§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs rose to call attention to the continuing importance of the family and to the social provision made for it; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, perhaps I may first say how grateful I am that even after the long 426 marathon of debates on the Queen's Speech, there are still so many noble Lords and Baronesses who intend to take part in this debate on the family. I very much look forward to hearing what they have to say.
§ It would be difficult—indeed impossible—to find a substitute for the family. For reasons of security and continuity, a micro-society is called for within the larger body corporate. Marriage provides economic, social and psychological support of a kind which is difficult to substitute, acts as a first line of defence in times of crisis and provides a small society in which human values are preserved against the pressures of mass living.
§ If the family is to be regarded as the bulwark of a stable society, we should do two things. First, we should ask which factors constitute a major menace for its continuing stability. Secondly, we should ask what action is called for in the strengthening of family life. But, before elaborating on those two points, I should like to make the fundamental point that in politics it is easy to forget that the family is prior to the state, that most people live most of their lives outside the political process and that the sum even of economic activity in family and community is probably greater than the total official GNP. However, in our kind of society, precisely because government regulations cover so much of life, it is important to be as explicit as possible—that is, to have a policy—about the relation between state and family.
§ The essence of that policy should be, first, that government recognise and support the role that the family plays in the rearing of children and the support of the aged; secondly, that government accept some part in providing collectively for those responsibilities; and, thirdly, that government lend support to some freedom of choice in family involvement by individuals.
§ At present there are signs that the stability of some families is threatened. The assumption must therefore be that policies are failing to provide the necessary support for them. So, with that in mind, I shall attempt to provide a framework for the debate by defining what present-day family structures are, for it is important to be clear about what we mean by "family". Secondly, I shall describe some of the pressures under which many families are struggling and the results of those pressures on individuals and on the wider community. Thirdly, I shall put forward suggestions as to how we on this side of the House think that government policies should adapt to enable families to meet challenges, achieve self-reliance and take a pride in themselves.
§ What constitutes the family in Britain today? Many people still cling to the idea and the hope that the nuclear family predominates. In fact the typical family, consisting of working husband, wife and dependent children, only accounts for a minority of households. There has been an enormous increase in the incidence of divorce. That fact has often been mentioned. If the present trend continues 37 per cent. of marriages are likely to end in divorce. Of those divorces 60 per cent. affect children under 16, thus creating a large number of single-parent households, which are mostly headed by a woman.427
§ It is estimated that they account for one in every seven families.
§ Since it is thought that 80 per cent. of those divorcing under the age of 30 remarry within five years, it is probable that an increasing number of children will have the experience of living at different times in their lives with a lone parent and with a step-family. Cohabitation is also becoming more common. But although one in four children was born out of marriage in 1988, it is important to note that 70 per cent. of those births were registered in the names of both parents. In fact that represents a more informal family structure.
§ Of course we deplore the weakening or diminution of the traditional family. However, I believe that it is important to accept the changing patterns of family life by recognising single parents and reconstituted families as a fact to be accommodated, not as an anomaly to be glossed over. I believe that the Family Law Reform Act and the Children Act have gone a long way towards achieving that.
§ At this stage it is perhaps important to consider on the one hand why a growing number of young people decide to establish a family outside formal marriage and, on the other, why there are so many family breakdowns, for there is undoubted evidence that divorce is very bad for children. I believe that the answers are inter-related. One reason often given by young people for not entering into a formal marriage is that they themselves saw and suffered the divorce of their parents. Some people give as a reason for the increase in divorce the feeling that there has been a decline in the acceptance of traditional moral values. Others think that the law on divorce has made divorce too easy. I suggest that a fundamental reason is that with so many financial and other pressures, even on two parent families, marriages can break under the strain. After all, rearing children is a hard, stressful and expensive job. It should be recognised as a task which is carried out not only for its own sake but on behalf of society.
§ So the need to redistribute income from those who do not bring up children to those who do is imperative. A country such as France recognises that. It provides family allowances which are infinitely higher than ours, paying £47 a week for a family with two children and as much as £180 a week for three children. There are also age supplements for older children. So why do the Government not increase child benefit? They know that they can recover the amount from those who do not need it through the tax system. The cost argument for not doing so does not stand up to examination. Everything points to the fact that it would be the greatest help for poorer parents.
§ The poverty figures for 1988 show a dismal picture. Whereas the rich got richer in the past decade, many families suffered a slow decline into poverty. There are still 1 million children in households headed by an unemployed parent. The Child Poverty Action Group estimates that 6.5 million people in families with children live in or near poverty. What does that mean for children? One-fifth of our population is under 16 years of age, 428 so a staggering 30 per cent. of children are living on the margins of poverty. There is absolutely no doubt that many families suffer from insufficient income. Noble Lords can imagine the effect of an 8 per cent. rate of inflation on those families.
§ A further pressure placed on a family comes when the mother of young children goes out to work. The increase in the proportion of married women in the workforce has been quite dramatic, rising from 10 per cent. in 1931 to 67 per cent. in 1987. In March 1989 a very interesting consultative document called The Early Years, produced by my honourable friend in another place, Hilary Armstrong, predicts that as much as 70 per cent. of women between the ages of 16 and 55 will be working in the 1990s because of the decrease in numbers of young people leaving school. The document points out that the need for good child care facilities has become absolutely imperative.
§ According to the European Commission, the United Kingdom has the worst record in Europe for providing state-funded child care for working mothers. Only 1 per cent. of the nation's 3.5 million under-fives have nursery places and many have them only because they are in special need or are at risk. The Prime Minister's much quoted promise, made in 1972, that there would be 300,000 places for three to four year-olds now looks very flat indeed. The opportunity must be seized to provide child care which has as its prime motive the good of the child rather than merely to find a way of liberating the mother to fill a slot in the workplace just because society needs her back at work.
§ Another way of removing pressures on families is to promote a more equal partnership between parents. I wonder why we do not follow the example of some other European countries where parental leave is designed to allow one or other of the parents to take statutory time off to look after children who are sick. That would help both the mother in her dual role and, I should have thought, the father, who will get to know his children better.
§ I know that the situation concerning lone parents will be fully examined during the course of this debate. However, I should like to make one comment on that matter; namely, that lone mothers bringing up children must be given more training opportunities to allow them to get reasonable jobs, remove them from benefit and enable them to earn wages which will help them to bring up their children. At present those women have no choice. They want to get off benefit and work in order to get themselves out of poverty. Work also provides an antidote to the anxiety and stress occasioned by bringing up children on one's own. I have brought up children on my own. Although I have not experienced financial restrictions, I have certainly known the anxiety and the antidote of the workplace for mothers who take on the dual role of mother and father.
I am sure that most people agree that every family needs a home and that that is a reasonable requirement. Since this Government have never had a policy for homes but only a policy for property, that basic need very often has not been met. As an illustration I should like to quote some very
significant remarks on this subject from a speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in 1976 in a debate introduced by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. She said:
I believe we have succeeded in creating a situation in this country where we have more homeless families, more empty properties, longer council house waiting lists and more under-occupation all at the same time".
§ The noble Baroness is not in the Chamber today. I have every respect for her but if she found the Labour Party housing policy so deficient when there were 53,000 people on local authorities' homeless lists, what must she think when in 1988, under her own party, there are over 116,000 people accepted as homeless by local authorities? Moreover, we know that that is only the tip of the iceberg.
§ Again, at the time that she spoke the council house waiting lists stood at 741,000 people. At the present time they contain the staggering number of 1.25 million. The figures have changed. They have become much worse than at the time she found them intolerable.
§ Perhaps I may mention those young people who, unfortunately, leave their homes lured by the bright lights and enter London destitute. To give noble Lords an example, I shall tell of a day centre near St.Martin in the Fields where 16 to 17 year-olds arrive. Most of them arrive determined to find a job and to get their act together. This enthusiasm soon diminishes. They cannot find anywhere to live so they cannot find a job. They then try for a youth training scheme. Again, they can find no accommodation. So they try going to a youth training scheme while sleeping rough. They do not realise that this is absolutely impossible. I think everyone will agree that one cannot go straight to work from a cardboard box. The hopes of these young people deteriorate extremely quickly. They take up the culture of the street. And we all know how extremely dangerous that is for young people.
§ I briefly mention two developments that are almost upon us which I do not think will help families very much. The first is the poll tax which has been talked about a great deal. This will not only impoverish families but will also create friction in homes between parents and their young because parents will be made responsible for their children's payments. This will not only undermine relationships but will also probably mean many more young people are turned out of home. The second is the broadcasting Bill. It does not promise to enrich family life. Families are said to watch television for an average of 27 hours a week—a higher average than our European neighbours. It occupies therefore a very important place in a family's life. However, the new proposals seem likely to lead to lower quality programmes, a decrease in children's programmes and more advertising. That can hardly be beneficial for viewers.
§ There are many other areas of concern that I hope speakers will take up. I wish finally to speak about the measures that the Labour Party is committed to take to improve the quality of life in Britain and so to reinforce the family unit.430
§ The first is investment in housing in the public sector. Although we on this side agree that many people wish and are able to own their own house, we cannot accept that in the process t he availability of low rent accommodation should become insufficient for the needs of the less well off. We shall commit ourselves to putting more money into public housing in order that there is sufficient accommodation to meet all the needs of people in this country rather than the needs of those who wish to buy their own houses.
§ I have mentioned the importance of nursery places. We are committed to provide nursery places for under-fives. It is recognised in most countries in western Europe that nursery education gives children an excellent start in life as well as helping mothers to fulfil their dual role. We feel that it is time that Britain followed that example.
§ In order to reflect our view that children should be placed higher on the political agenda, the policy review committee has established the appointment of a spokesperson on children on the Norwegian model. Indeed, with the adoption of a convention on the rights of the child at the United Nations General Assembly last week, it seems right to reassess our approach to children. The appointment of a children's commissioner would ensure a greater co-ordination of the interests of children rather than looking at them in the present rather piecemeal fashion.
§ Within the area of income, we should certainly make changes within the social security system including increasing child benefit and replacing the loans on the social fund which have so disadvantaged the very poorest children. The loans will be replaced by grants and benefit will be restored to 16 to 17 year-olds. It is not realised that the proportion of 16 year-olds in employment has fallen from the 53 per cent. previously to 15 per cent. in 1988. This means that they are dependent on their families. If they do not have a family, come out from care, and cannot get on to a youth training scheme they are destitute, as I described in relation to the day centre.
§ Lastly, I believe that the work done by family centres run by local authorities and voluntary agencies is of immense help to isolated mothers. They provide a variety of activities and services for young children and their mothers. They go a great way to removing the anxiety and depression often experienced by young mothers when they are not working. I believe that they should receive greater support and that such centres should exist in all neighbourhoods.
§ When one talks about improving a situation, the response is always the same. How much will it cost? I would respond by asking what the results of some of the present family problems are costing. Of course the incalculable cost in human misery is one factor. But what about the waste of valuable human resources? What about the financial costs of dealing with disturbed children, juvenile delinquents, increased health care and so on? Those are the costs that we could avoid if only we invested more in social provision.431
§ I am convinced that there is avery real danger that we may shut our eyes to what is happening at the present in America. We may follow that path rather than pursuing the example of more socially minded Europe. Developments within the United States present a threat far more immediate than any posed from an outside power. It has an enemy from within.
§ The syndrome of drugs, violence and inner city decay is blighting the whole of American society and continuing prosperity has not prevented the emergence of an alienated and embittered under class, which is under educated and unemployable and which takes note of the rest of American society only to prey on it. We in Britain might also see the appearance of such an enemy from within because it is made up of deprivation, homelessness and alienated young people. It is for that reason that we on this side of the House deplore the Government's heartless disregard for so many of Britain's least privileged families and ask them to put into operation more caring and humane policies. It is only that way—through re-establishing a strong and resilient family—that we shall be able to take on that enemy from within. I beg to move for papers.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I have the privilege of following the very exellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. I should like to congratulate her on her speech and for introducing this vitally important subject. From the list of speakers, it is very obvious that all in the House today—and many who would like to have been here—are very worried about the turn of events that has taken place in our country with regard to the family in recent years.
Divorce is one of the terrible marks of unhappiness that is permeating our society. It is one of the issues about which we may be able to do something in the future. The divorce rate doubled in 1970. Now 180,000 couples are divorced each year involving about 150,000 children under 16. I submit that that is a very worrying statistic.
The noble Baroness referred to the cost. My information is that those people who have been through divorce are now costing the country £3.5 million every day. This afternoon I do not want to talk about figures because the same figures have been sent to everyone and I am sure that noble Lords will not wish to hear them many times over.
I am deeply worried about the effects of divorce on children. I am deeply worried about the number of one-parent families. It may be a father or, more often, a mother looking after the children. In my view, a family is a mother, a father and children. That is what during our lives we have all become used to. The noble Baroness rightly referred to the fact that the situation is changing. But it is not changing for the better; it is changing for the worse. The change is resulting in deep unhappiness not only for the people involved in a stable or unstable relationship but also for the children. I have yet to know of a child of separated or divorced parents who has not been hurt fundamentally as a result. We 432 must try to do something about the fact that one in seven families with dependent children has a lone parent.
Loneliness is one of the terrible results of separated families in addition to the deep unhappiness. It can lead to unemployment and it can completely wreck both parents' lives. They are lucky if it does not also wreck the lives of the children. Only 18 per cent. of lone mothers work full time, while 24 per cent. work part-time. I agree entirely that the more we can help the lone parents to go out to work either part-time or full-time the better will be the strength and happiness for them and their children. The more one becomes stuck in even a nice home the more desperate one becomes about having to look after the children alone. I ask the Government to be absolutely certain that pre-school places are available in order to enable the lone parent to go out to work.
I have long experience as a step-greatgrandmother, a step-grandmother, a grandmother, a mother and for many years as a chairman of a juvenile court and a domestic court. Although I am elderly I have a certain amount of experience and a great capacity for caring about such people. One of my problems is the fathers—
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
I am upset—no, I am amazed that so many men on my side of the House should laugh about me being upset about fathers. I am upset because I sincerely believe that fathers receive a very raw deal. Fathers have helped to create their child—unless the child was created by this awful AID process—and have had some say in it. Fathers and mothers are responsible for their children being born. When a separation occurs in a family so often the courts give custody of the children to the mother. If the separation or divorce is amicable perhaps the father will be allowed to see the children. However, I recently read of a case in which a mother had bought off the father for a great deal of money. She had said, "I will give you this money if you promise never to see your children again nor ever want to". That goes against human nature and parental caring. It is absolutely wrong to believe that the children will not want to see their father. It is also completely unrealistic because the more that the parent who has custody tries to keep the children away from the other parent the more the children will want to see that parent and always will. I do not know of a single child who does not want to see the separated parent. It is unrealistic for a mother to believe that because she has fallen out with the father, the children will not want to see him.
Today we have little time during which to speak on this vitally important subject. But what of the future? In my view, divorce must be made far more difficult. I understand that there are certain people concerned with the law who believe that divorce should be made easier, although for what reason I cannot understand. In my experience, the first quarrel usually occurs after a year. After two years people may decide that they can live together no longer, even with the children. However, in my view 433 it is utterly wrong to grant a divorce after one year. That would encourage young people to get married on the spot without thinking too much about it. That would be a thoroughly retrograde step.
It has also been suggested that more counselling should be available to young married people. That would be enormously helpful. All noble Lords know of the excellent society called "Relate" which tries to help with counselling and conciliation. However, a great deal more needs to be done. During 1988–89 Relate gave 274,000 interviews in the course of helping 48,000 cases. That is a tremendous contribution towards helping people whose marriages are in trouble. I understand that they do not try to counsel people before they are married but rather when the marriage is on the rocks.
All children need two parents; one of each sex. I say to every Peer and Peeress present today, and to the outside world, that every man contributes enormously towards his child's welfare and future. So does every mother. I wish to quote from that great man, Dr. Martin Luther King. In October 1965 he said:Family life not only educates in general but its quality ultimately determines the individual's capacity to love. The institution of the family is decisive in determining not only if a person has the capacity to love another individual but in the larger social sense whether he is capable of loving his fellow men collectively. The whole of society rests on this foundation for stability, understanding and social peace".I believe that realisation of those words should be our target in the future.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord McGregor of Durris
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for giving the House an opportunity to examine the continuing importance of the family and to consider the social provision made for it. Of its continuing importance there need be no doubt. One of the very few generalisations that is true of human societies is that all have a family institution which prescribes conditions for sexual relationships, child bearing and child rearing and ensures, in the course of socialising the young, the transmission of ethical and cultural values across the generations. For us it is also the unit within which men and women find themselves best able to satisfy not only their sexual needs but also the need for sympathy, mutual aid and intimacy.
The family is not the product of the law, which is powerless to insist that members of a family shall display towards each other the sentiments which the creation and preservation of their group require or that unwilling spouses should live together. However, the law can and does fix the secondary terms upon which the family, within or without marriage, comes into being, functions and dissolves. It is the law which prescribes and enforces the web of rights and obligations both as to person and property deriving from status and relationships within the family. A multitude of influences have led in the last century to a transformation in the law regulating marriage and its dissolution. Within that subject I shall expand on only one of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and concentrate upon the financial consequences of the collapse of marriage for mothers.
434 I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, and other noble Lords will forgive me for using a few statistics, although I can at least plead that I briefed myself. In Britain in 1987 more than half a million persons married for the first lime. No one supposes that they will all cleave to their spouses until death parts them, for they are members of a society which has turned marriage into a romantic lottery. Most people wish to be in love when they marry and to remain in love in marriage and many wish to desert marriage if they fall out of love with their spouses.
During the last half century very large numbers have drawn losing tickets in the lottery and have been enabled to apply to the courts for licences to marry again. Indeed, we now have do-it-yourself divorce, although it is not to be assumed that the divorce statistics measure the number of broken marriages, because legal aid and other factors have promoted a large transfer from de facto to de jure breakdowns.
