HL Deb 02 May 1978 vol 391 cc15-122

3.8 p.m.

Baroness PHILLIPS rose to call attention to the steps taken by the Government in support of the family; and to move for Papers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I think that it is very appropriate that we begin our May session with what we might call a positive Motion. On this occasion I am sure that no noble Lord will contravene the Standing Orders by not calling attention to what is good about the Government. This is the opportunity for noble Lords who are members of the Opposition to say all the really good things that they have been dying to say for a long time. I am giving them a splendid opportunity!

May I say in passing that I was a little astonished to see some references to the fact that May Day was a new idea. Surely May Day is the oldest holiday that rural England has enjoyed, otherwise how did people dance round the maypole and indulge in other jollities? May is the beginning, the bursting of spring and the time when we begin to look back on a dreary winter and look forward to what is to come. That is the spirit in which I hope we shall approach this debate.

Your Lordships will be glad to know that I feel in a suitable frame of mind, having this morning made a broadcast on honesty and having just addressed a catholic women's luncheon on prayer, to say that the family is the next move in the chain of events. The changes and the various Acts of Parliament which have been passed by the Government were of such volume that I am bound to say that I was unable to enjoy my own family this weekend as I had to spend some time doing my homework. It seemed to me a slightly ironic touch, but they are still there.

This is a vast subject set against a backcloth which none of us likes to seethe backcloth of juvenile crime, unemployment, the breakdown of marriages and so on. However, having set it against this backcloth, the players—the perrfomers—are, as they always will be, the vast majority of our population, who are kind, hardworking, honest, good husbands and wives who love their children. That we must never forget. There are moments when one feels that one is constantly talking about those who fall by the wayside.

I referred—as I am sure many of your Lordships also did—to the previous debate on the family, which was opened by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in June 1976. In his very inspiring introduction to the Motion he said: If, then, the family must be regarded as the bulwark of a stable society, we should do well to do two things: first, we should ask what are the factors in our society which constitute a major menace to its continuing; and, secondly, we should ask what action is called for in the strengthening of family life".—[Official Report, 16/6/76; col. 1260.] I think that today we would prefer to look at the second question, as we constantly look at the first. Human beings have very basic needs, whatever their colour or whatever the land of their birth may be. They need love, and the support of the loyalty of a group. There has never been a better group unit than the family. This is true of whichever culture we have known throughout history or whichever culture appertains in various countries of the world.

No Government, even at their best, can be a substitute for this group. A Government should he called upon to provide only the support and back-up for maintaining the good family, while helping the family, or the individual members of it, who may need care and assistance. I think that we must examine how much Her Majesty's Government are doing to answer the question posed by the most reverend Primate. I noted that in that debate one noble Baroness referred to the suggestion that the State had taken over the rôle of the family provider. That is not true and can never be true; the State can never take over the rÔle of the family provider. At best the State can support, help and pick up the pieces. The State must seek to do all that will enable a family to remain as a unit, but it must assist individual members of the family where, for some reason or another, the unit falls apart.

The most reverend Primate referred specifically to housing, education and health. With such an impressive array of speakers, I shall not presume to attempt to cover all that the Government have done in these different areas. I shall merely select one or two, and hope that the rest will be filled in by future speakers. With two Government speakers as well, whom we know to have great compassion and concern for the family, I believe that we shall be given all the answers.

In his reference to housing, the most reverend Primate said that we saw the result of the kind of housing we are building—the high-rise blocks—in the separation of families. We all know that so often in life we cure one problem and create another. But it is good to know that in recent years—indeed, since our last debate—no more of those horrific high-rise blocks of flats have been built. Indeed, the trend, at the Government's suggestion, is totally in the other direction.

Of course, there are always special needs within housing. There is the one-parent family, particularly if one parent has died or if one partner has been deserted; there are the elderly and there are the disabled. All these people will need special housing. What have the Government done in this direction? First, I should like to refer your Lordships to the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, which had my particular affection and, indeed, certainly the affection of all noble Baronesses in the House; I am sure that although noble Lords did not figure in the debate quite so prominently, it also had their affection. That Act placed very clear responsibility on the local housing authority to secure accommodation for homeless families with dependent children, and couples where the wife is pregnant. Never again must it be necessary for families to walk the streets or for children to be taken into care merely because the parents are homeless. It is a very inspiring and remarkable Act.

On the matter of housing for the disabled I fear that my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton, who is not present this afternoon, will certainly say that we have not done enough; no one would suggest that enough has been done. I would be the first to encourage her and other noble Lords to continue to raise this question. However, I think noble Lords will recall that in 1975 the Minister launched a drive for mobility housing and for wheelchair housing. The housing subsidy system was adapted so that the housing subsidy of 66 percent. is payable by the Government towards the extra cost.

Your Lordships will recall that mobility housing—which was merely the adaption of houses that could be readapted if people, who were not disabled, returned to them—was first advocated in 1974. We see—and these are quite impressive figures—that in 1975 there were just over 700 adaptions, but that in 1977 that figure had risen to nearly 7,000. That is a record of which the Government can well be proud. In wheelchair housing there has been another move forward. It has improved "10 times". We often use that phrase when we refer to money; so why not quote in that way when we refer to a movement for those who are disabled?

On the matter of housing for the elderly, I received a letter—as many of your Lordships will have—from my old friend Hugh Faulkner of Help the Aged, in which he urged me to commend various things to the Government.I do not propose to commend things to the Government during this debate, but I shall slip in the reference that I hope he will continue, as he always has, to draw the attention of the Government and other authorities to what is needed for the elderly.

How have the Government helped in relation to the very thing which he wants? The housing of the elderly has always been something which different Ministers have examined in different ways, each trying to get the best out of a difficult situation. I suppose that ideally the elderly should live with the younger members of the family. But with the changing pattern of social conditions there has been a great movement of young people to the new towns and new estates, thus leaving elderly mothers and fathers on their own, and therefore creating a problem. Once I recall an Indian telling me that in India they have no problem with the elderly because they all live together. I thought that that was rather overrated and I am not sure whether we would all wish to share a small dwelling with our mother-in-law. However, no doubt it has advantages when people become elderly.

How have the Government helped? First, they have funded research to provide the local authorities with material on the particular point on which Help the Aged are keen; namely, the granny flat. We never seem to assume that there are any grandfathers living on their own, but there are. The granny flat is an attempt to bring the unit of the elderly into contact with the young couple, while at the same time preserving the independence of the elderly. This is a new move which has stemmed directly from some enlightened directives from the Government.

I turn to the White Paper entitled Policy for the Inner Cities. How better has the family been helped than by that? It is one of the most exciting White Papers to be issued by any Government. I am a city dweller and I have watched with sadness what has been happening to my London. I want to raise the matter of the partnerships with the authorities of certain cities; there are only seven. If it is asked why there are only seven, the answer is simple—because, if it is to achieve a real impact, the effort must be concentrated. There are others that are had, but these seven were selected as standing out to a marked degree. These projects in the inner cities are not only inspiring but practical, and they are on the move. This, again, is surely something for which we must be truly thankful.

In education, I again come first of all —and I rather selected the ones I myself felt strongly about—to the under-fives. I seem to recall that when a certain prominent lady, not in this House, was Minister of Education, we were promised that the under-fives would have priority, and to her great credit she did a great deal towards it. But, subsequently, I think that other Ministers who followed her in that particular Government were not so enthusiastic. Now, under the present Minister, we are seeing a great move forward for the three and four-year-olds to attend nursery schools and classes, and the number is increasing—not enough for somebody like me or, I suspect, for some of your Lordships, but nevertheless it is increasing. This is the only way we can set this against a situation where the money has to be very carefully thought about, and divided, and spaced out.

School meals are very important. Those of us who have taught know that many children would not have a main meal if it were not for the school meals. The rate support grant has been given to the school meal so that it can be maintained at the present rate. I am sure that this compassionate Government will see that that continues. Then, we remember the great debate on milk. If I may again refer to this very good lady, she was at one time described as the lady who took away the school milk. We have maintained the milk situation for the small children, and it is possible to have it for children in primary and in special schools. I mention this because the Government have been under some pressure to take this particular thing out. There was a suggestion that one could save here, and I am happy to say that the Government have resisted it.

In connection with the children, what about the increase in child benefit? I have worked with young mothers and know what this means to them. Contrary to the suggestion that they spend it on gin and cigarettes, I can assure your Lordships that they wait for it in order to buy clothing and other things for the children. The increase is giving great joy. The retirement pension has been increased; the earnings limit increased. I shall just slip in a question here, my Lords: can we one day get rid of this stupid earnings rule, which applies only to retirement pensioners? I suppose that we shall have to be satisfied with the fact that the level has been increased. The short term benefits have been increased.

I remember listening to the Minister telling us recently about all the different things that were happening. I thought that he was getting very little praise for these increases, and we know that he has had a great part in them. This is the sixth occasion, he said, on which we have increased pensions. Surely that is worth mentioning. The mobility allowances have been increased, and indeed all those allowances which come under the heading of the social services have been quite notably increased—again, against a climate of pressure to cut them back. This is the important point. It is easy to spend money if you have plenty of it. If you are having to husband the money you have, it is not so simple.

There is the Domestic Proceedings Bill, now sent by your Lordships to another place. This provides for an importance reform in the law, and it relates to the custody and maintenance of children. It will eliminate the unnecessary differences between legislation relating to matrimonial proceedings and that relating to guardianship. The Domestic Violence Act concerned the group—again in the family—of battered wives, of whom I have had a great deal of experience (not personally as a battered wife; probably my husband was the battered one!) in connection with some terribly tragic stories. This was an inspired Act which, you will remember, enabled the other spouse to be excluded from the matrimonial home without having to go through the ritual. Then there was the Children's Act 1975, which amended the adoption law so that those who actually love the children and care for them are now able to apply to adopt them. This was something that the women's organisations have been pressing for for a long time. Who has brought this in? The present Government.

I am not mentioning the National Health Service because I feel that perhaps there may be some criticism of certain things that are going on. I would only say that it was not this Government that set up the reorganisation. I am sure that we shall hear a great deal about the splendid work of the Health Service from others of your Lordships who will he speaking. The Government, as if they were a separate entity, are expected to have the answer to all problems.I sometimes feel that even criticism of the weather is levelled at the Government. During the last debate, there were references to divorces, deserted wives, and a general change in the marriage pattern. It is hardly fair to blame the Government for that, or indeed to assume that, before separation was simpler, all parties were held together for happiness and contentment. Even if we do not accept the Christian philosophy, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, The family is the natural and fundamental group-unit of society and it is entitles to protection".

St. Francis de Sales said: The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying not What a lovely sermon' but 'I will do something about it'. Dare I suggest to your Lordships that, following the right reverend Prelate's sermon, the Government did do something about it? I beg to move for Papers.

3.26 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for giving the House an opportunity to debate yet again this important topic, the family. That said, she will not be surprised if I do not accept all the arguments that she has put forward this afternoon. I am, however, not only glad but really touched that the Government should be supporting the family. It was my right honourable friend in another place, Mrs. Thatcher, who said not so long ago that "but for The Right Approach the Labour Party would have no policies at all ", and to have this debate here today on a topic debated at length at the Conservative Party Conference, and barely two months after the publication of a Conservative Research Department Paper on Family Policy, is touching indeed.

I speak on behalf of a Party that believes in the importance of the family, and in the need for the support of it. For at a time of increasing change the family stands at the centre of our society for four great principles: for stability, for continuity, for individual responsibility, and for self-help.

Furthermore, at a time when most jobs are, and always will be, repetitive the family becomes increasingly a living expression of human individuality and dignity. The desire to own a home, to "do it up" oneself, to have a garden or an allotment, to go shopping as a family.to cook the meals that the family likes, are all expressions of this desire. At a time when institutions are often thought of as being too large and too remote, and frequently unresponsive to people's wishes, the family can withdraw to all its members for encouragement, comfort and strength at a moment of crisis. And by helping itself the family that cares for all its members is able to help others in the wider network of the community. We need always to encourage the family: to encourage the family to help itself, and to encourage it as a counterbalance to the ever-increasing power of the State and as a real devolution of power to the individual. The country needs the family and cannot afford the cost of doing without it.

It seems to me that one of the most dangerous trends of the times in which we live has been the endless knocking at the fabric of society, and the family has come in for its fair share as well. No family, because it is human, is perfect; but there is no real substitute for the family, and those that enjoy a happy family life are blessed indeed. It is surely better to put before the young the ideal for which they should aim and for which they should work, rather than to offer only a very drab second best which so much of trendy, modern thought seems to put in front of them.

But the role that I have described for the family does not always fit in well, if I may say so with all respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, with all the ideals that this Government have put before us: the very high levels of taxation for everyone; the increased State control and State interference in our lives: and housing policies that have made life exceptionally difficult for young couples at the start of their married life. After all, for young people today, with the ever-shrinking private rented market, there is only a choice between being a council house tenant and an owner-occupier; and I can assure the noble Baroness and those who believe I am exaggerating the problem, that the one topic of conversation among young people is where they are going to live. They cannot get into a council house and they cannot afford to buy. It is a serious matter indeed, and it is one that deserves most serious study. There must, of course, always be a safety net below which no one should be allowed to fall, but I believe that our policy should be designed to help the family—not just the individual member within the family, but the family as a whole.

On looking at that matter, I should like to look at four policies to see how they have affected the family. The first one to which I should like to refer is that of tax and child benefits, for what matters to most families is how much money they actually have to spend. As the background to this let me give one statistic: when family allowances, as they were then called, were first introduced in 1946, the child allowance available for the second child was 25p per week; the old age pension for the single person was 50p per week. Today the same figures are £2.30 for the first and the second child, and £17.50 for the single pensioner. It will be seen therefore that the rate of family allowance or child benefit has not increased at anything like the rate of the pensions.

In the intervening years since 1946 families as a whole have not done well, and, despite the increase in the child benefit in the last Budget, families with children are still worse off under this Government than they were under the last Conservative Government. Between 1970–71 and 1973–74 the weekly net income on average earnings of a family man with two children rose by £6 per week in real value. Between 1973–74 and 1977–78 the weekly net income of the same family man with two children fell by £5.70 per week. The Treasury Tables published on 11th April in reply to a Question for Written Answer show that, as a result of the last Budget, a family man with two children under 11, and earning £80 per week, will be £2.24 per week better off. It will therefore be seen that he is still not as well off as he would have been in 1973–74 and that his real income has fallen. Of course it is true that he will get an increased child benefit in November 1978. This benefit will be 70p per week per child on five-twelfths of the year, so the net gain will be 60p per week over a full year for two children. At today's prices this will buy two large loaves of bread a week. This is certainly better than no bread—I am not saying it is not—but it is a measure of how much money is needed and how expensive it is to live.

Furthermore, according to the Low Pay Unit, as reported in The Times on 17th April, the effect of the Budget will be to actually aggravate the poverty trap, and the complexity of lowering the threshold as well as taking some people out of the tax will also mean that they will lose other social security benefits. The net result is that more people may find themselves in the poverty trap; more people when they have children may find themselves in this frightful dilemma as to whether they will be better off in work or out of it. If there is one thing that is bad for a family it is surely that the man of the family should have this choice before him, because it is surely better that he should be working than that he should be supported by the State.

Nor indeed has the Budget given any help to the wife in the very difficult decision that she has to take as to whether or not to work. The tax system still gives a tax incentive for wives to work, and they do this at times when the wife has small children and at a time when there are not facilities all over the country to help mothers who wish to do so. It is not my intention to comment on the issue of whether or not wives with small children should work. That, I believe, is a decision for the wife and the husband, and certainly not one for me or, I believe, for politicians to make. The merits should not be decided by the tax system either. The tax system should surely be neutral in this respect and should help neither the wife who goes out to work nor the wife who stays at home. It seems to me quite absurd that in the tax system we have this anomaly whereby it is better for a wife with young children to work, and that she is financially better off; and at a time when she has her first child and has to give up her job and face extra responsibilities, there is every tax incentive for her to go back to work and not for her to stay at home. This seems to me in principle to be wrong and is something which I believe ought to be looked at.

Almost every policy, when one comes to look at it, affects the family. There are three spheres particularly. Nothing is more demoralising for the family than for one of its members to be unemployed. Not only is there the loss of earnings but there is the depression of being neither wanted nor needed by society. Not only does the unemployment figure today (in March 1978) stand at 1,340,000, but it has not been less than 1 million since April 1975. What is even more depressing is that the Government actually have been instructed, as I understand it, and I quote from Cmnd. 7036— to assume for the purposes of illustration that the number of unemployed, excluding school-leavers, will average 1,370,000 in 1977–78 and 1,470,000 in 1978–79. There is therefore no expected early relief in sight, and indeed the Government actually also assumes that unemployed school-leavers, adult students and those whose employment has temporarily stopped will rise over the same period by 20,000 to 180,000 in 1978–79 ". I am sure we are all deeply disturbed by these figures and, speaking entirely on my own behalf, I should therefore like to make one suggestion about unemployment. There exist a large number of small firms, and if all of them took on one unemployed person it would make a very great difference to the figure of those who are unemployed. From talking to a number of people in that position I am led to believe that one of the things which prevents them from taking on any additional person is the effect of the Employment Protection Act. I think this needs to be taken very seriously by the Government. The situation is made very difficult because after six months, no matter what the circumstances of the person or of the firm, almost any dismissal is deemed to be unfair dismissal. The effect of this situation, whatever may have been intended by the Government, is that everybody is very reluctant indeed to employ one extra person. I believe that this is having a very real effect on unemployment.

I would say to the Government that I believe the working of this Act would be worth considering very seriously, together with its effect, particularly on young people. It is so terrible if young people cannot get a first job. I offer that as something constructive which I believe is worth looking at. It is generally estimated that there exist about 800,000 small businesses, and if each one was prepared to take on one extra person it would certainly make a great difference to unemployment in this country.

The second great issue—and I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred to it—is the question of housing. I go absolutely with her in what she said about high-rise flats and the terrible effect they have had on family life. It is certainly a matter for rejoicing that no more high-rise flats are being built. I should like to make two comments on housing: first, I would reiterate my plea for young couples. It is so very difficult for young couples starting married life. I have heard of a number of cases where young couples have no alternative but to live with their parents, and I do not think that is the best way to begin married life.I think it is very difficult for them when they cannot possibly get a council house and they cannot afford to buy. I would ask the Government when they expect their housing review to be published. It has long been promised following upon their Green Paper. More flexibility in housing is needed and a real effort to bring back into use some of the empty houses, to the encouragement of the private rented sector, would give more flexibility.

I have a suggestion to make on the subject of enabling elderly relatives and families to live near one another. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, touched on the whole aspect of "granny annexes", which are valuable and much to be encouraged; but the other day one problem was brought home to me clearly when I was visiting Portsmouth. I met an elderly lady who was anxious to live near her daugther who lived in the North. She could not move there because the daughter was in a council house and she too was in a council fiat, quite adequately housed; the move could not be made because it is almost impossible to transfer from one housing authority to another. It is a completely static situation. I believe we should devise some way of having some kind of pool of houses to enable people to move, so that elderly relatives could live near younger ones. They could help with the younger children and the children could help their relatives. Often it is not so much a matter of wanting to live in the same house as wanting to live near one another which makes all the difference. At present this is almost an impossibility, and in my view it would be well worth looking into the present policy.

I should like to be able to say that I think the Homeless Persons Act will have the effect that Lady Phillips hoped it would. I feel certain that my noble friend Lord Elton will refer to this when he winds up, and at this point I would only say that I never feel that an Act of Parliament of that sort, which has no extra money to go with it to enable local authorities to build any more accommodation, is likely to have a great deal of effect. It may be a very good idea, but Lady Phillips will recall that when we had the long debates about this Act last summer, in the Financial Memorandum which went with the Act it was made quite clear that the Government were not giving any extra money for the provision of any other accommodation. The effect, of course, will be that some people currently on housing lists will not be housed in order that others may be. It is a kind of shuffling of the pack and it does not get to the root of the matter.

