HC Deb 19 April 1994 vol 241 cc764-819

'The following section shall be inserted after section 14 of the Capital Allowances Act 199014A (1) Where a building or structure which is not an industrial building or structure is used by a person carrying on a trade for the provision of care for the children of workers employed in that trade, this Part shall apply to that building or structure as if it were an industrial building or structure. (2) The writing down allowances within section 3 which are made to a person by reason of subsection (1) above are not to exceed £10 in aggregate for a chargeable period. (3) In this section-'care' means any form of care or supervised activity whether or not provided on a regular basis, but excluding supervised activity provided primarily for educational purposes; 'children' means person under the age of eighteen..'''.—[Ms Harman.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ms Harriet Harman (Peckham)

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following: New clause 6—Child care vouchers—

'.—(1) Where an employer supplies child care vouchers to an employee in qualifying circumstances and up to the qualifying limit such vouchers shall not be treated as emoluments for the purposes of section 131 of the Taxes Act 1988 or as benefits to which section 154 of the Taxes Act 1988 applies.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above the vouchers are supplied in qualifying circumstances if

  1. (a) the vouchers can be used only in paying for care for a child who falls within subsection (3) below and
  2. (b) the registration requirement is met

(3) A child falls within this subsection if the child

  1. (a) is a child for whom the employee has parental responsibility
  2. (b) is resident with the employee or
  3. (c) is a child or stepchild of the employee and is maintained at the employee's expense

(4) The registration requirement is that

  1. (a) the premises on which the care is provided are registered under section 1 of the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948 or section 11 of the Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 or
  2. (b) a person providing the care is registered under section 71 of the Children Act 1989 with respect to the premises on which it is provided

(5) For the purposes of subsection (1) above the qualifying limit is

  1. (a) in the case of each child who is under the age of six years and is not in full time education, £75 a week
  2. (b) in the case of each other child under the age of 16 years, £30 a week.

(6) In this section, "care" and "parental responsibility" have the same meaning as in section 155A of the Taxes Act 1988.'.

New clause 7—Child care and the self-employed— '.—(1) Notwithstanding section 74 of the Taxes Act 1988, in computing the amount of the profits or gains of an individual to be charged under Case I or Case II of Schedule D a deduction may be made for the cost up to the qualifying limit of care for a child who falls within subsection (2) below if the registration requirement is met

(2) A child falls within this subsection if the child

  1. (a) is a child for whom the individual has parental responsibility
  2. (b) is resident with the individual or
  3. (c) is a child or stepchild of the individual and is maintained at the individual's expense

(3) The registration requirement is that

  1. (a) the premises on which the care is provided are registered under section 1 of the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948 or section 11 of the Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 or
  2. (b) a person providing the care is registered under section 71 of the Children Act 1989 with respect to the premises on which it is provided

(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) above the qualifying limit is

  1. (a) in the case of each child who is under the age of six years and is not in full time education, £75 a week
  2. (b) in the case of each other child under the age of 16 years, £30 a week.

(6) In this section, "care" and "parental responsibility" have the same meaning as in section 155A of the Taxes Act 1988.'.

Ms Harman

New clause 1 raises a genuine anomaly in the tax treatment of employers who provide nurseries for their employees. It highlights the difference between the tax treatment of employers in factories and warehouses who provide such nurseries, and that of employers in shops and offices who do the same. It also highlights the difference between employers in shops and offices who provide their employees with sports facilities and those who provide nurseries: the latter do not receive the same tax concessions as the former. The new clause also deals with the important question of child care, giving us an opportunity to examine the current position and to demand action from the Government.

Nothing less than a social and economic revolution has taken place in this country over the past couple of decades. The patterns of both family life and work have changed. A typical employee used to be a man working full time, expecting to work full time from the moment when he left school to the moment when he retired at 65, and assuming that, throughout that time, he would be supported by a non-working wife caring for their children at home.

Now, however, there is no set pattern of family life, and families come in all shapes and sizes. Two specific trends are discernible: more families are headed by lone mothers, and there are fewer extended families. Granny is less likely to be on the scene.

The revolution has extended to the workplace. Women now constitute half the work force. It cannot be said often enough that public policy must catch up with the revolution in the labour market and the world of work, and its effect on the economy. Women's work is essential to the economy, as women now work in all regions of the country and in all industries; however, it is also essential to the family budget. Women are working not just for themselves, but for their families and the economy as a whole.

There has also been a revolution in women's educational qualifications. Women now have educational qualifications equal to those of men when they leave school, college or university—not necessarily in the same subjects, but investment in the education of girls and women now equals investment in that of boys and men.

A new army of women has joined men at work—and most of those women are mothers. The Government, however, have failed even to ask themselves, let alone answer, the question that every working mother must ask herself: who will look after the children? As far as we can see, there is no public policy on child care—no public policy to match the revolution that has taken place at home and at work.

The Government have simply turned a blind eye to the needs of the children of working mothers; parents have been left to fend for themselves, and for most working parents the care of both pre-school and school-age children is a headache.

I make it absolutely clear that, although we are talking tonight about children aged under five years, we are talking also about school-age children. It is not as though, once children start school at the age of five, the problems are solved for working parents. We should think about all those in-service training days when working women are tearing out their hair, and think of the school holidays, and of half term. School is not child care, and it does not solve the problems of working parents.

I hope that, when people worry, as they are right to do, about children being stuck in front of videos, they also ask themselves what the connection is between the debate about children spending too much time watching videos and the debate we are having today about the lack of facilities for school-age and pre-school children.

With women now entering the labour market and making up half the total work force, the result has been a huge increase in the demand for child care. The southern European countries—the Mediterranean countries—by and large still have a well-developed extended family network. Therefore, child care needs can be met to quite a large extent by aunts, great aunts or grandmothers. That is no longer the case in most communities in this country.

The northern European countries meet the demand for child care by providing day nurseries, nursery schools and classes, and through out-of-school provision. Many of those countries also have a more stable extended family network than we have.

In the south of Europe, there are extended families as well as many well-developed child care systems, and in the north there is good child care provision as well as extended families. But what do we have in this country to support the children of working parents when we do not have the extended families or child care?

The demand for child care is increasingly being met, not by an increase in the number of nurseries—which would be the first choice of many parents—but by an increase in the number of child minders. I have obtained some figures through answers to parliamentary questions. Between 1982 and 1992, the number of places in local authority day nurseries fell. What an indictment that is. There has been an unprecedented increase in the number of women going to work, yet there has been a fall of 4,500 in the number of places in local authority day nurseries.

The really big increase in child care provision has been in the number of child minders. More than a quarter of a million children are now cared for by child minders—an increase of more than 150,000 in the last 10 years. The lack of child care provision and the increase in the number of women in the work force have resulted in an increase in demand for child minders which has been met by an increase in the number of child minders.

For many—especially those with very young children —that is the preferred form of child care; but for more it is not. The number of children cared for by child minders has grown by more than 150,000 in the last 10 years. But for most of those parents, child minders are simply the only available option or the cheapest option; they are not necessarily the first choice of the parents or of experts examining the child care situation.

In the past, the child of a working mother was more likely to be cared for in a nursery. During the war, when the men went off to fight and the women worked in industries such as the armaments industry, the response was to ensure that nurseries were available for the children of working mothers. But there has not been a similar response to the current influx of women entering the work force. A network of nurseries has not been established today as was established during the war, when an equal number of women worked.

4.45 pm

As women have entered the work force, child care has been privatised and fragmented, with the need met by private nurseries. There has been an increase in the number of private nurseries, although there are still very few places available in private nurseries. Only 91,000 children have places in private nurseries, compared with the quarter of a million children who are cared for by child minders.

Often, the reason why children are cared for by child minders rather than in a private nursery—the two alternative forms of private child care—is the cost of private nurseries. The Government's own figures show that it can cost up to £150 per week for a private nursery place.

In our view, it is wholly unsatisfactory that a major public policy shift has taken place with no parliamentary debate or public discussion. I should like to hear the Minister's reaction to these issues. Does he think that it is satisfactory that parents have no choice of child care, and that many can only afford a child minder? Does he think that a nursery place should be a viable choice? Does he think that a public policy issue is involved here, or is it simply a matter of parents who work fending for themselves?

I look forward to the Minister's response to these questions. I hope that he will not say that it is a matter for his colleagues in the Department of Health, the Department for Education or the Department of the Environment. I can tell the Minister that each one is saying that it is a matter for the other. As the Minister is in the Chamber, perhaps we can hear from him the Government's response to this important economic issue.

Every Minister I have asked for information about the child care strategy has given a different answer. There have been different answers because there is ambivalence about the issue of what child care provision there should be for the children of working mothers. There is a similar ambivalence about nursery provision.

We have seen the Government going hither and thither in their approach to nursery education. On 14 November, last year The Sunday Times said that the Secretary of State for Education was ruling out universal nursery education and dismissing it as too expensive. He said: We haven't got any money. We are in a difficult public expenditure round.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Would my hon. Friend agree that that kind of argument is very short-sighted, as keeping mothers who wish to work on benefit does not save the taxpayers money? It means that mothers are stuck on benefit and are not making a contribution to the tax revenue, which they would be making if they could afford to work because they had access to affordable child care.

Ms Harman

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope to return to that issue.

Without a nursery place, many parents—particularly single parents—are dependent upon benefits and cannot go out to work. That is quite apart from the fact that research shows that nursery education benefits children, and therefore should be seen as a long-term investment in children's futures.

Although in November the Secretary of State for Education ruled out nursery education for children as too expensive, and said that it was not possible because the Government had a "difficult public expenditure round", a month later, on 23 December, the Prime Minister changed the tune. He said that it was the Government's intention to move to universal nursery education. He added—we have been making the point for years—that the United Kingdom compares poorly with the rest of Europe in terms of child care, with only half our three to four-year-olds in nursery education, compared with 99 per cent. provision in France and 96 per cent. provision in Belgium.

On the one hand, we can see the ambivalence of different Secretaries of State, Ministers of State and Government Departments about nursery education and women at work, but the Chief Secretary to the Treasury gave the game away when he said that the provision of public services sapped parental responsibility. He was saying that any public provision somehow confiscates the responsibility of parents, but he failed to recognise that, with the help of proper public provision of child care services, many parents who want to go out to work but who are at the moment stuck on benefit and living on income support could be financially responsible for themselves and their children if child care provision was available.

The Chief Secretary was in effect saying, "They're your children; you had them, so you look after them. They are absolutely nothing to do with us." We believe that, of course, children are primarily the responsibility of their parents—no one would have it any other way—but the community as a whole has an interest in the well-being of our children and their preparation for adult life.

We all have an interest in children growing up to be adults who are, in the Prime Minister's words, "at ease" with themselves and able to take on adult responsibilities. The Government's attitude—"They're your children; they are nothing to do with us, so why are you even asking us about child care?"—is short-sighted.

When the Government have reluctantly taken action on child care, it has always been characterised by two features: it has been short-term—"here today, gone tomorrow" initiatives—and fragmented. We need not pump priming but a long-term strategy. When the Government have been pressed and felt it necessary to issue a press statement on child care, they have set up a pump-priming initiative.

I do not know whether hon. Members remember the under-fives initiative set up in the 1980s, which was to last for two years. What happened to it? In the 1990s, grants via training and enterprise councils seem to be the fashionable way of affording the Government the opportunity to issue a press release, but there is no long-term strategy to deliver a national child care programme. What is lacking is not pump priming but a long-term strategy.

Child care should be regarded as part of the economic infrastructure, as important in getting women to work as the roads and railways on which they travel to work. Like other infrastructure projects, child care needs a long-term, strategic approach. Such an approach would match not only the demands of the economy but those of parents. Although the patterns of women's employment may be fragmented and changing, the needs and demands of their children are not. Their children need continuity and certainty.

If a mother gets a training place for six months, it is not good enough to offer her child care for six months at the local TEC. The child will just be settling in when it will be time for the mother to take him out of the nursery because she is looking for a job. She will have to make temporary arrangements for the child while looking for work and, if she gets a job, she will have to make other arrangements for the child to be cared for while she is at work. If she is on one of the increasing number of short-term contracts, what will happen to her child care when the contract comes to an end?

There is no set pattern for women's employment. The fact that women now form half of the work force does not mean that they are working according to the pattern to which men used to work. A woman might work full-time or part-time; she might be out of the labour market for a while and then retrain and return to part-time work and then to full-time work. The point is that, although a mother's pattern of employment might be changing and fragmented, her child needs continuity and certainty, and child care cannot be fragmented to mirror the fragmentation of the new labour market.

Does the Minister believe that child care is part of the economic infrastructure and not a matter for individual parents, or does he believe that it is a private matter that can be left to parents alone?

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

The hon. Lady says that she does not want a fragmentation of the labour market, with women moving from one job to another leading to their child care also being fragmented. Why, therefore, is she advocating a change that specifically ties tax relief to the place of employment?

Ms Harman

The hon. Gentleman has not read the new clause carefully enough. It would also provide more favourable tax treatment for employers who undertake joint ventures with local authorities. We have greatly welcomed that growing trend, which Labour councils have pioneered.

For example, when giving planning permission for a new Sainsbury store to be built, the council and the company embark on a joint venture to build a nursery there. When that happens, we believe that the employer should get the same tax relief on the nursery buildings that it would have received had they been a warehouse or factory.

We are making two points. First, there is not enough child care. We need more, and we want to encourage it wherever we can. Secondly, we have to ensure that it is of high quality and embodies certainty and continuity.

Does the Minister believe that child care is an economic issue about which his team is concerned, or does he believe that it is solely a private matter that can be left to parents?

Mr. Dorrell

I am happy to respond to the hon. Lady. Of course it is true that child care is an economic issue, and I should like the hon. Lady to expand a little on that point. She said that we need a national child care strategy, and her hon. Friends support that proposition. Is she committing her party to a such a strategy? If so, would she be responsible for it, or would the shadow Department for Education? If she were to be responsible for a national child care strategy, what would be its shape?

Ms Harman

We have made it clear that we believe that working parents with young children should have a choice of child care. We also believe that the Government have a role to play—they must take the lead. I shall deal with the Minister's point a little later.

We certainly do not think that child care provision is entirely a matter for public finance, although it is a crucial aspect of public policy. It is not only the Government who will foot the bill, although they must play their part. The Government must take a lead in galvanising the willingness of parents to chip in and pay some of the cost and to galvanise the willingness of employers to invest.

There is a readiness to act, but the Government must take a lead to ensure that we have a national child care strategy. The Minister should examine what Labour councils have been able to do, and I shall deal in a moment with what the Government are saying about council provision.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Lady has conceded that child care provision is not purely a matter of public finance. I therefore do not understand why she is dismissive of developments in the infrastructure of child care in the private sector, such as private registered day nurseries. Why is she so dismissive if she accepts that child care does not have to be wholly publicly funded?

Ms Harman

I am not dismissive of the increase in child care over the past 10 years, but I am making two points. First, the increase in child care has in no way matched the increase in the number of young children whose mothers are at work, what we call the "child care gap". Secondly, parents do not have a real choice of child care, often having to go for the cheapest option. That is why I believe that there should be a public policy on child care, and a national child care strategy. It is not good enough for the Minister to conclude that there appear to be more child minders, so everything must be fine. "Look," he says, "there appear to be more private day nurseries, so there we are, it is all happening."

The important fact is that we do not have a proper strategy that ensures choice and high-quality affordable child care.

Mr. Dorrell

indicated dissent.

5 pm

Ms Harman

The Minister appears to think that the Government do have a strategy. He clearly does not understand that, all over the country, working mothers, who are doing a good job, contributing to the economy and to their family budgets, are tearing their hair out because of the lack of child care provision, and because of the expense and the variable quality of the care that is available.

