Previous Section Home Page

Ms Hodge: Labour Members have tabled a small amendment. It will make a small contribution to what should be a policy of national importance. We hope that we can encourage Conservative Members to build on a previous U- turn. I think that it was in 1990 that the Government abolished the toddler tax--a tax on employer-subsidised child care. The new clause highlights other discrepancies, not so much in the tax on employer-subsidised child care, but in tax allowances that are available to employers. They need to be dealt with. I hope that Conservative Members will take the small suggestion seriously. It is in line with the stated policy and priority of the Prime Minister, which, I understand, he reinforced again this weekend.

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) a deep concern about what is happening to early years services. The Government are leaving them in an unholy mess. In 1972, the then Secretary of State for Education made a commitment that, within 10 years, she would provide free state nursery

Column 1474

education for all three and four-year-olds whose parents wanted or needed it. Twenty-three years on--that is nearly a generation of children lost--the Prime Minister stated at the Conservative party conference that he would ensure that, in the lifetime of this Parliament, free nursery education would be provided for all four-year-olds --a lesser policy, but nevertheless an important move forward.

That was six months ago. Since then, all we have had is clear division among the ranks of various Ministers, aided and abetted by various advisers outside the House, who put their oar in through writing documents for policy think tanks. I am sorry that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is not here because he demonstrated some interest in the subject. Most recently, he gave a speech saying that he would support two propositions. I could not quite work out which he wanted most. First, he wanted vouchers for early years service and, secondly, he suggested a beauty contest involving the public and private sectors and, I suppose, non-statutory providers. They would bid for resources to build on a service that is so essential to the country as a whole.

Such suggestions, whether a voucher scheme or a beauty contest, seem wholly at odds with what the Secretary of State for Education has been saying recently in a number of speeches. She seems to recognise that statutorily provided nursery education is the best early years service to provide the best start for children in early, and later, life. It is interesting that she often appears to be overridden nowadays in her desire for more resources generally for schools and, more specifically, for children in their early years. People like the Chief Secretary are driven by a bigoted loathing of anything to do with the public sector in general and by a more bigoted loathing, if that is possible, of anything to do with local authorities. Whether we have vouchers or beauty contests is irrelevant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West said, vouchers are a diversion. There is such paucity of provision in the United Kingdom--we have one of the lowest levels of publicly provided early years services-- that to concentrate the very limited public resources on providing vouchers would mean that we could not direct them towards increasing the quantity of quality services on which we should be focusing. Such people simply reflect a loathing of the public and an applauding of the private at the expense of our young children.

What this country and what parents need and what young children deserve is proper public investment in early years services for education and child care. The Government are ambivalent about the state's role in providing such services. They do not know who should provide what for whom or how to finance it.

In some ways, I am pleased that the Minister of State is to reply because he, perhaps more than anyone else in the Treasury team, should recognise how short-sighted the short-termism of the Government's policy is. There is plenty of evidence from local authorities in the United Kingdom, but more especially from America, that any investment made in early years services for children saves public expenditure later.

The most recent American research revealed that every $1 spent on a child in the early years, especially on a child from a disadvantaged background, saves up to $7 later. It saves money not only on the resourcing of special needs education, but on income support because people who have adequate early years services are more likely to get

Column 1475

qualifications and then work. It also saves expenditure on the criminal justice system because, once in work, people are far less likely to become criminals and become a cost to society in that way. In other words, investment in the early years pays later. I think members of all parties accept that the key to our economic success is the level of our people's skills. If so, good-quality early years provision makes sense because creating a highly qualified work force starts with investment in children in their very early years. There is a substantial body of evidence to show that how young people perform at 16 has a direct correlation, not with their economic background, but with how they performed at seven. Their performance at that age can influence GCSE results by as much as 25 per cent. We also know that how children perform at seven has a direct correlation, not with their socio-economic background, but with whether they enjoyed pre-school education and care.

Investment in pre-school education and care means better results at seven and at 16 and a better equipped work force who will contribute to the health of the economy in the adult world. I hope that the Minister of State will take that on board. It makes sense for the Government to spend a little money. The new clause would involve a very small sum that would contribute to an increase in early years services of good quality, an issue to which I shall return a little later.

