Schedule 1 — The Child Poverty Commission

Bill Presented — Fiscal Responsibility – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 9th December 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment made: 22, page 18, line 20, at end insert-

'Research

9A (1) The Commission may at any time request the Secretary of State to carry out, or commission others to carry out, such research on behalf of the Commission for the purpose of the carrying out of the Commission's functions as the Commission may specify in the request.

(2) If the Secretary of State decides not to comply with the request, the Secretary of State must notify the Commission of the reasons for the decision.'.- (Helen Goodman.)

Third Reading

Watch this
Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website

Hide

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) 6:14 pm, 9th December 2009

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Tackling child poverty and deprivation is one of the most crucial roles for any Government. Our goal is- [Interruption.]

Watch this

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber please do so as quickly and quietly as possible so that the Third Reading debate can take place?

Watch this

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Our goal is a society where no child's life is scarred by poverty, and where every child is given the best possible start in life and has the capabilities and opportunities to flourish. Children who grow up in poverty lack many of the experiences and opportunities that others take for granted, and can be exposed to severe hardship and social exclusion. Their childhood suffers as a result, which is unacceptable. In the current difficult economic times, our focus on tackling child poverty is even more important. Too often in the past, recessions and economic downturns have been allowed to affect the lives of children long after the country's economy has returned to growth.

Today, we set out the five principles that will guide our strategy on child poverty: first, that work is the most sustainable route out of poverty; secondly, that families and family life should be supported; thirdly, that early intervention is necessary to break cycles of deprivation; fourthly, that excellence in public service delivery is key; and fifthly, that cost-effectiveness and affordability are vital.

Worklessness in families and severe deprivation have not been tackled with the energy and drive needed to deal with entrenched disadvantage. In this context, it is right that we renew and strengthen our commitment to deliver on the 2020 goal through the Child Poverty Bill. The Bill will give us renewed impetus to deliver on our goals and to ensure that the right strategies and actions flow from it.

Watch this

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I would like to make a little more progress.

The Bill will sustain and increase the momentum towards eradicating child poverty, create a clear definition of success, put in place a framework for accountability, and improve partnership-working and collaboration to tackle child poverty at the local level. I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their contributions to the debates as the Bill made progress. It has been encouraging that it has received a warm welcome from colleagues.

I want to respond briefly to some of the points that were raised and on which hon. Members asked for the Government's view. Mr. Gauke asked about the position of local authorities in respect of relative income. The objective is not to have separate relative income targets for each local authority area. There was some confusion about that in Committee, and I hope we have cleared it up. The hon. Gentleman also suggested that local authorities do not have any impact on relative income standards in their areas. We believe that they do have the ability to influence families' incomes, and, indeed, play a pivotal role in tackling the causes of relative low income. Also, local authorities will soon have the means to assess local progress in tackling low income, and it is entirely reasonable to expect that to be taken into account in the preparation of their needs assessments.

Local authorities have a number of levers at their disposal to help increase family income. In the short term, they can administer financial help for families on low incomes with measures such as housing and council tax benefit, encouraging families to take up financial support, and joining up national and local partners to provide personalised skills and employment support. Local authorities can also reduce low income in the future by driving economic regeneration and neighbourhood renewal, and by providing high-quality education and early years services.

Aside from its positive reception, the Bill has been a credit to the House. Hon. Members have spoken passionately and been extremely well informed on this crucial topic. The focus that the Government have placed on child poverty has ensured that both the moral and economic case for tackling it is indisputable. They have much to be proud of in their record on child poverty. Our efforts and successes in tackling poverty and deprivation across the country have shown that with the political will those problems can be addressed. However, we need to do more to tackle the root causes and consequences of poverty, so that all children have a good start in life, enjoying a fulfilling childhood and having the capabilities and opportunities to flourish. Our vision is of a fairer society: one in which no child is left behind and every child has the opportunity to flourish.

I have very much enjoyed the debate on this important Bill, not only today, but throughout its Committee stage. Delivering this legislation will take us closer to our goal of eradicating child poverty in this generation. This Bill will help to focus efforts across government, local authorities and other partners to improve the lives of children and young people, and I commend it to the House.

