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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very comprehensive response. I should like to pay her the compliment of saying that I believe she is one of the best advocates in the House. However, one of the reasons why I cannot withdraw my amendment is that the two specific points that I outlined were not fully addressed in her response.

The first related to the 60,000 lone parents who, I understand, will suffer, as a result of the withdrawal of the single parent premium from council tax benefit and from housing benefit. I believe that those 60,000 will be worse off at the end of the day after all the changes that we are discussing have taken place. That seems to me to represent a formidable group of people. The second point, which the Minister did not address in her most comprehensive response, was the extremely serious issue of the 12 week linkage and the inability to go beyond that point. I give way to the Minister.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am most grateful. The reason that I did not do so was deliberate. We shall be dealing with a specific amendment later in this respect. I had in mind the length of time that we are taking at present to debate amendments, although I do not wish in any way to speed up noble Lords. It seemed to me that the noble Baroness's speech covered so many different areas that I felt it right not to address those points now but to allow them to be re-debated on the appropriate amendment. I apologise to the noble Baroness if she feels that I neglected her argument in any sense. However, if I may say so, there is no real need for her to push her amendment at this stage because there will be a later opportunity to discuss such issues.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in no sense do I wish to avoid a later debate of any kind nor, indeed, to trespass upon it. I find myself in a slight dilemma in that I am not quite sure what the Minister's reply will be to that later amendment. Obviously that is a most important factor as regards what happens to the parents about whom I am concerned.

However, perhaps I may briefly address just two points. First, the Minister is right to say that one of the reasons that single parents are poorer than couple

23 Apr 1998 : Column 1307

parents is because many more of them are on benefit and stay on it for longer. But one of the reasons why many more of them are on benefit and for longer is because of the extreme difficulty of making childcare arrangements. In this country we have many fewer women at work who have children than is the case elsewhere because, as the Minister pointed out, in almost every other country in Europe there is much more effective provision of childcare for the under-four year olds. For example, there is the ecole maternelle in France and the similar kindergartens in Germany. Again, that is not the fault of the present Government; but our childcare provision for very young children is shockingly backward compared to many other countries of a similar level of development. I shall only touch lightly upon the Scandinavian example. They have, perhaps, the most comprehensive system of young childcare. We simply do not have that in this country. That means the responsible single parent is put in an almost impossible dilemma. Therefore many live on benefit when they do not wish to do so.

I fully accept what the Minister said about the emotional value of work. However, as I said, these single parents face a moral dilemma which it is almost impossible to resolve in a reasonable way. That moral dilemma will remain until such time as the opportunities the Minister mentioned are in place. I think she will agree that they are certainly not yet in place.

I conclude by giving the example of one working mother, Ruth Kelly of Cambridge, who approached 42 child minders as she wanted to work very much. She obtained a useful job for which she was well qualified. She had a two year-old child. Of the 42 child minders she contacted in Cambridge, only three were able even to consider caring for her child. Two of those child minders subsequently were not able to care for her child. The only one out of 42 who could do so turned out to be almost wholly unsatisfactory. That is a common dilemma, as many noble Lords will know from their own experience and the experience of those in their regions. It is extraordinarily difficult to obtain childcare of an adequate standard for young children unless one can pay substantial sums of money. That gap in provision exists. I say with good will to the Minister that it is not yet met. Therefore I must ask the House to express its opinion on this matter.

7.10 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 54) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 33; Not-Contents, 70.

Division No. 2


Addington, L.
Alderdice, L.
Avebury, L.
Carlisle, E.
Dholakia, L.
Elis-Thomas, L.
Goodhart, L. [Teller.]
Hamwee, B.
Kingsland, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Meston, L.
Newby, L.
Ogmore, L.
Razzall, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Sandberg, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thurso, V.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Williams of Crosby, B. [Teller.]


Acton, L.
Ampthill, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Borrie, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Desai, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grantchester, L.
Hanworth, V.
Hardie, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Haskel, L. [Teller.]
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Kilbracken, L.
Mallalieu, B.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Monkswell, L.
Montague of Oxford, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Nicol, B.
Norton, L.
Paul, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Renwick of Clifton, L.
Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Rogers of Riverside, L.
Sewel, L.
Simon, V.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.
Young of Dartington, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

23 Apr 1998 : Column 1308

7.20 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.]

Clause 71 [Power to reduce child benefit for lone parents]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 51, line 15, leave out from ("parent") to end of line 17.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government intend to use the powers in Clause 71 to remove the differential in child benefit rates for lone parents and two parent families.

In Committee, I acknowledged that the drafting of the clause (then Clause 70) was causing concern and agreed to come back to the matter at Report stage. I am doing so by bringing forward this amendment which I hope will allay any concerns over the

23 Apr 1998 : Column 1309

Government's intentions. The amendment makes clear that Clause 71 only allows the Government to align the rates for couples and lone parents. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness warmly for the amendment and welcome it with alacrity.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 58 to 60 not moved.]

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 61:

After Clause 71, insert the following new clause--

Lone parent benefit: re-entitlement

(" . After subsection (1) of section 135 of the Contributions and Benefits Act, there shall be inserted--
"(1A) Regulations relating to income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit which contain a provision reducing the applicable amount of such benefit attributable to being a lone parent ("the lone parent element") shall also contain a provision that, where a person ceases to be entitled to the benefit in question after the coming into force of the regulations but becomes entitled again, as a lone parent, within 1 year of the cessation of his previous entitlement, the applicable amount of such benefit in his case shall include the lone parent element; and the Social Security (Lone Parent) (Amendment) Regulations 1997 shall be construed as if they contained such a provision."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment stands in my name, and that of my noble friend Lady Anelay of St. Johns, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and relates to lone parent benefit.

I appear somewhat in the role of Oliver Twist. Given the timing of the debate, that is perhaps not wholly inappropriate. Considerable discussion has taken place about the position of lone parents who obtain a job. They then find that the job folds. They become unemployed again, and find that they have moved from the higher rate of lone parent benefit, and all that that involves, to the lower rate which the Government propose.

Paragraph 3.11 of the Red Book points out that the Budget also makes changes to benefit rules to introduce a 12 week linking rule so that lone parents on benefit can take a job knowing that they will not be worse off if the job turns out to be short term and they have to return to benefit. Against the Government's overall background of welfare to work, we believe that that concession--it is why I refer to this as what one might call an Oliver Twist point--is unlikely to be sufficiently encouraging for a lone parent to risk coming off the higher rate of benefit and find that having had a job and losing it they suffer as a result.

The new clause suggests that through regulations made under this legislation relating to income support, jobseeker's allowance, and so on, the person should continue to be entitled to the benefit after the coming into force of the regulations, but become entitled to that benefit, again as a lone parent within one year of the cessation of the previous entitlement. That seems to us a sensible measure and consistent with

23 Apr 1998 : Column 1310

the Government's overall approach on welfare to work. It is largely a judgment as to the period involved in order to encourage people to take the risk of coming off the higher rate of benefit. The Government are prepared to preserve that entitlement for 12 weeks. However, those people would lose it if that were not the case.

The amendment seems to us sensible and consistent with the Government's own policies. At the same time it is likely to fulfil the objectives shared on both sides of the House.

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