The numbers of one-parent families provide a more meaningful measure of our present situation. Mr. John Haskey of the OPCS, upon whose invaluable studies in Population Trends we depend to a very large extent for knowledge of this subject, has estimated that there were just over 1 million one-parent families in 1986. In that year, of all families containing dependent children, one in seven was a one-parent family mostly headed by lone mothers, 60 per cent. of whom were divorced or separated. Such families contained more than 1.5 million dependent children, so that one child in eight is brought up by a single parent, at least for part of its childhood, because those families are a reservoir constantly being filled by breakdowns and emptied by new partnerships in marriage or cohabitation. A very high proportion of divorced husbands and wives marry again—one-third—within two and a half years. Whatever may be the motives for divorce, divorced persons are not refugees from the institution of marriage.
The significance of divorce can be demonstrated dramatically from the length of time it has taken for each marriage cohort (that is all the marriages contracted in a single year) during the past 40 years to reach a 10 per cent. level of divorce. The marriages of 1950 took 25 years, those of 1960, 13 years, of 1970, seven years and the estimate for 1980 is for some four years. If rates persist at the 1987 levels, it is probable that some 40 per cent. of marriages will end in divorce. Nevertheless, on the same assumptions just over half the couples who married in 1987 will celebrate their silver wedding and 14 per cent. their golden wedding.
That massive increase has imposed severe financial penalties upon those involved. Spouses who change their partners are certainly not activated by economic self-interest. The 1 million one-parent families are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, said, very much worse off than those with two parents. They have to live on significantly lower incomes and are more frequently dependent upon the social security authorities. Last year more than two-thirds of them were dependent on income support. They find it much harder than other poor 435 people to obtain and retain suitable housing. The parents suffer the unrelieved loneliness, stress and physical fatigue of sole parenthood and the children experience multiple material disadvantages as well as the emotional deprivation which may result from incomplete parental support.
Awareness of this problem goes back at least to late-Victorian days when H. G. Wells was advocating the endowment of motherhood. Schemes were systematically examined by the Women's Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Reconstruction during the 1914–18 war. This led to the Anderson Committee, which examined projects for comprehensive mothers' pensions and rejected them in 1925 on the ground that divorced or separated women as well as the mothers of illegitimate children already possessed enforceable legal claims for maintenance against their husbands or the fathers of their children.
In the committee's terms only widows qualified for a state benefit and became in 1925 the only category of single mothers entitled to state support as a right. Beveridge wished but failed to extend his scheme to all lone mothers and the Government rejected the recommendation of the Finer Committee on One-Parent Families in 1974 for a guaranteed maintenance allowance. Accordingly those who today carry sole responsibility for nearly 1½ million dependent children still have no right to support in their capacity as mothers.
Nothing has changed in that respect since 1925. They are entitled to seek maintenance in the courts and like all other citizens they have a right also to income support by the social security authorities in certain circumstances. Thus they fall under both the private law of family maintenance operating through the courts and the public law of social security for which the Department of Social Security is responsible. In practice, however, public funds carry most of the casualties of broken homes. In 1987 more than a million children were being brought up on supplementary benefit. The proportion contributed by court maintenance orders has been falling steadily; it is now 8 per cent.
One remarkable feature of this situation is that the courts and the social security authorities behave as though they were engaged on separate enterprises. Nevertheless, the promises to pay in the form of court maintenance orders have to be redeemed by income supplement because many orders are paid irregularly or not at all.
Mr. Justice Finer's observation about the courts and the social security authorities in his judgment in Williams v. Williams in 1974 remains as true today as it was then:there is something radically unsatisfactory in the state of the law … which allows two authorities … when dealing with precisely the same people in the identical human predicament to make different determinations, each acting in ignorance of what the other is doing and applying rules which only tangentially meet each other".One main purpose of the recommendation of his committee to establish a unified family court was precisely to bring the private law of family maintenance into a new and intimate relationship with the public law of social security.
436 We have almost no information about the economic basis of these areas of family life which affect so many children. The Law Commission recommended a provision for continuous statistical monitoring in legislation relating to the financial consequences of divorce. At the Report stage of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill on 24th January 1984 the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and I moved an amendment to achieve this. It was resisted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as unnecessary to the extent that he had arranged for a feasibility study of the financial consequences of divorce by OPCS which would lead to a full study to start in the autumn of 1984 and to last 18 months. I assume that the OPCS research report would have been sent to the Lord Chancellor's Department more than three years ago but it has never been published. Was it ever written? Has the Lord Chancellor's Department received a draft or a final copy? Has the department been sitting on it? If so, for how long? When will it be published?
The recent government announcement of the intention to enforce maintenance payments offers no final solution; at most, no more than one-third of the men who fail to pay under court orders are rogues who have the money and refuse to pay. The rest pay irregularly or not at all for such reasons as long-term sickness or unemployment, but most because they have adopted the habits of their financial betters and either cohabit or marry again if their first marriages break down and they cannot afford to support two families from one income.
The starting point for reconstructing the arrangements for handling these family matters must be recognition that the community has no choice but to carry the costs of marriage breakdown through social policy. This does not imply that family obligations should be done away with or disregarded but only that they should be assessed and met within an institutional framework which enables the courts and the social security authorities to engage in a common enterprise. A democratic society cannot restrict the right of spouses to live apart or to divorce and marry again to those who are able to guarantee maintenance in advance, as in the old days of parliamentary divorce. Such a requirement would involve either an attempt to reintroduce indissoluble marriage or the acceptance of different sexual rules for different income groups.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
My Lords, I am quite sure that the Churches welcome this debate this afternoon and hope that it will lead to searching and widespread discussion throughout our society of the issues which are brought before us. There is not a vicarage in the land where deep concerns about marriage, divorce and the fate of children and young people in our society are not a continuous cause of conversation and indeed of prayer.
It is perhaps not surprising that voices on all sides are raised at present to the effect that the family appears to be under threat. This is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, reminded us, in part a symptom of insecurity resulting from the massive 437 changes threading through our whole society. I mention just three.
First, there is the revolution in the place of women in society and especially in the workplace. Two-thirds of married women now have a job outside the home, a development which has taken place almost entirely since the First World War. Secondly, there are the demographic changes. We live longer and though we marry later, marriage to be lifelong must last much longer than it used to. It is less dominated than it was by child bearing and child rearing and we demand a great deal more from one another within our marriages in terms of personal relationships.
Thirdly, the greater affluence which for most people—and perhaps not least for young people—now pertains in our society means a keener and more insistent demand for independence, for freedom to design and live one's own lifestyle as one decides. Family ties, therefore, are looser, though that does not necessarily mean that they are weaker.
In times of change there is a particular need to keep a sense of proportion, to respect the facts and be obedient to them. We need not panic. In one sense marriage is as popular as ever, as has already been pointed out. It would be a great pity if this debate were to degenerate into disconnected moralising based on insufficient actual evidence. In this regard we are in debt to a number of agencies in our society—the Family Policy Study Centre and Dr. Jacobus Dominion's Marital Research Centre are examples. They are producing solid research which benefits us all. I have to say that too often such enterprises are resourced precariously, if at all, from public funds.
One thing that study reveals is the enormous variety of family patterns which have existed, now exist and undoubtedly will exist in the future. Again we have been reminded that the nuclear family is in a sense the exception rather than the rule; but the basic values which are continuous and secure and which Christians find rooted in the scriptures are there throughout this bewildering variety of extended families, nuclear families and so forth.
There is for us a givenness about the pattern of lifelong commitment of husband and wife in love—not the kind of love with which we are beguiled in advertisements but a deep, faithful, trusting love. That is the context in which we are to pursue the care of children, the guidance of adolescents as they seek maturity and the support and cherishing of the elderly and the frail. That surely is the bedrock of value, whatever the facts tell us.
In the support and the protection of those basic values of the stable family everyone has a stake, not least the Churches. However, government too, I believe, has a role to play. There are several areas directly affecting the quality of family life in which we have to think in terms of public policy as well as moral or spiritual exhortation. Housing is certainly one. We warmly welcome the recent Government review of homelessness and the recommendations for an improvement of that desperate situation.
But most clergy and Bishops can point out from their own experience how homelessness is not 438 restricted to those alcoholic derelicts, the single men living rough who perhaps epitomise the public image of homelessness. Nor indeed is it restricted to those who are registered with local authorities as homeless. Many of the homeless—perhaps most of them—are indistinguishable from anyone else as we go about our normal lives. The young woman pushing her children in the buggy in the high street is likely to be the head of a single parent family in bed and breakfast accommodation. She may not be legally homeless, but she has no home in the sense that we want to foster family life. Those agencies which support and try to help that kind of homelessness find the going quite tough.
I speak of my own city of Gloucester, where, for example, a safe house for women threatened by domestic violence has recently had to close because the National Children's Home, which has supported it, needs to redeploy its resources. It may have to close the house for good. There is a day centre which we set up specifically for mothers with small children in bed and breakfast accommodation and that, likewise, is having to struggle to find enough money to survive.
Housing is a top priority if we are to secure an adequate level of family security and stability. The report of the Archbishop's Commission, Faith in the City, maintained that housing should be regarded not as a privilege but as a right. That requires careful consideration.
Poverty itself is another area. Divorce is one of the major producers of poverty, as we have just heard. Whatever the arguments in favour of freezing or abolishing universal child benefit or restricting other forms of income support, there is no doubt that to be poor in our society makes it more difficult to sustain family relationships.
There is the question of support for marriage itself throughout society. A family need not be economically poor to be in desperate need of support from the community. The debate on care in the community highlights the needs of carers; the daughter looking after the aged parent; the wife whose husband begins to suffer from Alzheimer's disease; the parent with the handicapped child who is growing up.
Does our antipathy towards a dependency culture, our proper desire to encourage people to stand on their own feet, sometimes result in inadequate funding for those who have to be dependent and for the agencies which help those who are compulsorily dependent; namely, the home helps, night sitters, play groups, nursery schools and so on? Can we educate our society more effectively for parenting and for home and family life? How do people learn to be good parents? How do we actually take to ourselves those mental, emotional and perhaps spiritual powers which enable us to build strong and creative family lives?
So often it is true and clear to us that breakdown in family life is the bitter fruit of abuse or lovelessness in a previous generation. We have heard evidence already from the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, that when young people experience a bad start in life there are powerful forces dragging 439 them down into a counter-culture of homelessness, drugs, prostitution and so forth. The agencies working in this field seem to suggest that the best strategy in the end is to tackle these problems at source; that is, to work with families where they are rather than to think in terms of institutions.
The Family Centre movement reports some exciting growth at the present time. There are some projects set up by the Church Urban Fund which are grappling precisely with these problems of young people facing almost overwhelming odds and some people—perhaps more than we think—free themselves from the most threatening and negative backgrounds. They become good citizens and fine parents. We need to try to find out why and to mark them for our examples.
Here one can bear witness and testimony to the unceasing work of parish priests and ministers who day in and day out to the best of their ability prepare couples for marriage. It is tragic that, somehow or other, despite all that is done the divorce rate seems to climb. Dr. Jacobus Dominion estimates that in Britain there has been a 600 per cent. increase in the past 25 years. These are some of the areas where the national need is not only for speeches in praise of family values or dirges about how we are suffering from the disintegration of family life; we need not a call for a return to a supposed golden age in the past, but realistic policies which will support family life and those attempting to foster it. Such policies will help those most likely to become victims in our present society and will encourage the voluntary agencies which are doing creative work in this field.
I hope and pray that in those endeavours the Government and all concerned will always find the Churches ready and willing to stand alongside and to make their own contribution to this noble work.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for tabling this Motion for debate and enabling us to discuss this extremely important problem. The Motion deals with a wide sweep of family problems and I propose to concentrate on that part which deals with social provision. As has been said, there is a raft of problems which is placing enormous strains on the family as a social unit. For example, there is the increase in divorce; the growth in illegitimacy; the lack of parental responsibility; the increasing level of violence and drug-taking among some young people.
Those are the problems which hit the headlines, but there are some others which do not make headlines so often. There is the increasing number of families living in or on the edge of poverty. This has been referred to. There are 2.7 million households living on or below 50 per cent. of the average income. There are 6 million carers struggling to care for the disabled, the sick or an elderly member of the family. There are families which are homeless and living in squalid bed and breakfast conditions or in truly dreadful housing. There are 120,000 households which are officially accepted as homeless, besides the hundreds of thousands who 440 live in very poor housing. There are families which face job discrimination because of disability. Unemployment is around 8 per cent. for able-bodied people and of the order of 19 per cent. for people with disabilities. If the disabled do find work they earn about 80 per cent. less than the non-disabled.
As my noble friend said, perhaps the key test of the Government's attitude towards the family is to be found in their view of child benefit. As noble Lords know, it is the one benefit exclusively geared to all families with children. I do not intend to rehearse all the arguments in favour of child benefit. Your Lordships know them well enough and the House was sufficiently persuaded to amend the Social Security Bill in the last Session to give the Government the opportunity to uprate child benefit. Your Lordships will recall that the amendment was rejected by the Government in another place.
The central argument for child benefit was put extremely well in 1983, when the Government took the credit, entirely properly, for increasing child benefit to its highest level ever. That illustrated the Government's "commitment to the family".It has long been the view of all parties that our tax and benefit system should recognise the needs of families with children, and should differentiate between such families and those without responsibility for children".Those were the words of the Prime Minister, before the economic "miracle" was fully under way.
Without attempting to go over all the arguments again, I should like to ask the Minister two simple questions. If the Government argue, as they do, that child benefit is not properly targeted and helps the rich people who do not need it, why has not the same argument been used to reject the provision of tax relief for well-off pensioners who take out private medical insurance? Does not the same argument apply? The cost of child benefit is of the order of £4.5 billion per annum. If it is to be phased out—there is not much doubt that that is the Government's long-term intention—can the Minister assure the House that the whole of the £4.5 billion will be targeted on the poorest families—those who, on the Government's argument, need it most?
The other major family benefit is family credit. It is received by around 320,000 applicants and costs about £420 million—about one-tenth of the cost of child benefit. Can the Minister say, either at the end of the debate or in writing, how many families receive child benefit as opposed to the number of applications there are for it? The applications must be renewed every six months. From looking at the figures it is hard to arrive at the number of families who receive the money. We know that child benefit has a take-up rate of 98 per cent. In 1983 supplementary benefit had a take-up rate of 76 per cent. The take-up rate for family credit is around 60 per cent.
The poor take-up rate could be due to the sheer complexity of the application form. I am aware of the rules of the House. One is not supposed to introduce exhibits into debate. On the application form there are 11 pages of questions. I sat down with the form and tried to complete it. Frankly, I was baffled by a good deal of it. I should like to compare the tax return, which is almost always completed 441 with professional help, with the family credit form. The income tax return has a mere eight pages.
I have concentrated on child benefit and family credit as just two examples of the Government's attitude towards a proper and social provision for families. However, there are many other examples. I live in a rural part of Wiltshire. The area covered by my district council has a population of about 60,000. Some 10 years ago the budget for the district council for bed and breakfast accommodation was a few hundred pounds per annum. Five years ago the budget was £2,000 per annum. This year the budget is £82,000 per annum. It is not well known that 50 per cent. of the country's homeless are to be found in rural areas.
The National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux recently reported on the problem of 16 to 17 year-olds obtaining income support. The report referred to Norwich. We know that Norwich is not an inner city area. It is a pleasant city. The report says:We have seen a greater incidence of relationship breakdown and homelessness among the young people in the Norwich area and have received reports of young people sleeping rough at bus stations and in the casualty wards of local hospitals. This practice has been common enough to force hospitals to fit locks on their doors in order to prevent access by homeless young people at night".We should ask ourselves what kind of society has to lock young homeless people out at night to force them to sleep rough.
In the past 10 years the number of children living in families dependent on social security benefit has more than doubled to more than 2 million. These figures have already been referred to. Nearly one child in five, or perhaps more, has to grow up on or near the poverty line. As we all know, the child does not choose the family into which it is born. In the Sunday Correspondent on 19th November there was a report under the headline "Families Face Penury as the Social Fund Runs Dry". Applications for the social fund are 28 per cent. up on last year, but the fund has been virtually frozen for the second successive year. The increase in the amount allocated to the social fund has been less than 1 per cent.
The refusal rates for loans and grants from the social fund are now expected to increase very substantially, just as the worst of the winter weather is approaching. As I said at Question Time—I do not think the Minister entirely took my point—all social security benefits with the exception of mobility allowance have been frozen in real terms since 1979. At Question Time I said that what is important is not gross spending on social security; we all know that gross spending has increased because of the substantial increase in the number of applicants and claimants. What is important to the recipient of social security benefits is the amount he or she actually receives in his or her hand. Since 1979 those who have to live on social security benefits have seen their income frozen in real terms while average incomes have increased in real terms by 20 per cent.
With all that in mind it is hardly surprising that the Government have decided to change the method of calculating poverty. The change in method effectively removes about 1 million people from the 442 calculation. The change reduces the number from 5.5 million on the old method to 4.5 million. The Government now say that the proper way in which to calculate poverty is to take the total income of a household and average it over the members of the household. The Government assume a kind of family socialism for this purpose. If the proper way in which to calculate income is by averaging it over the members of the household, why are they introducing the separate taxation of a wife's earnings in April 1990? Is there one law for the taxpayer and one for the poor?
There has been a great deal of debate about the definition of poverty. As I said, the Government have changed the way in which it is calculated. Only this morning in the Guardian there is a report of research conducted at Bristol University to attempt to arrive at an objective calculation of the poverty line. The results of the research show that the poverty line was 57 per cent. above government rates of means-tested assistance for couples under pensionable age. The report says:For couples with two children the corresponding figure was 51 per cent. and for single parent families 68 per cent. above government rates".That objective research shows that the poverty line is between 51 and 68 per cent. above the level of means-tested benefits. Does the Minister agree that an objective definition of poverty would be of great assistance in deciding on the proper level of social provision? Do the Government agree with the finding of the research conducted at Bristol University, of which I am sure he is aware?