As the Prime Minister hesitatingly acknowledged last December, in other European countries Governments have recognised the importance of child care and nursery provision. But Britain is at the bottom of the European nursery league table. Why should Britain's children be Europe's poor relations? I should like the Minister to respond on that point.

The Minister said that he believed that there was a strategy, and that the Government recognised that child care is part of the economic infrastructure. I am delighted to know that he thinks that there is a strategy. Perhaps he would discuss it with some of his colleagues in other Departments.

I have addressed several parliamentary questions to all the Departments, and when we put all the answers together, it becomes clear that there is no coherent strategy. There is inadequate information about how much money is spent on child care and nurseries, and about the number of places. I asked all Departments to make statements both about child care for their own staff and about the contributions they make to other child care and nursery services.

The Department for Education, which is responsible for nursery education, said nothing about its strategy. The Department of the Environment, which provides resources to local authorities for under-fives provision and out-of-school care, said nothing whatever about child care strategy. The Department of Employment, which provides resources for out-of-school care, could not say anything about a child care strategy, either. The Department of Health, which has overall responsibility for child care, said nothing about the importance of child care for working parents.

Four of the Departments that provide child care for their own staff—the Departments of Health, of the Environment, and of Employment, and the Treasury—said nothing about the strategy behind that provision. Clearly it is tacked on, with no coherence.

There is also a lack of information about what spending there is, and what it contributes to. The Department for Education does not know how much local education authorities spend in total on the under-fives. That is extraordinary. The Department of Health does not know how much local authorities spend on child care for the under-fives. The Department of the Environment knows how much is given to local authorities but not how much is spent, and the Department of Health does not know how much is spent on nursery provision in the national health service.

There is also a lack of information about child care places. The Department of Health could not provide overall figures for child care provision, because the figures for day care and for nursery schools and nursery classes are collected on a different basis. The Department of the Environment did not know how many child care places were provided by local authorities.

The Department for Education provided figures for under-fives in nursery and primary schools, but of course those include the rising-fives, who are already in full-time schooling. The Department does not provide figures for under-fives in nursery schools and classes. The Department of Health does not know how many child care places there are for NHS employees.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is my hon. Friend aware that this morning I received a written answer from the Department for Education about the statistics for provision for the under-fives? That answer, which is recorded at column 379 of yesterday's Hansard, admits that, on the due date, there could be double counting of children who may attend both playgroups and nursery classes during the same year. So the statistics that the Secretary of State for Education constantly bandies around are open to question.

Ms Harman

Yes, I noted my hon. Friend's question, and the information he received in reply to it makes an important contribution to the debate. It proves that there is no determination to find out what is going on, what is working and what is not working, so as to build on best practice and take things forward. The Government seem to be collecting whatever figures they can to show themselves in the best possible light, without any concern about what is really happening on the ground, and whether that represents a proper national child care strategy.

The situation is a shambles. Working mothers and their children are being let down, and the child care deficit is growing all the time. Since 1984, there has been an increase of more than 600,000 in the number of children under five whose mothers go out to work. Yet during those 10 years, there has been an increase of less than 300,000 in places with nurseries, child minders and playgroups; and, as hon. Members will know, much of the provision counted in with the 300,000 extra places is not provision for working parents.

Playgroups provide an invaluable service, but most people recognise that many cannot be counted as child care for working parents. The same goes for nursery education. Nursery education is vital, and we want all parents who feel that their child can benefit from it to have a chance of a place in a nursery school or nursery class for that child. However, such places often cannot constitute child care for working parents. The official increase of 300,000 over-estimates the increase in provision for working parents.

Many more mothers, especially lone mothers, would come off benefit and go out to work if child care were available. But the increase in child care nowhere near matches the increase in the number of mothers already going out to work, let alone the number who want to work but are prevented from doing so by the lack of child care.

The Government's own figures show that 90 per cent. of lone parents currently out of work, who are claiming benefit and bringing up their children on income support, want to go out to work, but lack of child care is a major obstacle for them. If we examine the map of participation of lone parents in the work force and the map of child care provision, we see that, in the countries that have developed child care, there is much more participation of lone parents in the work force.

Instead of Ministers moaning about single parents claiming benefits, let them listen to the demands of single parents. Single parents want to go out to work and to be able to provide for themselves and their families, but the lack of a Government national child care strategy prevents them from doing so and keeps them in forced dependency, bringing up their children on the breadline.

It is not only the Labour party and other such organisations that recognise the child care gap, and the importance, both present and future, of child care. Howard Davies, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, speaking at an employers' conference called Working for Child Care, described the position accurately: Clearly, the demand for affordable, good quality childcare is greater today even than it was at the beginning of the 1980s. It is a demand which is not being met by the current supply of child care provision.

Sometimes, the Government say that there has been a great increase in council provision of nursery education, so everything must be fine. However, we should recognise that, in so far as we ever hear Ministers boasting about nursery schools and classes, they are talking about Labour councils, which provide nursery places not because of the Government but in spite of them. The Government continually claim the credit for the child care and nursery provision that exists, but it is Labour councils that should receive that credit. Conservative councils have followed the Government's lead and lagged far behind.

According to Government figures, of the 40 best local education authorities in providing places in nursery schools and classes, 34 are Labour, just two are Conservative, one is Liberal and three have no overall control. The message is absolutely clear: on the ground, local Labour councils are working with employers to provide more nursery places, they are providing more nursery education schools and classes, and they are trying to help. Without the Government taking a lead, it is difficult, and is bound to remain patchy.

Against the background of a growing child care gap, the very least that the Government could do is seriously examine the anomalous treatment of employers who provide workplace nurseries or enter into joint ventures with councils to provide workplace nurseries.

The system works as follows: the Capital Allowances Act 1990 makes a distinction between capital expenditure on plant and equipment and capital expenditure on buildings. All companies are allowed to claim capital allowances on plant and equipment, no matter what sort of employer they are—shop, office, warehouse or factory.

That means, among other things, that any expenditure they incur for fixed equipment associated with nurseries is allowable against tax. On the other hand, expenditure on buildings is covered by a different set of rules. The industrial buildings allowance is restricted, as the name suggests, to factories and warehouses. Other types of premises, principally offices and shops—where women are largely employed—receive no allowance at all against corporation tax.

That distinction also applies to premises built to provide workplace nurseries. Therefore, workplace nurseries attached to industrial buildings qualify for the buildings allowances, but those attached to other types of building do not. Capital expenditure falling under the Capital Allowances Act is deemed to include investment not only in wholly owned ventures but in joint projects. The tax rules that I have described therefore also apply to instances when companies enter into agreements to provide workplace nurseries, either with other companies or with local authorities.

It is clearly anomalous that employers whose businesses are based in offices or shops and who wish to provide workplace nurseries should receive less favourable treatment than industrial employers when providing nurseries for their employees. Obviously, there is a more general argument about the need to discourage excessive office building, but it cannot reasonably be applied to a situation in which either an office building already exists or where the decision to build has already been made and the question is whether a workplace nursery should be included.

The tax rules already provide one exception—for company sports and recreational clubs which qualify for the industrial buildings allowance even when they are attached to an office or a shop, irrespective of the nature of the employer's business. Women who work in offices and shops will think that it is wrong that, if their employer provided them with a workplace nursery, they could not claim tax relief against the buildings, whereas, if they worked in a warehouse or a factory, they could.

Certainly, women who work in offices and shops and who realise that the buildings qualify for tax relief if their employer provides sports facilities, but not if their employers provide nursery facilities, will think that it is wrong. It only leaves us all wondering why sports facilities qualify for tax relief and workplace nurseries do not. I hope that it is not because there is more interest among men in sports and more interest among women in child care.

Our new clause simply extends the industrial buildings allowance to all companies which invest in workplace nurseries, either on their own or jointly with councils. That will provide an incentive to employers to construct their own workplace nurseries, to go in with other companies to provide joint nurseries, or to enter into partnership with local authorities to extend provision for child care.

The new clause has attracted the support of the employers' organisation Employers for Childcare, which has said that the different treatment in tax relief of sports facilities and workplace nurseries and of shops and offices as opposed to industries and factory premises was another example of the inconsistency which exists in the field of childcare provision … It is a further demonstration of the need for the Government to undertake a full review of the situation in Britain today. Employers for Childcare believe that this is an essential first step in developing a coherent national strategy to offer accessible, available, affordable, quality childcare services for all.

I should like to hear the Minister tell us how the Government justify those anomalies. How can they allow tax relief for sports clubs, but not for nurseries? How can they justify relief for nurseries attached to factories and warehouses, but not for nurseries attached to offices and shops?

5.15 pm

The new clause is merely a probing clause, but it probes an important point. The Government have a history of tax treatment in child care. For many years, we argued that taxation should not be in the hands of the employee for the employer's contribution to workplace nurseries. When that issue arose in the House of Commons in 1989, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), said, putting the straightforward, free-market view: if married women want to work and if employers want to employ them, the market will work and employers will pay the necessary wage to encourage married women to return to work."—[Official Report, 11 July 1989; Vol. 156, c. 892.] However, a year or so later, the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor, slightly changed his mind when he said: I have decided to exempt the value of workplace nurseries and playgroups from taxation as a benefit in kind."—[Official Report, 20 March 1990; Vol. 169, c. 1023.] He said that it was a small, but important, supply-side measure.

Although we shall vote on the new clause, unfortunately we do not necessarily expect the Government immediately to see the light, but we are hopeful that as the arguments are put the penny will drop and the Government will recognise it as an important public policy issue.

Women's entry into the labour market and the new family patterns needs to be recognised in public policy. The demands of the economy and of working mothers are the same. We need a national child care strategy that aims to see that parents have a choice of provision—child minders and nurseries for pre-school age children and provision for school-age children.

Not all the investment in child care needs to come from the Government. Employers and parents may play their part, as will local councils. Unless the Government take a lead, it simply will not happen.

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) speaks rather more confidently and certainly at greater length on child care than she does on taxation. Her speech concerned a subject with which she appeared to have rather more familiarity than the subjects that she addressed in her performances in Standing Committee.

The principle of greater choice and diversity in child care is one that, of course, we on the Conservative Benches completely support. I should like to draw the attention of the House to some of the practical problems in the approach set out by the hon. Lady.

I thought that the Labour party had some concern about the distribution of income and wealth. One of the great difficulties in trying to provide extra tax relief for working women is that, by and large, it would benefit two-earner couples. We cannot speak with enormous confidence about patterns of income in the country, but one thing of which we may be sure is that, by and large, two-earner couples are not at the lower end of the income scale.

Ms Eagle

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that new clause 1 deals with capital allowances and that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) was talking about the provision of child care, not tax relief for child care?

Mr. Willetts

The speech of the hon. Member for Peckham covered most aspects of child care. The new clause specifically concerns capital allowances, but the hon. Lady ranged widely in her comments and I do not see why Conservative Members should not range as widely.

Assistance that is focused especially on working women is likely to be of particular benefit to two-earner families, who, generally, are not at the bottom of the income scale. Poverty among families is concentrated in one-earner or zero-earner couples. They are unlikely to be the families that will benefit from the measures that have been set out by the hon. Member for Peckham.

That outcome seems not to interest the Labour party, which is supposed to be especially concerned—we are used to its ritual denunciations—about widening gaps in the income scale. Its lack of interest is rather odd.

The argument of the hon. Member for Peckham seems to rest on the assumption that the only women who have an interest in child care are those who want to go out to work. It is equally important that women who are working but not in paid work—those who are at home with their children in one-earner families—should be entitled to benefit. That argument is even stronger, of course, for zero-earner families. The new clause is remarkably narrowly focused on families that are likely to be at the upper end of the earning scale.

It is strange that a significant measure which was announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget statement has not been referred to by the hon. Lady. That, of course, is the extension of family credit to provide a new disregard to help single parents especially, but other low-income working families as well, with their child care costs.

Ms Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge what was acknowledged eventually in parliamentary responses from Ministers, which is that the poorest people on family credit will not benefit from the Government's proposals? That is because they already receive the full amount of family credit. People will be able to receive the benefit that he is talking about only if they are currently receiving an extremely small amount of family credit and can therefore reach the maximum by claiming the extra benefit. There will be nothing like the quality of benefit that the Chancellor hinted at when he presented his Budget. As the facts have emerged, it is clear that very few people will benefit, and only those who are at the bottom of family credit.

Mr. Willetts

I am surprised by that intervention. There will be a disregard for costs incurred in buying child care.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is right to be surprised by the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) because she is wrong. The fact is that 150,000 families will gain as a result of the change announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor on Budget day. I cannot believe that even the hon. Lady regards that as an insignificant number.

Ms Armstrong

The gain will be fragmented.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Lady might describe it as fragmented, but it will be targeted—that is the word that I would use—at those who need assistance.

Mr. Willetts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.

There will be a disregard for the costs of child care, which will help many of the families in receipt of family credit. It is particularly well targeted because it will help low-income working families. One of the ironies of family credit is that the beneficiaries generally fall into two categories, which may be at the opposite ends of the spectrum of family life styles. One of the main groups of beneficiaries is single parents who have low incomes but are in work. They will benefit, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor made clear in his Budget statement.

The other significant group of recipients of family credit is one-earner working families where the mother is not in work but is likely to be at home looking after the children. They similarly will benefit from the assistance. It seems to be well targeted in terms of income and tolerant of the diversity of families.

Ms Harman

Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that, even if the Government's target is met and about 50,000 women who are now on income support go out to work and claim family credit, there will be many more low-paid women who as a result of the tax changes set out in the past two Budgets will find themselves out of work and on income support? That will happen because tax increases, by virtue of the freezing of personal allowances and the freezing and cutting of other allowances—and especially increased national insurance contributions—make it more expensive for people to go out to work. That will hit low-paid women, many of whom will find that it is no longer worth their while to go out to work. They will find instead that they are better off on benefits. The hon. Gentleman is talking about those women who will go off benefits and enter the labour market, but will he recognise that probably double their number will go out of work because of tax increases and will return to benefits?

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Lady is assuming that many women go out to work only if their income is entirely exempt from taxation and national insurance contributions. Surely that is not a reasonable basis on which to plan any sensible approach to taxation. She is saying that as soon as they find themselves brought within the income tax net they will find that they no longer have an incentive to go to work.

One of the difficulties of financing public expenditure with taxation is that tax increases bring more people into the tax net. I accept that that is a consequence of the measures that were announced in the Budget. The alternative—not taking measures to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement—would have been far worse.

I move on to another approach to the proposals set out in new clause 1 and in the new clauses that have been tabled by Liberal Democrat Members. The hon. Member for Peckham said that a large amount of child care is informal: much of it is provided by relatives and friends. The statistics are dramatic. They show that 65 per cent. of mothers in full-time work use as their main provider of child care the husband, the grandparents or other relations. It seems that 87 per cent. of mothers in part-time work choose above all members of the family to provide child care.

We all know about the painful and difficult negotiations that are involved. We suddenly become remarkably keen on our in-laws. We find ourselves negotiating complicated arrangements to try to get child care help provided. It is not fair to regard it as evidence that everyone would rather have formal, institutionalised child care provided by the employer or in another structured setting, and that we have informal arrangements because of the failure of individuals to obtain the institutional arrangements that they would prefer.

