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Lord Astor of Hever: I support the amendment moved so ably and eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and speak also to Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18.

There has been widespread concern that by paying the WFTC through the pay packet, the credit could be transferred from the woman--normally the main carer in the family--to the man. The TUC stated in its 1999 Budget submission:

There are roughly 300,000 couples currently receiving family credit in which the man is the principal wage earner. Under the WFTC, that could mean that £900 million would be going to men rather than to women. The Low Pay Unit has pointed out that there is:

    "a real fear that the benefit currently paid to the principal carer, the mother, will now be transferred to the father's wage packet, which may adversely affect the family budget".

The National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux told me that recent research found that money paid directly to mothers is more likely to be used to meet family needs while men use some of the payment as personal spending money. A recent CAB case in Buckinghamshire of a married Asian woman with two young children is an example of the problems that can occur. Her husband was employed but did not pass on any money to her for household expenses. Her only income was child benefit of £20 and family credit of £30. The CAB commented that if family credit was to be replaced by tax credit paid to her husband, the only income under her control would be the child benefit. It seems highly unlikely that she would be able to insist on a new credit being paid to her.

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In practice, many other women may be unable to assert their wish to receive the cash, and those most in need of exercising the choice for cash payments could be the least able to exercise it. The Government said in their manifesto that they wanted to help families. They stated:

    "We will keep under continuous review all aspects of the tax and benefit systems to ensure that they are supportive of families and children."

As so much evidence suggests that less money will be spent on children as a result of the Bill, will the Government reconsider their approach so that the WFTC is paid to the primary care giver in the couple, which would normally be the mother? I am most interested to hear the Minister's reply.

Baroness Lockwood: I have always supported the principle of child benefit being paid to the mother. I certainly accept the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Astor, that where benefit is paid to the mother there is a better chance that it will be spent on the children.

However, the Bill is about a completely different principle. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins and the noble Lord, Lord Astor, go to the very heart of the purpose of the Bill, which is to encourage people on benefit into work; that is, to encourage into work those who at present are unemployed jobseekers or those people not looking for work because they feel it is not worth their while to do so.

We need to look at two groups of people in this category. First, there are the lone parents; and, secondly, there is that group of men who seem to opt out of the labour market and often out of the system as a whole. I want to consider those men, particularly the younger men, some of whom have family responsibilities but who have nevertheless grown up in a society where it is not expected that they should go out to work. Something drastic must be done to encourage those young people into work. One of the objects of the Bill is to do just that.

The other group are the lone parents. Again, as my noble friend the Minister said in an earlier debate, lone parents constitute the largest group of people in poverty and we need to do something to encourage them into work. It is a fact that once people move into work, particularly women and even if it is low-paid work, they gain confidence after a period of time and begin to move up the wage scale.

Lord Goodhart: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for giving way. In a situation comprising a working man and a non-working woman, where the woman says she does not want the money to go to her partner because he will spend it on drink and she will not have it to spend on the children, is the noble Baroness saying that in those circumstances the tax credit should go to the man and not to the woman?

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood: The trouble with this debate is that nobody is prepared to wait until an argument is developed. I shall certainly come to that point.

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The point I was making is that there is evidence to indicate that the entry wage for people who are unemployed is much lower than the going rate for people already in employment. For example, the average wage of all new entrants is £4 per hour, compared with £5.80 per hour for workers generally; for men, the entry wage is £4.53 per hour, compared with £6.92 for workers generally; and for women the entry wage is £3.66 compared with £4.97.

We can see from those figures that there is a real problem that, when people are re-entering or entering employment for the first time, as is the case with some young men, their wages are much lower. Therefore an incentive is required to get them into work and the purpose behind the Bill is to give that incentive to people generally and to those with whom I am particularly concerned: that is, women lone parents--they make up the majority of lone parents--and young men who appear to be opting out of the system.

