HC Deb 03 April 1990 vol 170 cc1094-9

'In section 1 of the Child Benefit Act 1975, after subsection (2) there shall be inserted the following subsections— (2A) Child benefit shall continue to be paid as in May 1987, and direct to the mother. (2B) In subsection (2A) above, 'as in May 1987' means at rates which have at least the same value as in May 1987 in relation to the general level of prices obtaining in Great Britain.".'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ms. Short

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

The purpose of the new clause is to maintain child benefit in its current form, paid directly to the main carer—usually the mother—but to make good the amount lost in the freeze between April 1988–89 and April 1989–90 and to index-link the benefit thereafter.

It is obvious that what we have just heard represented a deliberate attempt to prevent serious debate on child benefit. It illustrates the disgraceful way in which the Government have treated the Bill and the major issues that we sought to raise in the House. The Government are ashamed of their position on child benefit, and rightly so, because they are cutting the value of support for children throughout the country and enlarging the poverty trap for the low paid and for lone mothers.

We know that the Ministers are not in charge of their Department and have to do as the Treasury tells them. We know that in the past, along with some of the more decent elements of their party, they have been great supporters of child benefit, but such is their lust to hang on to office in a collapsing Government that they now attempt to justify the outrageous policy of cutting child benefit and then cutting it again to bring the benefit into disrepute and allow it to wither away. That, clearly, is the strategy which underpins the Government's actions, and it is entirely in breach of the manifesto on which they fought the last election.

It is impossible to place a different interpretation on the words on which each and every one of those Ministers fought the election. They said that child benefit would be paid "as now", and directly to the mother. "As now" must imply its value—it would be a joke to say that a benefit whose value had been reduced to almost nothing was being paid "as now". In cutting the benefit, the Government are breaking their faith with the electorate. They have been forced to guillotine the debate and to filibuster because they are so ashamed of what they have to say that they are not willing to say it to the House. If there were time, I should like to go into some of the details of the Secretary of State's justification for the last freeze in child benefit. It does not bear scrutiny. He said: take-home pay for those on average male earnings has already increased on the past year by some £16 a week, and will have been further increased by up to £3 a week for the great majority of families as a result of this month's reduction in national insurance contributions—indeed, more where both partners are working. The introduction of independent taxation next April will bring further improvements for many".—(Official Report, 25 October 1989, Vol. 158, c. 842.] None of that stands up. First, independent taxation will not affect the majority of families with children. Secondly, increased male earnings do not necessarily go to mothers and their children, as a survey has shown. Thirdly, two-earner couples gain more from a general increase in gross earnings levels and reductions in national insurance contributions than do one-earner couples.

The Government's position is indefensible. All the rhetoric from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State about their new-found concern for lone parents in need of assistance to avoid the poverty trap is flatly contradicted by what they are doing to child benefit. Child benefit is the one benefit which helps low-paid workers —and, in particular, lone parents—to get off benefit and into work, because they take the benefit with them. The vast majority of lone parents live in poverty, as do their children. They are trapped in that condition because there are no jobs available which pay enough, because the Government have desperately, urgently and thoroughly encouraged low pay in the economy. The erosion of child benefit will increase the already rising proportion of lone-parent families trapped on benefit.

I am sorry that a number of hon. Members have been deprived of the opportunity to speak—not least by the ignorant, stupid and ill-informed speech of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) on the previous new clause. He was obviously dragged into the Chamber by the Whips to talk about something about which he knew nothing and to prevent serious debate by filibustering.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Short

Certainly not—the hon. Gentleman would not do so—and I will not withdraw what I said either.

Mr. Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not expect civility from the hon. Lady. However, I make speeches when I choose and not when anyone else asks me to, so her suggestion is outrageous.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

That is a point for debate, not a point of order.

