Previous Section Home Page

Column 439

and work ; families, poverty and resources ; and families and relationships. They are, of course, closely interlinked and require cross-departmental responses.

On the issue of families and work, one of the most important changes in employment trends over the past 20 years has been the rise in the number of two-earner families, from 43 per cent. of families with children in 1973 to 60 per cent. of families in 1993. That has come about partly by choice and partly by necessity. In only a minority of cases do both parents work full time. Indeed, only 14 per cent. of mothers have a full-time job.

Lone mothers are more likely to work full time than women in two-parent families, partly because they lose pound for pound of income support against earnings of more than £15 a week. They are therefore less likely to follow the more usual pattern of a mother easing her way back into work first through a part-time job. Mothers, particularly lone mothers, cannot win with this Government. If they are lone parents on income support, they must go out to work. If they fail to find adequate child care and, in extreme cases, wrongly leave their children unattended, they are treated as monsters rather than having their needs attended to.

If they return to the labour market to enhance their children's living standards and opportunities and increase choice for them, and their children get into difficulties, as many children do through no fault of working parents, the first person to be blamed will be the mother. Women need and deserve a change in attitude by the Government. Most parents work hard to be good parents ; most mothers work hard to be good mothers, and that should be recognised. But how do the Government help parents to combine the need to earn with their responsibility as parents ? There is little publicly funded child care in this country. Indeed, our record is among the worst in Europe. Local authorities provide day care facilities for less than 2 per cent. of our under-threes and, in the main, those precious places are allocated to children already identified as in need. That leaves private provision, which, being expensive, rules out low-wage workers. It is patchy and not always appropriate. In 1991, for example, only 1 per cent. of families with children under five used workplace nurseries. One option that is becoming increasingly popular is the admission of young children into reception classes at primary schools. Children as young as just four are expected to cope with school life in what I regard as an inappropriate setting. That is nothing more than a back -door attempt to disguise the lack of proper nursery education. If we are to take children into school at the age of four, they should be taken into proper nursery classes, not given nursery education on the cheap.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : Is the hon. Lady not aware that, for small children under the age of five, we need a diversity of provision at the pre-school stage ? At that stage, 90 per cent. of children under the age of five do have some sort of highly effective provision.

Miss Lestor : The hon. Lady has the honour of having talked out the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) dealing with the provision of nursery education and special needs. I am glad that she is a convert to the belief that we need, as I was about to say, a variety of provision for our under-fives. It

Column 440

is hypocritical to take children into school at the age of four and then not allow them to have proper nursery education, when we all believe--the Government have said this--that nursery education is good for children up to the age of five.

All the research shows that nursery education is good for children. Nobody in this House disputes that. All children need it. Not only does it encourage their social and educational development-- [Interruption.] Does the Minister want me to give way ?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe) : I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Asshe has said that all children need nursery education, is she committing her party to providing nursery education for every child ? Is she committing herself to the funding of such education ? If so, how much will it cost, and by what means is she going to raise the money ?

Miss Lestor : I will answer that question, because it is an interesting one. But we could do with some clarification from the Conservatives on this point, because the Prime Minister says one thing and the Secretary of State for Education says something else. I am totally bewildered. Our policy at the last election--which will continue to the next election--was that we will provide nursery education for all children over the age of three whose parents want such education for their children. That is our policy. Is the hon. Lady happy with that ?

Lady Olga Maitland rose

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) rose

Miss Lestor : No, I am not giving way again.

We all agree that nursery education and a variety of pre-school provision is good for our children. It also allows problems within families to be identified quickly and allows the needs of those families to be met at a very early stage. It should be an essential part of any strategy which aims not only to promote and provide educational opportunity--children need educational stimulation early in their lives--but also to aid in the detection of abuse, neglect, special needs and family problems. The Government know this to be true.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather sickening that those such as Tory Members who have the financial means and can give their children every advantage--and rightly so --should resent the provision of nursery and pre-school groups and take every opportunity to try to challenge us about where the money will come from ? If their children can be looked after properly, why should the large majority of children, many of whom are being brought up in the most difficult circumstances, not be looked after also ?