Education is the last point to which I wish to refer in relation to its effect on family life. I would say—I am sure this will not be a controversial statement—that everybody, every good parent, wants two things for his or her children, a happy home and a good education. All the evidence goes to show that where a home supports a child the child will do better in school than where it is not supported. I believe we need to encourage a much closer relationship between parents, teachers and schools. It begins almost by not allowing parents to go through the school gate when they go to collect their children, but it is much deeper and more important than that.

On the matter of truancy, I am certain that if only head teachers would talk to the parents whose children are truanting, if necessary visiting the parents in their own homes and not waiting for them to come to school, they might get to the root of some of the problems, and the effect on the child's education would be considerable. It would mean that all the adults who are in an influential position in its life would be speaking with one voice. As a generalisation which I think everybody would accept to be true, where the school and the home stand together the child does better and the child knows that everybody cares for it. I think that our educational policies and our social service policies should be designed, both at a national and a local level, to have much closer co-operation between home and school.

I have already indicated that I believe that a great deal of the troubles of our society today are due to the neglect of the family and frequently to the denigration of the family as an ideal. This is not the time to go into all the many social questions connected with the family, and I do not intend to comment on any of the matters connected with abortion or contraception, important as they are, because in my view they are largely matters for individual conscience. However, I welcome in advance the Protection of Children Bill that is to be debated in your Lordships' House on Friday. It will give protection from exploitation to a number of children and I am glad the Government are now giving support to that measure.

Many, like myself, will have had to go to the oculist to have their eyes tested. When they go to the oculist he puts on a pair of spectacles and adjusts the lenses until the focus is clear. I believe that as a society we should do just that and put on the lenses that focus on the family as a whole. That is why I believe that every piece of legislation should have with it a family impact statement saying how that legislation will affect the family, what will be the effects, for good or for bad. I am not a supporter of the idea of a Minister for the Family, because it seems to me that that would simply lead to more State intervention and bureaucracy. However, I believe that a family council that would exert continuous pressure on Governments would be valuable and could be set up now.

These proposals would bring us in line with much of European thinking and practice and would, I believe, be very much in line with what most people in this country want. Every survey that has been taken among young people indicates that they still wish to marry and have families. I believe that one of the great facts that came out of the Jubilee celebrations was the knowledge that we were looking at a very special family, doing a very special job very well. It is an ideal which I believe is still before us, and we should all work to see that we can maintain the family as the centre of our society.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords in all parts of the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for giving us the opportunity this afternoon to discuss the Government's record in the field of support for the family. In the course of her vigorous speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, made some bold claims for that record and I am certainly in favour of giving credit where credit is due. However, perhaps in regard to the Homeless Persons Act, to which she referred, some credit should be given to my honourable friend Mr. Stephen Ross who introduced that measure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred to six different increases in pensions. While those increases are welcome, we must bear in mind that there is now a statutory obligation on the Government each year to raise pensions in accordance with prices or earnings, whichever has risen the most. We can give the Government credit for having put that into the 1975 Act, but when they fulfil their statutory duties in subsequent years they cannot claim that credit all over again. They are now obliged to do it; it is the formula which has been chosen and it has much to commend it. But in some ways it might have been chosen because it suits the system of two-Party confrontation politics, of which we have so much in this country, because if prices rise more than earnings, the pension will increase as a percentage of national earnings, but if earnings rise more than prices, then there will be an increase in the real value of the pension. Thus, there is always something for the Government to claim as a credit and always something for the Opposition to complain about.

Talking about giving credit where credit is due, I would certainly give credit to the Government for the introduction of child benefit, although it was after many hesitations which we criticised strongly from these Benches.I would give them credit, too, for the introduction of the married woman's invalidity benefit, though that again followed postponement and some doubts. But even allowing for the positive things the Government have done and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred, I hope she will not mind when I say that my overall reaction to what she said was one of modified rapture because she seemed to paint the scene a little too brightly for it to he an accurate reflection of reality.

We all agree on the importance of the family; it is the unit around which the lives of the majority of the population revolve. Even though the divorce rate may rise, marriage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, remains a very popular institution, judging by the numbers who each year embark upon it. However, the nature of the family is changing. At one time, married life was a question of separate responsibilities. Nowadays it is more a question of shared responsibilities, and we live in a mobile society where there is greater dispersal. This disrupts the extended family and separates the generations; and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred to that.

Nevertheless, a recent survey carried out for Age Concern, revealed that, of those over 75 with surviving children, almost three-quarters saw one of those children at least once a week during the four-day survey, and one in six lived in the same dwelling as one of their children, and another two in six had a child living near. Help the Aged has expressed the opinion that the State does not give sufficient support to families caring for older relatives, and certainly one way in which this could be assisted would be to provide the invalid care allowance for married women. But there is a need for more day centres and day care hospitals, and a need for a greater provision of domiciliary services. We must bear in mind that the over-75s form an increasing proportion of the community.

It was stated to be part of the Government's strategy for the personal social services, as set out in The Way Forward, and the consultative document on priorities in the personal social services in England published the previous year, to regard the elderly as a priority group. The question I want to ask is whether that strategy is being maintained. In January, the officers of the Personal Social Services Council expressed some doubts about that. They said: We are prompted to ask how local authorities are to achieve the objective of maintaining standards of care in a situation where the number of very elderly people is increasing rapidly, the real level of residential provision and of hospital in-patient services is going down, the development of community hospitals is likely to be slower than previously envisaged, there is no compensating increase in the rates of growth proposed for the community health services, and the proposed increase in projected expenditure on the field and domiciliary services seems not to be happening". That was the view in the early part of this year of these people who have a direct interest in this particular field. Incidentally, the Government also identify the mentally handicapped as a priority group, and there appears to be a need for more sympathetic support for the parents of mentally ill and mentally handicapped children, so that they can bring up the child in a normal, family atmosphere in their own home.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, support for the family covers many aspects of Government policy. Education is one important area, and I know that my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley intends to refer to that, among other matters, in his speech later. I should like to concentrate for a minute on the financial position of families, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already made some reference. The Child Poverty Action Group has argued with much statistical evidence that the relative position of married couples with children, as against that of married couples with no children and of single people, has deteriorated in recent years. The Group pointed out that the tax threshold for a married couple has risen by over 68 per cent. over the four years up to the Budget, whereas it has risen by less than 51 per cent. for a two-child family. The Group has argued that inflation has a differential effect; the cost of necessities such as food and heating has increased faster than the general rise in prices. Households with children tend to spend a higher proportion of income on necessities, and this is even more true in the case of the poorest families.

There has been the failure, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, of successive Governments to raise family allowances. At last we have the child benefit scheme, and it gives us the opportunity to offset this imbalance. The noble Baroness referred to the extent of that imbalance and the very small additional disposable income with which people with families have to cope with their extra responsibilities. It was last summer when the Minister of Social Security pointed out that at that time a couple with two children, on average earnings of between £70 and £80 a week, were left, after tax and benefits, with only £5 per week more than a childless couple. So I welcome the increase in child benefit which took place last month, raising it to £2.30 for each child, which is to go up to £3 in November and to £4 next April. I give the Government credit for that.

I am glad, too, that the single-parent family's extra £1 for the first child will become £2 in November. Thus, in November the single-parent family will get, for the first child the child benefit of £3 plus £2 extra, making a total of £5. But the supplementary benefit for a child of five will be £4.40, and if the single parent is on supplementary benefit, he will not, as I understand it, get that extra 60p. Next April, when the total amount available would, in the ordinary course of events, be £6, he will not be allowed that extra £1.60. Yet, if the single parent—he or she—were on unemployment benefit, sickness benefit or maternity allowance, he could, where the rate is £4.85, get the extra 15p, and will, next April, be able to get the £1.15 extra. I wonder why that should be so? It seems unfair, on the face of it.

I should like to say just a few words about the effect of the 1978 Budget. The increase in child benefit will mean that the net disposable income of families is increased even after the loss of part of the income tax child allowance. The severity of the poverty trap will be reduced but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, more will be drawn into the poverty trap, and the Low Pay Unit has estimated that, last November, 78,000 families with children receiving family income supplement were then subject to a marginal tax rate of 90 per cent. for an extra £1 per week in earnings. This was made up of 34p income tax, 5.75p National Insurance contribution, and 50p loss in family income supplement, which comes to 89.75p, but those receiving rent rebates also lost part of them. So there is a marginal rate of tax for these people, right at the bottom of the scale, of 90 per cent.

As a result of the Budget, more will be drawn into the poverty trap, but its severity will be reduced; more will be drawn in because the tax threshold for families has been lowered. The higher personal tax allowance for a married man is not high enough to compensate for the withdrawal of child tax allowances. So some 86,000 families will be subject to a marginal tax rate of 80 per cent. and over for an extra £1 a week in earnings. That is made up of 25p—the new income tax rate on the reduced band; 6.5p—the increased rate of National Insurance contributions; and 50p for the loss of family income supplement. Again, those receiving rent rebates will alsc lose part of them.

That situation remains unsatisfactory. There is an appalling lack of incentive at that point and, in the long term, the solution must, I am convinced, be a tax credit system where the tax credits are sufficient to replace family income supplement. Such a scheme would inevitably be redistributory. A start has been made with child benefit, which has been paid for in part by the withdrawal of the child income tax allowances. Th. Government should now plan to begin converting the single person's and married couples' personal allowances into a personal benefit, which, like child benefit, would be a positive credit. Other National Insurance and supplementary benefits would be replaced, at least in part, by the same operation. A start would have been made in the process of simplifying our exceedingly complicated, though well-intentioned, welfare system; and in converting the personal tax allowances there would not be the same problem of transfer from the father's pay packet to the mother's purse, which has caused the Government to go slow over the conversion from child income tax allowance to child benefit.

May I say, in conclusion, just a word about the suggestion that there should be a Minister for the Family. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I am not convinced that this would help. It seems to me that it would be too diverse a remit. The interests of the family cover so many aspects of policy that the Minister, I should have thought, would not have any executive responsibility; he would just be another, additional Minister. But the idea to which the noble Baroness referred of the family impact statement seems to have considerable possibilities. If the Government were compelled, whenever they introduced some new proposal, to indicate the impact it would have on the family, this, I am sure, would be an advantage; and if there were also set up, outside Parliament, a council representing the interests of the family—and discussions about this are going on at the moment—then the interplay between the impact statement and the views of the council would keep the interests of the family well to the fore. It will be important that this should be so, because, whatever we may think of what the Government have already done—and I, for one, am prepared to give them credit for much that they have done—there clearly is much more which needs doing.

4.3 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, we have had a most interesting opening to this debate. I thought that the preamble by my noble friend Lady Phillips to a long afternoon was one of the best I had heard for a very long time. I also thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, behaved in a splendidly non-Party way. I could perhaps pick out one or two small phrases which I would have put otherwise; but, generally speaking, the object of a debate of this kind is that the House should look soberly and quietly at the problems, see what we in Government are trying to do—and I think my noble friend Lady Phillips made it quite clear that we are trying to do quite a lot—and make suggestions as a result of this debate which can be considered by my colleagues and the colleagues of my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, too.

My noble friend Lady Phillips began by making a statement which governs what I think everybody in this Chamber feels: that the State cannot take over the role of the family, and should not try to do so. I do not think there is anybody who differs from this. Certainly the Government do not. My noble friend also said that the subject we were discussing embraced housing, education and health—the three great spending Ministries, my Lords. We have already had, from three reasonably brief speeches, so many points raised on all sides that I am not going to attempt to answer, point by point, those which have already been made; nor, I think, will my noble friend be able to do so at the end of the day. I should like to take up just one or two of them.

My noble friend Lady Phillips spoke about the Inner Cities White Paper. I think this is very exciting and, in travelling around, I have seen a number of things happening in relation to families as a result of it. One in particular was the building, with particular reference to children and the family in general, of a very large and important library where there would never before have been one. Secondly, my noble friend spoke about the under-fives and said that something was being done but that it was not yet enough. I agree with this: something is being done, but it is not yet enough. We have got to do more and we will do more.

Then the noble Baroness, Lady Young, made one or two comments to which I want to refer. First of all, she talked about youth unemployment. I am not going to deal with that today; it is a subject in its own right. I can only say that it is one of the greatest worries to everybody in Government at the moment. It is more or less a world-wide phenomenon; it is not peculiar to this country. It is a matter of the utmost seriousness, and my colleagues are working as hard as they can in a number of ways to put this right, or to do something about it. Everybody in the House will have read of various things that have been done recently, but I am not going to go into the matter in detail because it takes us too far away from the family itself.

The noble Baroness spoke about the importance of parents, teachers and schools being brought more closely together. She will remember that we had long debates about this on the Education Bill, which we discussed between ourselves in this House at great length. The Government agreed that they would do something quite specific about this, and we have in fact issued a directive, Circular 15/77, which asks local authorities to see that all schools provide detailed information for parents. This is the first time this has been done, and it shows that we are thinking on the same lines, at least so far as this goes. I was interested, too, in what the noble Baroness said about a pool of houses so that relatives can live nearer to one another. I do not know the implications of this, but, as an idea, it is one which I can promise my colleagues will look at.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for modified rapture—I did not expect total rapture, I might say—and, in particular, for his recognition of the importance of child benefit. I am glad that nobody thinks we ought to have a Minister for the Family. I am sure it would simply be a paper solution which would produce nothing. I would not say we have enough Ministers—perhaps we have not—but I do not think that a specific one for the family would do it much good, for, as I have already said, the family covers all the Ministries.

I must disclose an interest as I have been married to the same wife for 43 years and have 11 grand-children, so I can in no way disguise my obvious bias on this subject. I have believed for many years, ever since I worked at the Pioneer Health Centre at Peckham in 1935, that the family is the key unit, the biological unit of society, and, as I think the noble noble Baroness (or it may have been my noble friend) said, it is the bulwark of a stable society. We found out then what everybody knew already: that there were three crucially difficult periods in a family's development.

The first stage, put crudely, is the breeding period. This is difficult because the young couple, in love and newly married, have the freedom to enjoy themselves only for a very short time. Then the young wife finds that she is confined to barracks with one baby, then with two, and finally, perhaps with three or more; and is left alone to cope while the husband is out at work and often, nowadays, away for a night or so, too. Having two young babies and no one to help you can be a traumatic experience, and this is where the family can come in so handy. The mother or the mother-in-law, perhaps widowed, can step in here and bear sufficient of the burden to make life tolerable. One must never forget that a family is a three-generation affair.

The next stage is the weaning stage, where the fledglings leave the nest. All sorts of difficult situations can arise out of this—the spoilt child, the clinging mother—but, basically, the most essential part of any solution, as has already been said, is good schools. There comes a time when the child is due to get out from under its parents' influence, and when parents would be happier if they worried less about their children. If the child can go off each day to school with confidence, then we are a long way towards solving the problems of this stage. But if the school fails to build up this confidence there can be much trouble. The last problem stage is where the grandparent is bereaved and needs to be looked after by the family, and in too many cases becomes senile or impossible to live with, and has to be provided for elsewhere.

Now I want to look at what the.Government have done with these three problems in mind. First, the provision of homes; secondly, steps to support children in the family, before school, at school and in other ways; and thirdly, care for the elderly. The Government have sought to provide better housing for the family in all its forms—whether the ordinary nuclear two-generation family, the extended family (less in evidence today), the one-parent family, the family with one or more disabled members, or the elderly family.

In the first four years of this Government, more than l.2 million homes have been completed in Great Britain; more than 160,000 dwellings demolished or closed under slum clearance; more than 3 million mortgages have been granted by building societies and local authorities (more than 1 million of which hive gone to people buying their first homes); and some 800,000 homes have been approved for improvement with the aid of grant. Labour's Home Purchase Bill will mean that eligible first time buyers will arrive at the starting gate for house purchase with up to £700 more in their pockets than they would otherwise have had—a £600 interest free loan for five years plus a bonus of up to £100 or so, depending on how much they themselves can save.

My noble friend went into details over the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act and over the steps which the Minister for Housing has taken over wheelchair housing and mobility housing. I am not going over them again; but the figures are remarkable and I shall repeat them. For wheelchair housing (for those confined to wheelchairs) there were 1,854 completions in the three years 1975–77; compared to 579 on the previous three years. For mobility housing (basically ordinary housing but without steps) which was first advocated in 1974, there were 172 completions in 1976 and 970 in 1977. We must not pretend that .this is enough but it is not a bad beginning; and I think we can all be pleased about that.

The last point on housing that I want to make—and it has already been mentioned by most speakers today—is that the Minister for Housing and Construction has insisted on all possible occasions that new public sector housing should be at densities which permit all homes for families with young children to be at ground level. This is a step forward. We have all had to learn painfully from the time when "high-rise" was the answer of the modern architect to our problem. It was completely wrong. We all think so now. Between us we have come to better sense.

My Lords, let me turn to children specifically: first, nursery education. Our aim is, basically, the Plowden Report; but we are a good way off that. Only about 15 per cent. of three year olds and four year olds are able to attend nursery schools and classes. But progress is being made. In the last four years the numbers of children receiving nursery education have increased at the rate of 20 per cent. a year. This admittedly, is starting from a not very high base; but it is something that we need not be ashamed of. Since the nursery building programme was started in 1974, more than £50 million of loan sanction has been made available to local authorities.

Services for pre-school children are specially important for children whose mothers go out to work; they also help the children of mothers who stay at home to look after them; and help the mothers, too, by giving them time off, as it were. It is well known, of course, that the mere provision of nursery schools or classes is of little use by itself to mothers who do full-time or nearly full-time jobs, for they only take the children for a limited time each day. The provision of day-care services, which is my noble friend's responsibility, is, therefore, no less important than the provision of nursery education. There has been some criticism that the development of services for the under-fives has been hampered by the division of responsibility between these Departments. But I can assure noble Lords that there is the closest liaison at the present time. Things are beginning to move.

The same joint circular encourages local education authorities to support playgroups with premises, equipment and material and praises the co-operation which many school heads and staff are extending to playgroups on their premises. It also has something to say about child-minders, by whom many of the under-fives are looked after. A growing number of authorities provide training and support of various kinds for childminders and the circular suggests that minders should be linked with nursery schools, with the child health services and with voluntary services like toy libraries. In this context, I have personal experience of the excellent results of such co-operation between local authorities and voluntary bodies. My latest grandson, a little under three, has eased the tension in his home to a marked degree by going four mornings a week to a voluntary playgroup. His mother pays 30p a visit—the local authority makes up the deficit. I think the family is lucky in having such a group in the immediate neighbourhood, but it must be, and, I think, is, everybody's hope and intention to make such enormously helpful assistance available to all families.

I spoke a minute ago of toy libraries. This reminds me of the great importance of the local authority libraries across the country as family centres. Nearly every library has a children's room with a professionally-trained adviser to help the children in their choice of books, and to arrange story-telling sessions and other ways of interesting them. Modern libraries are increasingly being built upon the open-plan system so that children and parents no longer have to separate to different departments when they enter the building, but can share the experience and excitement of finding attractive books on the shelves; and, where space permits, it is quite usual for pushchairs to be allowed to be taken to the library shelves; so that mothers can choose books while their children are still there.

More than this—and this is a very important and stimulating point—some local authorities have adopted the system of a joint school and community library where one library serves both school and public. I have been very much impressed seeing some of those in action. They are most genuinely family centres where each member of the family, old and young, has a reason to use the premises. The combination allows the appointment of a trained librarian, which few schools could afford on their own. In addition to libraries, we are extending arts centres, sports centres and community centres, each of which can become family centres in the true sense. I learned to believe that those opportunities for families to use the same building, and to see other members of the family going about their business, were really valuable factors in keeping the family together when I worked, 40 years ago, at the Pioneer Health Centre at Peckham. Nothing has changed since, except the need, which is even greater today than it was then.

In the realm of social security, pride of place must go to the introduction of the child benefit scheme. This scheme is, I think, one of the cornerstones of family support. But I will leave that major development—and other improvements in the social security field—to my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell. I turn now, briefly, to two matters which directly affect children at school; namely, school meals and school milk. Noble Lords will be aware that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget statement that the Government had decided that the planned increase in the charge for school meals this autumn should not now take place. Whatever our financial worries and fears, this must be a thing which we can all welcome.