Watch this

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 6:20 pm, 9th December 2009

I have no hesitation in joining the Minister in saying that eradicating child poverty is an ambitious but vital objective for our country. It is both an economic imperative, because no advanced economy can afford to waste the potential of so many of its citizens, and, as she has said, a moral imperative, as no decent society should allow so many children to remain in poverty, as has been the case in the United Kingdom in recent years. I shall repeat what my right hon. Friend Mrs. May said on Second Reading, because we are both proud to serve under a leader who has said:

"I want me-and the government I aspire to lead-to be judged on how we tackle poverty in office. Because poverty is not acceptable in our country today."

I am also pleased that it was a Conservative Mayor of London who decided to pay a living wage to Greater London authority staff. That had not happened before.

The long title of the Bill refers to "eradication", but both the Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have made frequent reference during our debates to the fact that the Government's real aspiration is to achieve a child poverty level that is among the best in Europe. It would have been slightly more honest to have said that in the Bill, because the 10 per cent. that is in the Bill represents the best level, and 10 per cent. is not eradication. Some 23 per cent. of children in the United Kingdom live in poverty, which is about twice the level found in the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark-they have child poverty rates of 14, 12 and 10 per cent. respectively. It is also instructive to note that 23 per cent. of UK children were living in relative poverty in 1987, 24 per cent. were doing so in 1996 and 23 per cent. were doing so in 2001. The level of child poverty has remained stubbornly high for more than 30 years.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has drawn attention to the need for us to change our strategy if we are to make better progress, saying that

"the strategy against poverty and social exclusion pursued since the late 1990s is now largely exhausted."

The former Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Milburn, has said that

"poverty has become more entrenched".

That is why we need fresh thinking on this subject, and I was pleased that just now the Minister outlined five themes. A number of those relate to the causes of poverty, to which Conservative Members have tried on every occasion to include reference in the Bill.

The Bill is very much a blank canvas. It sets out the targets to be achieved in 2020, but I was disappointed just now that Labour Members voted against including the 2010 target, even though I believe that some of the Minister's colleagues joined us in the Division Lobby. As I said, the Government have had 10 years to have a run at the target of halving child poverty, and I think that a formal report to Parliament on that would have been useful and would have provided the Government with an early opportunity to come to the House to explain how the child poverty strategy will change.

Conservative Members have set out on a number of occasions the causes of poverty that we want examined. Our non-exhaustive list includes educational failure, hence our school reforms and our commitment to pay a pupil premium to those schools in the most disadvantaged areas, and the level of skills, which is vital. Level 3 skills, which were mentioned at Prime Minister's questions, are particularly important and have decreased over the past decade.

Both benefit dependency and intergenerational worklessness are huge problems that cause poverty up and down our country, hence the Opposition have produced some of the most detailed welfare reform proposals that any party has introduced in opposition or in government. Our "Get Britain Working" programme cuts right to the heart of what is needed to deal with child poverty, so that we can help people to get back into the work force and break these intergenerational cycles of worklessness.

Work on dealing with benefit dependency is extremely important, too, and I commend the "Dynamic Benefits" report produced by my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith in that regard. The issue of debt is extremely serious. We touched on that in Committee. It aggravates poverty for some families in a particularly nasty and unattractive way, trapping them in deep poverty, often for long periods. Some excellent work is being done in the voluntary sector by Christians Against Poverty centres and others up and down the country.

I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the need to strengthen families, and I was particularly pleased to have support from Mr. Field in that regard, too.

We touched on the issue of addiction. I say again that I think that that needs to be part of the Government's anti-poverty strategy. I recognise that some people might get into illegal substance abuse and alcohol abuse because of poverty, but the relationship also works the other way around. Families and lives that were proceeding along absolutely fine are destroyed because of alcoholism or illegal drug use.

We have also learned from a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the Government's child poverty strategy started to run into trouble as early as 2004-05. That was a key turning point well before the recession when poverty, unemployment and property repossessions all started to rise. Indeed, only a day or so ago there was an further excellent report by the Young Foundation pointing out some of these difficulties and to the important psycho-social problems faced by many families up and down the country. In particular, it pointed out the vital role of the voluntary sector, working alongside the Government to make real progress in dealing with these deep-seated issues.

In conclusion, I want to thank all those who were on the Committee, in particular my hon. Friend Mr. Gauke. He was an excellent shadow Minister to work alongside. I want to pay particular tribute, too, to my hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). They were a formidable duo behind us both in Committee and this afternoon. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend Mr. Streeter, who spoke eloquently on Second Reading and made a number of excellent interventions today.

