HC Deb 17 March 1978 vol 946 cc833-925

11.19 a.m.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

I beg to move, That this House, recognising that meeting the needs of families will require more public education, political discussion and improved representation, calls on the Government to respond to the creation, of a family movement and to consider publishing an annual family policy review. I should explain why this seems to be the right time for the House to discuss family policy, politics and government. Successive Governments since the war have a great deal in social policy and, except at election time, no Government can claim to have done that much more than their predecessor. No doubt each main political party will be putting proposals at the next General Election to continue improving the circumstances of families.

However, it is clear that, overall, family policy in this country is neglected. We tend to look at various social problems and people's needs and problems as the needs of static individuals and fail to recognise that the important link for most of us is our family—from the time we are born, to the time that we leave home and start our own family to the time that we retire and depend, to a large extent, on our own former dependants. Only in the absence of an efficient, functioning family do we present a call on the resources of the social services and statutory and voluntary bodies.

The term "family policy" is not commonly referred to in this country. Since I have been in the House, people have asked me about my main interests, and when I have explained family policy, most people have looked rather blank. When I mention family policy in Europe, people understand completely and launch into a fine discussion of what the policy means. This applies in France, Germany, Norway and, to a growing extent, in some less developed countries. If I said in this country that I was interested in trade union policy, everyone would fully understand what I was saying. This demonstrates our neglect of families and the degree to which we fail to represent families and their welfare in our political and economic structures.

When, a year or two ago, the Government were faced with the choice of how far to implement the child benefit pro- visions, it became clear to them that there was not sufficient public understanding or support for the new scheme, even though it was a measure approved by parties in all parts of the House. There was a lack of any effective family lobby or family movement and of any general public education about the purposes of the new system of financial support for families with children. The Government need a family lobby and movement just as much as families need such a movement.

Let me explain why the motion is drawn up in non-partisan terms. It is important that the debate on the needs of families, the way they can organise themselves, and how statutory services and provisions can be structured for them, should be raised to a far higher level than we would be likely to get if my motion attacked the actions of the Government in the past three years. I do not believe that the Government or their predecessors have been malevolent towards families. Successive Governments since the war have been full of high ideals, but have lacked the opportunity to put their aims into effect.

This has been caused partly because of the way in which political pressures are organised in this country and partly because families are not, in any sensible way, organised. There is a tremendous tradition of voluntary organisations and charities, but voluntary bodies have failed in two ways. They have not got together in an effective forum to present agreed policies to the Givernment and they have not organised families.

Most hon. Members have in their constituencies ratepayers', residents' and tenants' associations, but in only a few areas do these groups get together to represent the interests of families as well as the interests of those who are concerned only about rates, rents or the repair of pavements. There are associations representing the family in a number of areas, including Gloucestershire, and they could be taken as models in the vast majority of residential areas, especially in the inner cities, where problems of family life are greatest.

I do not intend to criticise any Government. I am trying to learn the lessons of the past and see how we can raise the level of the discussion and ensure more effective public education and political representation for the needs of families.

In the past two years, a number of interest groups have brought forward proposals that might come under the umbrella of family policy. For example, there has been a report on the under-fives by a TUC working party which was established by the general council in August 1976 and which included representatives of unions working in day care with the under-fives, and of unions representing large numbers of women workers. Many of its recommendations would be supported by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

It is worth noting that the working party tends to look at the issue of child care and the provision for children from the point of view of parents at work. Of course, trade unions basically organise to represent the interests of people at work and it is encouraging that they are now recognising that one of the great growth areas of trade union membership is among women.

However, we must recognise that fathers are just as affected by the arrival of a new child in the family. We hope for further movement by the TUC and its affiliated unions along the lines followed in many other European countries where there was significant and, in the end, effective pressure for parents to have the opportunity to care for their children as they wish.

We have come a long way from the early days of this century, when virtually every family had only one parent—the father—at work, to a time when more than half our families have both parents at work and have jumped to a time when the mother—though I do not ignore developments in recent years—rather than being at home all day or at work all day, now works part time.

We need to argue for adjustments in employment contracts so that parents can spend time at home with their children. This requires more movement in terms of flexi-hours, so that parents can take time off when a child is sick and not just when they are sick, and various other issues. I do not want to get involved in a shopping list, but I want the House to set the scene so that those items that should be included in such a list have a greater chance of being considered by the Government and political parties.

In February, the National Council of Social Service and the British Union of Family Associations, of which I am chairman, held a large conference of voluntary organisations, charities and pressure groups to consider family policy. It set up a working party that we hope will report in the next six or nine months on the definition of family policies and structures within the outside Government that will make the family movement and family policy a continuing part of our political debate—by "political", I mean the time and attention given in the House—rather than the sterile arguments and party-bashing that we sometimes indulge in, and in which I join at times. We would be well advised to hold back from that when discussing this subject.

Employers have already realised that if the future of this country depends on getting inflation and unemployment under control—it is commonly accepted that they are linked—we shall not immediately be able to pay all the people at work sufficient money to maintain their spouses and families. People are paid in relation to their contribution at work and in nearly all cases this is not related to their family responsibilities.

There are counterbalancing arguments for increasing the level of child benefit. It is claimed that it is a way of reducing pressure for increased wages and is another method of exploiting the poor working classes.

At a deeper level, we can all agree with what Lord Beveridge said in 1949, in a postscript to a book on his plan, namely, that if one is to pay significant child support to people when out of work because they are sick or unemployed, or retired, one has to make sure that one is paying the equivalent amount of support to people when they are at work, in part for reasons of equity and in part for reasons of incentive. So I think that the growing interest among employers and unions in giving higher levels of child support—only one aspect, but an important aspect of family policy while the Budget is being drawn up—is very important. Indeed, increased child benefit is supported by parties on both sides of the House, although both the Conservative and Labour Parties, when in Government since the war, have shown that their support has been rather more on paper than in action.

Here one can perhaps refer to the latest pamphlet from Frank Field. I shall not give the title, because this is, I hope, to be a non-party political debate. I want to draw from it references to the period 1945–6 to 1954–55—a nine-year period. Tax thresholds for two- and four-child families rose faster than for single people and married couples without children. That period covers Governments by both parties. There was a relative improvement for families with children in taxation terms.

With the exceptions of 1971 and 1972, in the Budgets during the last 15 years—again under both parties—the tax burden has increased faster for families with children than for family couples, and even in the exceptional years there were no increases in family allowance, so support for families whose incomes were sufficiently low not to be taxed did not improve. There were improvements in family income supplement, a temporary palliative, but that has turned into one of the means-tested provisions.

While on the question of child benefit and income support for children, it is worth putting on record the differential impact on inflation. Since 1970, the prices of necessities such as food and heating have been increasing faster than has the general rise in prices. The two groups spending the largest proportion of their income on basic necessities are families and those with low incomes. Yet the number of families with children and on low incomes has been increasing fairly fast since 1970, and possibly before.

Since the oil price increases of 1973–4, the general standard of living has gone down. It had to. If an overseas supplier can enforce an increase of cost for a basic commodity, the only result can be a lower standard of living in the country concerned. But it is worth our looking to see where this reduced standard of living has been concentrated.

It has been concentrated overwhelmingly on households with children. It is difficult to be up to date with the figures, and I am not suggesting that they continued to be as bad during the last year as they were durng the first two years of the social contract. I give the figures available for the first two years of the social contract, which was designed to cushion people, as far as possible, against the impact of the oil price increases and one or two other things.

The disposable income for the single person and the married couple without children did not fall by even one percentage point. For single and married pensioners, the disposable income—that is, the standard of living—rose by 4 per cent. and 5 per cent. respectively. By the end of 1975, the net disposable income for two-child and four-child families fell by 6 per cent. for the former and 13 per cent. for the latter.

This has happened with relatively little political fuss. People were not noticeably aware of it. Some were, but we were not effective. In my maiden speech in the House, I pointed out the effect of the pay policy that came in in July 1975 and gave an increase of £6 a week to all persons, whether or not they had family responsibilities. Clearly, £6 a week then to a person looking after himself was rather better than an increase of £6 a week to a married couple with two children. Yet this net transfer of resources away from people with children was virtually unremarked.

Let us also look back to the combined value of family allowances and child tax allowances since 1946. One must note that in 1946 many families with children were not standard rate taxpayers, and were therefore not in receipt of child tax allowances.

In 1946, at 1976 prices, the combined value of family and child tax allowances for the family with one child was £2.43; by 1976, it was £22. For the three-child family in 1946, the value was £9.4; by 1976 this had been reduced to £7.31. There are various other figures that one can play with, and I emphasise that they must be interpreted with caution. I am not suggesting that the situation next April will be the same as in 1976, when these figures came out, but, in the context of long-term trends, one cannot fail to be astonished that the relative standard of living of half the population—13 million parents and 13 million children—has declined, and that the absolute value of community support in cash terms has also declined.

Here again, in case people start using the records of my speeches on what information there is, I draw attention to the fact that many non-cash benefits to children, especially direct ones, have been increased. There has been increased spending over the last 30 years on the health services, education, and so on, but in terms of cash values, things have got worse for the families who carry the primary responsibility and the primary cost of children.

The comparison is even worse if one compares 1955 with 1976. In 1955, the combined value of family allowances and child tax allowances for the one-child family was £2.6, compared with £3.2 in 1976. The value for the three-child family was £11.15 in 1955, but this had reduced by 1976 to £7.31. That is a reduction, over a 21-year period, of about one-third in each case. Yet no political party has ever dared to stand up in public, especially at election time, and say "One of the consequences of our administration will be to wipe one-third off the value of the support you get for your child".

Again I want to acknowledge that much of my information on this matter comes from Frank Field of the Child Poverty Action Group and the Low Pay Unit. On other topics of family policy I also owe a great debt of gratitude to my colleagues in the British Union of Family Organisations, especially Margaret Wynne. Her book "Family Policy" is the only one on the topic which appears in the Library.

I have noticed that in the excellent Times Press cutting cabinet in the House of Commons Library there is no subject "Family Policy". In between "Family Life" and "Fascism" there is a gap. Under "Family Life" the second cutting is about a man in the West Country with two wives and 20 children. I hope that one result of the debate will be that the Librarian will see fit to start a section on family policy, and, secondly, that the Trades Union Congress. the political parties and the various voluntary bodies will generate enough discussion and public education on the topic to ensure that that section becomes as full as others in the cabinet.

Frank Field has spelt out reasons for a substantial increase in child benefit. One is to prevent an increase in the number of poor children. Another is to increase work incentives. Here we can see how the political process has become distorted from reality. Numbers of people outside are very aware of how little incentive there is for some people to go to work. The latest Government figures show that over 100,000 heads of household at work would be better off if they did not go to work.

When we hear talk of social security scroungers, it is important to point out that there are just as many people—probably many more—who are at work at cost to themselves. They get absolutely no benefit in economic terms from going to work. I am not suggesting that people go to work only for economic reasons. Certainly few of us would put up with our hours if we did it only for the money. Taking into account the enormous range of income, from supplementary benefit level up to average industrial earnings and over, although many of the families are not completely in the poverty trap, they are in that range where there is very little return from getting a pay increase, or a better job, which means £5, £10, £15, £20, £25 or even £30 a week more.

Those who do not have much incentive to go to work are the people with children. I have yet to come across a documented case of a person without dependants who could have anything like his or her standard of living by choosing not to work. Almost entirely, the people who are suffering from the disincentive to work are those with dependants, and in the main they are people whose dependants are children.

If, as I believe, the incentive to work and to improve our income is an important element in the improvement of this country's economy, we must ensure that there is a greater incentive to work. I have been looking at the figures for 1977 relating to the support given to a person with children, when in work and when out of work. When in work, for the first child a person receives £2.02, and for the second child £4.66. The figures that I am using are a little out of date, but it is sometimes difficult to be totally up to date in this area. A person who is out of work and on the lower national insurance rate gets £4.50 for each child therefore, in respect of the first child such a person would be £2.48 better off out of work.

A person out of work and on supplementary benefit would have received, for the first child and the second child, £6.29, as an average figure, in 1977. Compare that with the figures of £2.02 and £4.66 received by the person in work. On the higher national insurance rate including child benefit, the figure is up to £8.40 for the first child and the same for the second.

The disparity here is fairly staggering. It is one that the Government walked into with their eyes open, because there is no argument for lowering the rate of supplementary benefit and national insurance benefit for people out of work. Issues of this kind can at times be the subject of cross-party alliances of Back-Bench Members, Ministers and the Department of Health and Social Security against the Treasury. Where the House of Commons got it wrong was in not making sure that the benefit for people in work rose at the same rate as that for people out of work. That is where partial index linking has come unstuck.

Beveridge said in 1949 that it is absurd and dangerous to abolish want when earnings are interrupted by sickness, accident, unemployment or old age without taking steps to see that want is abolished also for all people when earning. Since 1949 we have still not managed to get it right, not through any lack of perception or analysis but because the political and economic structures have failed us. They do not have to fail us permanently, because we are basically in command of those structures. I shall deal a little later with the way in which I believe we can improve them.

It is perhaps worth saying, in a nonpartisan way, that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer argues, as he does sometimes, that child benefits are an ineffective way of combating poverty, he is wrong. When it is argued—I do not want to make this a personal matter—that increase in the married person's tax allowance is an effective way of giving help to children, I think it must be stated again and again and again that the way to give help to all people with children is to tie the help to the child, whether there is a marriage or not, and certainly not without regard to the question whether there are still dependent children in the household.

In 1924, Eleanor Rathbone pointed out that, while it is important for industry to provide a living wage, it is crucial for Government to relate family income to needs by a generous system of child benefits. The Secretary of State for Social Services gave a very impressive Eleanor Rathbone Memorial Lecture at Bristol University early this year, in the course of which he pointed out that the cost of increasing child benefit to those on the lower national insurance rate this year, net of the various savings that the Government would get because of the reduction in means tested benefits, would be £900 million.

Suppose, for example, for the sake of discussion, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has £2,000 million to put back into people's pockets this year. Suppose, also, that part of that can be given to half the population—the poorer half. I am not suggesting that all families with children are poor, but predominantly the poorer people are concentrated either among those with children or among pensioners. Pensioners, of course, get their automatic index-linked increases. These are linked either to prices or to earnings, which ever is the greater. Half the total sum, that is £1,000 million, could be given to half the population. The population is now about 56 million, therefore we arrive at a figure of about 28 million for the number of parents and dependent children in this country.

There is a message that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might take from the debate. It is that in equity he ought to raise the level of child benefit at least to the lower national insurance rate.

There is a degree of convergence between the political parties on the general issues of family policy. If we look through the various reports sponsored by the Government or House of Commons, whether on education, the family, juvenile crime, or child health, we continually come back to a point made in every report that I have read. It is that family policy is just as important as the level of provision made available by the statutory and Government services.

It is not just as though there is an income relationship to the take-up of services or a socio-economic relationship to the number of children killed on the streets or to the attendance at child health clinics. There is also a great deal of variation among members of the same socioeconomic group or class, to use the shorthand description. There is, however, relatively little doubt that certain people in each group look after their children more effectively. This seems to be one of the areas where more attention to family policy both within and outside Government would be as effective as just increasing the level of resources available. I am not arguing that there should be either a reduction or an increase, overall, in resources; that is a subject for a different debate, and this debate would go on for too long if we all became involved in that issue.

Let me refer to my guru, Mr. Frank Field. In Social Work Today on 14th March he wrote an article which went through some of the points that I have made about poverty in families with children. He went on to discuss a new book by Harriet Wilson and G. W. Herbert entitled "Parents and Children". This book dealt with the plight of 56 desperately poor families who live in a twilight area in one of our inner city areas. He said: I believe this book will rank as one of the most important studies on poverty to be published for many a long year. Let me quote some of Mr. Field's other words. He said: The authors report that many of the families are aware of the evils of the environment in which their children are growing up. How could it be otherwise when during the research one of the children of the neighbourhood had been dragged off and brutally murdered. How did poor parents react to these circumstances? He continued: A considerable number of the families"— remember, we are talking about very poor families, living in a bad area of one of our inner cities— erected what can only be called a series of tough policing actions over their children's freedom. They were collected from school, told to play in certain places, or more often only allowed to play in the backyard. They were kept away from certain children who could lead them into trouble. As the authors hint, many of these parents are aware that such chaperoning practices rub up against how many of these parents who would like to raise children. Be that as it may, the practices were unbelievably successful in preventing the children becoming delinquent in an area where delinquency spreads like the plague. Frank Field went on to make the very important point that at no time do the authors use this finding to argue that an all-out attack on poverty is not a first priority, but he said: A question the study doesn't answer, and one can only hope the authors will be given the money to set about answering it, is why do some parents protect their children in this way and not others? What is it about many poor families that makes them struggle in the face of extreme adversity to maintain what they regard as decent standards of behaviour when many of us would have just given up? They are getting away from income support, important though it is, but coming on to another area of family policy where the Government and the community both need help. Nearly all the parents that I meet desperately want to do the right thing for their children. Some of them are worried about being too authoritarian. They are aware of the dangers of constantly chaperoning their children and of extending their child's childhood up to the age when it leaves school. On the other hand, there are many parents who do exactly the opposite.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

So far the hon. Member has not dealt with the propaganda being directed at children, particularly through television. In my opinion, some of that propaganda needs to be brought out into the open. Has the hon. Gentleman any observations on that matter?