The provision of early years services is especially important for women in the work force. Today, about 600,000 more mothers go to work than in 1984, and more than half of mothers with children under five are part of the work force. Only 10, 15 or 20 years ago, they used to depend on members of the informal family network to assist with child care. That dependency has slipped, and as many as 80 per cent. of working mothers with children under five may look for formal child care arrangements. The Government have completely failed to meet the needs of working parents and their children, but we know that to meet them would make not only social but economic sense.

What has happened as working mothers have sought child care solutions? Increasingly, their child care needs are being met by the private sector. In the past few years, the greatest growth in the provision of child care has been among child minders and independent registered nurseries. They accounted for 86 per cent. of the growth in day care services in England between 1982 and 1992. That contrasts with the number of nursery places, which has risen by only 30 per cent. In other words, 86 per cent. of places are provided in the private sector and only 30 per cent. in the public sector. The Government would no doubt applaud that, but the truth is that much of that provision is part time and of very poor educational quality. I know because I have visited several such places in the past few months. We often hear Ministers and Government spokespeople say that 90 per cent. of children have a pre-school place of some kind. That may be true, but too often the reality is that children are cared for part time in an extremely poor physical environment where there is absolutely no educational focus to their activities. It is child care on the cheap, not quality nursery education which gives future generations a better start in life.

Column 1476

Despite the increase in private sector provision, much of which is of a doubtful standard, the supply has not matched the increasing demand from working women. As many as 19 per cent. of children have lone parents. These parents cannot afford private nurseries or child minders if some form of local authority or other subsidised provision is not available. Even with vouchers, how would the children of such parents have access to quality provision? If we want those children to break out of the cycle of deprivation into which they are often locked, quality early years provision is the key. It is vital if we are to ensure that they have a chance of a better future. The Government's figures show that, of the 19 per cent. of lone parents with children under five, as many as 90 per cent. want to go back to work, but they have no access to suitable child care that would enable them to do so. Why should parents in this country have to seek the cheapest or the only available option, especially as employer-based provision remains so patchy?

8.30 pm

We should also not lose sight of the fact that we spend a lot of money-- although perhaps not enough--on training, but employees with valuable skills are lost to the work force because we do not make effective facilities available for women so that they can return to work after they have had a child. That is a criminal waste of the parent's talent, skill and experience. Let us not forget the small and medium-sized businesses, which are often less able to provide independent child care and, therefore, find it difficult to compete for skilled staff.

Every other European country apart from the United Kingdom recognises the importance of the early years services of child care and education by putting in much more publicly funded provision. They see that it makes an important social contribution to the well-being of the community and an important business contribution to the well-being of our society. In Britain, we lag behind our competitors as usual. As a country, we have no national strategy, but that is what we desperately require so that we can have accessible, available and affordable child care services for all our young children before they go to school.

Why have the Government done so little so late, especially in the area with which our new clause deals, which is to encourage employers to invest in provision? The answer lies in their lack of commitment and ambivalence towards those early years services.

Before the debate, I tried again to look for the figures so that I could form some idea of how much we provide as a nation. Anyone who has delved into the matter--I have asked a number of parliamentary questions about it- -finds it impossible to get adequate information, even for how much we spend on public early years services and how many places are provided. The Departments of Health and for Education each calculate the statistics on a separate basis--one talks of pupils and the other of places, which is a further sign of the lack of a coherent child care strategy. Opposition Members believe that such a strategy is key if we are to move forward in this important area of public policy.

There is also much double counting in the Government's figures of children who could attend both a playgroup and a nursery class in the same day, which massages the statistics. That is terrible provision. Imagine a little child with a lone parent who has to go from her

Column 1477

parent to the child minder in the morning, then to the playgroup, back to the child minder, to a nursery class in the afternoon, back to the child minder and finally home at night. Is that the good start that we want to give children in their early years? Is that the sort of start that they deserve if they are to develop their full potential?

In Britain, child care is a lottery. It depends where one lives, on one's occupation and on whether one's employer provides anything. Another reality is that most parents have little or no choice of the type of service that they use.

One Labour party objective that lies behind the new clause is that we want to work towards employer-based child care being a realistic choice for working parents--a choice that is based firmly in the context of a strategic and co-ordinated national child care strategy. To achieve that, we must get rid of the existing anomalies in tax treatment that the new clause highlights.