Miss Lestor : My hon. Friend knows that he and I agree about this matter. Not all mothers want to work ; nor should they, if they do not wish to. But their children, too, benefit from attendance at pre-school nurseries and from participation in other activities. This is a service for children and should not be dependent on the working status of their parents. A Government committed to a family policy would have full employment as a goal.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) rose

Column 441

Miss Lestor : I will not give way again ; I have given way on several occasions. The hon. Gentleman is not as persuasive as my hon. Friend, but if he keeps it up, who knows, I may give way.

Mr. Heald : The Select Committee on Employment has heard evidence that half the women who work and who have young children would like to see the establishment of workplace nurseries and would use them. As the hon. Lady knows, the Government have given tax relief in that area. At the moment she is talking about the position of non-workers, but on the question of promoting workplace nurseries, what more would she or the Labour party do to encourage them than has been done already ?

Miss Lestor : I think that the whole question of workplace nurseries and the way they fit in with the needs of young children should be looked at very closely. Many people would welcome them. We want a complete survey of what is taking place in pre-school education, because many children's needs are not being met. I know what the Select Committee has said, and I am very interested in it. But we do not make policy standing at the Dispatch Box or on the hoof.

Ms Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) rose

Miss Lestor : I will go on for a few moments, and then I will give way to my hon. Friend.

As I have said, a Government committed to a family policy would have full employment as a goal because that is what many families need. The poverty and demoralisation of families living with unemployment, particularly long- term unemployment, cannot be over-stressed. Hopelessness and lack of self- esteem are experienced in almost equal measure by parents and children alike.

One quarter of Britain's children are living in poverty today--many of them in families headed by a lone parent. In the vast majority of cases, this is not by choice : the parents started off in a stable relationship, and things went wrong. After a decade and a half of Tory government, 5.5 million people are in receipt of income support--the minimum safety net benefit--which amounts to more than £8.75 million. In 1979, there were 2.8 million people receiving the equivalent supplementary benefit. This country not only has the highest rate of poverty among the better-off countries in the Economic Union, but has also managed to achieve the sharpest rise in poverty throughout the European Union--what a record of achievement. Predictably, families with children and pensioners form

Lady Olga Maitland : Will the hon. Lady give way ?

Miss Lestor : I shall not give way to the hon. Lady. She has already interrupted me. She had a chance to have a go at me on television, but did not take advantage of it. She had better keep quiet for a little while.

Lady Olga Maitland rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. I think that the hon. Lady has been here long enough to know the rules.

Miss Lestor : Predictably, as we all know, families with children and pensioners form the majority of those living in poverty in this country. If someone is in full-time employment but on a low wage, he or she is poor ; if

Column 442

someone is caring for a child with a disability, he or she is at greater risk of poverty because of the need to provide full-time care. According to the International Year of the Family Organisation, in 1989, 32 per cent. of people who were caring for a child with a disability had no earners in the family, compared with 18 per cent. of the general family population.

Poverty has increased dramatically under the Tories, as have homeless families. During the 1980s, the number of homeless families with children rose by 46 per cent. We run the risk of a return to the days when children were taken into care because their parents were without a home--a concern raised by the Department of the Environment in its recent paper on access to local authority and housing association tenancies.

There is a real fear that is shared by the Children's Society, among others. If, as a result of Government dictate, housing departments no longer have a responsibility to provide accommodation for those families, local authority social services will be hard put to keep families together, with appalling consequences. I urge the Minister to raise the matter with her colleagues at the earliest opportunity.

The International Year of the Family Organisation says that educational failure is directly linked to poverty. It says that, in 1991, one in five 21-year-olds were innumerate, and one in seven were illiterate. Those are young people who spent all their school lives under a Tory Government. The introduction of testing is not the answer. The Government must tackle the problem and target resources to lift families out of poverty, widen access to pre-school provision and educational opportunities after the statutory school leaving age, and improve the status of parents.

A start could be made on that policy by the Minister giving some advice to her colleagues about the derogatory language they use when referring to parental status and the skills of others. I was disgusted by the way in which Ministers fell over themselves last year to scapegoat parents, particularly lone mothers.

The Secretary of State for Social Security referred to his "little list" of young ladies who became pregnant deliberately to jump the housing queue. What a shock he must have received when his theory was blown out of the gutter by the Government's own research. Who could forget the notorious visit of the Secretary of State for Wales to the St. Mellon's estate in Cardiff ? He professed himself profoundly shocked by the squalor and deprivation, and laid most of the blame at the door of lone mothers.