Mr. Bottomley

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. About a year ago I talked about the effect of television on children and I made what seemed to me to be the reasonable point that at 8 o'clock at night, as a public service broadcast, the television companies should put out short commercials asking "Is your child at home? If not, do you know where your child is, because you certainly should?" and "If your child is under a certain age ought it not to stop watching this television programme?" The television companies have as much responsibility as the tobacco companies to point out the potentially harmful effects of their product, in their case on children. I do not condemn television; it is a marvellous way for children to learn a great deal more about the world. But many of the children's programmes are far better at doing that than some of the programmes shown later at night.

I said on that occasion that I thought that many children knew more about "Starsky and Hutch" than they did about their homework. I subsequently received a letter from a 14-year-old girl saying that I was totally out of touch because "Starsky and Hutch" was broadcast on a Saturday night and the only schooling she was likely to miss as result of watching it was Sunday school, and she did not go there anyway. She went on to make other points, but the interesting thing was that in her letter there were 14 spelling mistakes. By that fact she demonstrated my point as much as she demonstrated her own.

I welcome the intervention by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry). I wish that more primary school headmasters would do what was done by the head of the primary school attended by my children. He called the parents together. We think we are terribly smart and clever to have our children at that school. He asked whether we realised that our children were 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. behind children of 20 years ago, and that in his view this was almost entirely due to the influence of television. Watching the television programmes that come on after the news and the "Nationwide" or "Today" programmes is not designed to stimulate a child's intellectual, emotional or social development. If only one could bring up this kind of point throughout the community and make sure that parents realised, as teachers and headmasters realise, the influence television can have, it would be a major step forward.

There is, of course, a spectrum of behaviour. Some parents will not have a television set in the house. I am not saying that that is right. Some parents will let their children watch television all the time, either because it is right or because they have given up the struggle—perhaps it is because they are not at home but are out at work earning more money because they believe that the best way of bringing up their child is to provide financial support. Between these two extremes are the many others of us.

If primary school headmasters were prepared to talk about these issues, the whole spectrum of behaviour and practice would alter. If each of us was prepared to stand up and speak his mind and give the benefit of his experience on these issues, it would lead to the kind of public debate and discussion from which only good could come. It would not suddenly turn all children into selective television viewers, but it would move family practice into a better direction than if there were no discussion of the issue.

It is important to concentrate on issues of family policy and welfare in tackling one of our other problems, namely, immigration or race relations. It is apparent to me from going round the schools how strongly most immigrant families feel about the sort of education that their children get. They are natural allies of the people who have been in this country for a long time and who are concerned about working towards improvements in our education.

I shall not get involved in argument about different types of education such as secondary school re-organisation, but I must emphasise that people in education, such as the teachers, realise the importance of getting family support for what teachers are trying to do. The Plowden Report on primary schools, which came out in 1967, pointed out that more important than the type of school, the socio-economic classification of an area, the staff-pupil ratio, and the child's achievement in school in an all-round educational sense, as well as in straightforward academic terms, was parental interest.

If we can get families working together—whether those parents come from the Indian sub-continent, the West Indies, Africa, Poland or the United States—on the specific interests they share because of their family circumstances, we shall get the kind of inter-relationship and knowledge of each other that we shall not get if we simply discuss the level of immigration or discuss whether race relations are improved by a speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition or by the response to it from the Home Secretary.

We lose a great deal by the way in which our lives are put in boxes. There is an education box, a housing box and a "let's go to work" box. This has harmful effects on the community and on adults. How much more harmful is it to children—the rising generation?

Seventy years ago most children were aware of what their parents did for a living. Many were able to go out with their parents when they went to work, at least on some days of the week. They could go along if their father or mother was in domestic service, or if their father was on the buses or the railways. Children were involved in work far more than they are today. Now, although most children know their parents' job titles, they do not really know anything about the work and what it involves. It is a closed door to them, in the same way that education is a closed door to many parents.

One of my strongly held views about education is about the ways in which links between parents and teachers can best be effected. I think that this can be done not just by parent-teacher associations and opening schools to parents at certain times, but by making sure that all schools give some homework, even if it is only five minutes a day, learning 10 words from the Shonell reading list. By giving a little bit of homework, schools would ensure that parents knew what their children were actually doing in school.

I remember being horrified when a parent told me that her 13-year-old was learning to spell the months of the year. Perhaps there were unusual circumstances, perhaps the child was slow, and this was a great achievement. But it was the first homework that that parent was aware of her child being given, even though that child had been at school since the age of 5. Homework establishes natural links between the parent and the school and this is important in building up the structure of family policy overall.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkins) said at a conference last year that some of the symptoms of the pressures facing family life were among the great social anxieties. The rising tide of juvenile crime, the growth of truancy, the breaking up of marriages, family violence, the loneliness of the aged, the growing dependence of many on the social services, the steadily mounting number of children in care, all showed the toll being exacted on family life.

My right hon. Friend pointed out that freedom of choice was an admirable principle, but what sort of choice was it when a young mother who would rather stay at home and look after her children felt forced to work simply to make ends meet? He said that a family in which the father worked and the mother stayed at home paid more tax than one that had the same income that was earned by both, and he asked whether that was not a tax penalty on staying at home to look after the children.

My right hon. Friend said that he held no brief for a Ministry for children, but that the time had come for action. The many voluntary bodies should be enlisted into a family council where they could bring their influence to bear on ministers whose policies affected family life.

At this point it is worth saying that more than 10 Ministries are involved in matters affecting children alone. We should resist the temptation to have a single cosmetic Minister for the family. That would not do any good for children. But we need to make sure that family policy issues are considered in the round and not just Department by Department.

I come to the question of the Finer Committee's report. Why has so little movement been made on the issue of family courts where the various domestic issues affecting the family—children in care, divorce, and so on—are dealt with in different ways? This is very frightening to the families involved. If one is convinced that the courts should stay out of industrial relations affairs because the people involved have to live together after the dispute is settled, surely one should be equally convinced that the same applies to families who may be sharing the same house after the domestic issue has been raised and aired in the courts.

At the same time as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford was speaking, my noble Friend Baroness Young said that those in power in central or local government should ask themselves as they framed their policies how they would affect the family.

She wanted the discussion, she said, to start new political thinking about the role of the family within society. Despite all the talk about the permissive society, a recent newspaper survey had indicated that most young people wanted to get married and have children.

She said that increasingly the family was coming under pressure. It was taken for granted, perhaps because it had no lobby. Many policies had a harmful effect on the family not by intent, but because no one stopped to ask what effect such a policy would have.

I want to link what Baroness Young said with the words of the Secretary of State for Social Services in his Eleanor Rathbone Memorial Lecture at Bristol, entitled "Towards a re-inherited family" in which he talked about the changes in society. He mentioned the important fact that, despite all that had been written about the permissive society, marriage as an institution had gained in popularity and this was in part caused by the closer balance between the sexes. He said that marriage and child rearing occurred earlier and he compared the position in the 1930s with that which exists now.

In the 1930s 70 per cent. of women were married by the age of 30. In the 1970s this had risen to more than 90 per cent. In the earlier years of this century women had completed half their childbearing at the age of 30. Today 80 per cent. of children are born to mothers under 30.

The Secretary of State went on to point out that the most important social change was the extent to which married women went out to work. That is an area that I too have covered. In the same lecture the Secretary of State discussed the extent to which we discuss the needs of the family with children and the extent to which we have given children what Eleanor Rathbone saw as right in 1924. The passage of more than 50 years has changed none of the arguments but the absence of a family movement makes much of the argument ineffective. It is none the less convincing, but it is ineffective.

In my motion I talk about the importance of promoting support for families and their welfare. To do this we must have three new structures. First, we must try to organise families at community level, not by diktat but by finding out the best practices in certain areas and spreading those practices to other areas.

We should start by bringing together those who are involved in voluntary and statutory social services. This means bringing together various local organisations. In this category I include professionals such as teachers, social workers, police officers involved in juvenile work and obviously local political representatives. All these people could begin by trying to feed back into the community in which they live the best practices for raising children. This is one of the ways in which one can recognise parental efforts in bringing up children against the odds.

Many parents know the difficulties of living in blocks of flats, where people lean out of their windows and tell children to stop kicking balls around. In such an environment, children often cannot play in the street and parents feel guilty. They even feel guilty if the baby cries at two o'clock in the morning. Many of these pressures are bearing down on parents. By discussion of the way people bring up their children and by dealing with certain aspects of this wide subject, there will be a greater confidence among parents and a greater sharing of knowledge.

It is important that we bring together the national family organisations so that they can work effectively. I am not suggesting that we set up some mammoth organisation, although I take as one model the TUC, which brings trade unions together so well. Having a national family lobby is a method of enabling organisations to support one another. I have in mind organisations which care for children in hospital or which care for handicapped children.

There is a great deal of common interest between the National Council for One-Parent Families, Gingerbread and the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations. Together they share a common interest with some of the Church organisations such as the League of Catholic Mothers, the Mothers' Union, the WRVS and so on. If those organisations can discuss matters of mutual interest, to ensure that they are providing research into the changing family situation, it will be so much better. We suspect that changes are taking place but we are unaware of them because of the lack of study. We need to know what elements of family policy can be put forward for debate, political discussion or Government action.

In case it is thought that it is not possible to produce what I might call a shopping list, let me give some topics which have been put forward in this country and overseas. There is a need for greater child benefits for all children. We must pay more attention to one-parent families. There should be additional benefits to such families. We ought to improve day-care facilities for the under-fives. There is a need for registered child minders and for playgroups in inner cities. We need better child health services and improved training for general practitioners and clinical officers. We ought to aim at lowering the mortality rate in this country compared with the rate in other parts of Europe, and we must also look at the massive differences in that rate in various regions and classes in this country.

There is a need for improved maternity care and for the mother to leave work with pay while the baby is born. We need to have paid sick child leave days for the mother and father. There should also be paternity leave. Housing aid is also a priority. In many places a family cannot get on to a council housing list until it has three children, and it cannot buy a home until it has £3,000. Most families do not win the football pools and do not have the ability to raise that money.

The voluntary side has a duty, an opportunity and a responsibility to come together. During the next year it will have to work out how that should be done. That is why I am calling for the Government to respond to the creation of the family movement on behalf of the British Union of Family Organisations and the National Council of Social Service. We would be pleased if it were possible for the Government to put forward a representative to attend meetings of the steering group which will discuss the appropriate structure. At present it is a question not of money but of ensuring that we get the best advice and guidance from those in the social services and related areas. There have been various activities taking place such as those in the Children and Family Life Group, sponsored by the Social Services Council. There has also been a joint committee looking at the health and social needs of young children. We must make sure that these activities are brought together.

The third point about the family movement concerns the need to have a joint forum which would enable the Government to meet on equal terms with the family movement. Proposals come forward from people such as Barbara Rodgers of the National Assistance Board. Many such proposals are being discussed and Government responses will be required. It is for the Government to find a way of putting forward their point of view about the most appropriate way of handling such matters.

The last part of my motion asks the Government to consider publishing an annual family policy review. In various other areas of Government activity there are annual reviews. The last one to appear before the House concerned the public expenditure proposals. Before that, there was the defence policy review. Such a review gives an analysis of the situation as the Government see it and lays down what the Government aim to achieve by way of targets set over the next five years. In family policy this is a good way of following up the Think Tank report on social policy and bringing the debate into the open on a regular basis.

This idea of a family policy review is one of the few ways of co-ordinating activities within various Departments and ensuring that they are presented in such a way that the general public understand that the Government have a coordinated approach. It is for Government to make sure that people outside do not suddenly come along to them and say "I did not know you were going to do this". Such a review would be a natural focus for existing social policy and would provide a means of bringing family policy into the open. I do not ask for an immediate response to this suggestion, because it is a new idea requiring discussion throughout Whitehall.

There are certain targets which we should build into a policy review. We should ask whether we can halve the difference between the infant mortality rate in this country and that in the more advanced countries in Europe. We should ask whether we can halve the differences, during a five-year period, between mortality rates in the South-East and the North-East. Can we halve the difference between different rates of child benefit and the long-term national insurance rate? These are the issues which should be considered in any family policy review. The Government can start putting the options forward. We do not expect much public discussion before a defence review, for instance, because we are not experts on military matters, but most of us can claim to be experts on some aspects of family policy and family welfare.

At Question Time last week I asked the Secretary of State for Education whether, if only a certain amount of money was available for children, she would prefer it to go on the subsidy for school meals or on increasing child benefit. In an ideal world, we would not have to make such a choice. The right hon. Lady said that she would not want to make that choice, and she did not. If that choice has to be made, is it not better to make it in public, when all the considerations can be put forward? The same applies to a subsidy on housing. Clearly it would be better to make sure that we receive the subsidy and the help when there is housing need. It is often a matter of accident whether someone gets on to a council waiting list at the age of 23, buys a home or rents a home. That does not mean that the subsidy should continue for the next 30 or 40 years on one house if it means cutting back on the help that can be given to the rising number of young people requiring assistance.

I believe that I have introduced my motion in a comprehensive way. I am grateful to hon. Members who have come along to support it. I look forward to a non-partisan response from the Government. This matter does not involve simply a debate on a Friday. It is a question of making sure that family policy becomes the centre of our social policy and that it gets sufficient attention in our politics. Almost every day in this House we speak of the need for investment in the future—investment in plant and machinery, factories and North Sea oil. The greatest investment that can be made is in the rising generation of children who will succeed and support us. I hope that the House will support my motion.

12.20 p.m.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) for introducing his motion in a compassionate manner and at some length.

I shall not speak for very long. First. I wish to apologise to the House because after making my contribution I shall have to leave for a further engagement. I shall speak mainly on three items—namely, the care of the frail elderly, the services that we give to the disabled housewife and mother, and the prevention of disability among children.

It is true to say that every family in the country will have experience of the frail elderly or a disabled child or mother. I am sure that everyone will agree with that. The Under-Secretary of State who has responsibility for the disabled has done a tremendous amount of work in those areas and he has said that where there is a disabled child there is a disabled family.

It is probably known to hon. Members on both sides of the House that I have an interest in disability and the disabled. I have had that interest virtually throughout my political career. However, it was only two years ago that I realised what a tremendous amount of work can be done on prevention. For example, James Loring of the Spastics Society estimates that 40 per cent. of cerebal palsy could be prevented by good perinatal care.

I shall make some contrasts and answer the hon. Gentleman's question about national averages for infant mortality. I think that what the hon. Gentleman is aiming at is possible. For example, in the 1960s the French decided that their priority of priorities was to be perinatal care. They brought down substantially their rates of infant mortality and of damaged children. What is more, that action put substantial sums back into the French economy to be spent in other directions for the family.

Where we have good perinatal care and we bring down the incidence of death, we also bring down quite dramatically the incidence of disability. It is known that 4,000 babies each year in this country die unnecessarily and 10,000 are born with a disability that they need not have. That is damned costly in suffering and financially.

In a booklet issued in August 1977 by the Department entitled "Safer Pregnancy and Childbirth" it was stated: Three examples show how we have fallen behind. In 1960 the infant mortality rate in France was 22 per cent. above that in the United Kingdom but by 1972 the French rate was 10 per cent. lower. In 1960 the rates in England and Wales and in Finland were the same, but in 1972 the Finnish rate was 30 per cent. lower. In 1962 the rates in Japan and Scotland were equal, but 10 years later the Japanese rate was nearly 40 per cent. lower. Those figures are a measure of suffering.

However, Britain does not suffer only on the basis of national comparisons. The hon. Gentleman has said that socioeconomic classes show wide variations in the rates of disability and death. There are wide variations between the regions. I have no doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be referring to socio-economic class differences and to geographical differences.

On 7th March the Minister gave the perinatal and infant mortality statistics for each region in England by sex for each socio-economic class and in respect of illegitimate births. In my region, the North-West, the infant mortality rate of children born to self-employed professional workers was seven for boys and six for girls. For unskilled manual workers the rate was 39 and 32 respectively. For "inadequately described occupations" it was 54 and 44. For the "unoccupied" it was 43 and 19, and for the illegitimate it was 35 and 23.

Those figures prove conclusively that the services that are provided are used by the middle class, the professional class and others who do not of necessity need them. We find that those in greatest need tend to avoid and evade their responsibility to go in for careful attention during pregnancy.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

I have listened to the figures given by my hon. Friend and the assertions that he makes from them. Is he implying that our prenatal services have declined? Does he think that because of improvements in other countries our prenatal services are not as good as they used to be?

Mr. Carter-Jones

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that observation. The best facilities in the United Kingdom are as good as those anywhere in the world. However, there are vast regional differences. There is a considerable argument for directing resources into the areas of greater need. I was about to say that the French bribe—I use the word advisedly—pregnant ladies by saying "If you report to us by the 16th week of pregnancy, we shall give you a fair amount of aid and facilities." It may be that we should think of doing something similar. Should we give financial inducements to pregnant ladies to persuade them at an early stage to take advantage of the services that we make available?