The Prime Minister made her views clear when she said that there is no such thing as society. On this side of the House we argue that, in the case of supplying a proper level of social provision for the family, the Government seem to be doing their utmost to prove that the Prime Minister is right.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and to my noble friend the Minister if I am not here are the end of the debate. I have a Longstanding appointment at 7 p.m. For some time I have sought an opportunity to bring before the House a recommendation that I made at the beginning of this month in a paper that I was invited to give at Southampton University. It is entitled Care of Children in the 1990s. I am therefore grateful to the noble Baroness for initiating this debate which gives me an opportunity to bring forward my recommendation.
I seek to speak, first, on children in trouble and in need. I refer to those children who because of their backgrounds and because of their family relationships are unable to make relationships and therefore to live a full life in their family and in the community. Secondly, I shall speak on the needs of children under five years of age. In the past many people have recommended that there should be a ministry for the family. I well remember that the proposal was put forward by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan, in a debate which took place in your Lordships' House. However, as nearly 443 every department of state touches on the needs of the family, this recommendation was not adopted.
I submit that there needs to be some administrative change at government and at Civil Service level. At present administration for children in trouble and in need is in the main covered by the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Department of Education and Science. All three departments seek to give a good service but, inevitably, there is an overlapping of policies, there are gaps and the service overall is not always effective.
To remedy those deficiencies I put forward the recommendation that there should be a division within the community services division of the Department of Health which should be known as the "Child and Family Division". Perhaps the recommendation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, to put a commissioner in the division who would be in charge of children could be followed.
I can only give two examples of overlapping and gaps as between the departments. First, in the penal system the Home Office deals with boys of between 14 and 20 years of age and with girls aged between 15 and 20 years who are in trouble. If the court so recommends, those two groups of young people are sent to a young offenders institution. I must point out that the success rate of those institutions is not high; indeed, 80 per cent. of the children re-offend within two years of discharge.
I believe that we should look at other ways of dealing with children. At the moment I am speaking only of children under the age of 16 years. For instance, children aged 10, 11 or 12 show in schools, in their clubs or in their community difficulties which indicate that they do not have the capacity to make good relations. Perhaps that capacity shows itself in disturbed behaviour, in deliquency or even perhaps in mental breakdown.
There are restrictions as regards money in local authorities. Notwithstanding the fact that social workers and psychiatrists recommend that such children should have thereapeutic treatment at a young age—first, in the community and then if that fails in special centres—unfortunately, because of the rate capping of local authorities and because inevitably the cost of such treatment is high, local authorities, quite understandably, do not send the children to thereapeutic centres.
Many of these special centres are run by voluntary organisations. They are run very well. Moreover, they are run by some of the big voluntary children's societies. Therefore such a child grows older and perhaps at the age of 13 or 14 begins to commit offences or starts to get into trouble with the law in some way. Subsequently the child appears before the court and is sent to a youth centre. As I said earlier, these youth centres have a most difficult job to do and in any event it is hard for them to deal with such children who by that stage, if I may put it this way, are solidified into crime. However, if those children had been dealt with at an earlier stage in the therapeutic centres to which I have referred, 444 there would be hope that they could be helped to establish relationships and to come to terms with their very real difficulties. Further, many of these children have been abused.
Therefore, the country is wasting money. If such children had attended a therapeutic centre at a young age they would not have entered the penal system when they were older. Further, I suggest that they would not go, as some of them do, into prison at a later stage in their lives. As I said, we are wasting money by not spending it at the right time on children who most need it. There are three departments involved in the matter. There is the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Science. I believe that if there was a division in one department responsible as the lead department everyone would know where to go and where to seek help. In my view, this lead department should also initiate an overall family policy.
Perhaps I may turn now to the question of children under the age of five. I profoundly believe, and research has shown this to be so, that the bonding of children under five in their families is one of the factors which makes for a good stable and secure family. If children have not bonded with their parents and with their communities when they are under the age of five, I suggest that there could be very real difficulties with such children.
Therefore, what is the administrative procedure? We have three departments setting policies for children under the age of five. We have the Home Office setting the policy because that department has overall responsibility for the oversight of the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Further, because of demographic changes the commission—and, quite rightly so—is pressing for services for children whose parents go out to work. The Home Office is therefore undertaking a certain amount of work in initiating procedures and policies for the under fives.
Meanwhile, quite naturally, the Department of Education and Science has responsibility for the education of children under the age of five. Moreover, the Department of Health under the Children Act has responsibility for meeting the needs of children under five in its areas. I know that officials from those three departments meet and have conferences. I also know that they have the benefit of ministerial co-operation. All three departments are good. But what a waste of time to convene a meeting from the Elephant and Castle, from Queen Anne's Gate or from York Road. Would it not be much easier if all the work was dealt with in one department so that one could walk down the corridor when there was a problem instead of having to convene a ministerial meeting?
This is a serious matter and I think that it is essential for us to look at our administrative procedures both at government and at Civil Service level. Further, if there was one department in the country with the prime responsibility for children people would know where to go for help. The National Children's Bureau has issued an excellent 445 paper on the needs of children under the age of five. Under the heading "General Policy" the paper says,One government department should take a 'lead' on under fives and their families. Until such time as this is resolved, an Inter-departmental Committee, at senior level within government and consulting with statutory and voluntary providers, should be charged with formulating such a policy".A policy which has been formulated by three departments in three different places is wasteful of time and is not always effective.
Finally, if one department was charged with the responsibility for families and children, parents and the public would know where to go. Moreover, people would know to whom they could make representations and we would return to the recommendation made by the Seebohm Committee in 1970 that there should be one door on which to knock.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I should very much like to follow the noble Baroness in what she said about the young, especially as I am chairman of an organisation called Action on Youth Crime which aims to keep young people over the age of 16 and under the age of 21 out of the criminal justice system. Much of what the noble Baroness said about the younger age groups applies also to this age group. I endorse what she said about lead departments and I hope that the Minister will pass on those remarks to his friends in the administration.
I should like to concentrate on three subjects, two of which have been very amply developed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, namely, homelessness and care for people in the community. I should also like to talk about violence in the family. It is worth recording that yesterday there was an inaugural meeting of a new all-party parliamentary group on homelessness. This demonstrates that Parliament is taking the subject very seriously.
A review of the Government's homelessness policy drew an immediate response from Shelter warmly welcoming the Government's acceptance that homelessness is a matter of increasing public concern and welcoming equally their recognition that homelessness legislation is necessary. It is the shortage of homes to rent rather than the social and behavioural characteristics of homeless people that matters. The Government fully recognise that fact, and that is a great advance.
Although there are positive initiatives that will make a material difference to the vast majority of homeless and badly housed people, we should be thinking in the context of 120,000 homeless or badly housed people. I share the view of Shelter that the Government's proposals, although very welcome, are only scratching at the surface of the problem. This is highly relevant to a debate on the family. It is virtually impossible to bring up a family with any hope of success without a decent home. I leave the matter there.
I should like to refer to the Government's paper Caring for People. That will radically change service provision for carers and their families. I welcome the fact that the Government are seriously 446 considering this extremely important matter of the family. In this context I much admire an organisation called Crossroads Care which is the largest national organisation providing direct care attendant services to carers and their families in their homes. It superbly directs resources to where they are most needed. It currently provides for about 12,000 families and it is estimated that another 7,000 families are on its waiting list. That organisation makes very good use of resources. I hope that the Government will channel resources through efficient, well-directed efforts by such voluntary societies. Their schemes are tailor-made for the needs of particular families. Care attendants undertake specialised training to meet the special needs of individuals in their care. To many families this is a lifeline. Without such support, those having an elderly or disabled relative or children would be unable to continue.
The major part of what I wish to say concerns violence in the family. Violence is sadly one of the continuing problems of the family—violence between adult members and violence towards children particularly. I have only to cite the sad list of names quoted in the Independent yesterday to remind your Lordships' House that this is a continuing and recent problem. The most regrettable recent examples are Jasmine Beckford, Tyra Henry, Kimberley Carlile and Maria Colwell. Some 40 children are killed by their parents in Britain each year.
Last week there was the atrocious story of five year old Sukina who was beaten to death by her father in their Bristol home, allegedly for not being able to spell her name. On the same day that her father was sentenced to life imprisonment, an inquiry report was published in Islington into the death of three year-old Liam Johnson, following a beating by his father two years ago. In both cases and in so many similar cases, it is clear that physical punishment—for example hitting children with hands or implements—was a regular part of the children's lives and of family life. Unfortunately, the message that these and other families get in our society is that physical punishment is a perfectly acceptable way of bringing up children.
I submit that that view is entirely wrong. The cultural atmosphere of our society needs to change, as has been dramatically illustrated by the research of John and Elizabeth Newson who are joint directors of the Child Development Research Unit at Nottingham University. The research was recently published by a charity called APPROACH. It shows the scale of physical punishment in this country; it is scarcely believable and horrible to read. Two thirds of mothers admitted to smacking their baby before the age of one; most four year-olds had been hit, 7 per cent. of them once a day or more. By the age of seven, 22 per cent. of children had been hit with an implement—belts, sticks and slippers being the most common—and another 53 per cent. had been threatened with an implement.
In Scotland the use of belts on young children is still clearly condoned at the highest level. On 9th June this year the then most senior Scottish judge, the Lord President, Lord Emslie, stated that a 447 mother's use of a belt on her 10 year-old daughter was lawful and "reasonable chastisement". The judge said that the punishment was "richly deserved".
What are parents—and particularly parents under stress—to make of this? Are they to conclude that it is acceptable and lawful to hit babies and children, and even to hit them with implements, but that at some totally arbitrary point such violence becomes unacceptable. Judges and professionals find it difficult enough to decide where to draw the line, but where on earth is the ordinary family to draw the line, especially those families which are not privileged as most of our families are? I am afraid that they mostly find that it is impossible to draw the line, and this sometimes ends in deeply tragic results. Unfortunately, escalation from what is considered to be lawful and acceptable punishment is all too likely to become something much worse. It is largely for that reason that our country has moved away, over the last century, from employing physical punishment, first as a judicial punishment, next as a punishment in the prisons and armed forces, and finally and most recently—I should say most recently and not finally because I hope for improvement—in our state schools and children's homes.
I believe that what I have said shows that a dangerous message is being given to parents. When those who have seriously abused their children are questioned, the explanation in very many cases is that they thought they were using what they called "ordinary" physical punishment but that it just went too far.
The organisation called End Physical Punishment of Children (EPOCH) recently wrote to all child protection co-ordinators in social services departments asking for their views on links between physical punishment and child abuse. Many stated that most instances of serious physical abuse started as ordinary punishment. I am very concerned about this. Sukina's father, David Hammond, told the court that he himself was seriously beaten as a child. That again is a common feature. It goes on from generation to generation. It is almost invariably a characteristic of those who severely beat their children. It is this culture of permitted, though limited, violence to children that must be changed if we are to deliver our children from such horrors.
A clear line should be drawn for parents that all hitting of children is unacceptable. After all that is our attitude when it comes to every other form of personal violence in the home or outside it. It is unacceptable and it is simply illegal. It was good to see the new director of the NSPCC, Mr. Christopher Brown, quoted as saying that hitting children is unacceptable when the society held its "Listening to Children" week in October. According to the Independent yesterday Philip Noyes, the head of policy at the NSPCC, is reported as saying:Physical punishment can easily get out of hand; children are people and we want to encourage parents to listen more to children".My time for speaking has expired. I should like to say more on the subject. This is something which the Government must face. It is about time they 448 formulated a policy on the treatment of children, especially on violence to children, so that an escalating situation in so many bad homes can be tackled at the root and our culture fundamentally changed in this respect.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I hope that everyone here and elsewhere will pay great attention to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I hope that it will have a great effect on policy in the years to come. I am even more pleased than usual to follow my noble friend and colleague, Lady Ewart-Biggs, who for some years was chairman of Family Forum. I am assured by the two leading Catholic organisations with which I have been in touch—the Union of Catholic Mothers and the Catholic Child Welfare Council—and other Catholic organisations, that they wish to pay tribute to the work which she did as chairman of Family Forum.
I speak from a Catholic point of view, but I know that I cannot hope to equal the eloquence which has been and will be expressed by the Church of England. Therefore, no one will begrudge me speaking from a rather sectarian angle. I could dwell at some length on the points put forward by and presented to me by these excellent Catholic bodies which do such great work. Many of the points affecting housing, education, conciliation and so on have been made by the noble Baroness and other speakers. Therefore in the few minutes which we all have available I shall speak from a wider perspective.
No doubt there are noble Lords who speak in the House who are less than 50 years old, although I do not see many of them. There is one on the Front Bench opposite, or perhaps two, although one looks much younger than the other! Perhaps I am wrong about that. If one takes one's mind back 50 years, as some of us can, one sees that there have been four major developments which have been touched on by other speakers. On the one hand, there is the great reduction in extreme poverty. I will not put it higher than that: quite a lot of poverty still exists but there has been a reduction. There has also been the emancipation of women which the right reverend Prelate mentioned and which one can see as being connected in rather unpredictable ways with our problems today. However, by and large one must say that the great reduction in poverty and the emancipation of women have been almost entirely good and I am proud to have lived during this period.
On the other hand, there have been other developments, the first of which we must all deplore; namely, the enormous increase in crime, to which I have made reference here more than once. When I first became a prison visitor there were 10,000 people in prison. Now there are close on 50,000 and none of us can be proud of that development.
There has also been the great expansion in divorce and I shall be speaking about that topic during my few minutes. I hope that I am not a bigot in these discussions—of course one never knows whether one is a bigot. One can look in the mirror and say, "I am no bigot", but one may be a bigot all the same. I do not feel as if I were bigoted.
449 I have been happily married for a long time—58 years—and that may give me a peculiar angle. I have had many children and grandchildren; I am now into great grandchildren. All that is very satisfactory. Nevertheless, I am no stranger to divorce in my own family and, perhaps I may say, to happy remarriage. So I try to bear all these aspects in mind.
I come before noble Lords as a black sheep in a white sheet, if that is not too mixed a metaphor. In 1935 I persuaded the late Sir Alan Herbert to stand for Parliament. What did he do when he got there? I ought to have known, I suppose—it was part of his nature. He introduced a divorce Bill. That was the beginning of all the trouble. I have just looked up the figures and in those days there were 7,000 divorces a year. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, said that now there are 180,000. I did not realise that there were so many; I thought that the figure was about 150,000. Whatever the figure, there are many times the number of divorces since that Bill was introduced.
I may have to argue when I appear before St. Peter—a prospect which cannot be indefinitely delayed—whether I have achieved anything at all. Even if Sir Alan Herbert had never stood for Parliament we should have the same number of divorces as we have today. I suspect that St. Peter is rather a shrewd man from all we hear of him and that that excuse will not wash. I may be in for many additional arduous years in purgatory. However, perhaps this act of contrition before the House today will count in my favour. At least I hope so.
If we take the connection between divorce and crime and the break-up of the family, 30 years ago I undertook an inquiry into the causes of crime for the Nuffield Foundation, with a great deal of secular help from a psychiatrist, a sociologist and a magistrate. We reached only one conclusion that I can recall. It was that the broken home was the one outstanding feature of crime.
I have again looked up the figures and there were 26,000 divorces in the middle 1950s. The figure is now 150,000 or 180,000. Will anyone tell me that there is no connection at all between the enormous increase in the number of broken homes and the increase in crime? No one can argue that. No one can argue surely that there is no connection between easier divorce and the break-up of homes. I submit that it is a syllogism that easier divorces produce more broken homes, more broken homes do much damage to the family and therefore easier divorces do much damage to the family. I cannot put it more plainly than that.
It may be said that this is just a Roman Catholic point of view, but Roman Catholics are citizens. Until 1947 Roman Catholics had a little asterisk against their names in Vacher's; in other words they were regarded as second-class citizens. Nowadays they are regarded as equal to anyone else in this House, whether they are Church of England, atheist or what you will. One is entitled to speak from the Catholic point of view and also as someone who has studied these matters as a pseudo-criminologist. I am only submitting this sociologically: can anyone doubt that easier divorce has produced far more 450 divorces? Can anyone doubt that far more divorces, which involve broken homes, have been closely associated with the great increase in crime and the decline in many respects of our national morals? I shall end with a quotation from the Pope. It is only one sentence.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Baroness said it may get me a blessing; but as a convert of 49 years standing I do not feel I have quite risen to that point yet. The quotation comes from a booklet of 170 pages issued by the Pope some years ago. It states:Society should never fail in its fundamental task of respecting and fostering the family".I hope that we can all agree with the Pope. I shall join once again with all those who have expressed gratitude to the noble Baroness for the debate.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, I too wish to begin by saying how grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for putting down this Motion today and thus letting us all have an opportunity to focus on the central position of the family in society in Britain.
The legal system in this country currently does little to sustain families; rather, it has become an instrument which tends to break them up. The Divorce Reform Act 1969 changed the grounds for divorce from a finding of matrimonial misconduct to a finding that a marriage has broken down irrevocably. That Act has contributed to an increase in the instability of family life in our country which amounts to a near-revolution. During the past 15 years, the number of divorces has, in round terms, trebled. The rate of increase is the highest in Europe. Before long half of all marriages may end in divorce. This trend has deep political, social and religious implications for our national life.
Political implications arise because the family, still for the most part formed by marriage, has been a foundation of democracy and a safeguard against the excessive power of the state. The Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 implies that Parliament considers divorce as the norm and that marriage is simply a contract for a period. This in turn threatens a clash between Church and state, and therefore the assumption that the Royal prerogative is based on Christian principles.
The social implications are also startling as we have 1.5 million children living in 1 million one-parent families with significant practical and emotional consequences. As instability of family life has increased, there have been concurrent rises in the rate of illegitimacy, abortion, care orders, juvenile crime and child and drug abuse. The financial cost to the country of family turmoil possibly amounts to well over £2 billion a year, including the indirect costs to industry. There is widespread misery, a tip of which is seen in divorce litigation. Much of the misery does not disappear for 50 per cent. of second marriages also break up. This misery permeates the 451 whole of society, including its economic performance. Now we have the added spectre of limited resistance to the spread of AIDS.
The religious implications arise because we are a civilisation of Judaeo-Christian roots and for 2,000 years the Church has preached that marriage is for life. The attitude of the established Church towards the divorce revolution and the instability of family life has in general been well meaning, confused and permissive. However, as the divorce rate has risen, so Church attendance has declined.