This will be of substantial benefit to the parents of almost 4 million children who now pay for a school meal. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science attaches great importance to maintaining the quality and availability of the school dinner so that as many children as want to can have a properly balanced meal at school. In England and Wales about two-thirds of the children at school stay for dinner—a total of 5 million, including those who are eligible for and take free meals. The numbers are extraordinarily high when one reads them out, and something very vital is going on for every family in this way. We have also decided to empower local education authorities to provide free milk for seven to 11-year-olds. I must say, as a retired farmer this gives me special satisfaction—

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, if I may just intervene on that point, have the Government any evidence that when children did not receive free school milk between the ages of seven and their health declined at all?—because under the previous arrangement those who required milk on medical grounds were able to get it. Is there any evidence that they suffered?


My Lords, I cannot answer that off the cuff, but I will try to get an answer for the noble Baroness by the end of the debate. I, as a farmer, require no evidence; I am fully convinced of the necessity of it. If all local authorities in England and Wales were to make use of this new power, then more than 2 million additional children could be getting free milk from the beginning of the next school year. That would mean about 4 million in all, as about 2 million children are getting it already. Local education authorities will be fully reimbursed for the cost of free milk for seven to 11-year-olds, and they will be fully reimbursed also for the loss of income they might otherwise have expected from the school meal charge. So there will be no oomsion for them to seek savings elsewhere to compensate for these measures.

What goes on within the schools is clearly relevant to our debate, for if parents are dissatisfied or unhappy about the education their children are receiving then there will be extra stresses on the family. No one can be wholly satisfied that all our schools are as good as they might be—indeed, so far as I can discover, nobody ever has been wholly satisfied throughout this century, and before that. In 1904 the Secretary to the Board of Education reported that: … there are millions of children in this country who, from their babyhood up to the age of 14, are drilled in reading, writing and arithmetic upon a system, the result of which is that when they attain the age of 13 or 14 and are finally dismissed from school, they can neither read, nor write, nor cipher". That is very much what some of the noble Baroness's colleagues were saying to me during the last long debates we had on the Education Bill. Education is a very difficult subject and the problems are not yet wholly solved. I think we can agree on that at least.

I could provide many similar quotations at regular intervals, but I have not looked backwards in order to be able to assert that since there has always been concern about standards in our schools, there is no need to be concerned today. There is need to be concerned today, not because standards are falling but because they may not be improving fast enough to keep pace with the needs of the modern world. We are living through a period of revolutionary change in the needs of our industries, and it is important that children who leave school should be equipped to face the demands of the modern world.

I was going to give your Lordships some statistics which my noble friend Lady Gaitskell quoted in our last debate, but I think I am speaking for too long. There are some very interesting statistics coming from the East Sussex County Council and I think those who are specialists in education will have seen them. They show that the comprehensive results in that particular case are somewhat better than in any others. I do not deduce from that that this is true always, but it does mean that the extreme attack on the success of comprehensive schools will not do. Examination results should not be the only criterion for judging schools, but the results do provide us with evidence that some of the general assumptions are somewhat wide of the mark. I could produce results from other surveys in Leicestershire and Sheffield but I am trying to get on.

The key to better education is more and better teachers. I am happy to say that, throughout the period of this Government, there have been small but steady improvements in the ratio of pupils to teachers, and the latest Public Expenditure White Paper makes it clear that this improvement will continue. This year we have provided for more teachers, for better trained teachers and for more teachers in shortage subjects. This Government have provided for in-service training; young teachers are to be given extra help in their first critical year of teaching, and we are requiring maths and English qualifications for would-be teachers from next year—an obvious step, one might think, but one which has not previously been taken by anybody.

In conclusion, my Lords, let us never forget that in most of the areas I have spoken about, Central Government Departments work in close conjunction with local authorities, and can only so work. Progress depends on the closest possible co-operation between them. It is important, therefore, that the two parties agree in their intentions. I believe, and I wish it to be the result of this debate that other people believe, that agreement does generally exist. That belief makes me hopeful that we will together, Government and local authorities, continue to act in support of the family.

4.26 p.m.

The Marquess of LOTHIAN

My Lords, may I, too, begin by congratulating and thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for introducing this very important debate today. Also, I should like to feel, with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and others, that fundamentally the subject of the family is not one for Party politics. Indeed, I am certain that the whole House is agreed that a stable and happy family unit is an essential element in a stable national society. The family, as has often been said, is the basic social unit in Western society and, indeed, in many others as well.

The strength of the family must come primarily from within the family itself, being based on mutual respect and love. I think we must also remember, as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, pointed out, the number of very happy and well-integrated families that there are in this country. At the same time, the Churches and the State have a duty and an obligation to assess the development of family life; and today's debate is concerned with the role of the Government.

This seems to fall into three parts: preventive, supportive and remedial. In my opinion, one reason why this debate is important is because of the disturbing increase in family breakdowns. Governments, as I have said, have a duty to relieve hardship to children and parents and, indeed, to the elderly, which are so often the results of broken marriages. I know that much support, financial and otherwise, has been given in the way of increased pensions, better educational facilities, assistance to working mothers and so on. All these are very welcome and important. Yet it is sad to reflect that over many years Governments, while trying to overcome the hardships resulting from marriage failures, have at the same time allowed a situation to develop where social pressures are orientated towards a weakening of family life and responsibility.

There are two obvious examples of this. One is the matter of easy divorce. The divorce figures, to which I shall return in a few moments, are, I suggest, alarming but not altogether unexpected; for once marriage is given the aspect of a temporary arrangement, terminable more or less at will, it is hardly surprising that people enter into it on that basis.

Another example lies in the field of family planning. I do not wish to go into the arguments about this, but what disturbs me is that, frequently against the wishes of parents, so much family planning propaganda is directed at an age group which is hardly contemplating marriage, let alone planning a family. The result of this is an inevitable increase in promiscuity and the consequent downgrading of the ideal of a very special and permanent physical relationship and responsibility within marriage.

I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lady Young and others urging the Government to do more to assist families to look after their older members, be they grandparents or disabled relations. I am certain that, if acted upon by the Government, the suggestions made will be of great assistance. I am also certain that there are many families who would look after their old people at home, if they had the facilities, and equally important, better financial assistance; thus, incidentally, one hopes, easing the pressures on residential old people's homes.

But it is much easier to diagnose the diseases than to prescribe the cure. For instance, it is frightening to learn that one in 10 of all families have only one parent; that only just over half of all new marriages do not experience some kind of break-up. We are surely witnessing an unprecedented upheaval in the traditional concepts of family stability. But there are a number of ways in which I believe the Government could extend their influence in favour or stable families, and in this connection may I for a brief moment consider what we mean by a "family".

My dictionary defines a "family" as "members of a household" which I rather like because it implies a bringing-in of dependent relatives. The Christian family ideal is, I suggest, based to a large extent on the Commandments, "Honour thy father and thy mother" and, "Thou shalt not commit adultery"; and, indeed, the command to love. The social definition of a "family" would perhaps point to an interdependent unit, whose members acknowledge permanent responsibility towards each other. This would, I believe, include the concept of the alternative family, such as is practised by people like Dr. Barnardo and Ms. Erin Pizzey.

All these definitions have a great deal in common when one comes to think about them. But what a family can never be is individuals, so separated by circumstances that there is no cohesion, permanence or security; and that, unfortunately, appears to be the condition of many broken homes here in Britain today. I believe that the Government appreciate this fact and are convinced of the need, for the nation's sake, to help re-create stable family conditions—not least, if one may add a small incentive, because presumably family care is cheaper than instititional care and the burden on the taxpayer must be lightened when families themselves can provide the most necessary, and free, supportivo system of all.

In my view, one of the factors that need facing frankly is the continuing challenge to the parent's right of personal influence by choice in the upbringing of his children. Lip-service is paid to this by social theorists and indeed politicians, but in fact, when things go wrong, parents are quite frequently blamed for the failure. In practice today parents are coming to feel increasingly that their wishes are no longer a right. In other word:, unless they can pay for independence, they must accept decisions made for them by a bureaucracy, possibly holding different views from their own on, for example, schooling. It is important to remember this when framing policies for the family, and particularly I should like to feel that in matters of conscience parents' wishes will always be ascertained.

We have today heard some comments on the suggestion of a Minister for the Family, and a certain amount of cold water was poured on this idea. I should like to say that there is a case for the appointment of a Government watchdog, be he a Minister or not, to scrutinise, before its publication, and indeed before its implementation, legislation which could have a bearing upon family life and which might, if considered necessary, be altered to assist family situations. Another alternative might be the setting up of a standing council of concerned family organisations, which should include representatives of all such organisations and representatives of the relevant Government Departments. I say "all organisations", because to leave any out could result in a disproportionate influence by too few organisations. My example of this is the British refugee organisations which have a standing council, on which they are all represented, and of which I was once chairman, and which we found to be a very satisfactory and indeed influential body. So I put that forward as a suggestion to the noble Lord.

I should like to turn for a few minutes to the subject of divorce and to make two suggestions. From whatever angle we view this problem, I think everyone is agreed that the 1971 Act on divorce has accelerated the growth in the number of divorces. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, winding up the very interesting family debate in another place on 17th March, quoted some startling figures. In 1940, the number of divorces was barely 10,000; by 1970, it had risen to 58,000, and by 1975 to 120,000. I do not know whether the noble Lord who is to reply has any later figures, but those figures must surely give cause for concern. I wonder how much is really known about the degree of physical and psychological deprivation that lies behind the statistics. If laws are amended or reformed to take account of changed or disquieting circumstances, or to alleviate suffering, I should have thought that if harmful results again appeared and developed and the law was still found to cause suffering and hardship, or perhaps not even to be working sufficiently well, it should just be looked at again and, if necessary, revised.

The 1971 Act on divorce accepted irretrievable marriage breakdown, after positive attempts at reconciliation had been made, as grounds for divorce. I suggest that such attempts at reconciliation have now frequently become a formality and marriages can legally break down for extremely trivial reasons, or so it would appear. So may I urge strongly upon the Government that they set up an inquiry into the workings of the Act on divorce, because the situation is again serious enough, and urgent enough, to warrant their doing so, and, if necessary, to make recommendations.

My final point is concerned with the effect of divorce upon children. I believe that there is a great lack of knowledge in this field, but certain facts are clear. Because divorce is now quick and easy, there are now, I understand, some 18,000 children in caring centres. This may not sound an enormous figure, but when one thinks that in 1970 there were only 6,000 one can see how the rise has rocketed in these last five or six years. This must surely represent a large cost to the taxpayer, but I feel that that is secondary in importance to the cost in human terms of the lack of security in the family. The hard facts behind these figures upon which to base parental counselling are badly needed.


My Lords, would the noble Marquess allow me to make this point? I am following his speech with the greatest interest, but one must compare any increase of the kind he is speaking of with the miserable life of children who are living with constantly quarrelling parents. I do not wish to oppose what the noble Marquess is saying but I think that the other side must be mentioned.

The Marquess of LOTHIAN

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says, but I thought that it was worth drawing the attention of the House to these figures. It would indeed be a foolish person who, in the present climate, underestimated the pressures on people to seek divorce, but again there seems to be one step which can be taken which is supportive and which might be remedial. May I suggest an inquiry which could lead to improved and extended counselling after having assessed the effects of divorce on children. The aim would be to inform parents of what the effects of their divorce might be, both emotionally and psychologically, on their families; but to succeed this must be backed up with facts and knowledge. That is why I am in agreement with the recently passed resolution by the Interdenominational Order of Christian Unity. In passing, may I mention a contingent interest. My wife is chairman of this organisation although I myself am not a member.

I believe that such an inquiry—there is a precedent in the Committee of Inquiry into Violence in Marriage—can provide a good picture of the situation. It should, I suggest, take evidence from people who are closely involved with these problems —doctors, school teachers, clergymen and lawyers—in an endeavour to establish priorities of need which would enable it therefore to recommend which supportive services can best help in particular areas and particular instances.

As I have said, the real need is for good counselling to help parents to help their children, as frequently they are desperately uncertain about what to do in their own particular circumstances. I believe that many marriages which are breaking up would welcome this type of guidance in trying to solve their children's problems. Therefore, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who is to wind up the debate, to look upon this suggestion with his usual kindly and sympathetic eye. I hope that he will give the House some indication of the Government's views on this matter and, indeed, on the many other points which have been made today.

Family life in Britain is, I believe, in danger in many instances of taking the wrong road. While appreciating to the full the measures which Governments have taken and are taking to do their best to alleviate suffering and hardship, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will follow up constructively today's debate and not leave it in the pending tray. If this is done, then I believe that there is a chance that we might stabilise marriage in this country and get British family life on the right road.

4.44 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, on producing what I find to be the most intriguing Motion that has been put on our Order Paper for some time. When I addressed myself to it, naturally I asked myself, as doubtless other noble Lords did, what the noble Baroness had in mind. Was this an answer to critical statements which had been made about the Government's attitude to family policy, or was the noble Baroness going to offer a "sweetener" to the Government before she gave them one or two words from the heart about things that they have not done? I think that the noble Baroness has steered a middle course between those two possibilities.

I felt that I ought to try to take some little part in this debate as I supported the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Motion of not quite two years ago. I am sure that he will be gratified to read some of the references to his debate. The concluding voids of the noble Baroness might have suggested that all of these wonderful achievements by Her Majesty's Government were the direct result of the Archbishop's speech, but I think that he has a little more common sense than to be taken in by that suggestion.

The debate initiated today by the noble Baroness gives us an opportunity, in a sense, to carry on with that debate almost where we left off. And where we left off was with a very full, competent and impressive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in which he revealed once more his life-long devotion to social and moral questions. But, of course, like all Government Ministers, he had to put the best face on everything. I have sat on these Benches for 20 years, and it has been a matter of interest to me to see how, whichever Party happens to be in power, those on the Government side always take the view that things really are not too bad, while those on the other side always stress the fact that they might be a great deal better. This is our dialectic; this is our way of seeking Truth and no doubt it has a great deal to be said for it.

I should be the first to want to recognise the many measures that have been taken by Her Majesty's Government which have been of benefit to families. Of course, in one sense all beneficial social legislation benefits families, because most people are members of families—just as, if one member of a family suffers all the members of that family suffer with him, so, if one member rejoices all the members rejoice with him. There is, therefore, a great deal of legislation that can be adduced in support of this Motion that, if I may say so, is not intended primarily to benefit families but to benefit individual groups from all families that have common features: whether they are the under-fives or the over-85s, or whether they are handicapped, or whether there is something particular or special about them. All of those measures percolate down into the life of families.

However, what we were particularly interested in during the last debate and what I think was primarily in the mind of the noble Baroness in moving this Motion was that attention should be concentrated on those matters which had in mind the family as a unit. The noble Baroness was able to adduce, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, was also able to adduce, a number of measures which are of particular benefit to families. All of us should want to recognise the advantages which have come to families in that way, whether we think of measures for the handicapped and housing for the handicapped, or whether we think of the child benefit scheme, or of the plans for the homeless and the adaptations of housing to meet family needs. All of these measures have certainly been of benefit to the family as a unit.

Things have not stood still since 1976 when we had our last debate. There have been opportunities for further thought and study. In the last debate I felt it right to support my master, the most reverend Primate, in his proposal that there should be a Minister for Family Welfare. I am not prepared to press that very strongly. For one thing it is quite clear that we shall not get anywhere with it, so why waste time?

It may well be that in 10 to 15 years' time some of your Lordships may see this brought up as a vital insight into necessary social welfare—things often work like that—but the need for co-ordination and for seeing the family as a unit instead of just a group of individuals with particular characteristics is, I think, recognised by all. In the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said that if he had all his advisers who were in any way concerned in this matter he would have had eleven Departments (or something of that sort) represented in the Box.


My Lords, if the right reverend Prelate would be prepared to give way, I am sorry to interrupt him but I think it might be of some help to the House if I say that the Government took quite seriously the suggestion made by the most reverend Primate that there should be a Minister of the Family. I think I may say that I was in correspondence with the Archbishop for something like 12 months, with long letters passing between us. After the Government had considered it on the first occasion I wrote accordingly, setting out very fully the views of the Government, and it was as a result of a further letter from the Archbishop that the Government considered it a second time. I should like the right reverend Prelate and the House to know that very real consideration extending over something like a year was given to this matter.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, I appreciate very much that intervention, although I cannot say that the information contained in it was entirely new to me personally, although it would be to most of your Lordships. I think, in my case—what is it that Hamlet says?— the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought". We must think about the recognition of families as units, and the idea of a family impact comment on legislation is one that I should like to consider further.

I have been impressed by the report on The Family and State by Robert Moroney and I have learned a lot from it. Some of the assumptions that I, and I think other noble Lords, made in the last debate have proved to be open to question. I had accepted the fact that through the removal of nuclear families, as it were, to new housing areas there had been a very widespread separation of one generation from another and I was surprised to find from this report that only 3 per cent. of the elderly are now in institutions or homes of any kind other than those of their own or their friends' families. I also find that the extended family, which we thought was almost disappearing from the scene, is really still there and it may well be that the coming of the motor-car and the telephone has considerably reduced the impact of what in earlier days would have been a very serious geographical separation. Four or five miles or even 10 miles is nothing nowadays. So we have to keep a sense of proportion.

There has lately been a slight increase in the institutional element of the elderly, but this is explained by an increasing length of life. In 1901 only 5 per cent. of the population lived to be over 65; now there are 5 per cent. who are over 85. That shows clearly the enormous change that has come over the scene.

The study by Robert Moroney brings out the subtle difference between the State acting as a substitute for the family and acting in support of the family. The general message of the book suggests that the practical bias has been in favour of substitute action rather than supportive action; not in words, because the words of our Government spokesmen have pointed in the other direction. They have always said, as has been said several times this afternoon, that the task of the Government is not to replace the family but to support it. But in times of stress there is such a concentration on what one might call the extreme needs of different groups within families that it tends to place the emphasis very much on the institutional, on what I might call the substitute rather than on the supportive. This is all ranged in the final sentence in the book, where the author ends by saying: The State is fortunate to have families who care". If I had been writing the last sentence of that book I should have said: Our families are fortunate to live in a State which cares". There is a subtle difference between those two statements.

One source of trouble that was in no way exaggerated in the last debate and has been highlighted by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, is the increase in the divorce rate. We can soon get tired of figures but it is important to have figures that can be absorbed in a moment. Ten years ago there was one divorce in our country to every ten marriages; now there is one divorce to every two or three marriages. That raises the most serious questions for the future. One incidental result of it, only, in a sense, a spin-off, is that there are so many divorced people about the place that the chance of young men and women falling in love with non-divorced people is becoming a 50/50 chance, and that creates a number of social problems, not to mention religious problems which I will not worry about here.

A quarter of a million children live in one-parent families. Two hundred thousand children every year face the trauma of a breaking home. I do not know whether any of your Lordships heard this morning a little extract on the radio by one of the leaders of the Samaritans, who was talking about little children who are fearing suicide, or even hopefully looking forward to it, and who get into touch with the Samaritans. The first explanation he gave to the reporter who was asking, "Why do they do it?" was that it may be that their homes are breaking up. I thought it was interesting that he threw that into an obviously unprepared statement as the first and most natural explanation of this terrible experience.

Pornography, in the sense of the abuse of children, I hope has been checked, but teenage magazines, although not illegal, present to masses of our younger people a very unbalanced view of life. Even at that age they have to learn that life is not all romance and pop stars and that astrology is not the only religion. That is the one that is emphasised in almost all the teenage magazines of our time, and I may be forgiven for saying that if sound and sensible religion is in decline, superstitutious nonsense is bound to be in the van or in advance.

If I may say one word about schools I say it in no critical sense but only in an inquiring sense. I sometimes wonder whether our schools are almost too good for family welfare, in the sense that they provide not only all the milk and the meals —I am not thinking of that level of life at all—but every conceivable outing, every conceivable foreign tour that it is possible to imagine, so that it literally becomes extremely difficult for parents, unless they are very rich or very imaginative, to be able to think of anything to do with their children that the children have not been able to do at school. I would not go so far as to say that the school should not do it, but I raise the question because it is just this kind of thing that in a subtle, entirely accidental way brings the family into a different position in the whole scale of our human values.