The Bill is not perfect. We will seek in the other place to push some of the issues that we have raised. However, we join the Minister in agreeing with her wish to see child poverty come tumbling down in this country. It is still far too high and we believe that we can make much better progress.

Watch this

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 6:28 pm, 9th December 2009

It was interesting that when the Minister began her speech she said that she thought that it was wrong that any child should suffer poverty and deprivation. She was, of course, right. Andrew Selous said that the Bill talked about eradication, and it is regrettable in a sense-one might call it the poverty of our ambition-that we would regard success as 1 million children still living in poverty in 10 years' time. It might be that in modern industrialised societies that is, in the Government's view, the best that can be achieved. Clearly, it would be an awful lot better than the point from which we are starting. To that extent, we welcome the Bill. It is sad that the Government have felt it necessary to oversell it: the Prime Minister routinely at Prime Minister's questions refers to the Government's goal in legislation as being eradication, but he never qualifies that with the odd million who will still be left. That is really rather unhelpful.

It is true that the Bill raises the political price of failing to tackle child poverty, but no Government can bind their successor. Mr. Stuart asked what would happen if we were at war in 2018. If that happened, no doubt we would repeal or amend the Act because we would have to spend money because we were at war. We realise that there are always get-outs to such things, but the Bill will make it more difficult, in a relatively normal period, for a Government not to prioritise tackling child poverty.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Does the hon. Gentleman have any misgivings about the Bill? Obviously, no one wants child poverty to be maintained, but if we do not make an assessment of a Government's overall social priorities, how can we come up with statutory targets for one particular area? Surely that creates a risk, outside of the calamity of major war, that we will prioritise child poverty when it would be better to prioritise something else because of the situation at that time. Is not the Bill more declaratory than proper in its structure?

Watch this

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman is clearly right-the Bill prioritises the tackling of child poverty, and he is perfectly entitled to take the view either that it should not be a priority or that we should not presume that it should be a priority. However, I refer him to the situation in the 1980s, when tackling child poverty was neither a priority nor a statutory priority.

Rather shockingly, the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire selectively started his history from 1987. He has done that before, but the first time he did so, I thought that it was done innocently; this time, I assume that it was done deliberately. It is worth remembering that the Conservatives started government with 1.7 million children in poverty and that that number rose to 2.8 million under them, so, at the point at which he started his figures, the Tories had already put 1 million children into poverty. He then glossed over the fact that another 500,000 children moved into poverty before the Tories left office. They therefore doubled child poverty. I do not doubt the personal sincerity of the hon. Gentleman one jot, but the idea that the Conservative party is the answer to child poverty is amazing.

Watch this

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman and I had a similar exchange on Second Reading, so we are going over slightly old ground. I have the HBAI figures in front of me-I am sure that he, too, has them-and I see from table 4.1 on page 72 that the highest point was in 1995, at 29 per cent. However, my point is that these problems have been around for a considerable period. The rate in 1987 was the same as it is today. We have not made the progress that one would have hoped, despite the Government having made child poverty a political priority, because we are only back at the level that we were at in 1987, hence the need for fresh thinking.

Watch this

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The House might have thought that the hon. Gentleman was making a slightly different point-that it has all been pretty flat for 20 years, and that this is all terribly difficult. In fact, he picked a point halfway up a hill-a hill for which the Conservative party was responsible-because the figures continued to rise after his starting point. The achievements of the Labour Government might not have gone far enough, but they peaked the figures at the top of the hill and started us back down it again, and we are now halfway back down the hill that he started halfway up. The situation has not been static; a long-term trend of grotesque inequality, which his party presided over with apparent equanimity, has been reversed.

Watch this

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I hate to take up too much of Third Reading on economic history, but will the hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to the economy that the Conservative party inherited in 1979? It was a shambles and the priority had to be economic growth and regeneration. We were the sick man of Europe and we inherited a shambles. It is not possible for every Government to make progress on both economic and social targets if they inherit an economy that is in total shambles. It is worth putting that on the record.

Watch this

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. Clearly, 18 years is not long enough to avoid doubling child poverty. I assume, therefore, that he is saying that if the Conservatives came to office now, in what they say is a very difficult economic situation, and if child poverty were to double over the next 18 years, that would just be the way things are.

