exclusively to control the excess demand that he had unleashed, which gratuitously forced up interest rates and mortgage repayments higher than necessary—and beyond the reach of thousands of low-paid workers.

Where low-paid workers become redundant, the Chancellor is restricting mortgage interest payments for the first four months, which will increase the number of people who are driven out of their homes.

Unemployment is being used as an economic weapon more harshly in Britain than anywhere else in the EEC —and the lowest-paid are again the main victims.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman list those European countries which have lower unemployment than this country?

Mr. Meacher

If the Government had not made 30 changes to benefit calculations, and therefore 30 changes to the manner in which unemployment benefit is calculated, Britain would probably already have higher unemployment than most EEC countries.

Over the past year, unemployment in the EEC grew by 0.2 per cent. overall. In France, it rose by 2.9 per cent.; Italy, 4.7 per cent.; Greece, 15 per cent., and in the United Kingdom, 16.2 per cent. In Germany, unemployment fell by 14 per cent.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

What is this year's figure for this country?

Mr. Meacher

It is rising extremely rapidly towards 3 million by the end of the year.

Mr. Bottomley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No. The hon. Gentleman has already made his point from a sedentary position and I answered his question.

Instead of assisting the victims of their economic mismanagement, the Government have penalised them. Ten years ago, the unemployed were entitled to earnings-related unemployment benefit. They received 100 per cent. of their rents and rates and all their mortgage interest was paid. Eighteen to 25-year-olds received adult rate benefit and 16 to 17-year-olds could claim. One-off payments were available for those on supplementary benefit for necessities such as cookers and beds. Even if someone lost a job because of a row with his employer, the penalty was limited to six weeks reduction of unemployment benefit.

A decade later, earnings-related unemployment benefit has been abolished; housing benefit no longer covers the full market rent; 20 per cent. of the poll tax must be paid; mortgage interest payments are restricted; and single payments have largely been replaced by loans.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I will give way in a moment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is embarrassed by the length of the list. Eighteen to 25-year-olds now receive a lower rate of benefit than adult benefit and most 16 to 17-year-olds receive nothing at all. If an employer claims, however unfairly, that someone left a job unnecessarily, the Government stop unemployment benefit and cut income support by 40 per cent. for six months. The result of all that for tens of thousands of low-paid and average-paid workers is a spiral from unemployment to poverty and destitution.

Mr. Mans

Am I right in thinking, therefore, that the Labour party will reinstate earnings-related unemploy-ment benefit? Is he going to give earnings-related benefit to those yuppies who have been made unemployed in the City after earning £100,000 a year?

Mr. Meacher

That was an interesting comment which we will recall before the general election. The hon. Gentleman suggests that people who are entitled to earnings-related benefit are yuppies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer in my own way. The people to whom I was referring were entitled to earnings-related unemployment benefit because they had paid for it through their national insurance stamps. A private insurance company that removed an entitlement gratui-tously and one-sidedly would certainly be taken to court for breach of contract.

Growing cuts in local services are another feature of the deepening recession. Again, the families on the lowest incomes are hit hardest because they depend most on those services. I quote a few examples of cuts being made this year. Tory-controlled Berkshire county council must make £7.5 million of cuts to avoid capping. Those cuts include £1 million in social services involving reduced staffing in elderly person's homes, the closure of a sheltered workshop, increased home care charges and community service cuts, including major ones in library services, and the closure of a youth and community centre.

Tory-controlled Ealing must make £10 million-worth of service cuts to cut its poll tax. Those involve the closure of two homes for the elderly, reduced spending on meals on wheels and an end to child care allowances for staff.

Tory-controlled Hillingdon must make budget cuts of £23 million to fulfill the Tory party manifesto pledge on the poll tax. Those cuts include the closure of a showpiece school with special facilities for handicapped children, an end to the school meals service and increased charges in a range of services for the elderly.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I think that I know what point the hon. Gentleman wants to make, and I will probably make it for him if he will be patient for a moment.

Tory-controlled Warwickshire must make £500,000 worth of cuts in social services, with further possible social services cuts of £1 million to avoid capping. Last, but not least, Westminster council—as ever, Tory-controlled— must make cuts of almost £1 million in the social services budget, including proposals to increase home help charges and close two holiday homes, a residential care home and two play groups.

The evidence is consistent around the country, as the report of the Association of Directors of Social Services shows, and I would be the first to admit that it applies in Labour-controlled as well as Tory-controlled areas. The poll tax has become the juggernaut for the destruction of local social services. It was the Government's own flagship creation, and its victims are overwhelmingly the elderly, the disabled, lone parents and the unemployed.

Mr. Hayes

The hon. Gentleman has been good enough to be honest with the House. He knows that there are difficulties with some Labour-controlled authorities, of which Lambeth is an example. True to form, the hon. Gentleman said that it was all due to the wicked Tory poll tax. The name Joan Twelves might just ring bells for the hon. Gentleman. She is the leader of Lambeth council and she said: Even if Labour wins the general election, no one in Lambeth can have any illusions that an incoming Labour Government is the cavalry riding to the council's rescue. It is more than clear that no additional resources will be available. That was a quote not from the Tory press, but from Joan Twelves, the Labour leader of Lambeth council. Is she wrong or right?

Mr. Meacher

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not read our report entitled "Fair Rates". I should be happy to send him a copy and I am sure that after today's debate Conservative Members will read that document most carefully. The document proposes, among other things, a change in the balance of the costing of local government finance between Exchequer grants in the centre and the local raising of finance. It is precisely for those reasons that hard-hit local authorities such as Lambeth can, under our fair rates system, expect significant assistance.

Support services that are often crucial to keeping a family afloat have been shut. Personal and family budgets have also been cut drastically because of rising indebtedness. The latest figures show that one household in 20 now has rental debts. At the end of 1990, 159,000 owner-occupier households had mortgage arrears. In 1979 the figure was 8,000. There has been a twentyfold increase.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I want to make progress, because I have a lot to say.

In 1979, 2,500 homes were repossessed. At the end of 1990, 44,000 were repossessed. That is a seventeenfold increase. Perhaps most serious of all, in 1989, the year for which the latest figures are available, 2 million households had problems repaying debt including more than 500,000 with serious problems involving arrears to creditors that were more than three months outstanding.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I will give way later.

Now, 18 months later, the number of families crippled by debt will be significantly higher. Those on the lowest incomes are hit even harder. They often have the biggest debts and the smallest incomes to meet them. Income support is now only one eighth of national average earnings, yet the Government have taken powers to reduce it further by compulsory deductions of benefit.

Of the miserable sum of £37.60 a week, which, as I said in a previous debate, is the figure for income support for a single adult, something of which no Minister was aware, up to 15 per cent. can now be deducted for housing, gas, electricity or water debts, and up to another 10 per cent. can be deducted for current liabilities for the same items.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I am finishing my point. In addition, the Secretary of State has laid it down that another 5 per cent. can be deducted for social fund loan repayments and that a further 5 per cent. can be deducted for poll tax arrears. For those two items alone, for which the right hon. Gentleman himself is directly responsible, according to his own estimates, in the current year 1.25 million claimants are being forced to live below the income support poverty line—a situation that previous Governments had never even countenanced, let alone engineered.

However, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to go even further. He is about to introduce a Bill to allow another 5 per cent. to be compulsorily deducted from an unemployed father on income support for payment of child maintenance. The Home Secretary proposes that yet another 5 per cent. can be deducted from income support for payment of a fine. Frankly, the right hon. Gentleman can pay himself the tribute that none of his predecessors ever received—income support, which used to be the sacrosanct safety net below which nobody would ever fall, is now so riddled with holes that the principle of protected poverty line income has all but disappeared.

The previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), liked to tell us that poverty did not really exist. The present Secretary of State has clearly taken him at his word and virtually abolished the poverty line.

Mr. Sayeed

The hon. Gentleman will know that the previous Labour Government cut support to the family by nearly 8 per cent. in real terms. Why should anyone trust the Labour party to assist families in future?

Mr. Meacher

We continued to increase the value of child benefit throughout our period in government. It is amazing that a Conservative Member could be so foolish as to suggest that his Government's record on family support is not appalling. During the previous election, the Government said that they would continue to pay child benefit, but, with utter cynicism, they froze it a few months after the election. They have kept it frozen, with the one exception of an increase for the eldest child.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way.

We hold the Government guilty on three counts. First, they generated the recession in the first place by their own gross economic mismanagement. Secondly, for all I he reasons that I set out, they have gratuitously and deliberately placed the brunt of the hardship that their recession has caused on the most vulnerable and helpless group in society. Thirdly, they are now blocking the escape routes that families are seeking out of the predicament which they, the Government, have caused. I intend to pursue that third charge.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

As the hon. Lady is extremely persistent, I shall give way before I make my next main point.

Miss Nicholson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his mortgage statistics are somewhat flawed? The fact that there are now 3.5 million more home-owners means that the percentage rise must be set in a much larger context. More than 98.3 per cent. of people with mortgages are not in serious arrears. In 1990, fewer than half of 1 per cent. of all mortgagors had their homes repossessed.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Lady is certainly well equipped with statistics which she has learnt by heart. However, perhaps she would be good enough to recognise that 159,000 people in mortgage arrears is unpreceden-tedly bad. There has never been a time since the war, when home ownership was lower, when anything like that number of people has mortgage arrears. The number of people with severe mortgage arrears who are being turned out of their homes is 44,000. I hope that the hon. Lady accepts that the Government have forced 44,000 people out of their homes. Is not that a disgraceful record?

Miss Nicholson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way. I wish to make many further points.

What families on the breadline want is work, but the Government are not only rapidly pushing up unemploy-ment as the main regulator of demand because they refuse to make any use of credit controls, they are—it is almost unbelievable folly in the pit of the recession—cutting training and enterprise council training budgets by £300 million. The Government are apparently ready to spend £16 billion this year on unemployment benefit, income support and tax forgone from the unemployed, but they are not prepared to spend a tenth of that sum on providing training to enable people to be employed.

The education training programme for the adult unemployed has been cut by more than 20 per cent. Also, 10,000 training places in the voluntary sector are now at risk, yet we are told in today's papers that the Government's latest temporary work scheme will not have any appreciable training element. Britain is the only country in the Economic Community in which youth unemployment rose last year. It rose by 17 per cent. in this country, whereas it fell by 20 per cent. in Germany, yet the Government have still not put a jot of extra money into youth training and they are still denying 16 to 17-year-olds virtually all entitlement to benefit. That is why cardboard city is still growing.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I shall give way for the last time.

Mrs. Gorman

Is not it true that the Government's policy now guarantees 16 and 17-year-olds a place in training? They do not need the benefit because they have somewhere else to go to spend their time.

Mr. Meacher

In that case, perhaps the hon. Lady would like to come along the Strand with me tonight and look under a number of bridges, in particular Waterloo bridge. She will find that hundreds of, if not a few thousand, young people are sleeping rough. That is a direct result of the Government's policy.

In terms of benefits, the Government are making it harder, not easier, to return to work. For example, I refer to the £43 a week means test on unemployment benefit which the right hon. Gentleman imposed last year. If a part-time worker now works for one or more days a week, he or she loses a whole week's benefit. That is a major disincentive to people taking up part-time work.