There are now clear signs of national moral decay reflected in the way people treat each other and in the fragile and insecure nature of their promises to each other. At the heart of that decay is the instability of family life and the divorce revolution. It is therefore surely time to amend the Divorce Reform Act 1969, now consolidated in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, and reform the legal system under which it operates. That has already been announced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
At any Conservative conference or rally we are assured that the Conservatives are the party of the family, and that they are committed to the preservation of the family as the key unit in a stable society. Can that claim still be sustained? Let us take, for example, the question of mortage relief for two unmarried persons living together. It took nine years of Conservative Government before that glaring anomaly was corrected.
I shall now turn to child benefit. This has already been discussed very competently by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, in introducing the debate, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. This benefit is a key way in which the Government reduce the burden of taxation for families. It is the most effective way, under our present system, to reduce family poverty; and it is one of the few real methods of softening marginal rates of tax for those at the poverty trap level. Yet under this Government child benefit has not so much been under constant review but under constant threat. Three times it has not been up-rated in line with inflation. This benefit is the one item paid directly to mothers, 95 per cent. of whom spend it on clothing for the children. However, it has been cut by the equivalent of £30 per child per year in real terms. Worse than that, it has been the subject of a blatant piece of electoral cynicism. The Conservative manifesto stated:Child benefit will continue to be paid as now".Noble Lords will judge for themselves, but surely voters were entitled to take that to mean that child benefit would continue to be paid in the same relation to the cost of living as applied at the time of the manifesto, and not that child benefit would continue to be paid at June 1987 levels, whatever happens to the RPI. One can only conclude that the Government intended the latter to occur.
Now I wish to discuss the poll tax and consider what that will do regarding the unity of the family. It will be paid by everyone over 18. As the honourable Member for Henley warned in another place, it will be far easier for young people to avoid the tax if they leave home and seek more anonymous 452 accommodation in bedsitter land. The poll tax will hardly encourage the notion either that families should look after their elderly parents. The Government are arranging that poll tax will be paid by the elderly parent who remains in the family while those who have been moved into a local authority home will pay none. The Environment Secretary has unwittingly given us the granny tax.
None of this of course is deliberate. It is the incidental outcome of a range of policies. But has the overall objective got lost somewhere? In the past 15 years the breakdown of stable family life has been costly. It has been a costly private revolution encouraged by legal processes which have not promoted the need for people to work at their relationships. Consequently there has been much agony with the rights of many participants, including children, being undermined. The remedies appear to be, first the commitment by the Church and state to the preservation of marriage; secondly, the establishment of family courts with the aim of buttressing marriage; thirdly, the reintroduction into matrimonial law of a moral base, a sense of right and wrong, of culpability and of forgiveness; and fourthly, the provisions of time, opportunity and counselling to achieve reconciliation and conciliation whenever possible.
Divorce must be a last resort, for in very many cases the grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence from that which contains marriage, its promises and its responsibilities.
§ 5 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chester
My Lords, I want to join in the expressions of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for this debate. It is a subject of extreme importance to the nation. Many noble Lords have spoken about the matter of social provision, including my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. In my contribution to the debate I should like to concentrate on the first part of the Motion, the continuing importance of the family.
I suggest to your Lordships that the reason that the family is important is that it is a fundamental part of human life. In a recent book David Atkinson wrote very effectively that marriage is not to be seen as an institution and that we mislead ourselves by calling it that. Instead he says that it is "a way of being". He says forcefully:No one invented it, no one can abolish it".If that is so the devaluing of family life brings a devaluing of all human life. He also goes on to suggest that in normal family life three factors are present: marriage, parenthood and residence. When all three factors are present, that is normal family life, but in many families today only one or two of those features are present.
In biblical terms family life has many different patterns, as has already been suggested in the debate. It is not confined to what we call "the nuclear family". In fact in a major way the Bible speaks of the extended family. The extended family concept has one enormous value: it does not marginalise single people. Over emphasis on the nuclear family 453 produces such marginalisation. Sometimes that produces in some single people of whom one is aware in church life, in church connections and ministries depression, a personal lack of self worth and even considerable pressure for AID and IVF.
Again when we speak of the family today we tend to take our models from the kind of family that we are aware of or from the social strata or backgrounds from which we come. The concept of family in the Surrey stockbroker belt, a county town or an inner city will be very different.
In a large inner city parish in my diocese in Birkenhead where the population is 14,000 people the incumbent tells me that last year there were 140 burials and six marriages. In that area the norm is now cohabitation without marriage.
In the same parish, out of 50 baptism inquiries last year only three were from stable family relationships. In the day creche—where I suppose the emphasis is bound to be different—with 70 children, only four had parents living together. The Family Policy Studies Centre says that Denmark and Britain have the highest proportion of lone parent families in Europe, 14 per cent. of all families with children.
Alongside the important social provisions which we have discussed today and which I support, my concern is to urge government, church and media to seek to bring about a huge rebuilding of public realisation and affirmation of the importance of marriage and family life. I believe that only that can reverse the social trends of the last decade that have brought reduced marriage rates, many more children born outside marriage, growing divorce rates and more than 1 million one-parent families.
Dr. Jack Dominian has been mentioned several times in this debate. He says that divorce is:The single and most important social and moral issue of our dayand that:the damage of divorce is immense".That has been emphasised in this debate.
Affirmation of marriage and family life needs to be at all levels. For instance, it is arguable that the spate of advertisements in the press, on television and elsewhere for the use of condoms as protection against AIDS has affirmed into the national consciousness, especially of the young, the total acceptability of disregarding entirely the moral responsibility of sexual intercourse outside marriage. Such advertisements were not morally neutral.
The effect in that and other spheres of ignoring the fundamental truth that "one flesh" means commitment leads on to lack of commitment in marriage, or for that matter co-habitation. Yet we would agree, I am sure, that commitment in love is the basis for stable and creative marriages and for secure family life. Without it the problems are prolific in human terms.
Marriage and family are not institutional arrangements but supremely a matter of deep personal relationships between people. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, would have been pleased to 454 hear me quote the Second Vatican Council's Constitution for the Church in the Modern World:The family is, in a sense, a school for human enrichment".One major level at which to try to argue that through and affirm it is, I believe, in schools—to show the positives of a fulfilling and developing vocation in family life as well as to show the negatives. On the negative side one might try to encourage the 16 year-old girl who has had a child to escape the system to go back into school and tell her former fellow pupils what it is really like—so often in terms of hardship, despair and poverty.
Education for marriage is vital. So often it is the lack of such education, or false expectations, that causes disaster. The Church undoubtedly has a very considerable responsibility in that field. It takes on that responsibility strongly. It wants to go on actively supporting and promoting family life as well as at the same time providing in itself an extended family in its own fellowship where married and single of all ages can be equally valued.
In the Church of England at the moment a project is being developed which has the wonderfully memorable title of FLAME. It is a new flame, I hasten to say. It stands for Family Life and Marriage Education. It is already under way in different parts of the country. In my own diocese we have a marvellous team who are doing a first rate job. However, they will only be able to dent the problem.
When I reflect upon the fact that it is largely the churches which undertake marriage education I ask whether, since most marriages are now in registry offices, it is not time for marriage education to be offered to those married in registry offices in the same way as to those being married in church. Have the Government thought of that as a positive step? It would not be compulsory but it might be offered in an attempt to help provide education on marriage.
There are numerous agencies in the field—the Children's Society, family centres, the Family Policy Studies Centre. They have been mentioned earlier and deserve support. Yet a major shift in public thinking needs help from every possible quarter. Parents need affirmation that they are doing a good job and that they are greatly valued for doing it. Families need affirmation, especially the most vulnerable, in an endeavour to prevent things going wrong. A sum equivalent to that spent on advertising water privatisation or AIDS precautions spent on family advertising could give a major thrust to that affirmation, and in a place where it is seen and heard—on television.
Tragically, as we are all aware, there are many abuses of marriage, family life and what is meant by love. I believe that those should not detract from the fact that good extended family life is God the Creator's intention for humanity's well-being. In upholding and enriching the family we co-operate with our creator. In marginalising and devaluing it we head for human and national disintegration.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, in an excellent opening to the debate my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs touched upon the subject of housing. My 455 comments this afternoon will be entirely concerned with housing. I shall concentrate on that issue.
The Government appeared before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in February of this year. That was an opportunity for the committee to monitor the legal obligations of the various governments under the international Bill of rights which became legally binding upon the United Kingdom in 1976. Article 11 of the charter provides for a human right to adequate housing. It states:The states parties to the present covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living standards".I should like to ask the Government what they reported to that committee. Did they report the fact that about 150,000 young people aged between 16 and 19 experience homelessness each year? Did they report the mental scars which those young people suffer, which they will carry over in the future to their families and which will obviously make a difference to their lives? Did they report the Children's Society estimate, based on police figures, that 98,000 children and young people run away from home each year? We frequently see programmes on television in which children seem to be wandering about and are picked up for all kinds of illicit purposes.
Did the Government report the homelessness figures to the committee? At the end of June this year 11,700 families were living in bed and breakfast accommodation in England. By "bed and breakfast" we do not mean the adverts that we see in holiday brochures. By "bed and breakfast" we mean grotty and mean hotels, those places which are despicable, vile and overcrowded. Who benefits from those hotels? It is a complete waste of our money—not the Government's money—to spend it on bed and breakfast accommodation when it could quite easily be spent on providing proper accommodation. A further 7,200 families live in hostels provided by charities and local authorities. Did the Government also report to the committee the fact that 1.25 million households are on council housing registers? We do not know how many there are on housing association lists.
My noble friend Lord Wilson, who has now left the Chamber, said on one occasion that a week is a long time in politics. This Government have been governing the country for a decade, not a week. What do we find? In 1979—the year that they came to power—local authority housing associations built 125,000 properties for rent. Last year that figure was under 30,000. That is the Government's record on providing homes at affordable rents. It is a deplorable record and this has been a decade of shame. They have completely failed to recognise the deprivation that those people suffer.
We now have a new definition of homelessness. It means that one does not have a roof over one's head. I suppose that, if one has a roof on four sticks, one would not be homeless because one would have a roof over one's head. What does that mean? It perhaps does not mean very much to anyone in this 456 Chamber because we have not suffered in that way. At one time homelessness was high on the political agenda. Surely we all remember the 1960s and the "Cathy come Home" television programme which clearly and accurately demonstrated the tragedies of homelessness.
At that time I was chairman of the Birmingham housing committee and I remember the television, radio and press bombarding me with questions about how we were dealing with homelessness in Birmingham. As a council under the control of the Labour Party, we recognised the tragedy and destructiveness of homelessness. We were able to say that we had passed a council resolution to the effect that no woman with children should be destitute on the city streets of Birmingham.
It is not very long ago that Mother Teresa walked the streets of London and went to "Cardboard City". She must have thought that the United Kingdom was a wealthy nation by international standards. She must have been moved to see the same conditions in this capital city, almost on the doorstep of the Palace of Westminster, which she sees at home and to the improvement of which she has devoted her life. She has seen the deprivation. Why do Ministers not go to see those conditions for themselves? They are apparent to everyone else. Ministers never seem to get the message or to understand the urgency of the problem.
How do we find ourselves in this tragic mess? It is a result of the negation—perhaps I should say castration, but that is a sexist remark—by a government who have decided to pull all things to the centre. The Government should listen to the people in the Eastern European states. They do not always want things to be at the centre. They want democracy to spread out. The Government are doing exactly what the people in Eastern Europe are on the streets protesting about.
Local authorities are completely starved of the capital funds needed to carry out the work to help the badly housed and the homeless. Local authorities are prevented from using their capital receipts from housing. They must increase rents to wipe off their debts. Yet the Government quite easily wipe off the debts of Rover, the water boards and the electricity industry. They wipe off millions of pounds worth of debt, yet they say to local authorities, "You must increase your rents to pay off your housing debts". This is a funny kind of society and government.
Our fiscal system is totally divisive. Through the tax structure the rich become richer; through the social security system the poor become poorer. Housing benefit has been cut nine times in the 10 years of this Government's office. That does not do much to help people who need affordable housing.
The Secretary of State has just announced a new initiative costing £250 million to tackle homelessness. This is no new initiative. It is the same money but the Government give it another name and make it sound absolutely marvellous and completely new. But where does the money go? It goes to the housing associations. Who controls the housing associations? The Housing Corporation controls the housing associations. Who runs the 457 Housing Corporation? The lackeys of this Government, the chief officers who left the Department of the Environment, run the Housing Corporation. Here we see evidence of complete central control; it is evidence of a negation of local democracy. Why do this Government constantly criticise local authorities? Local authorities have recognised the problem of housing need and sought to solve it. Because they have been stopped from providing housing, we find ourselves in this strange situation in which there are people on the streets.
Noble Lords are well aware that when I speak in this Chamber I constantly refer to the city of Birmingham. As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, one has to have cohesion to deal with certain problems. Birmingham, as a metropolitan authority, is a housing authority, a social services authority and an education authority. It views any such problems as a group. Its officers are aware of the problems and its council members also become aware of them. The difficulties of poorer families are therefore much more easily recognised in that context.
Surely it is obvious that the best value for money will be obtained if the policies and funds are administered by those who have a true knowledge of the difficulties encountered by the poorer families in the community. Those people will be found at local level. They see the problems and are aware of them. Problems are brought to the attention of councillors and officers, who are the ones who ought to be given the money to solve them.
This debate has taken as its central theme the importance of the family. I have concentrated on only one aspect: the provision of reasonable shelter for poorer members of our society no matter for what reasons they are socially deprived. The family cannot thrive if it has no home. There is no chance for a family to thrive without good housing conditions. The Government may seek to depress the housing figures but the problems of the homeless will not disappear unless we provide adequate accommodation.
In conclusion, the Government in my view have been derelict in their duty toward the family by failing miserably to provide housing for the homeless and better conditions for the badly housed. The right reverend Prelate said that he wished to pray. All I shall say is that he needs not only to pray but to force this Government to spend more money on helping those who have no homes.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, first I should like to apologise to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in particular. Owing to an engagement into which I entered long before I knew that this debate would take place, I shall not be in my seat when the noble Lord replies.
I was very interested to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester had to say about the importance of training in matters of family life. It reminded me that only a week or two ago I was approached by a very experienced woman 458 psychiatrist to consider what could be done to make sure that at the school level children received adequate instruction about what makes for good human relationships. When we discussed the education Bill a number of noble Lords were concerned that among the subjects laid down and incorporated into the Act there was none in which it appeared to be easy or appropriate to give the kind of instruction that surely ought to be given during the school stage if young men and women are to emerge from school with the basis of knowledge that they will need if they are to establish lasting and satisfying relationships. I hope that the Minister will pass those observations on to his colleagues in the Department of Education.
I am sure it is a matter about which they will agree. It is difficult to see in terms of the national curriculum how such matters can be included. I shall be very interested to learn—and probably your Lordships' House will be interested to know—how these matters are being handled at the level of the school. However, it is not about that matter that I wish primarily to speak this evening.
My knowledge of the family, though very satisfactory, such as it is, is rather more limited than that of most Members of your Lordships' House. I want to speak in my capacity as president (although for 20 years I was chairman) of the Carers National Association. Today we all talk about community care. We are delighted that at last there is a White Paper in response to the recommendations of Sir Roy Griffiths. We know that there will be legislation to turn that White Paper into law during the course of this Session.
I am deeply concerned, as are all those who are close to the work of carers, that in implementing community care programmes it should be borne in mind that it is possible to put burdens that are too heavy on members of the family. The family is an invaluable institution but it can be and has been a tyranny and a prison. If we are to say that the easy way of dealing with community care is to suggest that people in need of prolonged and continuous care are best looked after in their own homes—in many cases this may well be true—then let us recognise that unless the support given is of a very high order, the burdens put on the members of the family may prove to be quite intolerable.
It would be hypocrisy of the first order to invoke pious remarks about the family to create the attitude that it is beholden on the single or widowed daughters or wives of people who are seriously disabled to carry that burden without adequate support. We shall debate this matter at a later stage when legislation comes along but I am using this opportunity to make the point as strongly as I can.
There are two particular points that I want to make. Based on nearly a quarter of a century of experience, we in the Carers Association have always believed that one of the most important things for women is to continue in work. It is not always women who do the caring; there are some very devoted men who are undertaking extremely tough caring assignments in their families. But in too many cases it has been the single women who have done the caring at the expense of giving up entirely their 459 own career. That has meant not only renouncing their career but giving up income, pension and social contact. We have always maintained that the woman who is primarily responsible for caring, nonetheless should be enabled, if humanly possible, to continue in employment, even if it is only part-time employment, so that those contacts and relationships are not lost.
If it is too easily assumed that because they happen to be members of the family people can give up all the other aspects of their life in order to take on the caring job, then I think that we abuse the whole idea of the family and in fact bring it into disrepute. We must urge that help be given with the burdens put on family members who will inevitably take a very active part in caring. Indeed, the great majority of them will want to do the caring not only because there is no alternative but because they feel a very strong obligation which is sometimes a matter of duty, sometimes a matter of love and most probably a matter of both. It is a very complex situation.
Such care must be supported, if possible with continuing employment, which we believe is of the highest importance, or even if not. One of the appalling things about caring for a seriously disabled person, a person who is mentally decaying slowly but steadily, is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. That person will not get any better and the carer knows it. The person will only become worse. If one has to live with the burden unrelieved for months, and even years, it can be intolerable. And the physical burden can be intolerable. Some people need attention night and day. I expect that some Members of your Lordships' House have had the experience of having to get up three or four times a night to look after a person in such a condition. It is not a situation that most people can sustain unaided for more than a very short period of time. It is being done at the present time. Some people are sustaining such burdens. But the policy of community care inevitably means that far more people will be doing so and that far more people will be attempting to cope with far more serious cases. People coming out of institutions and being returned into the community are by definition the people who are most difficult to look after; otherwise they would not be in the institutions in the first place.
