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Like many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, I have not sought to delay the proceedings this evening by repeating arguments which have already been ably put. I want to be as brief and clear as possible in persuading the Minister to withdraw the Clause.
The Clause applies to the Bill the provisions of Sections 23 and 24 of the Ministry of Social Security Act, 1966, which enable the Supplementary Benefits Commission to recover from a husband or father the cost of any supplementary benefit paid to a family and in respect of illegitimate children to obtain affiliation orders or apply for payment under existing orders to be made to the Department. As the Clause stands, any unsupported mother who claims family income supplement will be expected to supply information about her husband or the putative father of her children from whom, as under the supplementary benefit provisions, repayment can be claimed and the man followed up.
While these provisions are appropriate in the case of supplementary benefit, I am sure that hon. Members will agree that they are not appropriate to a scheme such as this. Family income supplement can be claimed only by a woman who has made the choice to go into full time work to support herself and her family instead of relying upon supplementary benefit. It is only a relatively small supplement to her income and, most important, only 50 per cent. makes good any shortfall in the woman's income. It is unlikely, therefore, that there would be any temptation to collusion between man and wife, as there is sometimes in the case of supplementary benefit.
We have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Minister in all his pleas that the Bill should be as simple as possible and, equally, that it should provide as little deterrent as possible against people claiming benefit. I believe that the provisions of the Clause, which I do not believe that the Minister would intend to use except in exceptional circumstances, would nevertheless prove a deterrent to many women in applying for benefit. In these circumstances, I ask the Minister to remove the Clause from the Bill.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) in her plea. The House of Commons should do everything possible to help and support women who are making an effort in a very difficult situation to support their child who has no father. Because I feel strongly that the Clause would be a positive disincentive to a woman to stand on her own feet—indeed, it would almost force her to apply for supplementary benefit full-time—I emphasise my support for my hon. Friend.
Time is getting on and the matter has been ventilated so eloquently by both hon. Ladies who have spoken from the Government benches that it is quite sufficient for me to do no more than say that we on this side have a great deal of sympathy for the point of view which they have expressed. We would certainly like to hear from the Secretary of State why that point of view should be wrong.
I assure the Committee that the Clause was put in perfectly innocently, but it has been misunderstood and a number of organisations have drawn the conclusion that we intend to harry any unsupported mother, before helping her with the supplement, to secure the name of the putative father of the child in order to extract payment from him. It was not our intention in any way to harry the women whom we seek to help.
The points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Melton (Miss Pike) and Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) are valid, and there is only the slightest possible risk of collusion or abuse if we remove the Clause. I therefore think that their arguments are such that the Committee would be wise to accept them and to delete the Clause from the Bill.