After my last contribution to a debate of this sort I received a good mark from the noble Lord—and so did the noble Baroness, Lady Young—for admitting that in some of these matters Governments are very limited in what they can do. I am quite certain that many of these things cannot be controlled by Government legislation, but in the last resort they depend on the climate of opinion in our country. And I am going to throw out this thought which is against all the best social practice of the time: have we carried what is called the non-judgmental attitude to life a little too far?

In order to be able to deal fairly and helpfully with every situation we have thought it necessary almost to convey the idea that there is no difference between right and wrong unless you step right over the line into criminality. I believe that leaders of opinion—and by that I have specially in mind leaders of Government and leaders of Opposition parties—might very helpfully speak a little more openly about the moral results of behaviour, including, for instance, the effect on children of divorce, in a way that would influence people's subconscious attitudes to these things. We know all about the reconciliation clause; that clause is absolutely worthless; I do not believe it is worth the paper it is printed on, because, by the time couples reach the solicitor to arrange a divorce, it is no good saying, "You know there are some reconciliation agencies that you could apply to". It is too late. We are nearly all too late—clergy, bishops—when we come into these situations. The only thing that could possibly have prevented the break-up would have been a settled purpose in the minds of both the parties that break-up was unthinkable.

In the last debate, I differed a little, I think, from something that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I do not suppose he was giving an ex-cathedra statement, but he did say that the reason for the increase in divorce today was that people would not stand unhappiness in their marriages. "Why should they?, he asked: "there is nothing wrong in that, and we have had to give easier divorce in order to meet it". I just ask myself whether that is quite all that we can say. Are not the statesmen of our country in a real sense like the guardians in Plato's republic? The days are past when people will take very much notice of bishops, or even schoolmasters, but, in spite of all the jibes about politicians, they still have a vague feeling that those who wield the power in the country probably ought to be heeded. I commend the thought in all humility to those who carry the immense responsibility for government that they should not be too afraid to speak plainly about moral matters.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should also like to start by thanking my noble friend Lady Phillips for initiating this debate today. As we have already discovered, the debate enables us to examine the family from many different aspects. I particularly wanted to concentrate upon the aspect of housing and the family, although this has been touched upon already by a number of noble Lords this afternoon. As time goes on we live in a more open and in a more changing society. Nevertheless, stability in family life remains something of great importance. Certainly the lack of adequate housing is something which can undermine a stable family life. Bearing in mind the comments which have been made by the right reverend Prelate and by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, concerning the question of divorce, I tried to find out whether in fact there was any correlation between poor housing and the increase in the divorce rate. In fact, there does not seem to be any correlation between those two factors at all. It was not my task or indeed my intention this afternoon to talk about divorce; I have only been persuaded to make those few remarks by the remarks of the last two speakers.

It is 20 years since I first became a member of a local authority housing committee. At that time we thought of all-embracing solutions to the housing problem, mainly that we should build as many flats as possible, that most of those flats should be 3-roomed flats, that we should get as many people to the acre as we could, and the best way of doing this was to build them high. With regard to the private sector, a policy followed at that time, with which I disagreed very much, was that the only way to improve the private sector of the housing field was that rents should be increased, so that a substantial improvement in housing conditions in the private field would follow.

That was 20 years ago, and we have now become very much more selective in the tackling of our housing problems. In particular we have concentrated on trying to solve the housing problems of those with special needs. I date this change of attitude—and perhaps I am prejudiced here—by a very remarkable Fabian pamphlet, by Audrey Harvey, entitled Casualties of the Welfare State, which came out in 1960 and highlighted the problems of those who fell outside the net of the Welfare State. The theme of her pamphlet was taken up very shortly afterwards and was seen by a much wider audience in the TV documentary "Cathy come Home". This highlighted a number of problems which the family felt, and I think the progress we have made since then is very remarkable indeed.

One of the aspects of the breakdown of family life of which we are much more aware today is increased public awareness of the plight of battered women. Since the Report from the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage was issued in September 1975, which found less than 30 women's refuges in Great Britain, the number has increased to around 130. This is a total that has been reached by the combined efforts of Government, local authorities and voluntary bodies. So far as the Government are concerned, funds allocated to projects for battered women, under the Urban Aid Programme, total almost three-quarters of a million pounds.

More needs to be done, for the Government undoubtedly hope that all local authorities will work with local women's aid groups to ensure that local refuges are available for immediate help. There needs to be a sufficient spread of refuges for there to be one within easy reach of every battered woman. Refuges come into their own as providers of immediate help at that moment when a battered woman flees from her home in the face of violence from her partner. However, of course the problem does not end there. From there, we have to move to the question of rehousing by the local authority, or to the question of the matrimonial problems being solved, or to the question of the married woman gaining possession of her own home. Those ate matters that we debated some months ago in a different context.

Another aspect that seems to have disappeared from the headlines in recent months is the question of squatting. I think the fact that the headlines of the Press are no longer filled with question of squatting indicates that we are now using short-life property more sensibly. Inevitably, in the vast redevelopment schemes of the past, there were some parts of a proposed scheme where housing remained empty for many years. This seemed particularly wrong to those with very great housing needs. Therefore, in the climate of the late 1960s, those in desperate need took matters into their own hands. A considerable amount of squatting took place. At that time, it was undertaken primarily by families in particular need. Subsequently, I admit, the squatting movement got slightly out of land, as one might say. The people who became involved in squatting tended to be young and single, not families. However, the point I wish to make is that the result of this particular movement is that we are now much more sensible and alive to the use of short-life property and to the possibility of forming housing associations which can use this short-life property for a period of five or 10 years until it is needed for redevelopment.

Those are ways in which some of the homelessness has been solved. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 took positive steps to support and keep together families unfortunate enough to become homeless. The Act places a clear duty on local housing authorities to secure accommodation for homeless families with dependent children and for families where the wife is pregnant. I hope that, as a result of the Act, it will never again be necessary for families to walk the streets, or for children to have to be received into care solely because their parents are unable to find a roof. It may not always be possible for an authority to find an ordinary council house straight away. Sometimes interim accommodation will be needed, but at least shelter of some kind will be available.

The Act also confirms the principle that the practice of splitting up families is not acceptable, even for short periods. The accommodation secured must be adequate, to enable all members of a family to live together. I remember years ago, as a Parliamentary candidate, visiting various homes and families who had been split up by the Acts that were then in force, and seeing the misery in which those families were forced to live until new accommodation could be found. This Act is a great step forward.

In a sense we are not concerned only about those who face special difficulties. In the general trend of things, of course, the vast majority of people do not have some of the special problems about which I have spoken. Some years ago, the Government introduced the option mortgage scheme, which enabled house purchase to be very much easier than it had been in the past. Also, I think one should comment on the rôle of the housing associations. Those of your Lordships who read The Observer will have seen a very informative article on this subject last weekend; it dealt with the role of the housing associations and how the third arm of the housing movement, as it is, now accounts for 25 per cent. of all rented accommodation. Considerable extra money has been pumped by the Government into housing associations via the housing corporations. Without the expansion in the role of the housing associations, that would not have been possible. The point that I should like to bring to mind here concerns the particularly useful work that the housing associations do, in that they have enabled us to keep much basically sound accommodation from the past which had suffered from neglect. The local authorities saw that the only way to do something about it was to clear it, because to deal in penny lots would be too difficult for a local authority. The housing associations, many of them small, have been able to make a very great contribution towards modernising and bringing into useful life a number of houses.

I should like to deal, briefly, with the different types of accommodation which tend to be offered. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the fact that high-rise buildings were now almost a thing of the past. As Lord Donaldson said, the Ministry has now asked that all new public sector housing should be at such densities as to permit all homes for families with children to be at ground floor level. I am sure that we all welcome this move.

Viscount AMORY

I understood the noble Lord to say that high-rise buildings were things of the past. But there are a great number of them that, I imagine, will be with us for a very long time. Is that not so?


I think that the noble Viscount may not have caught the exact inflexion of my voice. I said that new high-rise schemes are now a thing of the past.

Viscount AMORY

I apologise.


Of course, the noble Lord is absolutely right. There are many high-rise blocks that will be with us for many years to come. Therefore the desire of the Department to see local authorities transfer families living in the upper reaches of high-rise blocks to ground floor accommodation as quickly as possible, is to be commended.

In opening, I commented that we were now considering the special needs of different types of families, the needs of the old whose numbers are increasing, the disabled, the one-parent families, and the battered wives. I should like to make a few remarks, as chairman of Age Concern, Greater London, about the problems of the old. There has been a growth of sheltered housing during the past few years. We all welcome that. But, regrettably, only a very small percentage of old people will be able to have access to it.

A great deal of housing has been provided by housing associations. Again, that is something which is very useful in this field. However, one matter which has concerned us is that local authorities in their allocation policies have not paid as much attention as they might to the needs of families who are under-occupying property, and of old people who are in a large flat, which they no longer require, and who would like to move to a smaller, centrally-heated flat which would meet their needs and would release their larger flat for a family with different needs. That is something which has not happened fully, and one can only wish that there were a more successful mechanism for bringing it about.

There is also the situation of the elderly owner-occupiers who cannot afford to keep up their own homes and who cannot afford to sell them or to buy smaller accommodation which would be suitable for them. That is another problem which needs to be tackled. I have the feeling that if there were better relationships between the housing and social service departments of local authorities some of those problems could, in fact, be solved.

Another special group is the severely disabled where the availability of suitable housing may help to make the difference between their having to go into an institution and being able to stay in the community with their families. My noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge has referred to this matter and to the vast increase in wheelchair and mobility housing which, as he knows, we all welcome. Mobility housing is, of course, really ordinary housing but without steps, and it can be put up at relatively little cost.

The housing needs of one-parent families also require special consideration. One-parent families do not generally require accommodation which is very different from that required by other families, but in housing matters they should receive effective parity of treatment with two-parent families. Both categories should benefit from the priority which is to be given to all families with dependent children. I was glad to hear that the Government indicated that they propose to produce a leaflet, to be available generally in public offices, giving advice to one-parent families on problems that they may unwittingly face and on whom to consult for help.

Another special problem arises as regards the needs of ethnic minority families. Their needs, of course, are fundamentally the same as those of indigenous families. The problem is to ensure for all groups that there is effective equality of opportunity for access to decent housing. For that reason, care must be taken to ensure that the special difficulties faced by minority families, such as racial discrimination and language problems, are taken into account so that they receive their fair share. For example, local authorities, in areas where there are longer than average waiting lists for large dwellings, have been asked to consider increasing their stock of larger houses to meet the needs of larger families, many of whom may be Asian. Staff training in local housing departments is also important, to ensure that housing staff have a good understanding of the special difficulties and communication problems of minority families.

Having dealt with a number of special aspects of the housing problem one must say that wherever there is a housing problem it should be tackled. Therefore, I was glad to see—I think that reference was made to this earlier—that steps are under way possibly to do away with the need for residential or other qualifications for entry on to waiting lists. In the times in which we live, with a much more fluid society, it makes little sense to have stringent residence qualifications before somebody can be considered for housing. That, of course, as my noble friend Lord Donaldson said, refers particularly to elderly people who wish to live in the same area as their children, and who in fact do not have any form of residence qualification at all. Undoubtedly, if local authorities can help these elderly people who wish to live with or near their families, they can do so in a number of ways.

Surely, the underlying aim of Government policy must be to seek to ensure the provision of a balanced range of different types of accommodation to meet different needs and preferences which will enable old people to remain in homes of their own, within the community, for as long as possible, rather than to go into institutions. I could go on to talk about the whole range of urban programmes which are under way at present to deal specially with the problems of the inner city, Where we know that there are still some very acute difficulties. All that is being done we welcome, but I have tried to show in different ways how the role of the Government as regards housing has been supportive of the family.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him this: does he know how much I agree with him about residential qualifications? Does he know, further, that the London Borough of Hammersmith has, I believe, succeeded in abolishing them, even in London?


My Lords, I am very pleased to hear what the noble Lord says.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, like others who have spoken, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for initiating this debate on this most important subject. I should also like to apologise because at 6.30 I am to preside over another gathering in this Palace and therefore I shall not hear the noble Baroness wind up the debate. However, I shall certainly read attentively everything that she says.

The debate appears to have concentrated solely on the material benefits which hold the family together. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and the Government have pointed out all the various material benefits which, under the Welfare State, have been given to individuals and the family. However, I think that they have rather missed the point. The important point about the family is that we must protect it as a cohesive independent whole. I do not want to bring Party politics into this debate, but if we study Socialist ideology the independent family as a unit is, of course, a danger to the all-embracing power of the State.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount elaborates on that point, will he explain that what he is talking about is Marxist philosophy and not Socialist philosophy, which springs from the same ethics as Christianity?


My Lords, I agree with what the noble Baroness has said, and I am certainly not imputing any such remarks to her or anyone else in this House. However, the noble Baroness will be fully aware that there are many Marxists in this country, and there are some in politics. It is not just under a Marxist label that they follow this precept. However, I shall not dwell on that matter any longer.

I agree, as have others, that the family is the most important basic social unit throughout the world. However, we must not think of it only in Christian terms. It is, as has been said, a bastion of stability responsibility and freedom of thought. but it is of vast importance to Western society. In some nations where family ties have been loosened dire consequences have usually resulted. For example, consider the Soviet Union before the last War, but after the Bolshevik revolution. For the first 10 or 12 years a person in the Soviet Union could marry just by going into the Post Office and paying a fee, and then he could go in the next day and be divorced. The result was that the whole country was overrun with bands of homeless children who were starving and stealing, although one could not blame them for that. Some time ago the Soviet Government returned to the proper marriage system. Another example can be found in Africa where, if the tribal system is broken down, the family as a unit is broken up and then follows dire trouble. I am trying to emphasise what has already been stated here today, namely, the extreme importance of the family as an independent unit.

We have heard about the decline in family life, of how tragic it has been and still is, with the resultant misery of broken homes and emotional stress on children. I heartily agree that this is absolutely tragic. We are told that every year produces 200,000 children of broken homes. That is an absolutely horrifying figure. I was interested to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester say that for every two marriages last year there is one divorce. I think that the right reverend Prelate said that 10 years ago for every 10 marriages there was only one divorce. Therefore, I support my noble friend Lord Lothian in asking for the setting up of a Royal Commission to consider the working of the present divorce legislation, which I well remember going through this House.

Some noble Lords may think that this subject is not my line of country, and they would be right. I am speaking on this subject because I have been extremely disturbed at the attitude of many young people. I employ some young people; I am very fond of young people and often speak to them. I have met young people whose ideas are terrifying—I do not know where they have got them from. I have met well-educated young people who have said that they do not think it is wrong to steal if what is wanted cannot be obtained by other means. That is terrifying. We have an appalling record of crime—juvenile crime, every form of thuggery, vandalism, violence and promiscuity. What is disturbing is that the more we appear to give such people material benefits, the higher their standard of living becomes, but it does not cure the rise in the rate of crime or of viciousness. There is something very wrong in the State when we reach that situation.

One often hears it said—and I do not think it is completely a joke because it is very often true—that many men take more care of their cars than of their wives. I am sure that many men probably prefer their cars to their wives. Of course, we cannot do anything about that, but it serves to illustrate my point. What is the cause of all this? Some noble Lords have blamed the parents. However, I think it is rather unfair to blame the parents; after all, the parents are fighting an uphill battle against the temptations of the modern industrial society in which we live. The cultural and religious values on which we were brought up are constantly under attack by the mass media. My children are grown up and married, but the children of today's parents are subjjected to a stream of propaganda propagating sexual freedom and encouraging defiance of parental advice. It is very difficult for parents to fight against that.

Perhaps I should not say this, but I think it is wrong that mothers of young children should be encouraged and tempted to go out to work. My noble friend Lady Young may not agree with me on that. But I agree with her that there should be great tax incentives to keep such mothers at home. Although I am not keen on the State interfering too much in the family, I would go so far as to say that they should be paid by the State to stay at home to look after their children, at any rate until the children are out of infancy. If young mothers work, it must have some bearing on the children's future.

I also believe that over the last 30 years State education has a lot to answer for in not putting more emphasis on duties and responsibilities. When I was brought up I was told that I had no rights at all, that I had only duties and responsibilities. Some of the young people I meet have not been taught that; the whole emphasis of their education has been on their rights and not on their duties or responsibilities. I remember bringing to the attention of this House a character called Dr. Leach, who was the provost of King's college. He advocated the destruction of all family life. It is a serious matter when we get people like that in education; and we cannot blame young people for having these extraordinary ideas. I am very glad that Mrs. Shirley Williams has agreed to allow religious education to continue to be taught in schools. I am not a particularly religious person; I go to church perhaps twice a month, to please the vicar. However, I believe that religious education teaches children to be unselfish, which is very important. I am very pleased about that.

There may be a point in having a Minister for the Family, but it means more bureaucratic control. If we have such a Minister—and it might do some good—I should like him to emphasise the use of any material benefits to keep the children in the family, and not to emphasise taking children from the family I may not have expressed that very well but I think the meaning is clear. If we pump the wrong theories into tale young generation for quite some time—which is what I believe our State education has been doing—it will take a long time to eradicate them. I do not think that a Minister for the Family would be sufficient. The Bible says: As ye sow, so shall ye reap". If a Minister for the Family is appointed, I hope that he redirects social policy towards helping families to meet the needs of their children.

I should like to see families made more self-reliant. The State is tending to take all the decision-making away from the individual, away from the parents. If you keep on doing that you will eventually destroy the pride of the parents; you will cow the parents. I should like parents to have more control of their families. I agree that there are some cases where this cannot be allowed owing to a family's long record of alcoholism or cruelty. Then, I agree, it is the duty of the State to interfere.

I should like the parents to have more say in regard to schools. Why not have parents on the boards of governors? Most parents are rather scared of headmasters and teachers. Some teachers are rather arrogant with parents. They think, "You are only a parent. You don't require considering at all". Parents ought to have far more say in the education of their children. I should like to have answered the noble Lord who spoke last on housing, but as he left the Chamber I shall not bother to do so. It is usually the good manners of the House that a noble Lord does not do that; however, I shall not bother to answer him on housing.

I only say one thing: he spoke about the private housing side. The Rent Act is the cause of thousands of private houses remaining empty. If the Rent Act were altered then people would be only too pleased to rent their houses. But if they rent their houses, today, under the present Act, they cannot get the house back again; it is gone for life. I sum up by saying that the future of this country, I am quite sure, lies in the cohesion of the family and in the love of the family. This is a basic of civilisation, and I implore the Government to do everything to keep the family as an independent unit.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble Viscount and other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Phillips, for giving us the chance to debate this subject today. Incidentally, perhaps I ought to say that I share her historical view of May Day. I do not think that she needed to apologise at all for making any reference to May Day in a family debate. After all, I have always understood that the Festival of May Day was associated with fertility rites. Indeed, in truth, no doubt—if someone on this side of the House can join in the heresy of making such an admission—that is where the original association with the term "Labour" came from.

I want to deal in part with just one aspect of this subject, and that is recent reforms in family law. Perhaps I should go no further before declaring an interest as a practising member of the Bar, although I do not now normally practise in the family law sphere. In trying to see how much reform in family law there has been over these past few years, I confess I have been surprised and immensely encouraged to find what a sizeable amount of work has been done. I suppose the main sources of change can be divided into two: those which have come from the Law Commission's programme of family law reform and those which have come from elsewhere.

Before taking these in turn it might be as well, in a comprehensive and wide-ranging debate of this kind, if we perhaps record in passing that one of the most far-sighted and productive measures of recent years was the Act which set up the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission. The Act was passed, I am happy to recall, in 1965, during an earlier period of Labour Government, though I hasten to say that I trust I am not going to be too partisan in this debate. It was back in 1968, as many of your Lordships will recall, that the Law Commission announced its second programme of law reform, Item 19 of which recommended a comprehensive examination of family law with a view to its systematic reform and eventual codification.