The regional discrepancies are even more alarming. In 1971 the worst perinatal mortality in England and Wales was in Liverpool, with a rate of 26.2. The best area was Oxford, with a rate of 19.7. Happily, there has been an improvement. In 1976 the worst regional health authority area was the West Midlands with a rate of 21.1, but the best was still Oxford. The rate had fallen but the difference between the regions had increased. That is the worrying element. We are creating two nations in the maternity wards.

The regional statistics for 1977 show a slight narrowing of the gap, but, as they are given to the nearest whole number, they cannot yet be accurately compared. We do not have to go to Sweden and Finland for the best practice. I have seen some of the best practice in the world in the United Kingdom. However, we have to have a more even spread throughout the United Kingdom or to raise the standards all round.

Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)

Is the take-up equivalent in the cities that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned? It is my understanding of the problem which pertained in Liverpool some years ago, and which remains in the West Midlands, that the main problem is getting some of the young women who are pregnant to go not only to have their pregnancy confirmed but to attend classes thereafter. It is in that respect that wide differences occur between certain parts of the country. For example, in Oxford women seemed to be turned on to going to their classes all the time.

Mr. Carter-Jones

The hon. Lady has given me part of the answer, but there is something else that occurs in Oxford that does not of necessity occur elsewhere. I refer to the fact that in Oxford the GPs are called in regularly for updating and retraining. That is a regular process.

There is little doubt that the Department is fully aware of the problem. It has produced so many reports that we need a suitcase if we are to carry them around. If paper were to solve the problem, it would have been solved by now.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

And many other problems, too.

Mr. Carter-Jones

However, the Department should not write pussyfooting letters to area health authorities to the effect "Please do this" or "Please do that". My hon. Friend the Minister should be writing to the regional and area health authorities telling them "You must do this, otherwise we shall do it ".

We can clearly identify the need when we consider that a severely handicapped child who survives costs the country about £¼ million throughout its life. In that context, it is scandalous that we do not have good or better perinatal care. Many areas have tried and worked hard to reduce the incidence of severely handicapped children. I mention three area health authorities with which I have been in consultation—Oldham, Dyfed and Tameside. They have made a special effort and have brought down the rate dramatically. The cost of getting the best perinatal care throughout the country is infinitesimal compared with the savings in suffering, hardship and economic deprivation for most people.

I should like to quote from a document produced by Margaret and Arthur Wynn on pre-term birth. They state: According to Scandinavian studies, deficiencies in antenatal care, evidenced by pre-term birth and low birth weight, are responsible for costs reaching far into the future. A part of the costs incurred currently for hospital treatment, institutional care, supplementary benefits, disability pensions, unemployment pay and loss of earning capacity are attributable to deficiences in the care of mothers during pregnancy 30, 40 and 50 years ago. We are still paying for those mistakes. Can the Treasury blandly reply that it is willing to bear these costs for the rest of the century because it will not act to remedy the deficiencies still present today?

I went to Guy's Hospital last Tuesday to see the work of the paediatric research unit. I was appalled to realise that this centre of great expertise was deficient of one technician to complete its work on the testing of the samples taken from expectant mothers. This is an area of great expertise. When I heard how the professor raised money, I was appalled. It is a measure of the horrific difference in the care of expectant ladies in various parts of the country.

I turn now to the problems of the family where the wife and mother is disabled. I feel a personal concern with this matter since it was my vote in December 1974 which included married women among the recipients of noncontributory invalidity pension in the Social Security Benefits Bill. Disabled married women had been non-persons in the eyes of the State. It was to rectify this problem that Disablement Income Group was created by Megan du Boisson. A family with a severely handicapped housewife who can neither work nor run the home is under great financial pressure. I plead guilty to not having recognised the catch in advance, but I was horrified when constituents arrived at my surgery and explained that they were receiving the new benefit but that the exact amount was being subtracted from their husbands. How absurd can we get?

I am continually told that I am wrong and that I do not understand our social security system. I cannot and will not accept that an addition to a social security benefit for a wife who is able-bodied, who can run the household and who can go out to work and earn money without her husband losing a penny is paid for the same purpose as a specific benefit is paid to a severely handicapped housewife who can neither run the household nor go out to work. The bureaucrats have interpreted that clause in such a may as to deny the worse off in our society the aid that they need. To say that involves a mental contortion which I am quite incapable of accepting. I hope that the Minister with responsibility for the disabled will persuade those involved that this is an injustice. The disabled housewife's benefit was designed for the specific purpose of providing additional cash for the extra cost of running a home because she herself was not capable of doing it.

I turn finally to the frail elderly. As I said recently in Manila, we have a great problem in the United Kingdom in regard to this matter. At present, the number of people over 75 is 2⅓ million. In 20 years this number will have risen to 3 million. The proportion of the population over 85 will have risen from 1 in 100 to 1 in 75. This poses quite severe problems and strains on the family.

The difficulties faced by families in the area which I represent are quite intolerable. The elderly and frail are often looked after by their children who themselves are elderly and frail. I know of a classic case of a lady of 70 looking after a severely handicapped husband of 81. She herself is disabled and frail, yet, because of the location of her house. she is expected to wheel her disabled husband uphill.

We have to preserve the family by making quite sure that we have an adequate supply of suitable houses. We must have a sufficient supply of community centres where the people can stay in the community. We must also try to provide sufficient long-stay hostels, and care in hospitals if necessary. We must be prepared to sustain the family of the elderly frail by short-term admission to hospital for rehabilitation. Much good work has been done in this sphere in my constituency. We must also provide them with a break when they need a holiday.

For many people this is a day-in, day-out routine. They have to do the job every day of the week, day and night, high days and holidays. It is a continuing burden upon the family.

In conclusion, I ask my hon. Friend to give his views on perinatal care, so that the best shall not be the enemy of the good. Will he ensure that disabled housewives receive their due reward, particularly those who are the poorest in our society? Will he also consider giving added resources to areas where there is a heavy preponderance of elderly people and no provision for them? The work done for the disabled has raised expectations. We must now deliver the goods.

12.37 p.m.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking immediately after the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). I agree with virtually everything that he said. I am president of the Cambridge Disablement Income Group, which is one of my main interests. I hope that the Minister will respond to the points made by the hon. Gentleman, not least the statistics about the deteriorating situation regarding prenatal care.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) on initiating this debate. In doing so, he reminded us of the wide and complex issues which lie at the heart of the difficult society in which we live.

I shall deal with one particular part of the problem which tends to be ignored. During my first surgery after I was elected to this House, I came across the case of a couple whose son and daughter-in-law had been killed in a car accident. The guardianship of the two children of the marriage was given to the other grandparents. It was understood that the grandparents were to be granted access to their own grandchildren. In the event, they were not given access. Therefore, they came to me to discover how the law could be so cruel and inhumane as to deny to grandparents the right to see their own grandchildren.

That, in brief, was the background to the Guardianship (Amendment) Bill which I introduced last Session and of which my hon. Friend for Woolwich, West was a co-sponsor. The purpose of that Bill was to grant to grandparents the right to apply to a magistrates' court or to a county court for the right to see their own grandchildren. The Minister of State and the Home Secretary have been extremely sympathetic to the principle of that Bill. I hope that it may be possible to reintroduce it this Session with amendments which will cover certain legal problems.

I wish to emphasise that I am endeavouring to deal with the problem of children rather than that of grandparents. I shall give four specific examples of the kind of problems which arise and which I am trying to resolve. The House will understand that I shall not be giving the exact names of the people involved. I have all the papers, but for obvious reasons I prefer that those cases remain anonymous.

One case is of grandparents who cared for children for five years after their daughter died at 27 years of age from cancer. The son-in-law later remarried, recovered the children and then denied the grandparents any right of access to see the children—children whom they had looked after for five years.

In another case a son died, leaving three children. The daughter-in-law remained in very close contact with the parents and family. The grandparents were financing the family. The daughter-in-law then remarried, resumed custody of the children and denied access.

In another case the daughter died, the grandparents took in the son-in-law and three grandchildren for six years and financed and kept his family. The son-in-law then remarried and access to the children was denied by the new wife.

Those three cases are very standard. The most common case of all is that involving the death of one of the partners of the marriage, the remarriage of the survivor and a breakdown of relations between the new spouse and the former parents-in-law. But the tragedy is that not only does it affect grandparents but in too many cases it affects very deeply and harmfully the children themselves.

My paramount concern is for the children. But there are also cases in which no death, no divorce or any event such as that occurs but in which the grandparents realise that their grandchildren are being cruelly neglected, battered or ill treated in one way or another but discover that they have no facilities and no rights to do anything about it. They do not even have a right of access.

There is a case of a granddaughter who was sent to a child guidance clinic suffering from serious neglect by her parents. She turned to her grandmother for help and the grandmother was ordered, by solicitor's letter, not in any way to intervene. The granddaughter has been classed as a rejected child—entirely the fault of the parents. The psychiatric reports list her as normal but in need of love and attention. But the parents consistently deny the grandparents—they have the right to do so—any access to the child.

The other cases which I have are of grandparents who have evidence of real cruelty to children. Again, this tragic anomaly, this gap in the law, denies them any opportunity even of seeing their own grandchildren, let alone being able to be of practical help.

Since I started this process with one constituency case, I have had to deal with literally hundreds of them. These have come from all over the country. I have discovered that I have blundered upon a case of human misery and anguish which makes the receipt of those letters and the reading of them almost heartbreaking. I very much hope that this gap will be filled.

One must always recognise that the law is a very blunt instrument. In cases of breakdown of relations between human beings and tragedies such as this the law can never be complete and the sources of trouble are much deeper than any law can go. None the less, there are occasions when it becomes evident that the law, through no ill intention and no malicious intent by anyone, creates anomalies and injustices which worsen the tragedies which already exist.

Finally, when a lady who lives in Harrogate, Mrs. Freeman, heard of my attempts in this area, she collected, entirely on her own initiative, signatures to a petition in her own area and from some friends in other areas. The petition has gained over 2,000 signatures and more will come in.

This may emphasise that my one case and even the hundreds with which I am now dealing are, alas, not untypical and that the House should make a positive move to reduce these tragedies, not only for grandparents but primarily for children. The primary purpose of my Bill would be for the protection and improvement of conditions for children.

12.47 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

The motion moved by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) is couched in very general terms. It calls for public education, political discussion and improved representation in meeting the needs of families. No one will quarrel with that proposition. But I do not quite know what the hon. Member precisely meant by his call for the creation and publication of an "annual family policy review".

I have had the privilege of reading the Eleanor Rathbone lecture delivered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on 27th January this year at Bristol University. He dealt in very great detail with many of the problems that were touched upon by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West. I do not know whether the hon. Member has read carefully the report of that lecture. If he has, he will be in no doubt that the Minister and the Government are well aware of the problems of the family and that they have done and they contemplate doing much more to meet the needs of the family.

I was honoured to know Eleanor Rath-bone, even in the very different days of the 1920s and the 1930s. She recognised how important it was to give opportunities in all areas to children as their right. That was a cardinal point in the upbringing of the family.

In the building up of the Welfare State we have advanced considerably in that direction, although we all recognise that there is very much more to be done. Although we recognise this fact, its fulfilment is necessarily limited by our resources. But perhaps the day may not be too far distant when it can be fulfilled to a much greater extent.

In his lecture, my right hon. Friend pointed out two very great social changes. The first is that the family has shrunk in size. It is very different today from the large families so common in the Victorian era. Secondly, far more married women go out to work. In my early days, many husbands resented the possibility of their wives working unless there was a real need. Indeed, they often postponed their marriage until they were in a position to support their wives without that need.

Today, although many married women go to work because financial considerations compel them to do so, many do so because they have small families, because their families have grown up or, in these days of less sexual discrimination, because they wish to do so. Their husbands, far from resenting this, encourage them to have this outlet, apart from welcoming the additional support that it brings. There are many married women who do a considerable amount of voluntary work.

As a result of those changes, the need for nursery schools or child minders to look after children has grown considerably, and this presents us with a problem. Many authorities place children with child minders and they provide training and support for child minders, but it is essential that such child minders should be responsible persons, and there must be some degree of risk in that regard.

I am especially concerned about the provision of nursery schools for the under-fives. In my constituency, there is much need for greater provision and continuing support for the nursery school movement for under-fives. I am glad to note, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, together with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, recently issued a circular emphasising to local authorities the need for greater support for the under-fives in this direction.

In that circular local authorities were asked to pay special attention to children with priority needs in inner city areas, to combine provision for care with education and health, and to support playgrounds with suitable premises and equipment. The circular drew attention also to the need for responsible child minders. I hope that the local authorities will give their support to those objectives in no uncertain manner.

Under the Lotteries Act, local authorities now have the opportunity to raise money for specific purposes which would otherwise entail a burden on the rates. I suggest that one of the best causes for which moneys raised in that way could be used is the support of the young in nursery schools.

That brings me to another worthy cause, and I noted that my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) touched upon this in his reference to the disabled. In my years in the House, I have always been interested in any scheme which would assist the chronically sick and disabled. I often feel that local authorities, despite the powers and duties placed upon them by the 1970 Act, could do far more in this direction.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles said, the housewife is an integral part of the family. So much often depends upon her in the development of the family. I have frequently received pleas for help in one form or another for disabled housewives, and I urge that in any consideration of family problems the needs of this group should not be overlooked.

A great deal of attention has been focused in recent years on the payment of child benefit, and particularly a higher rate of child benefit for one-parent families. I shall add just a word on that matter. In his lecture, my right hon. Friend recognised the importance of this subject. I know that he is well aware of it, and I am sure that the Government will do what they can to tackle the need and will continue to do more when resources permit.

During recent years, we have passed a number of Acts which have facilitated divorce. I myself stressed the need for such legislation. However, I am not sure that we may not have gone too far. We now have a family court, and we have our Welfare State, with benefits undreamed of in earlier days. We have a permissive society. Yet crime has increased—in an interjection, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), referred to the possible effect of television in that respect—and we look round at a world disturbed by killings, abductions and threats of violence.

I ask myself a number of questions. Have our moral standards seriously declined? How many of us have lost religious faith? Is there a reluctance to work in the way we did in the past? Such questions must trouble us. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I sometimes wonder whether the benefits which we now receive have led to some form of decadence.

I do not for one moment suggest that those benefits should in any way be minimised, but I sometimes yearn for a return to real family life in which, although independent, children might respect more the views of their parents and in which parents and children formed a real unit, combining far more harmoniously as a family than they do today.

As I say, no one need for a moment imagine that I suggest that the benefits and improvements which our society now enjoys should be minimised, but I mention those matters as cause for serious consideration. By his motion today the hon. Member for Woolwich, West has given us the opportunity to debate the important matter of family life. I congratulate him on so doing. I am sure that it is a wise step for our legislature to consider these matters in a serious and practical way.

12.55 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I am glad to have an opportunity to take part in this badly attended debate. A poor attendance is normal on a Friday, but on such occasions there are often some quite good speeches on matters of general importance. Our debates are not all that non-party—we are not in the business to be non-party—and I do not intend to be, either, although the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr Bottomley), uncharacteristically, tried his best, at great length, to avoid that trap.

Although I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he obviously did in preparing his speech, I think that he has missed an opportunity by spreading his net too widely. May I give one or two examples? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) referred to the suggestion in the motion that there should be something called a family movement and that at the end of each year there should be a family policy review. That is fine, except that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West did not attempt to define exactly what he meant by "family" or what such a family policy review would report on.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the number of Departments involved with the treatment of children, of families, and the rest. It would be an enormously difficult exercise to get all these Departments to sum up what had happened within their purview vis-à-vis the family. Ministers concerned with education, health and social security, the Treasury, the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office would all have to make their contribution to the family policy review. But to what effect? As I see it, there would be the creation of a bureaucratic monster to achieve very little.

Moreover, the family is extremely ill defined. I looked at the Oxford Dictionary and found several interesting definitions. I suppose that the most commonly accepted definition would be this: The body of persons who live in one house or under one head, including parents, children, servants, etc. That is what the Oxford Dictionary tells us, which shows the class origin of that dictionary. It then goes on to give definitions of various other kinds of family, and there is one which I feel I should put on record—the family of love. This is what the dictionary tells us about that: A sect which originated in Holland and gained many adherents in England —not in Scotland— in the 16th and 17th centuries; they held that religion consisted chiefly in the exercise of love, and that absolute obedience was due to all governments, however tyrannical". That is a significant definition of one kind of family. I do not know whether that family still exists in England, but I should not be surprised. There are in Britain today all kinds of weird organisations which call themselves families.

Does the commune come within the hon. Gentleman's definition of a family? Communes regard themselves as families. Their members do not believe in marriage. They live communally, men and women, and, presumably, they have children, legitimate or illegitimate—whatever one cares to call them. They have difficulties with accommodation. They have difficulties with finance and with other things. We cannot wash our hands of these people and pretend that they do not exist. They have real social and economic problems.

Any Government must decide, accepting the original definition that the Oxford Dictionary gives, which type of family, if any, deserves priority of treatment by the Government, whether it be in taxation, education, housing, health, or any other matter.

