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Lord Milverton: I support the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, many of us know what it is like for single parents. Nothing should be done to make their task of bringing up, with loving care, children under five and over five more difficult. It must be remembered that many will have poor financial means.

As a priest, and in other ways, I know what it is like. I agree with the principle of the amendment. I may agree with the Liberals. My father was once a Liberal and at one time I asked myself whether I should be a Liberal or a Conservative. As my wife knows, some years ago I voted Liberal at a general election because I was not happy with the Conservative candidate or the Conservative Party at that time.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Does the noble Lord mean now?

Lord Milverton: That was some years back, not now. The Conservatives would have to do something terrible.

In principle I agree with the amendment because it is very important. I am surprised at the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, because her present position runs contrary to her previous statements. We should be very careful about such a proposal, particularly if it is intended to save money. I hope that the Government will give the amendment great thought and take note of it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I can assure noble Lords that I know, even from my limited experience at this Dispatch Box, that we take serious note of what noble Lords say and review the position after each stage of a Bill. Your Lordships' contributions, even if the Government do not act upon them, are taken seriously. I like to think that the previous administration did the same, but I am not entirely sure about that.

The Government are committed to supporting vulnerable families. We recognise that families can face difficulties for many reasons, a number of which have been highlighted by noble Lords.

Families can be vulnerable because their opportunity to maximise income from work is limited by their parenting responsibilities. Let no one doubt how much this Government, and I am sure the previous government, value parental responsibilities. That applies to many lone parents, but it also applies to many couples with young children. Therefore, the Government do not believe that the best way to help the families is through differential rates of benefit for different family types.

I do not wish to repeat all the changes that we are developing and which I outlined in the previous amendment. I wish to avoid taking up the Committee's time. I merely remind the Committee that the total spending on all those initiatives--the working family tax credits, the child benefit and income related benefits

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improvement--will result in about an extra £3 billion, equitably, for lone parents, workless couples and couples with children. They target particularly the needs of the most vulnerable. That £3 billion, expected over the next 18 months, is the result of cumulative changes which were announced in the Budget.

Thus we seek to help lone parents, couples and workless families in an even-handed way. While some lone parents may choose not to work immediately because they have young children or have been through the trauma of domestic violence, as a result of our proposals they will, we hope, have the opportunity to take up the option much sooner, when they are ready to do so. That will reduce the time they spend on benefit, thereby reducing the high levels of hardship they experience.

I turn to individual amendments. Amendments Nos. 110 and 113 are concerned with families with young children. I have outlined the measures the Government are implementing to direct extra help to poorer families with young children, not just children under school age but all families with children up to the age of 11. We recognise, as I am sure all noble Lords do, that there is no magic cut-off age when the difficulties of balancing parenting and work responsibilities disappear. They will certainly continue up to the age of 11.

We believe that our proposed measures are a major step forward in reducing the effects of poverty on families with young children. I point out that the amendment would not only help the most vulnerable. Because it only applies to child benefit, it will not provide additional help, as stated in the amendment, to those families on income support. We have done that, not through this amendment but through our increases in the family premia and the child allowances which I have already outlined.

Amendment No. 114 seeks to help people who are caring for a child when the other parent or carer has died and parents who suffer domestic violence. I recognise that such parents will face particular difficulties and I sympathise with the intent of the amendment. I point out, however, that widows with children--one of the examples given--do not normally receive the lone parent rate of child benefit. That is because they are helped in a different way, through the widowed mothers' allowance, which would not be affected by Clause 70.

The Government's strategy is to ensure that all vulnerable families receive an adequate income when out of work, and to address the barriers they face in moving into work. Although we fully appreciate that some lone parents face particularly difficult circumstances, we do not believe that it is right to pay different levels of benefit to lone parents on the basis of how they came to be a lone parent. That is the thrust of the noble Earl's amendment. It would also be virtually impossible to deliver benefits with those added complexities.

However, we think it is right to give extra financial help where it is specifically needed, such as for childcare costs and where there are young children in

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the family. That is extra help which we know we can deliver and which I am sure has support from all Members of the Committee.

I share the concern about women who have escaped domestic violence and their continuing vulnerability. I have already outlined the extra benefit support that will be available to all vulnerable families. However, the need for support for women in that situation goes far beyond increasing benefit levels, as I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would be the first to agree.

The Government are committed to tackling domestic violence on every front. We recognise how important it is to increase greater awareness of domestic violence and the issues surrounding it among the public and relevant professionals. The Government are currently considering a new interdepartmental publicity campaign on domestic violence. As well as the services and support provided by Women's Aid and the refuge network, with which I know the noble Earl has long and honourable connections, women experiencing domestic violence may seek help from a variety of sources including the police, local refuges, social services and health professionals.

Tackling domestic violence is one of the Secretary of State's priority issues. She will be driving forward an over-arching strategy to combat violence against women. It is a strategy which I am sure will command the support of all the Committee. Again, because the amendment only applies to child benefit, the noble Earl's amendment would not help the most vulnerable families which are on income support.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked about the five groups who will lose. If I have omitted any points, I shall write to the noble Baroness afterwards. All lone parents, including those in the five groups she mentioned will either retain protected rights to the higher rate of child benefit or they will gain from the increases in the standard rate of child benefit we have announced. A total of 60,000 lone parents will lose overall, but 1 million lone parents will gain, but those who gain include those who are most vulnerable.

Perhaps I may give an example of this. One of the five groups the noble Baroness identified as experiencing hardship because they were losers under our proposals were working parents with earnings above the tax credit level. If a working lone parent has earnings above the tax credit level such that she does not even qualify for the family childcare strategy or help, she has to be earning £30,000 a year. I would have thought that was not a group in particular financial hardship.

I hope that I have answered the points made by Members of the Committee. If not, I am sure that they will come back to me.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: I thank the Minister for her full reply to the points made when I moved Amendment No. 110 and also when replying to the amendments made by my noble friend Lord Russell. Before discussing Amendment No. 110, perhaps I may say that on domestic violence, I know the Minister shares our

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concern. I hope she will also press for there to be better finances to support refuges for those suffering domestic violence. It is still a problem, trying to find sufficient finance to support enough refuges around the country. I am sure the Minister will agree with me and hope she will push for that.

Perhaps I may thank the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, for his support and for his past support for the Liberal Party. We welcome him at any time.

Lord Milverton: My father was also a member of the Labour Party.

Baroness Maddock: Various people move around the parties but I have been a member of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrat Party only.

The Minister talked about the five groups and answered some of the points. The main point is: why should we pick out any group and say, "You will have a cut"? That is what may happen to some people. I realise that some of the groups are not those in the worst situation. We try to recognise that lone parents have more substantial costs than others in bringing up their children. That was part of the reason for moving the amendment.

We on these Benches want the principle of an earmarked benefit that is special to lone parent families to continue. There is no doubt that lone parents, particularly those in work, will stand to lose a substantial amount with the cutting of lone parent rates for child benefit. As I said and others will agree, there is considerable evidence to show that there are higher costs for one parent families than for two parent families.

We oppose the removal of the higher child benefit for lone parents. As we have received some support at this stage, we intend to pursue the matter at a later stage. However, today I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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