I shall outline the anomalies and ask the Minister of State whether he believes that they make sense. The 1990 capital allowance tax distinguishes between capital expenditure on plant and equipment, on which all employers can claim capital allowances, and capital expenditure on buildings. That distinction means that one can claim capital allowances against corporation tax on any expenditure on nursery equipment, but expenditure on nursery space in offices and shops--the two categories with which we are concerned- -is not allowable.

Nurseries that are attached to warehouses and factories qualify for an allowance, but those attached to other buildings such as offices and shops do not, yet where are women with young children most likely to work? In offices and shops. How daft and inappropriate. As a result, employers based in shops and offices who want to provide workplace nursery facilities are treated less favourably than those based in factories. Where does that leave the Government's interest in private funding for child care to promote diversity and choice, which we all favour?

The one exception is for company sports and recreational clubs, which receive an allowance even when they are attached to offices and shops. Why should sports facilities incur benefits that are unavailable to nurseries? What does that say about any professed commitment on the Government's part to take early years services seriously?

New clause 6 has the support of Employers for Childcare. Obviously, employers have an interest in producing a future generation of highly literate and numerate children to provide a well-educated and well- motivated work force later in life. Employers for Childcare has said that

"the current tax policy is inconsistent. Many forms of child care are not tax exempt, thus affecting employers' ability to offer parents a genuine choice."

Our new clause would end that inconsistency by extending the industrial buildings allowance to all companies that invest in workplace nurseries, whether alone or jointly with local authorities. That will provide an incentive to employers to construct their own workplace nurseries, or to enter into partnership with local authorities to extend their provision. That is the road that we must go down if we are to offer parents genuine choice.

Column 1478

Labour Members realise that workplace nurseries should supplement and not replace other services that are provided locally. As has been said, partnership with employers is important. Central Government have a leadership role to play in enabling local authorities to develop a mix of provision based on the needs of children and their carers in their locality.

In conclusion, if we in Britain are to achieve the level of provision that is available in most other European countries, the Government must go beyond merely removing a punitive tax on workplace child care provision. We require a comprehensive child care strategy, together with the funds and the political will to put it into action. New clause 6 is a step in the right direction.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey): I support new clause 6, which would introduce tax relief for premises used to provide workplace nurseries. As has been said, that is only one aspect of child care provision and it is one that can properly be debated in a Finance Bill. Opposition Members would agree that workplace child care is appropriate only in some instances. We are not trying to make a case for monolithic workplace provision, but believe that, at the least, Government should encourage its provision, as new clause 6 would, by making it clear to employers that the Government expect that, if they are interested, it should be their duty to provide child care for their employees.

The pattern of employment for women has changed profoundly and permanently, but the Government have been extremely slow to recognise that fact. To date, the fiscal and legislative framework within which we all live has failed to adapt to that significant and profound change. Women are at work despite social policy, Government legislation and the Government's response to change rather than because of it. We could do much to improve women's ability to work, have careers and provide for themselves and their families. As my hon. Friends were quick to point out, the result of making such provision would be that everybody would gain: women at work; children in their early years; and society. The economic efficiency of spending on that provision is proven.

On 15 February, the Employment Select Committee issued its "Mothers in Employment" report, the first report of this Session. Given the Government's record on this matter, the fact that it was unanimous and signed by all Conservative members of the Committee deserves particular attention as it contains a number of far-reaching proposals that would help women with children who work or wish to work.

The Committee found that, between 1984 and 1994, economically active women as a proportion of the whole rose from 66 per cent. to 71 per cent. The trend of those women who have children was even more marked, which suggests that social policy should shift to accommodate them. In 1984, 55 per cent. of those with children were economically active, but in 1994 the figure had risen to 64 per cent.

Some women need particular support and the "Mothers in Employment" report was conscious of the plight of lone parents, 90 per cent. of whom are women. Lone parents formed the only group of women in which, over the same period, the percentage of those who were economically active fell. In 1981, 45 per cent. of lone parents were economically active whereas the figure now is 39 per cent.

Column 1479

Lone parents are thus being trapped in a life on benefit, unable to work for a series of complex reasons with which I shall not detain the House tonight. However, that points to the fact that lone parents need a special strategy to help them back into the work force. As the Committee studied that issue, it became abundantly clear that high- quality, affordable child care must be available because the provision of child care is the key to allowing many women to work. Although the report deals with other key issues such as maternity pay, family leave and paternity leave, I shall comment purely on aspects relevant to the new clause. The Government should provide various types of help to encourage employers to make provision for their employees and to create more state provision.

