I am reminded that we are the only country that does not pay family allowance to the first child. That is an indictment upon Governments of both political parties. They have had the opportunity to expand the scheme over many years. No doubt we have had financial crises that have come and gone. No doubt it is always possible to raise the existence of a financial crisis as a reason for delay. The fact is that we have been considerably remiss in not turning our attention to improving family allowance provision over the past years.
There is a major Government responsibility to respond generously to the new clause. I think that the present Government have a special responsibility because on taking office in February last year they indicated their opposition to the tax credit system that was proposed by the previous Conservative Government. That was a system which, in the view of most of my right hon. and hon. Friends, would have taken care of a large part of the problem that we are now considering almost a year later.
Not only that—the Government have poured scorn on the family income supplement system. I am the first to concede that the family income supplement arrangement has major defects, but the fact is that it was intended as a partial contribution to help to remove family poverty. The Government having poured scorn on the family income supplement system must be expected to react in a favourable way to the proposition now before us. They have virtually rejected the recommendations of the Finer Committee. Their actions are in sharp contrast to the statements made by Labour Members when in Opposition. They come as disappointing to many of my hon. Friends who had hoped for better things on the arrival of the present Government in February of last year.
The Government have said that their approach to family poverty is all tied up in the family endowment scheme. I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) and the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield. The Government's approach sounds fine, and it may be a great breakthrough which can be supported by both sides of the House, but as time goes by we become wary and not a little suspicious of exactly what the approach contains. We are moving towards a feeling that the Government's thinking on these matters is not half as far forward as the Secretary of State has suggested in recent weeks.
In the present economic circumstances it can easily be said—I suspect that the Government will say so—that this is the wrong time to move into additional expenditure of a sizeable order. It is for that reason that my hon. Friend has pitched his proposal in a modest fashion. We are not proposing that the family allowance should be extended to the first child, although there is a strong argument that that should be done. We are saying that it should move into the area in which family poverty bites hardest—namely, one-parent families.
It is incumbent upon the House, if resources are as limited as we are led to believe, to turn our attention to assisting in particular those women who are trying to earn a living while bringing up a child on their own. There is a need for some help to be directed to them. I remind the House that we are now in Women's International Year. It seems that if we are to make any contribution within the relatively narrow confines of the Bill we should assist those women who, by their own efforts, are trying to maintain under difficult circumstances a reasonable standard of living for their child or children, they having been left for one reason or another to do so on their own.
I believe that the pressure is now on the one-parent families. I cannot but contrast the Government's approach to them with the provision of food subsidies. It seems that we have an almost open-ended commitment to food subsidies. Surely even the Government will concede that such a large amount of money spread over such a large number of people brings very small help to each individual or family. There would be a very small additional provision under the Bill if the clause were to be accepted by the Government. It would direct assistance where it is greatly needed. Although the relatively modest amount referred to in the new clause may seem to indicate hardly any improvement in the family situation, I believe that in the circumstances in which the people to whom we are referring find themselves it would be of major assistance.
I ask the Government once again to try to cast aside the temptation to play party politics on this matter and turn instead to a recognition that this is a modest proposal, directed to a particularly hard-pressed section of the community. On that basis, I hope that it will be supported not only by the Opposition but by Government Members.