The unemployment trap actually sharpened last year. The Government's own document on expenditure plans for social security, which was published last month, shows that more people now lose 50p to 99p in every extra pound they earn this year than they did last year. Family credit is the Government's flagship policy for getting the low-paid back into work, but it is now emerging as the biggest hype of the decade.

That same report shows that, despite costly advertising, only 50 per cent. of those entitled actually claimed. That percentage is no higher than it was for family income supplement. It shows that it still takes three days longer to get family credit than it took to get family income supplement. It shows also that the family credit error rate is four times higher than it was for family income supplement.

Mr. Thurnham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I shall not give way again.

Mr. Thurnham

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he would give way to me later. He now says that he will not give way.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

It is not a matter for the Chair whether the hon. Member gives way.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) will have to be quicker off the mark in future. I have given way so many times that it is in the general interest of the House that I should make progress.

Ministers are making it clear that they have no use for or are even opposed to a family policy to help people out of recession. The Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), gave an interview this month to the "Family Policy Bulletin", which is published by the Family Policies Study Centre. The article states: Asked if … there was no need for a Government family policy, she replied that there was 'a great deal of truth' to the suggestion. The article went on to state: Despite acknowledging the need for an expansion of childcare to help women who wished to combine motherhood with a job, she said she did not mind Britain lagging behind its European partners in publicly funded provision. The right hon. Lady also stated—I stress that these are her actual words: I am antipathetic to the notion that there should be universal access to child care:—'creches for all'. It simply exacerbates the trend that we have had of seeing that it is possible if you've got responsibilities to put them on to the state. The Minister displays an extraordinary degree of blindness or indifference to the problems of families who are struggling on the poverty line. Obviously, she has not read the National Audit Office report, "Support for Low Income Families", which was published six weeks ago. it said that half of all income support claimants who were interviewed cited the need to look after children as the barrier to finding full-time work. Nor has the right hon. Lady read the previous report of the National Audit Office, which pointed out that the Government were undermining their pretensions to helping parents to work by refusing to allow claimants to offset their child care costs against earnings and by running down child care provision.

However, I am glad that the right hon. Lady then had the grace to express support for raising child benefit, but she added, as and when the country can afford it".

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)


Mr. Meacher

No. I shall not give way, because I wish to answer what the Minister of State said.

As the Secretary of State has direct responsibility for both these actions, perhaps he can explain how he can afford £1.3 billion for bribing people to take out highly speculative personal pensions, yet he cannot afford to spend half that sum to restore the real value of child benefit after his four-year freeze——

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that very point?

Mr. Meacher

No. I am not interested in the hon. Gentleman. I am interested in the Secretary of State, who is responsible for these policies. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to answer, I shall give way, but he does not need a nanny.

How can the Secretary of State pretend to have a family policy until he has an answer to my question about priorities? I should be very glad if he could answer me now.

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I shall just say one thing now to the hon. Gentleman, because there are several points that I should like to make in my speech. As I said in my uprating statement, a family policy does not concern itself only with families with children—as the hon. Gentleman so often implies—important though they are. Families consist of elderly relatives, pensioners and disabled people and involve a whole range of responsibilities. Anybody in my position needs to look across the board to balance the help and support that he gives.

Mr. Meacher

I could not agree more. In that case, why have the Government given such a bum deal to the pensioners, the disabled, lone parents and all those who depend on benefits? All those groups, especially pensioners, have faced a huge erosion in their benefits, to the tune of £22 billion, as we have said before in similar debates. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer the question that I put to him.

Mr. Mans

The hon. Gentleman did not answer mine.

Mr. Meacher

As higher child benefit is a major way of helping more lone parents back into work, I am sure that Mrs. Sandra Cocking from Dewsbury, whose letter I have with me, would be extremely interested in the Secretary of State's answer. She stated: I am writing to you for information and help"— [Interruption.] I see that the right hon. Gentleman is getting some help from other sources and I am glad of it because he needs some assistance in this debate.

The letter continued: I am a single parent of three children and work 25 hours a week as a receptionist at B.R.B. Batley, West Yorkshire. I have always tried to support myself and my three children, but when you try to help yourself today, you end up worse off.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the hon. Gentleman give way about child benefit?

Mr. Meacher

No, I am not giving way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I have made it perfectly clear that I shall not give way again, except to the Secretary of State.

That lady then gives a summary of her weekly income, both when working and unemployed. It shows that she is about £15 a week worse off when working. When will the Government ever learn that the biggest disincentive to lone parents returning to work is the Government and their failure to motivate a major extension of child care provision throughout the country and to provide for some offset against what are often otherwise prohibitive child care costs?

If the Government are not prepared to assist people who are making efforts to overcome their own problems in a recession that the Government have foisted on them, at least they should not actively hinder them.

I have with me another letter, a copy of which I have sent to the Secretary of State. This is from Mrs. Dundon of Sherwood, Nottingham, and speaks volumes about the problems that I have encountered in my constituency clinic and which other hon. Members have no doubt encountered, too. Mr. Dundon lost his job after an accident. After he visited his local DSS office in Nottingham on 4 February, he was denied sickness benefit 10 days later because he had 13 stamps missing. Part of the letter states: In the meantime he was told he would have to go to Income Support and make a claim with them. He did that on Friday 15th Feb, everything was explained to them, they got in touch with Sickness Benefit, then my husband was told that Income Support would be paying me through Sickness Benefit, his pay day would be a Tuesday, and he would be paid on 19th Feb … On Tuesday when the money did not come, my husband rang the DHSS and was told that he would have to wait 14 days for anything. It would mean that that family would have waited a month after the original claim.

Mrs. Dundon's letter continued: My husband explained that we could not wait, because we had two children ages 9 and 7 years and that there would be nothing for them coming home from school to eat. He was told that this was his problem and to ring back at 2 pm. Then he rang"—— the letter names the man whom he rang— dealing with lost N.I. stamps who put him through to someone else. He and to explain everything to this person about his N.I. stamps, what was said at his interview on Friday 15th at Income Support. He was told to hang on, then he was asked his date of birth and N.I. number, then was left to hang on again and then told that they would ring him back by 2 pm. No one had called, so once again my husband rang back. When he explained that we had been waiting for a phone call, he was told that no one in the office said they would ring him. He then said, 'I was also told this morning to ring back at 2 pm. Can I speak to whoever is dealing with my claim?' The answer was 'No'. He said 'Can I speak to the supervisor?' `No'. 'Can I speak to the manager?' `No'. 'Well then, can you tell me who I am speaking to now?' `No', and then the phone was slammed down on him. He was so frustrated by this time, he rang back again. He asked if he could speak to who ever was dealing with his claim. We don't know if it was the same girl or not, but she said that there was a managers' meeting and that the man who was dealing with his claim was at the meeting. My husband then said, 'Why couldn't you have told me this morning instead of asking me to ring back at 2 pm?' This girl replied, 'We don't have to tell you anything, ring back at 3.30 pm he might be here by then.' Again, my husband asked who he was speaking to and the phone was slammed down on him. I entirely understand the strain and stress on those staff. They are undertrained and overworked. However, before I am told that that was an isolated case, I should point out that the National Audit Office report, published six weeks ago, found from its survey of 52 offices that such disquieting conditions were widespread. Errors in social security payments were twice as high as the Government had previously claimed. Public satisfaction with the service offered by benefit offices had fallen. Half the poorest claimants did not understand how their benefit was calculated. Perhaps hon. Members will be surprised that as many as half actually do understand it. Only one in 10 offices met the desirable standards for claims work. That is a damning indictment of the Government's modernisa-tion programme on which no less than £2 billion has now been spent.

I conclude by repeating that we indict the Government on three counts. They created the recession by their economic incompetence; they made the weakest and most vulnerable families their main victims; and they are now blocking those families in their best endeavours to escape the hardship into which the Government have cast them. It is not only Mr. and Mrs. Dundon but millions of others who have experienced at first hand this Government's so-called policy on family hardship who now think that they should go.

7.59 pm
The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the question and to add instead thereof: `notes that the policies of the last Labour Government pushed inflation to an all-time peak of 27 per cent., destroying savings and eroding living standards for millions of families and that Her Majesty's Opposition remains committed to policies which would once again sharply raise taxation and inflation; and commends Her Majesty's Government's record in creating new jobs, in widening opportunities for home ownership, in directing additional help to low-income families, and in bringing about an increase of one-third in the real take-home pay of a family on average earnings; and reaffirms its support for the Government's priority in fighting inflation.'. Before I go any further, I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) will understand that there is no way in which I can comment on the individual cases that he raised, although, of course, I shall ensure that they are looked into.

There are some things for which affection grows with familiarity, but the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West is not one of them. It is simply boringly predictable in the overheated, overstated and unrecognis-able picture——

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

The Secretary of State always says that.

Mr. Newton

I always say it because it is always true. Essentially, it is one speech, and it is always over the top. I could not understand why the hon. Member for Oldham, West was so reluctant to give way to my hon. Friends, because the evidence of anyone behind him, wishing to speak was thin indeed. The number has now increased to four, but during most of his speech only three Opposition Back-Bench Members were present for this much-trumpeted debate. That says something about the hon. Gentleman's credibility.

In replying to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, the first thing that I need to do is to restore some balance to the discussion. To do that, I simply refer him to some facts. Who would have thought from listening to the hon. Gentleman that, in Britain now, a man with a family and two children on average earnings has experienced during the lifetime of this Government an increase of 31 per cent. in his real take-home pay? That compares with an increase of precisely 1 per cent. during the time of the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a luminary.

A comparison was given by one of my hon. Friends of total family support by this Government and the previous one. Again, there was an increase under this Government and a decrease under the Government who went before them. I shall not rehearse them now, because the hon. Gentleman will think that I am being boringly repetitive, but he had heard me use before the figures on what happened to pensioners' average net incomes under this Government and under the previous Government. Their incomes have risen 10 times faster under this Government.

Above all, the hon. Gentleman knows—because it goes to his Achilles' heel and that of the people for whom he seeks to speak—what has happened to pensioners' incomes from savings under this Government. There has been a huge increase. They have more than doubled under this Government, whereas they fell under the Labour Government that went before.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish to be unkind to the Opposition Front Bench spokesman. At least on this measure, the Opposition have given a commitment—it is the only commitment in any Labour party document—to increase child benefit. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not want me to make that point to him.

Did my right hon. Friend read, as I did, the Sunday Times article written by probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the House, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), the Chairman of the Social Services Select Committee? He said of the Labour party policy on child benefit that it was not the most sensible way to distribute the extra money to ensure that it reaches those most in need. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will take that lesson?

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Newton

I shall give way to my hon. Friend later.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South and other closely related points are matters which I intend to come to in a moment or two, but which I shall deal with in a slightly different way.

I was about to say that I would not load the House with yet more figures, because the figures that I have given, together with some of the devastating interventions of my hon. Friends in the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, are more than enough to expose the basic lack of credibility in the story that the hon. Gentleman sought to tell, not only when he described what has happened to families under this Government, but, perhaps even more importantly, when he suggested the benefits that a Labour Government could introduce.