Such a policy will need a very great range of support services if it is to be tolerable. It will mean day care centres, and respite centres so that the carers can get away and have a holiday. It will mean really adequate home help services which at the present time are totally inadequate. These services will be expensive. If anyone is under the impression that such a policy can be achieved cheaply then they are laying intolerable burdens on members of the family and excusing doing so in the name of the family.
We shall debate the matter at more length when the Bill comes before us. I wish to place a marker now. I hope that people who have expressed their concern for the family will also be equally concerned not to abuse the idea of the family.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I believe that it is still a truism to say that women are central to the family well-being. That has been part of our culture for a long time and is likely to remain so despite the enormous pace of change within society.
One of the changes to which reference has been made on a number of occasions this afternoon is the growth in the employment of married women, a feature that has developed with some rapidity during the past four decades. It is interesting that in the debate this afternoon no one so far has criticised or spoken against the employment of married women. I believe that that is because the growing importance of married women in our economy is also part of our modern culture. I therefore wish to concentrate my remarks on reconciling women's contribution to the family with their contribution to work and to the professions.
It is a problem that is not peculiar to Britain. It is one that we share with other industrialised countries, and certainly with Europe. Discussion on these problems features very prominently in Europe today and common policies are beginning to develop. In this House we discuss Community legislation on subjects that affect the family. Many features about the family are shared, not necessarily equally but in varying degrees. For instance, the changes in the demographic features that have been mentioned this afternoon are not peculiar to Britain but are occurring throughout Europe. We have the decline in the birth rate, longer life for most of us, and with that the increasing number of elderly within our community. Changes in the family structure have also been mentioned. There is not just a decline in the birth rate. There are also very real changes in family formation. Children appear later in the marriage of partnership. It is not uncommon for a woman to have her first child in her mid or late thirties after she has established herself in her career. There is a growth in the number of children who are being born out of wedlock, as my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs noted in her opening remarks, and many of them born not to single parents but within a settled relationship outside marriage.
On the other hand, as we have again heard from many speakers, there is the tragic growth in the number of marriages that break down. Another factor that has not been mentioned this afternoon is the growth in the number of couples who are quite deliberately refraining from having children. These are very important changes.
It is significant that these changes have coincided with the growth of women's employment. I suggest that it would be quite wrong to conclude that the changes are the cause of the growth in married women's employment, or that married women's employment has caused the changes. Nevertheless, there is obviously a connection between the two. As a result we need to look carefully at the needs of the modern family and at how we can help reconcile the responsibilities of parents with their responsibilities as workers and citizens.
I deliberately referred to the responsibilities of parents and not just to the responsibilities of 461 mothers. I did so because in the modern family the responsibility of being a breadwinner is increasingly shared. With the shared responsibility, we need a greater sharing of the responsibility in the caring role, in the management of the family and of the household. I regret to say that the change in that area is not taking place so quickly as the change in the sharing of income earning. There are signs that in some families the dual burden is often placed on the woman and is a great strain on her and the family. Therefore we must do all we can to expedite change through our education system. I agree completely with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in her reference to the national curriculum. The education system has not yet taken on board the important function of preparing young people for their place in the modern family. There is also a need for parents themselves to take account of these changes in the influence that they bring to bear on their children.
Equally there is a very important part to be played by institutions outside the family. It now appears that it is government policy to encourage married women to work outside the family. The decline in the number of school leavers has caused the Government and some employers—but according to surveys not nearly enough employers—to realise that there will not be enough young people around to fill all the jobs and that industry and the services will increasingly have to look to mature women to fill some of those posts. Already the growth in the number of employed people in this country is due largely to the growth in the employment of married women and mainly to the employment of women on a part-time basis.
Therefore, it is no good for the Government merely to talk about equal opportunities for women and the value of flexible and part-time work. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I believe that it is important for the Government to provide the necessary back-up services, most of which have already been referred to this afternoon. For example, the provision of not only child-care facilities for the under-fives, but also out-of-school facilities. I refer to the recent circular published by the Department of Education and sent to school governors. It asks them to make the schools available to children out of hours and I welcome that. However, we come back to the fact that funding will be required; it cannot be left to the good spirits and co-operation of teachers on a voluntary basis.
Funding is required for all the services including care of the elderly and financial assistance for the family in order to underline the importance of the family. Maternity and parental leave are necessary, as are provisions for part-time employment. It is most regrettable that the British Government blocked the passing of a directive in the EC which would have provided for terms and conditions of employment to be on a pro rata base for part-time workers. Such facilities are required.
Part-time work is not always the unmixed blessing that it is presented as being. On 14th November I read an article published in the Guardian referring to women in the medical profession. It described a woman aged 29 who had spent six years in medical 462 school and five years in hospital posts and who wanted to specialise. But at that point in her career she was having her first baby and therefore wanted to train in her specialism on a part-time basis. She found it extremely difficult to obtain support for such training. Perhaps it is no wonder why only 15 per cent. of hospital consultancy posts are occupied by women; they are driven into other aspects of the medical service.
The second example is based on as yet unpublished research by WYCROW at Bradford University. It relates to part-time women workers in the food and drinks industry and the retail sector. It underlines how women in those industries are being used as cheap labour. This is enhanced by the fact that employers and employees can avoid the obligation of paying national insurance contributions because women's wages are not high enough. That might be cheap labour for the employer but it means that women lose many of their rights in relation to redundancy, unfair dismissal, maternity pay and leave, sick pay and so forth. It also means that they are not building up the contributions towards unemployment benefits or pension rights. Therefore women are seriously at risk. That is one of the factors that industry needs to take on board and look at most seriously.
British industry is now catching up with the concept that high labour costs are not necessarily the same as uncompetitiveness. Indeed, it is learning from some of our competitors abroad that if one really wishes to be competitive one needs a well trained and highly organised labour force which is well paid. The same principle should be applied to part-time workers. We must begin to realise that flexible, part-time labour needs to be well trained and that those taking part need to have the same employment opportunities as do full-time employees. Only if those factors are taken on board shall we be able to have the combination about which I have spoken; that is, reconciling the contribution of women as mothers and women as workers.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Seebohm
My Lords, at this stage of the debate, when so many aspects have been fully covered, I shall confine my remarks to the subject of young children. To some extent I shall be following upon what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in making an interesting proposal.
Many detailed statistics have been given about the change in the family structure. There are more single-parent families and divorces. Consequently there are more stepbrothers, stepsisters, stepmothers, stepfathers and step-grandparents. When added together these are perhaps some of the causes of the lack of family cohesion, truancy and other problems affecting children.
I am also worried by the fact that over 1 million more women are now at work than 10 years ago. Many mothers return to work far too soon after the birth of their child. I am sure that that is bad. It brings to mind the inadequacy of child minding and pre-school training.
463 I recently visited a neighbourhood in a certain London borough. The social worker said to me, "Where are the under-fives? Aren't there any any more?" The under-fives are still being left out in the cold. Twenty years ago I had the honour to chair the Seebohm Committee. It pointed out that there was no statutory responsibility on local authorities to provide for the general social care of that age group. That is still true. Since the publication of the report there has been some improvement in the provision of play groups and the number of places available in part-time nursery schools. However, the needs have greatly increased as a result of the number of married women in full-time work. The increase in facilities is nothing like enough to match the increase in the number of children who need them.
Last year I read Gillian Pugh's publication, Services for the Under-Fives. I was saddened to note the lack of co-ordinated progress in that field. Essentially it is of a preventive nature affecting the whole future of our children. I remember that during the compilation of the report we had a session with a group of psychiatrists who said that the period from birth to five years was the most important in the development of man and affects the whole of one's life.
Today the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has put forward a suggestion for co-ordination at government level of measures to deal with children's affairs. I have always been worried and puzzled as to why it is so difficult to achieve co-operation and co-ordination of the four vital services—social, health, housing and education—even at local level. Perhaps it is because communication upwards runs in parallel lines and we know parallel lines can never meet.
I have now been able to read the White Paper, Caring for People. It states:The Government proposes a fresh approach to collaboration and joint planning … It will work towards simplifying the statutory framework within which joint planning takes place".It certainly needs a fresh look. I hope therefore that a fresh look will be accorded the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. They are extremely important and could make a great difference to the care of children.
I cannot miss this opportunity of once more speaking of child benefit. I am the fourth noble Lord to do so. I was most impressed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, who obviously feels extremely keenly about the issue. I thought that he put the case very clearly indeed. I shall not repeat all the points made today, from all sides in your Lordships' House last summer or in the other place. However, I feel that I must refer to what is perhaps a slightly new approach; that is, targeting.
Targeting all benefits on those who are prepared to be means tested basically makes a lot of sense. It leaves out not only those who find means testing unacceptable but all those near-poor who just miss out on any social benefit and who would be absolutely desperate if child benefit disappeared or withered away much further in real value.
464 Targeting is about incomes and not about expenditure. If one has a family with three or four children, it is impossible to tell what the expenditure will be. It will vary from day to day, week to week and month to month. In theory, those families will go in and out of what will be the poverty level. Sometimes those families will be entitled to benefit; sometimes they will not. I believe that I am not talking about a few people but probably about millions. I believe that child benefit is still one of the finest things that ever happened in the care of children.
I know that the Treasury believes that it is too expensive. That point was made clearly in the winding up speech by the Leader of the House in our last debate. If the Treasury wants to reduce that expenditure, there are ways in which it can be done. For example, anyone in the higher tax bracket should not receive child benefit. At least that would stop us talking about the noble Duchess, the Duchess of Westminster, and that is good.
I wonder what has happened to change the Government's attitude on that matter. For generations there has been some form of special provision for families with children. Everyone agrees that they are financially disadvantaged. There have been either tax or child benefits. They did not cost the country much at the time. The Government saved money on the one hand and handed it out on the other. It seems to me there is a psychological difference in government of not receiving money through taxation rather than handing out money that they have saved.
That is all I want to say today. I still feel so strongly about child benefit that I hope people will feel the same as I do. I conclude by asking the Prime Minister, "Please, think again."
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in commending my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for initiating this interesting and challenging debate and for her stimulating speech.
The debate has been wide-ranging and has raised many questions and issues. However, in my opinion the importance of the family arises from the historical fact that it is the greatest social partnership or institution for the fulfilment of human aspirations, joy and happiness. The family is also the strongest of human institutions which holds together the fabric of society with bonds of sharing and caring. It is the warp and weft of giving colour and tone to the form of communities in which we live. I believe that that aspect was mentioned in more detail by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester in his speech.
There are many facets to the meaning and structure of the family. For the purpose of this debate I see the family as a group consisting of parents and their children, whether or not they are living together, and in a wider sense all those who are nearly connected by blood or affinity. The sense in which I see that concept of a family unit is one of caring in a positive way for others. The central core of that family aspect is that it openly responds to 465 others and acts in ways which are, or at least seem to be, for the good of others.
That opening response can be called caring, concern, care, kindness, charity, sympathy, benevolence or a sense of humanity—and I should add, love. At this stage I should say that in this debate I am not making any religious assumptions. The points which I put forward as arguments for consideration are essentially secular ones which I believe should make sense to all people of goodwill and reason. It may be that some of the points which I make are and can be based on religious tenets but I hope that my views can stand independently of theological outlooks and confirm the importance of social provision for family care, and confirm it as an object worthy of support from all human beings.
I am sure that we are all agreed that there are areas of family life in which we should not wish the larger community to become directly involved. However, when we acknowledge that there are circumstances when it is necessary for social provision to help sustain and provide essential care to members of the family, we are compelled to involve the institutions of society.
If we claim that the family unit is important for human happiness and the development of the quality of life in the larger society, we must allow for that kind of social provision which can nurture and promote the family ideal and not undermine and devalue the strengths of family life and the bonds of care and love. Therefore, we have this dichotomy: we must at least seek to strengthen by social provision and by government action the basis on which family life rests and at the same time allow it to evolve and develop with its own bonds of care and love.
Is our society today, meeting those essential and proven social and family needs? What should the Government undertake to make available as necessary social provisions? What makes for a good bonded family life in which children can find happiness and trust? The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has already mentioned some aspects of that.
There has been much thought given to the causes of family breakdown. We must surely recognise that there are many factors in family life which are largely outside the influence and responsiblility of government. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, mentioned in detail some of those factors, factors on which we doubt whether any government action could help in a detailed way. They may rescue people from the circumstances afterwards but not at the breakdown.
Some matters are within direct range of government action and social provisions. There are a number of such matters which I should like to put to the Minister who will reply to this debate. There are a number of ways in which the Government could help. I have not been able to find a list of causes of family breakdown, but certainly among the social issues there are: lack of affordable accommodation, lack of income, unemployment, welfare and other factors concerning children such as child abuse and other matters which certainly 466 require government action and the care of disabled children.
In our modern society I see great strength in the mother as the central controlling figure. However, there is no doubt that there has been a marked change in the role of women in the family, in the home, in work, in industrial life and in our society generally. I am glad to see that the trade unions have been giving greater prominence to this and have taken on a role far beyond wage bargaining and so on in order to protect women in our society and allow them to fulfil that central role.
The matter of homes has been raised, and that means homes which are affordable. I realise that homes are created not only by bricks and mortar. A considerable amount of family care and working together are required to make a happy home life and to build a home. It saddens me, however, when I see figures that I shall be putting to the Minister. I am honoured to be the president of Belfast Housing Aid and we have learnt something about housing problems over the years. We have noted a tremendous rise in the repossession of houses in Northern Ireland through the non-payment of mortgages.
I have a letter from the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland which states that,the Northern Ireland court service … shows the number of Mortgage Writs and Summonses issued in the Chancery Division of the High Court from 1984 to 1987. This gives an indication of repossessions by building societies, etc. Apparently all cases of this nature must commence in the High Court, although they may go to the Enforcement of Judgments Office for enforcement.The Court Services has pointed out that these figures only include those repossessions, etc., that actually resulted in some form of court action being taken. Thus cases where the mortgagors quit their houses without the mortgagees taking legal action through the courts are not included. The figures are therefore probably an under-estimation of the real level of repossession".Nine years are listed and I will give four to indicate the trend. In 1980 169 writs were issued. In 1984 the figure was 136; for 1986 it was 1,545 and for 1988, 1,843. That is a steep rise in repossession when you think of the human suffering and break-up that arises when young people take on mortgages because they think they can pay the interest and the mortgage rate then doubles within two years.
I have details of the figures for Great Britain, but I understand that the figure of 400 for Northern Ireland can be multiplied by 40, Northern Ireland being one-fortieth of the total population. I feel that in the United Kingdom there is an equally difficult situation which must be faced. I do not want to deal at length with unemployment, but that certainly is a sad factor in connection with the break-up of homes.
Another aspect I should like to put to the Minister relates to figures which came to me through a Parliamentary Question dated 10th November 1989. It concerns water disconnections. This is a simple matter of life in a home, but it shows the tremedous despair which arises from broken homes, people living in separate accommodation and perhaps not able to meet the financial situations of their home. The number of household supplies disconnected for non-payment of charges in nine English water authorities in 1984–85 was 2,052; in 1985–86 there 467 were 4,212; in 1986–87, 6,450 and in 1987–88, 7,120. The latest available figure is 8,091. That surely shows a tremendous amount of poverty and despair within our community when people cannot even meet low rates. I can see that there may be other causes, but it surely reveals a tremendous amount of poverty in our community.
I also draw attention to the fact that official figures on low incomes were recently at the centre of a heated debate about trends of poverty in Britain. One report indicates that the poor are falling behind and that one-third of the population is in or on the margins of poverty. I wonder whether the Minister could comment on that. It is based on official government statistics which at this time I do not wish to go into. They are challenged in some quarters because of the variation and the manner in which the figures have been presented.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, it would help me to comment on that point if the noble Lord gave me the reference of the book from which he quotes.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, it is Fiscal Studies, volume 10, No. 4, November 1989, page 53.
We in this House had great pride in steering through the Children Bill. This is having a big impact on family law. However, I again quote, this time from the September issue of Family Law, volume 19, page 347. This is a conclusion to an article written by Mr. Stevens, a barrister:This Bill has been hailed by some as the 'Children's Charter'. But it is not a complete one. Much of significance has been left to subordinate legislation, which will have a crucial effect on its operation. Also, child welfare should be viewed with a broad perspective. Its effectiveness, in terms of child welfare, will depend as much on government investment in training those who will 'work' the Bill and government funding of the social, health and welfare services and the Welfare State in general. The non-interventionist approach has a positive ring to it, but many families will continue to need sufficient social and financial support if they are to bring up their children well. Lack of central government funding has made social services departments and the work of guardians ad litem less effective. The commitment to the welfare of children will require more than new concepts and fresh jargon".The White Paper was mentioned. I should like to say that the plan at the back staggers me. I have gone through it a little. It is a very wordy document.
I see that I have gone over my time, but others have done so and as I am only three minutes over at this stage perhaps I may be allowed to finish. There are 106 pages and page 37 deals with the matters which we debated at some length in this House about the terminally ill. Five lines are devoted to that subject and as far as I am concerned it is a throw-away paragraph. However, I am pleased that this paper is not being presented in Northern Ireland and that the Minister is given a chance at least to have consultations with the people who really matter in this respect.
The Government certainly have to take a lot of action in connection with keeping the family together and doing what is necessary in the interests of the happiness and well-being of families and of this nation.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for introducing this debate so effectively this afternoon. I certainly believe—as I am sure all of us participating in this debate also believe—that the subject of the family is a crucially important one at this present time. At the outset I wish to make it clear that by "family" I include the whole range of any group of two or more people who are related to each other and living together. I therefore include the one-parent family; the nuclear family of two parents and one or more children; and the extended family where there are perhaps grandparents or a grandparent living with the family as well. By "family" I am intending to talk about the whole spectrum without any distinction.
It is vital for the health of the nation that the family be strengthened today and not broken up. Like other noble Lords, I shall refer to the question of the breakdown of the family. It has been said many times that the rate of divorce is increasing. It has increased 600 per cent. since 1961. References have also been made to the fact that we now have one in four children born outside marriage. When divorce comes children suffer. We have all seen it and we have heard that said many times this afternoon. Not only do children but other people are affected as well. Children with divorced parents are likely to perform worse in school than those living in a happy family setting. They are more prone to delinquency and the children of divorced parents probably have a higher incidence of psychiatric problems. They will also get less satisfactory jobs when they leave school than their peers in a happy family.