The Committee made a number of recommendations. Child care helps not only women and employers but the development of our children. The report's 13th recommendation is about tax relief on workplace nurseries and concludes that the current restriction on tax relief to workplace nurseries is not effective. It states:

"The Committee recommends that the tax relief currently available to employers on workplace nurseries be extended to cover all forms of employer -assisted childcare in order to provide the necessary flexibility to suit a greater variety of circumstances."

Our modest little new clause would be one aspect of that. The Committee also realised that Britain's response to the profound change in the nature of the work force and the massive move by women out of the home and into the work force needs a proper strategic response. The report states:

"We recommend that the Government work to increase the availability and quality of childcare and to reduce its cost throughout the country by the formulation and implementation of a national strategy for childcare."

As other hon. Friends pointed out tonight, that is long overdue. Other hon. Members have referred to the Prime Minister's oft-quoted pledge at last year's Conservative party conference. The Committee welcomed that pledge and recommended

"that the Government now take action to implement the Prime Minister's pledge."

We look forward, at long last, to some action in that area because, for women who work, nursery education is as important as early-years education and child care.

8.45 pm

The Committee recognised the trend that many women now return to work much earlier after their child's birth because, most often, the household relies on their earnings. We must ensure that appropriate, not informal, child care is available so that those women can return to work.

We also want the House to put its own house in order and create a reasonable system of child care for the many women who work in this place. We suggest that the House of Commons Commission act as soon as possible to establish a suitable child care scheme for all those who work in the House of Commons. It is not adequate to pontificate and tell other people what they should do while failing to make such provision ourselves. This place should lead in that respect, not embarrassingly trail behind what goes on in some more enlightened areas of the economy.

Column 1480

The report mentions the totally unacceptable poverty trap that exists for mothers and some fathers who receive means-tested benefits, which often makes work uneconomic for them. It recommends "a review of the benefit system with the aim of removing this poverty trap."

The provision of child care at an affordable price would open up the world of work to people with caring responsibilities, including those responsible for caring for elderly and disabled people. Such provision can often pay for itself because it encourages people to become economically active when it may not have been practically possible before. Thus we reduce benefit bills and make people generally happier because they contribute to our economy. We cannot understand why the Government have not recognised the logic of that long ago.

We would welcome the Government's recognition that employers should at least be tipped the wink that they approve of their providing workplace nurseries and seeking different and appropriate ways to provide child care support for their employees. We want the Government to start making those noises.

The report contains far-reaching recommendations. The Committee was disappointed that, although on its publication it was welcomed widely by such organisations as Women into Business, the Equal Opportunities Commission and, as the Minister might expect, many trade unions, who campaigned long and hard on those issues, the Department of Employment instantly dismissed it. We hope that, at least, those on the Treasury Bench will take a more far-sighted view of the economical realities and the savings that can be made, and will look more kindly on the report's recommendations, which may mark a milestone in the battle to provide a decent, appropriate child care system for working women.

Women will not go back into the family. They now wish to take their rightful place in the economic and social life of our country. They wish this Parliament of all Parliaments to recognise at long last the social changes that have occurred, to legislate to enable women to make that move permanently and to recognise the pattern of their lives in legislation. I hope that, in responding to this modest proposal tonight, the Minister will show that the Government are listening and say that we can expect some progress soon.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith): I support new clause 6, which represents a small piece in the large jigsaw of a national child care strategy that is urgently required. Small though it is, we would like answers to the questions put today, which were also asked last year in a similar debate.

Why should the capital allowance be available for certain types of building, but not for others, particularly, as it happens, buildings where women are likely to work? Why are the allowances available for sports pavilions and sports facilities in any kind of building, but not for nurseries? That is even more bizarre. We know that the Prime Minister feels strongly about team sports, but why does he not feel as strongly about choice of affordable child care for everyone who wants it?

The key issue is the supply of affordable child care. The Government's only initiative, the after-school care initiative, is okay as far as it goes, but it will end this year. A recent report by the Kids Club Network says that

Column 1481

1,000 after-school clubs will close if that initiative is not continued. Over and above that is the question of affordability. If continuing financial help is not offered to those clubs, many people will be unable to afford to pay for them.