I shall give a few examples. The one-parent family has been the subject of considerable representation in the House, principally because of the Finer Report and the voluminous and costly recommendations that were made in it. The one-parent family has been given some priority because of the pressure inside and outside the House. That is as it should be. I make no complaint about it. But then there are large families in which the wage-earner is unskilled or semi-skilled and who has little incentive to work. If he feels that way inclined, he knows that he can get more in social security and other benefits than he can earning the wage to which his lack of skills entitled him.

This is not an easy problem to solve unless we say that we shall reduce all benefits to starvation level. I am sure that, even in their most extravagant moments of Right-wing reaction, even the Tories would not want that.

Old-age pensioners who live alone presumably create family units. I am sure that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West would regard them as such. Even an old-age pensioner couple is a family, but their problems are different, whether they involve housing, education, health, finance, or whatever. In most instances the social wage is probably more important than tax concessions.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West said that £900 million should be given to the children of our country. This figure was mentioned in the Eleanor Rathbone speech. The hon. Member is entitled to that opinion, but others, who are equally humane and concerned about the welfare of the nation as a whole, would say that that is not the best way to spend £900 million. An across-the-board provision of that kind would help many children who are not in need. Time and again that is the problem of all Governments.

If the Government had £900 million to distribute, they would have to determine how to spend it to the best advantage of the community as a whole. It might not be best spent in the direction proposed by the hon. Member. He may argue that case—he did so with some effect—but others would argue in different directions.

I continue my theme on the importance of the social wage. The large family, comprising an unskilled or semi-skilled man, his wife and half a dozen children, clearly benefits more in the long term from the education service than from tax concessions. The man may feel that £1 now is better than having his child highly educated and then reaping the returns for himself and the community 10 years later. It is a matter of choice and opinion. He may regard free meals as being as important as education. He may regard the National Health Service and the provision of council housing as more important.

In its programme the Tory Party is threatening—I do not use the word "promising"—to slash housing subsidies. That could only adversely affect the type of people that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West has in mind. By definition, these families cannot afford anything other than heavily subsidised council houses. The Tory Party is on record, in "The Right Approach", as being anxious, willing and determined to slash housing subsidies. That could only lead to enormous increases in rents, unless the Tories say that they will give generous increases in rent rebates. That would mean another means test. I cannot see any consistency in their policy, and I shall come to further inconsistencies before I sit down.

Let us take the example of the old-age pensioner family. Its members will depend equally heavily on the provision of public housing. Most of our pensioners live in heavily subsidised houses and many of them enjoy rent and rate rebates, local public transport concessions, local and national health services and, not the least important, the facilities that are provided by voluntary organisations.

I give these examples to illustrate how the needs of families vary. It is impossible to lay down policies and hope to cover all the problems. That simply cannot be done.

There is a good deal of poverty in our country. Whether it is relative or absolute, it exists at all levels. That poverty is not necessarily or exclusively expressed in terms of cash. There is poverty of the environment. One only has to go north of Watford to see the differences between the environment in Merseyside, Newcastle, the North-East, Scotland and South Wales compared with the lush stockbroking belt of Surrey. Surrey is a Tory area, where not much consideration is given to the industrial dereliction that was left a century ago, under which other people suffer.

There is also social dereliction in the provision of schools, hospitals, houses and doctors. Doctors are free to set up in general practice wherever they like. They tend to concentrate in places such as Bournemouth, Bath and Worthing. Few of them choose to work in Liverpool, Newcastle or Manchester. These are the problems that any Government with a streak of humanity should be determined to tackle. Transport is another problem. Rural areas are being deprived of transport. There are a variety of definitions of poverty and they are not exclusively associated with money.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West said that he wanted to spend £900 million exclusively on children. That is a laudable idea, but other people will have other views about the way in which that kind of money should be spent. The Government have been making advances in the provision for children. Indeed, they have been criticised many times for being too generous. For many years Labour Members have campaigned for increases in family allowances, but in my constituency—this was the experience of many hon. Members—such increases were criticised, particularly by old-age pensioners.

Old women who had their men working in the coal mines for 50 years have said to me "We never got family allowances. Why should these people be mollycoddled? We had to stand on our own feet." I had the greatest difficulty in telling them that they should not expect others to suffer what they suffered. The whole history of social advance in this country has been one of educating people to the belief that what they and I any my family suffered, for instance, at the hands of private coal owners should not be allowed to be suffered by families now.

It is idle to pretend that this kind of blanket provision is popular in all sections of the community. Child benefits are replacing family allowances and tax allowances. Child benefits are available for the first child. Family allowances never were available for the first child. That in itself is a remarkable achievement. In April—next month—child benefit will rise to £2.30 per child. Again, that will not be popular with a lot of the people who do not happen to have children, for one reason or another.

We are on the road—I put it no higher than that—to halting the decline in family support that has gone on not only over the last two or three years but over decades. We have not made the kind of provision for families that we ought to have made, whether it be in income, social services or whatever, in any kind of society that claims to be civilised.

However, as regards the April provision, let no one underestimate the cost of this improvement. One returns to this aspect of the problem all the time. The cost of the April provision alone will be £300 million, in addition to the rest of family support. It is estimated that the total in the next financial year, 1978–79, will be about £2,000 million. That is roughly £40 per head—everyone pooling in our national resources to help the kind of family provision about which the hon. Gentleman was talking.

The hon. Gentleman looks as though he wishes to intervene. I shall gladly give way if that is so.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There are a number of points on which either I did not explain myself properly or the hon. Gentleman has not explained himself properly.

The basic fact remains in respect of the level of child support. I did not want to talk about child tax allowances, because we are talking about child benefit. The effect is the same, but I want it to go through child benefit. The hon. Member must still deal with the crucial point that a family of two adults and four children have to live, on average, on only 35 per cent. more than the single person at work. It is 35 percent. extra for five extra people. That is the size of the problem, and £40 per head does not do all that much when we compare it with the support that we give to pensioners—support which I am very glad that we give to pensioners.

Mr. Hamilton

I understand the problem as well as does the hon. Gentleman, and so, no doubt, do the Government. It is easy enough to enunciate the problem. It is a different kettle of fish to provide the answer, because, as I have said, each family is so different in the management of its income. One family may manage much better than another. We know from experience that there are people who manage infinitely better than others. One simply cannot guarantee to eradicate poverty by merely pouring out public money. Conversely, we shall not solve the problem of poverty by giving tax concessions to people who, on the basis of the figures, seem to need them most.

I could give some examples right at the top. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to get on that hobby horse, I must say, by God, we could cut out an awful lot of waste up there and give it to the people about whom he is talking. However, I shall deal with that in some other way, at any time I like. Let the hon. Gentleman not provoke me too much on that matter.

The Eleanor Rathbone speech has had wide publicity today, perhaps more so than when it was delivered. In that speech the point was made that £1 a week on the child benefit rates would cost £600 million. That is the figure that was given. I presume that that is correct. If it were not correct, I presume that the Minister would not have given it. If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West gets the opportunity to take part in the Budget debate and if the Chancellor does not wish to spend £1,200 million, or £600 million or £900 million on child benefit, no doubt he will persuade his party to table an amendment censuring the Government.

However, I must repeat the proposition that I made in successive debates on Fridays in this House about flat-rate, across-the-board provisions. Several debates over the last few weeks have been initiated by Tories, all asking for enormously increased public expenditure. We had a debate for the whole of one Friday on university teachers and the need for more cash there, right across the board. Then we had a packed House—mostly ex-colonels, and so on; ex-military personnel—for a debate on the pay of the Armed Forces, right across the board. Whether the pay increase be 20 per cent. or 30 per cent., just name a figure and the Tories had it. Then there was the debate on the police. Again, we had a packed House on the Opposition side. The law and order brigade were present, all talking about more pay for the police.

We have debated the police, university lecturers, the Armed Forces, and so on, and now the hon. Gentleman is modestly asking for another £900 million. That is all right, but at the same time the Tories say that we shall get that money by the kind of proposal that I have already mentioned—by slashing housing subsidies. We can reallocate resources, but we shall have to persuade council house tenants that it is to their advantage if we double their rents in order to pay Colonel So-and-so another £2,000 a year. That is how one shifts resources around, and the Tory Party is entitled to take that view.

Presumably, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) was part-author of "The Right Approach." I do not know whether she was consulted about it, or whether she wrote it. In a debate last week I mentioned that the recommendation was made on her behalf, on behalf of her party, that our health services had to be financed by vastly increased charges and more privately financed health care, and that there ought to be a privately financed health service alongside the NHS. The Tories can take that view if they like. It is not the view that we would hold. It is in "The Right Approach". That is not an election manifesto. The Tories are too astute for that. However, no doubt it is how Tory managers think.

Health provision is very important for the family, whose interests the hon. Gentleman has very much at heart. My own special interest happened to be health and education. I was in the education profession before becoming a Member of the House. I am a sponsored Member. I am sponsored by a Health Service trade union. It is appropriate that I should tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that although the Health Service is not grinding to a halt, standards are deteriorating to a very worrying degree.

Standards were made infinitely worse by the reorganisation of the service, introduced by the previous Conservative Government. I think that all hon. Members now concede that that reorganisation was a great mistake. We have built up—it would be very difficult to pull it down—an administrative, bureaucratic jungle in the NHS.

I make no apology for telling my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that they are responsible for health and social security services. I do not doubt the Department's sincerity in these matters, but one test of that sincerity would be the preservation of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital for Women in London. We have a duty to preserve that hospital. Its dedicated staff provide a service that is found nowhere else in the NHS.

I also wish to press a constituency case. We have been struggling for years to get a new general hospital in the Dunfermline area, to cover the whole of West Fife. We are still operating Poor Law hospitals in the area and we may have to wait years for a new hospital. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer has £900 million next month, I want some of that to be spent on a new hospital in Dunfermline rather than having it given to children or families who may not need the money as much as my constituents need a hospital service.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West made little reference to health. I appreciate that he had to choose where to put the emphasis in his speech, but, locally and nationally, health provisions are crucial to families on the borderline of poverty and below that line. It is extremely important that they should get the health treatment they need and not just the treatment for which they can afford to pay.

The same is true of education. It is open to argument, but I believe that education is probably the most vital part of the social wage. The motion refers to education. Although the hon. Gentleman mentioned public education, he did not develop the argument. Working-class people attach particular importance to education, because their labour is the only thing they have for sale. They must make it as marketable a commodity as they can, and the best way to make it marketable is for them to get qualifications—academic, technical, or both.

One of the most important services. especially for one-parent families, is day care for the under-fives. The figures quoted in the Eleanor Rathbone lectures show the enormous advances that have been made in the provision for these children in the past 40 years. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) rightly laid great stress on the importance of the play group movements, which gets little publicity in the House.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West talked about the lack of a pressure group for the sort of people in whom he is interested, but surely one of the most effective pressure groups is the Child Poverty Action Group. Just after the 1970 General Election I met Frank Field in the Members' Tea Room and told him that he was as responsible as anyone for the return of a Tory Government. I remember the then leader of the Tory Party, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who is now out in the cold, promising, in answer to a question from the CPAG, to increase family allowances. Frank Field and his organisation said "Vote Tory because the Labour Party is not giving that promise". The Tories won that election, but ratted on the promise. They did not increase family allowances, but introduced family income supplement instead.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Can the hon. Gentleman give chapter and verse for Frank Field ever telling anyone to vote Conservative for any reason? The hon. Gentleman should either give the evidence or withdraw what he has said.

Mr. Hamilton

I am glad that we are getting on to a party level. I like that much better. Let us not have consensus politics in this place. That is not what it is for.

I said that the CPAG had said, in terms, that the Tory Party at that time had promised to increase family allowances and the Labour Party had not. The implication was clear—people who wanted increased family allowances should vote Tory. In the event, they did not get the increases because the Tory Party ratted on the promise.

I referred earlier to the play group movement. I have been interested in the movement for a long time and I am corresponding with the Scottish Office about this sector of our education system. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Education and Science and, no doubt, the Secretary of State for Scotland are giving greater encouragement to its development in financial and other ways.

I should be glad if the Minister would refer to the general provision for the under-fives by voluntary and statutory bodies, and also to the question of child minders. Good work can be done by volunteers and by people who take on child minding for reward. Properly registered and supervised, they can do an extremely good job and are usually more flexible than nurseries. They can be particularly useful in school holidays. An increased number of mothers are working and provision must be made for their families. Private provision, properly regulated by local authorities, can do a great deal to help.

The motion refers to the desirability of more public education, but I remind the hon. Member for Woolwich, West that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who is not known for his progressive views on education but who is one of the Tory Party's leading education spokesmen, recommended last week that children should be allowed to leave school at 15—or perhaps it was 14 or 13—as long as they can pass an exam and show that they can read and write.

The hon. Member for Brent, North may call that progress, but next week he may be arguing that a lot of children are ineducable and that therefore we should send them down the coal pits again. It shows the sort of thinking that goes on among Tory Front Bench spokesmen. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West had better watch out. He will be disciplined for having too progressive views if he argues for more provision for public education when his Front Bench is arguing for less.

Of course, our education system is gravely deficient in all sectors. A few years ago, when I was recommending abolition of the House of Lords, I corresponded with a duke in Scotland who wrote me a nice little letter. It was not very long, but it included five spelling mistakes—and that duke had attended an expensive public school. It was either Eton or Harrow. It shows that such divisions as exist in our education system pertain in the private sector as well.

Only a year or two ago, there was a case of arson at Harrow. Much of the social deprivation in our education system derives from the children, generally speaking of wealthy parents, who are sent to private boarding schools whether they like it or not. The parents make a virtue of it. They say, in effect, "Let us get them off our hands, because we have the cash to socialise and go out, and children are a ruddy nuisance." That leads to all kinds of problems not only financial but social.

We see some of the products of the private schools on the Opposition Benches. and some of them are not a pleasant sight. So there are lots of problems for all kinds of family—they do not occur only among working-class children. There are many problems at the other end of the social scale. It is up to the Government to try to resolve them. It is not an easy exercise, but the Government have the right to be proud of what they have done up to now.

1.31 p.m.

Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)

If I corrected all the false interpretations that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has just made we would be here well into the Easter Recess. There will be times when we can debate the various issues he has raised in an individual way, including on the Consolidated Fund Bill next Monday, when we shall be discussing the National Health Service. I hope that he will be here then to make his contribution.

Mr. William Hamilton

I shall.

Mrs. Chalker

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will now be here. We have been fortunate in the debate because all the other contributions have been, on the whole, constructive. I am sure that the Minister welcomes that as much as I do.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) on a thorough, interesting and balanced debate and on initiating it, even if we had from him a little longer speech than we were perhaps expecting. He is doing very valuable work for family organisations and we wish him every success, because the subject of family policy has far too long been ignored in the House and in politics in general.

Therefore, we hope that this debate will perhaps influence even the Chancellor of the Exchequer a little before he presents his Budget, because it is a wide subject and we are all concerned that it should be approached in as constructive a way as possible. It is right to say that we are concerned to influence the Government not only in the vital area of child support but in all their works.

The family unit and its parts have not been considered as widely as one might have hoped. In a recent publication "Family Policy" written by John Houston and Christopher Mockler, of the Conservative Research Department, they said: The family is the basic social unit in Western society. Yes, and in Eastern society as well, and it is one that needs to be strengthened in the way in which we seem to have developed our lives. The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) said that some of the old values were good, and I found myself in total agreement.

We must not continue to treat in isolation the proposals that Governments bring forward when considering just what effect they have on family life. That is what the debate is all about. I think that there is a reason why we have this difficulty whenever economic crises occur. There is then a decline in personal confidence, and the Government, by their policy decisions, are the only body with a real chance to set the scene for rebuilding that personal and family confidence or, if they take wrong decisions, to diminish that confidence even further. It is our objective on this side of the House to build up that self-confidence and that initiative, whilst always ensuring that for those who cannot cope there will be the support that is necessary and desirable in a humane society.

The other thing we have to think about in talking about the family is that it is a living expression of human individuality and dignity and, in times of uncertainty, a group dedicated to mutual self-help. That is the sort of humane society that we are talking about. Our aim in family policy must be to allow more decisions to be made by the family about what it does with its life.

Not ony must we restore family confidence but, particularly in difficult times, we have to establish a greater understanding of parental rights and responsibilities. This has disappeared the more there has been the feeling that the State could do everything. I refute the idea that that is a sensible view. The State cannot do everything. The upbringing of children, the working to meet one's family's needs and the helping of elderly parents in their later years are surely the sorts of responsibility that we should be prepared to have built into family policy.

It is fair to say that there can be no single approach to the way we tackle the many and wide problems that sometimes occur within families. As the hon. Member for Fife, Central said, there is no one definition of "family". For some people, it is simply the nuclear unit of husband, wife and two children; for others it may include the grandparents and even great-grandparents. So every group includes numerous people, ranging from childless couples to the single person alone whilst young or even in later years, to two-parent families and those single parents, including widows and widowers, who—and it is usually a struggle for them—try to maintain the sense of family responsibility. Then there is the large group of elderly people, ever growing in number, in our society.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) said in October: We are not a one-generation society and families exist to prove it. We feel also that policies should exist to enhance the family and what the family stands for. So, whether the family be as small as two people or as large as the extended family, including relations or even close friends—even those within a commune, if that is how people choose to live—the idea of individual contribution and interdependency is one that fosters a sane and humane society.