We do not need to speculate about what the hon. Gentleman would do if, by some mischance, he acquired responsibility for social security. We do not need the crystal ball because we have the book—or rather, the press cuttings. It will be within the knowledge of everyone in the House that the hon. Gentleman was a Social Security Minister—I have the exact dates in front of me—from 12 June 1975 to 14 April 1976. Indeed, he was probably sitting at the side of Mrs. Barbara Castle, nodding dutifully—I hope that he was nodding dutifully, because I always like my Ministers to nod dutifully—when she explained to the House on 7 July 1975: Indexation of the child benefit is not appropriate."— [Official Report, 7 July 1975; Vol. 895, c. 238.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West was certainly a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security —as the Department then was—when inflation reached the record level of 26.9 per cent. in August 1975. High inflation was one reason why pensioners' savings incomes were so bad under that Government. The hon. Gentleman was at the DHSS in a period when building society savers had a negative return on their savings of 16.5 per cent. in 1975 and almost 9 per cent. in 1976. As I have already said, pensioners' average weekly savings incomes were falling. On top of everything else, the hon. Member for Oldham, West was a Social Security Minister in the year when the Christmas bonus to pensioners was cancelled in 1975. For all I know, he was the Minister who fixed that the bonus would not be paid in 1976 either, before he finally left the Department.

Mr. Meacher

As the Secretary of State is so extensive in his historical reminiscences, will he confirm to the House that the basic state retirement pension, the most important pension to the poorest pensioners, increased by 20 per cent. in real terms in five years, under the Labour Government, whereas in 11 years under this Government, it has increased by rather less than 2 per cent.? Will he also confirm that child benefit, or family allowance as it was in the early part of the Labour Government, was increased every year, whereas in the past four years it has been frozen?

Mr. Newton

I am coming to some of the hon. Gentleman's points about child benefit. On pensions, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the income of the great majority of pensioners is made up from a variety of sources. The Labour Government did no service to pensioners by dealing with only one element of pensioners' incomes while decimating all the others, with the results that I have explained. That is precisely what a Labour Government would do again.

Mr. Hayes

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Newton

May I complete this point before I give way to my hon. Friend?

The culmination of the hon. Gentleman's career at the DHSS may even have precipitated his departure. It is relevant to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I have used this article before, but I shall use it again, and I shall probably use it in other debates yet. In The Times of 11 March 1976, there was an article entitled: Minister shouted down at pensions rally". It said: Old-age pensioners shouted down Mr. Meacher, Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Security, yesterday as he tried to explain the Government's record on pensions. He has not done any better in explaining his party's policy some 15 years later.

Mr. Hayes

This is the perfect point for my intervention, as we are doing a pleasant trip down memory lane. That would not by any chance be the occasion when the hon. Member for Oldham, West was responsible for robbing pensioners of £1.2 billion by shifting from the historic to the forecasting method?

Mr. Newton

It was not quite. That was the policy that he supported in his subsequent post at the Department of Employment.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Would my right hon. Friend also like to remind the Opposition that, when Barbara Castle introduced child benefit, she was either utterly cynical or utterly stupid, because she told the House that it would target more money on poorer families?

Mr. Newton

Again, my hon. Friend is taking me to a point which I shall come to quite quickly. Perhaps I should come to it even more quickly, than I had intended. I referred to the hon. Gentleman's record, but in a sense we can now see it happening again, because we have the hon. Gentleman's plans. That brings me to the extremely interesting and topical questions—from which the hon. Gentleman so notably shied away in his speech this evening—posed by the publication today of the Labour party's shadow Budget, entitled, "A budget for investment and recovery"—clearly, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has a sense of humour. I have a number of questions for the hon. Member for Oldham, West, which I hope he will answer, and I shall gladly give way if he wishes to intervene.

First, the hon. Gentleman made a little reference to the part of the motion that involves what he regards as his priority commitment to child benefit, but virtually no reference to what has hitherto been described by the Labour party as its priority commitment to increase pensions. At about 5 pm yesterday, when we saw the Labour motion, it included pensions. Some time this morning, the Labour party's entire economic team published the attractively printed document—its contents are less satisfactory—which, to all intents and purposes, makes no mention of pensions or pensioners.

What has happened? The hon. Gentleman said that the issue of pensions was one of his priorities, and one to which the Labour party was committed. That is what the motion states, but he has not referred to it. Where did that commitment go between 5 pm last night and mid-morning today?

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman is being exceedingly silly. Our commitment to pensions is exactly what it was before. We shall increase pensions by £5 a week for a single pensioner, £8 a week for a married couple, over and above the normal uprating. We shall restore the earnings link that this Government took away 11 years ago, as a result of which a single pensioner is £12.80 a week worse off and a married couple £20.50 worse off. We shall improve and restore the state earnings-related pension scheme. That defines exactly the position as it was, and that remains the position. The right hon. Gentleman should talk about the motion—Government policy on family hardship and the recession—and not make bogus points about the Opposition.

Mr. Newton

That argument is unbelievably thin. The motion calls on the Government to adopt a Budget strategy that will include the increase in child benefit, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and the pensions increase, to which he has not referred. The motion presents both those issues as priorities, in line with what Labour has consistently said during the past few weeks. But in Labour's stated proposals for a shadow Budget next week, the pensioners have disappeared. They have ceased to be the priority that they were——

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman is making a fool of himself.

Mr. Newton

I think not,

The pensioners have ceased to be the priority that they were in the motion tabled last night. To all intents and purposes, pensioners are not even mentioned in the document published by the Labour party's economic team this morning.

It is a slight exaggeration in one respect to say that there is no mention of pension issues in the document published this morning. It contains one fairly clear and straightforward proposal—although what elderly people will think of it, I do not know—to withdraw the subsidies on private health insurance for the elderly.

The other point on which I think the House and many people outside urgently need the hon. Gentleman's advice is that the biggest single saving in the package published this morning is the removal of what is described as the 2 per cent. personal pension incentive—that is, not the ordinary, contracting-out rebate, but the additional reduction of 2 per cent. from the employees' national insurance contribution rate for those taking out personal pensions in the five years from 1988 to 1993.

The savings shown against that in the apparently carefully worked-out document published on behalf of the Labour party is more than £600 million, and makes up more than one third of the entire package. But that £600 million is not the saving from ending the incentive for new contracts from today, but the saving from tearing up the basis of all existing personal pensions—and it will be retrospective even beyond what that implies, because the refunds due to be paid in 1991–92 are payable in respect of the contributions made in the present year, which is now nearly over.

The proposal wrecks the basis of 4 million personal pensions, even to the point of withdrawing a legal entitlement that has already been gained. That involves one third of the savings presented in a package that is supposed to be balanced, and was published by Labour's economic team today. What does it mean?

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman is really having to dredge the bottom of the barrel. He is inventing, fabricating and scaremongering. The £600 million figure does not affect the 2 per cent. "bribes", as we call them —the incentive bonuses that have already been given—but simply refers to future years. We believe that we should and will honour existing contracts—there is no question about that. But the Government had absolutely no right to spend £1.3 billion on bribing people to take up personal pensions when they froze child benefit. In future, we shall certainly end that unwarranted bribe.

Mr. Newton

It is clear that there is huge confusion between what the hon. Gentleman is saying and what his shadow Treasury friends are saying. This morning, they published a document that talks about the Labour party's revenue and expenditure proposals that "could and should" be adopted in the Budget. The document continues: The proposals we make to raise revenue are: End the two per cent. personal pension 'incentive'". That is £619 million, or one third of the saving in what purports to be a balanced package. Unless there is a huge hole in the calculations published this morning, that can only mean what I have suggested it does: either the hon. Member for Oldham, West or the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East should clear up matters much more than has been done in the past few minutes, because the proposals contain a direct threat to the interests of 4 million people who have taken out personal pensions.

Mr. Meacher

Mr. Speaker—[Laughter.] I think that Conservative Members will be laughing on the other side of their faces when I have finished what I am about to say.

The right hon. Gentleman complained that £600 million is more than the tax relief in terms of the bribe for one year. An answer given by the Department of Social Security on 6 March this year from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, of which the Secretary of State seems totally unaware, makes it clear that incentives to schemes and personal pensions in 1989–90 totalled £0.6 billion.

That was exactly the figure that we estimated. The figure we used came from the Government, and I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman is ignorant on his own figures.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman confirms totally, and in spades, my view that the Opposition collectively do not have the foggiest notion what they are doing. I am not quarrelling with the figure, but saying that to include it in the table means that it must be taken away from existing personal pension contracts that have already been entered into. If not, the table does not mean anything at all.

Mr. Meacher

It is for the future.

Mr. Newton

It does not say that it is for the future. It says that it should be adopted "in this Budget" and is part of a package that purports to be a balancing of the savings items and expenditure items that should be in the forthcoming Budget. Either the package does not add up, which seems highly likely from what we have seen before, or it can be made to add up only by attacking existing personal pension contracts, to the disadvantage of 4 million people. If the hon. Gentleman cannot clear it up now, I hope that his hon. Friend who is winding up for the Opposition will say more about it.

Mr. Meacher

I shall certainly clear the matter up now. The right hon. Gentleman is straining to make an extraordinarily bogus point. I have made it clear that we have used the Government's own figures. They had budgeted for the incentive bonus at a rate of £600 million a year up to 1993. We say that that money should not be used for that purpose. The point is simple, but it appears to be too complicated for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has totally missed my point. I did not query the figures—I queried the document produced by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East. Perhaps it is significant that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not a signatory to the motion. The document appears to make sense only if the personal pensions incentive to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, giving perfectly accurate figures, is withdrawn restrospectively. [Interruption.] Otherwise, the figures in the document do not make sense and are not worth the paper that they are written on.

So much for Labour's interest in pensioners. After all the rhetoric, all that the document published this morning contains is a proposal to do nothing whatever for existing pensioners and to remove something from prospective pensioners.

Some of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Oldham, West spoke about child benefit. What is Labour's precise proposal for the least well-off families with children, those who are on income support? The document published this morning says twice—the policy was accurately outlined by the hon. Member for Oldham, West —that the restoration of child benefit would give most help to low-income households. That document purports to contain a carefully worked out shadow Budget, but its costings show that families on income support would get precisely nothing because money would be totally clawed back.

Far from giving most help to low-income families, the proposal that is costed and published in the document would help everybody except the least well-off families on income support. That is supposed to be Labour's policy to combat poverty, if I may use the words of the motion.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

My right hon. Friend accurately describes Labour's proposals, and he knows that I disagree with them. The Labour party has changed its policy on child benefit, because it has removed £300 million from the commitment that it made in the last debate on child benefit. That is another matter that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) did not bother to mention.

Mr. Newton

That is quite clear. It is also absolutely clear from the fact that the hon. Member for Oldham, West has not sought to intervene that, on this point as on the others, there are either holes in the document published this morning—or glaring differences between the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East and the hon. Member for Oldharn, West. The House and many people outside are owed an explanation about what is going on over the development and adumbration of Labour party policy. Manifestly, there are glaring inconsistencies. Perhaps we should seek to have the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East deliver the winding-up speech, so that he could explain on child benefit and on the other issues I have raised what he thinks has been included in his document, because it is quite different from what the hon. Member for Oldham, West has sought to describe as Labour policy.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman has spent all his time attacking Labour and has made no attempt to defend his own policy. Ours is a carefully worked out Budget and nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said has altered that by one iota. We shall increase child benefit by restoring what has been lost over the past four years and annually increasing it. That is in stark contrast to the Government's policy. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about people on income support. His argument about child maintenance is that it was an advantage for the mother to have some money from child maintenance even if that reduced pound for pound the income support that she received. It was argued that, if she managed to get into employment, that would provide a firmer base on which to extend her earnings. Exactly the same argument applies to child benefit.