On the demand side, the Government may talk about the child care disregard for family credit and other benefits, but welcome as that disregard has been, it has many problems. For example, it still does not cover the necessary costs; for some reason it stops when a child reaches the age of 11 and it operates per family rather than per child. Many other problems are associated with it, not least for those on maximum family credit, who receive no help. The use of that disregard must be developed extensively.

Some Conservative Back Benchers supported the report from the all-party Select Committee on Employment. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for the key role that she played in producing that report. The Government would do well to consider many of the Committee's recommendations.

The Government must soon present a report to the European Commission on their implementation of the European child care recommendation, which deals with services, leave arrangements, family-friendly work practices and men and women sharing family responsibilities. The Government have little to put in their report to the Commission, so I suggest that they implement quickly some of the recommendations in the Select Committee's report. The bit of paper that they must fill in would then be slightly bigger than it is now.

The Government should also consider what many Labour local authorities have done, because they have shown the way. I should just like to mention my local authority of Lothian, which provides a nursery place for all four- year-olds and has guaranteed a nursery place for all three-year-olds as part of its election manifesto for Thursday. Lothian is already providing for 68 per cent. of three and four-year-olds in its nurseries, which is way above the United Kingdom average of 40 per cent. and the Scottish average of 37 per cent. Despite the cuts imposed by the Government, Lothian has not cut its nursery school budget. It must be commended for that. It has appreciated the importance of nursery school education. Its policy for extended nurseries will also be developed once it has won the election on Thursday.

Lothian and the Labour local authorities of Edinburgh have put £450,000 into a child care centre, which is about to be built in my constituency. We know that existing need is still not being met, because more resources must be provided for nursery education from central Government. The nursery education provided is excellent, but it is not flexible enough to meet the needs of working parents.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. This is not an election platform, but a debate on the provision of child care.

Mr. Chisholm: We all know about the desperate need for child care from talking to our constituents. I do not think that I am allowed to mention the local elections, but I have been talking to a lot of people around the doors in the past few days. It is absolutely remarkable how many

Column 1482

times the issue of child care came up, unsolicited by a politician. It is the great under-recognised issue of politics.

The stories I have heard are all the same. One woman with three children told me how there is nothing in her area for children under three. She wanted to work, but could not do so because of the lack of child care. Another woman had a good job, but her marriage broke up and she had to give it up because there were no care facilities for her children.

The problems associated with lack of child care facilities are relayed to us all the time. The Government should recognise that demand, because such facilities are necessary for parents--most frequently for women. Although I do not have time to talk about it now, child care is also necessary for children. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) that the quality of child care is extremely important. As many reports have shown, the provision of child care is also important and necessary for the economy.

It is time that the Government took that issue on board and offered us a child care strategy instead of the occasional inadequate policy.

Mr. Nelson: This has been a commendable, albeit brief, debate. I hope to demonstrate both qualities in my response to it.

I want to assure all hon. Members who took part in the debate that I listened carefully to all their contributions. The Government will reflect on what they said. I was struck by what the hon. Members for Durham, North- West (Ms Armstrong), for Barking (Ms Hodge) and for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said about quality child care. They are right that not only the quantity but the flexibility and quality of education at all levels, particularly at pre-school age, is important. That is not the subject of contention on either side of the House. We should not simply throw money at a problem or extend facilities without regard to quality. The importance of quality has been an extremely significant theme of the debate.

The new clause seeks to extend industrial buildings allowances to buildings that do not qualify for that relief, but which are used for child care purposes. The clause restricts the allowances available to £10 for each chargeable period so that, in cash terms, a person can save between £2 and £4 a year depending on his marginal rate of tax. That is probably less than the cost of making a claim. That is not, presumably, a serious proposition from the Opposition, as it would be virtually worthless to business.

Under our current legislation, most day-to-day expenditure incurred by employers in the provision of child care facilities is already given full and immediate relief. That includes money spent on running costs such as staff wages, professional supervision and any incidental expenditure. Much of the capital expenditure by employers will already qualify for capital allowances, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Barking.