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

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) should realise two things. First, had we wished to prevent her from raising the matter, it would have been easy. The fact that she has been able to raise the matter is a sign that her suggestions about my hon. Friends are unfounded. The House must have thought that what she just said about my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) was outside the conventions of this place. Secondly, I have manifestly not had the opportunity, despite having a substantial set of remarks, to make the speech that I would have wished to make in response to the hon. Lady. It seems sensible, therefore, for us to proceed to the Division that the hon. Lady evidently wishes to have.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Does the Secretary of State agree with the analysis of child benefit offered by the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), in the Friday debate a few weeks ago—

It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the order [29 March], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

The House divided: Ayes 211, Noes 305.

Division No. 154] [7.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Eadie, Alexander
Allen, Graham Eastham, Ken
Alton, David Evans, John (St Helens N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Armstrong, Hilary Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Fatchett, Derek
Ashton, Joe Fearn, Ronald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Fisher, Mark
Barron, Kevin Flannery, Martin
Battle, John Flynn, Paul
Beckett, Margaret Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beggs, Roy Foster, Derek
Beith, A. J. Foulkes, George
Bell, Stuart Fraser, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fyfe, Maria
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Galloway, George
Bermingham, Gerald Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Blunkett, David Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Boateng, Paul Godman, Dr Norman A.
Boyes, Roland Golding, Mrs Llin
Bradley, Keith Gordon, Mildred
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Gould, Bryan
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Buchan, Norman Grocott, Bruce
Buckley, George J. Hardy, Peter
Callaghan, Jim Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Henderson, Doug
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hinchliffe, David
Canavan, Dennis Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hood, Jimmy
Clay, Bob Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clelland, David Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howells, Geraint
Cohen, Harry Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoyle, Doug
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Crowther, Stan Ingram, Adam
Cryer, Bob Janner, Greville
Cummings, John Johnston, Sir Russell
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Darling, Alistair Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kennedy, Charles
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Kilfedder, James
Dixon, Don Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Dobson, Frank Kirkwood, Archy
Doran, Frank Lambie, David
Douglas, Dick Lamond, James
Duffy, A. E. P. Leighton, Ron
Dunnachie, Jimmy Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Litherland, Robert Rooker, Jeff
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Loyden, Eddie Ross, William (Londonderry E)
McAllion, John Rowlands, Ted
McAvoy, Thomas Ruddock, Joan
McCartney, Ian Salmond, Alex
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Sedgemore, Brian
McKelvey, William Sheerman, Barry
McLeish, Henry Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Maclennan, Robert Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McNamara, Kevin Short, Clare
Madden, Max Sillars, Jim
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Maxton, John Smith J.P. (Vale of Glam)
Meacher, Michael Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Meale, Alan Snape, Peter
Michael, Alun Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Spearing, Nigel
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Steinberg, Gerry
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stott, Roger
Morley, Elliot Strang, Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Straw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mowlam, Marjorie Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mullin, Chris Turner, Dennis
Murphy, Paul Vaz, Keith
Nellist, Dave Walkler, A Cecil (Belfast N)
O'Brien, William Walley, Joan
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wareing, Robert N.
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Patchett, Terry Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Pendry, Tom Wigley, Dafydd
Pike, Peter L. Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Prescott, John Wilson, Brian
Primarolo, Dawn Winnick, David
Quin, Ms Joyce Wise, Mrs Audrey
Radice, Giles Wray, Jimmy
Randall, Stuart Young, David (Bolton SE)
Redmond, Martin
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Tellers for the Ayes:
Reid, Dr John Mr. Frank Haynes and
Richardson, Jo Mr. Martyn Jones
Adley, Robert Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Aitken, Jonathan Bowis, John
Alexander, Richard Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Allason, Rupert Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Brazier, Julian
Amess, David Bright, Graham
Amos, Alan Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Arbuthnot, James Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Buck, Sir Antony
Ashby, David Budgen, Nicholas
Aspinwall, Jack Burns, Simon
Atkinson, David Burt, Alistair
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Butcher, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Butler, Chris
Baldry, Tony Butterfill, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Batiste, Spencer Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Carrington, Matthew
