Child Benefit

Oral Answers to Questions — National Finance – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th April 1991.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 12:00 am, 18th April 1991

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met representatives from the Trade Union Congress to discuss child benefit.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

My right hon. Friend meets representatives of the TUC from time to time in a number of different contexts.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Does the Minister appreciate that when the Chancellor recently increased child benefit by 25p for second and subsequent children, his generosity was not appreciated by the country because people would like him to explain what that 25p will buy in terms of food and clothing for children?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

To qualify for the 25p for the second child, one has to have a first child for whom an extra £1 was given. The total benefit to the family in that tranche alone was £1·25. Expenditure this year on child benefit will be more than £5 billion compared with under £2 billion when the Labour Government were in office. We have nothing to be ashamed of in our record.

Photo of Mr Robert McCrindle Mr Robert McCrindle , Brentwood and Ongar

Notwithstanding the rather carping criticism by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), will my right hon. and learned Friend take it from me that the announcement by the Chancellor in the Budget on child benefit was warmly welcomed by those of us who, over many years and without, dare I say it, much encouragement from former Chancellors, have testified to the continuing need to maintain child benefit? Will my right hon. and learned Friend also accept our pleasure that we now have a sign that child benefit will not be allowed to wither on the vine, as many of us had feared?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

Yes. The fact that child benefit is to be uprated in line with inflation is worthy of my hon. Friend's commendation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to others who argued the case. He may be interested to know that the efforts of the Government and of Conservative Members during the past decade have meant that expenditure on families with children has increased by 32 per cent. in real terms during the 1980s. He may also be interested to know that expenditure on families with children fell by 7 per cent. in real terms when the Labour party was last in power.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Why, with the United Kingdom lagging behind the rest of the European Community on child benefit —fourth, fifth or seventh depending on the age and number of children—do the Government continue to dither on whether—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Oh yes, dither. Why do the Government continue to dither about whether they expect women to stay at home or to go out to work? Is not the challenge to ensure that women have a real choice and to give them the level of child benefit and employers the level of nursery taxation to enable women to have that choice?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

I enjoyed that question. I am not sure that it shed much light on the debate, but I enjoyed it. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the upratings in child benefit announced in the Budget, as well as those that took place this month, have been a substantial contribution to assisting families with children including, interestingly, the poorest 25 per cent. of families, who, in the uprating announced in the Budget, will not suffer clawback on their family credit arrangements. The Labour party costed its shadow Budget on the basis that it would claw back the increase in child benefit from those who were in receipt of income support.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

Although it is obviously right for my right hon. and learned Friend to consult the TUC on this and others matters, may I ask him to confirm that the Government have no intention of returning to the bad old days of beer and sandwiches, as now advocated by the Labour party? Does he agree that attempts at corporatist planning damaged the economy in the past and would do so again?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

I said that my right hon. Friend "meets" the TUC; the word "consultation" was not used. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the Labour party has a formidable task if it is to explain precisely what its cosy little arrangement with the TUC would do to the economy.