Therefore, if we have an objective in common, I think that it is to build up a living, developing relationship which will give mutual support and which encourages the growth of individual skills. It is really for everybody a question of confidence and self-confidence. It is something that we have to start to teach at the earliest possible stage in family life, and I think that this is what my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West was referring to when he talked of public education.

My hon. Friend spoke of public education in a way that I understood him to mean that we must give children the chance to have that self-confidence, that education and a safe and secure upbringing right from the earliest days. This leads us fairly naturally to think of income support as the first major objective that one looks to in helping a family to stay a secure unit.

We know that the living standards of the family with children has fallen because its tax burden has risen faster than that of the family without children. Frank Field, in The Times, on 14th March, said: The tax threshold for a married couple has risen by more than 68% over the past four years, but by less than 51% for a two-child family". In other words, the burden has grown faster the more children there are in a family. Houston and Mockler in their Examphlet show how the increase in the tax burden has been shifted disproportionately on to families, most noticeably since the mid-1960s.

Since the Second World War, the real value of the single person's tax allowance has increased by 53 per cent., that of the tax allowance of the married person without children by 31 per cent., and that of the married person with two children by 15 per cent. For a married man with four children, however, the increase in personal tax allowances over the same period has been only 9 per cent. in real terms.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West talks about the reduction in value of tax allowances and benefits, none of us denies it. It has happened. What we have to find are the best ways of correcting the position for a group of people who represent an ideal—the family. I still think that the family is one of the most stable parts of our society. If we are to correct this discrimination, I am quite convinced, as are all my colleagues, that the present child benefit scheme is a start, but that alone will not correct the disincentives that we have in our system.

That is why I think that there has been an enormous amount of discussion in our newspapers—on the days when we have been able to get them—and in various journals about what the Chancellor of the Exchequor should do by the spending of a specific amount in April, or perhaps in November or whenever it happens to be. The whole of the emphasis should be towards helping the family to undertake its own family responsibilities in the way that it chooses.

I noticed that the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the course of his lecture in Bristol, which is now famous in the House—the Government Whips did a very good job on the photo-copying machine, for which we are all grateful—referred to Eleanor Rathbone and what she had wanted as provision for children. But he went on to say, of the child benefit scheme, that the whole scheme is designed to bring extra help to low-paid families.

This is why child benefit is so important, because it brings help to families which do not enter the tax bracket and have never benefited from child tax allowances. But we have to realise that, if we are to get this right, we have eventually to sort out the difficulty that dependency allowances for national insurance benefits cause. As we add to the benefit for people not in work, we very often weaken the incentive to work, unless at the same time we are improving child benefit. We all know that it is very costly, and we all know that it cannot be done overnight, but at least it would help to correct a situation in which at the present time a married man with three children starts to pay tax at £45 a week but if he is on supplementary benefit he will get £54 a week.

This only happens, as we know, in a small number of families and where there are a large number of children. As my hon. Friend said, it does not happen in families where there are perhaps one or two children or where the parents are fortunate in being in well-paid work or having the opportunity of it. We still know that the problem of low pay exists.

It is our duty in Parliament to correct the nonsense—I have to say this—which has grown rather faster in the last four years than in the preceding four years. We find that there are now more than 110,000 breadwinners, with children, who are earning less at work—and they are still in work—than they could get on the dole. I do not think that this is a satisfactory state of affairs. I am sure that the Minister does not think so. He will be in Government for a little bit longer, and as long as he is there it is his duty to try to find a way to correct this disincentive to work.

I notice that the Prime Minister has not quite got the message. On Tuesday this week the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), in putting one of her usually interesting questions, talked about increases in child benefit. The rejoinder of the Prime Minister to the right hon. Lady was: I am bound to point out in logic that this"— meaning the child benefit increase— is not the only way of improving the position of families with children. This can also be done by other kinds of tax reduction, which affects families with children and families without children."—[Official Report. 14th March 1977; Vol. 946, c. 218.] The whole of the onus of the argument for improving child benefit is to reinstate the position of the families with children who suffer at the expense of families without children. I think that the message might go home to the Prime Minister that there is a very special difference with child benefit, which goes to those on low incomes, and which will also eventually alleviate the "why work?" problem to a considerable extent.

Frank Field, the director of the Child Poverty Action Group, in his article in The Times this week, summed it up when he said that we have one and a half million children in homes which have incomes at or below the State poverty line. A generous increase in child benefits will do more than any other move to counteract the increase in the number of poor families over the past few years". I believe that that is right.

In case anyone should try to say that we do not give very real support for child benefit, I quote an amendment which was on the House of Commons Order Paper last summer. It refers to what was then our policy, is now and will remain our policy on this question. The amendment, in the names of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford, was to ensure that increases in child benefit are treated in the same way as tax cuts, so that the switch from child tax allowances to child benefit can be completed in April 1978 instead of 1979, and that there can be an improvement in the real value of child benefit as part of an overall reduction in the burden of direct taxation and a shift to indirect taxation". My right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford, in a letter to The Guardian on 9th March this year, said that child benefit had the advantage of helpng those families whose incomes are too low for tax allowances to take effect". We are all agreed that this is a problem which has to be tackled. We do not hold out much hope of tackling it quite so completely in a couple of weeks' time, but it is important, as are the other aspects of the whole question of family support.

I turn briefly to the subject of working mothers, because I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about working mothers. We know full well that many mothers, and particularly young mothers, have gone out to work in order to try to maintain a decent standard of living for their families at a time of high inflation. In 1951 only 12 per cent. of mums were out at work, but by 1977 the figure had risen to 25 per cent.

In 1974, only 9 per cent. of mothers with children under five were in full-time work. I gather that the figure for these mothers has increased dramatically in the last four years. They have a special problem. If they give up work to care for their families when they are young, not only do they lose the income to which they probably have been accustomed for some years after marriage. They also lose the whole of the value of the single person's tax allowance and get nothing in return, unless we count the maternity benefit and the child benefit. That is for a specific use anyway.

Very often the decision whether to go to work is not made by the parents at all. It is made on the basis of the tax system. This is something that we must seek to sort out in Government. It is interesting that the Meade Committee, in the recent publication "The Structure and Reform of Direct Taxation" for the Institute of Fiscal Studies, suggests that it is worth examining a taxable home responsibility cash benefit for the wife who is at home and caring for the children, and having then the single person's allowance for working parents. Other schemes have also been suggested, and these must surely all be examined.

We have a situation growing up in which the economic standard of living of a family is being decided not only by the parents—or not even primarily by the parents—but by the workings of our taxation system. I for one do not believe that this is right. We ought to have a tax system which makes sure that women who wish to care for their children in their early years are not actively discouraged from so doing. At the moment, we do not have that.

I suppose that in this area the real problem is the shortage of day care. Like the hon. Member for Fife, Central, I pay special tribute to the Pre-School Playgroups Association and the work it has done to help both working and nonworking mothers and in involving women who have time on their hands to give it to the care and development of young children who need that care. The success of that organisation has been notable, but it is not the only body, and there are various ways in which voluntary organisations seek to help working mothers.

There are other things that must be done to assist working mothers and children in families, and this can be achieved by a change of the attitude that has gradually grown up in local government. It is a rigid attitude about the use of buildings owned by local government and especially about what might be done with schools after hours. I am a governor of a comprehensive school, and there we have what we call an end-on club. It is a club for young children to go to after school hours but before parents come home. The children are safe there. They are looked after by volunteers. This practice has not caused any great problem. contrary to what one might have envisaged at the beginning, and we are using the building flexibly.

There are many other premises in local authority areas which could be more widely used by voluntary organisations for youth clubs and for the care of children when parents cannot be around, and sometimes even to give the parents a bit of peace and quiet from particularly rumbustious teenagers. We are not yet using our local authority buildings to the full, and I hope that the authorities will consider the alternative use of premises by voluntary organisations and for the sake of children in the community. I am sure that a great deal more could be done.

I turn now to Government support for young children through nursery education. It is sad that the proposals in "A Framework for Expansion", the White Paper produced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when she was Secretary of State for Education and which aimed at giving much wider nursery education, could not be pursued at the rate she had hoped. It was planned then that 15 per cent. of 3- to 4-year-olds would attend full time and that nursery education would not have to be restricted simply to one-parent families or to families with problems at home.

I hope that it will not be very long before we can implement something like the French system by which 70 per cent. of 3-year-olds in that country get some form of nursery education, playgroups and so on. In England and Wales, even with all that the voluntary groups are doing, less than 20 per cent. of that age group gets any help, and yet help at that age is vital to the development of a child. That White Paper in 1972, like most educational thinking today, was based on the argument that the early development of a child's ability was one of the best foundations for it to grow up strong and confident.

How, then, are we to make progress towards meeting the needs of employed parents? There would have to be a switch of resources. We have to look at this matter in more detail than in the past, and that is what this debate on family policy is all about. We have to do something to eliminate the distinction that exists between education and social help in providing care for the under-fives. I hope it will not be long before that happens.

One difficulty at the moment is that two Government Departments are involved—the Department of Education and Science with education, and the Department of Health and Social Security with voluntary playgroups, these powers being enacted by local authority social services committees. Somehow we must combine consideration of how we help young children, particularly those with working mothers. We must regard the needs of employed parents as a legitimate consideration when places are allocated. That is a challenge—both to local authorities and to the national Government.

The provision of facilities for the under-fives should be flexible in the sense of being open at the right time. In the medical profession it is possible to find parents taking their children to a creche early in the morning when the parents are on duty at 7.30 and taking them home at 2.30. Of course, that leads to a certain overlapping at lunchtime, but flexibility exists in such small organisations. We should be aiming for the same flexibility with education and playgroups for the under-fives in local authority provision.

We must consider the problem of children who go home with no parents to welcome them. We must also look at what happens to the child who is sick while its parents are at work. Some of these consideration underline the importance of a stable environment for the children when their parents are working.

We have not failed abysmally in these matters everywhere. Some parts of the country have started to deal with them, but there is so much that one area can learn from another to enhance the position of the family and the care of children and so avoid some of the terrible increase in delinquency and vandalism that has taken place over the last 15 years.

Nowhere are the educational needs of the under-fives more important than for the children of one-parent families where the parent has to go out to work, or where it is good for him or her to do so in order to regain social contact which might have been lost. In that way the parent has the opportunity of meeting someone else and of making a second marriage. The statistics show us that such marriages among young people seem to be more stable than first marriages. We have to give these people the chance to train and earn again, since after caring for very young children such parents need a period of retraining.

There was some interesting, correspondence in The Guardian from Jo Warlow, of the National Association of Widows. Some months ago the association was running a campaign to try to find a way to give widows equal benefit with working women on the TOPS courses so that they could retrain and get jobs. There one runs into the terrible problem of overlapping benefits. I do not suggest that they can be overcome immediately, but there is something we can do about the level of earnings that widows are permitted to attain before they pay tax. The single parent can earn up to £6 a week, but the widowed mother can earn only just over £2 because her allowance is higher.

The difficulty for both categories is to get over the hump of looking after the family which may be going off its hands, and of getting back into a frame of mind to train and earn. We need action to deal with anything that militates against their going into training and establishing a life for themselves by doing a small job.

We must allow families to grow. Many of the policies on the statute book stunt the potential growth of a family. If we implemented those provisions intelligently and practically, that need not happen. Often I wonder how on earth we can get ourselves into such an impractical situation.

Just as the one-parent family has the right to a family life, there are other areas which need attention, as the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) mentioned, such as perinatal mortality and care. This is a subject which has had Governments worried for many years. We find awful problems among these families which have not had public education about what is involved in having and bringing up a child. Often the pregnant mother has not taken full advantage of the courses available.

If we are to have safe and secure families we must pay attention to this area, otherwise it will result in another generation in which there are a small but heartrending number of disabled people. They, like everyone else, have the right to be treated like a family. We have a responsibility to make young people aware of their actions in deciding whether they have a family. In that way we can avoid the problems if we encourage them to take the right action at the right time.

There is one area at which the Government should look if they are to enable the disabled to have a proper family life. That is the question of access. Disabled people should be given access to buildings so that they can involve themselves in activities normally carried out by families. A great deal has happened in the past 10 years and the situation has become much better. A great deal more is happening in local authority areas over access to public buildings. However, it is frightening to find that there are still a number of normal family pursuits which one can undertake if one has two legs—even if one moves comparatively slowly—but which one cannot do if one is chairbound. We must increase the possibilities of giving disabled people the right to a normal family life but, unfortunately, many Government policies make that impossible or at least much harder.

Another area of the family which has been mentioned in this debate is the elderly. Old people are still very much part of the family, albeit at the upper end, and they are increasing in numbers. In 1901 there were 2.4 million retired people; by 1975 there were more than 9.5 million. The number of frail elderly has risen from fewer than half a million at the beginning of the century to 2.8 million now and an expected 3.6 million by the end of this century.

Sixty per cent. of all impaired and handicapped people in this country are elderly on the basis of the Amelia Harris survey of 1971. We must be prepared to look at Government policy and how it affects the elderly and the younger members of the family who have to make a contribution in cash or kind for their care. The number of frail elderly has increased thanks to antibiotics and good medical care.

With a record number of elderly people in our community, we must take a new approach to residential care and look at the use of Part III accommodation for short-term relief. Perhaps we should also look—as one local authority is doing—at the fostering of elderly people by younger people who have time to give to the elderly in the community.

This is the real meaning of the extended family as Africans know it. In many African communities, an elderly person in the village is never put to one side but is brought within the fold even though he or she may not be a relative. We have a great deal to learn from the Africans and Asians in their approach to the elderly in the community. We must be conscious of the good example set by many immigrants who have settled in this country.

With the invalid care allowance, we are taking the right sort of step towards caring for the elderly in their own homes. We must do more. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) suggested at one stage that we might enhance tax allowances for keeping elderly people in the home. That is a possibility in the future. We must consider the whole family, whatever its shape or size, from the cradle to the grave.

I am sure that we must expand the use of the voluntary sector. We shall never know the real value of benefits that every grant we make brings forward. These additional benefits are far beyond the actual amount of the grant. We must examine not only the obvious financial resources but the human resources which can make family life and policy a great deal better than it is.

It is easy to talk of housing in relation to the family. But there are far too few experiments of building "granny attics" in houses or turning the spare rooms in dormer properties into rooms that can be used by a son or daughter coming to care for an elderly person who is sick.

We have many examples in housing and education where there could be greater involvement of one generation with the other. This would do a lot to make family life a great deal more stable. I hope that we shall get far greater parental involvement in education. The example set by parents who involve themselves is totally positive.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West about encouraging schools to set a little bit of homework as a way of involving parents. We need to bring together parents and teachers on an informal basis. This is in no way threatening to the development of the child and it is a positive step towards giving him a secure future. That is why I welcome the determination of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) to create a parents' charter for the full involvement of parents in the development of their children.

In the family we can take much more action to prevent illness. At the moment in this country our preventive care is very lacking. We seem to believe that it must all come from outside, but there are endless things that families can do to ensure that their children are healthier. I hope that we shall be able to encourage preventive care in health by a shift of emphasis to the family.

Whatever the comments about individual groups or individual claims, I do not believe that there is any doubt that people in this country and abroad are concerned that we have allowed the position of the family to slip.

The British Union of Family Organisations, the National Council of Social Service, the Thomas Coram Research Institute and, last year, the Conservative Party conference have all been examining the position of the family in our society and the things that the Government are doing to help or hinder.

Vice-President Mondale in the United States is heading a study group about the possibility of all new Government legislation carrying a family impact statement which will assess the consequences of the legislation for the family and its impact on it. This group will present its findings to the White House conference on families later this year. There is a strong case for urgent examination of the practicality of such a scheme in the United Kingdom. As well as the financial and manpower implications, we could attach to every Bill coming before the House of Commons a family impact statement. This is an idea that we should certainly examine.

Above all, the idea put forward in the motion today that there should be an annual family policy review to see how much the family has been helped or hindered is a good one. Also, I believe that we should have a regular conference between all the organisations concerned with the family and the Government. This could be the only way to restate the true value of the family and its position in society. The Government must make sure that their policies which are passed by this House support the family instead of dividing it, as so many policies seem to have done in the past few years.

2.10 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

The great problem about coming to a debate late, particularly after so many long and detailed statements, is to find something to say without repeating what has already been said. I shall do my best to introduce one or two new matters. I want to pick up some of the points made about the decline in the family, the rise in juvenile deliquency, and so on. This last point was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman). Everyone is worried about the decline in moral values and the rise in juvenile delinquency, and the rest. Everyone turns to the Government and says "You must do something about it." Perhaps that does not apply to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) but it is the trend.

After the violence that broke out at Millwall the other day, because the club had not followed Government guidelines, a club manager said "The Government must do something about it." It is not only the Government who have to do something; it is society generally—all of us and all the institutions in society. Many of our institutions, by their behaviour and their example, push young people into juvenile delinquency and encourage materialism within the family.