I too have visited St. Mellon's estate. I found the poverty shocking, but I was also struck with admiration for the way in which that much-reviled community was working to help families and individuals. What a pity that the Secretary of State was unable to recognise the obvious sense of community that runs through that estate and did not encourage the efforts and obvious achievements of the residents. I suspect that such an approach would not have fitted in with his pre-ordained view, but I hope that he has reconsidered the subject.

This is a significant month for families. Since 1979, the Conservative party--the party of the family--has been promising to reduce taxation. It has lied. Conservative taxation policy has hit ordinary families hardest, while giving huge tax handouts to the already rich. Over the next two years, the typical family will pay £1,330 more in tax

Column 443

--the biggest tax hike in history. Yet people earning more than £64, 000 a year will pay less tax from this month than they did in 1979. The Treasury's own figures show that, from this month, a married couple on average earnings and with two children will be left with £331.76 a year less in take-home pay or real disposable income. This time next year, another £85.80 will go in the next phase of Tory tax increases. This month, national insurance contributions will rise from 9 per cent. to 10 per cent--an increase that will hit the low- paid even harder than the increase in the basic rate of income tax, as it impacts on every pound they earn over £57 a week, whereas an increase in the basic rate of income tax does not affect earnings of less than £124 a week. Four hundred thousand low-paid workers will now pay tax for the first time as a direct result of the Government's decision to freeze personal allowances for two years running. Following the imposition of VAT on electricity and gas bills, a typical family is set this year to pay 5.8 per cent. of its income on VAT. That represents an increase of more than £600 on the 1978-79 figure, at today's prices. VAT on fuel bills is set to reach record levels, yet it hits hardest those who can least afford to pay. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the poorest households spend 13 per cent. of their income on fuel, while the richest spend only 2 per cent. The Government's compensation scheme is tragically inadequate. The 50p a week for pensioners is only half of what is needed to compensate them.

Mr. Brandreth rose

Miss Lestor : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but this is the last time I shall do so for any Conservative Member.

Mr. Brandreth : Does the hon. Lady appreciate that she is now touching upon her central dilemma ? She is deploring tax increases only moments after having told us that she wishes to guarantee education for every three-year-old. The Government have increased from 43 per cent. to 53 per cent. the number of under-fives in maintained nursery education. How does the hon. Lady square the anomaly ? She says that she does not want to tax more, yet she wants to spend more. Does she not see that taxation and spending are one and the same thing ?

Miss Lestor : The hon. Gentleman has got himself into a little difficulty.

What is the trouble about the Government's taxation policy ? First, Ministers told people that they would not increase taxation, but promptly did so. Secondly, people who are least able to pay have to contribute more than those who are able to pay. That is the contradiction. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if money is needed he look towards those who have done so very well under the Conservative Government as a result of tax handouts and all sorts of other benefits.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : And writing off debts.

Miss Lestor : Yes, just as my hon. Friend says.

From this October, we shall all have to pay an extra 2.5 per cent. for home, car and travel insurance. Again, people

Column 444

living in Britain's poorest areas will be hardest hit. They already pay seven times more in home insurance premiums than families in better-off areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) cited the family living in central Liverpool who will face a bill of up to £540 for a standard £30,000 contents insurance, whereas a family in Congleton may pay as little as £77. Later this year, the Liverpool family will face an insurance tax of £16.20, whereas for the family in Congleton the figure will be just £2.30.

In November, the Government will bring in an air passenger tax, which will put an extra £5 on the cost of all holiday flights in Europe, and £10 on the cost of flights elsewhere. This is another typically unfair Tory tax. As a flat rate tax, it hits ordinary families hardest. There are exceptions, however, and these illustrate a point that has been made. Those lucky enough to use executive or private jets will all be exempt.

In the meantime, tax abuses are ignored. A prime example is tax relief on executive share options. Last year, the average chief executive received £620,000 in share options. Thousands of pounds of this is tax-free. That is where the money is. Incidentally, I should like to draw attention to an item of news in The Daily Telegraph last week. This revealed that six privatised PowerGen directors cashed in £3.5 million-worth of share options over a four-day period. Their profit would pay the VAT on the fuel bills of 70,000 families this year. That is the contradiction.

Without a doubt, the gap between rich and poor has steadily widened under the Tories. The gap between top and bottom wage earners is wider than it has been for more than 100 years--since records began. What an achievement. When Labour left power, those earning an average of £6,000 a year--the lowest 20 per cent.--paid less tax as a percentage of their income than did any other group. Now they pay more as a percentage of their income.

