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Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause, which has been tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) and myself, refers to marriage. I do not know whether you have received the married couples allowance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If so, like millions of people in the country, you will have been sent a document in the past few weeks which consists of explanatory notes and a form that must be filled in if one is to claim children's tax credit. It states:

I suspect that you are a normal citizen, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether you have a child under 16, but the important point is that there are a heck of a lot of people in this country who do not have a child under 16. To say that the children's tax credit is replacing the married couples allowance is untrue, inaccurate and a distortion of what the Government intend. I am not sure whether it is spin or underspin but, whatever it is, that statement is wrong.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Has my hon. Friend noticed that the form, which is a document about marriage, insists on referring to one's "partner"? May I put it to him that many married women do not wish to be referred to as partners because they are married and have taken on the responsibility of a lifelong union to look after the children for whom the allowance is supposed to be paid? Is it not about time that people had enough respect for married women to refer to them as married, not partners, which can involve all kinds of arrangement, many of which are not the sort that my wife and many other wives wish to enter into?

Mr. Ottaway: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The form goes far too far in political correctness. We have

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seen too much of that sort of stuff. As I happen to know my right hon. Friend's wife, I know that she would be offended by being described as a partner.

Mr. Gummer: Did my hon. Friend notice the grins on the faces of Labour Members, especially those on the Front Bench, when he mentioned that many women do not share their loose attitudes towards marriage?

Mr. Ottaway rose--

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo) rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) must deal with one intervention before he takes the next, if he wants to do so.

Mr. Ottaway: I will give way, but I will first answer the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). I have some respect for the Paymaster General and the Economic Secretary, who are sitting on the Front Bench; whether they wish to be described as a partner is entirely a matter for them.

Dawn Primarolo: My objection is to being called a loose women. I am married and I consider my husband to be my partner--my partner in life. The suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was out of order. I am sure that he would like to correct the impression that he gave to women of his attitude towards them.

Mr. Ottaway: I do not want to get caught in the crossfire. If the House does not mind, I shall move on.

The deception of replacing the married couples allowance with the children's tax credit will hit millions of families very hard. Until April, every married couple was in receipt of £197 a year. That money is lost. Indeed, there is a gap between the two provisions because the children's tax credit does not come into effect until next year.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): If the former married couples allowance was such a great idea--it was of course available to people who were not married but had children and lived together--why did the hon. Gentleman's Government reduce it in two stages to 20 per cent. and then 15 per cent? Are not this Government continuing that process? Does he not endorse the approach that his Government took?

Mr. Ottaway: Whatever level the allowance got to, the important point is that the principle of marriage was recognised in the tax and benefits system. We undertake to maintain that, unlike the hon. Gentleman's party, which has, effectively, undermined the concept of marriage.

Until April, one earner on a salary of £34,000 a year would have paid income tax last year at 23 per cent. and this year at 22 per cent., but the abolition of the married couples allowance has taken that person into the higher tax band. The House may not be aware that if one is in the higher tax band, one does not qualify for children's

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tax credit. We estimate that more than 1 million people in the higher rate tax band will not be entitled to the children's tax credit even if they have children under the age of 16. So, people will not qualify because they are paying too much tax and are being moved into different tax bands.

The replacement system is an utterly inadequate form of compensation. That is why, when the Conservatives win the next election, we will reintroduce recognition of marriage in the system by reintroducing the married couples allowance. We shall do so for two reasons. First, we think that there are benefits to society from marriage. Families are where society starts and ends. Family breakdown weakens a free and ordered society. Parents do their best for their children in a wide range of circumstances, but, in general, children from two-parent families do better at school, have better chances in life and are less likely to end up ensnared in crime. Two-parent families are better units if the parents are married.

The Government should not discriminate against the one institution that has been shown to help families stick together and help the process of raising children: marriage. The Government have attacked marriage; they have abolished the married couples allowance and discriminated against couples in the structure of the working families tax credit. That is why we are pledged to recognise the benefits of marriage in the tax system.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

7.15 pm

Mr. Ottaway: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Secondly, we make the pledge to reintroduce the married couples allowance because of the defects in the children's tax credit. Two earners who live together and both earn £30,000 a year, with a household income of £60,000 a year, will qualify for the children's tax credit. Yet, one earner on £40,000 a year will not do so. What logic is there to that?

The second anomaly in the children's tax credit is its ineffectiveness as a benefit. The Financial Secretary said in Committee:

The Minister failed to say that the payment of £8 a week in children's tax credit is substantially reduced by the impact of the working families tax credit and housing and council tax benefits.

I am obliged to Mr. Roger Cockfield, reader in taxation at De Montfort university, Leicester, who has sent me copies of the model that he has compiled. He has demonstrated that a lone parent with two young children earning £180 a week--someone working for 12 hours at, say, £15 an hour is not an unusual example--faces a loss of £5.33 in housing benefit and £1.70 in council tax benefit when he or she receives £8.50 of children's tax credit. He or she is only £1.27 better off--not the £8.50 claimed.

The children's tax credit is no substitute. It is available to the better off but not to the poorer people in our society. I was always under the impression that a Labour

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Government were there to protect the poorer people rather than to give tax breaks to the better off. If anything illustrates why they are losing support in their heartlands, it is much trumpeted measures such as the children's tax credit, which goes not to the poorer people but to the better off.

The form sent in the past few weeks to families who used to receive married couples allowance also contains the following sentence:

it goes on to describe the tax year--

I do not know how many blank forms might have been sent back, but I conclude by reading a letter that was sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, No. 11 Downing street from a gentleman in Merseyside. It reads:

Hon. Members might think that that letter came from a Conservative party supporter--Labour Members are nodding their heads. They think they know what the letter says because it was sent to No. 11. However, it concludes:

I can think of nothing else that better shows why the Government are losing support. They sit there like rabbits stuck in the headlights, watching the on-coming change in the political direction of this country which such proposed measures will cause. The Conservative party's tax system will provide benefits for rich and poor, because we are the party of one-nation conservatism. We shall stand up for the Mr. Speakmans of this world. We will not say that a tax credit is worth £8.50, when it is in fact worth £1.27.

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