Amendment No. 14, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, says, is within the terms of the Bill, but the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Astor, go to the heart of the Bill. I therefore oppose those amendments. At Second Reading I pointed out that 50 per cent. of the recipients of the present family credit system are lone parents; 25 per cent. are women in a married couple; and, of the remaining 25 per cent., some are covered already by the Bill but there are other groups about whom we need to be particularly concerned.

At Second Reading my noble friend assured me that, where there was a dispute in families--the point raised just now by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart--between husband and wife or between the partners, then the wishes of the woman partner would be given priority. I also asked my noble friend on Second Reading what would be the situation as regards women where the choice went by default. I do not believe I received a clear answer to that question. Nevertheless, I should like to press my noble friend on the point. If no choice is put down on the form, will the payment be made to the woman?

There is another ill-defined group. It is perhaps a small group, but one which could cause great concern. I have in mind the situation where not only is there a difference between husband and wife but there is also violence in the family and the woman dares not speak out. Can my noble friend the Minister say whether there are any proposals to try to monitor that situation and ensure that some protection will be given to such women?

The whole question of passport benefits, which is relevant to this matter, will be considered under later amendments. However, if my noble friend could not only give us assurances but also tell us that the draft form is available for revision, I believe she would set our minds at rest. I must say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that the form is not as clear as it should be. Indeed, I have made some scribbles on my form as to how it could be improved; for example, by making clear in the brief notes at the top that there is a

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choice between husband and wife, that the payment can be made directly or through the husband's pay packet and, indeed, that both parents must sign the form.

As I said, the whole form is not as clear as it ought to be and I have noticed some other technical points in that respect. However, if we could have some assurances from my noble friend that the form can be amended so as to make it much clearer, I believe we would all feel much happier.

Baroness Fookes: I rise to intervene briefly because I am aware that Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18, which I support, cut across the Government's intentions and, therefore, are not likely to get very far. However, I would be failing as regards my sense of responsibility if I did not place on the record once again, as I did on Second Reading, the fact that, in my view, these payments ought to go to the mother or to the principal carer, if by any chance that is the father rather than the mother. I realise that this is not what the Government want, but I still believe that this is by far the best way to do it. These three amendments attempt to put this into practice in the Bill.

If the Government are not prepared to accept any of the latter amendments, I recognise that Amendment No. 14 is a reasonable compromise. At the very least, I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept it, or something along those lines, if Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18 are unacceptable.

Lord Swinfen: I too should like to express my support for Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18. I believe that the mother should receive this credit. After all, she is the one who is looking after the children 90 per cent. of the time.

There is one further matter upon which I should like some clarification. Amendment No. 14 refers to an "unmarried couple". I have with me one of the draft application forms that the noble Baroness was kind enough to let me have--namely, WFTC6 version 4. On page 4 it refers to,

    "a woman and man who live together as if they are married and you (one of you if you are a couple)", and then goes on to specify certain conditions. However, for the purposes of this Bill, I want to know the definition of a couple who are living together. We all know that a man and woman who get married immediately constitute a family. If they have children, that is all well and good. However, if the man takes a mistress and has children by that mistress, does that constitute another married couple? He may have that mistress for years and a second family. What is the position if a man and a woman live together and have children without getting married? How long do they have to stay together to be considered a married couple?

I know that some relationships where people do not go through a formal ceremony of any kind will last a lifetime. I am happy with that. I would class them as married couples. We know that today so many so-called couples who may or may not have children stay together for months or years at a time. They may form unions with other people of the opposite sex and possibly have

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other children. Where is there a definition in any legislation to cover this point? Who can make a valid claim for the working families' tax credit? It is quite possible--this is known--for a man to have a whole series of partners, to none of whom he is married (although he may have married the first one), and have children by each of them. What is the position?

We are becoming terribly nebulous. We talk about couples the whole time, but often we are not talking about married couples with a legal responsibility that society as a whole can see. Can the Minister help me on this point when she replies? Are there any legislative provisions or court rulings which enshrine the position in common law?--because at the moment it strikes me that I could go off with all kinds of different women, although my wife would be furious, as she has put up with me for 36 years and I think I owe her something. In fact I owe her a great deal.

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