We have only to look at the national Press for examples of this. It is always cynical and not always truthful. It never gives a good lead towards the best in society. Instead it gives the most publicity to the worst in society. The advertising medium promotes materialism and envy within society.

In my view—although not in the view of the television companies, of course—violence in society is brought about by the violence that we see night after night. day after day, month after month, year after year, on our television screens. Very often this material is imported, often from that great country of private enterprise, the United States. When we talk about the breakdown in family life we remember that there are elements in society which ought to know better, which ought to be giving a lead and which are not meeting their responsibilities. I hope that we shall see from the Opposition Benches in future some attempt to make these institutions face up to their responsibilities.

I want to concentrate my remarks upon those families with children. The difficulties of such families—I belong to one—are not always appreciated by those who do not have children. There arc, in particular, the expenses involved in bringing up a family. Those who do not buy children's shoes will not know what they cost. I know that my kid's shoes cost more than mine. I am sure that most old-age pensioners do not know it, and I would not expect them to know it. They have enough to worry about. How many people realise that a child's overcoat may cost £20—and that he may have grown out of it in nine months' time? The financial problems of families are not always understood by those who do not have children. Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said, the provision of family support, particularly through child benefit, is misunderstood.

In any debate of this sort mention must be made of the increasing number of married women with children who now go out to work and the effect which this has on family life. Often, I am afraid, it has a detrimental effect. This is not so in all cases. In all too many cases, certainly in working-class homes, women are forced out to work because of the family's financial circumstances. It is too often the case that the freedom to choose whether to remain at home to look after the family or to go out to work does not exist for thousands, perhaps millions of women, because the wage structure and the tax system virtually force them to go out to work to make ends meet.

Low male earnings have been a problem in this country for as long as I have lived, and well before. We have not solved the problem yet. Many people do not realise that one reason why an increasing number of women have to go out to work is that basic male earnings in this country have been falling compared with wages paid in the rest of Europe and the United States. That is a contributory factor for which industry bears a great deal of responsibility.

The fact that for a long time women's earnings have been very much below those of men—they are catching up now—has created a climate in which employers have been able to hold down male wages. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West shakes his head. I realise that he may not accept my argument. I believe that this has happened. All of this has contributed to an increasing number of married women going out to work to help support the family.

The tax structure is quite absurd. Here. the Government and Parliament bear responsibility. The tax structure for families is ludicrous. It militates against families with children, particularly when the mother is unable or unwilling to go out to work. The £945 single person's allowance is tantamount to a £330 bonus to the woman who goes out to work. The married woman who has been going out to work and ceases to do so actually loses that sum. In that case she loses not only her earnings but the tax bonus from the Chancellor.

That loss is something which ought not to be allowed to continue indefinitely. It would be politically impossible to remove the tax bonus from women who go out to work. I suggest that women, whether or not they are at work, are entitled to a tax-free allowance, which could be set against their earnings or transferred as a tax relief against their husband's earnings. In that way we would achieve equity and would be giving additional support to the family when the woman was unable to go out to work.

The system is even more absurd than that. We find that a family with two children—I take that as the normal family—receives less in tax-free allowances than does a married couple where the man is over 65 years of age. Our tax system gives more tax allowances to two people than to four. That cannot be right. I am not suggesting that the tax-free allowances given to pensioners are too high, but the allowances given to families must be far too low. That is why we need a much more rational approach to the taxation of families in relation to others.

My father is 84 years of age. He is an independent sort of chap—an ex-miner. He is in no private pension scheme and has no money in the bank. He is not drawing any dividends or living off capital. However, he is independent. He does not want to take anything from my sister or myself. After the last uprating of benefits I said to him "Well, old chap, you are not doing too badly under the Labour Government, are you?" He said "No, I think that we are doing too well."

That was a most peculiar statement to be made by a pensioner. I asked him why he took that view. He replied "What you are doing now is giving more money to me than you are giving to families with two or three children where the wage earner is on about £55 to £60 a week." I thought that that could not be right. I told him that I did not think it was right. My father replied "I know that you are a Member of Parliament, but I am telling you that I am right and you are wrong."

When my father said that, I went into the exercise of comparing the position of a family with two children with the position of a couple on pension. I deducted necessities such as food, lighting and heating, and calculated how much was left per person. I found that the old man was right. I found that the family had about half of what the old-age pensioner had left. Of course, the old-age pensioner is by no means the richest person in our society. Indeed, he has to be considered to be among the poorest. I found that the family earning between £55 and £60 a week, with a couple of kids, were worse off than an old-age pensioner.

There must be something wrong with a system that allows that to happen. That is why so many hon. Members on both sides of the House are urging my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase child benefit as fast as he can. At the same time, I hope that he will be able to alter the tax system to give sonic benefit to families.

In our society there are many organisations that do a great job for families. I believe that they need Government support. Women are having their families at a much earlier age. According to the lecture to which we have all been referring, most of them have completed their families by the age of 30 years. They have less experience in bringing up families than their predecessors in generations past. It is also the case that the family income at that early stage is probably not at its highest level. The Government need to give advice to families in bringing up children, or to give support to organisations that give that advice.

I hope that the Government will take into account all the points that have been made in the debate, which was well raised and well conducted.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) on introducing the subject under discussion. It is not an easy subject to introduce. There are so many different facets that may be discussed. For example, we may include elderly people who are part of the family, or living with the family. The subject has such great scope that it ranges from prenatal times to ages only shortly prior to death—for example, 90 years of age. The subject takes in the whole range of our social benefits and the existence of our people throughout their lives.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West must have made past endeavours in this sphere. He must have done an enormous amount of voluntary work. Indeed, that is recognised by the House. We appreciate the efforts that he has made, and we thank him for introducing the subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) has considered the taxation of families in comparison with others. There is no doubt that the investigations that he has made leave a doubt as to whether the various tax regulations that we introduce solve the problems that we intend them to overcome.

The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) made a fine speech, although it contained some political bias. The hon. Lady went into all facets of the problems that have been raised in the debate. I disagreed with her when she said on two occasions that there was a decline in personal confidence. There has been a decline in personal responsibility. In the old days people were more responsible towards their families. I am sorry to say that there has been a decline in that respect. That is apparent when we examine the whole problem.

A factor that stems from the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon is that it is surprising what some women are prepared to do to keep the family together, to provide it with an income and to give it a decent standard of living. I refer to the many married women, and some unmarried mothers, who keep their families together and bring in an income by what is called homeworking. They take home various items from a factory, or somewhere else, and clutter up their homes with those goods. They take home envelopes, cardboard boxes, and many other things. That work brings in a few extra pounds and helps to keep the family going.

That sort of spirit may be admired. Although I object to women being exploited, we can surely admire a woman who is prepared to do that work to keep her family going. This is a matter that has been discussed in the House in recent months, and there is no doubt that some form of legislation, or other initiative, is needed to introduce regulations that apply to those who engage in outside work. In some cases it is unfair to the firms that do not offer such work, that take on employees and pay national insurance stamps. They have various commitments in respect of their employees, whereas the firms that offer outwork do not pay national insurance contributions, and pay no tax on the money that is earned.

There are anomalies in this area. It is amazing that people, particularly married women, sometimes with two kids in a pram, should be prepared to go to a factory, come back home and start working again until their husbands go back to work.

What is the incentive for children to do homework in such circumstances? There are many facets to this problem. Such people are to be complimented on the efforts that they are prepared to make to keep their families together.

It is not only single-parent families which suffer deprivation. There are deprived children in many families which have substantial incomes. Such children do not get the benefit of their parents' experience. Some parents neglect their children and do not take the slightest interest in their progress at school. Those are the people we should get after. Many people in poor circumstance are prepared to go without to ensure that their children achieve something better in life than they have. However, I have come across many instances of parents with good salaries—families with both parents at work—whose children are deprived not only of a good family life but of some of the necessities of life. These are the problems that we must tackle.

I turn now to a subject that is of great concern today. I was brought up in the atmosphere of a working-class family. The family was a unit. It stayed together. We all supported and looked after each other. There were two adults, mother and father, in the home. When the elder brother went out to work, he was almost a second father, because he helped to look after and advise the younger members of the family.

What do we find today with the advent of the one-parent family? Perhaps I should not say this, but both as a Member of Parliament and in my experience in insurance I have come across one-parent families consisting of a woman and three children by three different fathers living on social security. In such circumstances one can imagine the mental attitude of the children as they grow older not having a constant father. We must start to look after these families properly.

I am not suggesting that one-parent families are ideal. In my opinion, a family is not a family unless it has a man and woman—husband and wife. Children suffer from lack of contact with the male when families break up. Some husbands who go off with other women and leave their wives with the children will not pay a penny in maintenance towards the children's upkeep.

The deserted wife is the one to be admired, because she goes out to earn money to try to keep her family together. A deserted wife may find obstacles in her way when she seeks to collect money that the court has ordered the husband to pay. For example, the husband may leave work and live off the woman with whom he is cohabiting. It is therefore very difficult for the wife to get the maintenance to which she is entitled. This is a question not so much of personal confidence as of personal responsibility. People must accept more responsibility and not try to push it on to the State.

One thing that worries me is that the motion deals with the education of our children.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I did not correct the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who referred to public education, in the sense of generally accepting more knowledge about what happens in family life. I was not referring to the 5 to 16-year-olds.

Mr. Perry

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. There is one point that I want to bring out. I refer to propaganda about the education of children. Many devoted teachers are doing their best to educate children with the sometimes slim resources that we provide.

There is one matter that worries me about London. I noted that last week the Greater London Council announced that it was taking the matter in hand. Thousands of school children from all over the country visit the House of Commons. They are taken round by Members, messengers and policemen and taught about the Palace of Westminster. It is a journey in experience for children with teachers and parents to walk from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall. In Trafalgar Square they see Nelson's Column. They also go on to Buckingham Palace.

I want to bring this matter out into the open today. When children between the ages of 4 and 14 come down Whitehall with their parents or school teachers, they have to pass the Whitehall Theatre. If there is one theatre in London which should be done away with tomorrow, it is the Whitehall Theatre. Outside the theatre is a huge, lewd, erotic photograph. The woman who posed for it should be ashamed of herself. The Greater London Council has taken objection to that photograph and is trying to get it removed. It is a disgrace to the city of London that such a picture should be exhibited in Whitehall, which is the seat of Government, because so many children come from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square and no doubt see it. I should like it to be removed immediately by that theatre or by the powers that be. I make that point because children between the ages of 4 and 14 are so vulnerable. It is our duty to do what we can to protect and keep together the family unit.

Another matter about which we receive many letters and visits and which evokes great controversy is the implementation of the Finer Report. It is difficult to implement a report of such a vast nature. However, in that report there is much information which should lead us to do what we can. It is up to us to keep plugging away to ensure that some notice is taken of that report and that something is done for one-parent families and deprived children.

The question of aged people and young families has been mentioned. Last month I had a visit from a constituent in Balham. She has recently been divorced, and has two children. She and her children are living with her parents in a onebedroomed flat. Her parents own the flat and the house next door. The house next door has 10 rooms and is occupied by an old lady of 85, who pays £11 a week rent. That old lady is visited now and again by her relatives. She lives in that 10-roomed house alone. I suggest that it would be better for her if somebody were to live in the house with her. I have suggested that perhaps the only way to do it—if an amicable settlement cannot be reached, because the daughter with her two children is living in a onebedroomed flat with her mother and father—is to go to the court, on hardship grounds, to obtain possession of part of the house.

That is the sort of problem that we are faced with. What are we to advise people to do? There is the problem in London of people over 80 years of age living on their own, occupying big houses. At the same time, there is overcrowding involving young families or a single-parent family, with which we cannot make any progress. These are some of the problems brought out today by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West. All those who have spoken in the debate have attempted to bring out the problems that exist.

Problems in places such as London are more intense than those outside. London is like Mecca to many people. The remark that I made about the Whitehall Theatre was meant in all seriousness. The hundreds and thousands of children using this thoroughfare daily should not be confronted with photographs and pictures such as I have seen outside that theatre. I appeal to the Minister to give support to the Greater London Council to prevent advertisements being placed outside our main theatres.

The debate has been worth while. I am glad to have had the privilege of taking part in it. I hope that the Department will take notice of what has been said today.

2.44 p.m.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak) rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to participate in this debate?

Mr. Litterick

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thought that he was waiting for his own debate which follows.

Mr. Litterick

I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall speak only briefly. I have not been chastised quite so quickly in the Chamber before.

Sensibly, the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) made the point that the debate should be and has to be about more than simply family income support. Other hon. Members have taken up other aspects. However, as it is centrally about poverty within the family, the greatest emphasis must be placed on the problem of family income support.

It would seem obvious that the problem of poverty within the family, within the community, can be met only by transferring income—command over goods and services—from those who have a superfluity of goods and services to those who have not. That is a very simple principle. Some people call it egalitarianism, but it need not necessarily mean that in absolute terms.

We all know that at root, fundamentally, poverty can be tackled only by redistributing money from one part of the community to the other. That well-known fact makes for one of the basic differences between the two major parties in this Chamber. I take the point of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, when he shakes his head, that we disagree in principle about the idea. We disagree in practice about how income should be redistributed from those who have to those who have not. The Conservative Party has another principle—I accept that it is a principle—that human, social and economic progress is made only as a result of the motivating power of the prospect of acquiring more money—greater command over the goods and services.

That is borne out by the constant reiteration by the leader of the Conservative Party that if she were in political power she would set the entrepreneurs free and she would set the creators free, by which the right hon. Lady means that she would free them from tax obligations. Once one has said that—the Leader of the Opposition has said it more than once and in many different ways—effectively one stands in the way of a significant redistribution of income because one is implicitly saying that poverty can be halted only at the expense of social progress. I wish that somebody on the Conservative Benches would spell this out a little more explicitly. That is the contradiction between those two principles followed by Conservative Members.

The Conservative Party is fundamentally opposed to a redistribution of income which would eradicate poverty. When the last Conservative Administration introduced its pension scheme, which, I believe, was introduced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), the nub of it was that people on occupational pensions would be subsidised by those in the State pension scheme. We all know that those with occupational pensions are by and large better off and that those with the State pension and nothing else are by and large the poorer and the poorest. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the Conservative Government of that day knew that fact. They introduced that legislation, which through the pension system would have forced the poor and the poorest to subsidise the more affluent.

Another example of this is the Conservative Party's now notorious promise made before and shortly after it came to office in 1970 that it would introduce child allowances. That promise was made by the late Iain Macleod. However, the Conservative Party did not do this but instead introduced a thing called family income supplement, which the hon. Member for Woolwich, West has mentioned, as one more means-tested weapon in the armoury of the State, almost against the poor. That is not his phrase. It is mine. The benefit which has been derived from the use of family income supplement, so far as I know comes to about 85,000 families, according to the latest statistics. It was introduced instead of the original promise of child allowances. It was a retreat from a promise to tackle widespread poverty.

It affected only the families whose breadwinner was in work. Therefore, particularly in the years during which there has been a significant rise in unemployment, it can have no effect on perhaps the newest group of the poverty-stricken to appear in British society during the last few years. It would appear that this benefit is a failure. But it is also a drag. I think that the hon. Member said that, too. Once we introduce a benefit into the British system, we have a difficult job taking it away. The family income supplement, far from being a real solution of the problem of widespread poverty, is now an obstacle to many of the avenues which we could explore in this direction.

I do not want to say anything more about the fairly obvious problem of income redistribution in connection with family policy. We should pay some attention to the other aspects. We should, for instance, notice that we are still members of the Common Market. The aspect of the Common Market's operations which most clearly affects the poorer families is its effect on food prices. The Common Market keeps the level of food prices higher than it would otherwise be. Therefore, Common Market membership contributes to family poverty.

Housing policy, too, is a component, or should be a component, of family policy. Most Labour Members represent urban constituencies, and we often have cause to point out how the housing policies operated by local authorities have the effect of breaking up families. Local authorities tend to allocate accommodation not so much on the basis of family need as simply on the basis of available accommodation within their area and the rather mechanical consequences of the points schemes which they use to compile the queue. The result is that folk are allocated housing accommodation without reference to the whereabouts of their relatives, which isolates them from the rest of their families, or they are put in tower blocks, the places where thousands upon thousands of women are steadily driven out of their minds by the consequential tension of living in such conditions.

There are more specific ways in which housing policy can devastate families. For example, in Slough this week there was the scandalous case of a woman whose home, which was a caravan, was towed away and sold on the instructions of her husband. Naturally, having three children, I believe, she went to the council as a homeless person, but the Tory council said that she had wilfully made herself homeless, and by making that judgment it abrogated its responsibility under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act.

In the light of such a decision, one can readily understand why the Conservative Party fought so hard in Committee to amend the Bill so as to enable local councils to have the choice of making such a judgment. The truth is that that council has made it impossible for the woman to provide a home for her children. The council refuses to provide a home for her and her children on obviously specious grounds, so that the children will have to go into care and the mother will live alone. Thus, a family is devastated by the operation of local government housing policy. In my view, that Tory council in Reading ought to be ashamed of itself, but I guess that it knew what it was doing and is determined that the homeless shall be treated like dirt.