Family breakdown causes suffering and a lack of fulfilment for the people so affected. It causes not only individual problems but also social and economic ones as well. If a person is less effective in employment it is bad for the nation because it drags down the economy. As regards social problems I wish to mention homelessness. On previous occasions I have referred in your Lordships' House to the teenager who was asked why he was homeless. He replied, "Dad left home several years ago; mum has taken in a new lover who comes in and he don't like me, do'e? So I have got to go". It is as simple as that and one more teenager is thrown out on the streets because of the family breakdown.
I shall refer to a number of steps which I believe should be taken and not all by my noble friend on the Front Bench. First, is the question of marriage preparation. Last weekend a friend of mine who is engaged went with his fiancée on a weekend retreat run by the Jesuits in preparation for marriage. He is a Roman Catholic. Normally the rector or vicar of the Church of England church where a couple are to be married runs evening preparation classes. I wish to question the Churches as to whether they are doing sufficient to prepare and train, particularly young people, for the very important life of marriage that is to come. If there were more preparation and understanding of what marriage involves I believe that some people who are not ready could be dissuaded from embarking on it. I believe that more 469 thought and understanding would help to make a greater success of marriage when people come to it.
I wish to illustrate from a conversation that I had two or three weeks' ago with an 18 year-old teenage boy called Simon. I gathered that he was more or less living with his girlfriend. I asked him what were his views on marriage. Simon said to me, "Marriage—not for me. My parents have just been divorced. My father is living in London with his girlfriend. I live with my mother in the country. It was a horrendous experience and we all suffered. No thank you, I shall never get married. I am never going to commit myself to a woman to that extent".
He at least had grasped that marriage involved a commitment and I was glad of that. But, my goodness, what a great deal is needed in the education of young people today to show the advantages of a thoroughly prepared and well thought-out marriage. I ask all the Churches—the Church of England, the Church of Rome and the other Free Churches—whether we in the Churches are actually doing enough to prepare people for marriage. I believe the answer to be, no.
Secondly, a family consists of human relationships. All human relationships need to be worked at. Those of us who believe in the importance of the family should ourselves always be working at the relationships in that group. They take time. People have spoken about the important role of fathers and I agree with that. I am the father of four children. I believe it is important to spend time with my children as mothers, more naturally, very often do. We need to work at relationships and to teach the nation that family relationships need to be worked at.
I couple with that view the work of organisations which help in marriage—both those that lay on marriage enrichment courses as well as those that help when there are marriage problems in the air. I think, for example, of Relate which has already been mentioned. It is important to be positive and to help married couples to grow throughout their married life. When there are problems, those people who are trying to help in marriages need to put their main emphasis not on conciliation but on reconciliation.
A group of men and women who had been divorced for five years were asked for their views. Forty per cent. of the women and 50 per cent. of the men said that they wished that they had not been divorced. I find that an interesting statistic. It shows the need for people to help those who are married.
I now turn to what I believe Government and Parliament should be doing because social and economic legislation impinges heavily on family life. I wish to touch on three aspects and the first is the question of mobility which hinges on our regional policy. A husband and wife, with or without children, may have to move house because of their jobs. That will put pressure on the marriage relationship. There is striking evidence from the social services about how mobility undermines family relationships. In a study of the impact of mobility on the family life of 18 junior hospital doctors, a researcher found that 14 per cent. of the children in these highly mobile families experienced emotional disturbance and 470 schooling difficulties. But even more striking was the enormous problem of loneliness among the wives of the hospital doctors. In the survey 62 per cent. of the wives experienced loneliness as a result of some, if not all, of their moves.
Current government policy tends to be to encourage people to move to jobs. I wish to put in a plea that not always should that be the emphasis. The more that we can encourage employment where there are people the better it will be for the family. We have perhaps failed to realise how much this mobility is adding to the pressure on family life. As many as one in 10 of the population is suffering as a result of it. We need to strengthen our families in Britain. We must be prepared to do more to take jobs to where people live to save them from uprooting themselves and their children to move long distances in search of work.
Secondly, I should like to touch on the question of consumer credit and debt. The deregulation of the financial markets has led to an explosion in the growth of consumer credit. It has grown by 17 per cent. a year in real terms and it is adding to the pressure on family life. The Citizens Advice Bureaux reported last Saturday that the number of inquiries about consumer credit and debt has increased from 500,000 last year to 1.4 million this year. That is almost a three-fold increase in one year in the number of people worried about debt. I fear that the problem of consumer credit and debt is a disaster for many family relationships. A recent survey by the Jubilee Centre found that 25 per cent. of marriages had ended in separation or divorce as a consequence of being in debt. Sometimes it is the marriage difficulty that causes debt but most often it is the debt that causes the marriage difficulty. Will the Government look again at the question of unrestricted consumer credit?
My final point concerns the current pressure to encourage more people to work on Sundays. This too hits at family life. A Harris survey found that 82 per cent. of people have lunch regularly with their families on a Sunday. For families with children under 16 the percentage rises to 94 per cent. Sunday lunch is still the one major family meal of the week for the vast majority of people. Can we please encourage families to get together on Sunday? People should not have to work.
This is an important topic. I should like to see action by individuals, by Churches and by the Government to strengthen and support the family. It is surely time to stop mouthing platitudes about how dreadful is the decline of the family and to start to take action to do something about it.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for raising this subject today. I was interested in the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, especially in regard to Sunday. A day of rest, irrespective of what that means to different people, brings the family together. The noble Viscount made a good point.
If one needs qualifications to talk about the family, I think I have them. I am one of six children. I have 471 five children and eight grandchildren, who range in age from two to 30. We have had only one broken marriage in our family of 11 marriages. That is well below the average. It is interesting to note the reduction in family size over the three generations. I take pride in this because I am keen on population control not only in this country but in the world as a whole.
My main point concerns the housing of the family, a subject mentioned by several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who emphasised it strongly. Noble Lords may say that members of my family will not have experienced problems in regard to housing. Most of them have been brought up in large farm houses with plenty of room. However, I have long experience of renovating and building houses for ordinary working people and have noted the effects that such accommodation has on families.
In the late 1930s I repaired a solid old cottage. I put in a bathroom, a hot and cold water system, electric light and so on. I was looking for a foreman. I had an application from a man who worked on a neighbouring farm. I went to see the farmer first and asked what kind of man he was. I was told, "Oh, he could be very good, but he has a terrible wife who does not look after him and does not look after the children". I went to see the man. I was quite taken with him, although I must admit that his house was a mess and that his wife did not look the part at all. However, I gave him the job. The difference in that family in the good accommodation had to be seen to be believed. His wife took a pride in it and she looked after the children. This helped him no end. This applies to everyone. Well housed workers, whatever they are doing, will always be better than those who are badly housed.
My wife was talking to a neighbour's wife. She told my wife that it was a terrible mistake to do what I had done because it would cost farmers if they had to follow that example. My wife said that it was worthwhile if it helped the woman to be clean, and so on. The neighbour's wife said, "If they are clean, they will be clean whether or not they have running water". What a terrible attitude to take! Perhaps I may add that my brother-in-law was talking to someone who did not know that we were related. The suggestion was made that I should be taken out to the North Sea and dropped in it. However, things did not go that far.
Over the years I have built 16 new houses and renovated nearly twice that number. I did so at a heavy cost, but it was worth it. I have always tried to improve the design and quality of the houses. I went to farm in Lincolnshire in 1947. The land owner who let the farm took great pride in telling me that there were two new houses on the farm and that that was a big advantage. I went to see the houses. They had no bathroom, no electric light and the toilet was outside the back door. I spent a good deal of my time and money improving that kind of accommodation.
When I went to Essex I built seven houses. The efficiency of agriculture caught up with me and two 472 of the houses became redundant. I offered them to the council at cost because I had been give permission to build them on the green belt. An official came to look at them. I then received a letter saying that the council could not take them because they were too good for council houses. The attitude of those controlling housing in the Epping Forest area absolutely shook me. What is extraordinary is that one of the houses was sold the other day for more than £100,000. It makes me cry sometimes.
Today's family is independent at an early age. I have watched this in my children and grandchildren. The accommodation must be capable of housing independent children. Many houses are too small. I have made it clear that any houses that I have anything to do with must have two public rooms, a kitchen and however many bedrooms are required. However, I have changed my mind a little because I think it is much better to have one public room and a kitchen/living room. By that I mean a properly designed kitchen/living room, not just something which has been put up to look good.
There are many factors to be considered when designing houses for families. For example, families must be able to separate in the home, especially when there are independent young people of 14, 15 or 16 years of age. God forbid that I should suggest that if there are two television sets in a home that there should be one in each room! However, this separation does take place. For example, a man can sit in the kitchen filling in his coupons while his wife works there, probably sewing and so on, and the children can be in the other room. My noble friend Lord Stoddart is not here today, but I remember him telling me that he had trouble with his children because they did not have separate rooms.
As regards the question of the design of a house, I should like to point out the advantage it is to a mother to have a properly designed home. I have visited many houses and some of them have been of appalling design. The actual design makes a big difference. Prince Charles is interested in the outside of buildings; but I am more interested in the inside because, after all, that is the important part. I believe that in many cases I have done a good job in this respect.
There is no doubting the fact that crowding families into small houses is simply asking for trouble. Far too many newly married couples have to stay with their parents. That creates a situation which in many cases leads to divorce and which causes trouble in the family.
I turn now to the difficult subject of high-rise housing. When I was MP for Enfield I took an interest in the housing in the area and also that in Edmonton, which is the neighbouring borough. I watched what was happening to families who were living in the high-rise housing. I could see that one of the difficulties was a lack of a community centre. I suggested that perhaps in a 23-storey building an area could be set aside about half way up the building where someone could rent a flat and run a small shop and where a space could be assigned as a meeting place for people. I also suggested that in a smaller building such an area could be set aside about 473 two-thirds of the way up the building. However, the answer I received to my suggestion was that the authorities would lose the rent of about six flats. The economic side of social matters is an aspect which we must watch most carefully. I though that that reaction was very bad.
I went to the opening of some flats in Edmonton. They had balconies at each corner. There were two corners, one facing north and one facing east. I must say that in our climate a balcony is not necessary in this area. I remember that I took Mr. Waites aside to discuss the matter. He said, "Well, if you have anything different it costs more". That annoyed me immensely.
As regards the first two houses which I built, after they had been finished and occupied by young couples with babies, I noticed that a pram was always blocking the front door. Therefore I looked into the situation when I built the next two houses. Indeed, if you look at most front doors you will see that there are about six or nine inches or perhaps one foot either side, instead of having two feet within which one could do something, having offset the front door. Therefore when I built the next two houses, I offset the front doors. But I received many comments from people about this ridiculous front door, which was purely a utility matter. However, these are the considerations which make all the difference.
I turn now to the kitchen. Putting the kitchen at the back of the house usually means that the housewife will be looking at a stone wall. Therefore the last two houses which I built in Essex had a lovely view to the west because I put the kitchens at the front. Therefore the housewife can wash her dishes looking at a beautiful view of Epping Forest, instead of being at the back looking at my Dutch barn. I am just emphasising these aspects because they make such a difference to the people living in the houses.
I turn now to talk about older people. Indeed, I am getting that way myself. These people are part of the family and much attention should be paid to what is done when building houses for old people. One consideration is that there should not be a front doorstep. The number of people who trip over front doorsteps and break their arms is legion; in fact, I know of two people who have done so quite recently. Then there is the size of the door. Many older people have to get around in a wheelchair and some doors are just too narrow. Further, they do not open both ways so that one can push one's way through. It is quite ridiculous how these simple considerations are overlooked when building houses for older people.
Then there is the height of the windows. People often sit by the sill of a window because they like to look out and see what is happening. However, we find windows four feet up so that people cannot see out of them. All these factors make a difference to family life in one way or another.
I should like to finish on the point about low-cost housing. I hate that expression because it gives the idea that it is cheap housing for people. In my view, if the low cost to the occupier means a lower standard then I deprecate it greatly. There is no point in putting people into bad housing because they are 474 poor; it only makes them even poorer in more ways than one.
My Lords, before I sit down, I should just like to make a protest. I have made this protest before, but I shall do so again. It concerns the temperature in this House. When the Chamber is as empty as it is now, is there no way in which the heating can be adjusted?
§ 6.35 p.m.
My Lords, I am indeed grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for introducing the debate on this immensely important subject. In fact, she has to some extent pre-empted an Unstarred Question of mine asking the Government what action they have taken to implement certain parts of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 with which I was associated. However, I shall refer to that matter later.
I think that I should make my own position clear at the outset. As a bachelor who has spent the greater part of his adult life in the Arab world, it has been hinted to me that I should not involve myself in matters concerning the family. However, one can perhaps argue that bachelors and spinsters possess a certain objectivity denied to those who are married which could be of some value in the kind of discussion we are having today. Therefore I have become a member of the Executive Committee of the National Campaign for the Family, the honorary chairman of which is Professor Richard Whitfield, and also a patron of the Conservative Family Campaign, although, of course, I am not a Conservative.
Some of my material is indeed based on Professor Whitfield's splendid book or rather collection of articles which I strongly commend to your Lordships entitled, Families Matter. As nearly every speaker has said today, families do matter enormously.
What is a family? According to the Oxford Dictionary of Common English it can include, apart from parents and their children,members of a household, all descendants of one lineage, a group of kindred peoples".Surely that definition is wider than our generally accepted and often limited conception of the family. It is a conception which I think is beautifully summed up in the following epitaph:God bless me and my wife,My son John and his wife,Us four, no more".The definition I quoted applies broadly to the Eastern and primarily Arab concept of the extended family which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. It includes aunts, uncles, cousins—however distant—grandparents, and so on, for all of whom the head of the family, or perhaps in some cases the richest member of it, automatically accepts responsibility. Thus in an Eastern family questions like, "What shall we do with gran?" who is senile or, "What shall we do with young Tommy?", who has become an orphan, do not arise.
All too often we send such people to institutions. However, in the Arab world they are nearly always 475 incorporated into a family. Further, so flexible and family minded are these Eastern peoples that one rarely sees anything like the tensions which arise in so many European families when they are forced to take in unwanted relations. Then there are the miseries suffered by multitudes of old people in our own often dingy and depressing homes and also the unhappiness of the 100,000 children in care. However, I should emphasise that there are in this country many excellent institutions which care both for the elderly and for the young.
I should like to turn to the nub of my speech. Legislation in the past 10 years or so, with few exceptions, has been almost invariably unsympathetic to family conerns, to the ethics of stable family life and in some cases to Christian teaching.
May I start with my own amendment which is contained in Part IV, Section 46 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. This amendment proposed that sex education, where given in maintained schools, should have due regard for moral considerations and the promotion of stable family life. I should have thought that this was a modest request. It was one that had, if I may say so, widespread support in your Lordships' House at Report stage. However, the Government, while conceding that there was a problem concerning sex education, introduced their own amendment at Third Reading, which seriously emasculated my version by omitting the word "stable" before "family life" and adding the words:The governing body and head teacher of the school shall take such steps as are reasonably practical to secure that where sex education is given …That is a sure means of escape.
I have not collected adequate information on this matter—and it seems an almost impossible task in any event—but from what I can gather, some schools continue to use controversial material about sexuality and sexual practices, including homosexuality, lesbianism and even incest, with little specific teaching about marriage. This is something that is to be regretted.
Like many of your Lordships I was distressed that Mrs. Victoria Gillick, who consistently opposed the giving of the contraceptive pill to girls under 16—the legal age of consent—without parental agreement, finally lost her case in October 1985 when the Law Lords voted three to two against her. This is a complex issue and I have no time to go into the details. However, it strikes me as particularly sad that none of the five noble and learned Lords even hinted that it might be in the girl's best interest to dissuade her from a sexual relationship, or pointed out the adverse health risks of premature sex, including AIDS.
I shall not say much about divorce because this subject has been mentioned in some detail by several speakers, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. However, I should like to say that many parliamentarians never accepted the aim of the 1969 Act as being, "to buttress the stability of marriage". They saw it as being to throw off the traditional shackles of restraint and achieve easy divorce. Thus, 476 under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 a petition for divorce may be presented after the expiry of one year from the date of marriage. This period should be extended to two or even three years.
The Family Law Reform Act 1987 inter alia removed the legal distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children by deleting any reference to the marital status of the parents. Although many people feel that one should not discriminate against the innocent victims of irresponsible adult behaviour, nevertheless this is one more legal nail in the coffin of stable Christian marriage. One in five babies is now born out of wedlock, compared with one in 20 at the beginning of the century, despite the almost total lack of contraception at that time. If that trend continues at its present rate, babies born within marriage may well be in the minority in the next century.
I could quote other examples of unsympathetic legislation concerning the family, but I conclude by summarising the recommendations of Professor Whitfield for public support of marriage and family life. In his view they should include legislation covering fair taxation and benefits which do not discriminate against marriage; just employment opportunities; a humane social system using the framework of family life; providing for each individual according to his or her need; adequate housing and community services; balanced education and guidance and health provisions.
Finally, I strongly recommend the establishment of a chair of marriage and the family at one of our universities.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, for bringing to our attention the difficulties faced by the families of junior hospital doctors. As one who has been through that stage and whose son and wife are going through that stage at the moment I can fully testify to those difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his maiden speech mentioned the great difficulties in the careers of junior doctors and the stresses put upon their family life. I am pleased to be able further to put this point on record and to bring to the attention of noble Lords that we are continuing to follow this problem to see whether we can improve the situation for junior doctors and their families.
As a general practitioner working in a not particularly deprived inner city practice I periodically assess my clientele as they present and try to categorise the reasons for their attendance. I have found repeatedly that about half of them come with problems which are concerned with their unhappiness or what I would classify as social pathology. They often present with a sore throat, a headache or a stomach upset as a ticket to come and see the doctor. However, the underlying reasons are not difficult to detect. I am speaking about problems with their marital or other partner, with their children, housing or finances or perhaps a problem at work or with their neighbours. They may have drug or alcohol-related problems or be in difficulties 477 with the law. Sometimes they have two or more of those problems and sometimes they even have the whole lot.
