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Kali Mountford: I have come across areas where child care availability is limited. This Bill does not seek to improve the number of child care places, although there are measures in place to attempt to do that. Introducing some cash into the system changes the marketplace for child care. The attraction of being paid for work that was previously unpaid may entice more people into child minding than were attracted previously.

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The role of child minders has been undervalued. The formal system of nursery care, creches and child care provision out of school hours is valuable, but the child minder also has an important role to play. Local authorities would do well to look at their home assessments of prospective child minders and encourage more people to be child minders. They play a valuable role not only for the family who need child care, but for all of us economically.

I do not know about availability in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but there has generally been a rundown in the child care system. We are in the process of improving the position. I hope that in similar debates in years to come in the House about how to get people out of poverty, the hon. Gentleman will not describe the same problem.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): My hon. Friend makes a strong case for not treating tax credits in isolation and for looking at things that link. I am fortunate enough to have a Jobcentre Plus pilot office in my constituency—on those days when there is no industrial action at that office—and the joined-up approach is exactly the strategy being adopted there. When jobseekers go into the Jobcentre Plus to discuss a particular job, they are given not only an instant assessment of what their working families tax credit and all the various components will be—we have talked about the necessity of giving people confidence to go back into the labour market—but advice on issues such as child care, which is bound to have a beneficial impact. Does she agree that more remains to be done and that there is a role for local authorities, along with the Inland Revenue and the Employment Service? They must continue to work closely together to ensure that the joined-up approach is cemented.

Kali Mountford: I go one step further and point my hon. Friend to the ONE project, a pilot of which was run in my constituency, where the local authority, the Inland Revenue, the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service were all part of one system. The great thing is that people only have one place to go to get advice. [Interruption.] I can see the hon. Member for Northavon laughing, but the name "ONE" is absolutely suitable in that particular circumstance. Those people have one place to go where advice is streamlined, comprehensive and right for the individual. It has changed the relationship between people working in the system and the recipient of the service.

One person said to me when I visited our local pilot project, "I bet you wish you were still in the system now." I would rather keep the job I have, but I could see what civil servants were saying to me. By changing the dynamic between the people giving a service and those receiving a service, we change the quality of the service. I hope to see more of that. Although not perhaps directly related to this Bill, such an approach plays a part in the general relationship between the world of benefit, the world of work and the world of paying tax. If we can go one further and say, "in the world of getting a tax credit", we will all benefit from that.

8.16 pm

Phil Hope (Corby): My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) has been passionate, enlightening and persuasive. I feel educated as a result of

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her contribution. For all hon. Members, having these debates is an opportunity to discover more not only about others' constituencies, but about the expertise that Members bring to the debates. Her contribution was truly excellent, unlike the contributions from Conservative Members.

We started the debate at around 3.30, when five Conservative Members were in the Chamber. Most of the time, however, there were two. Then it went down to one, and in the past hour or so not a single Conservative Back-Bench Member has bothered to appear in the debate. If it were a debate on inheritance tax, it would be packed out. The fact that it is about poverty and dealing with the issues that concern our constituents clearly illustrates the priorities of the Conservative party.

In pressing some Conservative Members for their views on the Bill, I found myself slightly confused. When asked what the Conservatives would do, we were told that they did not know. They will not vote on the Bill because they have not made their minds up yet. That does not tell us much about their priorities or concern for tackling the issue of poverty.

We heard the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) say that the Labour Government are promising more on health, on education and on all these extra tax credits, but when pressed on what he would cut, he would not say. Clearly, he regards these as generous commitments to the poor, but by not voting for them we know where the Conservative party stands. He was then contradicted by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), who said that the child tax credit was not generous enough because people could not afford to pay for the child care that was required. So we heard one Conservative Member complaining that it was too generous and another saying that it was not generous enough.

I would like to know what the Conservatives think about tackling poverty. In fact, I would like to hear—it would be very rare—an apology for the fact that, in 1997, when the Labour Government came to power, one in three children were living below the poverty line, and one in five households with children were workless. That was the poverty that we inherited. Instead of packing out the Opposition Benches this evening to try to discover what they did wrong, apologising for it and learning how to get it right, Conservative Members have absented themselves from the debate.

Vera Baird (Redcar): I do not want to give my hon. Friend too difficult a task at this late stage in the evening, but having made the comments that he has, can he help me by listing any attempt to alleviate poverty that has ever come from the Conservative Benches?

Phil Hope: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I will have to disappoint her because, as a result of the policies of the Conservative party, 4 million people were unemployed. [Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) from a sedentary position—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. We cannot have interventions from a sedentary position, and I hope that the hon. Member for Corby will soon turn to the Bill before the House.

Phil Hope: We hear from Conservative Members the cry, "Has the gap between rich and poor widened or

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narrowed?" If benefit after benefit is cut, as they were when the Conservative party was in government, the poor will get poorer. If child benefit, which is a universal benefit, is frozen, the poor will get poorer. If 4 million people are thrown out of work, the poor will inevitably get poorer. The point is that the Conservatives do not care, and they have not come here tonight to see how we might put things right.

Kali Mountford: Does my hon. Friend think it better to try to lift families, especially those with children, out of poverty or to concentrate on limiting the resources of the very wealthy?

Phil Hope: The crucial thing is to lift the floor and raise the level for everyone—like boats on the sea—to give all an opportunity, as opposed to abandoning them on run-down estates in constituencies that the Conservatives failed to represent adequately.

The Bill builds on the last four years of successful intervention in meeting the needs of the poor. The national minimum wage was introduced by the Labour Government, and the tax credit will be a vital addition to that. I remember an all-night debate in the last Parliament during which the Conservatives made every effort to oppose the introduction of the national minimum wage. The general election saw a huge U-turn by the then shadow Chancellor, but he is no longer a member of their Front-Bench team. What is the Tories' real position now on the national minimum wage? If they got back into power, would we see 2 million people thrown back into the poverty pay that they had to live on under the Conservatives?

The Conservatives opposed the WFTC, the child care tax credit, the 10p starting rate of income tax and the increases in child benefit. The fact that they are abstaining this evening tells us that they may be wondering whether they got it wrong. They may be asking themselves whether it was wrong to keep cutting people's incomes. They may be having second thoughts. Unfortunately, I doubt it. They do not want to vote tonight, because they do not know what to do. They do not understand the people who live in poverty.

Mr. Kevan Jones: The Conservatives may be abstaining tonight because the measures in the Bill are popular with the public and they do not want to admit that a Labour Government have brought in policies that are popular with the public. Those policies are why the Labour Government were returned in June.

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