On the contrary, informal arrangements are often the pattern of child care which people prefer and with which they are comfortable. There is some interesting evidence from America. As part of their programme to help single parents, especially, into work, and as a result of the greater diversity of approach that is now permitted by federal legislation on programmes for single parents, some states have set up large funds that are aimed at helping single parents to purchase child care when they return to work. They have found that the funds are not being drawn on to the extent that they expected. That is because, lo and behold, single parents in America prefer to negotiate informal arrangements with their neighbours or with relatives wherever possible rather than rely on institutional provision.

The trouble with the new clauses is that they all favour institutionalised and formal rather than non-institutionalised and informal patterns of child care. I do not believe that that approach matches the preference of most parents in this country.

Ms Eagle

The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that those who are lower down the income scale prefer their mothers or grandmothers to look after their children in an informal way. Presumably those who are high up the income scale and use a very institutional form of child care that is known as the public school are allowed to get away with that approach. Indeed, it is seen as a good thing. How can the hon. Gentleman account for the difference in his analysis of the social classes?

Mr. Willetts

I do not regard that intervention as a serious contribution to the debate; I hoped for something more serious from the hon. Lady.

I shall turn to another aspect of the debate. The measures proposed by the Opposition parties are entirely concerned with the demand for child care rather than the obstacles to supplying it. They are entirely concerned with trying to lower the cost for employers of providing child care or, in the case of the Liberal Democrats, to assist people to buy child care.

There is another more important aspect—the regulatory burdens under which the providers of child care find themselves. I shall quote from the experience of one lady who was trying to open a new nursery. This is an account of what she had to go through when she was opening the nursery: When I was setting up my nursery school it took 6 months for the Social Worker to come and see me. She made it quite clear that the state should provide. She encouraged the two local play-groups in neighbouring villages to object to planning permission on the grounds that I would take children from them. She said only mothers with cars would be able to come as my village is small and isolated. She insisted that I must have water play and sand inside. I do think they are both important but it is not easy in a house and I have a sand pit outside and I told her that most of my children had … plenty of water play with mothers who played with them. She wanted more dressing up clothes and to stipulate what toys I should have.

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Of course, we would love to have ideal child care. We could all sit around in committees—people sat around in committees during preparation of the Children Act 1989 and the regulations that followed—trying to design ideal child care. However, the problem with designing regulations which are intended to set out a picture of the ideal is that it makes it more difficult for new providers to enter the market.

I hope that, as part of the Government's deregulation initiative, the way in which some overprotective local authorities interpret the regulations made under the Children Act, making it more difficult for new entrants to supply child care, will be examined. I also hope that local authorities—often they are left-wing Labour-controlled local authorities—which seem to be averse to granting planning permission to anyone who applies for a change of use to set up a nursery or child-care facility will be more tolerant. Instead of perpetually debating finance arrangements in the form of tax breaks or subsidies, we should also examine the obstacles that have been erected by successive Governments and local authorities which stand in the way of increasing the supply of child care.

Finally, I shall consider a few other aspects of help for child care that are focused particularly on the employer and the workplace. The book written by the hon. Member for Peckham, "20th Century Man: 21st Century woman: How both sexes can bridge the century gap"—

Ms Harman

You are in the 18th century.

Mr. Willetts

I am sorry that the hon. Lady thinks that I am in the 18th century; that is harsh, especially as I was about to say that the book is interesting. I was not proposing to descend to the same level as the hon. Lady.

The hon. Lady's analysis is interesting. She makes some valid points about the changes in the role of the sexes. No man can look at the figures that show that 75 per cent. of all divorces are initiated by women and the figures that show the amount of help that men give around the house without feeling a certain amount of guilt. The hon. Lady's analysis is interesting. In her book, she briefly discusses the question of employer-based and employer-financed child care. It is a carefully even-handed discussion. She describes some of the advantages of such child care. I quote: The advantage to the employer is that it creates an incentive for staff to stay. Parents will not want to move their child from the nursery unless absolutely necessary. Although that is cited as an advantage, it seems to be an argument that cuts both ways. There are many parents who are worried about putting themselves in a position of greater dependence on their employer, as the hon. Lady appeared to recognise in her speech.

The hon. Lady goes on to discuss the disadvantages of such child care. I quote: Travelling to and from work in the rush hour with a young child is often difficult particularly in big cities. And children may prefer to be involved in local activities rather than far from home. For the parents, the workplace nursery can seriously impair job mobility; some feel that it is more difficult to concentrate on their jobs knowing that their child is close at hand.

As the hon. Lady has set out those disadvantages so clearly in her book, it is odd that her only practical proposal to encourage child care is one which adds further tax relief to a pattern of child care that already does especially well under the tax system as a result of the concession in the 1990 Budget which ensures that the provision of workplace nurseries is not a benefit in kind for which the employee has any liability to tax. These patterns of provision already do well under the tax system. If workplace nurseries have not sprung up in a large number all around the country, that may tell us something about the preferences and views of parents. However, it should not be taken as evidence that the tax regime needs to be even more favourable.

Some of the rhetoric that we heard earlier about strategies and national programmes for child care did not seem to take as much account as it should have done of how parents lead their lives and their child care preferences for their children.

Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)

Decent child care should be a priority for all of us. It is something that we should be thinking about this year—the Year of the Family.

In this country, we have an extremely poor record with regard to child care, as has already been pointed out in the debate. Indeed, we have one of the worst records in Europe with only Portugal ranking below the United Kingdom in the provision of child care for the crucial pre-school years.

Obviously, the Liberal Democrats would like to see a wide variety of provision for children, especially those under five. We are concerned that the provision of child care must be increased. In response to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), let me say that we are discussing a Finance Bill, not an Education Bill.

Today, I shall talk about the new clauses that we have proposed, which extend the principle embodied in the Government's provisions for workplace nurseries. Our new clauses would widen the provision for employers to help with child care. There are some disadvantages to workplace nurseries. They are not always able to meet the needs of mothers at work, especially if they live a long way from their workplace. Regrettably, only a small fraction of child care is provided by workplace nurseries. Indeed, I regret that many workplace nurseries in London have closed down recently.

Child care vouchers are a method of administering a tax incentive and provide parents with maximum choice and flexibility. I know that during debates on previous Finance Bills there has been much discussion about the costs of the scheme. If our new clauses are passed today, many women will be able to return to work and the tax that they pay will have an effect on the total cost of the scheme. Indeed, increases in tax payments from parents who are able to return to work, together with contributions from employers and reductions associated with home-bound parents, can be shown to cover much of the increased child care costs that we are proposing. I hope that in the Year of the Family the Government will give a more sympathetic response than they have previously done.

In this country, we waste the talents and training of many women because there is no commitment to child care. Child care is one of the biggest problems for women when they wish to return to work after they have had children. Women have often been trained with public money—one thinks particularly of nurses. Women have knowledge and skills which have been gained in previous jobs over a number of years but which are often lost to offices, schools and businesses because women cannot get the child care that they need in order to return to work.

Money spent on our proposals would reap returns for the public purse through tax, and also for our businesses because they would not lose the skills and knowledge that people have built up. Businesses give many benefits in kind to their employees which are not linked to the quality of work of their employees. Many of them have no general advantage in bringing people back into work. So why are the Government so opposed to an extension of their own scheme?

In addition, our proposals would enable small businesses in particular to keep the skills of employees who wish to return to work after having children. The current statutes discriminate against small offices and workplaces. We need a more flexible response to help with child care. In recent weeks we have heard a lot from the Government about the importance of nursery education, and I welcome the fact that the Government now believe in nursery education. As I said in the House last week, when I was a councillor in Southampton some years ago I was classed as subversive and left-wing because I thought that we ought to have nursery places at work.

Ms Eagle

Does the hon. Lady agree that Conservative concern about child care rarely translates into policy? When the former Prime Minister, now Baroness Thatcher, was at the Department of Education she was on record as saying that she would create what would be effectively a nationwide child care facility and nursery education facility. Yet 15 years of Conservative rule have brought us no nearer that desirable goal.

Mrs. Maddock

I wholeheartedly agree. It is extremely disappointing that we had a woman Prime Minister who we believed was committed to nursery education and yet many years later we are no further forward.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

Does the hon. Lady accept that after Baroness Thatcher made that commitment there were five years of a Labour Government, two years of which included the Lib-Lab pact, and nothing seemed to happen then on a national policy?

Mrs. Maddock

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is right to have gone on doing the same thing, if that was the case, for so many years?

5.45 pm

We have heard a lot of talk, but not an extra penny has ever been committed to those words. Today, in the Year of the Family, the Government have a chance to put some finance to those words and I hope that they will do so.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

I start my few remarks on the subject of child care not by declaring a formal interest, but by declaring a past interest. My wife works and we have a child. Since my wife returned to work, which she did shortly after giving birth, child care has been a continual problem. It is a problem for all families, whatever their level of income, where one or both parents work or where a lone parent works.

Child care is a continual difficulty, but it is not confined to pre-school time. It is a problem which goes on after school starts to a point well beyond that at which the child would no longer consider himself a child because in this day and age, unfortunately, it is not possible to leave even young adults alone for long periods without some degree of supervision and care. That care does not need to be of the professional level which is needed when the child is younger, but it should certainly ensure security, company and protection.

I feel strongly about child care, and all families need it. It is not only a problem for families where both parents work, or where a lone parent works. It is also a problem for those for whom work is not the cause of the need for child care. It is important at various times for children to be looked after by other people—if only for the continuing sanity of the parents. Parents must have what is known in the social services and care in community world as respite care. I suppose that it is not politically correct to say that parents need respite care from their children, but if most parents were honest they would admit that they do—if only to allow them to go out occasionally and to re-establish their relationship with each other.

Child care is very important. I suspect that there is unanimity across the House on that. It is even more important for the country because of the need to enable parents to get back to work and to contribute to the economy. There are obvious benefits in getting parents who are on low incomes off of benefit. It is also important when the parents have had a high level of training and have high skill levels. Those skills need to be used for the benefit of the community and the economy.

The importance of child care is not in dispute in the House. We all accept that we must ensure a diversity of available child care, which will become more important as our society develops. The need for child care is perhaps more important now than it was when I was young some 30 years ago, and it is getting more important as time goes by. If and when my daughter produces her family in the fullness of time, child care may be even more important for her.

Mr. Spearing

The whole House will agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be diversity in child care, particularly for the under-fives, and last week the Secretary of State for Education agreed with me that there is a complementarity between playgroups and nursery education. In view of that, does the hon. Gentleman deplore—as I do—the fact that the Government have objected even to a debate in Standing Committee on the Nursery Education (Assessment of Need) Bill, which would reinsert elements of the Education Act 1944 taken out by the Government the hon. Gentleman supports?

Mr. Carrington

The hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not go into the details of education because, as he may know, I am involved in the Department for Education and I would not wish to prejudice that. There is a clear commitment on the part of the Government towards nursery education and its provision. The Government have always sought ways of delivering that commitment in ways that parents want.

Mr. Willetts

While we are on the subject, is my hon. Friend aware of the following interesting historical fact? It was the great reforming Liberal Government of 1906 who raised the school entry age; children had previously started school at the age of three, but a Liberal measure raised the age of school entry to five on the argument that schooling for three and four year-olds was of poor quality. Should one therefore welcome the apparent shift in Liberal policy this century?

Mr. Carrington

I should be more than happy to bandy anecdotes with my hon. Friend about the Liberal Government of 1906, who in many ways were the architects of our misfortunes in the 20th century. However, with all respect to my hon. Friend, it seems to me that 1906 is a long time ago.

The debate should concentrate on how child care can best be provided and the best way of encouraging the right form of child care. It is apparent that no form of child care is appropriate in every case. That is something which the House has to consider. Some parents work normal working hours from 9am to 5pm in jobs which are fairly well regulated. They can conform to standard patterns of child care in a nursery which opens at a certain time in the morning and they can collect the child at a specific time in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, more and more patterns of work these days do not conform with the requirements of institutionalised child care. Parents, particularly working mothers, frequently find themselves working in the evenings. Parents who undertake work such as shop work may well find themselves working early in the morning or late in the evening, so one of the characteristics that has to be provided is a high degree of flexibility in the types of child care available to parents to choose from.

The needs of children, particularly young children, vary enormously from one child to another, and they vary much more in pre-school children than in children over the age of five. The emotional development of children below the age of five is much more varied—much more rapid in some children and much slower in others—than the development of children as they become more mature. The needs of older children are much more uniform. Again, that means that parents have to judge what type of care is needed for their child. Some children are happy to be left in institutions while others will need much more love and attention from someone who is less a teacher but more cuddly.

Mr. Burns

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an important distinction between nursery education and creches or child care? Does he agree that all too often there is a confusion and that "nursery education" is used as an all-embracing term for the provision of child-minding facilities for working mothers when nursery education itself is a different proposition altogether?

Mr. Carrington

It is indeed a different proposition. My hon. Friend is right that education in that sense is by no means appropriate for all children, particularly at a very young age, when they need qualified and progressive emotional development which is not necessarily provided in an institutional education framework. Children frequently need more a framework of guided supervision or perhaps even child minding. There are many types of arrangement within which such care can be provided. I do not propose to describe all the variants, but I will give one example other than institutionalised child care.

Parents often get together as a group and provide someone to look after their children in a group in a way that suits them. Ideally, and in many cases, the person employed in that way is professionally qualified to look after children. That is very much to be encouraged. Child care by people who have nursery nursing qualifications is to be highly recommended and encouraged, and it is frequently provided outside the institutional framework.

What worries me about the new clauses is that a bias is being introduced in the tax system in favour of institutionalised child care—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) wishes to intervene, she is welcome to do so. I would rather she did that than that she should shout.

Ms Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I was suggesting that the hon. Gentleman might think about changing his language. Not all collective care is institutionalised. In the English language the word "institutionalised" has a negative aspect. I assure the hon. Gentleman that much nursery education and nursery provision is far from negatively institutionalised, but is good collective child care and nursery education.

Mr. Carrington

I am sorry that the hon. Lady finds the word "institution" derogatory—

Ms Armstrong

The word "institutionalised".

Mr. Carrington

Or "institutionalised". As a Conservative, I strongly believe in the institutions of Britain and the institutionalisation of elements of this country. It is sad that the hon. Lady feels that the word has negative connotations. I believe that we have many fine institutions, and I suspect that many child care institutions are very fine. I would rather encourage institutions, but if the hon. Lady would prefer me not to use that word, in the interests of harmony across the Chamber I will use another word.

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)

My hon. Friend is too nice to the Opposition.

Mr. Carrington

My hon. Friend is right. I am sometimes too indulgent to the Opposition.

Child care organised by people other than the parents has a place and is appropriate, but I doubt whether it should be encouraged over and above child care organised by parents for the benefit of their children. What worries me about the new clauses is that the taxation system would be structured in such as way as to favour one type of child care over another. That seems inherently undesirable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) read out from the book of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) the criticisms of workplace nurseries. Those criticisms are right. Particularly in London, workplace nurseries are often inappropriate, if only because most workers commute some distance to work. Travelling with a small child on the underground or on buses in London in the rush hour is extremely difficult and certainly not to be encouraged. I therefore had reservations when my hon. Friends introduced in the Finance Bill of 1990 provisions on workplace nurseries in preference to support for other types of child care, and I should be reluctant to see that move encouraged still further by new clause 1.

I was intrigued and somewhat attracted, however, by the possibility of vouchers in new clause 6. Vouchers have been rumbling around in political theory for a great many years and have considerable attractions, but they have always been found to be difficult to implement in practice because of the administrative complexity of such a system. My anxiety about new clause 6 is the one which I am afraid also applies to capital allowances for providing nursery care. The measure proposed in new clause 6 is indiscriminate. If we are to support people who cannot otherwise make provision for their children, the money will inevitably come from scarce resources. The money would be better given to people who need it more.