A great deal of progress seems to have been made, due not least, one might mention, to the late chairman, Sir Samuel Cooke, who took personal charge of the family law reform programme and who will be greatly missed. I think that he set sufficient guidelines for us to feel that he had done a great deal of work before he died. The Commission's early proposals on financial provision in matrimonial proceedings led to the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act 1970, and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, which was later consolidated into the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. This legislation gave the courts much wider and more flexible powers than before to see that financial provision for the parties, and the childdren, is as fair and practical as possible. It also led to less emphasis being placed on the conduct of the parties during the marriage, unless it is both what has been described as obvious and gross. I am sure that this principle about conduct has helped a lot: it is quite wrong to dwell upon conduct unless it is absolutely necessary.

When I was practising in this sphere I spent a vast amount of time persuading clients, or trying to, that it really was best if at all possible to avoid a slanging match and a long-drawn-out court battle: for one simple reason if no other; namely, the distressing effect that it would have upon the children, with whom both parties would want continuing relations in the future. No doubt by doing this I did myself out of the nice fees that contested High Court actions would undoubtedly have involved. Perhaps the Royal Commission on Legal Services might bear that point in mind. It is also worth noting that the legislation on these matters these days is framed so as not to distinguish unfairly between the sexes, so that each spouse comes before the court on the basis of equality. I think recent case law shows that the courts will make orders against wives in favour of husbands in appropriate cases.

Again, this programme of law reform has also led to new rights for dependants to obtain family provision from the estate of a deceased. As a result of the Commission's 2nd Report on Family Property; Family Provision on Death, which came out in July 1974, substantial changes were made in the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, so that for instance, instead of the court being restricted under the previous legislation—which went back to 1938—to providing for the maintenance of a surviving spouse, it can now award a share of the deceased spouse's estate, or increase the share due to the surviving spouse under the deceased's will, or upon intestacy.

Further reforms on the ownership of the matrimonial home are clearly on the way, for the Commission has made provisional proposals for the beneficial interest in the matrimonial home to be shared equally. Under the scheme they are putting forward during the marriage the spouses would have the benefit of joint ownership of the matrimonial home unless they had specifically agreed otherwise. I gather that the Commission's report on co-ownership of the matrimonial home is due very shortly, and I hope we can expect that Her Majesty's Government will view it sympathetically when it comes.

I believe we can also expect that, at about the same time as that report comes out, the Commission will be publishing its final report on the use and enjoyment of household goods, along the lines of provisional proposals already made in a working paper dealing with the situation where one spouse leaves the matrimonial home and strips it of its contents. It is encouraging to note that among the more important proposals are, first, a provision that would enable either spouse to apply to the court at any time for an order regulating the use and enjoyment of the household goods and, secondly, that the court would be given wide discretion to order one spouse to restore goods or compensate for loss of use where goods had been disposed of by the other one. Those are some of the main reforms stemming from the Law Commission.

Turning to some of the other reforms, as has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Phillips and, I think, by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976 was first introduced in another place as a Private Member's Bill by my honourable friend Miss Richardson with Government support. In that, if she does not mind my saying so, I think that my noble friend Lady Phillips played a not inconsiderable hand in your Lordships' House. This was the reform which arose from recommendations of the Select Committee or Violence in Marriage: it provides for a spouse to obtain an injunction protecting him or her or a child in the household from violence by the other spouse, and indeed if need be to exclude that spouse from the matrimonial home. The measure applies also to an unmarried couple living as man and wife in the same household, and there are powers of arrest given to the police in serious cases. I understand that, in the first nine months of the operation of the Act, some 3,203 injunctions and 1,505 powers of arrest were granted. In one aspect, of course, that is sad, but, considered from the point of view of those who were previously suffering, it is very encouraging indeed that protection is now available, is being used and, as a result of that provision, is being used speedily.

Then, too, there have been the Adoption Act and the Legitimacy Act of 1976, consolidating the law on those two subjects, in which the Law Commission has also been involved, and I understand that work is also going ahead to consolidate the law on child care and foster children, and that the Government hope to introduce consolidation Bills dealing with the law on the protection of children and young persons. I think that the Government have also given an assurance that they will consider consolidating legislation on guardianship and custodianship as an interim measure pending the Law Commission's report on affiliation and legitimacy, which seems likely to touch on those subjects.

Another major reform with which your Lordships have been grappling only recently is the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Bill which has recently been sent to another place and is, I think, at the moment in Committee there. This Bill follows the report in 1976 of the Joint Working Party of the Law Commission and the Home Office which called for a new statute to bring the law on matrimonial matters in magistrates' courts more into harmony with that in the high court and the county courts. As your Lordships will recall, this Bill includes important reforms relating to the custody and maintenance of children and it will also eliminate unnecessary differences between the legislation relating to matrimonial proceedings and that relating to guardianship, affiliation proceedings and other types of proceedings in family matters. Magistrates' courts will also get stronger powers to protect a spouse and children subjected to domestic violence along similar, although somewhat less extensive, lines to those contained in the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976.

So far as reforms affecting children are concerned, I have only barely touched on this. Perhaps one of the most significant departures came with the Congenital Disabilities (Civil Liability) Act 1976, which was introduced as a Private Member's Bill with Government support and which removed the doubt in English law as to whether a child injured while in utero had sufficient independent legal personality at that stage to enable him, when born, to sue for his injuries. As we know, the Act gives him, once born, a plain statutory right of action deriving from his mother so that if a wrongdoer owes a duty of care to the mother and was in breach of that duty the child can sue for the resulting damage to him, so any question of personality before birth is irrelevant.

Then, of course, there is the Children Act 1975. Quite apart from the major principles relating to adoption (the bringing of decisions on adoption cases into line with the decisions on custody and the upbringing of children and other major reforms in that Act) there are also what one feels are the tremendously helpful new provisions in Part II of that Act. In appropriate cases, as an alternative to adoption, these allow those looking after children on a long-term basis to apply for legal custody of the child, so involving the creation of the new legal relationship, custodianship—a most civilised way of helping to resolve what were very difficult problems indeed.

These remarks do not even approach what is also being done by the Government in the private international law sphere. Even a cursory glance at family law reform over the past few years will show that an enormous amount has already been done and that still more is on the way. It is not always that one can hand out praise to Governments and indeed it is not always that Governments can count on praise from their own Benches let alone from other parts of your Lordships' House. I trust that this praise will not come as too much of a shock or an embarrassment to them. Of course others share in some of the credit, most notably the Law Commission. But even in that context the Government have, I believe, done rather well. How often do we hear, with Governments of whatever complexion, that splendid reports recommending reforms have been published but that nothing has been done about them. Here, too, in the family law sphere, I venture to suggest that the record is good. The record on family law reform is a good one and the prospects for more are promising.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for initiating this debate, may I take up her point on introduction that there are many happy families in this country and that we should not get the position of difficult families out of proportion. I speak with feeling because this weekend I attended a Ruby Wedding with 42 relatives of all generations from that particular family and I think personally that there is far more family stability in this country than we give the country credit for.

I have three questions to ask the Minister. First, may I take up the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in regard to housing. I should like to touch on the housing of young married couples. The noble Lord said that poor housing did not reflect the divorce rate for young couples in poor housing accommodation. I should be very interested to know where the figures came from because that is not my experience. I believe that young couples these days have an extraordinarily difficult time and this was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. In order to get on to a housing list one must be married, therefore a number of young couples hurry into marriage in order to get on to the housing list. Would it not be possible for young couples to be put on a housing list before they get married so that they do not get married just to get there?

I, too, read the item in the Sunday newspapers about the harmony and agreement between both the Minister for Housing, Mr. Freeson, and Mr. Hugh Rossi, the Conservative housing spokesman, in their support of the work of housing associations. But could we not be more imaginative and original in our housing policies? For example, would it not be possible for the housing associations to adopt a policy of providing mobile homes for young married people which they could buy and then sell back to councils when they move into council property? By that means young couples would have a home of their own in which to live. I should like, therefore, to know when the housing report will be coming out. That question has been asked many times in your Lordships' House and it would be helpful to have an answer.

Secondly, I should like to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is completely satisfied at the way in which children in schools are being brought up to understand the responsibilities of family life. I rather part company with the noble Viscount on the question of divorce. We agree that the divorce rate has gone up, but if one looks at the figures one sees that divorces often occur because people have married at such an early stage that they have not been ready for marriage. Indeed, the figures show that the second marriage is often good and that it lasts.

My question, therefore, is whether in our schools we have home economic centres of the type which really teach children the reality of marriage. As I understand it—Lord Donaldson will correct me if I am wrong—tit emphasis on marriage in the schools is on sex and sex education. Obviously that is important, but it should be in the setting of the responsibility of marriage and, furthermore, perhaps most important, on the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of children.


I will answer now, my Lords, rather than leave that question to my colleague; in any event, the noble Baroness addressed her question to me. The answer of course is that I am not satisfied. I have never been satisfied by anything in education, nor has my Secretary of State and nor, as far as I know, has anybody else. We have a long way to go. When the noble Baroness says that the emphasis is officially on sex and sex in marriage, I do not think she is correct; it depends entirely on the headmaster in each case as to how these things are dealt with, and that is how it must remain owing to the partnership we have with the local authorities. I do not think they want us to start telling them, nor do the head teachers, how they should do it. However, I take the noble Baroness's point and I am glad she has raised it. It will be widely read, and in those cases where there is an over-emphasis on one side and an under-emphasis on the other, I think it will do something to help.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those comments. May we sum it up by saying that we travel hopefully, even if we have not arrived?


Certainly, my Lords.


My Lords, my third point is again directed to the noble Lord. Lord Donaldson, and is in connection with families with children under five years of age. A great deal of research has been done by the Tavistock Clinic, the National Children's Bureau and the Robertson Centre, and the deep need of children to be brought up by one person consistently has been established. Perhaps it is not always the mother, though it is obviously better if it is, but it has been established that this bonding should take place at any rate in the first three years of life. We then get to the stage of the three to five-year-olds, but in respect of the nought to three-year-olds, we have far to go.

It may be disturbing that the childminders system, which is a good system if well applied, is not always well applied, and here I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in that many women who would long to stay at home and look after their children are forced out of the home for economic reasons. We are in some difficulty over the whole question of mothers with children under five. When I was working in Islington before the war we did research—it was an extraordinary piece of research—to find out how many families would allow their children to have school dinners. While I cannot remember the exact figures, I know that 94 per cent. said they would not dream of allowing their children to have school dinners because it would break up the family; the wife and husband would not see each other and the father would not see the children.

Our social policies have travelled far from that situation. We are now in a dilemma, in that we have not laid the emphasis on marriage that I believe we should have laid; namely, that it is a career and a good one, a career which many women feel they are forced out of by public opinion feeling they should follow the career they took up when they went to university, college of further education and so on. My point is to stress that we must have facilities for children under five and that they must be wide-ranging. Like Lord Donaldson, I pay tribute to the Pre-School Playgroup Association and, in particular, the National Association of Nursery Matrons, because I was at a conference of that association when they were facing the fact that what was important was parent participation and the involvement of parents. It is far easier to look after other people's children and get rid of the parents than it is to involve the parents, and that association was trying to involve the parents.

The Minister referred to the circular sent out jointly by the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Education on the needs of children under five, enjoining local authorities to look at the matter, to do a survey, and to see that the needs were met. When we in this House enjoin the country to do things, do we ever find out scientifically whether they have been done? I suggest that the disappointment in that circular lies in the fact that local authorities —I am sure they would have been prepared to agree—were not asked to submit back what the facilities were in their areas, what the gaps were and what the needs were. I am sure it would be found, for instance, that there are not enough staff, either on the health or social services side, to carry out the work, for example, of visiting child minders and seeing that there are adequate facilities. My third question to Lord Donaldson, therefore, is this: How will the two Ministries assess that there is an extended and good service?


My Lords, I cannot answer this question for either Ministry without notice, but the noble Baroness's point is taken. A circular was sent out by the two Ministries, with an idea of getting something done, and the noble Baroness is asking me whether there is any monitoring to see that this is done. I am quite sure that there is, but I will write to the noble Baroness and tell her in relation to both Ministries what it is, and if I am wrong, I shall say so.


I thank the noble Lord.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be thankful alike for the introduction of this theme today and the characteristic way in which the noble Baroness adorned that theme in her introductory speech. I should like to begin with three propositions, to me all of them are evident; they may not be so evident to Members of this House. The first is that it would be quite churlish to withhold congratulation and encouragement to the Government in many areas in which they have proceeded to care for the family. I speak as a worker in the field of family relationships, and I am only too well aware of the way in which, over and over again, the family has been subserved and its conditions have neen improved, and indeed its hopes have been raised by the kind of measures for which this Government and previous Governments, have been responsible.

The second proposition is that this is not only a fact which is available to those who observe it but it is a confidence on the part of those who enjoy it. I have not heard hitherto in this debate today anybody say whether or not they feel that there has been an awareness on the part of people generally that the Government are on the right tack. I believe that to be true, and I could produce a certain amount of evidence to support it.

The third point may be more agreeable to those on the other side of the House. I am only too much aware that the provisions which hitherto have been made are by no means sufficient to meet the enormous task that confronts any community which endeavours to proceed in a civilised way of caring for and supporting the family. Therefore, I hope that this admiration for the Government, and this thanksgiving to the Government, may be a lively sense of further favours to come.

What has been fascinating about the debate hitherto is the association of the word "family" with something far more fundamental than the compassion which ought to be given to it and the necessity of measures applied to it. As a theological student I was made well aware—as my ecclesiastical friend will no doubt corroborate—that all revealed religion presupposes natural religion; and all good revealed legislation presupposes a foundation that is natural and not contrived. That is exactly what noble Lords have been saying about the place of the family in any ideology, in any concept, of what, after all, is the prime purpose of Government. To take the family as the norm is, I believe, the right way to proceed, and the vocabulary of the family is the most useful vocabulary if one is thinking in terms of social justice—the father, the mother, the hearthfire, the family table.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, ventured—a little incautiously, I thought—into the realm of ideology and aspersed the relationship between the family and Socialism. Thrown as a missile, I would happily wear that as a decoration, for I feel that essentially the prime argument for the Socialist cause, which, it seems to me, is not often represented, even on this side of the House, in precise terms, is that that which is at the heart of the family is the prevailing reason and justification for the ultimate truths that we believe belong to the Socialist cause. However much that may be true, perhaps a little later on I will very briefly advert to it again.

I want to say something about the family, which has been, I think, all too easily assumed to be a fixed mark, and a permanent, and identifiable, reality in the community. I believe substantially that is true. But it is very important to remember that there are many kinds of families—patriarchal, matriarchal and with all the permutations between those two extremes; and that families Vary very much according to the prevailing religious beliefs in which the family is informed, and have suffered change, if lot decay, in our day and generation to such an extent that it is incautious to talk about the family without, at the same time, indicating the profound changes that have taken place in it. A Government who would endeavour to provide answers in relation to care for the family should, I think, be better informed than perhaps they are at the moment as to some of those changes.

Reference has already been made to the mobility provided for the modern family by the acquisition of the car. The American cynic said, "Home is the place where you hang around when somebody else has got the car". But the right reverend Prelate reminded us of something quite contrary to that, and which is on the whole a benefit; namely, by provision of the car it is possible to keep contact with families which might otherwise be incorrigibly divided. It is true—and nobody, I think, would want to dispute it—that the breakdown of many of the moral principles, to say nothing of the moral taboos, particularly those associated with sex, has produced great changes in the thinking and the practice of the family. This is, in many cases, deplorable. It is deplorable because the sense of responsibility is eroded. It is deplorable because insecurity takes the place of security. It is deplorable because the overall moral principles do not obtrude.

But it is, on the other hand, not entirely a loss. For many years I was responsible for looking after a hostel in which we tried to care for pregnant girls who had been turned out in the snow. That hostel is no longer used, because the need for it has very largely disappeared. Alongside the permissive society has come an increase of charitableness in many of the relations that are sexual, an increase in the care, independent of the breakage of moral rules; and that has been an enhancement of the family, rather than a detriment to it.

These are evidences of change within the family relationships, but they do not minimise in any respect the need for a greater care for that family, because whatever may be the differences that divide and separate the various concepts of family life, there is one thing which belongs to every family life, and it has already been referred to obliquely in the debate. It is that there is an overall responsibility, a sense of belonging, a sense that the family relationship is predominant. Although I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her emphasis upon the individual responsibilities, I believe that the family conserves those social responsibilities which are in many respects more important, and may indeed he the bellwethers for more individual responsibility in its turn.

The one thing that characterises every human family worth the name is the family table, and at that family table those who are members of the family have their food, not because they can buy it, or because they can get to the table quicker than anybody else, but because that is an integral part of the family life. That is the true Socialism. I have never been much impressed by the scientific basis of Socialism—it is not scientific, and it is not a basis—and I have never been particularly impressed by the utilitarian argument for Socialism which breaks down at the point of moral grandeur, or at least of moral responsibility.

What attracts me, your Lordships may not be surprised to know, is the Sermon on the Mount, and that religious basis which is inherent in the concept of the family: that whatever may be the moral quality of those who belong to it, they are within the over-arching care of a circle which ought not to he broken; and within that circle they are entitled, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent, to the basic necessities of life. That is Socialism as I understand it, and that is the supreme need that the family expresses. It is the supreme need which, in so many respects, the family is now denied. It is the supreme need which should be cherished by those who, as a Labour Government, wish to serve, as they do, the true interests of family life.

It is for that reason that I would append one or two very obvious comments on the imperfections of the way in which the family is cared for; and not out of compassion only, but out of a sense that it is morally right that those who are without a home should have one, and those who are without food should have it. It would appear to me that in respect of food and clothing, we have already accepted, and largely discharged, our responsibility to those who have it not. It is housing which is still the poor relation, and I believe it is as imperative in a civilised society to give somebody somewhere to lay his head as it is to give him something for his belly and something to put across his shoulders.

These are principles which are at the moment attempted impartially, but at the same time by no means cover the whole field. There are 750,000 families at this moment which are homeless. I try to imagine what it would be like if I, even at my advanced age, had to make provision as best I could for a family with nowhere to go, and it was raining.

Of course you can say that there are means whereby the civilised community is trying to deal with it. All I am trying to say is that, in our respect and our care for the family, there is no limit to that which we are compelled to do in order to preserve that which lies at the heart of every family principle, and that is the mutual care whereby each member is given an adequate opportunity to share at the common board and to pay his dues when he has received the benefits—to each according to his need, from each according to his power. That is not only a Christian belief; it is what I have observed for long enough to be a Socialist one, and it is the heart and substance, as I believe, of this debate in your Lordships' House this afternoon.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with some sense of humility, for two reasons. The first is that like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, I can say that I have been happily married for many years—more years than he has—that my four children are married and have children of their own, and that in my belief they are happily married, too. At the same time, it is with great humility that I feel so deeply for the people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Soper, so touchingly referred when he asked, "What do you do if you have nowhere to go and it is raining?" My other feeling of humility is to follow a Peer with such famous oratorical powers as those which the noble Lord, Lord Soper, possesses, because I do not possess any such; and I hope that, after I have finished, he will not poke at me the same accusation as that which he poked at my noble friend Lord Massereene in suggesting that he was rather bold in what he said. I think it is fair to realise that, although one may not be an intellectual, one is entitled to ideals and is entitled to express them as best one can.

Another difficulty I am in is that I have such great respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for her work in this House, in the various tasks which she undertakes, has undertaken for years and I hope will undertake in the future, for the welfare of her fellow men and women; because, rather like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, I wondered what this enormous series of paeons of praise for the Government's action was really in aid of. Of course it is in aid of the Government, and of course one respects the Government for what they have done; but now I come to the main part of my speech, which will be followed by two minor matters.

The main part of my speech is that I am unable to agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness and her fellow speakers regard as the assessment of the situation. Indeed, I think the very reverse is the case. While recognising all the Acts, the regulations and the steps which have been taken to help families, I believe that we must face the fact that, after a long period of a Socialist, so-called Labour, Government in power, there has been produced an alarming increase in the number of broken homes, divorces and children in care, the minimal parental control of education and a lot of upset in the situation of education generally In that respect, I was very interested in what was said by, I think, my noble Friend Lady Faithful, when she said how important it was that headmasters should make a point of being in touch with parents. That is difficult, but it is not impossible. Then, my Lords, there has been an alarming increase in juvenile deliquency, violence—violence, a great deal of the blame for which, I believe, must be laid on the television authorities, not only for the manner in which they never show a film, practically, except documentaries, which does not contain some measure of violence, but for the fact that when they run a trailer to say what is coming on it always contains some violent scene, which doubles the trouble, I think—pornography, and so on and so on.

