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The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms):
I agree that we have had an excellent debate. I really hope that we can forge a consensus on the aims of the Bill and the reforms that it will deliver. The goal is that no child's life prospects should be limited by an upbringing in poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) was among the contributors to the debate who set out how some of those limitations
are applied in practice. Every child should have a good start in life, a fulfilling childhood and opportunities to thrive and flourish. That is why, after 1997, we first halted and then reversed the previously inexorable rise in child poverty. There are 500,000 fewer children living below the poverty line than there were in 1999, and another 500,000 are expected to be lifted above the line by the measures announced in the past couple of years.
I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on child poverty in London, and I agree with her that it is dishonest to pretend that there has been no progress over the past 10 years, although I welcome the fact that Conservative Members are now willing to talk about poverty in a way that simply did not happen when we had a Conservative Government. There has been substantial progress over the past 10 years. Reforms since 1997 have made households with children in the least well-off fifth of the population £4,750 a year better off, on average. The minimum income for a family with one child and one person working 35 hours a week has increased by more than 30 per cent. in real terms since 1999. There has been very substantial progress, but there remains a great deal more to do. That is the importance of the Bill, which will provide renewed impetus, build and sustain momentum and create a clear definition of success. It will put in place a framework for accountability and improve partnership working at local level to tackle child poverty.
The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) made a particularly interesting speech, drawing on his many years of work in this area. I am grateful for his support for the Bill and I agree with his characterisation of what was happening inexorably under the Tory Government. I hope that he will send me some of his collected works; I look forward to reading them over the summer, and to having a rigorous debate with him and others in Committee after the break.
The hon. Gentleman and one or two others suggested that the current fiscal pressures put the ambitions for 2020 at risk. I would rather put it the other way round. Under the obligations in the Bill, once it receives Royal Assent, we need to devise a strategy for child poverty that is consistent with the fiscal consolidation that will be necessary over the next few years. That is what clause 15 requires. The eradication of child poverty and the fiscal consolidation set out in the Budget are not incompatible, and the strategy that the Bill requires will have to demonstrate how we can deliver both. Financial support will have to be tightly targeted-that is true. Having a job is the best way out of poverty, but too many families today remain below the poverty line even though a family member is in work. We need to do better for those families, and to set out in the strategy how public services, which have seen a huge boost in funding over the past 10 years, will help us to tackle poverty.
Some hon. Members have rightly said that the benefits of the proposals will far outweigh the costs. Creating a fairer society will benefit everyone. Without the action that we are proposing, we would need to continue meeting the real and high costs of inequality, and we would continue to miss out on the value of unfulfilled potential. The eradication of child poverty will have significant benefits for the economy. Entrenched crime and poor health impose big costs on public services and prevent them from operating as effectively as they could.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) was right to mention the recent estimate by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the cost to the economy of child poverty is around £25 billion a year. The challenge is to work out how to tackle that cost effectively, and to realise those substantial cost savings over time in a way that is consistent with the consolidation that will be needed over the next few years. That is what the strategy required by the Bill will need to do.
Measuring poverty is not straightforward; there are widely different approaches to it, and we have heard about some of them in the debate. The definition of success in the Bill results from careful and widespread consideration and consultation. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) referred to the widespread consultation that had taken place, and to the quite widely held sense of ownership of the Bill and of the way it sets about its task. It involves four poverty measures: relative poverty, combined low income and material deprivation, absolute low income and persistent poverty. Those four reflect the reality that income and the length of time experienced on low income and being without things are all important, and success will be achieved only if all four of those targets are hit. Those targets are ambitious, but achievable. If we meet them by 2020 and maintain them subsequently, we can be confident of making a big impact on children's well-being and on the well-being of the country, as those children go on to become adults.
Mr. Graham Stuart: My constituents often tell me that they get frustrated when, as soon as a target they have heard about looks as though it will fail to be achieved, there is a big fanfare announcing something new. Will the Minister address the 2010 target and square with the House about where we are with it so that we have some context when we talk about the Bill.
Mr. Timms: I am happy to do so. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the assessment made by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which I believe estimates that on the basis of policy currently in place, we can expect to get about two thirds of the way to the target by the end of 2010-11. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions explained earlier that pressure on the public finances constrains what we can do, but we have certainly not given up, and we may be able to go further in the announcements to follow before the end of the 2010-11 period.
I welcome many of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) put forward. She is consistent in championing the need for better housing and she provided some powerful examples from her constituency. One of the indicators in the material deprivation index is whether or not children over 10 of different genders have their own room-an issue that she raised, which is at least touched on in the Bill.
All the targets refer to income, but I agree that it is important to approach the issue of child poverty from a variety of angles, working across the whole of Government and at a local level. The Bill recognises the importance of narrowing the education attainment gap for disadvantaged children and of reducing infant mortality, but it is right to focus on income in order to address the lack of experiences and opportunities from which children in low-income families suffer. The Bill's strategy will
drive action to tackle such poverty across the so-called "building blocks" underlying the income targets. Hitting all four of those targets will provide real and lasting improvement to the well-being of children in the UK.