To take my own case as an example, my wife and I both work and we are capable of making financial provision for child care, so it would be wrong for either or both of us to receive vouchers to pay for child care. I suspect, however, that new clause 6 would provide for both parents to receive vouchers. If any money is to come out of the tax system for child care, it should go to those people who cannot afford to provide for child care themselves.

Equally, money for child care should not be concentrated on the employer. That is the problem with new clause 1. If money from the tax system is to be given to anyone to provide child care, it should go to parents who need assistance to get themselves back into work or to provide proper care for their children other than straight child minding, which is frequently of a questionable nature.

Taxation support for child care must be targeted on the people who need it—parents who cannot provide for such care out of their own resources, but who can be encouraged back to work with a little help from the state. That is why the provisions made in the Budget last November were the right way forward, rather than any attempt to extend tax reliefs which, by definition, probably give help to those who need it least. We must get the relief to those people who do not pay tax.

Ms Eagle

The hon. Gentleman makes the same slip as his hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts). New clause 1 deals with capital reliefs, not income tax reliefs, for the use of workplace nurseries.

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Mr. Carrington

The hon. Lady is mistaken. I do not make that mistake. Capital reliefs come off the corporation tax paid by companies providing nursery places, so the relief is targeted on the company rather than the employee. But inevitably all employees may benefit: from the managing director, who may be highly paid, down to the less highly paid—they will all be paid, as they are all employees.

Ms Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

Can the hon. Gentleman therefore explain why, when employers give their employees health benefits through a private health scheme, it is deductible from corporation tax? The Government have not closed that loophole, but the hon. Gentleman advances the case against child care being treated according to the same principle.

Mr. Carrington

The argument is straightforward: if a company gives private medical insurance to an employee, it is not taxed but the employee is taxed.

Ms Primarolo

That is not true.

Mr. Carrington

I will give way to the hon. Lady again.

Ms Primarolo

I am sorry, but I must correct the hon. Gentleman. Companies which give private health insurance to their employees as a fringe benefit are able to offset the cost against corporation tax. It is true that the employee has a tax liability as a result, but the company benefits. The hon. Gentleman is arguing against that happening with child care.

Mr. Carrington

The hon. Lady is repeating what I told her. Of course the company can offset the cost against corporation tax, but that merely avoids double taxation because the employee pays tax on the benefit—probably at a higher rate than the company would have done. We are talking here about a benefit that would be given to employees without their being taxed on it. Companies would get a deduction, but that is not my objection.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend might like to know that there is no difference between the treatment, for corporation tax purposes, of expenses currently incurred by a company when providing health benefits to employees and those incurred when providing child care facilities for them. They are precisely analogous cases and are dealt with in the same way under the corporation tax regime.

Ms Primarolo

The Minister should tell his hon. Friend, not me. He is arguing the wrong case.

Mr. Dorrell

I am telling the hon. Lady.

Mr. Carrington

The difference comes down to the treatment of the employee, which is what I was saying. Employees are taxed on premiums paid for private health insurance whereas under new clause 1 they would not be taxed on child care costs. That seems wrong as it would benefit people who do not need that help—the more highly paid rather than those on lower wages.

We need to place the money that we are giving to encourage child care in the hands of those parents who need it, so that they can be encouraged to provide the type of child care from which their children will benefit most, meet their circumstances and needs in terms of the amount and hours required, and encourage people back into the economy. We must not target it on people who would return to work of their own accord because they can afford to do so, but on those who need a little incentive to return to work. That is proper use of the taxation system.

I am always deeply suspicious of grand strategic plans of any sort, so I am not sure whether we should have one for child care. Parents are the best people to decide what care is right for their children. If we are to have distortions within the taxation system, they should best be used to encourage people back to work who would earn very low wages or who are on benefit. We should probably use the benefit system to get those people back to work, as we did in the Budget.

Ms Armstrong

I was interested to hear the contributions from the hon. Members for Havant (Mr. Willetts) and for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) but I was most disappointed with that of the former. We were given to understand that he was the intellectual force behind Conservative policies on the family and children, which shows what a desperate state that policy is in.

Today's debate comes hot on the heels of our debate on family policy last week and it is impossible to separate the two. We are debating child care within the context of the Finance Bill because we are anxious to make the Government think seriously, at every possible step, about the way in which policies are undermining our economic future and the future for families.

Because today's debate is on the Finance Bill, it highlights the fact that a child care strategy is central to the economic future of the country. Everyone talks about a more flexible work force—one that is able to respond to the needs of the next century. Opposition Members would say that that is important, but that we will create enormous problems if we develop such a work force at the expense of children.

Children live in a much more dangerous and complex world than the world in which we lived when we were growing up. We were simply not aware of many of the challenges, fears and threats that they have to face. We cannot even imagine the complexities of relationships and negotiations that they will have to steer themselves through. That is why their experience—whatever their family and wherever they are based—is a critical aspect of both social and economic policy.

Whatever the Government may wish, women go out to work. Three years ago many Conservative Members would have told us that that was wrong and that they did not want it to happen.

Mr. Dorrell

indicated dissent.

Ms Armstrong

The Minister shakes his head but I think that I have sat through every debate on child care since I came to the House in 1987—I accept that that is not a long time—and I could name the Conservative Members who are uncomfortable with, and resisted, women going out to work. They are not all here today, but I suspect that they would still resist it.

Whatever the Government or any hon. Member want, women are working. Many do so because it is an absolute necessity and what their family requires. In my constituency, many work because there is no work for men—no work that they would he accepted for or that they are taking up. Because women are largely responsible for child care, it is critical that we know what we are going to do about it.

Some hon. Members have got themselves into a dreadful mess over the difference between nursery education and child care and all the rest. It is clear. Of course children have individual needs, but all children have intellectual, social and emotional needs that must be met in whatever setting they are—whether they are with a child minder, in a day nursery or in full-time care. I hope that in his reply the Minister will not insult the House with the statistics that are usually peddled from the Conservative Benches about the number of children who receive care. We all know that none of us should take those statistics seriously.

It is true that 90 per cent. of the under-fives may be with a person other than their parent at some stage in the week, but that does not mean that they are in care that lasts for any period. Children who are in a playgroup for one session of an hour are included in the statistics. That is not the child care and nursery education that we are so serious about, and that is not being serious about the needs of those children or the needs of parents.

Many parents want their children to be with child minders when they are very young. The important thing is that those child minders are supported and that they have the opportunity to speak to other child minders. They should have the opportunity, perhaps, to go to a local nursery, where the children can be with other children for an hour or so while the child minders think their way through the ways in which they can improve themselves as child minders and the ways in which they can give a better service. That is happening, but only in small areas of the country. In many rural areas, opportunities for women and for child care are minimal, as the recent report of the Development Commission clearly showed.

When I was working, before the general election, on the shape of a potential child care strategy, I was taken by the number of employers' organisations that were springing up and coming to me saying, "For goodness' sake, let us work in partnership. We want to do things, but our expertise is not child care and we do not want to set up, or become involved with, ventures that will not provide the highest quality care for children. We do not want to get the blame if something goes wrong."

Ms Eagle

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a result of the recession, often some of the good teams to provide child care that have been set up by companies to help women advance in their structures are cut if the firm gets into financial difficulty, so that the services that those firms provide are unstable and likely to disappear if the firm experiences difficulties?

Ms Armstrong

My hon. Friend tries to take me too far ahead.

Those employers were mainly saying that, rather than setting up their own facilities, they wanted to enter into partnership with the public sector in their locality so that they could offer choice and opportunity to parents. There are some very good schemes of that nature.

I bring to the attention of the Minister again the scheme in north Tyneside, which has been established in full co-operation with local employers and with the Government. The Government have used the north Tyneside scheme for, I think, eight workplace nurseries in their own facilities. That scheme has enabled employers to consider the parents' needs. They have spoken to their employees and found out the different types of child care that they would like.

The north Tyneside scheme has supported the whole range of child care—all-day child care, nursery education, child minders and child minders in the parent's home, who are called nannies in the south of England. It provides, first and foremost, quality care wherever the child is placed and, secondly, the real opportunity of choice. That has not placed additional cost on the public purse because it has linked the public commitment and the public child care strategy for that borough to the needs of employers and their employees in a way that has increased opportunity throughout.

I say to the hon. Member for Havant that, far from simply providing for those women who are in highly placed jobs, the north Tyneside scheme has so improved the opportunities for, and the experience of, child care in the day nursery that now working parents and middle-class parents bring their children to it as well, and that has uplifted the experience of those parents who thought that their children were there only because they qualified because they were deprived. Bringing all of that together with a strategy, knowing what is wanted for the whole borough and offering the opportunity for all parents to be involved in discussing what they wanted and the quality that they expected, has uplifted the experience, not simply of the parents, but of the children and those people who work with them.

6.15 pm

The new clause does not tackle all the child care issues that we want to tackle, but it gives us the opportunity to say to the Government once again that this issue, which is critical for our future, ought not to be bandied about across the Benches. Unless we are prepared to invest in the best quality care for our children, they will not grow up with the confidence and commitment to be the active and participating citizens that we know that they will need to be in the next century. Unless we are prepared to invest in child care partnerships with employers, they will be unable to train and support the type of work force that they need, and that the country needs, to develop and improve. That is an economic issue, but it will also affect the patterns of community and of our society.

I hope that the Government, far from treating that issue as something that they can throw back at us, saying, "This is silly. If you do not like the exact nature of the clause, suggest something else", will recognise that unless we develop a child care strategy that centres on the economy, the future will be bleak for us all.

Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

The debate is timely because it is reported that, by the end of 1994, women will outnumber men in the labour market. That especially challenges women with young children.

In the mid-1980s, 24 per cent. of women with children aged under five were working. By 1991, that figure was 45 per cent. As my hon. Friends have said, those mothers work through necessity as well as choice, because the Government's policy of low wages and deregulation means that women need to work to pay the mortgage, to support the family and to provide extras that they consider important for their children. That explosion in women's employment, especially when the children are under the age of five, has led to a child care gap that, in the past 10 years, has grown to number about 400,000 children.

The Pre-School Playgroups Association set up a telephone help line in October 1993, which was soon inundated with telephone calls from parents, especially lone parents, who were desperate to find child care.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

I am listening to what the hon. Lady says. Does she know what proportion of the 45 per cent. of women with children aged under five to whom she referred who are in work are in very much part-time work rather than full-time work, according to the conventional definition? Obviously, if they were in part-time work, as I suspect that many of them are, that is more compatible with children going to pre-school playgroups and so on.

Ms Corston

Whether they are in full-time or part-time work is irrelevant if there are 400,000 children with unmet need. I shall talk about the various kinds of child care, but that is what I am concerned about, as all hon. Members should be. We all agree that women should be allowed to go out to work for whatever reason.

In February 1994, the Government published their first report to the United Nations committee on the rights of the child. It is revealing as much for what it does not say as for what it does say. The Government claimed that the number of day nurseries and child minders had increased "quite significantly".

In 1992, England had 91,600 places in day nurseries, 108,000 registered child minders with more than 252,000 places and 409,000 playgroup places for three and four-year-olds. There are nearly 2 million children aged two to four and the growth in the number of working mothers with children of that age has outstripped the growth in places, as I have said.

There were 24,000 children in local authority day nurseries and 330,000 places in local authority schools and classes, but they have been unable to expand to fill the gap because of the Government's squeeze on local authority resources. Yet the Government, in their report to the United Nations, had the cheek to say that they would like to see a widening of nursery and other pre-school education as resources become available. They went on to say: The longer-term ambition is universal availability for those who want it. That is a welcome commitment by the Government to universality, but I hope that the same commitment can be made today, because it demands a rational plan and a timetable.

Article 18 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child specifies the objective: States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from child-care services and facilities for which they are eligible.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) has pointed out in her recent book, the United Kingdom brings up the rear of the member states of the European Union. It shares with Portugal the lowest provision for the under-fives. In France, Italy, Belgium and Denmark between 85 and 100 per cent. of three and four-year-olds are in publicly funded nursery schools and classes. What is at stake is investment in children.

Families with children have suffered a great deal from the Government's policies of cuts in public expenditure, deregulation, privatisation and failure to promote employment. Let me spell out a small part of that sorry story. On 28 February 1994, in response to a parliamentary question, I was told that the percentage of households with less than half the average national household income was 10 per cent. in 1979 but as high as 27 per cent. in 1990–91. That deterioration is unparalleled in the rest of Europe. If the richest and poorest are compared, the scale of the growing divide in the 1980s in the United Kingdom is without precedent in the history of the collection of statistics.

Figures from the "Social Trends" survey show that since 1979 the disposable incomes of the poorest 10th have decreased by 3 per cent. while those of the richest 10th have increased by 155 per cent. Families with children are particularly at risk. On 22 February the Prime Minister told me that the incomes of people at all ranges of income has increased".—[Official Report, 22 February 1994; Vol. 238, c. 146.] According to Government statistics, that is untrue for the poorest 10th, whether their incomes are measured before or after housing costs, and that also applies to some of the next poorest 10th of the population.

In answer to parliamentary questions tabled by me in 1993 I was given figures showing that there were altogether 5.7 million people in families with children who had a smaller disposable income in 1990–91 than similar families in 1979. That information was confirmed to me as recently as 13 April 1994. After undertaking various forms of standardisation, the Treasury produced figures which, after taking account of inflation, show that for families with children, the poorest 10th and the next poorest 10th had a lower real disposable income than such families had in 1979. The poorest 10th had lost £438 per household per year, a 10 per cent. cut, compared with 1979. The next poorest 10th had lost £281, a 5 per cent. cut. Those two sets of families include more than 3 million children. How can those parents provide decent child care in what we are told is a child care market?

A huge number of reports by organisations in Britain and overseas help to explain those statistical results. They include reports from UNICEF, the Child Poverty Action Group, Barnardo's, the National Children's Home, the Rowntree Trust and the Family Policies Study Centre. For example, a 1993 report by UNICEF entitled "Child Neglect in Rich Nations" describes why some of the wealthiest nations on earth "have short-changed children." The United Kingdom and the United States were found to have the highest child poverty rates among eight industrialised countries including Germany, France, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden.

There were such wide differences that a European model of child welfare was contrasted with what UNICEF described as a "neglect-filled" Anglo-American model. Thus France was quoted as having The most comprehensive child-care system in Western Europe and recent governments have all recognised that proper pre-school care and education are an investment in the nation's future citizens. That statement from UNICEF is one with which all hon. Members should agree and to which any Government should commit themselves.

UNICEF went on to point out that in the United Kingdom the Children Act 1989 set high standards, but said: and yet at present the Government seems unwilling to provide the resources necessary to meet those standards. According to the same report, the swelling tide of child neglect has potentially disastrous consequences. It said that there were problems of raising a generation of uneducated and unskilled adults and went on to say: Unless countries such as the US and the UK invest in their children on a new and a massive scale, a burgeoning human capital deficit will trigger an economic tailspin".

Women are criticised by the Government for being on income support and some of us suspect that the number of women on income support has been more of a trigger to the creation of the Child Support Agency than the so-called responsibility of fathers. Despite that, the Government have made no effort to will the means to enable women to go to work by providing affordable child care.

In the debate on sex discrimination initiated by the Opposition in the House last month, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) gave us the benefit of her wisdom and told us that she had managed to go to work because she had had a nanny. I remember an article in The Guardian some years ago which reproduced an interview with the then Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, a newly elected Member of Parliament, now Baroness Thatcher, who said that she had managed to keep working after she had had her twins because she had had her nanny.