The Tories have broken their promises on taxation because their economic policy has failed miserably. Since 1979, the amount of North sea oil and gas revenues received and wasted by the Tories is the equivalent of every family in the country giving the Government £5, 000. It costs £9,000 a year in lost taxes and benefits to keep someone on the unemployment register. Unemployment now costs every taxpayer £20 a week.

What a waste of money, and what a waste of human resources. The knock-on effect of long-term unemployment on all the members of families should never be underestimated. One child in every four is now growing up in poverty, yet is surrounded at every turn by the trappings of a wealthy society which measures the value of an individual by his or her possessions.

According to the National Children's Home, the National Children's Bureau and the voluntary agencies, the number of children receiving free school meals has gone up, but, with the removal of nutritional standards in schools, their contribution to a healthy diet is now very variable. We are told that one out of every nine children goes to school without breakfast. One in six does not have a cooked evening meal. More and more rely on junk fast food to fill them up, with the consequent threat of heart disease in middle age. We see the return of childhood illnesses and diseases which are associated primarily with extremes of poverty and which most of us thought we had left behind--for example, rickets resulting from malnutrition. The number

Column 445

of reported cases of dysentery has increased by 10 per cent. since water privatisation. The number of water disconnections has rocketed in the same period. In 1973, Thames Water cut off 850 households, compared with 61 in 1991-92.

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury) : It's being so cheerful keeps you going.

Miss Lestor : The Government Whip says that it is being so cheerful that keeps me going. I am not cheerful about what I see happening to children and families. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is something to be cheerful about, it is little wonder that the Government are failing as they are.

Health visitors are reporting rising levels of diarrhoea, nappy rash and thrush as a result of poor hygiene. If hon. Members can sit back and be complacent because this does not happen to their children, I can only say that they are not fit to be in government. I see these things day in and day out. I talk to health visitors, and I know what is going on.

Lady Olga Maitland rose

Miss Lestor : I shall not give way to the hon. Lady, who does not represent the sort of children I am talking about.

These are not remarkable coincidences ; they are the direct result of the Government's years of neglect of families. The strains on individuals as a result are enormous.

This leads me to the third aspect of the International Year of the Family-- families and relationships. As we all know, parents are the greatest influence on the child's development, yet the Government do little to encourage good parenting practice. Instead, Ministers confine themselves to blaming poor parenting for all social ills, whether school truancy, juvenile offending or under-age sexual activity.

I realise that this issue concerns some Members on all sides of the House, and I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and to the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) for their work in setting up the all-party parliamentary group on parenting, which was launched a week or two ago. This is something that ought to be spread to a much greater extent throughout the country.

It is difficult being a parent. Parenting skills do not arrive with the baby ; they have to be learned. Good parenting comes from a blend of love, the best of one's own childhood experiences and support. That is what is lacking. Much is therefore left to chance. We should be providing today's children--tomorrow's parents--with the chance to consider the responsibilities of parenthood before they take that important decision.

It is also important to remind young people that they do not have to make this choice until they feel ready. We spend enormous sums of money teaching skills in other areas of adult life : why not this one ? I believe that preparation for parenthood should be part of the core curriculum, and I commend the recent "Education for Parenthood" pack produced by the Children's Society.

The broad issue of sex education and educating children for life is a classic example of the need for closer co-operation between Ministers. In "The Health of the Nation", the Secretary of State set targets for the reduction in teenage pregnancies, but how is that to be achieved ? Not

Column 446

by opting out of sex education in schools, closing down family planning clinics or refusing to answer children's questions on sex, health and relationships.

The panic that arose following publicity over an incident in a Leeds school recently was typical of the Government's failure to think issues through. The same newspapers that some weeks previously covered their front pages, for any child to see, with the most explicit details of an actress's alleged expertise in oral sex were up in arms at disclosures by a nurse. What a surprisingly shockable lot journalists are.

The Secretary of State for Education reacted strongly, if predictably, and one Health Minister ordered the pulping of a sex education publication aimed at young people. If young people are denied the knowledge they need, how are the targets set in "The Health of the Nation" to be met ? That is another urgent co-ordinating job for the Secretary of State, wearing her "responsibility for the family" hat. The Government must get their act together and agree a positive policy towards families, in whatever shape they come. Government Departments must talk to one another.

