Teenagers told to put babies for adoption

Redwood says benefits should be last resort for lone mothers
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John Redwood, the defeated Conservative leadership challenger, returned yesterday to his theme of attacking state benefits for lone parents - floating the idea that teenage mothers should put their babies up for adoption rather than turn to the taxpayer for support.

"If no one in the family can help, maybe the girl should consider letting a couple adopt her child to provide the home the baby needs," Mr Redwood wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

"It is only if, and when, all these options have failed - if the father, the grandparents, the extended family and the possibility of adoption, have been properly explored and none of these found feasible - that the state should step in."

Mr Redwood, whose Conservative 2000 Foundation will be launched on Wednesday, said young mothers should be housed in hostels rather than leapfrogging "the couple in their twenties who decide to wait before having a child" in the queue for council housing. He deplored the assumption that "the illegitimate child is the passport to a council flat and a benefit income".

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, said: "The Tories want to return to the 19th century and put mothers and babies in the workhouse."

A source close to Mr Redwood yesterday denied that the idea of hostels was heartless or punitive. "These girls need creche and child-care facilities that can best be provided in a hostel while they get on with their GCSEs," he said. Mr Redwood's article claimed young mothers were often left dependent on benefits for decades because their education had been prematurely ended.

Mr Redwood appears to draw on the ideas of the right-wing American philosopher Charles Murray about the debilitating effect of the welfare state: "The fact that family responsibility extends further than immediate offspring has been eroded by the enactment of welfare provision," he wrote.

Mr Redwood's intervention will increase the pressure on Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, to cut benefits for lone parents in this year's spending negotiations, which are now under way. Benefits spending on lone parents will cost pounds 9.4bn this year, an average of pounds 6,700 for each parent - the equivalent of 4p in the pound on the standard rate of income tax, Mr Redwood points out.

Mr Redwood is keen to set out a distinctive platform that is ultra-conservative on family values, as he vies with Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, for the right-wing candidacy when the Tory leadership is next contested.

Mr Redwood remains sensitive about suggestions of party disloyalty, as many Tories are still critical of his decision to challenge John Major. He will hold no office in the Conservative 2000 Foundation, which is being set up by Hwyel Williams, his former ministerial special adviser.

A spokesman yesterday described as "rubbish" a Sunday Telegraph report that Mr Redwood was poised to lead a Commons revolt against planned changes to the divorce laws.

Leading article, page 10