That is very nice for them, but in my constituency on Friday I made two visits. The first was to a playgroup in Brislington which has a huge waiting list and where a dedicated group of parents and playgroup leaders provide a wonderful service for children. They are doing their best to keep the charges to parents as low as possible because they realise that most parents cannot afford to pay the real economic cost and they are reduced to fund-raising in their spare time to keep the playgroup going, recognising how important it is to raise money in order to provide proper equipment for the children. They do not think that providing for messy play indoors, which some Conservative Members seem to think is a waste of time, is anything other than a good thing for children.

I then went to a nursery school in the St Phillip's area of my constituency where I met parents who were concerned that the wonderful services provided by Avon county council through the high scope nursery education system are under threat because, once again, the Government have targeted Avon county council and even bigger cuts in the local authority's budget have to be considered. That means that many parents whose children were receiving full-time nursery education are having to contemplate part-time education. That is against the background of the Conservative leader of Avon county council speaking about the possibility of closing the St. Phillip Marsh nursery school. She was astonished by the hostility that engendered among parents, and it was interesting how quickly she backed off.

People in my constituency and throughout the country depend on such services day after day. They have a right to expect decent child care. Responsible parents want to ensure that their children have play and care facilities that stimulate them. I have seen that with my own baby grandson—my daughter-in-law has been seeking child care for him. There must be a strategy. Conservative Members know that and we know that, so when will the Government know?

6.30 pm
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I congratulate my hon. Friends on the Front Bench on initiating this debate, which concerns probably the single most important issue for mothers of young children in my constituency.

I have received interesting correspondence about the lack of suitable child care facilities and of accessibility to them. One woman has written to me a number of times. Her latest letter is long, but I want to read it because it illustrates many of the problems confronting single parents in particular, who find life extremely difficult—not least under a Conservative Government.

My constituent wrote: I thought I'd write you the next chapter in 'The life of a single parent longing to return to work'. I've been offered a job! The perfect job for a parent—16 hours a week, when it suits me, some at home, some in the office, some out and about. Only problem is, I lose more benefit than I gain in wages, especially after paying for child care. I rang the free social security telephone line and spoke to a very helpful gentleman, whose advice was not to work any longer than two hours a week (the time it would take to earn the £15 I'm allowed to earn before benefit reduction). This situation made me mad enough, but today I have received notice of income tax payable for the coming year—£490 down compared with last year, so I'll pay another £10 tax, plus VAT on fuel, which will cost me £10 a month also. Existing on income support is getting harder and harder—both my daughters need new clothes (my eldest goes to school wearing trousers that stop nearly 3 inches above her shoes) but I have difficulty even buying secondhand for them. And now, going back to work seems even harder too. So today I made a resolution to find a job overseas. Somewhere"— this sentence is significant—

where my honours degree in molecular biology is valued, and where child care is considered a social necessity and not a private luxury. My father, an ex-staunch Tory, has been telling me since I graduated to go abroad but I resisted through fear of the unknown, and the belief that a British education would be the right thing for my children. The latter is now highly questionable, and my fear of the unknown has diminished in respect of my disgust of the known—this government does not value its educated citizens nor provide for its future—its children. Very soon, education will have returned to Victorian days—only for the rich. Anyway, that is it. I can't afford to take the job that was offered, I can't afford a full-time job that pays enough, and I can't manage on the pittance that the government says is my right. I don't want to be rich, I just want to buy my children clothes, shoes, chocolate biscuits. For myself, I'd like to be able to buy my own copy of New Scientist each week, instead of walking to the library! Stupid, little things. That letter says a great deal about the lives of the many women in this country who find it extremely difficult to survive on income support, and who find life even harder when they try to get jobs.

We heard a disgraceful attack on single parents last year, particularly in the build-up to the Tory party conference. We should support single parents by providing subsidised child care and doing what we can to increase its accessibility.

When the Secretary of State for Wales visited St. Mellon housing estate in Cardiff, he was told that half the families there were single parent families. His reaction was not to ask what could be done to help them out of poverty but to attack the unmarried single-parent culture and to suggest that benefits might be withheld until absentee fathers are tracked down. One Treasury Minister claimed that teenage girls could be lured into a life of poverty and state dependency by over-generous benefits.

That is not borne out by the evidence. One single parent interviewed on Radio 4 said: There's no question that some of the poorest people in the country are single mothers, so any reduction in benefits would hit an already desperate group—it's an appalling idea. There is no snap solution. People have less faith in marriage and we now have a whole culture who don't believe that marriage necessarily leads to happiness. You can't legislate on people's mental attitudes and morality by threatening them financially. That was not someone from a left-wing Labour authority speaking, but Harriet Crawley, a single mother who stood as a Tory candidate in the last general election.

A report from the Joseph Rowntree Trust stated: Hundreds of thousands of lone parents are trapped on a 'poverty plateau', where it makes little difference whether they earn £70 or £170 a week. By the time child care and travel costs are taken into account, any incentive to work may have disappeared. Contrast that with the French approach to single mothers. The Caisses Nationale des Allocations Familiales in Paris organises the French family benefits system and commissions research on family policy. One of its researchers, also speaking on Radio 4, said: In France, because the value system is different, a majority of women want to be both mothers and work, and the state, unlike the UK, will offer them the necessary support. That is borne out by the two countries' employment figures for single mothers. In France, the figure is 85 per cent., but in the UK—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) said—it is less than 50 per cent. France, like Belgium and Denmark, is among the European countries that make the most generous provision for child care. That country considers it much more important to provide creches and kindergartens. As soon as children are two years old, they can attend pre-school all day long, with a hot lunch. Some 173,000 places are available in subsidised creches, and there are numerous approved mothers' helpers.

Lone mothers have priority on the day care and pre-school lists, which partly explains why such a high proportion of French lone mothers are in work, and more frequently have a full-time job than their UK counterparts. As a result, they are far less likely to rely on social assistance. French benefits to lone parent families are more generous than in the UK, especially where there is a child under the age of three, or there are three or more children, and the lone parent has a low income.

Family benefits in France are structured to favour larger numbers of children, and there are various training programmes that are relevant to lone mothers. Low-income lone mothers are also eligible for housing allowances. The great difference is that, in France, single mothers are not seen as a drain on taxpayers' money, as their benefits are paid from employers' contributions and because many of them are able to find full-time jobs with the help of the much better child care that is available.

In my local community recently, a survey was carried out by the training and enterprise council in south Cambridgeshire. It was done as a result of a Government pump-priming initiative, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) described it, in an attempt to get more child care schemes under way. The great problem with these schemes is that, although they have been valuable in showing up the deficiencies in child care, many of them will flounder later on because of a lack of money. Far too many people find child care too expensive when they have to pay the full cost out of what they earn.

The Cambridgeshire TEC carried out the survey last October. More than 1,000 questionnaires were distributed to the parents of children aged between five and 16. What emerged showed up the differences between my constituency and that of the Prime Minister.

The survey found that 23 per cent. of children in Cambridge had one parent working full time and the other part time; the corresponding figure for Huntingdon was 44 per cent. There was also a difference in the proportions of parents who both worked full time: 30 per cent. in Cambridge and only 19 per cent. in Huntingdon. There was a great difference in the numbers of single parents: 20 per cent. in Cambridge and 13 per cent. in Huntingdon. Those two places are only 20 miles apart, so the differences are rather surprising.

The survey also looked into how most children are looked after. It found that, in Huntingdon, 91 per cent. of child care took place in the family, whereas only 83 per cent. did in Cambridge. In other words, these families have no external help with their child care at all, so grandparents, brothers and sisters, and parents are caring for the children.

When asked, parents said that they were well satisfied with this arrangement. When they were asked, however, whether they would use an out-of-school care scheme, 70 per cent. of them said that they would in Cambridge, and 82 per cent. in Huntingdon said that they would. That goes to show the unmet need. A great many people who work part time during the school term need full-time care during the holidays.

I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of organisations and firms around my constituency in the past two years. I was, for instance, extremely impressed by the child care provision at the Babraham Institute, a Government research laboratory formerly under the Agricultural and Food Research Council and now under the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. It is a research council institute, and it provides a nursery and an out-of-school care scheme for up to 10 children. It is always well used, and is considered of enormous benefit to the parents who work at the institute. I congratulate the director, Richard Dyer, on being innovative and forward-looking enough to start the nursery.

The institute's facility contrasts starkly with a bank in central Cambridge—it might not be fair to mention its name. I asked the bank about its child care policy and was told that there was a working party looking into child care and nursery provision in the organisation.

I asked the bank why it did not have a nursery attached to its central Cambridge branch, only to be told that it had considered the idea but decided against it, on the extraordinary ground that, if it did run such a nursery, it would not be able to stop fathers using it as well as mothers. Looking a little taken aback, I asked why that mattered. I was told that, if fathers were allowed to use the facility, their wives would then be free to work for the bank's competitors. I am still reeling from this information. It shows that we have to do a great deal to change this sort of sexist attitude to parents, families and children.

6.45 pm

Owing to the pressure from many single parents, married parents and parents in stable relationships, I decided that I would try to set up a child care project in Cambridge to help people gain access to child care facilities and to give them information about benefits and training. We held an interesting meeting, which I was pleased to note was supported by the Benefits Agency, the Child Support Agency, the county council, the Daycare Trust—it was extremely helpful—the Cambridge job centre, the city council, the Employment Service and the local training and enterprise council.

I explained that I wanted to help a group of single parents back into full or part-time work, with the aim of showing that investing in child care could in the long term prove cheaper than leaving single parents on benefits, without care for their children. This is a social as well as an economic issue. The Daycare Trust said that it believed that the major problem was the lack of adequately subsidised child care. There is a lack of places even in non-subsidised child care.

It also emerged from the meeting that we need a major information drive to reassure parents about coming off income support and on to family credit. Living on income support, at least people know that they are secure, but once they come off it and go into short-term or short-contract jobs, with the attendant insecurity of going on to family credit—they may not be sure that the Benefits Agency will get its sums right—they may worry a great deal about what will happen when a job comes to an end. We need to do much more to reassure parents that the process is feasible, and to offer them a little more security.

Although the Government introduced measures in the last Budget to try to deal with the cost of child care, in Cambridge the cost of full-time child care averages £60 to £70 a week. Many people pay much more than that, and presumably some pay less. The manager of the Benefits Agency in Cambridge said that he would like a business plan to be put together showing the long-term benefits of child care—a reduction in staff losses, lower net costs to the Exchequer, support for training places and so on.

The Government are not doing any of this. They are not examining the cost of not providing child care; they are looking only at the cost of providing it. That attitude is wrong.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

Although child care is a massive issue for thousands of our constituents, that is often not reflected in either our procedures or media coverage. The reason is obvious: the institutions involved are still dominated by men, whereas in the present state of society child care is still predominantly a women's issue—although the responsibility should be shared equally between the sexes.

There are several reasons why child care is a massive issue. First, there is the objective reality of increasing female participation in the labour market. The male and female participation rates are now converging: indeed, in parts of the country—such as Lothian region, where I come from—women are in the majority in the labour force. That, however, masks the existence of a good many problems; it does not mean that adequate child care facilities are available to all those women.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) mentioned the problem of cost, but there are other problems. For instance, many women returning to the labour market after having children may take up jobs that they do not really want to do: they would prefer to be doing other jobs that it is not possible for them to do. They may also have to work fewer hours than they would like.

Notwithstanding the high rate of female participation in the labour market, only 18 per cent. of lone mothers with children under five are working in this country: that is the lowest rate in Europe. Moreover, the figure for all mothers with children under five is the second lowest.

This is, among other things, an equal opportunities issue, and the Equal Opportunities Commission has said as much. We cannot have a proper equal opportunities policy that does not take child care into account. That is the second reason why this is a massive issue; the third is that it also has economic implications, as many hon. Members have already pointed out. It can be viewed in many ways, but a fundamental point is that the skills of many women are being lost to the economy. That is why many employers are very interested in child care.

Only today, in the Lobby, I spoke to a representative of Employers for Childcare, who told me that, for that very reason, many employers are keen for the Government to adopt a co-ordinated strategy for child care, in which a number of them wish to be involved. Many studies have shown that the economy would benefit from a massive expansion of child care facilities; I hope to say more about that later.

The fourth reason why this is a massive issue relates to poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) covered that very thoroughly.

My own involvement in child care resulted from my membership of the Greater Pilton Childcare Action Group, which operates in my constituency. A fundamental reason for its formation was the area's participation in the European Poverty 3 programme, and the fact that, at an early stage, child care was identified as a key issue in the attack on poverty. Incidentally, I should like to know why the Government are showing no interest in European Poverty 4 programme; people in my area certainly hope that the project will continue.

The ability of women to go out to work is a basic element of the attack on family poverty. That is why so many women in my constituency are keen to have the child care facilities that they need.

The fifth reason why this is a massive issue is the appalling state of child care in this country, in comparison with provision in other European countries. Many statistics show that to be true. For instance, 2 per cent. of care for children under three is publicly funded in this country; in Denmark, the figure is 48 per cent. In this country, the figure for children between three and five is 37 per cent.; it is 85 per cent. in Italy and 95 per cent. in France and Belgium.

I should add that there are considerable variations within our 37 per cent. figure. As other hon. Members have pointed out, the percentage is often far higher in areas with Labour-controlled authorities than in Conservative areas. For instance, the figure for nursery education for three and four-year-olds in Lothian region is running at 68 per cent. That is a major factor—and, of course, there are many other arguments for nursery education, in terms of the benefits for children.

There are many reasons, then, why child care is a major issue, and why the House should treat it as such. We want the Government to adopt a co-ordinated strategy; at present, their policy is very unco-ordinated. The fundamental principle is choice: people should be able to choose the type of child care they want.

The new clauses are concerned specifically with workplace nurseries. Although some Conservative Members have tried to misrepresent us and suggest that that is all we are interested in, they are entirely wrong; it is only one aspect of the general issue of child care. According to a study carried out by the British Social Attitudes survey, however, 20 per cent. of women with children under five would like workplace nurseries to be available. That is one strand of the policy that we need to formulate.

The new clause deals with the fact that the industrial building allowance is available only to workplace nurseries in industrial buildings and certain types of hotel. It seeks to end that anomaly, and to extend the allowance to all work places. The present position is particularly anomalous in the context of section 14 of the Capital Allowances Act 1990, under which sports pavilions and buildings in all workplaces can receive the allowance while nurseries can receive it only in specific buildings. I shall be interested to hear how the Financial Secretary seeks to justify that anomaly, if he does.

New clause 1 covers not only nurseries but child care for those of school age. The existing allowances apply only to children under five, but it should be recognised that children often need care after going to school as well as before. Conservative Members have drawn attention to the child care allowance in the Budget. That Government initiative—along with the after-school care initiative—is all right as far as it goes, and Opposition Members welcome both in principle; but there are many problems with the way in which they have worked in practice. We should like those schemes to be improved and extended.

An interesting feature of the child care allowance provided in the Budget is the fact that, only a few months earlier, the Prime Minister dismissed it out of hand. I know that, because I asked him a question about it, and when—as usual—he did not answer, I wrote him a letter. I kept his reply: I keep all his letters. In fact, when I wrote to him about nursery education, pointing out that he was saying something quite different from what his Secretary of State was saying, he did not reply—but the reason for that was obvious.

I found the Prime Minister's letter very interesting. As well as saying that disregards for parents in receipt of family credit were a ridiculous idea, he came up with the staggering assertion: research has shown that the majority of low income working lone parents do not pay for childcare. I do not think that research is needed to discover that. The simple truth is that low-income lone parents cannot afford to pay for child care, but that is not adequately addressed by the child care disregard in the Budget.