Watch this

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it seems eccentric to think that a Conservative policy could assist in dealing with child poverty, given that it might mean that a man who is on his third wife would still get extra benefits from their marriage allowance, while his first wife, who might still be looking after their children as a lone parent, would be being discriminated against and have an allowance taken away?

Watch this

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady raises a point about the perversity of the proposal to reward marriage through the tax system. The Conservatives started the abolition of the married couples tax allowance, but she may recall that Labour finished it off. It is funny how things come around again.

However, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you would not want me to stray from the Bill, which I welcome. It does not do a huge amount, but it does raise the political cost of not taking child poverty seriously, and that has to be a good thing. It will also engage local government, and we valued the contributions that John Howell made in Committee with his proactive thinking about child poverty at local level. That may well turn out to be one of the Bill's more concrete implications, as the national statistics will not be available locally anyway in quite that form.

As many hon. Members have said, we had a good Committee stage, and I was grateful to my hon. Friend John Barrett for his support. It was also good that two Government amendments-on child care, and the research function of the child poverty commission-were tabled on Report in response to the points that we raised. It is a welcome-and for me a relatively novel experience-to find that the arguments that we made in Committee actually changed something. To that extent, it has been a productive process but I am sure, as the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire said, that our noble Friends in another place will still have some items left on their agenda. However, I certainly encourage my hon. Friends to support the Third Reading of the Bill tonight.

Watch this

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 6:36 pm, 9th December 2009

I do not know whether it is usual to have so many Back Benchers wanting to take part in a Third Reading debate, but it is perfectly appropriate for this Bill. In Committee, those on both Front Benches commented on the way that Back Benchers had contributed, and that included the amendments that we tabled. For myself, I have very much enjoyed participating in the proceedings on this Bill, as it is an extremely important subject that is very close to my heart. Child poverty is something that we really need to make progress on.

Having said that, I remain disappointed with many aspects of the Bill, given that this is such an important subject. I remain disappointed with the way that it is still ill thought through in terms of the targets that it sets and the way that it is tackling-or not tackling-the causes of poverty. We have heard a lot about both matters again this afternoon on Report.

I also think that the Bill's structure remains ill thought through, and I still find it difficult to reconcile what it is trying to achieve in part 1 with what it is trying to achieve in part 2. Another matter that was raised in Committee but not on Report is the possibility, as many of the charity representatives who came to the Committee as witnesses stated clearly, that the Government will be taken to judicial review over the non-achievement of targets. That is still the case, as is the potential, given that these are income targets, that judges rather than the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make economic policy-although, after today's pre-Budget report, perhaps judges could not do a worse job.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

My hon. Friend is right to point to the absurd idea that judges might intervene in the complex area of child poverty-perhaps they will demand that billions be given in additional tax credits-but does he agree that there is also the equally absurd possibility of a conflict between statutory obligations? No Government before this one had ever put targets in statute, but now there will be statutes pointing in different directions. For example, whereas the Fiscal Responsibility Bill suggests that there must be cuts, other legislation such as the Climate Act 2008 and this Bill suggest that more should be spent.

Watch this

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We are discussing the Third Reading of the Child Poverty Bill and not the other legislation that the hon. Gentleman has referred to.

Watch this

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always good to take an intervention from the other half of the duo, who will no doubt make a contribution of his own in a moment. However, my hon. Friend is quite right to point out that that is also one of the legal consequences of the Bill, and I too think that it is an insult to Parliament as well.

I am also disappointed with the way that the Government continue to treat local government. It is clear from the Bill that they do not take local authorities seriously as entities in themselves, with their own agenda and ability to deliver, but regard them as the delivery arm of Whitehall.

Today is not the end of the matter with this Bill, as there is a huge pile of regulation and, even more worryingly, guidance to be issued to local authorities. All I shall ask of the Minister today is that she please take note of the evidence sessions and the comments made by witnesses. What is required from the Government when it comes to regulation and guidance is a light touch, if any touch at all. Many local authorities are already doing a good job in respect of child poverty, as was illustrated by the evidence to the Committee from Kent and Liverpool in particular. So please let us see in the guidance a recognition of the best practice that already exists.