The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) made a connection between family break-up and poverty-and there is, of course, a connection between them. The shadow Secretary of State quoted from the regulatory impact assessment, where it said that low incomes can cause strain in relationships leading to family breakdown, while family breakdown can exacerbate or even cause poverty. I would advise caution regarding some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman and others about the so-called couples penalty. In particular, it remains the case that the likelihood of poverty is twice as high in one-parent households as in two-parent households, which needs to be borne in mind as we set about tackling the problem.
I agree with those who applauded the contribution of the third sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) made the same point, and I join her in paying tribute to the work of organisations in Wales. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) talked about the work of the End Child Poverty coalition, which does great work in every part of the UK. I join those hon. Members who paid tribute to the work of the Welsh Assembly Government in this area, as they have had measures in place since March, including duties on Welsh Ministers to prepare a child poverty strategy and update it every three years.
The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) set out his concerns about the role of local authorities in the Bill, but it has been widely recognised that tackling child poverty cannot be a priority only for central Government Departments; it must also be a priority for local authorities and their partners. Obviously, tackling child poverty helps local communities, and many local authorities have made a commitment to tackling child poverty. Good work is under way, and local authorities have given a lot of support to the proposals in the Bill. However, we need local authorities and their partners to do more, even in seemingly affluent areas such as-dare I say it-Henley. The legislation will be accompanied by support to help local partnerships as they work together. The Bill embraces Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as Wales, and I am grateful for the support and help from both Administrations in the progress that we have made on the Bill.
Clause 15 is not, as one or two Members have suggested, a get-out clause. The only way of avoiding the duty to meet the targets under the Bill would be to repeal the legislation. Clause 15 is about how, not whether, the Government meet the targets, in a value-for-money way that is consistent with the needs of the wider economy.
Our vision of a fairer society in which no child is left behind, and every child has the chance to flourish, is one that I hope the whole House will embrace. The House will have appreciated the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud to Peter Townsend, and I agree with him about Professor Townsend's huge contribution to drawing attention to the issue. Too many families are still on the edge of coping. There should not be, but there are, families who cannot afford to eat properly, keep their home warm or pay for basics such as school uniform or outings, let alone buy presents for birthday parties, as we have heard.
Children who grow up in poverty lack experiences and opportunities that others take for granted, and the exclusion that results can last for a lifetime. We can change that, and we must. The Bill is a key step, and I look forward to the detailed debates after the recess. I commend the Bill to the House.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Child Poverty Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 3 November.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.- ( Helen Jones.)
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Child Poverty Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of-
(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by a Minister of the Crown, and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.- (Helen Jones.)
That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Child Poverty Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session .-(Helen Jones.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker: We have today received a message from the Lords. The Lords agree without amendment to the amendments made by the Commons to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill. We can therefore pass over motion 6 on the Order Paper.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The Lords do not insist on their amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Bill, to which the Commons have disagreed, but they disagree with the amendments proposed by the Commons in lieu of those amendments, and propose amendments in lieu of those Commons amendments, to which they desire the agreement of the Commons.
That this House does not insist on its Amendments Nos. 12A to 12F in lieu of Lords Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, and agrees with the Lords in their Amendments Nos. 12G to 12N in lieu.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice made clear at the time, amendments 12A to 12F were not fully workable. The Government therefore tabled further amendments 12G to 12N in lieu. Those amendments have been agreed to today in another place.
The Government's amendments seek to address the legal, technical and basic operational deficiencies with the amendments moved by Lord Campbell-Savours. As such, should the amendments be agreed to, we would want to discuss carefully their implementation with the parties and the Electoral Commission in due course before the new restriction came into force.
Amendments 12G to 12N remedy some of the deficiencies in amendments 12A to 12F. They raise the permissibility threshold in relation to taxation status from £500 to £7,500, aligning it with the threshold at which a declaration will be required. That will be far easier for parties and donors to operate. We have required aggregation of donations above £500 which in aggregate exceed £7,500 in a calendar year to the same recipient. The amendments ensure that the new restriction applies to loans as well as donations. They also ensure that for the purposes of the aggregation provisions, donations and loans from the same source must be added together.
We have made it clear that in the majority of cases, a party or other donee will satisfy the requirement to take "all reasonable steps" to verify a donation's permissibility if it receives a declaration from the individual in regard to taxation status. A party would be required to take further steps only if it had reasonable grounds to consider the declaration to be incorrect. We believe that that approach strikes the right balance by minimising the burden on parties and donors and ensuring a workable restriction.
I hope that the amendments will be accepted here, as they were in another place. They would be a proportionate and effective way of maintaining the spirit of the amendments originally tabled by Lord Campbell-Savours, and I commend them to the House.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The amendments represent a clarification of the Government's new position-set out this time last week-in relation to exceptions to those who can constitute acceptable donors. In practice, they have been clarified on the Government's own terms, because of the deficiencies in their own amendments last week and not on the basis of any kind of consensus.
Once again we were given very little notice of amendments in the Government's rush to finalise legislation, but perhaps I should not be surprised, given that we received the Government's earlier amendments only six hours before we debated them in the House a week ago. That is not how we should be making the laws of this country. We expect to be given an opportunity to scrutinise the major changes in our electoral law that the Government propose.
The Government's performance has been chaotic and confusing. We are here to ensure that effective legislation is produced, and that means dealing with the incredibly detailed legal arguments involved in the amendments in a controlled and balanced manner. In its briefing on the amendments, the Electoral Commission itself says,
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