All these are evils which feed on the break-up of the family, and hence, I think, indicate in a measure the failure of socialism to live up to the ideals which originally attracted so many sensible, sensitive people to its ranks. Indeed, these ideals—the ideals for which I stand, and the ideals for which the noble Lord, Lord Soper, stands—were the ideals of the original founders of the Labour movement. Under this Government, Socialism has in my view deteriorated into a free-for-all. The all-embracing mutual respect which stems from the family unit has deteriorated into a freedom to plunder the reserves of treasure and the reserves of moral fibre which have been built up by generations of our forebears. There is freedom to be divisive—always the working class versus the rest—freedom to brush aside respect for others; freedom to steer the ship of State away from the moral values upon which it was built. I know that I am not alone in blaming the Humanist doctrine, the Humanist movement, for much of this. The Humanist thinkers, who think like anything and whose thoughts ceserve the full respect of all others, are nevertheless in my view misguided, and their example has provided the excuse for the indifferent, the lazy and even the malefactor to opt out of decent behaviour.

I picked out a sentence from a leader in The Times this morning which illustrates what I mean: There are also the good, idle, soft-minded people in Great Britain who prefer not to think of subjects which could only disturb them". Then there is the dirty tricks department. I do not mean more recent events, but the inclination to strike—baggage handlers to strike the day before a holiday; that sort of thing. Surely that is quite foreign to the regard of ordinary decent British people for proper behaviour as we remember it in years gone by. My sympathies are with the good-going, decent labour folk who, because the Marxist creed is now using the Labour movement as a stalking horse in its attacks upon tradition, now find themselves being carried along.

So, my Lords, having nailed my colours to the mast, I should like to turn, as I said at the beginning, to two comparatively minor matters which relate to housing and, in a measure, to education. The first is a technical one which I do not propose to develop in view of the late hour and the length of the speeches. It is the problem of the tremendous burden on many families which, during this bitter winter, the high off-peak tariffs, as applied to night storage heaters, has brought about. The problems have been very serious, as will be confirmed by anybody who knows of whole areas where houses have been built with no chimneys and no ventilation adequate to contain gas heaters. These instruments were described by my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery in a debate the other day—I do not remember the subject, He said that the night storage heater was the swindle of the century. It is not the night storage heater; it is the off-peak tariff which is quite ridiculous. It is at least half, if not more than half, of the ordinary tariff and it produces costs for heating which have broken up many familes in the last winter. They could not keep the place warm. It is involving the country in enormous expense. I believe that the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Energy would be better employed in going into this matter thoroughly rather than in some of his ploys.

There is talk in one place of raising the price of gas to the public for central heating in order to make sure that it is not too much cheaper than electricity. Surely there is something wrong with that. It requires very close and urgent attention. The whole matter, to my mind, of domestic space heating requires urgent and serious examination from the widest possible aspect in that the huge profits being made out of the sale of gas should be employed not in this and that but in enabling domestic space heating in the ordinary homes of the vast numbers of people who live in new building areas to obtain more economic power.

My Lords, from there, I go to another not entirely disconnected matter. It is a question of money, a question of good husbandry, which seems to me to be very lacking in a lot of what the Government are doing. I do not know how many of your Lordships saw what was to me that horrible scene on television, of bailiffs breaking into a recreation room while mothers with little children were herded out because the recreation room was required, I think, for a secondary classroom. It seemed to me to be quite terrifying. Why I say that is because it has come to my knowledge that there are areas where vast sums of money which should not be spent are being spent by Government on buildings, office building and the like; it should not be spent until such scenes as we saw in that recreation room have been removed for ever.

Take the £2 million building for the wealth tax office in Plymouth, unoccupied, which costs I do not know what a year. There is an establishment connected with the child welfare, an office in North-east England, where the child benefits section (I think it is called) of the Department of Social Security is being established in a building which I have reason to believe is quite monstrous in its unneccessary cost. I feel that that sort of thing needs to be very carefully looked at before we have such scenes as we had the other day.

So, my Lords, I again thank the noble Baroness for having introduced this subject. It is a most important one; and, realising as I do that, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull said, there are far more happy families than the other thing in this country, I believe we must turn seriously to the problem of the wider ideals of what is the background of the Christian belief. I remember reading in Lord Home's book where he recounts having asked Sir Harold Macmillian whether he could put his finger on the point at which Britian's decline in standards could be seen to have started. He replied, "Yes, the day that Great Britain stopped going to church on Sunday mornings".

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, we are truly indebted to my noble friend Lady Phillips for introducing another debate on the family and for the moderate non-partisan way in which she spoke. I do not think your Lordships will expect me to follow the train of Lord Ferrier's thoughts. I wish I could say as much for the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mustered her arguments. There were in great contrast to the speech that she made when the most reverend Primate initiated his debate on the family on 14th June 1976. When I re-read her speech—and a good speech it was—and looked at the measures taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer today, I thought he had taken up many of the points that she made in that particular speech two years ago.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness so early in her speech, but she drew attention to what I had said. May I say that the Motion of the most reverend Primate was, in fact, a different one from that put down today by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I try not to repeat myself and to address my remarks to the question at hand—hence, a different speech.


My Lords, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Baroness. I do not believe that this debate is so different. I shall not go into the figures of the small measures taken today. A great many noble Lords have spoken quite widely in this debate and I shall go on doing so, I am afraid. Of course, I can understand the noble Baroness. The air today is full of election smoke, when the political Parties of the Opposition do not have to take the responsibility for the measures. That is all.

Whatever view you take of the Chancellor's Budget—and it has not received a joyous welcome from most quarters and from all those who are only interested in tax cuts—I, for one, think it is a good Budget. When one takes into account the prevailing international recession and the fact that there are 16 million people unemplcyed in the major industrial countries of the world today—a fact carefully omitted by the noble Baroness, Lady Young—and when one takes into account our difficulties, I think one can concede that the Budget is a family Budget; and both North Sea oil and a successful pay and prices policy have contributed to this. It was designed to be gently stimulating to the economy so as to increase family incomes and family living standards by tax cuts; and, again, the tax cuts were designed to encourage moderation in pay increases so as to keep inflation under control. The Opposition are quite blind to the fact that this is a further modest step towards a fairer society. The least that should be acknowledged is that the cuts in personal taxation such as the pension up-rating and increased child benefits, the additional public spending in priority areas and many of the other things that have been mentioned are all geared to helping the family.

In the "family" debate in June 1976, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that many people were concerned because the fabric of society today was breaking down—and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, seems to have continued on that line—due to a steep increase in divorce and broken families. While divorce may have a certain impact on the family, there are many reasons for the fabric of society becoming torn here and there other than the increasing divorce rate among husbands and wives who can no longer bear to live with one another. Also, the question of the children needs a more profound approach altogether. In this fast-accelerating, technological and scientific age, both economic and social changes are taking place. More women wish to work, apart from the desire to increase the family budget. That is only one of the facts that bring problems into the family.

Using words which are part of what I call "UN jargon", there are many adverse consequences along the path of economic and social change in the world today, and I should like to mention just a few at random. Hooliganism is a feature in child behaviour today which is very troublesome for the family. We dismiss it as just another horror in the world today—but for how many children is there a promise of success? They see on their television screens the ones who become successful and rich. Success is only a mirage for those disadvantaged youngsters, and there are very many of them. Surely, no one can blame the Government for ail of them, or for this. Therefore, I applaud the Government's serious endeavours towards giving school-leavers more training so they may have more opportunity to develop skills. By introducing systematic rather than just random training, the Government have announced their intention of giving priority to the vocational preparation of the 16 to 19-year-olds, among others. These are some of the young people who, because they lack education and opportunity, identify themselves so completely with their football teams that they are filled with rage when their team loses, and run amok. These are the reasons for some of the adverse consequences of "progress", in this world. Ail this is not just theory, because the Government's basic idea in training is that education must lead to work, and not to displacing people by machines.

I am afraid I have not tried to repeat what other speakers have said: I have limited myself to a few general remarks. I have only a few more sentences to add. With regard to the aged retired, I am greatly in favour of the "granny" residences mentioned by one speaker and rather against Hugh Faulkner's "extended family" idea. We are a free society, and those who enjoy this kind of family set-up are free to take part in it. However, I do not think that all grandparents want to live with their children and grandchildren. Furthermore, I think it is hard on young families to have what might be many years today in the "extended family". We all have a duty and obligation to look after the aged. There are many kind, happy and diverse ways of doing this, to the benefit of all three generations.

Finally, after these few fragmentary and random reflections on the subject of the family, I say: Long may it continue!— so long as, in the end, we get more and more equality of opportunity.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I rise, also, to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, very much indeed for inaugurating this debate. Listening to the last two or three speeches, I feel we have rather got away from the feeling of co-operation which I believe is necessary if we are going to carry through a long and important period of legislation for the family. To me, it is not a Party political matter at all. All my life I have been engaged in social work. I have worked with people of every political view, one way or another, and I think we can all make a contribution, whether we speak from these Benches, from the Benches opposite or from the Liberal Benches. It is a long struggle to try to improve our legislation and the conditions of family life. That is something to be done not so much by arguing on a political basis but by actively doing things that will help in this connection.

I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and I think also the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, when they said that, although conditions in many ways are very disappointing today in connection with family life, we must not forget the thousands of millions of perfectly happy people in family life, because we are apt to get all the bad things reported in the Press and elsewhere through the media. We all know that good news is not news: news is only bad news. I am not suggesting, of course, that there is not a lot of bad news, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that it is not all bad and quite a lot of it is very good indeed.

On the question of figures and information I was sent a very interesting document by the Order of Christian Unity, the organisation to which the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, has referred. Like him, I do not belong to it, but I do follow its activities with very great interest indeed. I was extremely distressed to read of the following figures. There are 700,000 one-parent families, involving 1¼ million children. Of course, not all those children will be unhappy, but on the other hand that is a very large number of children for whom the responsibility rests on one person. There are 5,000 children each year who are victims of cruelty; there are 1,000 who are seriously injured among those 5,000, and there are 100 who died from parental neglect.

These are really terrifying figures. There are 110,000 families, with 260,000 children—that is a quarter of a million or more—living below the supplementary benefit level; and there are 76,000 children taken into care each year. Those are figures about which we should ail be deeply concerned, and the speeches to which I have listened in your Lordships' House show how very concerned everybody is. We cannot generalise, because so many elements are concerned in these conditions, but there are some points which we might think about, many of which have been mentioned.

As we all know, there has been a great increase in the number of married women going to work. In 1951, 12 per cent. of married women went to work, and in 1976 the figure had risen to 25 per cent. In 1974, 9 per cent. of mothers with children under five were in work full-time, and 17 per cent. were in work part-time. I am not at all against married women working as long as they want to do so, and as long as the care of the children remains most important in their lives. But there are elements which weigh against the family, and possibly mean that more mothers have to go to out work than want to do so.

When a mother stays at home, the tax allowance is only £1,455 a year, as against the £2,400 for a family where both parents work. I do not know whether or not that position can be altered, but it seems a little hard and is no doubt a temptation for both parents to work, since they then get considerably greater allowances. The real value of a single person's tax allowance has risen by 53 per cent., while the tax allowance for a family with four children has risen by only 9 per cent. Again, it is hard to know whether or not these differences can be corrected but they weigh the facts towards encouraging women to go out to work.

As I said, I am not against them going out to work, provided that it does not make it impossible for them to care for smaller children. A real family policy should help families to stay together, and allow parents more choice as to what they should do for their children. In that field of choice, I should like there to be a wider choice of education. I am not discussing comprehensive schools and other types of education. I am saying that it should be possible, with closer co-operation between schoolmasters, families and local authorities—because, after all, local authorities are the people most involved—to get a wider range of choice in education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has pointed to the deplorable vandalism, bad behaviour and so on, which is prevalent today and which is stressed far too much by the media. I should like to feel that there was a closer relationship between the people organising education and the families. I believe that that closer relationship is growing, and that there are more schools which encourage parents to go on to school governing bodies, but it should go a good deal further still.

I should like to support all those who have spoken about organisations for underfive-year-olds, such as play groups, nursery schools and bodies which help with the problem of mothers having to go out to work. There, again, I do not think that we do as much as we should. In the information that I have been looking at for this debate, I find that there is more provision for under-fives in other countries. In France and Italy, the figure is 15 per cent., but in Belgium it is 80 per cent. and in the United Kingdom it is 20 per cent. I feel that that is not a good comparison, and I hope that in the future we can encourage more care for the under-fives.

As I said earlier, encouragement of the family to be represented on the school board of governors is excellent. But should like to see closer relationships between schools and industry, for those 15- and 16-year-olds who are preparing to go out into the world. I share the anxiety about the lack of schemes for employment, but I know of some businesses which have a very close liaison with the schools. They help a child of 16 or 17 to train at a technical school of some kind, and then take him into the business. A number of companies do that, and I hope very much that this idea can be encouraged and spread further.

Some noble Lords may think that this is a reactionary view, but I know of a number of children who, in the last year of their schooling, are so bored by and uninterested in what is being provided for them that they very nearly become ineducable. I would encourage those children, particularly in the country where there is more opportunity for young people to go into agriculture and other country activities, to leave school a year early and go on to some kind of training which is recognised as part of education. As I said, it may be outside the school but it would obviate that year of boredom which so often overtakes those who are not intellectually-minded, and who are anxious to go out and work with their hands. That might do something to reduce the vandalism which we all know so well.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that it is splendid that the housing authorities have now decided that they have built enough high-rise flats, so we shall not see any more of them. Possibly, they were a necessity when they were first built, but they were not meant for families with children. They were meant for adult people, or people with children who were not young. Many of them were built without any community facilities, and, sometimes, without any youth clubs and so on. The position is now being improved, but it could be improved much further, and it is a thousand pities that the problems were not met when these places were being built.

I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who I see is not present. I remember very well that, in 1935 when the Pioneer Health Centre was first started, I went to help and Lord Donaldson was the prime mover. That was the first effective community organisation that I remember, and it was largely due to his enterprise. It is a pity that that pattern was not picked up more often, but the war came and the whole thing came to an end. We have health centres now, but there is not the same family spirit as in the Pioneer health centre. It was largely due to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that that centre was started.

Nobody has mentioned in this debate the subject of juvenile delinquency—not because it is not in everybody's minds but it is a subject which has baffled a great many people. I believe that the practical way of dealing with juvenile delinquency is, as has been suggested, by involving young people in community work. This is being carried out in many areas. It is no good just preaching at the young; they will not pay any attention to preaching. It will help, however, if we can give to the young jobs to do, provided that they can see a purpose behind those jobs.

We face a tragic situation, with so many divided and unhappy families. Parents are not always responsible for their delinquent children, but they can influence their children. Very disturbing statistics show that at the age of 11 truancy in schools amounts to 1.2 per cent., and that by the age of 16 the truancy rate rises to 20 per cent. This shows a failure on our part to interest young people in either education or leisure pursuits. For this failure we must take part of the blame.

Noble Lords have spoken about the importance of the granny in the family, a view which I very strongly support. I am quite sure that all happy families contain people of all age groups. One should try to provide, if one can, independent accommodation for the elderly. On the other hand, I know many extremely happy families where all the generations live in the same house. We make much better provision now, both voluntary and statutory, for old people than we did in any other generation. I am a great supporter of day centres for old people to which they can go from 10 o'clock in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. There they can obtain a meal, chat with their friends, read the newspapers and so on. Day centres of this kind have sprung up all over the country under local authority guidance. They are provided by local authorities and they are very successful. I hope very much that we shall encourage day centres, whether for the handicapped or for old people. Such centres do not take old people away from their homes; they are just looked after during the day, and at the centres they meet their friends.

I am sure that we have made many mistakes in the past, but especially since I have been listening to this debate I have come to the conclusion that all of us are learning all the time and that our experience, whether in local government or in Government Departments, will go towards helping to find a solution to this problem. It is not at all easy to find that solution; we go forward in one direction and then something desperate happens in another.

The tragedy of divorce is very serious. I hope very much that in some way or another we can manage to reduce the number of divorces. Although there are a great number of divorces, the number of marriages has trebled during the last 10 years or so. It is still a very popular way of life, but when one considers the number of marriage breakdowns it seems, somehow or other, to have gone wrong.

I hope very much, therefore, that all political Parties and all interests will concentrate upon helping to forward these new ideas and better ways of thinking, that all of us will learn from our mistakes, as well as from those of other people, and that we shall not despair but instead try to bring some good light into these rather dark and murky surroundings. For that reason, our debate today has certainly been very useful.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords may well wonder, and the noble Baroness may also well wonder, why somebody with primarily industrial experience has put down his name to speak in this debate. I myself am wondering a little! The reason is because I look at the family as the essential, basic economic unit for the welfare of this country. I am not, therefore, going to speak about the social problems of the most needy, regarding which other noble Lords are much more expert than I. Instead, I am going to try to make a few comments on the motivation of the average family for the common good. I believe that the morale, the health, the vigour of the average family is vital to the success of industry and the economy of this country. I believe that, because the natural desire of each family to improve both itself, and from generation to generation, is potentially the most powerful motivating force for growth that we have. If that force is used properly, wealth will be created and the social policies which are being discussed today will be able to be implemented. Without it, as we have also heard, all too little can be done.

How does one activate in the average family this desire to improve from generation to generation? I think that most of us, as parents, know that we achieve comparatively little by talking, but that we achieve quite a lot by example. There was a time—indeed, to a degree there still is—when self-improvement, harder work and recognition that those things brought (whether work in business or for the community and the rewards that those things brought which were used to improve the family) produced real respect in the majority of the households of this country. On the basis of a respected example, parental influence on such things as education and the activities of the next generation generally can be very considerable. The next generation can be encouraged to obtain the qualifications needed to fit an ever-changing world.

In both business and industry we also need very much indeed moral standards —conscientiousness, honesty, regard for property. As I see it, the family is the only basic unit that can maintain or improve moral standards. In the context in which I have spoken, I do not believe that any Government during the last decade can be very proud of their record in relation to the average family and its motivation. Have we encouraged Dad to work harder? Have we encouraged him to work at all? The noble Lord, Lord Banks, spoke of the poverty gap and quoted figures. Have we rewarded self-improvement, skills or qualifications, or extra responsibilities taken on? I think that the well-known trends of differentials, certainly after tax, show all too clearly that we have not; and the shortage of skilled workers required to match the needs of an industrial country and to maintain our standard of living today bears evidence to the fact that we have not. I am aware that one should labour and not to ask for any reward, but we mortals find a little reward a help and indeed the reward actually makes it possible to take on extra activities for the community.

Have we encouraged or are we encouraging, as a Government, the younger generation to obtain, through their education, qualifications and skills higher than our own to fit them for the daunting tasks that lie ahead? Do we encourage the most able and the most willing to make the full use of education to get on or do we, in a natural desire to make sure that exact equality of treatment in terms of education is handed out to every individual, make this harder? Do we encourage parental influence, particularly in relation to education? Yes, we all want parental contact with school teachers but do we want it in terms of trying to encourage parental influence or are we asking for it just to gain the co-operation of parents with the superior wisdom of the State or of institutions? Have we encouraged the family as the basic unit for moral standards?

Today, there are many drives in the name of freedom of expression; for obscenity and blasphemy laws to be abandoned and for the attitude to pornography to be even more permissive. These efforts are made in the name of freedom of expression. I see that the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society, in the shape of their President, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, yesterday called for the abolition of the obscenity laws and for their replacement with laws to protect children while allowing completely free expression to adults.

I have been waiting for an opportunity to say that I do not believe the younger generation is any less ingenious than ours was and that if things are absolutely free for adults we shall not protect the children. To a degree, we have to deny ourselves the pleasures (if so they be) of being able to read, or to go to the theatre to view, certain kinds of the expression of the Arts if we are to protect the next generation.

