Limiting benefits to families is seen by Tory right-wingers as a means of discouraging poorer parents from becoming dependent on the welfare state.
The Home Secretary's speech to a fringe meeting at the party conference in Blackpool was cleared by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, who is due to announce wide cuts in welfare benefits with the Autumn Budget.
Mr Howard said every area of policy had to be examined to make sure that the Government was encouraging responsibility and discouraging irresponsibility. He said one of the examples from America that the Government was studying was from New Jersey, which had capped benefits for second and subsequent children on welfare.
He targeted single-parent families and illegitimate children, who studies showed were more likely to be involved in crime. He said on present trends there would be 1.7 million single parents by the end of the decade.
His message will be reinforced by other ministers, including Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, who will announce plans for a White Paper on adoption tomorrow. Mr Howard said John Gummer, Secretary of State for Environment, was looking at housing policy to see whether any policy changes were needed. 'Is the present homelessness legislation sending the wrong signals and if so how can it be changed?' Mr Howard said.
David Willetts, MP for Havant and former director of the right- wing Centre for Policy Studies, told a National Council for One Parent Families fringe meeting that four changes should be made. The names of both parents should be recorded on birth certificates to establish that both parents have a financial responsibility for their children until the age of 18, Mr Willetts said.
The problem of the shrinking pool of 'marriageable' men also had to be recognised. Men in tougher areas had to be brought back into the labour market. 'Those involved in petty crime or delinquency are not good bets for husbands.'
The measures affecting women should cover the decentralisation of housing allocations to give local authorities discretion to assess whether a young single mother could continue living with her parents, while parents with school-age children should be classified as unemployed rather than income support claimants.
The effect of the latter move would be to ensure that mothers complied with the 'available for work' rule, encouraging them to seek work instead of relying on benefit. Mr Willetts said the 'well designed' family credit could be claimed to boost family incomes.
He said his proposals were a 'sensible agenda that would ameliorate the worst features of single motherhood'.
Sue Slipman, director of the National Council for One Parent Families, said claims on a recent Panorama programme over the success of the New Jersey experiment in lowering birth rates were not backed up when her organisation made its own inquiries.