I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin).
In order that we may have a reasonable discussion—we are considering seven regulations altogether—it may be helpful to indicate how I intend to proceed.
The central issue of this debate must be the draft Family Income Supplements (Computation) Regulations, together with the Family Income Supplement (General) Amendment Regulations 1977, which are needed to complete the modifications to the FIS scheme in time for the beginning of the child benefit scheme on 4th April. The remaining five sets of regulations I will come to later, and will attempt to deal with them all together. Before mentioning some of the details of the computation regulations, there are two preliminary points that I ought to make.
The first is that FIS was conceived by the last Conservative Government as a simple scheme, and we propose to keep it so. Nevertheless, the introduction of a universal benefit such as child benefit, coupled with a gradual withdrawal of child tax allowances, is bound to have an effect on the formula for the calculation of FIS, and I know that this has led to confusion in some quarters. I have therefore prepared a brief explanation of the FIS rules and how we propose to apply them in the child benefit era. Some hon. Members may already have copies of this note; further copies can be obtained from the Whips' Offices. I hope that hon. Members who wish to follow the proposed changes as I describe them will find it easier to do so by reference to this note.
The second preliminary point is that at present the prescribed amounts and maximum payments are specified in Sections 2 and 3 of the Family Income Supplements Act 1970, as amended by computation regulations at each FIS uprating. Schedule 4 to the Child Benefit Act 1975 amends the Family Income Supplements Act so that, following the introduction of the child benefit scheme, the prescribed amounts and maximum payments are to be specified in regulations, subject to two conditions. The only one that I need mention is that the prescribed amounts, which will apply from 5th April, must not be less than the basic prescribed amount immediately before the commencement of the child benefit scheme. In other words, any changes in the FIS formula needed to take account of the introduction of child benefit could not include a reduction in the basic prescribed amount of £39.