I mentioned in my speech last week that my surgery is very similar to that of a constituency MP. These are the kind of problems that may well come through the doors of an MP's surgery. My referrals to social agencies are now as common or more so than my referrals to hospital out-patient departments. A surgery with 14 or 16 consultations (which is the number that I had this morning) may result in three or four letters to, for example, social service departments, housing departments, environmental health officers and solicitors, in addition to the absolutely vital internal referrals to health visitors and health advisers to the elderly or the psychiatric social worker attached to the practice. Every one of those problems will have a family dimension. For some people the problem, sadly, relates to the lack of a family or substitute family.
As an ideal, every child should grow up, preferably from conception onwards, in a nurturing environment where not only their physical needs but their emotional needs are met. All serious students of human development now recognise the crucial importance of the very early years. Lifelong feelings and behaviour are formed in the first five, and some people may say the first two, years of life. Parental moods or attitudes are imprinted on the children particularly then but throughout childhood. If parents, particularly mothers, are depressed or otherwise preoccupied with many cares, children can be emotionally malnourished as surely as they were nutritionally malnourished in the years of the depression. Even now there is evidence that poverty can have a bad effect on a child's diet so that poorer children are more likely to develop chronic diseases—for instance, coronary heart disease—later in life.
Actual physical abuse which comes to light is only the tip of the iceberg, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, pointed out so clearly.
I suggest, however, that repressed anger and despair, resulting in depression in a parent, rather than expressed violence may have long-term damaging effects on children of a different but possibly in the longer term even more severe nature. GPs see the results of marital violence more often than they see evidence of child abuse. To detect child abuse requires a more suspicious mind. Parents do not often present their battered child but adult bruises and cuts are often presented so that they can be recorded as evidence of assault for the court.
If as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, divorce were made more difficult, I wonder whether we might not see more of these bruises. Many of the problems that I have just hinted at have become worse during the past 10 years of what we have been told has been unprecedented prosperity.
Particularly acute is the housing situation for the less well off. Other noble Lords and right reverend Prelates have discussed the scandal of homelessness. I have never understood the logic of restricting the use of assets realised by local authorities through the 478 sale of council houses. Apparently it is supposed to cut down inflation. I have never really accepted that, but I feel that the very small increase in inflation which might be brought about by recirculating this capital into housing would be well worth accepting, because of the short-term and the long-term benefits in human and financial terms.
I wish to mention to the noble Lord who will reply a body called the Child Psychotherapy Trust. It has recently been created and exists to promote and assist training and research in this vitally important field. Child psychotherapists are, by their training, in a unique position to help parents understand why their children are in difficulty and perhaps to set in motion changes in attitudes within families which may have long-term and even lifelong benefit. I hope that the noble Lord can tell me whether the Department of Health intends to back this young profession. I have only just thrown the question at him; he may have to write to me about it.
I am also concerned about the future of the child guidance service, which has been run by the Inner London Education Authority, when it is transferred to the London boroughs. I should very much like to know whether its finances will be assured so that this important service can continue to operate.
One further question which I wish to ask is, can the noble Lord tell us whether any progress is likely on the suggestion from some quarters that there should be set up a separate family court service? There are many features to do with family disputes and the problems that arise from them which are inappropriately dealt with in the ordinary open court. They would be far more sensibly and economically dealt with under one roof, as the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, has suggested. It is not appropriate for family disputes to be heard in an adversarial situation, as often happens in open court. I wish to see a counselling and conciliation service as part of all family legal hearings.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for introducing this debate on a subject of such vital—and I use the word advisedly—importance to us all. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, my noble friends Lady Faithful] and Lord Ashbourne, as well as with the noble Lords, Lord Seebohm and Lord Carter, in what they said about the importance of upgrading child benefit. This is of great importance to all of us.
Speaking as I do at the end of a debate, after a long line of distinguished speakers and marvellous speeches, I find that everything has been said. Most of what I wished to say has already been said most excellently by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. Sadly for your Lordships, I shall not allow that to deter me as I believe the message to be very important.
I have an interest to declare. I have been happily married for 37 years and we have six children. The family unit is the basis of all civilisation. It is also the basis of life itself. All life—people and animals 479 as well—was created by God. It is also the result of a union between a mother and a father. So the child comes into the world as part of a trinity. It emerges as part of a family. If the child is lucky, there are also brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts and all the glorious host of kinsmen, noble and otherwise. It is the love and happiness engendered in our own familes which protect and nurture us all and enable us to go out into the world and try to share that love and happiness with others.
Of course, all families are different and sometimes it comes as a shock to find that. I remember my eldest noble kinsman had a school friend at Kilspindie school, whom he invited to tea. He was a special school friend and he was five. I thought, "What would he like?" It was important to us all and to our noble kinsman that our family should not be shamed. So I decided on scrambled eggs, bacon and chips, followed by girdle scones and some of our greengage jam. The bacon and chips were all right, but the scrambled eggs were a disaster. "What's this?" he asked, stirring it moodily with his fork. "Scrambled eggs", I said. "That's not eggs", he said scornfully. Nor was the greengage jam acceptable. "Jam is red", he told me. However, the visit was a success and had emphasised two fundamental truths. All families are different and one's own family is best.
The family is important for many reasons, not least the shelter and refuge it provides from the harsh realities of the world. Of course, there are harsh realities within the family—and I am not referring to any of my noble kinsmen! But the heart of the family is where love resides. And where love is, there lies healing, and safety from all hurt.
Once I was expounding to someone on the bringing up of children. "What is important is to love them", I said. I was overheard by one of my noble kinsmen. "What Mum means by 'love' is going on at you and telling you not to do things", he—or it may have been she—said. "Absolutely", I agreed. "You have to love someone to bother with all the endless hassle of telling them what is right and wrong. It is much easier not to love people, not to care, not to bother. Love is caring".
Another aspect of the family is learning to live with people. If one can live with one's own family, the chances are that one can live with anyone. The family is also about sharing. If one has a reasonable sized family, there is not always enough of the best things to go round. I remember once taking my noble kinsmen out to tea. One of them, looking round at the amazing spread of goodies on the table, asked in a loud voice, "What is the ration on biscuits, Mum?".
The family is the most secure and happy way of bringing up children. It gives them some of the benefits I have mentioned, and there are many others such as the security of love and family jokes. My noble kinsman, my mother's brother, had a story which he had been told by Felix Leach. It had a beginning and an end but no middle. The story ran as follows:There they were in the Corn Exchange, Ely, toe to toe, Queensberry rules.480 One waited with bated breath for what was to come next, but my noble kinsman fixed one with a beady eye and said, "It was his brother". There was no explanation; that was the punchline. The middle had become lost. However, the phrase became part of family mythology. It was quite inexplicable to anyone outside the family, but totally understood by those within.
We are all part of our own family and of our family of nations. Mankind is only an extended family. I shall quote from the national anthem, or at least that part of it quoted by the chairman of the Inter-parliamentary Union at its centenary conference at Westminster this summer. The national anthem states:Lord make the nations seeThat men should brothers beAnd form one familyThe wide world o'er".No man is an island. We are all part of a family, of our own family, of our nation's family and of God's family. That family is surrounded and built upon love.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I was enjoying the debate until just now. Having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, I now feel so hungry that I am not sure I can get through the material that I have prepared. However, I shall do the best I can. We have managed to cover pretty well all the problems of society. We have shown how they impinge on the family. That is not surprising as the family is a major and perhaps the dominant social institution.
I have listened to the speeches with great interest. It would be absurd to go over them all again, but there are three or four contributions that I feel I should underline. I shall start with that of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, whose speech I found most affecting. He referred to violence in the family. That is an important point. I was most affected, as we all were by what he had to say. He and the rest of us are less clear, however, about what we should do about the situation. It is important that we do something, but I do not know what. However, I agree with the noble Lord overwhelmingly that anything that legitimises the use of violence against the child leads, in my view, ultimately to the violence that kills children. I hear noble Lords say that they have smacked their children or that they were chastised as a child and it did not damage them. I do not believe that noble Lords appreciate the implications of that kind of remark.
I turn to the remarks of my noble friend Lady Fisher of Rednal on homelessness. It seems to me that the boasts we make for our way of life at the end of the 20th century cannot be valid when we find ourselves today still with homeless or inadequately housed people. We cannot boast about what a great society we are when such things go on. The Government seem to have abandoned this problem. What is annoying—the noble Baroness pointed this out—is that the Government have not only abandoned the homeless but also prevent everybody else solving the problem. That is the objection that one makes.
481 Several noble Lords including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Baronesses, Lady Lockwood and Lady Seear, mentioned education in preparing for family life and for what has been termed "parenting". I support that most strongly as a person interested in education. I look all the time for room within the national curriculum in the hope that that consideration will not be neglected. I am bound to say that in order for that not to be neglected one has to maintain continuous pressure, as all the pressures within schools are for other subjects. I am not saying that that is necessarily wrong but nonetheless it would be a bad thing if this kind of consideration were squeezed out. Further, I hope that those teachers who are responsible for these matters will give an honest and factual account of the problems of the family and parenting and will not give an idealist cartoon character account, as it were, of a kind of family which does not exist and of a society which does not exist.
Finally in my introductory remarks I must refer to the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. I wish to refer in particular to the example he gave, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, of the problem of economic mobility. That interests me as an economist because it is one of the best examples of the clash between our economic needs and our social needs. It is not a case of simply saying that if we get the economy right society will follow automatically in a perfectly correct way. We have to face up to the fact that much of what we want to do, or have done, with our economy may well be threatening to our social needs. In certain areas we may have made the wrong choices. As regards the mobility of the family, we must face the issue. That was, I believe, the point made by the noble Viscount.
So far I have agreed with what noble Lords have said. I should warn the House that there is at least one area where I do not agree with most of what has been said. It concerns divorce. I shall return to the subject later. I see myself in the minority, at least among those present today. However, before I deal with that I should say that we are told that the family is under threat. I ask myself what that means. We should not exaggerate. In the admirable document that the excellent Family Policy Studies Centre produced and which I assume we have all seen as we all seem to be quoting much the same statistics, we are reminded that among families with children—that is after all what we have focused on—the majority, 86 per cent., consist of married couples with children. Thirteen per cent. constitute families headed by a lone mother and 1 per cent. a lone father.
I am not suggesting for one moment that there are not problems with the family, but 86 per cent. is a good deal more than, as it were, less than half and similar assessments. We should not get the matter wrong. The family has not disappeared from our society. What then do we mean by the threat to the family? Are we referring to the normal family of two parents and children where no divorce is involved? If we are referring to that, what is the nature of the threat? That is the question we must ask ourselves.
482 I must ask myself whether the threat lies in what one might call the individualist ethic, or the emphasis on individual achievement and self-fulfilment. Has that become too strong? Certainly people do not believe that they should suffer within an unsatisfactory relationship. I must ask why they should do so. Any of us having experience of friends with marital problems knows that that is the first response. People argue, and I would have to agree with them, that an impossible marriage is more damaging if it is kept going than if it is brought to an end.
Of course we advocate counselling as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and others have done, and we hope for its success. For those with religious beliefs the clergy may and does help. However, in the end, are those noble Lords who have spoken against divorce saying that a loveless, failed marriage must continue? I can only say that I would not press that too strongly. Some of the remarks have reiterated the standard theme which we get all the time in your Lordships' House of the older ones among us telling the younger ones what to do. In this area, as in others, I shall not pontificate and tell the younger ones what to do. I do not believe that the world in the past was a better place.
What other forces are at work? I have referred to the economic pressures to spend and therefore to earn in order to spend. I respect the free choice of women who want to work because they feel that they deserve careers as much as their husbands do. My concern is for women who are forced into the labour market—as the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, said, perhaps too soon after childbirth—because their spouse's income is too low. We then have the ultimate paradox of both parents working to give a decent standard of living to the children which creates the tensions that eventually lead to marital breakdown and divorce.
Again I do not pretend that I can solve such problems. I simply point out that there are no easy solutions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, and others said, simply making divorce harder is not helpful.
Uncomfortable though it is, all that leads us to examine the role of men in society as well as that of women. The problem of sexual equality will not go away. There are those who in the cause of the family advocate a return of the woman to the kitchen—happily we have not heard such a view today. It is said that the man should concentrate on paid work in the market while the woman concentrates on unpaid work in the home. In my view that is a surer recipe ultimately for destroying the family than any other I can think of.
Of course I accept the remarks made by many noble Lords about the importance of a stable and loving environment for the under-fives. However, I regard that as just as much the father's responsibility as the mother's. It is not for us men to tell women what to do; it is rather for men to begin to change their own roles in society.
Although there is plenty of time left, I do not wish to go on endlessly but there are three or four further points that I should like to make. Needless to say, I 483 totally support the remarks made about child benefit. I simply do not understand, and have not understood all the time that I have been in your Lordships' House, the Government's position on that matter. Even noble Lords on the Benches opposite who support the Government, we are well aware, do not understand it either.
I should like to follow the remarks of my noble friend Lord Carter. Incidentally, it is my duty to congratulate him because his speech today was his maiden speech from this Front Bench as our social security spokesman. To follow his remarks, it seems to me that we need to look much more closely at the whole taxation and social security system as it affects the family. I shall not dwell on that point for hours this afternoon. It is not an easy subject and we have great difficulty in sorting out some parts of it.
Let us take as an example the treatment of crèches. Crèches are treated for tax purposes as an implied income and therefore a taxable benefit. That, however, is a disincentive to work. If one believes that a disincentive to women to work is good for the family, then it is good for the family. However, if the woman wants to work it creates tensions which are bad for the family. Such tax treatment of crèches will drive women to use unsatisfactory childminders rather than more satisfactory open arrangements. I do not suggest that I know how to sort out the problem; I am simply pointing out that it is not at all easy.
One area which I should like to emphasise strongly in relation to tax reform is a measure which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, advocated relating to carers. In that case we are interested both in tax concessions for carers and public expenditure. My view is that generous tax concessions should be granted to carers. I would argue that it is intrinsically right to do so. However, if that argument does not convince anyone these days, it is obvious that it is socially beneficial to assist carers. More to the point, it is economical to do so. Without the great assistance of carers the people they care for would become a burden on our society, and a much more expensive burden. I should give high priority to some form of help for carers.
I turn now to a slightly technical matter. A great deal of spurious research, chiefly from the home of spurious research—the United States of America—purports to show the deleterious effects of the so-called non-conventional family relationship. That research is spurious because it confuses cause and effect. It uses data in a selective and ad hoc manner. I regret to say that the best example of spurious research is the example given by my noble friend Lord Longford, who unfortunately cannot be here—the alleged connection between broken homes, crime and divorce. There may be a connection in the sense that if one plots the data one can see a correlation. However, the important point is not to jump from a naive look at the data to any assumption about causation.
It is a much more persuasive hypothesis that those with a propensity to engage in anti-social activity are also unable to form stable relationships and are 484 more likely to be divorced. In other words, the causation runs in exactly the opposite direction. Wearing my professional hat, I merely wish to warn your Lordships against that kind of spurious use of statistical material.
It is my duty to end on an acerbic and extremely critical note. This Government started 10 years ago with an alleged commitment to the family. In those 10 years they have surpassed all previous governments in the damage they have done to the family, whether it be homelessness, the social security treatment of young people and single mothers, the freezing of child benefits, the reduction in the provision of free and cheap school meals, the shift of income from the poor to the rich, the exaggeration of the virtues of consumer spending, not least that based on credit, the denigration of service to the community and compassion and the mismanagement of the economy, not least the reintroduction of large scale unemployment in our society. All those have exacerbated the problems of the family that we have debated today. It really is time for a change.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, perhaps I may join the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in congratulating his noble friend Lord Carter on his first speech from the Front Bench as Opposition social security spokesman. No doubt we shall be seeing a great deal of each other in the coming months.
I should also like to join with all other Members of the House in congratulating the noble Baroness on her success in focusing the attention of your Lordships' House so early in this new Session on the vitally important area of the family. I am not sure that "focusing" is the right word, since by my reckoning we have covered a fairly long list of subjects. They include child care, community care, the White Paper, divorce, lone mothers and training, homelessness, housing, housing benefits, 16 and 17 year-olds, the community charge, broadcasting, child benefit, the disabled, family credit, the complexity of forms, the social fund, wife's earnings, separate taxation and other comments of a fiscal nature particularly concerning the taxation of crèches, mobility and employment and the effect on family life; Sunday trading reared its head, consumer credit and debt, children in need, the idea of a lead department or a department for the family, violence to children, family courts, AIDS, condoms and morality, women in employment, demographic changes and many others. In the time available—and I shall not use all the time available—I shall not be able to cover all those subjects. However, I should like to try to cover some of them and I hope that noble Lords will bear with me over the next few minutes.
Of all the great institutions on which the strength of a civilised nation depends it is the family which provides the foundation of our national character and greatness. It is, after all, as members of a family that we first learn the values of tolerance, mutual respect, duty, discipline, service and security. It is the family which forms the basis of the standards so widely accepted and upheld in our society. But it is 485 one thing to idealise about the family. It is quite another to turn commendable ideals into practical policies which promote independence, dignity and self-esteem; which increase freedom and choices; which encourage and reward initiative, enterprise and effort; and which give rise to security, to better standards of living, to a better standard of health care, to high standards in our schools and to a respect for law and order.
It is because we see the family as the bedrock of society that we have pursued policies aimed at achieving those objectives. Who could disagree with the proposition underpinning the Motion before us today that the family has a vital and continuing importance in the changing circumstances of today? That fact was highlighted only a couple of weeks ago in the report on British social attitudes published by SCPR (Social and Community Planning Research), which concluded:Parents are expected to play an important part in the emotional, social, moral and cultural development of their children, providing a framework of motives and rewards in preparation for adult life. But the family is also expected to protect and care for its vulnerable members, such as children and the elderly, and to look after them if they are sick or disabled".I am glad that the noble Baroness has asked us to consider the importance of the family with particular regard to the changing circumstances of today. We all agree that the past decade has been a decade of change. When we came to office 10 years ago we said that we wanted to set the nation on the road to recovery. What we have witnessed in those 10 years can only be described as a transformation. There has been a transformation in this country's economic performance, a transformation which has resulted in the resurgence of a spirit of enterprise helping industry to flourish and resulting in the rejuvenation of our inner cities.