Education policy also is a vital component of family policy. It is one of the clichés of British literature, at least, that the son or daughter of a working-class family is educated out of the culture of that family. Thus, the children who are successful in jumping through the middle-class hoops of our education system—those who imbibe the cultural values of the middle class—become alienated from their parents. That is a fundamental disruption of British family life. If anyone doubts that it happens, there is a whole library of books written during the past 30 years on that very theme of alienation via the class character of the British education system.

The way it goes is this. If someone gets on in life, he distances himself from his family if his family is working class. That is a familiar fact of British life. Getting on also means getting out and becoming an isolated bourgeois, isolated from one's origins, and probably isolated also from the class to which, unwittingly, one may as an individual aspire.

It takes a great deal to resist the powerful cultural propaganda which permeates the British education system in its upper reaches. Moreover, it is difficult to resist the rewards of allowing oneself to be integrated into the bourgeois value system via our education system. One learns very quickly to get on by agreeing with the people who have the power to upgrade one. One learns that, and one learns either to define oneself as a rebel against that value system or to collaborate. [Laughter.] Some of us make compromises. I am sure that the point needs no more labouring from me. As I say, there is a whole library of books making the point.

Moreover, economic and industrial policy is a devastating influence on the family. In so far as we allow market forces to operate and to determine the location of industry, families are willy-nilly obliged to trail through the length and breadth of our land looking for work. Incidentally, this raises the question of alternative housing, too.

My own father and mother were industrial refugees on two occasions. In the first instance, the place in which my father worked simply disappeared—incidentally, it was the place where his parents worked and lived—and my family was obliged to migrate several hundreds of miles to a foreign country—namely, England. Then the same thing happened again and the family had to migrate once more to another part of the British Isles. Willy-nilly we were made into migrants, as hundreds of thousands of other families have been, by the facts of economic life and the absence of a civilised industrial location policy or a civilised economic strategy under successive Governments.

We have the lowest level of family support in Europe. We do not help ourselves by continuing to reinforce the deprived status of the poor and the poorest through our media by suggesting over and over again that the poor, those who have to claim a benefit which has been created by our democratic State, are scrougers. We all know that The Sun, the Daily Express, the News of the World and the People would never be complete on any day of publication if they did not have a story about the social security scrounger. What is more, of course, there are unscrupulous politicians who go in for the same lousy game. The result is that there are people in genuine need who are afraid to claim the benefit rights which our State has created for them.

I know of such cases. For example, I think of the elderly couple living in Kings Norton in Birmingham who spent most of their waking hours in pubs because pubs were the only warm places they could find which did not cost them money. They did it because they could not afford to heat the new bungalow which the council had allocated to them. They were afraid to go and ask for help to heat their home. Willy-nilly those two people were made into gipsies, wandering around from pub to pub to keep warm, because those filthy newspapers and unscrupulous politicians go on day after day talking about people who claim their social security benefits as scroungers and enemies of society.

The truth is that those who use the label "scrounger" are the enemies of society. They are the ones who contribute so much to ensure that Great Britain has the lowest level of family support in Europe. That is disgusting.

2.58 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Eric Deakins)

This has been a valuable debate on an interesting and vital subject, and we have had a number of thought-provoking speeches from both sides. I was delighted to see so many of my hon. Friends here today. Some of them are not here now, having had to go away to their constituencies, but it has certainly been a well-attended debate on the Government Benches, and I congratulate those of my hon. Friends who made their contributions to it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) on the non-partisan way in which he introduced his motion. I felt that he set a tone for the debate which, by and large, has lasted throughout the late morning and afternoon.

I hope to reassure the House that the Government give considerable emphasis to family needs. I shall have something to say about the detail of the motion in due course, and I shall also explain fully the Government's intentions and achievements through those of their policies which are of special interest to families.

However, I wish first to say that on the Government Benches, although we fully accept the need for the Government to take account of what one might call the family dimension in their policies, we think it equally important to avoid any moves in the direction of the politicisation of family life. The ties between members of a family are essentially natural and private. Although it is obviously necessary to give parents and children help and support of various kinds, and although it is equally clearly necessary to provide, through the public services and by statute, for circumstances in which, for one reason or another, families come apart, we should oppose a dirigiste attitude towards the nature of the family or the relationships within the family.

Therefore, while public education and political discussion, as called for in the motion, no doubt have a part to play, we on the Government side are certain that they should stop well short of gratuitous intervention—either by State action or by political rhetoric—in the private lives and spontaneous relationships of individuals. As the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) said, the law is a blunt instrument for dealing with human relationships—and so are any Government.

One of the biggest challenges that any Government must face—particularly in social policy—is the enormous variety of personal and domestic circumstances in which people live. The traditional nuclear family, with parents living together and providing a home for their children to grow up in and with the children, once adult, maintaining contact with their parents and helping them in old age, is of course the most frequent pattern of family relationships. The Government need to be sure that their policies do not damage that pattern and do where necessary give it support.

But it is by no means the only pattern of family life. Some people have never had families, or families capable of supporting them; some have lost touch with their relatives, or even been rejected by them; and in what is, I am happy to say, a tiny minority of cases, children even need protection from their parents. I have always found it remarkable, even before I came in to political life, that Britain is one of the few countries in the industrial world that needs a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I think that that is absolutely disgraceful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) talked about the different varieties of family problems. Government policy has to take account of all these different circumstances, and a great deal of social harm and individual suffering would result from too dogmatic and narrow an insistence that only one social pattern needed or deserved support through public policies.

That having been said, in our social policies there is already great emphasis on the need to support and, where necessary, strengthen natural family relationships. For example, a great deal of social work, in both the local authority and the voluntary sectors, is concerned with providing general social support to families, and, in particular, very often, with safeguarding and helping children and advising their parents on their care. Where the family relationship breaks down, or there is no family, it is often the role of the social services to try to provide a substitute. But such substitutes—which are part of the spectrum of services often known as community care—are never imposed where the family relationship is adequate. They are in no sense, therefore, a threat to the natural pattern of family life and it would in my view be quite wrong to try to paint a picture in which there is normal private family life on the one hand, and the work of the statutory and voluntary agencies on the other, and an implication that this work ought to be downgraded in priority, or seen as less important than other measures which are beneficial to families.

That would, I am sure, lead to considerable suffering, both for individuals and for families. Families would be deprived of the valuable, even essential, help that social workers can give them with their social and personal problems, and individuals—particularly, for example, the very old who have no families or whose families cannot or will not help them, the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, the disabled, and children at risk—would suffer severely.

In a sense, the problem is what is meant by "family". This has been the subject of a great deal of thinking by sociologists and psychologists and I do not wish to go into the sociological technicalities of the subject. But if one were to be guided by the resolution, one would need to know precisely what was intended.

I turn to the constant theme of the debate—the changing pattern of family life. I shall quote from a chapter in the Court Report which deals with that theme. It states that marriage is becoming more popular and is being undertaken younger, although the trend seems to have levelled off in recent years. Divorce, too, is getting more popular. There has been a long term upward trend in the divorce rate ever since civil divorce first became available in 1857. But up to 1940 the number each year never exceeded 10.000. After the second world war a much steeper upward trend began and the 1970 figure (58,000) was double that of 1960. Since the new legislation of 1970 there has been a further doubling of the annual rate: 120,000 divorces in 1975. Not only has the divorce rate risen steadily but there is also a growing tendency for husbands and wives to divorce at younger ages and after shorter durations of marriage. Marriages where the bride was under 20 are twice as likely to end in divorce as those where she was 20–24 years old. Yet the divorced frequently remarry very soon and there is an upsurge in this trend also. In 1965 11 per cent of marriages involved a divorced bride or groom—by 1972 it was 22 per cent. and in 1974 25 per cent. Yet though marriage is more popular and entered into younger there has been no consistent increase in the number of children. A general picture of declining annual births and earlier marriage reflects the way in which getting married and starting a family are no longer so closely connected as they were even a few years ago. Moreover, recent trends in births have, in particular, shown a fall in the number of births to married women who already have two or more children and in the number of first births—that is, a decline in the number of large families and a delay in the start of childbearing. Since two of the major causes of these trends—the changed social position of women and more satisfactory methods of family planning—are likely to be of continuing significance it may be assumed that these new patterns of family-building and life are likely to be with us for some time. Family planning and the consequent decline in family size result in women being involved in child-bearing for a much shorter period of time and, related to this, there has been a rapid increase, which is still continuing, in the numbers of women with young children who go out to work. In Britain the proportion of women with children under the age of five who are doing paid work outside the home increased by more than 70 per cent. during the 1960s. By 1971 nearly 600,000 mothers with young children (that is, children under five) were in paid employment. Of these, 30 per cent. worked more than 30 hours a week. This implies that more than a quarter of a million children under the age of five had mothers who worked full-time … all the indications are that we share with all other industrial countries a developing trend towards women beginning work when their children are under school age. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) may well wish to reverse some of these trends which are changing the traditional pattern of family life. Any Government must recognise the facts and take account of them. This does pose problems for us.

We do, however, place great emphasis, both through health and the personal social services, on the importance in the maternity services and the health and social care of very young children on the need to provide services which are adequate and in general terms of a suitable standard and which also take account of the emotional and psychological needs of mothers and young children which are crucial to the development of proper family life.

For children of one-parent families, or in families where both the parents are working, we have recently taken an important initiative, jointly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, by putting out a new circular letter to local authorities and health authorities about services for the under-fives. In 1933, there was only one place in a day nursery for every 1,000 in the age group. By 1976, 16 per 1,000 of the age group attended day nurseries. In 1932—the year in which I was born—one child in eight in the age group 3 to 5 attended nursery or elementary school. In 1976 one child in three of this age group attended school.

Despite this progress there is still gross under-provision. Demand is far ahead of supply. To some extent the gap is being filled by voluntary effort, particularly by play groups. Helping these organisations is the most economic way of using limited resources, and our circular had this objective. One of our purposes, frankly, is to set an example of co-operation at the national level. We ask the authorities to pay special attention to children with priority needs in inner city areas. I think that I refer to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry). We emphasise the need to link care, education and health services for this group.

Also, the joint circular describes a number of initiatives by individual authorities throughout the country which are combining and co-ordinating the services in different ways to meet different needs. It encourages local education authorities to support play groups with premises, equipment and materials and praises the co-operation that many school heads and staff are extending to play groups in their premises.

I turn to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central. For some years now child minders have been attracting increasing interest. Facts are not very easy to come by, but we know that many more children are looked after by registered child minders than in day nurseries and we suspect that many more perhaps a great many more, are left every day with unregistered minders. We know that many child minders provide excellent care. A small child may settle more happily into a minder's home than into a big day nursery. It is much easier for parents, particularly single parents, to make special arrangements with child minders about times for leaving children and collecting them, and sometimes the minding arrangements can continue into the school years—the child can go back to the child minder after school hours, and in school holidays, when there are no parents at home to look after him or her. Many authorities place children with child minders and a growing number provide training and support of various kinds. We are suggesting that minders should be linked with nursery schools, with the child health services and with voluntary services such as toy libraries.

Child minding is not, of course, without some risks, and it is a difficult area for the enforcement of the law. Moreover, the law itself is more concerned with hygiene and safety—important though these are—than with good child care. It will always be difficult to prevent unsuitable people from taking on the job. But my hope is that we are at last bringing this centuries-old practice into the open and that, as a result, we shall be able to see more clearly where the problems lie and to tackle them effectively with the help of the minders themselves. An OPCS study published recently made it clear that there is an enormous unsatisfied demand among parents for more daytime provision for the under-fives.

I turn now to the child health services generally. This is obviously a subject of crucial concern to all children and all families. As I have already mentioned, we have made considerable progress in improving education and social care provisions for young children since the 1930s. On top of this, housing conditions are radically better than they were 30 years ago. Indeed, half our schools and nearly half our houses have been built since the war. On top of this, we have not only introduced the National Health Service—when I say "we", I refer to Governments generally—but real expenditure on health has more than doubled since the first full year of its operation.

What has all this done for the health of children? In some areas there have been dramatic health gains. In the early 1930s, on average, 2,800 children each year died from diphtheria. Between 1970 and 1974 only one child died from this cause. Even in the case of pneumonia and bronchitis the position has been transformed. These killed an average 5,600 children a year in the early 1930s. Now fewer than 500 a year die from these diseases.

Mr. Carter-Jones

If we are talking about immunisation, is my hon. Friend aware of the fact that the incidence of poliomyelitis is increasing? Perhaps he ought to be looking at immunisation in this field.

Mr. Deakins

My hon. Friend will be well aware, from debates elsewhere and from Questions and discussions in Parliament and outside, that we are worried about some of the parental trends in regard to immunisation. We are now mounting a positive campaign, which, I hope, will do something to restore the balance.

To conclude this part of my speech on child health, let me say that as a result of the dramatic fall in the incidence of infectious disease, handicap and chronic illness are now the only really major problems of child health. It is on the prevention of these problems—the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones)—that major preventive effort should now be directed. Here we need a combined strategy covering education, housing, employment—indeed, the whole range of our social programmes. But our efforts need to be directed to where the need is greatest.

Here I turn to the problem which should cause us the greatest concern of all. Despite some 30 years of what is loosely called the "Welfare State", with its markedly better and constantly improving provisions to help the poor, there has been no narrowing in social class differences in key health indicators. This is what struck us most forcefully when we read the penetrating analysis of the current problems of child health in the Court Report.

The steps we are taking in response to the recommendations were dealt with at considerable length by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Eleanor Rathbone lecture. He said that we need a much more concerted effort to improve the health of our children, particularly those at greatest risk. The central recommendation of the Court Committee was that the various health services for children should be welded into an integrated child health service. The Government accept this important recommendation. Where we are not in agreement with the Court Committee is on the elements that should make up the new pattern of services.

I am asking health authorities to examine each component part of their child health services—primary care, com- munity services and specialist services—to see how best to produce the integration of services to which the Court Committee rightly attached such importance, but in this area, as in so many others, the health services must work in unison with the local authority services which reach out to children and their families.

Special effort by all these services is needed to find those families who most need help and are least likely to seek it out. We already have in draft a document on prevention in the child health services which includes examples of methods that can be used to reach all children, particularly those in greatest need.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I am sorry to intervene again, but, as I said in my speech, there is a lot of paper flying around, and we want to know what the Minister is going to do about differences in perinatal deaths and handicaps between areas.

Mr. Deakins

My hon. Friend will be aware that when Parliament reorganised the NHS in 1973—we were both in the House at that time—it decided that the service should be operated mainly by health authorities and not by Ministers. We all have our own views on what would be the ideal organisation and the Royal Commission may be making its own recommendations. We can give guidance and advice to health authorities to ensure that standards do not fall below the level that Parliament and those who pay for the services have a right to expect. That is the policy of this Government and I hope that it would be the policy of any Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles referred to the lack of take-up of antenatal and child health services. The most important failing of our present child health services is that the children who need them most use them least. To make an integrated service really effective, we shall need to do all we can to strengthen professional training so that a uniformly high standard of service is provided.

However, I must tell the House that one can provide all the services in the world, but if people do not use them, one must look to other means beyond the Department to see how we can educate parents.

Another vital subject touched on in the debate was the preparation for parenthood. I think that we would all accept that the quality of parental care has a vitally important influence, not only on a child's physical growth and health, but on his or her social, emotional and intellectual development. As a society, we must therefore do our best to ensure that young people are adequately prepared for the often difficult and demanding task of parenthood and are helped to carry it out as effectively as possible. This has been stressed in several recently published reports, for example the Court Report, the latest instalment of the Cambridge delinquency study and the report of the Select Committee on Violence in the Family.

A great deal is already being achieved by the educational services, the health authorities, social services departments and voluntary organisations, sometimes working in isolation, sometimes—and this is particularly encouraging—as part of a co-ordinated approach.

In education, broadly based courses concerned with health education, including sex education and moral attitudes, child care and child development courses and courses concentrating on the practicalities of setting up and running a home form part of the curriculum in many schools. A similar range of courses aimed at preparation for adult responsibilities and relationships are provided in further and adult education establishments. Educational broadcasting is also making a contribution.

Advice and help from the health and social services is provided mainly in the ante-natal and post-natal period and while the children are very young. Parent-craft classes are held at most ante-natal clinics. Increasingly these now seek to involve fathers as well as mothers and include the emotional and social as well as the physical aspects of pregnancy and child care. In the post-natal period health visitors play a particularly important part. Play groups and clubs for mother and toddlers, often organised by the mothers themselves on a self-help basis with encouragement and support from the statutory services, and in some areas voluntary home visiting schemes for parents with pre-school age children, are all helping in the development of parental skills.

What more can be done at this stage is less certain, but although there has been growing interest in the subject, we still lack any agreed body of knowledge about preparation for parenthood. It is not clear how far or by what means the general standards of parental care can be improved. Several research projects have been commissioned by my Department and the Schools Council which may help to shed more light on the problem, and further studies will be considered. Meanwhile, my Department and the Department of Education and Science are considering joint initiatives. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South spoke movingly and eloquently of parental responsibility. There are widely differing attitudes among parents. There is a great deal of ignorance about developmental needs among young people in particular.