I asked one of the witnesses what difference the Bill would make and whether it would make a big impact, because one of them had said that something pretty big needed to happen in the field of child poverty. I asked:

"Is that something going to happen as a result of the delivery mechanisms set out in the Bill?"

Neil O'Brien from Policy Exchange answered that negatively in terms of the delivery mechanisms and the aims in the Bill. It is interesting to read what he said next:

"you are not going to be voting in this place on the strategy and all of those things"- the big picture things-

"you are voting on just a target that is very much focused on central Government and everything they are doing. So, in answer to your previous question, there is a complete mismatch." --[ Official Report, Child Poverty Public Bill Committee, 22 October 2009; c. 110, Q21.]

That is a great shame.

The Bill could have shown greater ambition and taken us a lot further down the road towards eradicating child poverty. Instead, we have had the perversion of the English language, whereby "eradication" no longer means eradication in the sense that the rest of us would use the word. I hope that, with a change of Government, we will get a strategy for child poverty that is much more focused on delivering real change for children and particularly the families in which they live.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 6:41 pm, 9th December 2009

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate on Third Reading. Like my hon. Friend John Howell, I have enjoyed being involved in the proceedings on the Bill. The Committee that considered the Bill had the involvement of hon. Members from across the House. That is not always true. Government Back Benchers in particular sometimes seem to spend their entire time writing correspondence. That was not the case in this Committee, and every hon. Member took a deep interest in the issue and brought their own skills to it. Labour Members brought to the Committee casework and an understanding of housing needs in their constituencies. The Front Benchers of all three parties also played a full part in the Committee, which was productive, so it was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of it.

Steve Webb mentioned in his address that he hoped the Bill would make it harder and put up the political price for any Government in future to fail to tackle child poverty. He then launched a rather partisan assault.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Puerile, was it? The hon. Member for Northavon then launched an assault on the Conservative Government, who did indeed inherit a basket-case economy in 1979.

Watch this

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are debating the Bill on Third Reading, and should therefore be debating the Bill's contents.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was trying to answer the points made from his Front Bench by the hon. Member for Northavon. I do not know whether his status is different from mine, but the likelihood of meeting the targets in the Bill is based on an assessment of prior performance. In 1997, when the last Conservative Government came in, we were in a similar position. Okay, the fiscal deficit at its peak in 1976, when the International Monetary Fund came in, was half what it is today, so we are in a worse position from which to make change. Under that Conservative Government, who restarted the British economy, child poverty increased in a way that is regrettable. My hon. Friend Andrew Selous is nodding his head.

Despite the wreckage that is being left of our economy-again, by a Labour Government-if a Conservative Government are elected this coming May, we aim to ensure that we do not just revive the economy while leaving behind children in poverty. That is precisely why my hon. Friends are determined to take the child poverty issue seriously. We accept the fact that the record on child poverty was not great under the last Conservative Government. We aim to do better, but none of us progresses policy development in that area if we just try to make cheap partisan remarks or to suggest that anyone at any time-Ministers in the 1980s any more than today-were indifferent to the welfare of children. They were trying to focus on turning the country around, from a sick of man of Europe and an economic basket case to a dynamo that could move forward. Of course, this Government inherited that position in 1997.

Watch this

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Could I remind the hon. Member that we are not repeating a Second Reading debate? I have given him some latitude, and I would now ask him to concentrate his remarks on the Third Reading of this particular Bill.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am grateful also to my hon. Friend, who intervenes conveniently.

Watch this

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

My hon. Friend is making his point powerfully, as usual, but I have been sitting here listening to the debate and I must say that one way to reduce child poverty is surely to encourage marriage and for children to be born into families where the parents are married, because they stay together longer. It seems as though the two other main parties in the House are opposed to the idea of encouraging marriage.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He was not here during the earlier debate, when I reminded the House of what the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Helen Goodman, who is on the Front Bench today, told the Public Bill Committee. She said:

"The Government are not wholly convinced that family breakdown is a cause of poverty". --[ Official Report, Child Poverty Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2009; c. 15, Q44.]

That is an extraordinary thing for a Minister in this Labour Government to say. They are turning themselves away from all the evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire intervened on me earlier to read out the latest set of statistics, provided by the Minister's own Department, which show that a child brought up in a single-parent family is twice as likely as a child in a two-parent family to be in poverty. So my hon. Friend Mr. Bone is absolutely right.