Mr. Newton

It is as clear from that intervention as from the previous one that the hon. Gentleman is all over the place. It is said twice in identical words in this morning's Labour document that a restoration of child benefit, which is what the hon. Gentleman talks about, would give most help to low-income households. That is not qualified in any way. But the document's proposal for an increase in child benefit is costed to claw back the money from all those who are on income support. That proposal would do nothing for the least well-off families on income support. Will the increase in child benefit which the hon. Gentleman talks about be a gain to those on income support? The answer is that it will not.

The document talks about a policy that will give most help to low-income families, but the lowest-income families, those who are on income support, are totally excluded from any gain. [Interruption.] That means that the policy is not properly expressed in the document, and is thoroughly misleading. When it is widely realised that all this trumpeted stuff about child benefit entirely excludes the least well-off families, the hon. Member for Oldham, West may hear from some of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who spoke for the Labour party in the previous child benefit debate, is not in the Chamber. Is that because his shadow Treasury team has deducted £300 million from the commitment he gave in that previous debate?

Mr. Newton

That is absolutely right, and that is why the hon. Member for Oldham, West cannot answer the question. The hon. Gentleman thinks that an impression that all families would gain from his proposal and that lower-income families would gain most is trivial. It now turns out that those on income support would not gain at all, and that is not a trivial matter. The difference is £300 million, and many people will want an explanation for that.

Mr. Thurnham

Opposition Members are beginning to realise the difficulty in which they find themselves. In "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change" Labour said that it would more than make good the loss in value. However, the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) said that they would restore it to the 1979 level. Opposition promises are withering on the vine, and they now realise that they are talking nonsense. In a study carried out in 1989, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said: simulations show that overwhelmingly the largest beneficiaries from an increase in Child and One-Parent Benefit would be family units in the middle and upper ranges. Those with net disposable incomes below £160 per week would gain very little.

Mr. Newton

Under the Labour party proposal, explained in the document issued this morning, least well-off families will gain nothing at all. That was not widely understood, and I am not entirely sure that those who published the document understood that they have stated either a policy that will give nothing to the least well-off or one with a £300 million hole in it. Taking this together with what I said about personal pensions earlier, my suspicion is that it has a £1 billion hole in it. It is typical of the Labour party's lack of credibility on a range of economic issues.

Because of these exchanges with the hon. Member for Oldham, West, I have taken rather——

Mr. Meacher

What about the terms of the motion?

Mr. Newton

The motion principally consists of statements about actions that the Labour party is recommending should be taken immediately to alleviate certain problems, including families in poverty. I am exploring the consistency between the motion and the speech of the hon. Gentleman, which conspicuously shied away from the second half of the motion, for reasons that have become clear.

The House and country need to know what the Labour party's policy is, whether the inconsistencies to which I have referred are clear, and whether the Opposition's policy for dealing with poverty, as described by the hon. Gentleman, is a policy from which the poorest are excluded. Unless he can tell us that I am wrong, for the hon. Gentleman to have tabled this motion last night, to have made the speech that he made this evening, and then to be forced to reveal that his policy does nothing for millions, certainly hundreds of thousands, of the least well-off families—those on income support—and with virtually no mention of pensioners, is something close to a disgrace. On that point, I rest my case.

8.31 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

In the debate we have heard what we often hear in such debates—many statistics and many facts showing the attack that has taken place on the families of Great Britain. I have a fundamental question. What is the role of the Government and of the House in dealing with the family? The Government have three jobs—to promote the values of decency and honesty, to nurture a healthy and buoyant economy and to create a fairer society by legislating fairly, on an equal basis, and justly.

The Tories were elected to Government in 1979 on the claim that they were the party of the family and that they would promote the values that would strengthen the family and nurture the economy even-handedly. What a fabrication that was—what a tissue of public relations gloss. No matter what lofty speeches we hear from Tory Members, either here or in the country, the people of my constituency and my family know the truth, because we live in the reality of the Government's many broken promises. The majority of families in my constituency struggle to make ends meet. Their struggle is made worse by cuts in benefit in real terms and the inadequate income support on which they are expected to live because of the curse of unemployment.

Older people have also been badly affected. Higher prices and lower incomes mean only one thing—living in poverty. The Government have denied older people a decent income and the dignity of independent living. More and more, older people are becoming dependent on their families. In turn, families can rely only on local government, and we know that local government has been attacked time and time again so that services have been cut.

I remember in 1979 one of the world's most famous housewives showing off with a bag of groceries. She would no longer be able to buy that bag of groceries—the shop would be shut because of bankruptcy. What she spent on that bag of groceries would probably only buy the plastic bag to put them in now, because of the Government's crazy economic policies.

The Government have inflicted the curse of unemploy-ment on millions over the past decade. The Secretary of State said that he was proud of the Government's record. Recently, I met elderly men and women in my constituency who were cursing the Government because of their lack of commitment to ensuring that people can heat their houses adequately during the winter. They were cursing the Prime Minister because of his lack of commitment to ensuring that the elderly in Scotland can cope with the terrible climate there.

I have spoken to men and women who are still waiting for a job 10 years after they were made unemployed. They know about poverty and unemployment. The Government should not try to kid these people, who are listening to the debate. I have never heard such a rowdy rabble as that on the Government Benches. I am shocked that, in a debate on such a serious subject, they are laughing, giggling, smirking and making hopelessly ignorant interventions. There is no hope for those living in poverty if they are treated so frivolously. Tory Members should hang their heads in shame. However, Tory Members have a chance to show people in poverty that they are interested in their fate. I am interested, as are many others, in hearing what the Government will do to help these people.

We are suffering from 10 years of disastrous economic policies and massively high interest rates. Mortgage repayment default is throwing young people on the streets. My local authority has queues of young men and women who can no longer afford to own their own homes. They took the Government's advice and bought their homes. They took up the right to buy. Now, because of the Government's economic policies and unemployment, they can no longer afford the mortgage repayments. They get help with the mortgage for only so long and then they have to decide between that and putting food into the bellies of their children. Unfortunately, the local authorities cannot provide accommodation for the homeless because the Government have cut resources to them.

The Secretary of State should not try to kid the folk in Strathclyde, which has one of the highest unemployment levels and one of the highest poverty levels in Europe. The Government claim credit for improving the quality of life, but they have destroyed it and are doing nothing. They are sitting there smirking and laughing all the way to the bank. Like those on the board of a bank, they will be made unemployed when, at the next general election, folk put a cross against the Government because of their terrible record. Their record is so bad that the past 10 years will be regarded as the worst decade for a long time. We have an inhumane, uncaring Government.

Many elderly men and women have died of hypothermia in recent weeks. People have been found dead in the streets because they have not had homes. There are people in Strathclyde who genuinely cannot afford to heat their homes because of the Government's economic policy. Many elderly people are struggling. Worse, the Government have even sent into the streets men and women who should have been cared for by social services departments. The Government have dumped the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill out of hospitals. Those people are struggling in society, with inadequate resources and help because of the inadequate funding of the services which they desperately need.

I feel sick at the flippant way in which some Conservative Members have treated the debate. It is fruitless to have a discussion in the House in the name of democracy because some hon. Members have insulted the integrity of the people. They have insulted the homeless, the unemployed, the disabled and the mentally handi-capped. I want an immediate general election to throw those folk on to the unemployed register. However, they would not suffer, because they would have a caring Labour Government to look after them.

8.41 pm
Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

I shall not criticise the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) for what he said. I like the hon. Gentleman. No doubt I shall buy him a large Scotch later to boost the Scotch whisky industry. What he said he meant from the heart. I do not think that it came from the head, because the Government have nothing to be ashamed of in their policies.[Laughter.]

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) laughs loudly, but he has let the cat out of the bag. Not content with supporting Labour policy which robbed pensioners of £1.2 billion in the past, he does not quibble about robbing them of over £600 million if his party gets into power. Those are the figures that we were talking about.

The hon. Gentleman has talked about what he would do with the private pensions industry. The private industry is not about fat cats in the City but about ordinary men and women who, for the first time, have had the opportunity to have portable pensions. They have been liberated. As the hon. Gentleman has said many times in the House and in newspapers, he intends to turn the private pensions industry on its head. He may wish to deny that, but it is on record.

We have heard some interesting things from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about that incredible document, the shadow Chancellor's pledge. The hon. Member for Oldham has been unkindly accused of being the representative on earth of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), but listening to the hon. Member for Oldham, West and his offerings on policy is like crossing a bicycle pump with a French poodle; no one knows what the result will be, but it does not half put the wind up the shadow Chancellor. The omission of pensioners—a major part of Labour party policy, as we are led to believe—is nothing short of disgraceful. Many people in my constituency who would have supported the hon. Gentleman and his party would be deeply ashamed to vote Labour.

Let us get to the facts and deal with some of the points that the hon. Gentleman made on low pay. He forgot to mention that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a 20-point plan for the disabled. He forgot to mention that, since 1979, the budget for care in the community has been increased by 68 per cent. above inflation and that local government expenditure on personal social services has increased by 52 per cent. above inflation.

Let us get down to the nitty-gritty. The people most in need, the poorest 20 per cent. of working households, had a growth in real income of 11 per cent. between 1979 and 1987. The real take-home pay of a married couple with two children, on half average earnings, has increased by 24 per cent. since 1979, and the take-home pay of people on average earnings has increased by 30 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman forgets that we have spent £10 billion on family benefits since 1979, which is a 29 per cent. increase in real terms. It was brought to his attention, but he could not answer the charge that under the last Labour Government it was cut by 8 per cent. That is an appalling record.

We are not talking just about the appalling record of the last Labour Government. We want to know what the Labour party would do if in power. The hon. Gentleman has told us how he would totally ignore pensioners. We know that. He has been elusive about child benefit. I should remind the House what the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), the junior Opposition social services spokesman, said in the House recently: I shall say slowly, for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, that the next Labour Government will return child benefit to its value when Labour was last in office."—[Official Report, 27 February 1991; Vol. 186, c. 1022.] Where is the hon. Gentleman tonight? He is hiding in his bunker in Walworth road, no doubt, in fear of the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Many of the demands of the hon. Member for Oldham, West have not been costed. The ones which have been costed amount to over £50 billion, which is completely unrealistic.

We know about income support and child benefit. The Conservative Government have deliberately targeted the people most in need, but if the Labour party had the opportunity, it could not do that. The hon. Gentleman knows what would happen. If there was uprating in line with inflation—the sort of thing which his former boss, Barbara Castle, did not want to happen—those most in need, the poorest families, would not get it. What have the Conservative Government done? We have introduced family credit. There has been a lot of pooh-poohing family credit, but hon. Members should not forget that it is paid into the purse of the mother, which is an important point.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my hon. Friend agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who said in 1983, when child benefit reached record levels, that that demonstrated the Tory commit-ment to the family? Is not the argument for raising child benefit that it is the equivalent of a child allowance, but is better paid in cash than in tax? It may not be the way to help those on income support, but it is the right way to help those with children.

Mr. Hayes

I have spent the last eight years agreeing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).

We have spent eight times more on family credit than was spent on family income supplement in 1979. The average family credit award is over £30 a week, which is three times more than the payment in 1979.