Perhaps I may relate an instance from my own constituency. When I visited a primary school several years ago, I was told by a teacher that one child in her class for several months had been falling asleep in the afternoons. She called the mother in and asked her if the child was getting enough sleep. She said that he was. But this went on for several more weeks, so the teacher again called the mother in and asked what time the child went to bed. The reply was "He goes to bed the same time as the rest of us—about 11 or 12 o'clock." This was a seven-year-old child.

There is a great deal of ignorance, and the question is how we dispel it. We also need a great deal more parental involvement in the education of their children—that has been one of the themes of the debate. I came from a very poor, working-class family. My parents gave priority to the importance of homework, even at the cost of sacrificing a great part of their own private life. Because we were in a fairly small house, there was not sufficient room—and that is one of the problems. This is all that I have time to say about housing, but when we are thinking about the developmental needs of children we have to remember that many homes do not have sufficient space in which the children can have a room to themselves—very important indeed—to study and do their homework. To have to do homework with television blaring is not the best way of making progress.

On education generally, I agree with the comments of Professor Bernstein, one of our best post-war sociologists, that whatever education can do—and it can do a great deal to help the developmental needs of children and in keeping together families and family life—what it cannot do is compensate for society, and we must always look to see whether there are institutions that, to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), subvert family life. I am not casting any aspersions in the debate on any institutions, but nevertheless one has to bear that in mind when considering the developmental needs of children.

I turn now to the subject that we have been discussing very much—the issue of research. Here we are in an area, I suggest, where we need, as in many other areas, much more knowledge and information. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West emphasised this point.

We have encouraged thinking and research which we hope will encourage thought among the public at large, and also in the caring professions, about the difficult but very important subjects of the role of parents in their relationship to children in the light of modern social and economic trends. It is a cliché that the wider employment opportunities open to women, including married women with children, and the pressure for women to have economically active and independent lives, may have important implications for family care.

These are not matters which any prudent commentator—let alone a Government—would wish to be dogmatic about. But it is obviously important that parents themselves, professionals active in the field of social care, and all who have some responsibility for policies in the social field should think carefully about these changes of attitude and how to ensure that children's needs for a stable and secure family environment are met in spite of them.

My Department has therefore encouraged and supported a good deal of research and review work on these questions. For example, we have commissioned work from a number of people eminent in the field—such as Dr. Kellmer Pringle's book on "The Needs of Children" and a major literature survey by Robert and Rhona Rapoport and Ziona Strelitz which was published last year as "Fathers, Mothers and Others". This is a full and extremely interesting review of thinking on the role of the family in modern society. I commend this to hon. Members who have an interest in the subject.

We shall be following this up to see whether there are points which emerge from it which can be commended for consideration in the caring services. Indeed, only a few weeks ago, the Department held an informal seminar of a number of Government Departments and researchers with interests in the field to see how matters should be taken forward.

I shall quote briefly a summary of the Rapoports' book, which states: Seven issues are proposed to serve as starting points for research and the consideration of social policy:

  1. a. Sharing of parenting within the family. More research is called for on the potentials and drawbacks of different patterns of domestic division of labour; on the satisfactions for fathers of an increased share of parenting; and on the impediments and implications for the mother and parental losses and gains.
  2. b. Broadening the concept of parenting to include supplementary figures. Further research is required on child care arrangements employing children, kin, neighbours, professional helpers and friends in the parenting process. There are likely to be both drawbacks and advantages of opening families to greater participation of others in parenting.
  3. c. Alternative parenting arrangements outside the home. What are the experiences, advantages and drawbacks of such alternative parenting arrangements as communes, intimate networks and informal fostering?
  4. d. Gender identity. What problems and advantages arise in adopting a more flexible conception of tasks appropriate for members of each gender? Who benefits and who suffers from new definitions of parenting, and in what ways?
  5. e. The management of separations and attachments. With the likelihood that looser and more flexible parenting arrangements will become increasingly prevalent, the issue is how to manage them most constructively rather than how to prevent them from occurring.
  6. f. Parental values. In what ways are conflicting values resolved and reconciled within families and between families and external institutions, for example as to how children are to be trained and disciplined, what work and leisure arrangements will be compatible with family life.
  7. g. Information for parenting. With increased education, knowledge and awareness of parental issues, parents will be more than ever involved 917 in assessing information available to them. More knowledge is required on what parents find useful and how they reconcile conflicting information and advice."
The interest in these subjects goes well beyond the Government and the academic world.

I turn now to the question of cash support for children and families. I have been very keen to establish this within the Department. There is a basic difference between having income at work and being out of work, for whatever reason, and living on social security benefits, whether contributory or not. Income at work does not, and by its nature cannot, take account of family responsibilities. A wage is paid for work done.

One needs to think only for a moment to realise that if it had to take account of family responsibilities, it would give priority, when employers were seeking staff, to single people, since the employer would have to pay far more to a married person with several children. One does not disagree with that. But in the Welfare State we cannot pay the single person on social security the same as the married person with four or five children. We have to take account of family needs and responsibilities, and rightly so.

This raises the question of family support to people in and out of work. Before the Second World War, there was little recognition by Government of the extra costs generated for families with dependent children. In the case of families not at work, additions to benefits were paid for dependent children to the unemployed, war pensioners and widows, but not to the sick, unless they sought help under the Poor Law. School meals were provided by only about half the local authorities.

The family allowances scheme introduced in 1945 was no doubt a significant advance in its day, but it is now obviously inadequate. That is why we are changing over to a new structure of provision for children which meets modern needs—child benefit.

Here I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) about income redistribution. He may well say that child benefit does not go nearly far enough, but it is an important first step on the way to a proper redistribution of income, both in and out of work, between those with family responsibilities and those without.

Child benefits are, as the House well knows, replacing the tax allowance as well as family allowances, and they go to every child in the family, including the first. When child benefit is increased to £2.30 this April we shall have put firmly into reverse the decline in general family support over the years. This will mean £300 million extra for family support.

The total cost of child benefit and of what will remain of child tax allowances is estimated at over £2 billion for the year 1978–79. When the scheme is fully introduced in April 1979 it will give the same benefit for every child up to the age of 11 at every level of income, whether the parent pays income tax or not. This will go a considerable way to strengthening financial incentives for those not at work to take a job. The whole scheme is to bring extra help to families on low pay.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

When the Minister talks about April's increase reversing the trend over the years, we ought to be clear that he is talking about the last six years rather than the high point in 1955, or perhaps the level of 1946.

Mr. Deakins

I do not have time to go into too much detail, but I shall comment on the article in The Times by Mr. Frank Field and I have information which may be of interest and, I hope, of value. In comparing the value of family support now compared with earlier years we should not overlook the significance of the change in the pattern of family support. By moving from a direct system of child tax allowances and child benefit to a unitary system we have introduced much fairer support for families. Equal cash help is given to families of the same size, but proportionally this is of greater value to lower-paid families. Equivalent help goes to families with only one dependent child where previously such families were helped only through the taxation system.

There has been a reduction of the standard of living in recent years, but it is not correct to say, as the article does, that these cuts have been concentrated overwhelmingly on families with children. I do not want to burden the House with large numbers of figures, but I can best illustrate my case with up-to-date figures that have not yet been published. The real disposable household incomes of a single person, a married couple, and a married couple with two children on average earnings at the end of the last quarter of 1973 compared with a base line of 100 in the first quarter of 1970 were 111.6, 109.8 and 108.3 respectively. At the end of the last quarter of 1977 the provisional equivalent figures were 102, 102.9 and 101.9.

In other words, the decline since the beginning of 1974 was broadly comparable for each category and was marginally less for the married couple with two children. But I take the point made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West that the further back one goes the more one has to take account of the value of tax and family allowances at the time, and it is basically a question where one starts when comparing the present with the past.

We have to look to the future of child benefit in particular, but also to other ways in which we help families. The main social security programmes give additional help to the poor families and those whose earnings have been interrupted or have ceased. In comparison with child benefits these are selective programmes and I am sure we have been right, when there are so many competing claims on resources, to give priority to family support in this area. But there is one price that we pay for this priority.

The more we add to family support for those not at work, the more we weaken the incentive to work. Indeed, it is precisely in families where there are many children that the relatively few cases are to be found where a family would be better off trying to settle down on benefit than looking for work. I must stress how small a proportion of all families with children could find themselves in this position; it is only about 2 per cent. It is no answer to cut children's benefit rates in these cases. Our aim is to improve the child benefit rate and pay as much as we can of the children's benefits to parents whether they are at work or not. But this is very expensive. A pound on the weekly child benefit rate costs about £600 million. After allowing for the transfer of remaining tax allowances to child benefit, raising the benefit to the rate paid for chil- dren of the short-term sick or unemployed would cost about £900 million. If we were to go from £2.30 this April to £4.50 it would cost £1,280 million.

I have never suggested that this should not be a top priority, and in my Department it is. I do not want to be partisan on the matter, particularly towards the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, and I say that because of the widespread demand by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches for tax cuts. The point is that child benefit, although offsetting the tax allowances and so on, counts as public expenditure, while tax cuts do not. This is a matter that we have debated previously. I know the views of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon that I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor his suggestions for improving tax allowances for families.

Until we contemplate expenditure of that size, the whole complex of means-tested benefits which particularly help those at work—family income supplement, housing benefits, free school meals and free welfare foods—are doing an essential job in providing help for families headed by those in low-paid work.

I turn very briefly to deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles relating to the disabled. He will be aware that we have identified the plight of the disabled as one of our top priorities and that we recognised that from the start by appointing the world's first Minister with responsibility for the disabled. In the four years that he has been in office he has been consolidating and building upon all the provisions that were already available from the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. He has also taken new initiatives where gaps have been identified. It is worth while putting this on the record when we are debating family poverty.

The attendance allowance is now paid to about 300,000 people including 40,000 children. The mobility allowance, when it is fully phased in, will help 100,000 disabled people, unable to walk, who previously received no help at all. The introduction of the non-contributory invalidity pension and invalid care allowance has provided a source of income for many people who were previously wholly reliant on means-tested benefits. The extension of NCIP to married women provides extra income to tens of thousands of families where the wife is severely disabled. My hon. Friend may disagree that, as a non-contributory counterpart of the contributory invalidity benefit, NCIP is in fact an "income maintenance" benefit. It has always been a feature of our comprehensive and interlocking social security system that the same need is met only once out of public funds. Therefore, the NCIP cannot be paid at the same time as other "maintenance" benefits, such as retirement pension, or dependency increase of a husband's national insurance benefit.

During the passage of the Social Security Benefits Bill an amendment was tabled to allow the NCIP to be disregarded for supplementary benefit purposes. The Government's aim is to reduce reliance on means-tested benefits. If the disregard was allowed every time a non-means-tested benefit was introduced, we should never reduce the number of people who are dependent upon supplementary benefit. It would be totally inconsistent with the treatment of other "maintenance" benefits to allow a disregard in this case.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I do not know how long I shall have to pursue this matter, but I shall not give in. I warn my hon. Friend that if he cannot grasp that the NCIP for the disabled housewife is necessary because disabled housewives need additional benefits owing to their inability to care for their families, how on earth can I get this fact through to people outside? What he has said is all gobbledegook. The disabled housewife who cannot cope needs extra money.

Mr. Deakins

She is getting extra money and she is getting the benefit in her own right. If she has a husband who is getting the dependency increase for her, she will lose the dependency increase. In the long term she will be better off, because she will always have a benefit, whereas he would receive the dependency increase only in the period during which he is receiving social security benefit.

I have gone into some of the policies in some detail because they lie at the heart of the support that the Government give to families. There are, of course, a large number of other fields in which the Government's and other forms of other public sector support are available, but I shall not dwell on these because they did not figure largely in the debate.

I hope that it will be clear from what I have said that the Government are giving an enormous amount of support through social security and other cash payments, through the caring services of health and social work, by encouraging research, thinking and public debate on the changing role and parents in society, and by suitable action in such fields as housing and education.

I am sure that the new joint committee for children, following the Court Committee's recommendation, will make an important contribution to the welfare of children and hence to the general welfare of families.

Turning again to the terms of the motion, I have some observations to make and a number of questions to raise. I am all in favour of public education and political discussion of these vital issues, but it is important to remember that we must avoid politicisation of family life. We must avoid appearing to try to dictate to parents their role and how they should bring up their children.

If by public education the hon. Member for Woolwich, West means formal or compulsory instruction to all in parenthood and family relationships, I would advise him to be very cautious. But I do not think that he means that.

In his concluding remarks he mentioned the need for three new structures. We are a little cautious about creating new structures, particularly when the whole bureaucracy is under attack. As for organising the family at community level and spreading around best practice, there is nothing in what the Government are doing to prevent that. I am sure that in some districts this is happening, with the voluntary bodies coming together. We would do nothing to discourage that. Indeed, we would do all we can to encourage it.

Bringing national voluntary organisations together is rather more difficult. I am not sure that it is necessarily a task for the Government. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was seeking to imply that. We are very much in favour of pressure groups. My Department probably subsidises more pressure groups than the rest of the Government put together. We are delighted whenever we are told that we are not doing enough and are criticised, because we want to make sure that this important Department in which I work, and which the House will appreciate is one of the most important in Government, is kept on its toes through this form of valid, effective and well-researched outside criticism.

The hon. Member for Woolwich. West referred to Government support for a policy review. On the proposal for an annual family policy review, I should like to know in considerably more detail what is intended before deciding whether a new piece of machinery on these lines would be desirable. Perhaps the hon. Member could give some further consideration to this and write to me, or perhaps we can have a meeting in due course.

It is easy for Governments to set up eye-catching but often cumbersome pieces of machinery which are essentially paper exercises. I have noted the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles about the amount of paper that we have already circulated. We would need to be fully convinced that anything of the kind proposed would be a valuable addition to the material on which social and political policy decisions are made. We would also need to be absolutely sure that in setting up any new piece of machinery "the family" was not defined in too narrow a sense.

I have already referred to the fact that many of our social services are concerned to provide help to children or adults who do not have families in the strict and traditional sense of the word, or who are not in a helpful relationship with the families that they do have. If any initiative of the kind we are debating were to exclude these people, I fear that there would be a distortion of priorities away from those who most need help.

I look forward to reading with interest the report of the hon. Gentleman's working party on family policy. This debate is part of a continuing debate—one which can never end—on the family and what the Government ought to be doing to foster it. The debate has been valuable and I hope that in the light of my comments the hon. Gentleman will not seek to press his motion.

3.39 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

By leave of the House, I should like to reply. I am grateful to my colleagues and to the Minister for the way in which this debate has gone. Almost without exception, hon. Members have kept to a positive level and, although there were many points about which we would disagree, the general tone of the debate has been helpful. To pick up a phrase of the Minister, perhaps family policy has now come out into the open.

In seeking to answer some of the questions which have been raised, may I say that I would define "family" as the group of people who fulfil family functions, and I would leave it at that. I do not want to go into the "Kellogg Crispie" image of two parents and two children. I want to recognise family functions in general, taking the family from the child-rearing stage, through the child's education and adulthood, with the parents going on to old age. The family is not a static group but a developing one which has different functions at different times.

I should like to discover whether we can define the social wage not as part of the public expenditure but as part of people's resources which are transferred resources—transferred from one part of their working life to a time when they are not at work. We accent this concept in paying forward for retirement but have not yet accepted it as a way of paying back for what we had in our childhood, for the indirect benefits of education and so on.

We have been talking about the support of families and children. Many parents are repaid by their children when they go out to work. This is not a static transfer from the childless to those with children. It is a lifetime of distribution for each person. We benefit before we go to work, pay back when we are at work and pay forward for retirement, when we are not economically active. I hope that in time there will be bipartisan agreement, and that some expression will come of it, that these benefits are transfer payments and are not to be considered in the same way as other parts of public expenditure.

The crucial aspects of family policy are policies to strengthen the family and everyday social policies. I am glad that the Minister has paid tribute to the work of the social services. Although we in Britain have had to say in the past that we do not have a family policy, if we examine the publicity cards issued, for instance, by the Greenwich social services department—my local department—and the areas that it covers, we find that it deals with many problems which mean that the family cannot function because of shortage of cash or a shortage of ability. I am looking for a positive family policy that will ensure that more people are able to cope more effectively.

It is necessary to consider why so little is heard from families themselves. They do not speak loudly and directly through political parties or trade unions because most parents have an evening job which precludes attendance at evening meetings. That job is looking after their children. It has to be accepted that politics, by its very nature, is likely to exclude those who have to look after their children. We who enter politics and who have children at home are probably neglecting our children more than we should.

Another reason for families not speaking loudly and directly was uncovered by the Child Poverty Action Group as a result of the research which was done by my wife a few years ago into low-income families. I refer to families with incomes below supplementary benefit level. Research revealed that those families did not consider that their incomes made them worse off than others and that they would regard it as selfish to make a fuss. That gives us greater responsibility to do the work for them. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer opens his Budget, I hope he will show that he has paid attention to the debate and all the efforts that have been made in the past.

In this place there are Members who are distinguished in many respects. There are, for example, lawyers, trade union officers, teachers, managers, experienced local councillors and graduates of party research departments. It is unfortunate that we have very few experienced campaigners for the family. We have missed out on those who have had as much success as Eleanor Rathbone.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.