The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measure:
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is the Minister aware that neither the Answer he has just given nor the one given in the debate on Monday give any comfort at all to those who feel that scarce social security money should go to those really in need and not those who are quite rich enough to manage without it? Can he not see that it is quite wrong if a woman is earning a top barrister's salary and her husband is perhaps a Cabinet Minister--or the other way round--that they should draw child benefit? Ought that not to be stopped?
Earl Russell: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to maintain the principle of separate taxation of married women's incomes? Will he confirm that if that is the case the
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I can confirm that the Government are committed to maintaining separate taxation for married couples. Under no circumstances will a woman's income be added to her husband's, unless they wish it. As regards the value of taxing child benefit, that depends on the tax position of the people concerned. If we assume that people are paying the standard rate of tax, and if child benefit is taxed at the present rate, it could raise something in the region of £700 million.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that child benefit replaced child tax allowances? Will he confirm that if child benefit were withdrawn it would be only equitable that child tax relief should be restored to those from whom it was withdrawn?
Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that no one could reasonably disagree with his suggestion that there are two views: first, that it is absurd to provide people on very high incomes with state benefits, and, secondly, the opposite view? Which side do the Government come down on?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government's policy is to direct the benefit towards the child rather than to the family set-up. Child benefit is one of the most efficient ways of targeting children because over 98 per cent. of child benefit is taken up.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is of course right of the Chancellor to maintain separation for tax purposes? But is there not a clear case for taxing joint family income--therefore at the highest rate--for the family on child benefit? If we do not believe in means tests--which I do not--surely that is the only way to deal with the principle underlying the noble Baroness's Question.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, the Minister's original Answer, which referred to benefit being universal, begs the question of whether or not that universal benefit is taxed. He will know from the debate which took place on Monday, to which my noble friend referred, that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, spent some time explaining that the Chancellor's position on this issue was to sit on the fence, and, as far as one can see, to sit on the fence indefinitely. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. That may be comfortable
Lord Haskel: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor has made up his mind so far as his commitment to families is concerned. The Government have decided to provide extra help for all families, with an increase of £2.50 in the standard rate of child benefit for eldest children from April 1999. There is more help for the youngest and poorest children. The matter raised by the noble Lord is being considered by the Chancellor. He will make his decision in his own time.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the fairest way of tackling the problem of high income families receiving child benefit while avoiding the problems of taxing child benefit or undermining separate taxation for men and women is simply to tax higher incomes slightly more--for instance, a 50p top rate for those earning £100,000 a year? That would, even if untargeted, be a fairer approach and would avoid the problems.
Lord Quinton: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how many married couples there are with children qualifying for child benefit who have a joint income of £200,000 or more? I should have thought they were rather thin on the ground. But perhaps I am living in a kind of deflated past.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review every department has been required to look critically at whether the best possible use is being made of public money. Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I welcome the fact that for the moment there are no definite plans to abolish the English Tourist Board. Does the Minister feel that the Government have the balance right, when grant-in-aid to the Scottish Tourist Board is nearly £5 per head and to the Welsh Tourist Board £6, but only 25p. per head to the English Tourist Board?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, although I answer for the whole Government, when I am asked about the English Tourist Board I do not prepare myself in relation to the other departments to which the noble Lord referred. His facts are right. They reflect the priorities that the Scottish Office and Welsh Office place on tourism in their areas. That is their right.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, if the English Tourist Board is to continue, does my noble friend agree that the approach must be to provide it with a reasonably level playing field? Is the situation not ridiculous when it is not even competing in the same league? Surely, if the board is to continue, which I hope it will, it should receive adequate funding similar to that being provided in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I acknowledged in response to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, it is certainly the case that there are great differences between the different countries within Great Britain. Expenditure by tourists in England, at £440 per head of population, is very much the same as it is in the other countries. To that extent my noble friend's fears are somewhat exaggerated.
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