What is the great Labour policy? What will Labour do about children most in need? We know; it has been in the newspapers and it has even been said in the House. Labour will allow it to wither on the vine. Will the hon. Member for Oldham, West deny that? Have I misled the House in any way? Is that Labour policy? Will the hon. Gentleman allow it to wither on the vine? I shall happily give way if I am wrong. Am I right? It is not often that I am right; I am very pleased to be right on this occasion.

Here we have some wonderful Labour policies, and we shall have some wonderful taxes. We are going to have a tax on jobs which will cost employers about £1.5 billion. We are going to have a minimum wage which will cost the health service £500 million and throw thousands out of work. No doubt the minimum wage will appease the trade union paymasters of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, but it will not be good for employment and it certainly will not be good for the finances of the health service.

Let us get back to the vanguard of socialism today in this country, the places where socialist policies are really happening, the Labour councils. I would fail in my duty to the House and to the country if I did not mention Lambeth, God bless it. If Lambeth did not exist, Conservative Central Office would have to invent it. What has Lambeth done? Lambeth, that greatly caring and socialist council with the same sort of policies as the hon. Member for Oldham, West wants, has voted to withdraw rail and the tube passes from children attending schools outside the borough. Considering that about 50 per cent. of Lambeth children go to secondary schools in other boroughs, that is pretty disgraceful.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Is the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) trying to defend this Government? Does he not read the statistics? Does he not know that 22,500 people have had their homes repossessed? Does he not know that 95,000 people in Britain today are more than nine months in arrears with their mortgages? Does he not know that in Scotland 16,000 people had their electricity cut off? This is the kind of thing that the hon. Member should be speaking about because his Government put us in this mess.

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful for the helpful intervention of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) because I was going to tell the House that since 1988 we have spent an extra £400 million a year in real terms on low-income families. I was going to tell the House that basic tax allowances have been increased by 25 per cent. since 1979. People are doing an awful lot better, despite the economic difficulties, than ever they were. Of course I regret the enormous problems of the 45,000 or so people who have lost their homes, but we are talking about 98.3 per cent. of all families who are in no serious difficulty with their arrears, and it is the job of the Government to do what they can to help.

I cannot remember whether it was lain MacLeod or Winston Churchill who said that Conservatism was about giving people the ladders of opportunity and providing the nets to catch them. This is a time when we need those nets and it is the duty of the Government—they have been doing it as well as possible, subject to resource constraints —to make sure that the holes in the net are not so large as to allow many people to slip through. That is what Conservatism is all about.

Let me return to what I was saying about Lambeth council. I do not think that many Opposition Members went to hear about it.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

There are not many of them there.

Mr. Hayes

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Let us just go back to Lambeth council and what the chief executive said: Some of the local customers are so frustrated with the services they are provided with—but sometimes never receive —and with the corruptness of the administrative systems that they feel compelled to resort to threats and acts of intimidation against it". Is that really the sort of family policy that the Labour party will offer to the House and the country when eventually we go to the country at the general election?

We have been told that it is the wicked poll tax that is responsible for all these ills, but it is important that these facts come out: Even if the Labour party wins a general election no one … can have any illusions that an incoming Labour government is the cavalry riding to the Council's rescue. It is more than clear that no additional resources would be available", says Joan Twelves, the council leader.

Let us turn to Liverpool. God bless Liverpool. What does Councillor Keva Coombes say about Liverpool? About education—another great priority, just as a lot of things seem to be a priority for the Labour party just before an election—Mr. Coombes said that it was in a parlous state. He conceded that the Labour-run council was the worst landlord in Liverpool, probably in the country". This is the case for socialism that people are getting in Liverpool, in Lambeth and in Harlow——

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

What is the hon. Gentleman's majority?

Mr. Hayes

I have a healthy majority; it goes up all the time when people hear what is on offer from Labour. We have been given a community charge by left-wing Harlow of £459, despite the fact that Essex county council is below the standard spending assessment of £49 million. Harlow could have reduced the community charge by £42. A competent authority would have kept the charge at £338, but Harlow has taken money from the reserve—this will bankrupt the town in the next two years—of £118 per person; and the people who will suffer in Harlow are the elderly, the disabled—those most at risk.

How is it, when one hears from Lambeth and these other overspending authorities, that it is not the women's units, the public relations or the local government units that suffer, but education and housing, the most politically sensitive areas? It is the most wicked and cynical manipulation of the frail and the infirm that I have ever seen. That is why I am happy to support my right hon. Friend and his Front-Bench team. I do not pretend that it is easy or that we have all the answers, but we are on the way to some of the solutions, and at least we have the courage to admit the limitations and to put forward the plans that my right hon. Friend has mentioned this evening.

8.56 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I am a bit diffident about straying into the party political flak that is flying all over the place. Listening to the insults that have been traded, one would be inclined to think that a general election was around the corner. I want to rise above all that if I can.

I agree with the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) in this respect at least; these questions are not easy, and we must remember that there are intractable problems and that they are not all related to maintenance, income support and pensions. The problems which confront low-income families cover a range of public policy sectors that we ought to examine, and I should like to spend a moment or two discussing some of them.

I preface my remarks by saying that the Government should adopt a budget strategy to assist family hardship, and to that extent I support the thrust of the Labour motion. But the Secretary of State won on points by quite a large margin when it came to his questions about the second part of the motion, and if we decide to support the official Opposition in the Lobbies later I make it clear that it will be because of the intention behind the stated objects of the motion; I think that the jury is still substantially out on the sums that Opposition Members have produced.

The Government have been in power for a long time and, as someone said recently, they have few alibis left. If they have not been able to use their time constructively to improve matters, particularly for families in hardship, they have no one to blame but themselves. We can quote statistics until we are blue in the face, but the evidence is that, since the Government have been in office, the poor have done relatively worse and the rich have done relatively better.

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to be clever —I do not mean that pejoratively; he was right to scrutinise the Opposition policies—but it is difficult for Opposition parties to produce policies, particularly financial plans in great detail, when the Government are sitting on top of all the information and statistics that they need. I would not go so far as to make some of the promises that have been made by the official Opposition, but it is right for the Opposition parties to state the targets that they intend to aim for over a reasonable time in the next Parliament.

The Secretary of State was a bit unkind to prosecute his argument to the extent that he did. However, he put some valid questions, and no doubt when he gets a copy of the Budget proposals that the Liberal Democrats produced earlier today, he will be asking me some of the same questions.

Mr. Newton

It is not all that difficult to ask Governments parliamentary questions to elicit informa-tion; quite a lot of them have been asked. What was interesting about the exchanges with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was that, when I made the point that the shadow Treasury document published today, apparently carefully costed, has costed a proposal which does nothing for the least well-off families, the hon. Gentleman was unable either to deny that or even to say that that was not the intention. He left the impression that it was.

Mr. Kirkwood

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) can speak for himself. I listened with interest to the exchanges, and I shall study the report of the debate.

It is necessary to recognise that there have been substantial social changes. The hon. Members for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and I attended an interesting Children's Society seminar which focused on the needs of children. I found it valuable, because it made me give a lot more thought to how a Liberal Democrat Government would try to focus on the needs of children.

Many different strands can be introduced and adduced in any policy that is brought to bear on the problem. As the hon. Member for Harlow said, it is difficult to decide how much the state should interfere in the private domestic domain of the family. There are difficult questions about how women, with their changing role, should be supported by child care policies and policies which make it easier for them to become an integral part of the new, largely service-oriented economy with part-time work and job sharing. All those matters are apposite in terms of giving real help to families suffering hardship.

We must also recognise that the family unit has changed substantially. That was brought home to me during discussions at the children's forum last week. There is now no such thing as the traditional family. There are step-families and single-parent families. In my constituency a high proportion of families consist of elderly people and ladies who have their own problems. The panoply of policy that the Government bring to bear on such questions must go with the grain of some of those changes.

One point that I made at the forum last week is that Governments find it difficult to co-ordinate policy, particularly in relation to children and families suffering hardship because of the disjointed approach that we adopt to try to tackle poverty within the family. That has been true of all Governments.

Poverty within the family embraces a series of things. For example, one of the most positive things that we could do to help some low-income families would be to increase the support that we give to conciliation services. Family breakdowns cost the state a lot of money, and if we put resources into giving families teetering on the brink of breakdown advice and conciliation, they may be saved. That might be the most positive way in which to help them. Local authorities, voluntary bodies and some specialist charities have an important role to play in that.

Those are all matters outwith the Secretary of State's responsibilities, but Governments must recognise that we need to go beyond social security levels and consider debt advice, the valuable work of citizens advice bureaux and counselling and family planning services. All those services have a bearing on how we can provide support, financial and otherwise, to families who are suffering hardship.

I do not think that one can consider hardship properly without taking into account long-term education policy. Sensible, planned provision for the under-fives would give future generations a better chance of gaining independence —the independence about which we hear so much from the Government—and exercising choice. I agree that opportunities should be provided, but many families are simply unable to take advantage of them. Education is a part of the problem. So is housing. Members of Parliament, at their constituency surgeries, hear about dampness, overcrowding, and so on. Then there is the question of health policy. People need dietary and other preventive health advice. They need advice about life styles. All of these things are the proper function of government. Families who suffer hardship must get proper educational support.

I know that there have been interdepartmental committees dealing with women's issues and with some children's issues. I support what has been done, so far as it goes. However, I hope that the Social Security Ministers will not confine their view to issues that are the responsibility of their own Department but will encourage a more interdepartmental approach. I know that they have their problems, but I hope that they will do what they can to ensure that low-income families get all the assistance that they need.

There is a real need for a proper partnership with the voluntary sector. I do not mean that charities should be used to provide a back-up for the social fund; that would be inappropriate. However, some of the specialist charities in the voluntary sector have expert resources. Indeed, I have seen some very useful local authority initiatives also. In addition, some employers have very enlightened policies for child care and support for low-income families. The Government—particularly the Ministers in the Department of Social Security—should take a lead in the provision of a framework of support, in partnership with all the elements involved. I know that that will not be easy, but we should all be neglecting our duty if we were not to try a bit harder in that direction.

Prolonged poverty is inimical to family life. That, of course, is a statement of the obvious. We can argue about what constitutes relative poverty, and what constitutes absolute poverty. We can argue about whether the Government are doing enough. Opposition parties will always ask for more. However, some worrying trends are emerging. The next Government, from whatever party, will have difficulties if they do not face up to the lack of provision for low-income families, among other things. Child benefit and child care should be essential elements of the programme for the next five or 10 years.

I hope that, in the next general election campaign, there will be proper public discussion of the role of child benefit. This is a cross-party issue. The debate about it will be important, and I hope that it will be conducted in the open. As I said in a previous debate, I hope that manifestos will be explicit about what parties are seeking to achieve. Of course, parties can be criticised for trying to go too far. We need an open, proper debate so that the electorate may have some say.

I am very worried about the resourcing of community care. Up to now, I have been referring especially to children, but community care will be essential to elderly people. If proper provision is not made, there will be major problems. I am very worried about some health board trends. I am not against savings, but the health board in my area is trying to make savings that will simply result in geriatric care being offloaded in a fairly wholesale way to the private residential and voluntary sectors of nursing homes. I have nothing against mixed provision of residential care, but it is quite wrong for health boards suddenly to decide that it is no longer their responsibility to provide geriatric care. I hope that Ministers are aware of that. It will have a vast implication for the Department of Social Security budget.

