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Ms Abbott: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been extremely generous in giving way. She argues that the cuts in child benefit will not be a disincentive to lone mothers to work. I draw to her attention the Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, "Making Work Pay", which states:

Ms Harman: That study was researched before we introduced our proposals. We will implement them. That research does not take account of the extra help we shall give lone mothers with the extra costs of child care.

Mrs. Fyfe: I thank my right hon. Friend for her generosity. I am sure that we all agree that most lone parents do want to work if the situation allows them to do so. My right hon. Friend's comments assume, however, that every employer is a nice, kind, generous one who will understand a mother's family problems and will not sack her unreasonably. For the first two years of any employment, people cannot take a case to an industrial tribunal. I know that some of my party colleagues are somewhat distanced from the trade unions these days, but they should realise that not all employers are good ones.

Ms Harman: Lone mothers are well aware, as is everyone else, that the first job one gets does not necessarily prove to be permanent or a job for life. I believe that lone mothers want to work because they are better off and because they want to set an example to their children. They have said clearly that many of them cannot work because they need help and support to find it. They need practical help with finding a job and with finding accessible, affordable child care. The Government will deliver that through the new deal for lone parents and the national child care strategy.

Ann Clwyd: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Ms Harman: I will press on with my comments because this has been a long debate. I may give way later.

8.45 pm

In consultation with lone parent organisations, we have developed a radical new programme that offers lone parents throughout Britain the opportunity to find work. Lone parents welcome that programme and employers have been offering jobs to lone parents, some of whom have been on benefit for five, 10 or even 20 years. The new deal for lone parents is real welfare reform in action. It is a completely new service which extends opportunities where they never were before.

Ann Clwyd: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Will she confirm that if a lone parent loses

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their job or has to leave it because their child becomes ill, they will get a cut in benefit when they return to that benefit?

Ms Harman: If a lone parent loses her job and goes back to income support, she will get the same rate of benefit for her child as a married couple on the same income.

I have already announced that from next April all lone parents newly claiming income support will be able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new deal. We are not excluding those with young children from those opportunities. As my hon. Friends have asked today, we shall keep all the issues under review. We are investing the best part of £1 million in evaluating the effectiveness of our new deal.

The Liberal Democrats have backed our welfare- to-work proposals, but they opposed the windfall levy which finances them and they oppose any cuts to pay for them. We do not have the luxury that they afford themselves. I remind the House that existing lone parents will continue to receive the higher rate of child benefit.

Mr. Livingstone: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just had a message on my pager which says, "A vote is expected in the next few minutes." May we have an assurance that you will allow the debate to continue? A large number of hon. Members have sat here throughout the debate. I was lucky to be called, but there are many more who wish to speak. May we have an undertaking--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order. I do not possess a pager, so I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

Ms Harman: I remind the House that existing lone parents will continue to receive the higher rate of child benefit. We have built in additional protection for lone parents currently on income support. They will continue to be entitled to claim the lone-parent rate of child benefit when they move into work.

Mr. Swinney rose--

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) rose--

Ms Harman: I will not give way to the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney) because I am about to conclude my comments. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Lady is not giving way.

Mr. Corbyn: She has not seen me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have seen the hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Lady is not giving way.

Ms Harman: On the contrary, I certainly had seen my hon. Friend.

Lone parents have told us that they need help to find work and that they need help with child care in work. The Government are providing that. That is why the answer to the second question is that we do not believe

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that the benefit changes will deter lone parents from moving into work. Our programme will extend opportunities to lone mothers, who will be better off in work than they could ever have been on any rate of benefit.

Mrs. Mahon: The Secretary of State has been good enough to give way many times and she has answered a couple of questions, but she has not answered mine. If a lone parent chooses not to take part in the new deal because they feel that they need to stay at home with their family, will they be allowed that choice or will the new deal become compulsory?

Ms Harman: There is no intention that the new deal should drive lone mothers with young children out to work. We are doing what we said that we would do in our manifesto, which is to offer opportunities for lone mothers who previously did not have them.

Many Labour Members have raised the issue of what people voted the Government in to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins) reminded the House in his thoughtful speech that when we asked people to vote for us earlier this year, we told them that we would tackle poverty and social exclusion. We told them how we would do so, which was by promoting opportunity. We told them also that we believed that work was the best form of welfare for people of working age. We said that we would invest in helping people to move from benefits to work. We said also that we would offer a hand-up, not merely a handout.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) urges us to abandon our manifesto. I say to him that we should not do so. The public clearly want an active approach to welfare so that everyone works for his or her living if that is possible, and that is what we have promised to do.

Under the previous Government there were no substantive measures to help lone parents into work. I criticised the previous Administration for merely proposing benefit cuts and providing no opportunities for lone parents to be better off in work. Without the recent general election and without a Labour Government in office, that would have been the end of the story, but it is not. Our approach is different from that of the previous Government.

Work and opportunity are at the heart of the Government's approach, and that extends to lone parents, who for many years have been invisible in the House except when it came to the opportunity for criticising them. Our manifesto promised to provide help for lone parents in moving into work, and that is what is expected of us. Indeed, that is what we are delivering.

I explained at the outset that the measure on which the House is to vote is about lone parents who are in work or who are considering work. It is not about benefit levels for lone mothers who are out of work. I have addressed the substantive issues and explained the Government's approach in the light of our manifesto promises. I ask the House to reject the amendment and the new clause.

Mr. Webb: After more than four hours of debate, I have no desire to detain the House from dividing. We have heard the Secretary of State's response and my colleagues and I feel that it did not take up the key

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question: what is the point of clause 70? The money is not needed; the Government do not need the money, but lone parents do.

The Secretary of State mentioned her challenge to Baroness Thatcher--then Mrs. Thatcher--on first entering the House. It occurred to us on the Liberal Democrat Benches that if the then Mrs. Thatcher been here tonight, it is clear which Lobby she would have passed through.

We have laid before the House two ways of objecting to an objectionable part of the Bill. We have offered new clause 1, which is the positive approach that the Liberal Democrats would take. We have heard from Labour Members that although they disagree with the clause they would have difficulty in supporting new clause 1, and we respect that position.

We shall pursue new clause 1 to a Division, having had an assurance from the Chair that there will be a separate Division on amendment No. 1. That assurance came from the Chair earlier in the day, and we are grateful for it. I understand that a Division will take place on the new clause and that there will then be a discussion on backdating. That having taken place, I understand that there will be a debate on amendment No. 1, which will take place in the normal way. That is my understanding.

We have not heard a convincing response. It is time that we stood up for lone parents.

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