Additional Personal Allowance — Non-Discrimination

Part of New Clause 30 – in the House of Commons at 11:45 pm on 15th July 1991.

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Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury 11:45 pm, 15th July 1991

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

In Committee we drew the attention of the Government to an example of discrimination of the tax system in relation to the additional personal allowance. The allowance is available to someone who has a child living with him, if that person is a man and is married and living with a wife who herself is totally unable to look after herself throughout the year to which the allowance applies because of illness or disability. The tax relief is available to a man in such a position but not to a woman living with a totally disabled or ill husband. I believe that in Committee the Minister voiced her sympathy with our point that that is grossly discriminatory. I repeat that a man can claim the additional personal allowance but a woman in identical circumstances cannot. We believe that there should be equity between husband and wife. That is why we have tabled the new clause on Report.

In Committee the Minister said that she was sympathetically inclined towards an examination of the problem that we had identified. The problem was first drawn to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), who has a constituent who cannot avail herself of the additional personal allowance, whereas if her husband had been in her circumstances, he could have done so.

The Minister said that she was sympathetic and that she would consider the issue. She gave no absolute commitment to come back on Report to put matters right. Very helpfully, she wrote to me on 11 July to say that the Government had further considered the matter but were not yet ready to make specific proposals. I was disappointed to receive that response. Of course, I appreciate that the Government may wish to take a wider look at the issue; they may want to consider it in the context of the benefits system as well as of the tax system. I appreciate that a tax allowance benefits only those who are taxpayers. It does not benefit everyone who might be in this particular circumstance.

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However, to put right the discrimination now would, at least for this year, get rid of an example of discrimination in our taxation system. The Government could then spend the rest of the year considering the issue more carefully and fully and could produce more fully worked up proposals next year. But to accept the new clause now would enable us to put on the statute book, for this year at least, a measure to remove a blatant example of discrimination in the availability of the additional personal allowance.

I hope that at this eleventh hour, as we approach the closing stages of the Finance Bill, we might just persuade the Minister of State to have another look at our new clause and to say just for once, "Yes, the Government will do something right now", and not put off doing so for fear of avoiding doing something better in the future. I hope that the Government will find it in their heart to accept the new clause and put right the discrimination. They could then perhaps go on to look more fully at how to remedy other wrongs within the system.