We have heard about the costs of child care. The maximum allowance available is £28; according to an answer that I was given, 90 per cent. of families on family credit cannot receive even £28—and it should be remembered that that is for the whole family. That does not deal with the problem of affordability, which lies at the heart of the debate about child care.

The after-school care initiative is also good in principle, but particular problems are involved, certainly in Scotland. I have tried to find out how much each local enterprise company in Scotland is spending. This week, I received another letter—this time, from a Scottish Office Minister. It said, basically, that I had no right to know the answer: it was for Scottish Enterprise to determine whether and to what extent they will provide details of the financial allocations they make to the LECs and it would be inappropriate for Ministers to intervene. Many enterprise companies in Scotland—including those in Lothian—spent nothing on that initiative last year, but the Scottish Office does not want to admit that publicly. Things seem to be slightly better this year; we shall wait and see.

The problem with the initiative is that, although it helps with start-up costs, many parents will be unable to afford the cost of after-school care. As I have said, affordability is at the heart of the matter. It was also at the heart of the European child care recommendation, which constitutes a very good guideline, although it was watered down slightly before being adopted just before the general election.

The Government have accepted the European child care recommendation, and at the heart of that recommendation is the idea that public funds should contribute to the provision of affordable child care. In reality, at the moment most people do not have access to affordable child care.

The Government have to introduce many measures to increase the supply of affordable child care. We have again been misrepresented by Conservative Members as just talking about demand subsidies. Some demand subsidies are necessary, but in fact it is the Tory argument that only demand subsidies will do, because it assumes that the market will provide. We believe that there has to be intervention in the market in order to increase the supply of child care. That is the thrust of our demand for a national child care strategy to look at the supply of child care.

7 pm

We have said that the Government should look at many schemes that are operated already by local authorities—as it happens, most of them Labour-controlled authorities—which have done something to deal with the problem. We have asked the Government to evaluate the schemes and to come up with a co-ordinated strategy instead of the current totally chaotic child care "policy"—if I can call it that—whereby some Government Departments do not know what other Departments are doing.

Partnership arrangements have been mentioned. I am told that these work in north Tyneside, for example. I know from personal experience that they also work in Fife in Scotland, where employers buy places in schemes run in partnership with local authorities. That is one way forward, because many employers recognise that it is in their own interests to make child care places available for their workers. That is part of the economic argument for child care to which I referred earlier.

Beyond that, I think that we need to put more money into the provision of child care. At the heart of the argument are the studies to which I referred earlier in general terms. The studies by the National Children's Bureau, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the Institute for Public Policy Research have shown that, in the long run, the provision of child care will benefit the economy.

I think that the Government recognised this fact in a very small way with their child care disregard in the Budget. That is the way forward, but we should act in conjunction with other policies. For example, the parental leave directive from the European Community, which has not been accepted by the Government, would help in the early stages of children's lives. More generally, the Government should recognise that society is changing and that increasingly men and women will have the same role in the family and in the workplace. The Government have to accept the subsequent changing patterns of work.

A policy from another country that appeals to me is the right of parents in Sweden to work a six-hour day for the first eight years of their children's lives. I think that the Government should look in that direction as well.

Child care is on the agenda now because society has changed. In last week's debate on the family, it appeared that many Conservative Members wanted to go back to the 1950s. They said that everything went wrong in the 1960s—the implication being that we should go back to the 1950s. I accept that argument to the extent that in the 1950s more people were in work, but the proviso is that it was only full male employment.

Nobody on this side wants to go back to the 1950s. We have to go forward into the 21st century, and prepare for a society in which the roles of men and women in the family and in the workplace will be identical. That is the issue that should be addressed.

I do not see how the Government can have any justification for arguing against this new clause. It is only one strand in the child care policy which we on this side are proposing. It is time that the Government came up with a policy, instead of introducing the occasional inadequate measure.

Ms Eagle

I support new clause 1. As we have all heard in the debate so far, it would allow the provision of workplace nurseries to attract more extensive capital relief, and would encourage joint ventures—which are already beginning to occur in some areas—between local authorities and firms to buy places in workplace nurseries.

As we consider the Budget, we are in the middle of a social and economic revolution which is changing the face of advanced western societies more rapidly than we ever thought possible. As legislators, we have to look at what is going on around us to see how we can change institutions and structures and how best we can legislate to take account of the changes that are occurring.

In the past 50 years, there has been a revolution in the patterns of family life and employment. The changes, particularly in the labour market and in the structure of jobs—who is working, for how long, for how much and where—have occurred more rapidly in the past 15 years with the deregulation of labour markets. One of the most obvious social revolutions is the massive increase in the number of women who are working or who want to work.

Between now and the end of the century, nine out of 10 new jobs created will be taken by women. Women will probably outnumber men as a proportion of the work force sooner rather than later—certainly by the end of the century. No Government who hope to create a society at ease with itself can possibly contemplate such massive change without seeking to alter societal structures and so accommodate and facilitate a planned, civilised change rather than the chaotic one which will occur if it is left to the market. So far, the Government have failed to respond adequately to the very great challenges that are being laid before them.

Historically, it has always been recognised that child care has to be provided if women are to be able to work effectively. We need only look at what happened during the world wars when women were required to work to sustain the war effort. Suddenly it became possible for women to do heavy engineering work—work that they had never been considered fit to do in the past—and it was quickly realised that women had to go on to the land to produce food. It was quickly recognised that women could perform every role asked of them to sustain the country in some of its darkest hours this century.

The Whitehall civil servants and Government Ministers who planned the economies during both world wars realised very quickly—particularly during the second world war—that in order to mobilise the capacity of 51 per cent. of the population they had to provide child care. Lo and behold, it was provided. But afterwards it was decided that women should be treated like the Turkish guest workers in Germany: once they had served their useful purpose in dire times they were meant to be bundled back into the home where they belonged and left there. So child care was withdrawn, as were jobs and wages that women had begun to take for granted, and women's employment was curtailed.

As I said earlier, at the moment there is a massive increase in participation in part-time work by women. It appears that women are more able to be flexible in their employment and want to combine their duties of looking after children and providing a home with work. The social attitudes towards trying to balance a career and look after children are changing, and changing quite rapidly. But the institutions in our society are not changing to enable women to do that.

It is remarkable that so many women have managed, by hook or by crook, to circumvent institutions which do not encourage them to be where they are. I speak from some personal experience, as I believe that many of the women in this place have circumvented structures which were not designed to permit them to be where they are now. I believe that all women empathise with other women who are attempting to do two impossible things when the Government are offering no significant help.

The new clause attempts to help women in one very narrow respect, but it is a travesty for Conservative Members to criticise us for not dealing with some of the other important aspects of child care at a national level and with the strategic provision of child care. We are debating the Finance Bill and the new clause is quite appropriate because it gives us the opportunity to consider some of the economic implications of what is happening with regard to child care provision.

There has been a social and economic revolution and we are in a period of transition. The Government must facilitate a change to do away with some of the contradictions and madnesses with which untrammelled free market forces have left us. Some of those changes have already been alluded to. Millions of women—single parents—are unable to work because the jobs that we have created to date are often low paid and part time. On the money that they earn in the deregulated labour market, women cannot afford to pay for child care, so they are trapped on benefit. That is frustrating for the vast majority of those women who want to go out to work, to be independent and to be able to raise the next generation. All children, whether raised in poverty or otherwise, will be the new generation and, if we do not tackle the problems now, we shall eventually have to deal with the consequences of their being deprived in childhood.

The vast majority of female single parents want to work, to be able to provide more for their children and to have the independence and pride of going out to work. They do not want to be stuck on benefit, but it is practically impossible for them to work because of the lack of child care provision combined with their low earning potential. In the meantime, our benefit bills are soaring while many jobs remain undone, and not only in the caring professions. Children are living in poverty and women are frustrated because they cannot go out to work. One does not need to be a genius to realise that the provision of child care would allow those women to go out to work and come off benefit, thereby making a saving to the Exchequer; it would mean that they would pay taxes, thereby increasing the tax yield; it would create additional jobs because people would be needed to provide the child care that allows those women the freedom to go out to work in the first place; and it would increase spending power, which would also help the recovery.

The provision of adequate child care would also benefit children. All the experts say that it is no good for children to be brought up in poverty by frustrated and demoralised parents who cannot go out to work but are stuck on benefit. Those children often cannot mix with their peers because of the restrictions that living in poverty places on families. Children develop much better and more quickly if they can mix with their peers—they grow up more confident and better adapted to the world. Therefore, child care helps mothers and children, the Exchequer and our economy—so why on earth are we not providing it? I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Mr. Forman

The hon. Lady and a number of her colleagues have made a powerful case for investment in child care. I have listened carefully to what they have said and especially to the impressive speech by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) who spoke without notes, other than those from the Prime Minister which he kept in his pocket. Since Labour Members have broadened the debate and are not focusing solely on the new clause, they should be considering what, in a modern society, should be the appropriate balance of the financial contributions made towards the desirable objective of child care by the individual involved, by employers and by the generality of taxpayers. If I were to hear more from them about the appropriate balance to be struck in the Bill, I might be more persuaded.

7.15 pm
Ms Eagle

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I do not believe that the Government have yet accepted the case for a structured, strategic provision of child care—had they done so, it would have been in place. So far, private provision has been left to develop without intervention from the Government, which is what we would expect given the iron grip of neo-classical ideologies.

Mr. Dorrell

If the hon. Lady does not believe that the Government accept the case for targeted assistance to low-income families for child care so that people can get back to work, will she speculate on why my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor announced in the Budget that we were to spend £30 million net of Government money on the child care disregard in family credit? Why does she think that we have done that if it is not because we accept the need to help people back to work? When she has answered that question, perhaps she would like to answer that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) and say what she thinks a national child care strategy would look like. Who would pay for it and what would be the result?

Ms Eagle

I should be the first to concede that a Government who did something about child care provision had finally recognised its importance, but this Government have not given it adequate priority. They have been in power for 15 years and we now have a £50 billion deficit and £20 billion of North sea oil money has been wasted on tax cuts for the very rich. It is therefore a bit rich for the Government to boast about spending £30 million. They have proved their interest in the issue—let us face the fact that their activity in this sphere does not amount to much, although I recognise that £30 million has been earmarked. My hon. Friends have commented on the inadequacy of that sum and I shall not repeat the arguments, but, when people look back at the Government's record, they will realise that child care has not been a very high priority. It is only recently that the Prime Minister has mentioned it as something that is desirable, but the Government have not proved its desirability by committing money to it in anything like the sums needed to make a difference.

Child care should be regarded as part of the economic infrastructure and as an investment in the future. The Government do not yet understand how significant that is. The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) came up with the interesting theory that informal child care is the most desirable. That means that the woman around the corner, granny if she is still alive, or anyone who happens to be around, should look after the children.

This country will not be able to compete seriously with the rapidly changing and advancing economies that will emerge in the new world, with their flexible employment patterns, high-tech industries and high levels of education, if we expect 51 per cent. of the population to rely on the woman next door to look after their children. The Government have to be systematic, but I do not believe that they have yet grasped the seriousness or the strategic implications of child care provision. After 15 years in power, it is about time that they did.

Another suggestion from Conservative Members was that we should deregulate the market in child care. They said that there were too many regulations facing anyone who wanted to set up child care provision, but people who go out to work must be confident that their children are in safe hands. There must be an appropriate level of regulation to ensure the quality of care. I cannot think of anything more important to ensure than that.

Leaving it all to the woman next door, or lowering the quality of care to such an extent that nobody knows whether it is good or not, is playing fast and loose with the future of our children and of our economy. After all those years, that is not worthy to be called a Government policy, yet it is all that we have heard from the Conservative party.

Conservatives are quick enough to deregulate the labour market and to help to accelerate changes such as the increase in part-time work. They are quick to celebrate a decline in earning power and the arrival of low wages, and then they wonder why so many people cannot afford to go out to work. They lament the consequences of their own policies, as if they had descended upon them from above. Yet often their economic policies and the ideology that they have pursued have caused some of the problems.

It is time that we took a strategic look at what we can do to deal with the issue nationally. We should not leave it all to patchy and fragmented practice in different parts of the country, some of which is good and some of which is bad. At present, because of the local authority provision, one is three times more likely to have access to child care if one lives in a Labour area than if one lives in a Conservative area. In Labour-controlled areas 40 per cent of all three and four-year-olds are in child care or nursery education, but in Tory areas the proportion is only 13 per cent. It is not fair that those who have the misfortune to grow up in Tory areas should not have access to something so vital.

No serious Government should consider how we can face the future and pay our way in the new economy, without realising that we must invest in child care here and now, or we shall pay for the consequences in the future.

Mr. Forman

I was reluctant to speak, but I feel bound to do so because of the nature of the Opposition speeches that I have heard on this important subject. Nobody on either side of the House would disagree with the general propositions that Opposition Members have advanced about the importance of child care, especially for very young children. All the studies show that the influences on young children are critical in determining how they grow up and lead their later lives.

As my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said, we do not dispute the simple proposition that it is important to get mothers back to work after having a child, if they wish to work, because that is good for families and psychologically good for mothers, and it helps with the material circumstances of the families concerned. That is all to the good. And, as we all know, one of the smaller measures in the Budget was directed towards that end. So far, so good.

The real question was contained in my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle)—an intervention that I had been tempted to make during earlier speeches, too. Taxpayers, and other people listening to the debate, will want the Labour and Liberal parties to tell them how the necessary cost of the desirable measures that they advocate would be apportioned, and how that will fit into the overall strategy on which Opposition Members say that they are so keen—although I have not heard a great deal of substance to it so far.

In view of the contrast between what happens here and what happens on the continent of Europe, the Opposition must answer the question: what is the appropriate balance for meeting those costs in modern society? First, to what extent should we put the costs for those desirable extra measures on to individuals? What contribution should the families themselves make? Secondly, what contribution should employers make, in their own interests as much as for any other reason, so that they can recruit and retain the well-qualified women employees whom they need? Thirdly, what proportion should be borne by the generality of taxpayers?

We sometimes talk glibly of Government money—but there ain't such a thing as Government money, only taxpayers' money. There is an opportunity cost, and all those other things. I can think of other forms of desirable family financial support which could be made a charge on the taxpayer—for example, financial help for those looking after elderly people. Many women in families these days have to pick up the burden, both financial and human, of caring for an elderly relative. That will happen more and more in the future because of the changing demographic profile.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Given our appalling child care record in comparison with that of any European country that the hon. Gentleman cares to mention, does he accept the proposition that, whatever balance the Government have constructed over the past 15 years, it is self-evident that it is not working? Secondly, does he accept that the new clause represents but a small step in the direction of attempting to shift that balance more in favour of fostering child care, which, in view of our appalling record, is obviously not happening now?

Mr. Forman

If the hon. Gentleman's argument were correct, it would be surprising that our rate of female participation in the labour force has climbed so rapidly to such a high level in recent years, so that we are now second only to Denmark in the European Union.

In an ideal world where there was plenty of money available for such things, whether from individuals, companies or the generality of taxpayers, it might indeed be desirable to increase the financial contributions from all those groups. But before the debate finishes I want to hear some authoritative guidance from the Opposition. I do not know whether we shall hear another speech from the Opposition Front Bench; I apologise for not having heard the opening speeches, but I could not be in the Chamber at that time. I should like to hear an authoritative statement on how the Opposition would go about implementing the strategy about which they talk so airily. That is the key question with which we must concern ourselves during the Report stage of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Spearing

This debate should not be necessary. Indeed, if there were a properly co-ordinated and integrated Government policy on child care the debate would be unnecessary, and so would the new clause, and the speech by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). The hon. Gentleman may have a point about the mechanics of putting the effects of the amendment into practice, but he and the Financial Secretary have to answer for the lack of integrity in the Government's present approach to child care.

