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9.15 pm

If a family separates having claimed the baby credit and decides to share the remainder, the schedule provides for the two periods to be added together as a tax year. Otherwise, the baby would not be a qualifying baby.

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Paragraph 5 sets out how the arrangements will work. Only one credit is paid for a child. Irrespective of whether the parents live together or are separated, they are still entitled to only one credit, which they can divide between them. I hope that that is crystal clear to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, but I shall give way--with some reluctance--if it is not.

Mr. Flight: I have a simple and obvious question. As I understand it, depending on the extent to which the new-born baby qualifies, the parents will get both the children's credit and the baby credit in the first year of that child's life. However, the provision could also be taken to mean that it is not possible to get children's credit if the baby is born within the tax year. In those circumstances, the parents would have to wait until the child was six months, nine months or whatever and the next tax year started. The wording could mean either that a double credit is provided in the first year, or that it is not.

Dawn Primarolo: It is based on the year in which the child is born. However, I shall consider my explanation of schedule 11 and if for any reason I was not precisely correct, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman. I believe that what I have said is right. The provisions for the baby credit operate in the same way as those that were used when we introduced the children's tax credit in last year's Finance Bill. Clause 53 and schedule 11 add the baby credit, which will operate on the same basis in terms of proportionment.

The hon. Members for Northavon and for Kingston and Surbiton inquired about the best way in which to assist families, especially when their children are very young and the burdens are greatest on the family budget. I know that one of them is very knowledgeable about such matters and the other is hoping to be so soon. They asked whether the children's tax credit and the baby credit were the best way to proceed.

The pressures on families in the first year of a child's life are acute when one parent is unable to work. Certainly the woman would not work during her confinement and maternity leave. The baby credit should be seen as part of the package of changes that the Government are progressively making to maternity pay and maternity leave, which we are extending. The sure start maternity grant has been increased to £500 from April 2000 and is paid up-front. The children's tax credit and the working families tax credit will follow the income support premium for children, so that they are included in the integrated child credit. That will be paid directly to the carer and will be a regular income.

I was puzzled by what the hon. Member for Northavon said about the Government's hidden agenda to force women out to work. I can speak from personal experience.

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When I was a single parent, I met many people in the same circumstances. Indeed, I continue to meet single parents and know that many women want to be economically active. The debate centres on managing the balance between work and life, and the need to enable women to do that.

There is nothing sinister about the Government's advancing that agenda and taking the opportunity to introduce the children's tax credit, which gives immediate help to families. We are publicising the children's tax credit in bounty packs. I am sure that the hon. Member for Northavon, who must be knowledgable about those packs, will explain later to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton what they are and what their significance is, to mothers in particular.

The argument about dependency could apply to any payment. I agree with the hon. Member for Northavon that we must use the method of giving the support that works best, whether that comes through the social security system or through tax credits, which the Government believe are the best way to deal with questions of welfare to work and the work-life balance. Lowering marginal rates of tax provides incentives for family members to be in paid employment. The hon. Gentleman's point about families having to adjust to the loss of the baby credit could apply equally to child benefit. When a child becomes economically independent, the family lose child benefit, which is not an insubstantial amount, thanks to this Government, and if an unemployed person finds employment, the child premium will be lost.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is not a sinister message behind the measure. I understand that he and his party do not see eye to eye with the Government about the use of tax credits, but I will continue to advocate them, and I am sure that he will continue to explain why he does not like them. There is no hidden agenda, and the Government have not concealed the fact that the children's tax credit will become part of the integrated child credit in 2003. Important decisions about the structure of that credit will be made. Those are not the subject of this debate, but hon. Members will want to be aware of them.

I have explained how clause 53 will operate and how schedule 11 supports it. I have made it clear how the Government's broad approach of using tax credits, maternity pay and grants to support families with young children is the best way forward. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Bill (Clauses 1 to 3 and 16 to 53 and Schedules 4 to 11) reported, without amendment; to lie upon the Table.

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Road Traffic

9.23 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): I beg to move,

The motion is in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and other colleagues. It concerns a highly controversial statutory instrument and two important issues, which is why, unusually, we have requested that it be dealt with on the Floor of the House. When debating statutory instruments in Committee, on a number of occasions I have spoken about the importance of the matter under consideration, only to be asked why, in that case, I did not deal with it on the Floor of the House. Tonight, therefore, we are in the Chamber to deal with several issues relating to the road vehicles regulations.

Basically, two issues are involved. First, there are the proposals for a number plate with emblems on it--the letters GB and the European Union flag. Secondly, there is the matter of American cars, which involves deeper issues. If the regulation is passed, it will be difficult for many in the American car business to continue and people may be forced out of it.

I shall begin with the first and most important issue. In this country, we have a long tradition of not having any logos or flags on our number plates except a registration number. In 1998, the Government agreed in Europe that we would move to ensure greater commonality on number plates and would introduce the statutory instrument, which makes provision for plates to show the GB symbol and the EU logo. There is a choice, as people can continue with existing number plates, with nothing else on them. However, as we have already seen, even before the regulations become law, car manufacturers have been producing vehicles with the new logos.

May I ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), whether it is legal for manufacturers to produce number plates to the new standard, which the House has not approved? For many people, having a symbol with the EU logo on a number plate is upsetting. Symbols and flags are important and carry meaning. Tonight, we stand in a palace above which flies the Union Jack flag from Victoria Tower. This is about who we are and to whom we owe allegiance.

If the nation is going to depart from having a plain number plate and have one with logos, I take exception to the fact that the regulations will mean that it will bear the GB symbol and a Euro flag, and that if people wish to put a Union Jack on their number plate, they could be criminalised and fined up to £1,000.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): This is important for Back Benchers like me. In view of the significant issue raised by my hon. Friend, can we have an assurance that, as we are likely to have a Conservative Government soon, they will introduce legislation to change the position and ensure that people will be able to have a Union Jack on their car number plate if they wish? Can my hon. Friend give a clear commitment on behalf of the Conservative party, particularly as it is likely that

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there will be an election soon? Many people would love to have a clear answer, which we always get from those on the Conservative Front Bench.

Mr. Syms: Yes. The issue is important.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): As the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said, for many people, this is quite an important issue. We have just been joined by a Labour Whip, but it should be recorded that only he and the Minister are on the Government Benches, and no one else. It is 9.30 pm, and I cannot believe that Government Members are canvassing in their constituencies. Where is new Labour on this important issue, as defined by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms)? Hansard should record just how lightly the Government view the importance of having a saltire on number plates in Scotland.

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