I believe that the Christian religion must receive all the possible support that it can and that it must not be "knocked". I believe that parents cannot properly bring up their children without a law on blasphemy or if religion is knocked. For those who do not support the Christian religion, I would still say that, until the day when there is a codex Britannicus on moral standards upon which we all agree—and I do not believe that day will ever come—we must support the Christian religion in every possible way and hope that in normal families in this country each generation will be able and willing to bring its children up to those standards.

I noticed that in the speeches of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, the emphasis was rather on the alleviation of the problems of the needy, of places where the family system has broken down, and I noticed that in many cases they would like to spend more money. I do not wish to debate the wisdom of how one should spend money on problems of these kinds, but I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said that money has to be very carefully talked about these days. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said that it is easy to spend money when there is plenty about. We all know—and it has been mentioned many times in this debate—that we have too little money. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, pointed to the huge numbers of unemployed and thus to the world slump and the world recession behind which many of us today are hiding. But the world slump has not stopped countries in Europe which had a standard of living on half the level of ours in 1950 from having a standard of living at least 50 per cent. higher, and in some cases double ours today. It is not the world recession: it is because we have concentrated far too much on distributing the cake and far too little on making it and that is why we have inadequate money for social policies.

Of course other things, besides the disincentive to this family unit which I regard as so powerful, have contributed enormously in recent years to the fall in our standard of living, and I have spoken of some of them. But we do not want to underestimate the value of proud families striving to improve and what this could do, both directly and in regard to all the other evils which are holding back our productivity, our efficiency and our creation of new wealth. There is a tendency, I believe, for there to be a growth in the number of homes and families where cynicism and apathy are getting the upper hand, where dad, if he was a dad such as I have described, who acquired an extra skill and has worked hard, is regarded as a mug, where the children decide to live partly on State benefits, partly on part-time jobs, or—and I have to say it—to take a job and join a union with the greatest muscle even though the productivity record may be very low. There is another area in which dad can be regarded as a mug. He can be regarded as a mug if we over-emphasise the wisdom of the State and the widsom of institutions in relation to the family, and make him feel that his is not the influence that really counts for the next generation.

I do not believe that either Party's record is perfect in respect of the family of which I have spoken, and I do not want to attribute particular blame on the points that I have criticised. But I think that I must in ending say this: I cannot accept the criticisms that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, made of my Party and the championship he made of Socialism as the Party which by definition cares for the family. In the terms in which I have spoken, which I believe come first—the need to build up wealth, the need to encourage proud and active and positive families, the need to encourage the family as an individual unit, sometimes even as a small business—I do not believethat these things lie easily with Socialism as it has been practised by Governments in this country since the war.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, in this fascinating debate, which was introduced with such characteristic sympathy by my noble friend Lady Phillips, I want to talk mainly about the inner cities, and I hope that in at least the later part of my remarks I shall take with me the noble Viscount who has just spoken. But before I come to the inner cities may I say a word or two about rural areas. It is known that I am chairman of the Development Commission which has a wide rúle in supporting not only the economy but the social fabric of the rural areas. Our job is to try to arrest depopulation, to create more jobs, to support all the rural community councils and bodies doing work which supports the family and the elderly and the social fabric generally.

The point I want to make at the very outset of my remarks—and I hope my noble friend will allow me at least this compliment to the Government—is that I am very grateful to be able to say to them tonight that my fellow Commissioners and I are absolutely delighted that the Government this year have doubled our budget. At a time when other organisations are in some difficulty in these matters, we have had another £8 million, on top of our normal budget of £8 million. I think this means that we shall have a further enhanced rúle in the countryside to stop depopulation, to support the family and to support the social fabric generally. Indeed, one of the things we have at this moment is a whole series of pilot studies to back up our attempts at economic revival by trying to identify what social measures, from all parts of the community, from all parts of government and local authorities, from independent agencies, are needed in order to make life tolerable for people in the remote countryside, and to get them to stay there and enjoy their family life there.

This is a new departure for us. It is very warming indeed to be able to say a word of thanks to the Government, at a time of national stringency, for doubling the budget to be spent on what I hope your Lordships will agree is a very worthwhile part of economic and social revival in our community. I offer particular thanks to my right honourable friend, my noble friend's right honourable friend Mr.Peter Shore who I am sure has had to fight hard for this share of the national cake in order to give it for the work of the Development Commission.

My Lords, I turn now to the question of the inner cities. One point that has struck me in this debate is that we have all been talking about the individual social support needed for the family, and I think we have perhaps not emphasised sufficiently the importance of the environment, in the way it eats away at the family, indeed at the stability of family life. It is, of course, in these inner city areas where the problems of family life are among the most acute and among the most concentrated, and where we find most of the problems. It is interesting for me, in my job of reviving the rural areas, to see that the problem is very similar and the method of cure is also the same as far as Government plans are concerned. The problem is depopulation, dereliction, waste of resources in that sense. I see, for example, that the population of Lambeth has declined from about half a million in the early 'thirties to about a quarter of a million now. The means of revival which the Government have hit on is the same as we in the Development Commission use and have been using for some years, namely, clear unequivocal partnership with the local authorities in planning total revival of the areas. I wish them well, but I want later on to point to a few of the dangers and difficulties in the way.

These areas of the inner cities, the worst of them, have higher unemployment than other parts of the cities; they have twice as many in poor housing; they have twice as many in overcrowded houses; they have twice as many one-parent families. No wonder they are the areas where family life breaks down! This is not due to waywardness in Government policy. It is simply that, as we know, the inner parts of our cities have collapsed. Firms have closed, firms have collapsed, they have contracted; dereliction has set in; hopelessness has permeated the whole community. Only a quarter of the jobs in London have really been lost by migration. It is not the case that that has been the main cause of collapse. Certainly it is not the new towns; they have only taken about 10 per cent. of the people migrating from London. It is simply inner collapse that has taken place and created social problems.

So you get problem areas, social dereliction, vandalism, problem communities, the breakdown of the family unit. I must say this hit me personally a few weeks ago when, in an area in Lambeth where I stayed temporarily—and this is the sort of problem that will be well known to my noble friend Lord Soper— as I was going down the street an elderly gentleman ran out of the door and said: "Could someone come to help me?" His wife, who had just been more or less delivered, as you might say, from hospital, just dumped there after a long stay in hospital, had fallen out of bed and he wanted somebody to come and help him lift her back. From that I got involved with a very sad case, of very elderly people, knowing nobody, the family having gone away, with nobody to support them except a home help provided by the local authority; but with no family within easy distance, and neighbours who did not really call on them very often. I am met, as I go in the door now, with the statement, "You are the first person I have seen for a couple of days". We have all had cases like that, and my noble friend has pioneered coping with them in huge parts of London. I must say that in an area like Lambeth one can see the whole breakdown reaching right down from the social and physical dereliction to the personal problems of the family, in many cases like that of people who have very little hope left in the community in which they live.

In these circumstances, I want to suggest that there are no easy solutions. It is not fair to any Government for any Party to start saying that there are easy solutions to all these problems. This is a long period of decline bringing decay in its wake; we have to get renewal in every sense of the word. A second tribute I should like to pay to the Government is that they have realised the enormity of this problem by the amount of resources they are now putting into the inner cities. From about £30 million a year if we take the seven partnership authorities, the seven inner city areas chosen for main effort, the figure is going up to £125 million a year on the plans now made, starting, as the plans get into their stride next year, with a total commitment of about £1,000 million over 10 years.

We shall see next year whether these plans are going to be successful, because they should be ready by this summer. Indeed, I should like to know from my noble friend whether he feels that these plans are going ahead well, and whether we are going to see real revival, regeneration of the environment in these inner cities, on the basis of the plans that are now coming forward. Are they coming forward fast enough and complete enough? In this area of Lambeth I was absolutely delighted to have pushed through my door the Lambeth development plan published by the local authority, showing how they are going to use, if they can, their share of that money on employment, shopping, recreation, social services and education. The whole matter is set out in the consultation document. We are all asked to say what we think will be the best for this tough area of London, where the problems are so acute.

This money will have a great deal of effect: more nursery schools, more play areas and play leaders—delighting my noble friend Lady Phillips, I am sure—more advice centres, which delights me, and a real effort to draw back at least some industry by loans and grants towards derelict land clearance. There will be more help for teachers, as I see it, in the document and in the Government plans; a redeployment of social workers to bring more home helps and community and social workers into these totally deprived areas; hostels for vulnerable groups, day nurseries, day care for the elderly, open space for recreation. I could go on with a long list.

I wish to raise a few questions and conclusions. The Government are getting it right, in making this dramatic switch of resources into the inner cities, where so many of the problem families find their homes. From our experience in the Development Commission, the Government should not be faint-hearted at these partnership activities. In the seven inner cities there is to be the presence of the Government in the committees with the local authorities.

Our experience is that local authorities need to have their confidence rekindled. The Government have too often been the body that arrives and takes away our powers, or unduly interferes. First, we must go through a whole period, which we have been through in the Development Commission, of recreating confidence in the central Government's presence among us. When we have done that, when we have the local authorities up to that starting point of new confidence that the money really will be there, that the goods can be delivered, we must then, as a Government or Government agency, be fertile in pressing new ideas and in pressing for speed.

The real danger to the inner cities policy is not excessive idealism but the snail's pace at which the problems are solved. As we often find, it can take 18 months to acquire a piece of land. It will take another 18 months to get planning permission for something to be built. In the end, I say to my noble friend, hopelessness cannot be cured at that pace, given the dereliction of spirit that is now in our city areas. First, a good presence in these committees, good leadership in them, a fund of ideas to put to them when confidence has been rekindled, are essential. Secondly, I hope that all these committees will go straight away for partnership with private enterprise in restoring these inner city areas. The main point is to recreate confidence so that jobs begin to flow in, so that commerce comes back, so that a real life begins in these areas all over again. I am sure that can be done by creating the right conditions for private enterprise to come in and join the total revival.

Thirdly, I hope that there will be realistic views about the values of land. Much inner city land is worth ni1 nowadays —not the stupid prices put on it by people who bought it in years gone by. We must, as a community, face that. We must frankly face writing off much public investment in inner city land and say that it will be much better to use it for open spaces and parks. We cannot always hope to fill it out all over again with little Noddy houses, calling them modern communities. We have a real problem of creating a social pattern in these areas that may be rather different from the areas which they were years ago.

Last, I hope that if this pace of revival becomes too slow, the Goverment will give added powers to local authorities to be adventurous in attracting private enterprise. I should like to see such things as the ability of these local authorities to grant rating relief, completely, if they want, so as to attract industry and enterprise back into the areas. I should like to see them do anything they like. After all, what do we do with small islands in the Pacific? We make them into tax havens and free ports so that investors come in. We should have exactly that kind of adventure and spirit in reviving some of these islands of dereliction inside our own community. I do not mind what measures are used provided that they are ingenious and attract all kinds of people co come in and help the total problem of recreating the communities.

Baroness YOUNG

My Loris, while I welcome very much what the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, said, may I ask whether he is prepared to encourage local authorities, both Conservative and Labour, to sell freehold to industrialists land in the inner cities?


My Lords, I do not think that matters any more. From my experience as chairman of a new town, I know that everybody is becoming accustomed to accepting 99-year leases and 125-year leases. We are moving through a recreation of thought on this issue. I do not think that it is the issue that it was five years ago. I do not think it will be any issue at all in another five or 10 years. I cannot join the noble Baroness on that point. I think that in matters like that a century is enough that anyone wants to look forward to in these days.

Finally, I plead for a spirit of adventure in approaching these problems of the inner cities. The start is very good. I repeat my compliments to my noble friend and to the Government. The resources they are using and the leadership they have given are very encouraging. The difficulty will come when they try to find whether they can get the right pace in this revival. I hope that they will find some room for the kind of ingenuity and departures from practice that I have been suggesting.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, this debate has gone on for a considerable time. But, if a new understanding of the role of Government in shaping the lives of families in this country emerges from our discussion, our time will not have been altogether wasted, and we should be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for giving us this opportunity with so much distinction.

I think we are all agreed upon the fundamental importance of the family, not only to its individual members but to our society as a whole. It is the principal way in which there is established in a child the sense of security and the ability to cope with his emotional environment for the rest of his life. Those who are fortunate enough to be brought up in a united family—and in a most moving passage the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester pointed out that they are a diminishing proportion—are at the centre of a miniature social system. In it, they can see at first hand, and close to, the balance of tension between the forces which tend to drive its members apart and those which combine to keep them together: they are self-interest, ambition, adolescent rivalry on the one hand, and, on the other, tolerance, loyalty and, of course, love. They can learn from these that it is in the bonds of unity that strength and wellbeing exist.

This is an important lesson and one which it behoves a society like that in Britain today to see well learnt. For, whether we look at the mounting toll of violent crime, at the primitive, nasty and dangerous gospel of the National Front, at the disillusionment of the great army of unemployed or even at the principal legislation now before both Houses of Parliament, we cannot fail to recognise that the forces that tend to drive our national society apart are growing stronger by the day.

In these circumstances, the unifying influence of family life, quite apart from its contribution to the mental and physical health of the nation—which is an economic consideration of note that has not been mentioned today—is of paramount importance. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has therefore done well to draw our attention to it at this time. On the other hand, has she, I wonder, done equally well in choosing the terms of the Motion with which she does so and yet asking us not to be partisan? She is asking us, in effect, to share her view that the present Government have done rather well for the family, and she has undertaken this task, which might have daunted a lesser spirit, by advancing, a number of propositions. These, I hope, will emerge, together with others, in a brief résumé. But I do not, your Lordships will be pleased to hear, intend to pick up every chord that has been struck tonight.

The noble Baroness started early in her speech on comments on education, in which she referred to my right honourable friend the Leader of my Party in another place. She said that while my right honourable friend had done well to emphasise the importance of the primary school and the pre-school, she had noticed a sad falling off in the policy of our Party under subsequent Ministers. I entirely agree. I deplore this departure from the importance of the early and most formative years of the child. However, I draw her attention to the fact that there have been no Conservative Ministers since my right honourable friend was at the Ministry of Education and the trends which she detected were presided over by members of her own Party.

The two principal anxieties about the schools which parents now feel concern standards and, by that I mean both academic and social standards within the schools; and their own feeling of absolute powerlessness over what happens. It is true that the Minister has reacted to pressures about this and I think that she deserves credit for the steps that she has taken to learn more about these factors and about the actual performance of schools. We should also be glad, belated though some of us feel it is, of her recognition of the crisis that has developed in such key subjects as mathemematics and her launching into a scheme to recruit specialists to repair damage which should, perhaps, never have arisen. It was a step your Lordships will recall—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge will recall—which was warmly urged upon her in debates in this House on the Education Act as it became in 1976.

One very narrow but important area in which she has indeed taken an entirely welcome step—the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has already referred to it—concerns Circular 15/77 requiring schools which do not otherwise do so, to inform parents about what sort of place their children NS ill be attending, how they should be equipped, how they will be looked after and how the parents can enquire of the staff about their progress.

None the less, I believe that her reactions to these pressures suffer from two principal defects. The first is that, whenever she is confronted with a problem, she quite understandably appoints a committee of inquiry to pursue it further. That may be laudable on a limited scale and is understandable prudence, but when we consider that it throws an ever-increasing burden on Her Majesty's Inspectorate and that one of the reasons advanced for terminating the service of the Inspectorate in inspecting private schools to give them recognition as efficient was the burdens already existing on the Inspectorate, one wonders whether this should be pursued too far. Secondly, apart from a speech to the National Convention of Parent Teacher Associations brimming with good intentions about the recognition of the importance of parents and of listening to their views on the part of staff, and apart from Circular 15/77, she seems to have gone no further and to be reluctant to go any further along any of the roads recommended by the Taylor Report which she has had now for six or eight months. However much of a curate's egg she may have found it, I should have hoped that she could have done a little more in that area to recognise parental anxiety throughout the nation and adopt at least those parts of the report which give them an insight into, and a say about, the schools into which their offspring disappear for seven hours every day of every term.

I do not, because I have an interest in education, wish that matter to dominate my theme. I turn to the rural areas which might have escaped us were it not for the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. He raised the matter and, glad as I am for him to have his Budget increased in this area by £8 million, I must confess that I am none the less still less than enchanted by Her Majesty's Government. Some of your Lordships will be familiar with my view in this regard and I shall be brief. However, during the past decade or so, we have seen an increasing closure of village shops, partly as a result of taxation policy—value added tax, corporation tax, capital transfer tax and so on. We have seen a decline continued in most rural areas in rural transport and we have seen the amalgamation—which has nothing to do with the Government, I agree—of many parishes, thus removing yet another focal point in the community.

Once again, we come back to education. As long as we pursue a policy which means the closure of the small village school and the transportation of children to larger ones at a distance, that will be another focal point—a place at which mothers used to meet and gossip with other mothers in the village—gone and the village will be being gutted as a community and becoming a dormitory. As families are by nature inter-dependent because they are social creatures, just as the humans who compose them are social creatures, so the family is also threatened by this occurrence.

The principal theme of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, was, of course, the inner cities and I must say that I am reassured by the enthusiasm with which he greets the policies. I fear that, in my own view, the proof of this pudding will be in the eating—although it is some way off—but at least I am glad that he pursues the matter with such vigour.

Many speakers predictably referred to the child benefits and to the effects of the recent Budget. My noble friend Lady Young very succinctly pointed out that the Treasury tables of 11th April show that a married man with two children will in fact still be some £2.80 a week behind the position that he was in five years ago. Families with children are worse off now than they were then, and, as my noble friend pointed out, the entrance to the poverty trap is, if anything, opened a little wider by the Budget, with marginal rates of tax still at 80 per cent. on the first additional pound. The tax incentive to mothers with small children to go to work is, I think, misplaced. It should be neutralised, especially when we have massive unemployment. It seems a pity to encourage those who ought perhaps to feel free not to work, to do so while those who desperately need to work are kept out of employment by that very pressure. My noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood gave a vivid illustration of how the taxation system is biased in favour of mothers going out to work.

As regards housing, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, quoted the Homeless Persons Act of 1977. I am not sure whether the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, made clear the peculiar nature of this particular argument in favour of the Government's rúle—I am not sure whether the point went home. As I understand it, it was a Private Member's Bill introduced into the other place by a Liberal and heavily amended by Conservative votes there and here and although, of course, it had a Government wind behind it for which we should all be thankful, let us not think that they also spread the sails. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, did well to praise the work of housing associations and to welcome funds made available to them. I offer that in a spirit of reconciliation in case I seem to speak with too much asperity as regards his noble friends.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, tended to arrogate to his Party's philosophy all the Christian virtues of caring for the poor and seeking to provide shelter for the homeless. He quoted incidentally a figure of 750,000 homeless families. If that is exact, is it scandalous and I should dearly like to know, when he returns to the Chamber, where it may have come from. I can assure him that many of us on this side of the House are Christians as well—perhaps not as good as he is—and that our difference with him and his Party is not about ends but about means. His philosophy and those of other noble Lords have, for instance, given birth to the Community Land Act which, as we see it, will sterilise huge areas of the urban land in which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, hopes to do great things, whereas our view is that that land should be used for the building of houses by private enterprise for letting at reasonable rents.

It is of course important for the head of a family to earn an income and to do that he must be employed. We all know, do we not, how his chances of doing that have diminished under the present Government as, tragically, have those of the children in his family when they leave school. It is all very well to say that this is all the result of international circumstances beyond the Government's control. However, that is a very dangerous half-truth. If it were wholly true, we should be in no worse case than the rest of Europe, the rest of the West or the rest of the OECD countries.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, led us to suppose that that was indeed the case by, rebuking my noble friend Lady Young for omitting the figures on the facts. I am sorry that the noble Baroness is not present to hear me say so, but, when we look at the figures and find that, for the past six months, even Italy has a smaller percentage of unemployed than we have, we begin to detect the real truth that heavy taxation and a political bias against both individual success and private endeavour have caused private initiative and investment to wither so that jobs fall away from industry just as the leaves fall away from a tree when it is denied water.

