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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We on these Benches wish to be associated with the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that this clause should not stand part of the Bill. Child benefit is different in all sorts of ways from all other benefits in the benefit book. First, one may be eligible for it only after one has already been in the country for six months. Therefore no one can argue that the hope of child benefit is an incitement for people to become benefit tourists. One only obtains it if one has already been here for six months.
Secondly, I argue that child benefit is a matter of right. Something like 29 per cent. of refugees--we believe as many as those who are asylum seekers--are in employment after those first six months. They are paying to, and contributing to, national insurance and taxation--in just the same way as British citizens--from which child benefit is paid. Child benefit as a tax allowance is a recognition of the responsibilities of those without children to those who have children. It should apply within the immigrant community as it applies within the British national community. It is a matter of right.
Thirdly, it is also a matter of poverty. Child benefit was not just a tax allowance; it was also a tax allowance together with family allowance. It is paid to the mother to help support the child. These families and these children we are discussing have lost income support and housing benefit, and they may lose school meals. At least child benefit would give a couple with two children £25 a week. That is all we are talking about, but it may help them escape the worst poverty.
The fourth reason for supporting this amendment concerns public expenditure. Under the Children Act 1989 these families will have to come within the purview of the local authority as regards the Children Act. That Act was designed for children who are
What is the alternative? We shall see children, as in the Victorian period, wide eyed, with begging bowls on the street, plucking at your sleeve in cafes, plucking at you as you go by, selling their bodies if they are sick and selling their bodies if they are well, in order to survive. We do not have to allow that. We can support child benefit. I hope that Members of the Committee tonight will support the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in seeking removal of the clause from the Bill.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As Members of the Committee will know, this clause is intended to bring payment of child benefit for people from abroad into line with conditions of access which now apply, as from 5th February, to recipients of the other non-contributory social security benefits. It provides powers to make regulations. These are currently absent in respect of this category of cases, and but for this the change to child benefit would have been made at the same time as the change to other non-contributory benefits, and agreed to by noble Lords on 30th January. It was our clearly stated intention to exercise those powers to do for child benefit what the House has already approved for other benefits--no more, and no less.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It was not moved, and it was not put to the test on that point. I was chided a little while ago about not getting on very quickly. I am happy to stay here for an hour to discuss this important matter and then parade the arguments. But I do not think that that would be popular, so I do not intend to do so. However, before the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, intervenes to stop me, I intend to be as brief as I can.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am afraid that we are at cross purposes. I am talking about the substantive amendment, Amendment No. 122A, moved by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. That amendment would have removed what we agreed on 30th January so far as concerns income support. If the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, were really serious about the points he made, that is the amendment that he would have wished to pursue to a Division because that is the kernel. What we are now doing is bringing child benefit into line with the decisions we made on income support--
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I suppose that I should have kept my mouth shut. Normally the Chamber is more than happy to hear me at length, but clearly tonight there is some pressure on the timetable. However, the Committee will be happy to hear that I do not intend to repeat the arguments that I put forward briefly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and in response to the right reverend Prelate. We believe those arguments to be valid. The Government cannot ignore the increasing numbers of asylum seekers and the large numbers found after our exhaustive procedures not to merit either refugee status or exceptional leave to remain.
We have not prescribed conditions on face of the Bill because we would like to keep the conditions under which child benefit is paid to those from abroad in line with those applying to the other non-contributory benefits. To have the detailed conditions for access to child benefit set in primary legislation when they are in secondary legislation for other benefits would not be compatible with this aim.
We have laid before the Committee an outline of the regulations likely to be made under the clause. I hope that this will reassure noble Lords that the powers will only be used to mirror in child benefit the provisions already applying to other benefits.
I listened, as I always do, with great interest and admiration to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, as she expanded on the importance of child benefit to families, the importance of it being paid to the mother, and so on. I agree with her in many regards about child benefit. It is important. That is why we have kept it and uprated it in this Parliament, as we said we
Earl Russell: If the noble Lord will forgive me, the decision as to whether the Committee should divide rests neither with the Labour Party nor these Benches, but with the mover of the amendment who is on the Cross-Benches.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I think that we are beginning to nit-pick. However, I come back to the point that I was making, whether or not we have a Division. If we have a Division, it will be interesting to see whether the party opposite goes into the Division Lobby with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in favour of paying child benefit to people who have just arrived in this country and who have no settled right to remain here when, at the same time, that party is committed to taking child benefit away from 16, 17 and 18 year-olds.
Baroness Seear: It is not my business--it is the last thing I want to do--to defend the Labour Party. But that is the weakest argument I have heard from the Minister this evening, and we have had some pretty weak arguments.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is exactly what I am saying. The Labour Party proposes to take child benefit away from people in this country with a settled right to remain: Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen whose children stay on at school after the age of 16. It will put a tax of £500 to £600 a year on families who encourage and approve of their children staying on. That is what it comes to. Yet tonight, if a Division is called, perhaps they will go into the Lobby in support of child benefit being paid to people who have just arrived in this country.
I see noble Lords opposite are about to go into the Lobby to vote to keep child benefit for people who have just arrived in this country, while at the same time their party proposes to take it away from 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. I find that incomprehensible. The Government's position is perfectly logical and correct and I am convinced that my noble friends will support me.
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