There has been a transformation in living standards. The past decade has seen increases in living standards for people at all levels of income, and real, personal disposable incomes are at an all-time high. The real take-home pay of a married man with two children on male average earnings has gone up by nearly one-third over the past 10 years. Take-home pay for those on average male earnings has already increased in the past year by some £16 a week and the great majority of families have seen a further increase of up to £3 a week—or even more if both partners are working—as a result of the restructuring of national insurance contributions last month. Wealth has been spread more widely, with more people than ever owning their own homes and more people owning shares, giving them a stake in a country which is now better at creating wealth than it has ever been.
We place a high premium on economic performance because we recognise that it is only as our nation has enjoyed prosperity that we have been able to provide more for those who are less well-off. That is why we have been able to increase social provision for families by devoting more resources to provide better education, better social services, better housing and better health services for families. That is why we have been able to devote an unprecedented level of resources to our social security programme. Next year we shall spend over 486 £55 billion on social security, which means that expenditure in that area will be running in excess of £1 billion each and every week.
If the social security system is to respond to the changing circumstances of today, it needs to be effective in meeting needs in a way which encourages independence and incentives to work. One of the significant achievements of the reformed system which we introduced in April last year is that we now have a scheme which gives us the flexibility to provide more help to those people who need it. In particular, the new scheme has enabled us to direct more help to less well-off families with children. Last April we used the flexibility of the new scheme to direct help to low income families over and above the amount required to enable them to keep pace with inflation.
In his recent uprating Statement made in another place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security again demonstrated the Government's resolve to direct help to families with children by going beyond the normal uprating of benefits in line with prices and directing extra help to priority areas. Thus from April 1990 the family premium in income support, housing benefit and community charge benefit will be increased by an extra 50p above inflation and an extra £1 a week will reach those working families receiving family credit. As a result, some 1.5 million Families with 3 million children will again have their income-related benefits increased in real terms, bringing the amount of extra help provided for families to over £350 million a year in real terms since April 1988.
With the introduction of family credit we are now spending twice as much on working families with children compared with its predecessor, family income supplement. Our recent advertising campaign has proved to be a great success, with the number of claims doubling in the early stages, boosting the latest available caseload figures to over 320,000—an increase of more than 40,000 since the end of March.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, talked about problems with the family credit claim form. I accept that at first sight it looks formidable, but we believe that it is in fact quite easy to complete. I say that in the knowledge that since it was introduced in April over 670,000 have been completed, but we have also carried out some research which shows that people seem to be able to cope with the claim form. We are always looking for ways to improve our forms to make them more user-friendly, but according to the evidence in this case it is not a problem.
In responding to the changing circumstances of today, our policies also have regard to the changing composition of families and in particular to the fact that today over 1 million families are headed by a lone parent. Our policies aim to ensure a balance of provision which directs help to lone parents as a priority group without providing incentives to people to become lone parents in the first place. That is why the benefit system provides generous help in income support for those lone parents who are unable to support themselves by working. But 487 we also want to leave lone parents free to decide for themselves whether to work while bringing up the family.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve seemed to suggest that the Government were not doing enough to help lone parents who want to work. We believe that it is a matter for the lone parents themselves to decide whether they wish to work, but if they decide to work the Government provide help in several ways. The first of those ways is through training. There is special access to employment training and help with child care. There are already some 4,000 lone parents participating in employment training and benefiting both from quality training opportunities and child care payments. We believe that that is an encouraging response after only a year of the programme's operation. It is too early to assess how successful lone parents have been in moving on to jobs or further training.
As regards child care, the Government are encouraging the provision of child care by employers through tax allowances for the employers' costs, and voluntary organisations receive help through funding. There are benefits for those who wish to work. As I said, family credit and housing benefit will be increased from next April by more than the amount needed to maintain their real value.
The noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, also expressed concern about the falling contribution of maintenance to the incomes of lone parent families. The Government share his concern and agree that absent fathers should meet their responsibilities for their families where possible and not leave it to the taxpayer. When a lone parent claims income support, my department—the Department of Social Security—tries to arrange maintenance. It is clearly a good thing to establish a pattern of regular maintenance, particularly as it can provide a useful basis of income for lone parents wanting to move off benefit into work. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will continue to keep the question of maintenance under review.
I turn now to the question of child benefit which has been raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, my noble friend Lord Ashbourne and the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm. I should stress that I shall speak briefly on this subject. Noble Lords will have another chance to comment on child benefit when we deal with the uprating orders. They had a chance to raise the issue when the uprating Statement was made in another place, although I understand that noble Lords opposite did not want the Statement repeated because of pressure of business. I shall touch on it briefly today but, as I said, we can come back to it at great length when the up-rating orders go through.
Several noble Lords have expressed concern about our decision not to up-rate child benefit this year. I have listened carefully to their views and I do recognise the strength of feeling in this House on this subject. I must make it absolutely clear to your Lordships that the rate of child benefit will continue to be reviewed each year as part of the annual 488 review of social security benefit rates. Its level will be decided in the light of circumstances at the time. That is what the law requires. It is what we have done and will continue to do. It fully honours our manifesto commitment.
In reviewing the level this year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State took into account the fact that an increase in child benefit of itself does nothing to help some 3 million children—a quarter of all children—in families receiving income-related benefits, because those benefits are adjusted to take account of changes in child benefit. He already took into account the improvements in living standards that I described earlier, which have meant that better off families have already gained from increases in take-home pay.
Taking all those factors into consideration, my right honourable friend felt that the up-rating of child benefit at a net cost of £250 million would not have represented the best use of resources. It would have given relatively small amounts to large numbers of families, many of whom have substantial and rapidly rising incomes and who cannot be said to need it. Instead, he considered it right to concentrate extra resources on families who most needed help. The general up-rating of benefits from April next year will make available extra resources amounting to over £2.5 billion to priority groups, including as I have already indicated, less well off families with children, many of whom are lone parents. It was against that background of additional resources that my right honourable friend did not feel able this year to propose an increase in child benefit.
The noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, spoke about the importance of child benefit. We accept that it makes a worthwhile contribution toward the cost of bringing up children. However, family credit is also very important. The average payment is £26 a week, and there are awards of £40, £50, £60 and more a week being paid. I do not see how child benefit can ever deliver that kind of help and still be affordable.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, raised points partly with regard to child benefit and on family credit. He asked why the Government do not use targeting in tax relief. That, I believe, was the point which the noble Lord was trying to get over. Increases in tax allowances and reductions in tax rates help nearly all working families. So do reductions in national insurance contributions. We believe that people should be left with more of their own money so that they can choose what they want to do with it.
The noble Lords also asked the Government to give an assurance that if child benefit were phased out, the full £4.5 billion would go to families with children. As I said earlier, the Government are committed in their election manifesto to pay child benefit as of now. We have no intention of breaking that commitment. He also asked how many families receive family credit. For the last week in July, which is the latest date for which we have comprehensive information, over 320,000 families received a payment of family credit. So for that week over 320,000 payments of family credit were made.
489 I turn to the subject of homelessness which has been mentioned by many speakers and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, both the right reverend Prelates, I believe, and the noble Lord, Lord Carter. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, raised the matter in her opening speech, and it was also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. It is one area among many in which we have taken action, despite what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Peston.
We have taken action to deal with this problem. I know that the difficulties experienced by families with young children who find themselves forced into bed and breakfast accomodation have long been a source of concern. As a temporary measure bed and breakfast accommodation is better than nothing at all of course; but we accept that it is by no means a healthy environment in which to bring up children, and was never intended to provide a longer term solution to the problems of homelessness.
As noble Lords will know—and I appreciate the welcome given to it by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester—my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has recently announced the results of a major review of the problem of homelessness. As a result, we are embarking on a two-year programme aimed at getting homelessness out of bed and breakfast accomodation. That programme will cost some £250 million. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, that that £250 million is new money. I can assure her that those resources are extra new funds in addition. They are going both to local authorities and to housing associations. To suggest that they will all go to housing associations is simply not true. I believe that £177 million of that sum will go to local authority schemes in order to help the homeless.
As I said, the programme will cost some £250 million. It will involve making better use of housing which already exists, bringing back into use empty property and providing cash incentives to help tenants buy, so releasing relets cheaply. Of that sum, £80 million will go to housing associations for renovating empty properties, as cash incentives and possibly for additional off-the-shelf acquisition of new housing.
For the longer term we are doubling public funding for new subsidised rented housing from £815 million to £1,736 million in 1992–93. More private investment in rented housing and more and better focused public expenditure will take us a long way toward the Government's aim that a decent home should be within the reach of every family.
While on the subject of the homeless, I should also like to mention the excellent work done by voluntary groups and churches which have pioneered imaginative schemes to help those young, single homeless people who leave home, often precipitately, and need assistance to be reunited with their parents. We recognise that a large proportion of young, single homeless people were formerly in care and cannot return home for perfectly legitimate reasons, or were formerly at home but, again, cannot return home for perfectly good reasons. I should like to pay tribute to those who work to ease the reunion of children with their parents while also furnishing 490 loving support and protection for those at risk of violence and abuse. The Government have boosted support to £2 million next year for the voluntary sector involved with the existing homeless. For example, bids will be encouraged in support of projects which help to reunite homeless young people with their families.
Perhaps I may touch on just one other point which was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. She suggested that we should go out and see the conditions that the homeless face. I can assure her that we are concerned to learn more about these problems. My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing, following the homelessness review, has been meeting voluntary groups. He recently visited the Centrepoint Night Shelter. As many noble Lords will know, that is a major agency providing assistance to single homeless people, including young people who have no safe home to which they can return. I recently met a delegation, led by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, which represented a wide range of voluntary groups working with homeless people. I was moved by their presentations on the needs of those without a secure home to go to.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I was referring to seeing things for oneself, not listening. The very fact that one sees things for oneself is different from following them up after one has listened.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I take the point of the noble Baroness. If she has listened, I said that my right honourable friend the Minister for Housing has been to Centrepoint. He has seen what the problem is.
Perhaps I may quickly touch on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, regarding design of housing. I should like to pick him up on the provision of better facilities for those living on larger estates. The Department of the Environment Estate Action Programme addresses just those problems of design on large estates through joint local authority and tenant schemes using government resources. Highly successful revitalisation of rundown estates has taken place. As the noble Lord has instanced, tenants once again take a pride in their home and in their surroundings. Total resources for the programme this year will be £190 million.
I should like also to pick up briefly a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and others. It may have been raised by my noble friend Lord Ashbourne. It was suggested that the community charge will assist in the break up of families. I simply do not accept that. Adults, with the exception of those living as husband and wife, are individually liable to pay for their own charge. Young adults will be individually liable whether they live with or away from parents. Moreover, they will be able to apply for rebates in their own right, depending on their own incomes, whether or not they live with their parents. There should thus be no incentive for young people to leave home earlier than they would otherwise have done.
491 The subject of divorce has been raised. Many speakers took a different line from that of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I feel under some constraint. As noble Lords will know, divorce law in England and Wales is under consideration by the Law Commission. It would be premature to say whether or not the Government consider that reforms are necessary. It is certainly much too early to say what form any reforms might take if brought forward. The report is expected some time next year. However, the Government are acutely aware of the risks to children on family breakdown and in so far as the divorce laws and proceedings can be designed to minimise that risk the Government will be keen to consider proposals. I can assure your Lordships that all the suggestions made by noble Lords today will be taken into consideration.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Faithfull is not able to be here. However, she raised a point of which she gave me advance warning on the co-ordination of government policy on the family. She has identified a very real issue. The long list of topics which have been discussed, to which I referred, gives some idea of how wide the idea of the family and children can be. It touches on the responsibilities of a number of departments. However, the responsibilities are divided. There will be subjects that cross boundaries and need to be co-ordinated. It is therefore important that there should be a department with lead responsibility and proper arrangements for co-ordination. The Department of Health has that lead responsibility. That is widely known, and not only in government. There are also well established mechanisms for liaising with other departments.
My noble friend referred to under-fives. In 1979 an inter-departmental consultative group on provision for under-fives was set up. It is usually chaired by a Department of Health Minister with lead responsibility on families and has members representing the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Employment, the Home Office, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Social Security, the Ministry of Defence and the Welsh and Scottish Offices. It meets representatives from the local authority associations, the National Association of Health Authorities, the Commission for Racial Equality and the voluntary sector to discuss matters of common interest. I hope that my noble friend will accept that the Government are able to co-ordinate family policy across a wide range of departmental boundaries.
I appreciate that I am taking some time but if noble Lords will bear with me a little longer there are other points with which I should like to deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, raised some detailed points on the child psychotherapy trust and the ILEA child guidance service. I appreciate the fact that he sent me a note that he would raise these matters. I hope that he will accept my offer to write to him in greater detail. I do not think that there is now time to deal with them. He also mentioned the problems that junior hospital doctors have with family life. I can assure him that that can also be true of junior 492 Government Ministers when their families live 300 miles away in the north. But we all have to cope with these factors.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and trust that he will not be putting forward a Junior Ministers' Protection Bill, or whatever the Bill was that he raised last year.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred to the difficult balance when one has to weigh up economic considerations where mobility of the workforce is important. It can obviously have very important social knock-on effects. One has to consider these matters very carefully. I say no more on that subject at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, mentioned the Crossroads scheme. I welcome the support that the noble Lord gave for the policy set out in the White Paper on community care. Our aim is to enable people to lead as full and independent a life as possible in the community when that is feasible and when they wish to do so. As we have heard during this debate, in practice most care is provided by family, friends and neighbours. One of our key objectives is to ensure that local authorities make practical support for carers a high priority. The noble Lord referred to the excellent Crossroads scheme. The Department of Health has grant-aided Crossroads HQ for many years to assist with its central administration costs. Support for the current financial year and for 1990–91 is at the level of £80,000. The Government will expect local authorities to make use wherever possible of voluntary organisations such as Crossroads. We feel that carers' lives can be made much easier if support is there at the right time. We fully recognise that to help carers maintain their valuable contribution is both a right and sound investment.
Lastly I should like briefly to touch on the idea of a family court which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and, I believe others mentioned. The Government are sympathetic to the idea of providing proper arrangements for hearing and determining family proceedings. Accordingly it has set in hand a review of family law and related matters of procedure and machinery. The Government are not committed to a family court. However, even those who want such a court will realise that a necessary precondition is a single body of substantive family law. That does not exist at present. In areas of domestic violence, the right to occupy the family home, and financial provision, different courts apply different law. In other areas such as divorce and adoption the law is currently under review. Further, the court structure and the organisation of related services such as conciliation or welfare reporting depend on what job the court has to do. That in turn depends on substantive law.
In those circumstances, the Government's programme will examine the substantive law step-by-step, together with connected questions of jurisdiction and other machinery including 493 conciliation and the organisation of welfare reporting and the guardian ad litum services. The Government believe that the Children Act now takes us a long way towards realising the objectives which underly calls for a family court and must make one optimistic that future development under a programme of review will take us further towards common objectives for improving the way in which family proceedings are dealt with.
I began some 33 minutes ago—and I appreciate that I have not covered every point raised but perhaps 33 minutes is long enough—by congratulating the noble Baroness on focusing our attention on a subject of such vital importance. I should like to end on the same note. The debate has highlighted a concern which we all share. It is a genuine concern that centres around the family, and there is a particular concern for those who are less well off.
We are a caring and listening government. I assure noble Lords that we shall pay attention to the many comments and points that have been made during the course of the debate. The Government care deeply about the well being of families. We are fully aware that during the past 10 years of change some families have faired less well than others. I mentioned some of the ways in which we have translated our concerns into action. But not for one moment would I imply that we believe that there is no room for further improvement. We believe that we have a good record, but we shall continue to listen. Wherever possible we shall continue to respond positively and flexibly.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wish to raise one matter. I appreciate that he cannot refer to every subject covered during the course of the debate. However, I mentioned at length the question of violence in the family, and he has not referred to that. The Department of Health must be the lead department in that respect because it wrote to EPOCH. It stated:There are no circumstances in which it would be appropriate for supervising adults to smack children attending local authority day nurseries or play groups or similar types of private or voluntary group facilities".I welcome that statement. However, if there are no circumstances in which it would be appropriate for supervising adults to smack children outside the home, surely there are no circumstances in which it would be appropriate for supervising adults—in other words, the parents—to smack children in the home. Will the Government address themselves to that question?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I apologise for not covering that point, but the noble Lord will appreciate that I spoke for 35 minutes. However, I shall write to him about the matter.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I realise that I did not give the Minister notice, but perhaps I may have the same courtesy of receiving a reply.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords and Baronesses who have taken part in the debate. They made valuable and wide-ranging contributions. I gained a vivid picture of the changing pattern of marriage with all its joys end sorrows.
There was complete agreement on the importance of marriage and family life. There was almost agreement, although my noble friend Lord Peston felt that there was not, about the lack of desirability of having a marriage law which kept warring couples together and which would do little good for the family interest and the children. We agreed on the need for the different measures to prop up the family and to try to help couples to create good marriages and be good parents.
I am happy that there was complete agreement on so many of the points that were made. The first was child benefit and I was happy that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, put forward a constructive idea about co-ordinating the interests of children. I am glad that we agreed on the crying need to provide housing and rid ourselves of homelessness forever. We also agreed on the need to remove pressure on the mother in her dual role at home and at work.
I am grateful to the Minister for taking so much trouble in his response. I am not sure that his reply related totally to the points that were made because on occasions he made out that the problems carefully put before him had already been settled. Nevertheless, he expressed sympathy for much of what was said. We must place our hopes for greater support and social provision for families which need them on the sympathy which he put into his voice. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.