Bellingham, Henry Carttiss, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Cash, William
Benyon, W. Chapman, Sydney
Bevan, David Gilroy Chope, Christopher
Biffen, Rt Hon John Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Body, Sir Richard Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Colvin, Michael
Boswell, Tim Conway, Derek
Bottomley, Peter Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Couchman, James Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Cran, James Hunter, Andrew
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Curry, David Irvine, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Irving, Sir Charles
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jack, Michael
Day, Stephen Jackson, Robert
Devlin, Tim Janman, Tim
Dickens, Geoffrey Jessel, Toby
Dorrell, Stephen Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dover, Den Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Dunn, Bob Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Durant, Tony Key, Robert
Dykes, Hugh King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Eggar, Tim King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Emery, Sir Peter Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knapman, Roger
Evennett, David Knignt, Greg (Derby North)
Fallon, Michael Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Favell, Tony Knowles, Michael
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lang, Ian
Fishburn, John Dudley Latham, Michael
Fookes, Dame Janet Lawrence, Ivan
Forman, Nigel Lee, John (Pendle)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forth, Eric Lennox-Boyd, Hon Work
Fox, Sir Marcus Lightbown, David
Franks, Cecil Lilley, Peter
Freeman, Roger Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
French, Douglas Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fry, Peter Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Gale, Roger McCrindle, Robert
Gardiner, George Macfarlane, sir Neil
Garel-Jones, Tristan MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gill, Christopher MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Maclean, David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles McLoughlin, Patrick
Gorman, Mrs Teresa McNair-Wilson, sir Michael
Gow, Ian McNair-Wilson, sir Patrick
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Madel, David
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Major, Rt Hon John
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Malins, Humfrey
Gregory, Conal Mans, Keith
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') marland, Paul
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Marlow, Tony
Grist, Ian MarShall, John (Hendon S)
Ground, Patrick Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grylls, Michael Maude, Hon Francis
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hague, William Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Mellor, David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hampson, Dr Keith Miller, Sir Hal
Hanley, Jeremy Mills, Iain
Hannam, John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Mitchell, Sir David
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Harris, David Moore, Rt Hon John
Haselhurst, Alan Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hawkins, Christopher Morrison, Sir Charles
Hayes, Jerry Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Moss, Malcolm
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Mudd, David
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Neale, Gerrard
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Neubert, Michael
Hill, James Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hind, Kenneth Nicholls, Patrick
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Holt, Richard Norris, Steve
Hordern, Sir Peter Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Page, Richard
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Paice, James
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patnick, Irvine
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Patten, Rt Hon John Summerson, Hugo
Pawsey, James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Porter, David (Waveney) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Portillo, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Price, Sir David Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Raffan, Keith Temple-Morris, Peter
Redwood, John Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rhodes James, Robert Thornton, Malcolm
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Thurnham, Peter
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Townend, John (Bridlington)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Tracey, Richard
Roe, Mrs Marion Tredinnick, David
Rost, Peter Trippier, David
Rowe, Andrew Trotter, Neville
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Twinn, Dr Ian
Ryder, Richard Viggers, Peter
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Waddington, Rt Hon David
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shaw, David (Dover) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Waller, Gary
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Ward, John
Shersby, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sims, Roger Warren, Kenneth
Skeet, Sir Trevor Watts, John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wells, Bowen
Speed, Keith Wheeler, Sir John
Speller, Tony Whitney, Ray
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Widdecombe, Ann
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wiggin, Jerry
Squire, Robin Wilshire, David
Stanbrook, Ivor Wolfson, Mark
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wood, Timothy
Stern, Michael Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Stevens, Lewis Yeo, Tim
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N) Tellers for the Noes:
Stokes, Sir John Mr. Alastair Goodlad and
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Mr. Tom Sackville.
Sumberg, David

Question accordingly negatived.

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