I know, as well as anyone knows, that the Secretary of State has to go to the Treasury and fight his corner for money. If that trend in my constituency begins to emerge across the whole United Kingdom, the Secretary of State will have an increasingly difficult job in containing that demand-led aspect of the budget. He will have to make cuts in other areas, and that will not be in anybody's interests. I hope that he will urgently consider that. If it is happening in a relatively stable, out-of-the-way place like my constituency, goodness knows what the extent of the problem would be in urban areas.

I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider the changes in the 1986 Act that led to a cut in provision for 16 and 17-year-olds. I accept that the Government of the day must be careful not to tempt youngsters away from families and towards streets paved with gold in London. However, the experience and the evidence show that 16 and 17-year-olds who are genuinely within a stressful family relationship leave home and go into destitution and, even worse, prostitution. I hope that that aspect of the 1986 reforms will be urgently reviewed.

The figures for homelessness and repossessions have been mentioned, and they pose an increasing worry. I am concerned about the number of people in Scotland who suffer deductions from their income support because, for example, they are in arrears with their community charge, are making social fund repayments, or are directly receiving fuel. The Government must be careful to ensure that they do not assume that everybody has the maximum income support available. In November 1990, 17,500 people in Scotland were in poll tax arrears and were not in receipt of full income support.

I am concerned about the 5,000 people sleeping rough. The Government have shown welcome signs of trying to reduce the number, but I am still worried. I am sure that my concern is not unique.

I hope that the Secretary of State recognises that Governments, of whichever party, must take into account the changing complexion of the family. As a policy-making institution, the Government should try to work with the grain of that and not moralise or impose rather spurious and out-of-date judgments. We need a better, more co-ordinated approach to all aspects of family policy.

I have tried to advance one or two ideas about ways in which I think matters could be improved. To achieve a concerted and co-ordinated approach, we need more resources. I hope that the issue will be tested seriously at the next general election. I believe that people throughout the country would be prepared to pay a reasonable amount more if they felt that that would result in a fairer and better collective provision for low-income families.

9.13 pm
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that he would try to lift the tone of the debate. Indeed, the speeches of Opposition Members have improved as we have gone along. The opening speech by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was pathetic, yet he has had enormous experience both in office and on the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) made a heavyweight speech, and he referred to unemployment on the Clyde. Perhaps the Opposition should promote him to the Front Bench; they obviously need a speaker with his power of oratory.

I agree with many of the points made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire and especially with his comment about wanting a more co-ordinated approach to family policy and lifestyle advice.

A survey published today showed that 10 per cent. of 16 to 19-year-old girls are sexually active and do not use contraceptives. That is the beginning of later problems, because if teenage pregnancies result, they either end in the tragedy of an abortion or in an unplanned pregnancy leading to an unplanned child, which will too often result in family poverty. Therefore, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire was right to mention the issue.

I stress to my right hon. Friend the Minister the need for the Government to monitor what is happening. Figures show that there are as many as 1 million unplanned pregnancies—one in three pregnancies—every year in this country. We must monitor that and find out to what extent Government policy can help to reduce the number because no one wants that level.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I hope that people following this debate will not take that figure as correct. The number of live births is about 600,000 or 700,000 and there are about 150,000 abortions and there are also spontaneous miscarriages. Therefore, I think that there must be something slightly wrong with my right hon. Friend's assumption.

Mr. Thurnham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he was right to correct me. According to the figures that I have seen, 1 million women are at risk of unplanned pregnancy, and there are about 300,000 unplanned pregnancies during a year, half of which end in abortion—about 150,000 or 160,000 each year. Therefore, 150,000 or 160,000 children would be born, suggesting that at least one in five children born is the result of an unplanned pregnancy. No one wants that state of affairs.

I agree with the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire that we should start by considering that aspect of family life in this debate.

I find Labour's policies amazing. I have already quoted the conclusion of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that child benefit is not efficient. However, I see that early-day motion 582, which has attracted 160 signatures from the Opposition Benches, states: child benefit is the most efficient form of financial support for families with children". I do not understand how one can come to that conclusion when, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, that does not help families with the lowest incomes. The Opposition were unable to answer that argument and were unable to say how they could help such families. That is why the Opposition are beginning to climb down from saying that they will more than make good the value of child benefit. More recently, they said that they would "at least" make it good and more recently still that they will simply make it good. They realise that child benefit is not getting anywhere.

What most disappoints me about the Opposition is the fact that they do not seem able to support family credit. The Government have boosted family credit, enormously —there has been an eightfold increase in the amount of money spent on it. Yet the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has said, as we have already heard, that Labour would let family credit wither on the vine and would introduce a national minimum wage instead. Barbara Castle has already been quoted as the Minister who froze child benefit in 1975. As Secretary of State for Employment, she said that she would not introduce a national minimum wage because of its effect on regional unemployment. Why is the Labour party advocating policies that it would not implement when it was in power?

It grieves me that the Opposition should turn their backs on family credit, when that is exactly the sort of policy that leads to targeted benefits. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that child benefit is not the most sensible way to distribute extra money. In that case, the most sensible way must be family credit. Will my hon. Friend consider the conclusions in the National Audit Office's study on family credit distribution? Family credit is not fully taken up. It is an excellent scheme, yet figures published in the study a few weeks ago showed that, by caseload, only 50 per cent. of it was taken up and, by expenditure, only 65 per cent. Therefore, there must be a considerable number of families who can still benefit from family credit and we should do our utmost to get them to take up that benefit.

That is the correct policy and the right way to help. One should encourage people to earn the most from their jobs that they can, and supplement their income where necessary to meet their family requirements. That is what should be done, rather than spread universal benefits around. We would much prefer to target benefits and reduce income tax, to make the economy stronger and to increase take-home pay.

That does not mean that the wealthiest would make the smallest contribution. The top 10 per cent. of taxpayers contribute 42 per cent. of total tax now, compared with 35 per cent. 10 years ago. Conservative Governments have increased the proportion of tax paid by the wealthy, and reduced that payable by everyone else from the exorbitant levels that existed under Labour.

The Opposition have not made it clear how they would fund their commitments. Where is the £1.5 billion more that they propose putting into child benefit to come from? If it is to be generated by increased taxes, who is to pay them? I have not yet seen the shadow Budget that was published today, but judging from the remarks of my right hon. Friend, it does not add up. Does it make it clear what tax levels would be under Labour, and whether there will be a return to the horrendous levels that operated under Labour?

I would like the family credit scheme to be considerably expanded. If additional funds are available, perhaps that is the area to which they should be applied. The National Audit Office made three recommendations. The first was that the Department should improve the nature and extent of the advice given to income support claimants about family credit. The system works better than it did, but there is scope for further improvement.

The NAO's second recommendation was that the advice and information given to ethnic minorities about income support and family credit should be reviewed. I know from my constituency experience that there is high unemployment among ethnic minorities, and that they tend to have larger families. On both counts, they are in need of more guidance on how to benefit from family credit.

The National Audit Office's third recommendation was that the reason why families move into and out of entitlement to income support and family credit should be examined, to establish whether there is scope to improve the effectiveness of the schemes' work incentives. That apart, family credit is an enormous improvement on family income support. The Government are paying out much more, and that money is reaching many more families than before. In overall terms, the scheme is a success, but I should like to see it implemented more fully. The Government's policies deserve the support of us all in the Lobby tonight.

9.22 pm
Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

I will focus on a narrow aspect of family poverty, and one that the Government always ignore. It is a pity that, when efforts are made to identify areas of poverty, the Government constantly skirt round the disadvantaged and point only to groups that have enjoyed some improvements under their schemes.

Last week, the Low Pay Unit and Birmingham education authority released a report that highlights the exploitation of thousands of children who are working illegally, and The People presented disclosures by Danny Buckland, who managed to infiltrate a Norfolk factory with a photographer, to present pictorially a report on the exploitation of children in 1991, under a Conservative Government.

The Government have been in power for nearly 12 years. To many of us, it seems much longer. Some of the children highlighted in the Low Pay Unit report were not even born when the Conservatives took office. According to the Low Pay Unit and Birmingham education authority, the reason for that exploitation is family poverty.

I do not have time to describe the report in detail, but I hope that Ministers have read it. It shows that, in the areas that suffer the highest unemployment, greatest poverty, and worst low pay, more and more children are becoming the family breadwinners. That point has been raised before, but the Government have not dealt with the problem of long-term truancy among children or the fact that many children are working in appalling conditions. The legislation that protected those children, such as it was, has been done away with. The Government constantly refuse to implement the Employment of Children Act 1973. The Under-Secretary of State for Social Security said that if there was any evidence that it should be implemented, she would consider it. The evidence is before her, but the Government have done nothing.

There are 4 million secondary school-aged children in Britain today and 2 million of them work. According to the survey, three out of four of those children are employed illegally. They are at risk of economic exploitation. They also face physical risks and colossal educational disadvantage.

According to the survey, 43 per cent. of the children had some kind of job excluding baby sitting, running errands and walking the dog. Many of them had more than one job. One 11-year-old had five jobs: a paper round, helping with a milk round, working in a clothes shop, helping with furniture removals and working in a take away restaurant. He earned 50p an hour for 10 hours work. That is the position after almost 12 years of Conservative Government. That is the poverty that our children are experiencing.

One third of the children's jobs involve shop work, cleaning and factory work and they accounted for more than the number of paper rounds. The law states that no child under 13 should work. One quarter of the working children referred to in the survey were 10, 11 or 12 years old. The law also states that children should not work for more than two hours on a school day and not before 7 am or after 7 pm in the case of 13-year-olds. Many of the children work far longer hours than that. Many of them perform adult jobs for less pay. The average pay is £1.80 an hour.

One 12-year-old worked in a sweet shop for 18 hours a week and was paid 44p an hour. The adult minimum wage is £2.20 an hour. The survey found that one third of the children were involved in accidents at work, including cuts, burns, assaults and broken bones. Three 15-year-olds received serious injuries in agriculture; six 15-year-olds in manufacturing industries; seven 15-year-olds in the service industries; and two 15-year-olds in unclassified jobs. In addition, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old were involved in major accidents in other forms of agriculture. In comparison with that saga of accidents involving youngsters, many of whom were working illegally, the number of court cases and convictions is pitiful.

That is one of the biggest indictments of the Government. We have heard reports of children working as the sole carer of a dependant relative. There are reports of children sleeping in our streets. Hundreds of our children are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and hundreds more are on at-risk registers, but they do not have social workers attached to them.

There is also now a growing saga of children who are employed illegally, many of whom are trying to top up an inadequate family income, or working as the sole contributor and breadwinner in a family that has experienced years of long-term unemployment affecting the mother, father and the other children. That is what is happening in our society today, as revealed in the survey which interviewed nearly 2,000 children between 10 and 16 split evenly between boys and girls.

I am glad that Conservative Members have not laughed at my speech. This will have been only the second speech at which they have not laughed, although I am sure that one of them will do so before long.

I have made a serious indictment of a Government who claim to care about children and about people, but who allow our children to work illegally and deny to those who work with some semblance of legality any protection in terms of the legislation that they took from the statute book.

