HC Deb 19 July 1993 vol 229 cc3-5
2. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received about the cost to public funds of supporting single-family families in Wales: and if he will make a statement.

8. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the number of lone parents in Wales.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)

I have had several hundred letters and messages, overwhelmingly in support of what I said—especially about teenage pregnancies.

Mr. Thurnham

I congratulate my right hon. Friend. Has he seen the memorandum addressed to him on page 12 of today's edition of The Times? Does he agree that grandparents are not without some responsibility for the children of teenage single parents, as is the case in the United States, Italy, Germany and, I understand, France? Will he ask the Child Support Agency to extend its interest to include grandparents as well as parents?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. I hope that all hon. Members will agree that, wherever possible, all members of the family should help if a young lady is pregnant and in need of support from parents or others. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is reviewing the matter and I am sure that he, too, will look carefully at what my hon. Friend said today.

I hope that the Labour Members will take this opportunity to put it on record that they, too, would like to do something about teenage pregnancies—and especially for schoolgirls—and echo my comments that, wherever possible, we should encourage people to settle down and gain a little more experience before having babies.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. As I understand it, Question 2 is linked with Question 8. Is that correct? The Secretary of State did not announce that that was the case.

Mr. Redwood

If you would like me to do so, Madam Speaker, I should be happy to link the two questions.

Madam Speaker

I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's Department that the two questions are linked.

Mrs. Gorman

My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I have taken the trouble to read the remarks from his recent speech in Wales which have been so widely reported. Does he accept that I entirely agree with the gist of his remarks, which was that the fathers of such children should be made responsible for them? Does he agree, however, that less than 15 per cent. of single-parent families were single-parent families when the births were registered, and that most single mothers were cohabiting when the children were born or they are widowed or divorced women who are bringing up children on their own?

Does my right hon. Friend further agree that we should reform the provisions of the welfare state that allow fathers to walk away from their responsibilities, rather than create a witch hunt surrounding young women who are made pregnant by young men with no sense of responsibility for what they are doing?

Mr. Redwood

I agree with my hon. Friend that the intention of Government policy is to pursue the fathers where possible and to ask them to make a contribution. We think that they should make a financial contribution. We should like them to make other kinds of contributions to family life, but that will not always be possible. My hon. Friend asked how many single parents there were in Wales. The answer is 68,000, and I confirm that not all of them are the teenage parents on whom my hon. Friend and I primarily concentrated our remarks.

Mr. Hanson

Does the Secretary of State accept that his comments on single mothers have caused great offence throughout Wales and that, on reflection, he would have done better to spend his time in Cardiff talking about other matters? Will he take it from me that single mothers especially are often the victims of the effects of 14 years of Tory Government—homelessness, unemployment, poor quality of life and poverty? It would be far better if the right hon. Gentleman targeted the issues rather than single mothers.

Mr. Redwood

If the hon. Gentleman does not understand the connection between the points that I am making and the problems in which he claims to be interested, he ought to go back to the drawing board. His remarks are not surprising, coming as they do from a member of the nowhere party. Labour Members do not know what their view is on anything; they do not seem to have a view on single parenthood and what should be done to encourage people to have children in wedlock, after stable relationships have been formed. That is an important contribution to the social debate, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will soon learn why it is important.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The Secretary of State did, indeed, address a serious problem; clearly, resentment exists on estates about alleged queue jumping. But, on more mature reflection, does not he think that he might have shown a little more compassion in his speech? If he wants to crusade, should not he crusade against the conditions and the environment on many of our estates, rather than against people who are the victims of those conditions?

Mr. Redwood

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not know that I went to the estate in question to look at the conditions there. I promised people on the estate that if they came forward with sensible plans for improvement, I would view them with a kindly eye and see whether we could help. Of course I want to attack rotten conditions on housing estates; but I also want to open a bigger debate on social conditions generally, because it is not just the Government but people—grandparents, parents and the whole of society—who should contribute to improvements.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the views of the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) are not shared by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), who sadly is not present, and who welcomed the remarks made by my right hon. Friend? Does my right hon. Friend agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that there is resentment over social housing allocation policy? If we are to address that issue, we must consider the needs of single parents; but ultimately, we need more social housing. May I therefore direct my right hon. Friend's attention to that issue? I urge him to announce further housing for those who are socially disadvantaged and who will never be able to afford to become home owners. unlike so many people in Wales.

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am pleased to announce that 487 dwellings, which are currently empty and not being used in the public estate, are to be brought forward for rent and sale from the NHS estate. I hope that will be widely welcomed in the House.

My hon. Friend is right, as was the hon. Member for Swansea, East, in thinking that there are difficult issues of allocation for councils to consider, because we wish to encourage people to settle down in stable relationships and marriages before they have children.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Secretary of State now acknowledge that his attack on single mothers was ill-judged and vindictive? Does not he realise that 70 per cent. of single parents are widowed, separated or divorced? Is he aware that 90 per cent. of single parents want a job and that the problem is not just the lack of jobs but the pathetic inadequacy of the child care system? Can he explain why one in four health authority family planning clinics has been shut and the Government have refused to insist on sex education as part of the school curriculum? Why does not he use a bit of common sense instead of crude scapegoating?

Mr. Redwood

Once again, the nowhere party has not listened to what I have said and is not interested in the debate. I have always made it clear that when relationships have broken down, someone has died or a partnership has been forced apart, for reasons beyond the control of any individual, I am, of course, extremely sympathetic. That was not the issue that I was opening up in my speech. I was opening up the case of teenage pregnancies where there was no intention of the father playing a proper role in the family or trying to do so. I still wish to know whether the Labour party approves or disapproves of that.