We have a Government who, for their own narrow ideological or political dividing-lines reasons, insist on turning their face against a fundamental aspect of tackling poverty, which is to restore families and help couples-not necessarily married-to stay together to support their children. We know that if we can help to maintain that situation, general outcomes are much better. There is less likelihood of children being in poverty, and there is less likelihood of other unpleasant after-effects in later life, whether they involve mental health, educational outcomes or the likelihood of unemployment.

The essence of what comes out of the Bill will be the strategies that local authorities and the Secretary of State come up with, but it is most important that we tackle the causes of poverty. The Minister normally tries to be honest, and she talked about this piece of legislation-this Bill-ensuring that Governments have to be held to account and take action on child poverty. But, disappointingly, what did she do in her opening speech? Not once did she mention the 2010 target that this Government set, with a solemn promise that we would see child poverty halved. She did not even mention it, and we can only take politicians seriously on matters such as tackling poverty if they face up to their record to date. [ Interruption. ] I think the hon. Member for Northavon wants to intervene again.

There has been some progress, but the Government have not moved to tackle child poverty. Of course the irony is that, here we are, with this Child Poverty Bill and the Government congratulating themselves on introducing it, yet today, in the pre-Budget report, the door has finally been slammed in the faces of those who hoped-

Watch this

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Member that there will no doubt be an opportunity to discuss the pre-Budget report, but that now it is the Third Reading of the Bill?

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is pre-Budget reports and future Budgets that will need to put in place the relevant measures, if child poverty and, indeed, the long-term roots of poverty are to be tackled.

Watch this

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The Government talk a good game about the involvement of local government in the eradication of poverty, and they talk about initiatives such as Total Place, whereby they involve Departments across the piece in the support of local government. However, is it not true that the one Department that will not devolve power and responsibility for funding to Total Place and, I suggest, to the eradication of poverty is the centralised Department for Work and Pensions? The Treasury and other Departments support Total Place, but the Department for Work and Pensions fails to do so.

Watch this

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to be tempted to stray into a very different debate from the one that we are currently dealing with.

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am extremely mindful of your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will return to the strategies.

We know very little about the strategies. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire tabled amendments to try to ensure that issues such as family breakdown and looked-after children would be covered in the Bill so that local authorities and, indeed, the Secretary of State dealt with them properly. It is in the strategies that we find the detail of whether we can come up with a way of genuinely tackling, let alone eradicating, child poverty.

Watch this

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow DUP Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that if we do have a Conservative Government in a matter of months, child poverty will be a key priority for that Government?

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In the light of what happened with child poverty under the last Conservative Government, I welcome the opportunity to say that it absolutely will be a priority. The leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, has said that the eradication of poverty is a major priority and that it is how a Conservative Government would wish to be measured. Statisticians of the talent and skill of the hon. Member for Northavon will be able to remind my right hon. Friend, and indeed me, of that undertaking. We are pledged to tackle poverty, and we want to do so in the most joined-up way possible.

Watch this

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is again responding to an intervention, but may I remind him that we are debating the Third Reading of this Bill, not any future Bill?

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course, it will be under the auspices of this Bill that any future Conservative Government would have to address child poverty-it will be the lens through which they look at it-so talking about what they would do is what the debate on this Bill is about. Unless it is repealed, it will determine and set a framework in which future Governments will have to deal with this important issue.

Watch this

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I have been listening to the debate with growing concern-I was here when my hon. Friend made his original speech-and I am beginning to wonder whether I should vote against the Bill. Could he summarise the reasons why I should or should not do so?

Watch this

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

If, like me, my hon. Friend does not like declaratory legislation, and does not think that targets should be set in law because they are a meaningless fraud on the British people, he may well not support the Bill. On the other hand, he may accept, as Conservative Front Benchers do, that this framework provides a driver whereby future Governments can show their intent to tackle child poverty. Given the difficulties with increases in child poverty in the past, it is tremendously important that we show the seriousness of intent of Conservative Members who wish and hope to be in government shortly; we must make absolutely clear our commitment to the eradication of child poverty. That is why, although I understand some of the questions about process that my hon. Friend no doubt has, I will not vote against the Bill. We need to show that there is consensus across the House that child poverty is wrong and we no longer want to see it. Through the details of the strategies that are produced in future, I hope and expect by a Conservative Secretary of State, we will be able to work away on the root causes of poverty and ensure that they are tackled.