All families are in some sort of need. Most need confidence to get on with their lives, raise their children and contribute positively to society. That comes from the secure knowledge that the Government of the day understand and appreciate the problems that all families face from time to time, and from the knowledge that there are no nasty surprises around the corner--no hidden tax bombshells, for example, to throw finely judged budgets off course.

Families need to be sure that there is in place a flourishing welfare state that not only provides a safety net for people in difficulty but strives to set standards and to help people achieve them. Families need access to a range of support services flexible enough to meet their individual family needs--whether that is help with caring for elderly or infirm relatives, or conciliation advice when relationships break down. Families need to know that cost will not be a barrier to good-quality, accessible services.

Families need to feel that they are in active partnership with the Government, based on mutual understanding and respect. This Government are clearly failing to face up to their proper share of responsibility.

In a radio interview yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health said that she did not know whether she had been handed a poisoned chalice. Her job, she said, was to co-ordinate policies, because different Ministers hold different pieces of the jigsaw. That is the problem. I have some advice for her. Solving jigsaws takes time and thought, and one does not solve them by forcing the wrong pieces together in a hurry. At the end, there will be gaps with nothing to fill them--just as there are policy gaps today.

The Secretary of State frequently takes the opportunity to remind us how well qualified she is to speak on these matters--her pre-parliamentary training and experience fits her for the role. She may even take the opportunity to do so today.

On this side of the House, we also have well qualified people--former teachers, social workers, ex-directors and deputy directors of social services, nursery school teachers, people who have fostered children and so on. The difference between them and Conservative Members--and often, I suspect, the right hon. Lady--is that they have learnt from their experiences and know the real world.

Column 447

I hope that the Secretary of State will prove today that she has not forgotten her experiences and training, and that she can relate it to the real world. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for the right hon. Lady to present, after 15 years of Tory rule, a co-ordinated family policy that takes on board the needs of all families. Families deserve such concern.

4.53 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof :

welcomes the International Year of the Family and urges the Government to continue to pursue policies which ensure that the family remains the cornerstone of society ; recognises that what families most want is independence, opportunity and choice and congratulates the Government on its economic and social policies which have led to dramatic increases in living standards and health, rewarded enterprise and endeavour and given families greater power over their own lives ; welcomes practical measures such as the child care disregard announced in the Budget ; and believes that the best way to support families is to assert the authority and responsibility of the family itself while providing help for families where it is most needed.'.

I welcome this opportunity to debate family issues. The hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) mentioned the International Year of the Family, and she will know that the Government are an enthusiastic and practical supporter of the year. I am particularly looking forward to 15 May, which the United Nations has designated as International Day of the Family. The hon. Lady and I were with the British committee for the launch of the year, and it was a very constructive and productive event--although during much of the hon. Lady's speech she appeared to have a somewhat different day in May in mind. Nevertheless, I congratulate her on the choice of subject for this debate. I hope that she will not be disappointed if I do not allow my remarks to degenerate into a stream of vituperative personal abuse aimed at her and her colleagues ; the subject is too serious for that.

As the House knows, I have been given the role of speaking for the Government on family issues. It is also appropriate that I respond to this debate given that my Department's health and social services responsibilities touch on all members of the family, often at the most critical points of their lives. The House may be less familiar with the fact that I also answer for the Registrar-General who records all births, deaths and marriages.

The hon. Member for Eccles lays at the Government's door every single social ill affecting modern society. I find that curious given that the subject of this debate--the family--is fundamentally a private institution. There is no recognition of that in the Labour party motion, just a call for more public spending. Labour's answer to every problem remains the general application of someone else's cheque book--not an approach that would survive long in any family. In today's debate the hon. Lady may already have got herself into some difficulties with other Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) believes that progress could not be made until growth allowed it. We have already debated disagreements with the hon. Member for Glasgow,

Column 448

Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) over the possible scrapping of child benefit. But I shall not enter further into Labour party internal disputes.

The Labour party prescribes more state intervention and spending as the knee-jerk cure for every ill. That is scarcely surprising from a party whose funding, constitution and philosophy is dominated by organised labour and the man at work. Labour is unable to focus on the needs of the family at home. Labour will not accept that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own actions and must accept the consequences. The proper role of the family is to provide the learning and the stable, loving environment where that responsibility is mastered and turned to good effect.