Investment generates employment and employment brings prosperity to the families of the employed. All policies relate to the family. Investment, employment, prosperity and the family have all suffered in the last four years from the well-intentioned but misguided policies of the present Government. To that they have added the disincentive for employment embodied in the Employment Protection Act, to which many of my noble friends have alluded. At no stage and in no way do we on this side of the House call into question the motives, the intentions or the good faith of those opposite us in this House or in another place in framing their policies towards the family. But let us look at one aspect of it, as it bears on one aspect of the family.

A great many Members of this House, including my noble friend Lady Young and myself, spent a great deal of time in this Chamber—and so did the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who will follow me—on working on what was to become the Children Act 1975. Throughout the interminable debates, in which we all did our very best to assist the Government to make it the most effective instrument possible for its purpose, the Government modestly but audibly proclaimed the highest of motives, the loftiest of aims and the utmost dedication to improving the lot of the children to which this Act applied.

I mention this here because it seems to me that what followed was symptomatic of what is happening across the board. Considerable credit was reflected on the Government for an enlightened policy, but what very few people outside this House then seemed to realise was that what the Government had put before us was not intended, and could not hope to become, the law of the land straightaway—not, indeed, for a considerable time—as to many of its parts (and the whole of Part 2 for a start), but would be initiated by the Minister when he should choose to name the day for specified sections of the Act to come into force. In fact, the Act contains 109 sections and of those 34 have still not been implemented.

I do not question the good faith of the Government and it is not necessary for me to keep hammering that in, but what I do have to hammer in to the Government—and, indeed, to anyone who is prepared to listen—is that good faith and good intentions do not alone add up to good government. The rock upon which the Children Act has partially stuck is the same rock as has obstructed the course of Government policies right across the board, even including the Community Land Act. It is the total inadequancy of the resources at their command, even with the addition of the whole of the revenue from North Sea oil, to achieve the targets that they have set themselves.

We are now in danger of becoming accustomed to that inadequacy. We are in danger of greeting any narrowing of the gap between what we should by rights expect of them and what they actually deliver, not as an attempt to catch up on a slipping programme—as with the earned income of the family to which I referred earlier—but as if it was a real and actual piece of progress. That is how the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and Her Majesty's Government can come to the House, point to the child benefit programme—which leaves the family significantly worse off in real terms than it was five years ago—and actually claim it as some sort of triumph for benevolent socialism. That is how Her Majesty's Government can come to this House in the knowledge that under their supervision unemployment has increased from just over half a million to just around 1.5 million—with all that that implies for both school-leavers and for those who should be the breadwinners—bringing it to a level at which in the second quarter of last year it was worse than that of Italy; and with that record writ large for all who run to read, they still proclaim that they have constructed an environment beneficial to the family.

In the past four years they have all but halved the purchasing power of the housewife's pound and reduced the personal disposable income per capita of the entire nation by over 1 per cent. They have produced a famine in rented accommodation, reducing many newly-wed and many not so newly-wed couples to desperation. While showering local education authorities with advice about giving parents some richly deserved say in the education of their children, they have none the less left the Taylor Report on one side.

It is not always necessary for an Opposition to damn the Government of the day; I do not damn them, though by faint praise it would be possible to do so. However, in considering the terns of this Motion, which invites noble Lords to praise what the Government have done, I ask your Lordships to consider that in terms of finance, in terms of accommodation, in terms of employment and in terms of parental control over their children's future, if this Government soon leave office—as I hope tf ey will—they will leave the family worse than they found it.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the best thing I can do is to forget completely what I was about to say—I have left my notes on the seat beside me—and try to deal with some of the points that have been raised tonight. I am not so naive as to think that the Opposition would have found in their hearts a sufficient amount of charity to let one crumb drop from their table. I was not here when the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, spoke but my friends tell me that he blamed everything on the Labour Government. I can only say that he shows a profound lack of knowledge as to what has happened in the past four years. I would set aside time to educate him on this matter.

A noble Lord: It is too late.


I think that it probably is too late. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the few crumbs that fell from the Liberal Benches. A number of noble Lords have commented on the date of this debate and seemed to think that it was a kind of celebration for Labour Day. As so many of your Lordships have professed some adherence to the Christian religion—as I do—if it offends them that we should have this debate as a kind of celebration for Labour Day, may I suggest that they adopt the ancient tradition of the Christian Church, which always celebrated St.Joseph the Worker on 1st May.

This debate has been far-ranging and I hope, to some extent, valuable if only for its cathartic value to enable a number of noble Lords opposite to get a good deal of (shall I say?) pent-up emotion off their chests. A number of very important points have been raised in connection with social security and I do not intend to deal with them, as I did when I came into the Chamber.

A wide range of other Government policies affect families and the Government fully accept the need to take account of what might be called a "family dimension" in these policies, whether they be in the field of health, the personal social services, social security, housing, education or any of the other areas that have been touched upon by noble Lords this evening. One of the biggest challenges that any Government must face 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 while helping their own parents in their old age, is a frequent pattern, and we must try to ensure that our policies do not damage it and, where necessary, give it support. However, it is by no means the only pattern of family life.

As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, there has been an upsurge in the number of divorces and remarriages in recent years, producing as they do more and more one-parent families and families with step-children. There have been equally dramatic changes since the last war in women's employment patterns, leading to new needs for flexible employment patterns and day-care facilities We have to face the fact that we can no longer assume that the vast majority of families will include a mother whose sole responsibility is the care of her children and home.

All this has implications for education, employment, social security, taxation and social policies. I do not think that we are sufficiently aware—or, if we are, we do not want to acknowledge it—of what has really happened in recent years. It is so easy to blame everything on the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to unemployment, as did his noble friend Lady Young. He instanced one country in Europe where the situation is better than it is in this country.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will let me interrupt. I mentioned only one because it was the most glaring example. I could stand here most of the night reeling off places where it is better.


My Lords, we have to bear in mind that the problems from which we are suffering in this country at the present moment, be they problems of unemployment, of violence or of all sorts of other strongly anti-social behaviour, are to be found in a good many countries in Europe and also in the United States of America.

I want to come back to the changes which have taken place in recent years. Medical science continues year by year to prolong life to such an extent that, when at times I look at myself and look round your Lordships' Chamber, it would seem that the Almighty is reluctant to have many of us. This has produced a tremendous number of problems—problems which are going to be costly. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, with whom I went part of the way, but only part of the way, down the road, made a statement which I do not understand, saying that we had distributed the cake too much, or words to that effect.


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene if I did not make myself plain? What I was trying to say was that we have placed a great deal of emphasis on spending monies for socially desirable objectives. We have placed too little emphasis on the growth of the economy, to which I believe the family can contribute, and that is why the standard of living in many countries which in 1950 was half ours or thereabouts is now well ahead of our standard of living.


My Lords, the words that the noble Viscount used were "distributing the cake too widely". I took them down.


I will read Hansard.


I was just going to make the same suggestion. If I am right, I hope that the noble Viscount will go away and think of the implications of this. To whom are we distributing the cake? In the vast majority of instances to people who produce the wealth in this country.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord in what context he is making this remark? It is not a set of words that I remember, but I shall check Hansard and, if I am wrong, I shall apologise to the noble Lord. What is the context?


My Lords, I took it to mean that the noble Viscount was saying that we were paying out too much in social benefits when he talked about "distributing the cake too widely".


My Lords, I said that you had too little money to hand out, and that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and the noble Baroness had mentioned that money was very short. I did not say that you were handing it out too widely.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, would it help to reconcile everybody if I said that what I heard the noble Viscount say was that we had given too much attention to the distribution of the cake and not enough to its production.


My Lords, I shall be prepared to argue along those lines. Have we given too much thought to the distribution of the cake? What do you do when you have something like 8 million people who are in receipt of retirement pensions who are living longer; not to 75, but a very substantial percentage of them to 85.

What I want to draw to your Lordships' attention are certain fundamental changes in our pattern of living which have largely produced the situation which we are facing today. As I said, medical science is one of them and that has thrown up a tremendous responsibility so far as the community is concerned. There has been the changing status of women, which has again brought in an entirely new situation. There are, as some noble Lords have argued, the evils which have stemmed from scientific contraception. It is perfectly true that changes in the law have brought about widespread divorce, and that all this has thrown the pattern of family life into chaos and confusion.

It is really doubtful whether we know enough of what is happening to the family even to begin to work out a policy for it. A good deal of our anxiety, arid a good deal of our worry on both sides of your Lordships' Chamber, is often based—and I say this quite kindly because I do not think any of us knows—on ignorance of the cause of the situation and what we can do about it. I know from my experience in my own Department that we set up committee after committee to investigate this, to investigate that. Suggestions have come from noble Lords opposite that we set up more committees. Why do we set up these committees? It is because we simply do not know what is happening. We do not know what is creating these difficulties. We do not know how to deal with them. We have a whole series of talking shops that really do not get us very far.

The noble Baroness referred to the Conservative Party policy document which I think—I cannot remember the title of it at the moment—is a consultative document on family policy. But I noticed that although she was anxious to say that the Government have no policy, she missed this magnificent opportunity of telling us something about the policy in relation to the family upon which this Conservative document on the family obviously has something to say. I have seen part of it. I think it will only mean the creation of more committees, of more dicussion, and I am not sure that it is going to produce a policy which is any different from some of the policies that we have had in the past.

We have to bear in mind that we are dealing with very difficult problems, and we really do not know—and I do not think that very many people do know—how to resolve them successfully. I said the other day that a good many of our social security benefits were really like ready-made clothes. They fitted where they touched. But, as the Government are accused of really not doing anything that seems to be worthwhile, let me say something about the new benefits which the Government have introduced since 1974: child benefit, which is paid for 13½ million children; non-contributory invalidity pension, which benefits 130,000 people; housewives' noncontributory invalidity pension, which affects another 37,000; mobility allowance which, at the moment, 72,000 people have —a number which will eventually rise to something like 125,000; invalid care allowance, which has another 5,400. We have brought in, in the last four years, benefits which affect 6½ million people. Is anybody going to say that that does not benefit the family? Is anybody going to say that that does not help the family? Of course it does.

These new benefits are going to cost something like £2,000 million. Together with the other benefits we are paying out, the cost must be in the region of £12,000 million. All right, we may be spending too much of the cake on benefits, but we have to look after the people who create the wealth in this country. I never have been a producer. I have never, from the time I was born to the moment of standing before your Lordships now, ever produced anything that has been worth while that can be sold abroad or sold at home. I am, like a good number of other noble Lords, a parasite.

We are; let us face it. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, raised a number of matters, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Young. At present I cannot see any other way of assisting the family, which after all is a group of individuals, other than by looking at the needs of groups within society. I accept that this may not be a satisfactory way of doing it. Here are a number of people who are not mobile. We do something for others. So far as I can see, about the only way in which the Goverment can deal with the problems in the community is to look at each group and find out what they want and need, and then do their best to alleviate some of the distress and privation.

The noble Lord, Lord Banks, raised the question of one-parent families with a single child, and the allowance and the supplementary benefits scale. As the noble Lord will know only too well, the requirements and resources of parents and children have to be taken together for supplementary benefit purposes, and the total child benefit and child benefit increase must be set against the needs of the family as a whole. Child benefit increase in particular is not geared to the needs of one child but is meant to go towards the needs of the family as a whole, and that does not mean that they suffer financially.

The noble Lord drew attention to the comments from the Personal Social Services Council on the DHSS document The Way Forward which followed our earlier consultative document on Health and Personal Social Service priorities in suggesting how targets in various fields of service provision might be met. I think the comments in question probably came from the Committee's secretariat rather than from the Council itself, and they cast doubt on whether the targets in The Way Forward—targets for the elderly as well as for other groups—could in fact be achieved within the public expenditure forecast. I think this is the point which the noble Lord was raising. I recognise that details of this are complex.

My Department has considered the comments of the Council's secretariat carefully, and we are sure that on a number of points they rest on a misunderstanding. But no one can be complacent about the difficulties of achieving targets in the provision of health and personal social services for the elderly or other groups. We have never concealed the fact that great efforts and a considerable amount of careful planning and management will be required, but we are not shaken in our belief that in national terms the targets we have suggested are achievable. We think they are and that is the only answer I can give to the noble Lord.

I was interested in what the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, had to say about the divorce situation. It is serious. This is a field that I know very well. It is very difficult to know what Governments can do about this. I suppose that Parliament in its wisdom or stupidity—at times I do not know which—tries to reflect in some measure the views of the people at large. Consequently, there is no denying that the divorce law made divorce easier. But you have to measure it against (shall I say?) the unhappiness of two people who are forced, for one reason or another, to go on living together, particularly when there are children.

I do not know—or, having spent some years as a professional social worker, perhaps I do know—that it is less of a hell when the parties are not living together than when they are living together. It is all very well for people to say that children are resiliant and they can put up with anything. This is just not true. I am not defending the Divorce Act; I am not saying that divorce is a desirable social thing. I am saying that one has to realise that there can be greater hells if two people go on living together when in point of fact they would be better off apart. One does not always realise the misery behind the figures and I am grateful to the noble Marquess for bringing this out. It is not just 160,000 divorces. It means a great deal of misery, very often affecting two or three times that number.

I am not sure that an inquiry into the working of the Divorce Act is going to serve any useful purpose. I do not think it will. I do not think that one can go back on it. You cannot prevent society from having divorce. As the noble Marquess said, I think it puts a responsibility upon everybody in the community to come to the rescue and help in a variety of ways. We have got to start thinking in our schools, not just of planning for parenthood but of planning for marriage. We have to get across what marriage is. We have to talk quite frankly in our schools about the various relationships within marriage. As we all know, there are other relationships apart from the sexual one, and we have to talk about the importance, particularly when the marriage becomes a parenthood relationship of the responsibility to a child and children. I think we have been bad about this in our schools. We have done a lot of preventive work in talking about how to cope with marriages that go wrong. Probably one of the most important relationships in life is that of marriage, and it is the only thing you do not have to be trained for. It seems to me that this is something that perhaps we ought to be looking at.

In the last analysis I suppose it means that education is the answer, and anyone who is connected with local authority education ought to be asking the local authority what they are doing in their schools. There are lots of very competent people in the community who have been selected and trained to do this very work, who are willing to do it if only they could get on the inside. It is not easy to get on the inside of our schools.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, mentioned a number of matters, and while I am not suggesting that she meant what I am about to say I want to use something as an example. She talked about bad housing and divorce. We are very apt to offer social evils as a cause of the breakdown of marriage and the breakdown of the family. If noble Lords took the trouble to have long conversations with professional social workers they would see that very often the complaint, "I am inadequately housed" or, "This is happening to me", is a symptom of a breakdown in a relationship and not the cause. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, will know of the enormous efforts which some social workers have made, successfully, to get a couple rehoused, only to find that they are still trying to cut each other's throat. Do not always let us feel that the social problem is the cause; it is often a symptom but we have to look very much deeper.

I was interested in the point raised by Lady Faithfull about the monitoring circular on the under-fives. As she knows, local authorities are independent of central government, and obviously we cannot force authorities to make changes through some mechanistic procedure and against their better judgment. This is always the difficulty of the central and local government relationship. Apart from that, quite a number of the improvements suggested in the joint circular are improvements in quality and attitude which it would be difficult to monitor precisely. We must recognise, as the joint circular does, that local authorities have limited resources at the present time. We shall be watching progress on the subjects of the circular. Some of the personal social services matters will be covered in my Department's newly instituted series of planning exchanges with individual social service authorities. I cannot go beyond that now, because of the time, other than to say that we are alive to the matter and will want to do something to try to monitor the problems as best we can without causing any difficulties.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithful], then referred to housing and asked when the Government would be issuing a White Paper on housing policy. As the House may be aware, the Government issued last year a major consultative document on housing policy and the responses to that are being, and will continue to be, very carefully considered. There has been quite a response, and of course consideration takes time. The issues involved are very important, and I cannot at the moment give a specific time for the publication of the White Paper, though the House can be absolutely certain that the Government will follow up the Green Paper as soon as they appropriately can.

It was suggested that new legislation should be subject to scrutiny in its effect on the family and that that might result in the production of a family impact statement accompanying each Bill. If I say I found that an interesting suggestion, I hope that will not be taken as damning it with faint praise; indeed, the suggestion has already been made elsewhere. One needs to avoid complicating still further the process of legislation, unless one is absolutely certain that changes would give practical benefit. As I say, we should not dismiss this suggestion out of hand.

Then we had the suggestion—it was made several times—that there should be some form of family council to advise Ministers on the impact of various policies on the family. It has not been altogether clear whether noble Lords who made that suggestion had in mind a membership comprised entirely of representatives of voluntary organisations or whether a wide range of other expertise—educational, legal, medical, fiscal and so on—would be needed. There may be a risk that such a council would have to cover such a wide range of interests that it would be so large and unwieldy an organisation that it would have difficulty in proving effective, and of course in these circumstances what we want is speedy action.

It is at least possible that more effective co-ordination of Government policies could be achieved through the existing machinery for inter-Departmental cooperation. Again, this is something we will not dismiss out of hand, but we must see that whatever organisation were set up is wieldy and that it would be possible for it to operate. It may be that in the last analysis something inter-Departmental with a revised function might meet the point.

In view of the time I have spoken and the lateness of the hour, I do not think I should continue. This has been a worthwhile and useful debate. I shall, as usual, read in tomorrow's Hansard all that has been said, and if I can pick up any other points I shall certainly do so. I am grateful to all who have taken part.

8.26 p.m.


My Lords, I wish at the outset to thank all who have taken part in this debate. Perhaps I should say to the right reverend Prelate— I thought he chided me rather gently about my having tabled this Motion—that I am sure he would agree with me (a little earlier I was talking about prayer and my Catholic gathering) when I said that prayer was not used enough to say, "Thank you". We are always calling on the Almighty to do things for us, but how often do we say, "Thank you" when they are done? Today I managed to get a taxi in order to get to a religious luncheon, so the Almighty obviously approved of my arriving there, whereas He makes me walk on other occasions.

I regarded this debate and Motion as a little "Thank you" to the Government. If we look at our Minutes of Proceedings we find a whole series of matters calling on the Government to do this, that and the next thing. We should remember that Governments are not separate from you and me; they are you and me. I recall once telling a large gathering who were calling on the Government to do all sorts of things, "The Government would like to do all those things, but you must find the money", whereupon about half of the resolutions were immediately withdrawn; that is, when they realised that the Government were not a figure on high who could wave a band and produce all the necessary money. I therefore thought there was a slight inconsistency in the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Young; on the one hand, she said we were not giving generous enough 'allowances and so on, and, on the other hand, she said taxation was too high. As I understand it, unless you put something into the pool you do not have anything to draw out.

I am always a little stunned by the fact that so many noble Lords still equate education for the under-fives with mothers working. I would say, as an ex-teacher, that it has nothing to do with mothers working; it is the social effect on the child—that is what I am concerned with—but unfortunately it has become to be correlated in the wrong way. If mothers have to work, that is one thing; but even if mothers are sitting at home doing nothing —which is not the lot of many mothers—then one must consider the social effect for the under-fives.

To those who appear to blame the Government for the divorce rate, I must repeat that if we are not, as a Government, to get the credit for the Homeless Persons Act, there is no reason why the Government should be held responsible for the divorce rate. It must be remembered that that measure started, like the abortion legislation and other measures, as a Private Member's Bill. Personally, I got heartily sick of hearing them all because we seemed to go through them each about four times. However, it was the tenacity of the private individuals who set things going and demonstrated their initiative in the matter. It is Governments who, apparently, are having to bear the responsibility. When I heard the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I almost changed the habit of a lifetime and was not going to withdraw the Motion, because I thought that we might have a nice pile of documents showing what the Government have done in support of the family. He seemed rather unconvinced.

Several noble Lords raised the question of closer co-operation between parents and teachers, and here I want to put in a little "plug" for religious education. I am chairman of governors of a religious school. We do have parent-teacher cooperation. We do have the parents brought into the school. We do have instruction on marriage, not purely sex education. So I feel either hat I am lucky in the school of which I am chairman of governors, or that we have a model which we can hand on to some others. But in either case I am going to get my little "plug" in, for which I am sure the Government will forgive me. My Lords, the hour is late, and we have another very important debate to come. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.