I want briefly to mention an amendment dealing with rural poverty, which I tabled, unsuccessfully, in Committee. I appeal to Ministers, while we have them here, and before they go away to produce national strategies in addition to the local strategies produced by local authorities, to bear in mind the peculiarities of rural poverty. According to the Commission for Rural Communities, 22 per cent. of rural children and their families are in financial poverty. There are extra costs to living in rural areas. For example, households in rural settlements spend £74.50 on transport each week compared with £57.10 by those in urban areas. That is serious money coming out of income that might be thought to be in the hands of that family, making it better off than an urban family, but in fact they have to spend it on transport. I hope that Ministers will examine carefully the peculiarities of poverty in rural areas.

Like others, I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice on their work. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State is in her place, because I wish to say that one of the most exciting programmes that the next Conservative Government, if that is what we have, could undertake would be to follow on from the "Dynamic Benefits" report and consider the barriers preventing those who are currently living in poverty from escaping it and getting into work. We need to understand the incentives that affect those on low income with the same precision with which we seek to understand the incentives for the rich, where they may move and what tax they pay. We need to ensure that for people who are not in work, getting back into work pays and they do not find themselves worse off by trying to do the right thing. I do not know the detail of the measure that was announced in today's pre-Budget report, but if it is a response to that problem and intended to ensure that those who are not in work are definitely rewarded for getting into work, I will congratulate the Government on it. I hope that it is a reality and not just a pretence.

Watch this

Photo of John Mason John Mason Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 6:56 pm, 9th December 2009

I thank Mr. Stuart for leaving me approximately four minutes to make my comments.

We are agreed that we need to tackle income inequality. There has been much mention of the root causes of poverty, and we agree that we need to tackle them. I was not convinced by the Conservative argument that we should widen the Bill ever further to take everything into account, but income is clearly key. It is worth reminding ourselves of the explanatory notes to the Bill, some of which were extremely good. For example, they state:

"It is nearly impossible to quantify the financial benefits of eradicating child poverty. Growing up in poverty can damage cognitive, social and emotional development, which are all determinants of future outcomes for a child. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that child poverty costs at least £25 billion a year in Britain, and that £17 billion could accrue to the Exchequer if child poverty were eradicated. However, this is a possible under-estimate of the true benefit. There are other benefits associated with the eradication of child poverty which are difficult to quantify such as equity, reducing hardship, deprivation and exclusion and breaking the intergenerational poverty link."

I think we all agree on that.

The Child Poverty Action Group and others have said that we have to put serious extra resources into tackling child poverty. They have mentioned a figure of some £3 billion, and Steve Webb, who has spoken ably today, mentioned a figure of £4 billion to £5 billion. That is the kind of sum that we would have needed from the Government if they were really serious. Without real money, I cannot see how child poverty targets can possibly be met. I know that we are not supposed to venture into the pre-Budget report, but it seems to have done very little to help.

There are other factors to consider, such as the fact that when people's work is cut to less than 16 hours, they lose tax credits, as well as the particular problem of single-parent families. In my constituency, there is a real problem of some kids being able to afford to go on a school trip whereas others in the same class cannot. The main issue brought to me is housing problems, and I see many youngsters being brought up in seriously overcrowded accommodation.

I agree with those who have said that less than 10 per cent. of children in relative poverty is a pretty poor target to aim at. Is it ambitious enough? It is certainly not eradication.

Watch this

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is the major failing of the Bill? It has redefined the word "eradicate". Eradicating poverty means to wipe it out, and the target is not to wipe it out.

Watch this

Photo of John Mason John Mason Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Absolutely. It makes a complete joke of the word.

There are other concerns. The Committee discussed whether clause 15 will be a get-out clause for the Government in future. We clearly have to set priorities for the time we are living in. I might as well mention Trident again, because that seems to be more of a priority for the Government than eradicating child poverty. There is not time to talk about many other things, but I emphasise that the minimum wage is far too low. We need it to be a living wage, and there is some good work being done on that in London, Glasgow and elsewhere. I want the Government to be a bit stronger on that, because it would surely go a huge way towards eradicating child poverty.

Finally, I appeal to the Government to work with the Scottish authorities in taking these matters forward. Westminster clearly needs to take-

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 20 July).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed , with amendments.

Watch this