9.29 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Earlier my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was kind enough to allow me to intervene, when I talked about the track record of Barbara Castle, who introduced child benefit. I am sure that she meant what she said most sincerely. I quote her freely, because I do not have her exact words in front of me. She made the point that the key advantage of the introduction of child benefit was that it would benefit poorer families. Her exact words were that poorer families would receive a greater proportion of the money.

I do not understand how the right hon. Lady, who is now in the other place, could possibly have had that idea. Surely it is clear to hon. Members, regardless of which side of the House they are on, that the great weakness of universal benefits is that they spread the butter thinly— they give exactly the same to everybody irrespective of income, ability to pay, and, even worse, need.

Earlier today, Her Majesty's Opposition attacked the community charge and supported other measures, but they support universality as a concept embedded in their deepest commitment, particularly to child benefit.

I am more than keenly interested in the welfare of children. I was fortunate to spend a dozen years working as a full-time senior staff member of the Save the Children Fund. Fortunately, in my position as a Conservative Back-Bencher, I have sufficient time to be able to devote my spare hours to furthering the welfare of children in the United Kingdom in a variety of ways and through a number of voluntary organisations—46 at the latest count. I know that the Government's perception of need for children is the better one, given that family credit now supplements child benefit. I shall paint the picture in a slightly different way so that Her Majesty's Opposition can understand my perspective in this matter.

Child benefit goes to every child—or rather, through every mother, it is given for the benefit of every child in the United Kingdom. I make that point perhaps a little critically, because many mothers do not use child benefit for their children. Many cases have been identified and written up. Letters are written to women's magazines from families on quite modest incomes, saying that they do not use child benefit for their children. I refer to magazines such as Woman's Own and Woman's Realm—the ordinary, common or garden women's magazines that many millions of women read every week. I have seen letters from someone who feels embarrassed at having child benefit when she does not use it for her children.

There are 6.8 million families with children in the United Kingdom, and that makes 12.2 million children. All of them receive child benefit at £7.25 per child per week. However, among those 12.2 million children, 3 million are in greatest need. That is the bottom group—a quarter of all children in the United Kingdom. It is interesting that that quarter comes from 1.5 million of the totality of 6.8 million families. In a word, a quarter of the children belong to a sixth of the families. Quite naturally, we see that families in receipt of family credit a re the poorest and also have the largest families. That is why I so heartily supported the recent uplift in child benefit of £1 for the eldest child. The larger families will need that money to invest in children' s clothing at the beginning of their family life.

I have seen the benefit of family credit, as opposed to the uplift of child benefit nationally through the universality of everyone having the same, in my constituency where many families are on lower incomes. Farm workers have never been well paid—I wish they had. Many farmers do not have a large income, and other groups also receive family credit. I have seen that family credit gives real value to those families. It allows them to budget and to plan. It gives them sufficient funds to enable them to stand on their own feet and to start to involve themselves in the wider world.

That is why, although I welcome any help that is given to children, I especially support the targeting—that modern word—of families who are in real need. I welcome the Government's commitment to the poorest children in the land by continuing to uplift family credit.

9.35 pm
Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Mid-Staffordshire)

The Government came to power on the promise of prosperity for everyone. People expected to have more money in their pockets, a home of their own, a secure job, and better prospects for their children in schools and universities. But the reality for many has been a treacherous breach of the hopes and plans that the British people had invested in the Government for the 1980s and on the basis of which they were voted into power.

Since 1979, the poor have become poorer. About one fifth of the population have been made worse off during the past decade. Not for them the benefit of a trickle-down effect from the growing prosperity of the few. We have heard that it is Conservative policy for that party to project itself as the party of the family. Quite apart from the economic and political consequences of the Government's policies, we must consider the more personal effects that relate to nearly every family in the land and what has really happened to many families in the time that the Government have been in office.

Grandparents now receive a state pension that is no longer linked to average earnings or increased prices, so they are worse off. According to Age Concern, more than one third of retired people are living on or below the poverty line. Many are constantly worried about heating their homes, paying their bills and having enough to feed themselves. They are often faced with deciding whether they can afford to buy a relative or friend a birthday card or whether they should spend that money on a loaf of bread or half a dozen eggs.

Many people in their 70s and 80s find it impossible to survive on their basic pension and have to work part-time to supplement it. The jobs on which many pensioners rely to boost their weekly income are often the first to go when the recession bites. I refer to the pensioners who may have a part-time cleaning job in a shop or office.

Fathers who were once in secure jobs have found themselves unemployed. Many are facing unemployment for the first time. If they have a skill or professional training, they did not expect that unemployment would happen to them. Unemployment brings humiliation and loss of confidence, as well as financial problems, which in turn can mean stress and tension within a marriage and within the family unit.

Many women work part-time outside the home so that they can combine employment and family responsibilities. Many women who have been employed in banking or by the building societies, both of which are large employers of women, have been made redundant. Women who work in teaching, the service sector or as helps in the schools meals service are facing reduced hours or job losses as a result of the recession or they have been the victims of cuts, which are due in large measure to the poll tax.

Young people searching for jobs are often sidetracked into the so-called training schemes which are often no more than a parody of the real thing. They receive little more than subsistence rates as a training allowance. Teenagers who have to leave home—not from choice, but because there is no work locally—may obtain work but they then have to pay a high price for accommodation, and their poll tax. They may join the many young people who are sleeping in cardboard city, begging on our streets, or turning to prostitution. Unemployment and changes in the benefit rules are the factors which contribute to that.

A further consequence of the recession and its impact on families is the increase in the workload of citizens advice bureaux. Advice on money problems is now the main and growing work of CABs in my constituency. In one of those offices, bankruptcy-related inquiries during January and February were as many as two or three a week. Many of them were from people who were made redundant and who had put what capital they had into a small business. They now face further problems. When the sign says, "Everything must go", it means just that—it means the family business and the family income.

The people who seek advice at CABs often have multiple debt problems, not because they have overcom-mitted themselves but because of a change in circumstances. In many cases, that change of circumstan-ces is unemployment. That in turn leads to mortgage problems. Again, mortgage problems arise either from unemployment or from a reduction in working hours.

In some families, both husband and wife have lost their jobs and the impact on the family is devastating. As a result of the state of the economy, many unemployed people, having tried to find work and written perhaps 50 or 100 letters, are giving up hope. Many families face the grim struggle to pay the mortgage, rent, poll tax and increased prices for the now privatised water, gas and electricity, as well as the weekly food bill. New clothes, meals out and entertainment are luxuries that many families cannot afford. I have spoken to families who say not only that they cannot afford new clothes but that they can no longer afford to buy clothes from the charity shops; they are reduced to going to jumble sales.

Community furniture projects have great demand for their furniture because people cannot obtain the additional money that they want from the social fund to replace items of furniture. The magic spell of prosperity has been broken at last. Few people still believe that we can become a nation of rich and happy shareholders. If we were to apply the same testing to the Government's policy on the family as they are imposing on children in schools, there is no doubt what the teacher's comment would be: Failed. Could do better. The family as a single, cohesive factor in contemporary Britain has been subjected to unprecedented pressures which in turn have created more social discord than we have had in any period since the 1930s.

9.42 pm
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

In the few minutes left for the Front-Bench replies, I wish to make a few references first to the speeches which have been made in the debate. The speeches of my hon. Friends reflected their anxieties about the bitter plight of families on low incomes living in their constituencies. The anger expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) contrasted starkly with the levity of the speech of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes), who seemed to think that it was all a great joke. The moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), which brought a new dimension to the debate, will be worth reading.

The spread of poverty has become absolutely relentless and its growth is a savage indictment of the Government. Far from creating new jobs, they have presided over a tripling of unemployment and a shift in the nature of employment towards temporary, casual and part-time work which is low-paid. Far from widening real opportunities for lasting home ownership, the Government have encouraged families to buy their homes. Those families were then forced by the Government's high interest rates policy into arrears and into losing their homes. It is a crazy situation.

In 1989, 83,682 mortgage payers were taken to court. That was a bad enough figure, but in 1990, more than 136,000 faced court action for mortgage areas. The biggest increases in the past year have been in the midlands, the south-east and the south-west—unusual spots for that to happen. At the same time, local authority home building has been at a standstill, and homelessness and housing waiting lists have been at an all-time high. Privately rented property is far too expensive for most families whose homes have been repossessed. There is no doubt that the current recession will lead to even further increases in the number of families in poverty, yet the Government show no sign of tackling the recession and, to judge by their amendment tonight, they have no conception of the misery that their policies are causing.

Even if the Chancellor could wave a magic wand to pull the country out of recession overnight, he would not and could not undo the damage now being wrought. A magic wand would not restore the homes of those people who have been evicted today, return the furniture to homes with bailiffs on the doorsteps today or repair the lungs of children living in damp houses today. Anyway, the Chancellor will not wave a magic wand, but will continue to pursue the disastrous policies that have led to such an appalling increase in hardship.

Hardship affects every member of the family; all are hit by it, but women and children bear the brunt. The lack of child care, to which the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) referred, means that women have less access to available jobs. That problem particularly affects single parents—76 per cent. of whom live in poverty, compared with 13 per cent. of two-parent families. Women form the vast majority of lone parents. Some 96 per cent. of single parents on income support are women and 71 per cent. of those on low wages are women.

Women's lives are very much shaped by their domestic responsibilities. The vast amount of unpaid work that women have to do—including child care, cleaning, shopping and managing the home—limits their oppor-tunities to obtain paid work. During the past decade, the Government have done nothing to help them.

The Government are fond of pointing out at every opportunity the increase in part-time jobs, but they have done nothing to ensure that those jobs provide maternity rights, sick pay and holidays, or that part-time work is paid pro rata to full-time work. Because their pattern of paid work is so broken up by their caring responsibilities —whether for children or elderly dependents—many women fail to pay enough national insurance contribu-tions to qualify for a full pension, so when they become older and retire, they do not have enough to live on and have to resort to income support.

Even within the family, the resources are not always fairly shared, although that is not necessarily the Government's fault. It is very often the woman in the family—the mother—who spends more of what might be considered the equal half of the family income on items such as food and clothing. That is why child benefit is, and is seen to be, so important to families. It is a disgrace that child benefit has been frozen for so long.

As the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) said, the Chancellor will at last be increasing child benefit not to £9.55 a week—which it should be for each child—but by a miserly £1 for the eldest child. Have Conservative Members any idea of how much that will help a family? The sum of £1 might just buy a large family loaf and some margarine, but not much more—there will be no change out of a pound. That figure will not buy any socks or shoes, although it might buy three pints of milk—big deal. It is so insultingly low that it causes more stress. The Chancellor has made a mistake by not increasing child benefit to the requisite amount.

The hardship about which we have heard in the debate has been the lot of many families for more than a decade and over the lifetime of successive Governments, no positive policy to help such families has been developed. Tory politicians often talk about a sort of north-south divide. They say that there is more poverty in the north, rather as if families there should have become used to being poverty-stricken. They say that the "good old south of England" does well and that there is no need for a strategy to eliminate poverty and hardship there.

Now the recession has hit the south with a vengeance. Families in the south, stunned by steep mortgage interest rates, are losing their homes. They are getting into debt and losing their jobs as 100 firms a day are declared bankrupt. Two-earner families become one-earner or no-earner families. Those people were brought up under a Government who have no proper policies to deal with hardship and bring down inflation. Such families will join those who have been suffering for the past decade in realising that Britain must have a Labour Government who will begin to tackle the ills and evils of a decade of Tory policies. The general election campaign should start tomorrow.