Before dwelling on what divides us, we should acknowledge the substantial degree of cross-party support for some of the Government's most important family policies. That support was evident recently when I unveiled the Government's White Paper on adoption. When I first joined the Department, the hon. Member for Eccles called to see me on the vexed subject of trans- racial adoption and expressed her resentment of the politically correct attitudes to be found in that particular regard.

The hon. Lady may also have forgotten that, when the Children Act 1989 was introduced, personal social services saw a 15 per cent. increase in spending to make sure that its provisions were properly funded. We reproduced the central tenets of that legislation in our adoption policies, and that was widely welcomed on both sides of the House, as were the underlying principles of our community care reforms, which aim at caring for elderly and vulnerable people in privacy and dignity and, wherever possible, at home--close to their families and friends.

I understand that Labour has given its broad support for the Lord Chancellor's consultative proposals for reshaping divorce and mediation. In all the discussion in the House about the Child Support Agency, not one right hon. or hon. Member has, as far as I know, demurred from the principle that responsibilities begin with parents and must remain with parents.

The policies introduced by this Government constitute a far-reaching body of enlightened social reform that places families at its heart. Their uniting principle is the family as a force for social and moral good.

In adoption policy, we make it clear that prejudicial views about the age, race or social class of potential parents should not come before what is best for the child. Children need families, not text book theories. In the Children Act 1989, the presumption is that children thrive with their parents. Together with our strong support for the UN convention on the rights of the child, that shows our deep commitment to the rights of children within the family. Any intervention that breaks that family relationship should be undertaken only if the needs of the child absolutely justify it. Since the 1989 Act came into force, the number of children taken into care by local authorities under court orders has fallen nearly 50 per cent. The House should recognise, as the Government do, the contribution of social workers, often in awesomely difficult circumstances, in making the implementation of the Act such a success.

The Child Support Act stresses the ongoing responsibility of parents, even after divorce or separation. It rejects the cynical assumption that the state should pick up the pieces, and the taxpayer the bill, where the individual cannot be bothered. But there is an underlying tension between the

Column 449

family and the state--not one that I would expect the Labour party to understand or recognise. In his book, "The Subversive Family", Ferdinand Mount spoke of the family as,

"a last ditch from which to resist the state."

The family is the most powerful and venerable institution in the land. It predates churches, monarchies--even Parliaments. Long before legislators took to pronouncing on family values, the family was already transmitting those values down through the generations. Trying to substitute the state for the role of the family risks undermining the authority of the family itself and eroding the vital social cohesion that it provides.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : How does the Secretary of State equate the record increases in taxation that the Government are imposing on the average family with her contention that the Government seek to reduce the tensions within families ? Is not it a fact that those massive and record increases, which are bound to hit hardest those on the lowest incomes, will increase rather than decrease the tensions in families ?

Mrs. Bottomley : Once again, the Labour party misunderstands and misrepresents the situation. I think that most families would understand without great difficulty that the real take-home pay today of a man on average earnings has risen by more than £80 a week compared with the figure in 1979. [Interruption.] We can expect an onslaught from the Labour party : Opposition Members will not want me to inform the House that the figure rose by £1.60 in the years during which they were in power. The comparison between £80 a week and £1.60 a week speaks for itself. Families will certainly know which party will support their interests most strongly. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. Is the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) seeking to intervene ? If he is, he should do it in the normal way.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. Mrs. Bottomley rose

Mr. Devlin : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if the Labour party had won the previous general election, it would have added more than £38 billion to the tax take, on top of the tax increases that are now going through ? That would have been a much greater burden on family life in this country than anything that people are likely to face under the Conservative party.

Mrs. Bottomley : As ever, my hon. Friend is exactly right. The British public well understand that the Labour party raises taxes out of conviction. We have seen only today a string of further spending pledges. No doubt the debate will rage far and wide in the Labour party as to how account is to be given for the commitments that the hon. Member for Eccles gave today. I can assure her that we have taken note of the spending pledges to which she has already committed herself.

The hon. Lady argued, predictably, that what has happened in the years since 1979 has undermined the family ; she is wrong. On the contrary, it was the post-war decades before 1979, with their insidious cancerous extension of the state into every nook and cranny of our lives, that were so damaging to the family. Those were the

Next Section

  Home Page