The new clause would extend the scope of capital allowances. It is presumably aimed at facilities within shops, offices and other buildings. They do not generally qualify for relief on the footing that such buildings tend not to depreciate, at least over the medium to long term. An extension of capital allowances for child care facilities would therefore run counter to our policy of keeping to a minimum the number of special reliefs within the tax

Column 1483

system. It might also open the door to claims for special treatment for other types of currently non-allowable capital expenditure. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West asked about the Prime Minister's commitment to universal infant education provision. The Prime Minister gave that commitment and it remains our policy to meet it. No specific date relating to the time of the next election was mentioned regarding the implementation of that commitment, but we remain pledged to it. A good deal of progress has already been made. I note what the hon. Member for Barking said about child care expenditure being an investment. That does not, of course, mean that it does not have an immediate and substantial cash flow cost to the Exchequer and the taxpayer. We are already spending a good deal of money on child care. The hon. Lady said that it is difficult to get the figures for total provision and I rather agree with her. I hope that she will continue to ask parliamentary questions about that. A lot of child care provision is made in the form of tax relief, which is a Treasury matter and in the form of Department for Education grants and expenditure. The Ministry of Defence spends money on child care and a variety of other Departments make allowances and provisions. It is therefore important to tie them all together. I think that the totality will be a good deal more substantial than the hon. Lady may suspect.

The hon. Member for Barking says that the Government do not have a policy in that respect. We certainly do. We are committed to encouraging the expansion of provision for rising fives and for three-year-olds. However, I disagree with her about part-time education. All the studies appear to show that, although full-time education for four to five-year-olds is extremely worth while--we are responsive to that--part-time education is more beneficial for three to four-year-olds. That does not undermine the thrust of much of what the hon. Lady said.

The hon. Member for Wallasey, a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Employment, referred to the Committee's report, which has been published. I can tell her that officials are considering that report. The matter will be brought before Ministers early next month, but the Committee's recommendations have a substantial price tag. The key recommendations to extend statutory maternity rights, introduce statutory paternity and family leave arrangements and extend tax relief currently available to workplace nurseries to cover all forms of employer-assisted child care are substantial, so we must consider those carefully.

9 pm

The hon. Member for Wallasey will be aware that our right hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) recently made an announcement on behalf of the House of Commons Commission about the voucher scheme, which will take effect, I believe, from the beginning of this month.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) asked why capital allowances were available for some but not all types of property. I think that I swept that point up earlier.

Column 1484

In conclusion, I shall say a brief word about the range of provision. I hope to provide some reassurance to hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Government take very seriously provision for the education and care of nursery children.

Employers currently obtain tax relief on direct provision of child care on the premises. They obtain child care revenue cost as an immediate deduction, 25 per cent. capital allowances on equipment and 4 per cent. capital allowances on child care buildings and structures if those are on industrial premises. Incidentally, in the small minority of cases where they are in enterprise zones, they qualify for 100 per cent. relief. There is also tax relief for other child care payments. Employers receive immediate relief on payments direct to employees or to third parties providing child care for employees. Employers' cash payments are taxable in the normal way, as are payments made by the employer to defray the employee's pecuniary liability. However, the 1990 scheme that was introduced, the workplace scheme, has been extremely successful.

The out-of-school initiative by the Department of Employment will cost about £45 million over three years. The child care disregard, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Leith, amounts to about £60 million. The Department of Health is paying £1.3 million a year in grant aid to 10 national voluntary organisations. There is a small grant scheme giving capital grants to local groups. The Government and local authorities are giving £10 million to pre-school playgroup associations, in addition to which about £90 million of parents' contribution adds up to a significant provision.

Finally, workplace schemes, which allow the benefit in kind of the provision of a workplace scheme not to be taxable, have now encouraged the provision of about 500 schemes. All those amount to well in excess of £100 million of Government support in that area, which has given rise to a profusion of new facilities. We intend to continue to provide those facilities and to build on them, as we have done in recent years.

The Government have a very creditable record and a very clear policy on the matter. I am afraid that the new clause would do nothing at all to add to that in practice, and appears to demonstrate that the Opposition once again have a good idea but then limit it without putting a price tag on it. Once again, that is uncosted idealism, but this is not a no-cost new clause and I cannot commend it to the House.

Question put , That the clause be read a Second time:--

The House divided : Ayes 240, Noes 276.

Division No. 125] [9.02 pm


Column 1484

Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Column 1484

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beith, Rt Hon A J

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F

Benton, Joe

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blunkett, David

Next Section

  Home Page