I use the word "integrity" advisedly. We often use it in a pejorative sense when we say, "That person has no integrity." But I am using the word in a collective sense to describe the Government, because their policy is not integrated. It is not a whole; therefore it has no integrity in itself, and I shall prove that. In an earlier intervention the Financial Secretary claimed that the Government had a strategy. He nods, but I hope to prove to him, to the House and to the public that they have not.

The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) castigated the 1906 Administration of Lloyd George—or rather of Campbell-Bannerman, and subsequently of Asquith and then, during the war, of Lloyd George. The hon. Gentleman said that the root of most of our troubles in the rest of the century could be laid at the door of that Government, and what it started. That remark illustrates the differences between Conservative Members.

Some Conservatives believe that we must have a collective form of public service whereby, together as a whole, we fund the professionals who provide care, whether that be in health or in education—

Mr. Carrington


Mr. Spearing

I shall give way in a minute, when I have finished what I am saying.

Surely, by definition, care is not a marketable commodity. We have been talking about child care today, and the hon. Member for Fulham is really saying that the tradition of public service that the 1906 Administration started, and that my hon. Friends have attempted to continue since 1945, is all wrong. But I maintain that it is essential to meet the challenges of the next generation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) properly and eloquently explained.

Mr. Carrington

I do not to wish to go into long disputations about the pros and cons of the record of the Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith Governments, although I point out that Lloyd George was not a Liberal Prime Minister, but a coalition Prime Minister. The two principal achievements of that Government were the highest number of days lost in strikes at any time in the country until 1978, which occurred in about 1911, I believe, and the start of the first world war. Those two factors meant that most of our problems came from that Government.

Mr. Spearing

We may make a judgment about the causes of that terrible conflict, but if the hon. Gentleman considers the public institutions in what was the borough of Fulham or looks round any city or town at the public institutions and public buildings which were erected between 1906 and 1913, he will see that there is a great deal of good. The problem with Conservative Members is that some of them believe in public service, even if it is over a narrow range, and the rest of them do not. I rather suspect that the hon. Gentleman is one of those who does not.

7.30 pm

The Prime Minister believes in public service. He has written a great deal in the newspapers about child care. It is he who said in an interview in The Daily Telegraph that we were to have an expansion of nursery education. Articles in the Daily Express further trailed the Prime Minister' dedication to that, even though the Secretary of State for Education appeared to have a different sort of view as to how it should be discharged. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) pointed out that, in their official report to the United Nations, the Government said: It would like to see a widening of nursery and other pre-school education as resources become available … The longer-term ambition is universal availability for those who want it. We may ask "universal availability" of what? It is clear that, as the Government have said, such availability relates to the widening of nursery and other pre-school education. Nursery education, playgroups and some form of minding all have a part to play. We must ask ourselves what are the best arrangements to create a balance and who should supply each of those commodities, as the hon. Member for Fulham calls them. I prefer to call it care.

That is the area in which the Government have not got the integrity of which I spoke. When I use the word "integrity", I do not mean it in a personal capacity. However, it is perfectly clear that, corporately, integrity does not exist and I shall show why.

The Education Act 1944 laid a duty on every education authority to have regard to the need for nursery education for children under the age of five. Every local education authority had a duty to assess that need. They did not have to provide it, they could argue one way or the other and they did not have to provide for the full need. Indeed, in 1979, Oxfordshire council decided that it was going to disband nursery education. As a result, legislation passed through the House in 1980 which removed that requirement of the 1944 Act. However, it was passed in a way which did not make it clear to the House that that obligation and duty to provide care—at least the duty to see how much care was necessary or desirable—was being removed.

It is interesting that that principle of providing nursery education was endorsed by R. A. Butler in his speeches on the 1944 Act. He said that the concept of nursery education was to support home life and was not an attempt to supplant it. That is why, earlier this Session, I introduced the Nursery Education (Assessment of Need) Bill to put that duty back on the statute book.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I remember the hon. Gentleman's Bill, but the three new clauses are not about nursery education, but specifically concern capital allowances, child care vouchers and the self-employed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will at least address one of those three dimensions.

Mr. Spearing

Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, you will recall that, in the course of the debate, the Government claimed—this relates to the need for the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman)—that their policy was integrated and met the needs of the hour.

I shall rapidly conclude my speech and address my remarks to the Minister, who claimed that that integrated policy was present. All that I shall say is that that Bill was talked out by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). It was blocked by Ministers subsequently and on Friday 15 April I moved, as was my privilege under the Standing Orders, that the Bill be sent to a Second Reading Committee for consideration of its merits. But the Treasury did not want the Bill, not because it could not be passed on the nod—at 2.30 pm on a Friday, which everybody understands—but because it objected to the principle of debating it in Committee. If Treasury Ministers are objecting to debating the principle which was enshrined in an Act in 1944 by a Government with a huge Conservative majority who were elected in 1935 and will not apply it to the needs of today, they have no integrity. That is why my hon. Friend finds it necessary to move her amendment.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

One of the reasons why I am grateful for this debate is that it moves us beyond the platitudes that presume that there is a shared and common interest existing on both sides of the Chamber about meeting the rights and needs of the child to pre-school nursery care and education. It seems that if we are to have a serious debate on those issues, we must at some stage address three of the key elements that must underpin any such commitment. Those elements are: what form the care and provision should take, where it should be located, and how it should be paid for.

May I simply outline the starting point? I am grateful to a number of my hon. Friends who have pointed out that, in the European league of comparisons, our starting point for three to five-year-olds is as follows. While in France and Belgium 95 per cent. of children have access to nursery education, in Italy and Denmark the figure is 85 per cent., and in Germany, Greece and Spain up to 70 per cent. of children receive nursery education, in the United Kingdom only 35 per cent. of children have such access. We are second to bottom of the European league. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I should be most grateful if the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) would recognise that her hon. Friend is addressing the Chair.

Mr. Simpson

Our best is less than half the best of the rest of Europe. Therefore, we ought to place our debate in a somewhat humble context. We perform no better if we stretch the age range and consider the provision for the under-threes. In Denmark, 48 per cent. of its children have access to nursery education and nursery care. The figure for France and Belgium is 20 per cent., but for the United Kingdom the figure is 2 per cent.

Against that relatively humble background, the House must ask what the starting point should be for a coherent and strategic policy that delivers to children their rights of access to pre-school nursery care. I take as my starting point the report of the Education, Science and Arts Committee in 1988. It reported: We recommend those LEAs which have not already done so should review their existing plans to ensure that under fives provision is not adversely affected by the rise in pupil numbers. The report went on to say: It is unlikely therefore that any significant expansion could take place in provision for the under fives without provision of additional resources by central government. Sadly, the Committee had to recognise that the Government had stated that it was their aim broadly to maintain the present level of expenditure on under fives in real terms. When the Committee questioned the Government further, they said that the maintenance of the current participation rate seemed incompatible with level funding given the increasing number of under fives. The Committee asked the Government to clarify whether that would guarantee increased funding in absolute terms. The Government's response was that they would not at present envisage providing resources on the scale necessary to expand provision in the way that the Committee was recommending. The Committee concluded that the gap between public policy and public provision was a stark one that had to be addressed in unambiguous terms and commitments. It stated: in the long run, we are brought, by the evidence on the value of nursery education, by the picture of the child situation in the eighties, and by the evidence of parental demand to our second major conclusion, that the way forward is the provision of a place in a nursery classroom for all children whose parents wish it.

Those conclusions, which were set out in 1988, have not been honoured. We have made no significant progress towards meeting those observations or commitments.

If we are to identify any pathways of hope, they are to be found not in Government policy but in the policies pursued by local authorities; virtually in defiance of the successive and swingeing cuts that central Government have imposed on local authority spending.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for saying that the local authorities' record of provision for the under-fives is exemplary when compared with central Government provision. In the main, the record is exemplary for Labour authorities rather than for those that are controlled by the Conservative party. As my hon. Friend said, a child is three times more likely to have access to a nursery place if it lives in a Labour authority than in a Conservative area. Of the best 40 providers of nursery places, 34 are Labour authorities. Of the worst 25 providers, not one is Labour controlled.

I am even prouder to say that in Nottinghamshire the record of the Labour education authority since it came into power in 1981 has been outstanding. Nottinghamshire is now the leading shire county in the provision of child care. Every year since 1981 the authority has increased the number of places for children under five in local authority nurseries. The numbers increased from 4,700 places in 1981 to 6,900 last year. It meant, last year, that there were 13,500 children throughout the county in full-time or part-time nursery places.

The authority has been struggling to hit a target that it set itself. It wishes 50 per cent. of the under-fives to have access to nursery places. It has reached 49.68 per cent. and sadly failed to reach its target. There has been a shortfall each year simply because the numbers of under five-year-olds outstrips the number of places that the authority is able to provide, in defiance, as I have said, of Government policy.

Within that commitment I am even prouder to recognise that 65 per cent. of children in Nottingham city have access to nursery places. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) for saying earlier that it is not sufficient to talk about the generality of provision. We must ascertain whether provision is being made available, first, to those who are in greatest need.

I invite the hon. Member for Havant to examine the record of Nottinghamshire's education authority. It is against the criterion that the hon. Gentleman outlined that it has decided where to make provision for nursery places. Unless that quality criterion is built into any general policy, there is a risk that those who are most able to demand will be first in the queue and those who may have the greatest claim on a needs basis will be at the end of the queue. The hon. Member for Havant made this an important point that we should all bear in mind in any strategy that we claim to put before the House that reflects favourably on the extension of the rights of children under five in terms of access to nursery care.


Every child in Nottinghamshire with a place in nursery education must, though, understand that the vote of thanks that he, she and his parents need to make should be addressed to the Labour local authority that has obtained, maintained and sustained those places.

Several Conservative Members have talked about parental choice. I spent a number of years before entering the House as an inner-city community worker. For much of that time the level of child care provision was well below the needs of the local communities with which I was working. In many instances some of the best initiatives were taken by groups of parents who gathered together and said that, despite the rigours of central Government finance, which were restricting the expansion of nursery provision, they would do their own thing. In effect, they said, "It is better that we make common provision to offer some stimulation for our children than to make no provision at all." I can only praise the parents who made that sort of commitment.

At the same time, I would not want anyone to be under the illusion that the approach that I have outlined constituted a free and positive choice that was being offered against the widest of all possibilities. Even the widest of the possibilities that stretched across these parents' horizons denied them the choice of a nursery place for their children. It was the denial of that choice that forced them into making other provision.

There may be some people who, given the widest range of choices, would still wish to say, "I would like to have a hands-on involvement, along with other people in my community, for the pre-school care and education of my children." That is fine. There may be others who say, "I would rather that my children were with members of my family." Again, that is fine, but I want people to be able to exercise such choices in the knowledge that they also have rights of access to free and comprehensive child care provision of the highest quality that the country can provide.

If people make personal choices to invest their own time and effort in education within extended family networks, that is fine. Unfortunately, we are a long way from having that range of options as a positive choice.

I am grateful again to the hon. Member for Havant for trying in an intervention to question whether the House should be concerned about the general provision of child care as opposed to questioning or examining the prospects of children in households where there is low income, one income or no income. It is an extremely important question which needs an answer if we are to address the rights of all children in our society.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman may have been asked a question in an intervention, but I ask him to relate his remarks to the three new clauses; he must weave his speech around them.

Mr. Simpson

I shall do that specifically.

In addressing the new clauses, we must look at the nature of the recent changes in the employment market so that we can ask ourselves some fairly serious and searching questions about whether employer-based provision will work and whether it is desirable.

I draw the attention of hon. Members to a recent survey conducted by the Low Pay Network, which was referred to in an article in The Observer on Sunday. Some fairly stark evidence was provided in that article which must raise the most serious question about women in part-time work being able to buy places for their children in either employer-based nurseries or private or community-based schemes. The study related to part-time jobs which had been generated in the Stirling area, and examined 91 part-time retailing jobs and the incomes of those who took up the jobs. Virtually all of the jobs were taken up by women.

The consequences for those women, and for the House, must be understood and considered. One consequence is that the earnings of those women were equivalent to 28 full-time jobs. The tax contributions they paid fell by a staggering 96.5 per cent. They fell from some £42,000 in tax and national insurance contributions to a total of £1,470. What we have is an increase in the activity rates in the work force of people who will not be able to pay for access to private nursery care or full-cost nursery provision by an employer. They will certainly not have the money to pay for child minding on any responsible and reputable basis.

The question is: how do those working mothers then gain access to decent nursery care for their children which meets the highest standards which their children have a right to expect? That question is important not only for the employer but for the Government. As the Government widen the base between the tax take that they get from the shuffling of the employment market, and as they retreat from their commitment to direct nursery provision, a massive and serious shortfall is being loaded on to society which it will have to pick up in the future. Any party that has a serious commitment to a comprehensive policy on access to child care must address that issue.

It must be understood that those who are caught in the employment revolution, which the Government frequently laud in the House, are faced with a choice whereby they are pauperised in employment or stigmatised out of employment. Access to child care through the employer then takes on a different notion. The most sinister and disturbing context in which it could be construed is that the most cynical employers—if they were drawn into provision because they could make tax gains from it—would use it in precisely the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) pointed out, in terms not of extending access to children but of restricting the rights of parents. Employers would not allow access to the caring father in case the mother sought employment elsewhere, especially with a competitor. That would make access to nursery care not a child's right or a parent's right but an employer's right.

There is something deeply disturbing about seeing a solution to the rights of child care provision for children mainly in the hands of employers. Given the Government's ideological commitment to free market forces, the logic of the argument is that we will see child care inexorably tied to permanently low pay, to the maintenance of poor conditions and to the continuation of discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Mr. Willetts

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what seems to be a significant attack on the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman). It is absolutely devastating.

Mr. Simpson

I am trying to address the rights of children in the whole and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That has become plain, but I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to recognise that this is a specific debate on three new clauses. He has not mentioned one of the new clauses for one moment of his speech.

Mr. Simpson

I think that that is a trifle unfair, having just been congratulated by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) on addressing precisely that key issue.

I am aware that employer-based nursery provision is an important but second-best option in a comprehensive strategic policy that delivers child care opportunities to all of our children. I do not discount employer-based child care as an option. However, in order to place it properly in a strategic policy, we should not deceive ourselves that what may be an answer in part is in fact an answer in the whole. We need to place its provision in that context.

If we are considering moving along that path, we must be willing to open up a debate about partnership which moves beyond the terms by which the Government have structured this debate. I am not averse to a partnership between the public and private sectors. However, the benchmark of that partnership must be judged not by whether we can come to an agreement between ourselves but whether we can devise provision by the public and private sectors that meets the desires and demands of parents and their children.

All provision must eventually be measured and judged against the rights of children. That does not get in the way of a diverse and pluralistic approach to such provision, but it sets down clear, common standards against which the provision must be judged. It is not a question whether the provision should be tax deductible; it is a question whether it is based on shared obligations which the public and private sectors take on board with regard to meeting the needs of children.

In constructing whatever debates we have, we must be clear that the issue is not about a parent's desire for a job but about a child's right to a nursery place. We must understand that we have a common interest in making access to child care a universal right for all under-fives in this country. We have that common interest for two simple reasons. First, a study which was done in the United States a couple of years ago asked the question: what can we best do to deflect young people from crime? The answer that resulted from extensive research throughout the United States was that public and private initiatives needed to invest in provision for under-fives. If society wants the best "bang for its buck" in terms of anti-crime initiatives, it should invest in the under-fives. It is in the interests of industry and employers as much as it is in the state's interest.