9.51 pm
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

So far, the debate has been a one-sided match. I do not know whether I shall be able to sustain that record. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security ate the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) alive. We have clearly won the argument. The Opposition chose this subject for debate, so it is somewhat surprising that the Opposition turnout has been so miserable. Their arguments have been equally weak.

I have great respect for the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) and I think that we entered the House on the same date. She spoke seriously about the exploitation of children, and she will know that local authorities have considerable responsibilities for children who work. I took a careful note of her points, and will instigate some investigations into the extent of the practice reported in one of the popular Sunday newspapers. I take the matter seriously, and certainly do not dismiss it for a moment.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) also made a serious speech—about the need for services as well as benefits, the level of which dominated the debate. We are not speaking just about services by statutory bodies, such as local authorities or the Department in which I serve, but about those provided by the voluntary organisations that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Those are the citizens advice bureaux, Relate, which helps those in matrimonial difficulties, and other organisations which make a great contribution to enabling people to retain, and sometimes to improve, their quality of life.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about a matter that was first identified by the noble Lord Joseph—the danger of families in poverty entering a cycle of deprivation. Such families do not benefit from the education system and are ill served by many of the statutory bodies. In some way, we must break through to those families, and voluntary agencies can play a great part in that. Although my Department has no grant-giving power, the Department of Health spends a considerable amount of money, through its section 64 grants, on the voluntary bodies. This plays an important part in supporting such organisations and helping those who benefit from them.

Mr. Graham

Is the Minister aware that, in Scotland, many of the voluntary organisations that deal with the problems of poverty have seen their funding eradicated because of local government finance cuts, so much so that they are no longer able to carry out the valuable work that they have done for years to ensure that people get the benefits due to them?

Mr. Scott

Most of the local authorities controlled by the Labour party put supporting fancy left-wing ideas ahead of the priorities about which I have been talking.

I shall try to reply to the points made in the debate. The hon. Member for Oldham, West made the worst speech that I have ever heard him make. He has visited—we have been glad to enable him to do so—many of our local social security offices, and has gained some understanding of the efforts that we put in to delivering a better service to those who need our help. He will know that, on 1 April, the new benefits agency will come into effect. It will be able to work within a set of clear, unambiguous, published and measurable targets to deliver a better service to those who need our help. I hope that he will avail himself of the opportunity to visit those offices. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman could restrain his predilection for sedentary interventions, it would be more helpful. I hope that he understands that we are determined to deliver a better service.

Labour Members have talked an awful lot of nonsense. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) delivered herself of the most foolhardy statement of the debate when she said that, because the retirement pension had not been increased in line with earnings, pensioners were worse off. There is no question of that. Under this Government, the standard of living of pensioners has gone up by 31 per cent.—twice as fast as the rate of increase in the standard of living of the popualtion as a whole. That has been due to the increase in savings, the spread of occupational pensions and the maturing of the state earnings-related pension scheme. Anybody who looks around the country will see with his own eyes that the pensioners' standard of living has gone up by substantially more than it did under the Labour Government, whatever that Government did to the basic retirement pension. We are determined to ensure, by a combination of policies, that that rate of increase continues.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) mentioned family credit and its importance in supporting the living standards of families. The take-up of family credit has steadily increased. It now reaches twice as many families as family income supplement did, and we have a case load of 325,000 people on family credit. We are anxious to increase the take-up as much as possible. I am sure that, whatever quibbles the hon. Member for Oldham, West has, he will support us in trying to ensure that the benefit goes to as many families as possible. He will have noticed, as he spends some time in front of the television set, the television advertisements that we are showing at the moment. He will know that there is a special insert in our child benefit books reminding people that they may be entitled to family credit.

As we are talking about the living standards of families, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that, by introducing family credit, we have made a substantial contribution to the living standards of those entitled to it. He dared to mention unemployment traps and poverty traps. Our reforms in 1988 made a substantial contribution to removing the excessively high deduction rates which occurred under the previous system. We are contributing, and will continue to contribute, to the living standards of families.

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

The House divided: Ayes 196, Noes 304.

Division No. 96] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Grocott, Bruce
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Hardy, Peter
Alton, David Harman, Ms Harriet
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Haynes, Frank
Armstrong, Hilary Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Henderson, Doug
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Hinchliffe, David
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Barron, Kevin Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Beckett, Margaret Home Robertson, John
Bell, Stuart Hood, Jimmy
Bellotti, David Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Howells, Geraint
Benton, Joseph Hoyle, Doug
Bermingham, Gerald Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Blunkett, David Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Boateng, Paul Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Boyes, Roland Illsley, Eric
Bradley, Keith Ingram, Adam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Janner, Greville
Brown, Gordon (D'mtine E) Johnston, Sir Russell
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Kirkwood, Archy
Caborn, Richard Lamond, James
Callaghan, Jim Leadbitter, Ted
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Leighton, Ron
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Lewis, Terry
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Livingstone, Ken
Cartwright, John Livsey, Richard
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clelland, David Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cohen, Harry Loyden, Eddie
Cook, Robin (Livingston) McAllion, John
Cousins, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Cox, Tom McCartney, Ian
Crowther, Stan McFall, John
Cryer, Bob McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Cummings, John McKelvey, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence McLeish, Henry
Cunningham, Dr John McMaster, Gordon
Dalyell, Tam McNamara, Kevin
Darling, Alistair Madden, Max
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dewar, Donald Martlew, Eric
Dixon, Don Maxton, John
Dobson, Frank Meacher, Michael
Doran, Frank Meale, Alan
Duffy, A. E. P. Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeiey)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'I & Bute)
Eastham, Ken Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Fearn, Ronald Morgan, Rhodri
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Mowlam, Marjorie
Fisher, Mark Mullin, Chris
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Murphy, Paul
Foster, Derek Nellist, Dave
Foulkes, George Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fraser, John O'Brien, William
Fyfe, Maria O'Hara, Edward
Galloway, George O'Neill, Martin
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Paisley, Rev Ian
George, Bruce Parry, Robert
Godman, Dr Norman A. Patchett, Terry
Golding, Mrs Llin Pike, Peter L
Gordon, Mildred Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Gould, Bryan Primarolo, Dawn
Graham, Thomas Quin, Ms Joyce
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Radice, Giles
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Randall, Stuart
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Redmond, Martin
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Strang, Gavin
Richardson, Jo Straw, Jack
Robertson, George Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Robinson, Geoffrey Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Rogers, Allan Trimble, David
Rooker, Jeff Turner, Dennis
Rooney, Terence Vaz, Keith
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Walley, Joan
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Rowlands, Ted Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Ruddock, Joan Wigley, Dafydd
Sheerman, Barry Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Short, Clare Wilson, Brian
Skinner, Dennis Winnick, David
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Worthington, Tony
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E) Wray, Jimmy
Soley, Clive Young, David (Bolton SE)
Spearing, Nigel
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Tellers for the Ayes:
Steinberg, Gerry Mr. Robert N. Wareing and
Stott, Roger Mr. Jack Thompson.
Adley, Robert Churchill, Mr
Aitken, Jonathan Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)
Alexander, Richard Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Clark, Rt Hon Sir William
Allason, Rupert 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) Cope, Rt Hon John
Arnold, Sir Thomas Cormack, Patrick
Ashby, David Couchman, James
Atkins, Robert Cran, James
Atkinson, David Critchley, Julian
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Curry, David
Baldry, Tony Davis, David (Boothferry)
Batiste, Spencer Day, Stephen
Bellingham, Henry Devlin, Tim
Bendall, Vivian Dickens, Geoffrey
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Dorrell, Stephen
Benyon, W. Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dover, Den
Blackburn, Dr John G. Dunn, Bob
Body, Sir Richard Durant, Sir Anthony
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dykes, Hugh
Boscawen, Hon Robert Eggar, Tim
Boswell, Tim Emery, Sir Peter
Bottom ley, Peter Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Evennett, David
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Fallon, Michael
Bowis, John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fishburn, John Dudley
Brazier, Julian Fookes, Dame Janet
Bright, Graham Forman, Nigel
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Forth, Eric
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Fox, Sir Marcus
Buck, Sir Antony Franks, Cecil
Burns, Simon Freeman, Roger
Burt, Alistair French, Douglas
Butler, Chris Gale, Roger
Butterfill, John Gardiner, Sir George
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gill, Christopher
Carrington, Matthew Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Carttiss, Michael Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Cash, William Goodlad, Alastair
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Chapman, Sydney Gorst, John
Chope, Christopher Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Greenway, John (Ryedale) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gregory, Conal McLoughlin, Patrick
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Grist, Ian McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Ground, Patrick Madel, David
Grylls, Michael Mans, Keith
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Maples, John
Hague, William Marland, Paul
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Marlow, Tony
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Hampson, Dr Keith Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hanley, Jeremy Mates, Michael
Hannam, John Maude, Hon Francis
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'Il Gr') Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Harris, David Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hawkins, Christopher Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hayes, Jerry Miller, Sir Hal
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Mills, Iain
Hayward, Robert Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Mitchell, Sir David
Heathcoat-Amory, David Moate, Roger
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Monro, Sir Hector
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hill, James Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Hind, Kenneth Moss, Malcolm
Holt, Richard Moynihan, Hon Colin
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Neale, Sir Gerrard
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Nelson, Anthony
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Neubert, Sir Michael
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hunt, Rt Hon David Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hunter, Andrew Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Irvine, Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Irving, Sir Charles Page, Richard
Jackson, Robert Paice, James
Janman, Tim Patnick, Irvine
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Patten, Rt Hon John
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Pawsey, James
Key, Robert Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Kilfedder, James Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Porter, David (Waveney)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Portillo, Michael
Kirkhope, Timothy Price, Sir David
Kirkwood, Archy Raffan, Keith
Knapman, Roger Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Rathbone, Tim
Knowles, Michael Redwood, John
Knox, David Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rhodes James, Robert
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Latham, Michael Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Lee, John (Pendle) Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Roe, Mrs Marion
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Rost, Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Rowe, Andrew
Lord, Michael Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Sayeed, Jonathan
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover) Thurnham, Peter
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Shelton, Sir William Tracey, Richard
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Viggers, Peter
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shersby, Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Sims, Roger Walden, George
Skeet, Sir Trevor Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Waller, Gary
Speed, Keith Walters, Sir Dennis
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Ward, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Squire, Robin Warren, Kenneth
Stanbrook, Ivor Watts, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wheeler, Sir John
Steen, Anthony Whitney, Ray
Stern, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Stevens, Lewis Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wilkinson, John
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wilshire, David
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stokes, Sir John Winterton, Nicholas
Sumberg, David Wolfson, Mark
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Yeo, Tim
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Young, Sir George (Acton)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Tellers for the Noes:
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Mr. John M. Taylor and
Thorne, Neil Mr. Tom Sackville.
Thornton, Malcolm

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

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

Resolved, That this House notes that the policies of the last Labour Government pushed inflation to an all-time peak of 27 per cent., destroying savings and eroding living standards for millions of families and that Her Majesty's Opposition remains committed to policies which would once again sharply raise taxation and inflation; and commends Her Majesty's Government's record in creating new jobs, in widening opportunities for home ownership, in directing additional help to low-income families, and in bringing about an increase of one-third in the real take-home pay of a family on average earnings; and reaffirms its support for the Government's priority in fighting inflation.