We also need to know that employers, as much as anyone, have an interest in producing a generation of children who are highly literate and numerate, and who are capable of finding a place in a high-wage economy. If we do not invest in that for the century ahead, then the gap between those who are retired non-earners and who are dependent upon tomorrow's earners and pension contributors will be increasingly unbridgeable.

8 pm

We need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) mentioned, a strategic and co-ordinated national policy about child care provision. That must take on board the issues of staff training and take-up rights. It must extend from the question of funding buildings to books and also toys. It must recognise that if we do not develop a comprehensive and strategic approach which delivers access to child care and nursery care for all under-fives who wish it—as of right—we will be doing little other than stealing from our own future.

Mr. Dorrell

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson). Those who have sat through the debate have heard many calls for a national child care strategy, but he is only the hon. Member who has not merely spoken in favour of the idea but has sketched out some idea of what a national child care strategy would look like.

The only problem is that there appears to be a difference of nuance between the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he is not in favour of employer-provided child care. I look forward to welcoming him in the Lobby if the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) chooses to force a Division, because the purpose of the hon. Lady's amendment is to provide a tax concession for employer-provided child care.

Mr. Simpson


Mr. Dorrell

There is another difference in nuance between the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition Front Bench. He might like to reply for both of them at once, as I shall give way in a moment.

The hon. Member for Peckham responded to more than one intervention this afternoon by avoiding answering the question of what a national child care strategy would look like. A large number of speeches have called for a national child care strategy, but all of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues neatly avoided setting out what that meant. The hon. Gentleman was clear that what he means by a national child care strategy is free access to child care and nursery education for all under-fives at the choice of the parent. That is his view, and it is perfectly clear, but I fear that he has yet to persuade the Opposition Front Bench that that is either affordable or desirable.

Mr. Simpson

I hope that the Minister will recognise, given the difficulties that I had in making my way through the interventions from the Chair, that the terms of the debate are specifically limited. There is not a great deal of scope for setting out a national strategy and there have been other occasions when those on the Opposition Front Bench were more than forthright about what the framework of that should be.

May I simply clarify a point that I made about employer-based provision? I am not opposed to it and I said clearly that it is an important strand of a second string to the provision of child care rights. It must be judged against what is in the best interests of the child, rather than the employer, and it must deliver universal access to all those children who are under five who wish access to such provision.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. That was a long intervention after a fairly long speech.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman said that it was difficult, in this debate, to have the opportunity to sketch out a full strategy for child care. I congratulate him on finding a way to do so that his hon. Friends were not sufficiently ingenious to find.

The hon. Member for Peckham was quite right to say that the debate about child care takes place against the background of a major change in the labour market over the past couple of decades. There has been a large increase in the number of women at work and that has led to a substantial increase in the number of two-earner households. For a number of other social reasons, there has also been a substantial growth in the number of single-parent families.

Those are all important factors, which demand an increase in the level of provision of child care. That is not in dispute. The problem is that Opposition Members appear to be dismissive of the fact that that demand for increased child care has been met. There is clear evidence in the figures of a substantial increase in the number of places in nurseries and in child minding. That is responding to precisely the kind of social phenomena that the hon. Lady identifies.

It became clear in the debate that the attitudes of the Opposition were accurately summed up by the hon. Lady's article in this morning's edition of The Independent. She wrote: The number of children in private day nurseries … is 90,000 and increasing. That is a fourfold increase on the figure of 10 years ago. She goes on: But the demand for child care for working mothers has been met above all by a huge increase in child-minding. More than 250,000 children are being cared for by child-minders". That is a rise, as the hon. Lady accurately says, of 155,000 or 150 per cent. in the past 10 years.

The attitudes of the hon. Lady become clear when she goes on to say: For many parents, child-minding is their preferred option. One could say that there is clear evidence that they are taking up opportunities which are there. She continues: But for many more, it is not. It is unsatisfactory that the increase in women at work is being underpinned by a major expansion in a type of child care which is not the first choice of parents or experts. The last word is the giveaway. The truth is that the Opposition are more interested in the views of experts on collective provision than they are in the views of parents about how their children should best be cared for.

Before I pursue the argument any further, I should declare an interest. I am the father of an 18-year-old son—[Interruption.] An 18-month-old son. My wife works and I must declare to the House that, despite the opinion of experts, my son Philip was taken on Monday of this week from a nursery and given to a child minder because that met the needs of my family more directly. I am sorry if that contradicted the opinion of the hon. Lady about what we should have done as parents. However, the choice of parents should determine our child care policy.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister has claimed that the Government are responding to the various needs, whether in child minding, nursery education or playgroups. Why do the Government persist in rejecting what the House accepted in 1944—that local authorities should assess the need, even if they are not to supply it?

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Act to which he refers related to nursery education, not child care. The hon. Member for Peckham called for a national strategy for child care. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) was absolutely right to point out that—with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South—no Opposition Member sketched out in any degree what he meant. The new clause does not constitute a strategy. It provides an industrial buildings allowance for child care facilities in commercial buildings. It is based on the proposition that that is available for sports facilities in commercial buildings. That is not correct.

There is a specific industrial buildings allowance provision for sports pavilions, but sports facilities in commercial buildings would be treated in precisely the same way as child care provision in commercial buildings. That is, their access to capital allowances would be determined by the status of the building and, if it is a commercial building, no capital allowance would be available. So on her own logic, the hon. Lady's argument falls.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said, the hon. Member for Peckham's argument was in direct contradiction to the concerns that she expressed about employer-provided nurseries in the book that she wrote on all those subjects, and from which my hon. Friend quoted. The hon. Lady and her hon. Friends called for a strategy and, with one honourable exception, made no attempt to set one out.

The Liberal Democrats on the other hand offered us something that at least cost a substantial amount of money, even if it did not constitute a strategy. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) argued that we should introduce tax relief for child care vouchers. That in itself is a relatively low-cost proposal, but I have to ask the hon. Lady and anyone else who may be attracted to child care vouchers as the way forward what we would do when employers and employees agreed that, as child care vouchers were tax deductible, it was in the interests of both to provide vouchers, if necessary at the cost of a reduction in pay, in order that employers could meet directly the child care that was previously met by employees out of their own pocket. It would clearly be in the tax interests of both employers and employees to do that.

Such an arrangement would substantially increase the cost of the hon. Lady's proposal. She would then have to explain why it applied to employees but not to the self-employed. When she had done that, she would have to explain why child care was tax deductible when all those convolutions were gone through, but not when employees paid for it out of their own pocket. Once that concession was made—the lobby groups make it clear that that is their objective—the cost to the Exchequer would be £300 million a year. Not a single extra child care place would be provided as a consequence. I do not regard the hon. Member for Christchurch's proposal as a strategy or a sensible use of £300 million when it would not lead to the provision of a single extra child care place.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

What about single parents?

Mr. Dorrell

I am coming to precisely that point in response to the hon. Lady. I am always happy to go where she leads.

The proposition that the Government put to the House is that the wrong way to go about child care is to introduce blanket subsidies of the kind that were accurately described by my hon. Friends the Members for Havant and for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) as ill-targeted assistance going to the wrong people. The Government believe that we should recognise that there is a real problem for those on low incomes, particularly single-parent families, and that it is in the interests of such families, wider social policy and wider economic policy objectives to help those people out of the single-parent employment trap. That is why in the Budget last year my right and hon. learned Friend the Chancellor introduced the child care disregard in family credit. That is why, in addition, we are assisting the development of 50,000 places for children of school age through the out-of-school child care initiative.

The Government's approach to the problem is to target assistance where there is a real problem, where there are real anti-work incentives and real difficulties for people in finding their way off benefit and into work. By using money in that way we shall be able to achieve a substantial social advance rather than a blanket subsidy which is ill targeted and delivers the lion's share of the benefit to people who do not need it and are comfortably off with their present arrangements. On that basis, I commend the Government's approach—

Mr. Chisholm

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Dorrell

No. I think that the House wishes to come to a decision on the matter. I commend the Government's approach and recommend to the House that all three of the new clauses should be rejected.

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

The House divided: Ayes 259, Noes 291.

Division No. 213] [8.13 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Evans, John (St Helens N)
Adams, Mrs Irene Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Ainger, Nick Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Fisher, Mark
Allen, Graham Flynn, Paul
Alton, David Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Foster, Don (Bath)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Foulkes, George
Armstrong, Hilary Fraser, John
Ashton, Joe Fyfe, Maria
Austin-Walker, John Galloway, George
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Garrett, John
Barnes, Harry George, Bruce
Barron, Kevin Gerrard, Neil
Battle, John Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bayley, Hugh Godman, Dr Norman A.
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Godsiff, Roger
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Golding, Mrs Llin
Bell, Stuart Gordon, Mildred
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Graham, Thomas
Bennett, Andrew F. Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Benton, Joe Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bermingham, Gerald Grocott, Bruce
Berry, Roger Gunnell, John
Blair, Tony Hain, Peter
Blunkett, David Hall, Mike
Boateng, Paul Hardy, Peter
Boyes, Roland Harman, Ms Harriet
Bradley, Keith Harvey, Nick
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Henderson, Doug
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Heppell, John
Burden, Richard Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Byers, Stephen Hinchliffe, David
Caborn, Richard Hoey, Kate
Callaghan, Jim Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Home Robertson, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hood, Jimmy
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hoon, Geoffrey
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Chisholm, Malcolm Hoyle, Doug
Clapham, Michael Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clelland, David Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hutton, John
Coffey, Ann Illsley, Eric
Cohen, Harry Ingram, Adam
Connarty, Michael Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jamieson, David
Corbett, Robin Janner, Greville
Corston, Ms Jean Johnston, Sir Russell
Cousins, Jim Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cox, Tom Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Dafis, Cynog Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dalyell, Tam Keen, Alan
Darling, Alistair Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Davidson, Ian Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Khabra, Piara S.
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kilfoyle, Peter
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Denham, John Kirkwood, Archy
Dewar, Donald Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dixon, Don Lewis, Terry
Donohoe, Brian H. Litherland, Robert
Dunnachie, Jimmy Livingstone, Ken
Eagle, Ms Angela Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Eastham, Ken Llwyd, Elfyn
Etherington, Bill Loyden, Eddie
Lynne, Ms Liz Redmond, Martin
McAllion, John Reid, Dr John
McAvoy, Thomas Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McCartney, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Macdonald, Calum Roche, Mrs. Barbara
McFall, John Rogers, Allan
McKelvey, William Rooker, Jeff
Mackinlay, Andrew Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McLeish, Henry Rowlands, Ted
McMaster, Gordon Ruddock, Joan
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Maddock, Mrs Diana Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Alice Short, Clare
Mandelson, Peter Simpson, Alan
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Maxton, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Meacher, Michael Snape, Peter
Michael, Alun Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Spearing, Nigel
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Speller, John
Milburn, Alan Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Miller, Andrew Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Steinberg, Gerry
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stevenson, George
Morgan, Rhodri Stott, Roger
Morley, Elliot Strang, Dr. Gavin
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Straw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mowlam, Marjorie Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Mudie, George Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mullin, Chris Turner, Dennis
Murphy, Paul Tyler, Paul
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Vaz, Keith
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
O'Hara, Edward Wallace, James
Olner, William Walley, Joan
O'Neill, Martin Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Watson, Mike
Parry, Robert Welsh, Andrew
Patchett, Terry Wicks, Malcolm
Pendry, Tom Wigley, Dafydd
Pickthall, Colin Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Pike, Peter L. Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Pope, Greg Wilson, Brian
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Winnick, David
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Wise, Audrey
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Worthington, Tony
Prescott, John Wright, Dr Tony
Primarolo, Dawn Young, David (Bolton SE)
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms Joyce Tellers for the Ayes:
Radice, Giles Mr. John Cummings and
Randall, Stuart Mr. Alan Meale.
Raynsford, Nick
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bellingham, Henry
Aitken, Jonathan Bendell, Vivian
Alexander, Richard Beresford, Sir Paul
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Biffen, Rt Hon John
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Blackburn, Dr John G.
Amess, David Body, Sir Richard
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Booth, Hartley
Ashby, David Boswell, Tim
Aspinwall, Jack Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Atkins, Robert Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Bowden, Andrew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bowis, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Brandreth, Gyles
Baldry, Tony Brazier, Julian
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Bright, Graham
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Bates, Michael Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Batiste, Spencer Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hawkins, Nick
Budgen, Nicholas Hawksley, Warren
Burns, Simon Hayes, Jerry
Butler, Peter Hendry, Charles
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hicks, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Carrington, Matthew Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Carttiss, Michael Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Cash, William Horam, John
Chapman, Sydney Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Churchill, Mr Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Clappison, James Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Coe, Sebastian Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Colvin, Michael Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Congdon, David Hunter, Andrew
Conway, Derek Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Jack, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Jenkin, Bernard
Cormack, Patrick Jessel, Toby
Couchman, James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Davis, David (Boothferry) Key, Robert
Day, Stephen Kilfedder, Sir James
Deva, Nirj Joseph King, Rt Hon Tom
Devlin, Tim Kirkhope, Timothy
Dickens, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Dicks, Terry Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Dover, Den Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Duncan, Alan Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Duncan-Smith, Iain Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Dunn, Bob Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Durant, Sir Anthony Legg, Barry
Elletson, Harold Leigh, Edward
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lidington, David
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lightbown, David
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Evennett, David Lord, Michael
Faber, David Luff, Peter
Fabricant, Michael Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas MacKay, Andrew
Fenner, Dame Peggy Maclean, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) McLoughlin, Patrick
Fishburn, Dudley McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Forman, Nigel Madel, Sir David
Forth, Eric Maitland, Lady Olga
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Malone, Gerald
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Mans, Keith
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Marland, Paul
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Marlow, Tony
French, Douglas Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Fry, Sir Peter Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gale, Roger Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gallie, Phil Mates, Michael
Gardiner, Sir George Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Merchant, Piers
Garnier, Edward Mills, Iain
Gill, Christopher Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Gillan, Cheryl Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Moate, Sir Roger
Gorst, John Monro, Sir Hector
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Moss, Malcolm
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Needham, Richard
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Nelson, Anthony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Neubert, Sir Michael
Hague, William Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Nicholls, Patrick
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hampson, Dr Keith Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hanley, Jeremy Norris, Steve
Hannam, Sir John Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hargreaves, Andrew Oppenheim, Phillip
Haselhurst, Alan Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard Sweeney, Walter
Paice, James Sykes, John
Patnick, Irvine Tapsell, Sir Peter
Patten, Rt Hon John Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Pawsey, James Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Pickles, Eric Temple-Morris, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thomason, Roy
Porter, David (Waveney) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rathbone, Tim Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Redwood, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Townend, John (Bridlington)
Richards, Rod Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Tracey, Richard
Robathan, Andrew Tredinnick, David
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Trend, Michael
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Trotter, Neville
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Twinn, Dr Ian
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Viggers, Peter
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Walden, George
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Sackville, Tom Waller, Gary
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Ward, John
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, David (Dover) Waterson, Nigel
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Watts, John
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Wells, Bowen
Shersby, Michael Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Sims, Roger Whitney, Ray
Skeet, Sir Trevor Whittingdale, John
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Widdecombe, Ann
Soames, Nicholas Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Speed, Sir Keith Willetts, David
Spencer, Sir Derek Wilshire, David
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Spink, Dr Robert Wolfson, Mark
Spring, Richard Wood, Timothy
Sproat, Iain Yeo, Tim
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Steen, Anthony
Stephen, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Stern, Michael Mr. Robert G. Hughes and
Stewart, Allan Mr. James Arbuthnot.
Streeter, Gary

Question accordingly negatived.

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